6 Seattle Must-Sees
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
I visited Seattle back in July, and it quickly became one of my favourite cities, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. Spending two weeks in Seattle meant I had time to appreciate some of its less well-known attractions as well as the absolute must sees!
Today I’m sharing with you six of my favourite experiences in Seattle, all of which you should prioritise if you’re planning a trip to this friendly, forward-thinking, dog-loving city!
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BALLARD FARMERS MARKET
Opening times: Every Sunday, 10am-3pm
The Ballard Farmers Market is a must-see for anyone in town on a Sunday. I don’t have much to compare it to, but I was incredibly impressed with Ballard, both in terms of its size and the variety of stalls it includes.
We started our visit at the market on Ballard Avenue NW (south east of Marvin’s Garden), which featured a lot of smaller stalls selling locally sourced goods such as flowers, oils, jams, fruit, and plenty more! This was one of the less busy areas but still bustling with people also visiting the shops and cafes on either side of the street.
It’s no secret that Seattle is incredibly dog-friendly, but the Ballard Farmers Market is arguably the best place in the city for dogspotting! One of my all-time favourite hobbies, I think I might have spent more time fussing the market’s furry visitors than paying attention to the stalls! (Can you blame me? Look how cute some of my new friends are!)
Heading back up the street, there was live music being performed throughout the day on a stage at one of the market’s intersections. We didn’t see much, but there was a whole day’s worth of performances on the day we visited, including lots of artists and groups from the local community.
We made our way up to Market Street, which is where the action is focused. Between 20th Ave NW and 22 Ave NW the crowds were almost solid; this is where you’ll find the food trucks!
I wish we had visited on a day when we weren’t saving ourselves for a restaurant lunch later on, as there was SO much to try! We had to do a few lengths of the street in order to see everything that was on offer - even if we had no other plans for lunch, there’s no way we could have eaten everything that looked good, there was way too much!
The smell along Market Street is absolutely incredible - you’ll find stalls and food carts selling locally-sourced halibut, homemade lemonade, fried oysters, clams, salmon burgers, corn on the cob, bratwurst, loaded fries, fish and chips, grilled cheese sandwiches, crab cakes, alligator meat, ramen, tacos, raclette, popsicles, doughnuts, pizza, naan bread with a full Indian meal on top...if you can dream it, you can probably eat it at Ballard!
Even though we were saving ourselves, we ended up stopping at a Chinese food stand where Sadie recommended I try some jian dui - fried sesame balls with bean paste in the middle (red bean in this case). I only had one or two, which was more than enough, but they were so tasty!
The market is open every Sunday, all year round, whatever the weather, from 10am to 3pm. On busier days - like the sunny July day I was there - thousands of people will descend upon the market, and even hundreds will turn out in the rain. With free admission and the potential to eat more than your bodyweight in amazing street food, you would be crazy not to add Ballard Farmers Market to your Seattle itinerary.
Situated at the southern end of Downtown Seattle, to the west of Chinatown and the International District, you will find Pioneer Square, the city’s original neighbourhood, founded in 1852.
I visited Pioneer Square one afternoon, and it's a great neighbourhood to explore on foot. Pioneer Square has its own stop on Seattle’s Light Rail Link line, but I would recommend getting off at the Chinatown/International District stop instead and walking up from there.
On your walk from the Chinatown stop up to Pioneer Square, take a quick stop at Union Station. Formerly known as Oregon and Washington Station, it has been out of action for almost forty years, but has since been renovated and is a unique way of stepping directly into Seattle’s past.
Walking north from Union Station towards Downtown, you will know when you have reached the Pioneer Square neighbourhood from its characteristic Romanesque Revival architecture (I got some major Greenwich Village vibes on my walk). It feels as if you could be miles - and decades - away from the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, with its relatively quiet streets, traditional shops such as tailors and bookmakers, and its European style.
There are plenty of ways to experience Pioneer Square in more detail, like joining a tour with Beneath the Streets or Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour, which explore the historic passageways beneath the neighbourhood, taking in the view from above at the Smith Tower Observatory, or joining a First Thursday Art Walk, where you can experience Pioneer Square’s numerous art galleries between 6-8pm.
