Seattle cityscape with boat on the water

Six things to know before visiting Seattle

local perspective

Seattle is an ideal travel destination with something for everyone. It is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and is often cited as one of the top major US cities for access to nature, food, LGBTQ+ travelers, and overall, as one of best places to visit and live. Here are some local tips to make the most of your trip.

Boats moored in a harbour in Seattle

1. Spend time on and near the water

Seattle is nestled along picturesque Puget Sound, the largest estuary in the contiguous United States. It also encompasses Lake Union and is bordered by Lake Washington. Each of these stunning bodies of water enhances the beauty of the city and has dramatically impacted its maritime history. Plan to get out on the water by renting a kayak, canoe, or SUP. You can also get out on a bigger boat with Argosy cruises or the Wooden Boat Center.

While you're in the city, check out the Seattle Aquarium to learn more about the underwater ecosystem surrounding the city. During the summer, aquarium naturalists volunteer at local beaches during low tides to help interpret the intertidal zone. Check their website for dates and times.

Umbrella and Seattle reflection in puddle

2. Yes, it rains a lot in Seattle, but it isn’t what you expect

Seattle, also known as Rain City, has a reputation as the rainiest city in the United States, but it actually ranks under about 30 other metropolitan areas in the annual amount of precipitation received. Instead, Seattle has a lot of days with SOME precipitation. This means the rain is often lighter, but there are many more wet days. Seattle is also recognized as the cloudiest major city in America. Some think it is all of those dark days that have helped Seattle become a thriving cultural and technological hub!

In part because of the rain, Seattle’s busiest and most expensive travel season is summer. But if you visit in spring or fall, and don’t mind light rain, you will have fewer crowds and lower prices.

A canoe in the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, Seattle, Washington.

3. Seattle has a rich heritage

Seattle has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years. The Coast Salish People created a rich and thriving culture that continues through to today. You can learn more by visiting the Duwamish Longhouse in West Seattle, Tilikum Village on Blake Island, and the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.

Seattle was also an important stop during the Klondike Gold Rush. History lovers will enjoy a stop at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park downtown. Also consider booking a spot on the Seattle Underground Tour.

In more recent times, Seattle has been at the forefront of technological advances. It is the hometown of Boeing and those interested in aviation will enjoy visiting the Museum of Flight. It is also the home of Microsoft founders, Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Their influence is felt throughout the city as philanthropists and owners of sporting teams, museums, and more. For an in-depth exploration of the history the technology of computers, visit Allen’s Living Computer Museum in SODO.

The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Washington

4. Seattle has an amazing music scene

Try to time your trip to Seattle so you can include some live music in your visit. Several major bands and musicians are from Seattle (including Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and the Foo Fighters) and the city is known known for its vibrant music scene.

On most summer weekends the Seattle Center hosts a cultural festival, which almost always includes live music. The two capstone events are Bumbershoot and Northwest Folklife Festival. If you love music, it's also worth checking out MoPOP, the Museum of Pop Culture, which highlights local musical powerhouses Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.

A ferry crossing Puget Sound

5. Seattle is expensive but there are lots of ways to save money

Seattle is an expensive city to visit, but a little planning can make it affordable. One of the best ways to save money is to research Seattle before your trip. You can be your own tour guide and see the sights most interesting to you and your travel companions.

If you want to save money, use public transportation to get around - ferry rides are the least expensive way to get out onto Puget Sound and they offer breathtaking views (here's some handy tips on taking ferries in Seattle). Supplement public transport with rental bikes and scooters, easily found on street corners through the city.

First Thursdays offer free and reduced costs at many museums. You can also take advantage of the thriving food cart scene to enjoy affordable, local food. And, of course, local parks and beaches are all free and are perfect for walks and picnics.

Small lake at the foothills of Mt Rainier, Washington

6. Some of the best things about Seattle are outside of the city

The Emerald City is surrounded by astounding natural beauty. You can reach three national parks within two hours: Mount Rainier, The North Cascades, and Olympic. Also, within a few hours are Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument and The San Juan Islands National Monument.

An ideal trip to Seattle includes spending time outside of the city itself. Include any of these parks when you visit as day trips or overnight stays and make your trip one to remember.

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Erica Forrest

Author - Erica Forrest

Erica loves to travel and especially delights in national parks, museums, historic sites, and visiting with local people. She is also the founder of Trip Scholars, a travel education site helping curious travelers make the most of their time before departure. Before launching Trip Scholars, Erica was a teacher and school director. She often travels with her husband and three kids.

Last Updated November 24, 2021

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