Seattle is one of the most up-and-coming cities in the United States, making it a top destination for both American and international travelers. Each unique district offers a rich aesthetic influenced by history, inhabitants, and the local culture. Whatever your travel interests may be, there’s a niche for everyone – the trick is to find it. Having spent my university years in Seattle, I’ve compiled a guide of the most important districts and the best free activities in this seaport city.
Where to Explore?
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Downtown: Neighboring Pioneer Square and Queen Anne, you’ll enjoy the infamous Pike Place Market and Seattle waterfront in this district. A historical market beloved by locals and travelers alike, Pike Place is famous for its fish-flinging vendors, artisan wares, and delicious eats (and the first Starbucks, of course). It may be in your best interest to indulge in a food tour, or create one for yourself. Head down to the waterfront and hop onto the recently constructed ferris wheel, from which you can see across the Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. For sight-seeing, downtown Seattle hotels and Airbnb’s have the best access but may also be more expensive.
Queen Anne: Queen Anne houses some seriously swanky bars and fantastic restaurants. Here you’ll also find the Space Needle which towers over the Pacific Science Center. The restaurant up in the top of the Needle is always a tourist favorite and the Science Center is a fantastic place for kids to spend the day. Next door is the famous Experience Music Project (EMP), founded by Paul Allen. As the name suggests, this place is a musical mecca with regularly rotating exhibits and the worlds largest collection of artifacts, handwritten lyrics, and the instruments of Seattle-based musicians Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana.
Pioneer Square-International District: This zone of Seattle is by far the most cultural. Pioneer Square is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, full of cobblestone streets, red brick buildings, and rich, local legends. Join a tour of the abandoned underground city and you’ll find yourself winding through passages of the old red-light district a few meters below the sidewalk. The International District is aptly named after the Asian restaurants, markets, and parks that make up this area. Here you’ll find both Chinatown and Little Saigon, as well as deliciously authentic Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai food.
Top Free Activities in Seattle
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Art Walk: The first of its kind in the US, the Pioneer Square Art Walk offers free access to museums and galleries on the first Thursday of each month. Get to the galleries early and you can enjoy free wine and h’r’devours. You can also enjoy public installations in between the sites and free parking, a rarity in Seattle.
University of Washington Campus: Founded in 1861, the University of Washington is one of the oldest universities on the West Coast. Here you can stroll through the Quad, a grassy area hemmed in by charming old buildings and lined with cherry blossoms in spring. You can continue toward the famous Drumheller Fountain which has an unobstructed, breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier. There are many cozy cafes and grassy pockets shaded by old trees to be discovered on this beautiful campus.
Burke Gilman Trail: To get a truly local experience in Seattle, rent a bike and hit the Burke Gilman Trail. Winding its way through some of the most popular neighborhoods in the city, you’ll pass by famous local spots like the Fremont Troll and some of the best bars and eateries in the city. Start your journey on the University of Washington Campus and head West toward Fremont. You’ll end your journey at Golden Gardens, one of the only sand beaches in Seattle.
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Seattle is best visited in the warm summer months when days are long and outdoor activities abound. However, this vibrant city has something to offer year round, so don’t let winter stop you. With a multitude of free activities and districts that are a joy to explore, anyone on a budget can afford visit Seattle. So get planning!