My favourite stop in the Pioneer Square neighbourhood was the UPS Waterfall Garden, located on the corner of 2nd Ave S and S Main Street, which commemorates the birthplace of UPS. It’s small, but provides a quiet space away from the more hectic areas of the city, and was the perfect place for me to gather my thoughts.
COLUMBIA TOWER SKY VIEW OBSERVATORY
Opening times: 10am-10pm during the summer; 10am-8pm during the winter
Entry fee: from $20
Only a few minutes’ walk from Pioneer Square is the Columbia Center, the tallest building in Seattle and the state of Washington. While Pioneer Square’s Smith Tower has its iconic style and its own observatory, if you want a true skyscraper’s view across Seattle, the Columbia Tower Sky View Observatory is where you want to be.
A general admission ticket is $20 (with child/military discount) which allows you as much time as you want in the observatory, although you’re unlikely to need more than one hour. You can purchase a “day and night” ticket for $30, which allows you one daytime visit and one nighttime.
From its 73rd storey, you will be treated to 360° panoramic views across Seattle and beyond, with uncompromised views of Mount Rainier on a clear day. It was just a bit too cloudy for any mountain views on the day I visited, but I was really impressed with the view across the city I had been exploring for a week already. You can also enjoy some food at the Sky View Cafe on the same floor while admiring the view.
The Columbia Tower regularly hold special events in the observatory, such as the Summer Music Series (Fridays, 4-6pm) and weekend yoga classes - plan your visit in advance to take advantage of these events!
KAYAKING AT UW
Opening times: 10am-6pm (varies by day and time of year)
Price: from $8/hour for UW students and $12/hour for the public
One of my favourite days in Seattle included the morning we spent kayaking around the Washington Park Arboretum. During Seattle’s summers, this is a perfect opportunity to escape the chaos of the city and avoid the hordes of tourists!
From spring to autumn, you can hire kayaks, canoes, and rowing boats from the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center, on the shores of Union Bay. This is easy to reach using the city’s Link Light Rail system, only a couple of minutes west of its stop at the University (walk around the southern perimeter of the stadium and you will find it).
Prices vary for UW students, UW employees, and the general public, ranging from $8 to $20 an hour, depending on the kind of boat you want to hire. Check out their rates here.
Sadie, Geoff and I spent about an hour kayaking around the arboretum, which is perfectly calm and quiet. We saw only a handful of other people, but all kinds of birds, including gigantic herons, and a few families of ducks. We were surrounded by lily pads, lotus flowers, and all kinds of other plants during our kayak.
While you are required to wear lifejackets, and any belongings you keep with you on the boat WILL get wet (I learned this the hard way), you are unlikely to capsize and end up fully submerged in the water. I am pretty much a non-swimmer, but at no point did I feel like that would be an issue.
If you’re in Seattle on a sunny day with flexible plans, I would highly recommend spending a quiet couple of hours up here to re-energise and see a different side of Seattle.
CHIHULY GARDEN AND GLASS
Opening times: 9am-7pm (8pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
Entry price: $32 for general admission; museum and Space Needle packages $36-59
Although it was one of the busier attractions I visited in Seattle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum was also one of my favourites. Exhibiting works by Dale Chihuly – a Washington-born artist – the museum features glass sculptures of all shapes, sizes and colours, with examples from many of his series.
I am nothing of an art expert, nor do I frequently visit museums or galleries, but Chihuly’s work was like nothing I had seen before; the museum is colourful and exciting enough to be appreciated by everyone. Using different levels of light and arrangements of the glass, every room presents Chihuly’s creations in a different way. If you have ever found an art exhibit to be a bit monotonous, I can promise you won’t feel the same about this one.
Like I said, it was busy when I visited (on a sunny Friday in mid-July), but with no time limit imposed on your visit, you can make your way through the museum and garden at your own pace. I took my time and spent about two hours at the museum in total. For a less crowded experience, I would highly recommend arriving when the museum opens.
One additional touch I really appreciated were the photographers stationed at different points in the exhibit who could take your photo with the art. I believe there were three photographers during my visit, all of whom were friendly, approachable, and more than keen to comply with my 'gram-focused requests! As a solo traveller, not only did I appreciate having some good quality photos taken without a selfie stick, but they were also completely free, which is a rarity for a lot of tourist attractions (I remember feeling utterly shocked overhearing a couple being charged $25 for an obviously-green-screened photo of themselves elsewhere on my trip!).
The Chihuly Museum makes the most of its glasshouse, described as its “centrepiece”, where it hosts various functions and experiences. These include yoga, tai chi and barre fitness sessions – plan your trip in advance to see what is on offer. Glassblowing workshops have also been hosted by the museum.
Chihuly Garden and Glass is a truly unique experience, suitable for art fanatics and sceptics alike. Don’t miss out on the museum while you’re in Seattle!
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON CAMPUS
The main reason I came to Seattle was to visit a friend of mine who is now doing her PhD at the University of Washington. Ever since I first suggested I might fly out for a couple of weeks, Sadie told me I MUST visit the UW campus, which is actually quite a popular tourist attraction.
I’m sure college campuses aren’t of interest to everyone, but UW sits in some truly stunning grounds with some beautiful buildings, and I’m going to take any opportunity I have to pretend to be a student again!
The campus ranked #22 out of the “100 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America” in 2018 (Best College Reviews), so I’m not the only one who thinks UW is worth a visit! You could easily explore UW’s campus on the same day you visit the Waterfront Activities Center for a peaceful kayak, as it is only a few minutes’ walk from the University Link Rail stop (on the other side to the waterfront).
A lot of the campus is closed off to the public, or isn’t especially exciting for visitors, but there are three things on campus that you mustn’t miss.
#1 Drumheller Fountain
Approaching the campus from the south or the Link station, you can’t miss the Drumheller Fountain. It’s not hard to see how it was voted the #1 “Most Picturesque College Fountain” in 2015 (LawnStarter). Hopefully you too will visit on a day it’s actually switched on!
#2 Mount Rainier
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier numerous times during my trip to Seattle – apparently it’s only visible from the city for 90 days every year, although I reckon this number is actually higher – and I was mesmerised every time. On a clear day, UW is treated to some of the best views of the mountain, directly to the south west of the campus.
Between the Link station and Drumheller Fountain is Rainier Vista, a picturesque lawn which adds to the university’s grandeur. At its uppermost end, when you reach the fountain, turn around for one of the best views of Rainier you will find. I don’t think I would ever stop admiring this view, even if I was a UW student who saw it every day!
During the spring, Rainier Vista and the UW campus become two of the best places to see Washington’s cherry blossom trees in full bloom. There are around 200 types of cherry tree on the UW campus which come into bloom at different times during the spring.
#3 “Harry Potter” Reading Room
Arguably the most famous and gram-worthy room at UW, I almost missed the Hogwarts-esque reading room during my visit, as it was only because I decided to explore one of the buildings that I stumbled upon it. I’m very glad I did.
The building I decided to sneak into was the Suzzallo Library on the Red Square, which I didn’t think would be too cheeky of me. (I had noticed a few other obviously-tourists going in and out, so I thought I’d follow suit!)
While most of the building looks like your standard university library, you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction by the staircases either side of the entrance hall. I would 100% believe you if you told me some Harry Potter scenes were filmed here!
At the top of the stairs, the main library will be on one side of you, and another room on the other. Through its unassuming entrance, the Graduate Reading Room – which looks like something taken straight out of Harry Potter – opens up before you. I couldn’t help but whisper an “oh my god” to myself as I looked around.
While the reading room is well worth a visit, please be mindful that those using the room to study are not, in fact, actors, but UW students trying to work! Be as quiet and respectful as you can – its peaceful atmosphere adds to the room’s magnificence.
I hope my must-see guide has given you some inspiration for your visit to Seattle! I indulged in lots of the city’s tourist-filled attractions, but my favourite experiences in Seattle took place at some of its less well known beauty spots.
If you happen to be looking for Seattle's best places to eat, check out my recommendations for the best vegan meals you can find in the city!
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