25 cheap and free things to do in Seattle

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More than 812,000 people call Seattle home, according to Visit Seattle, and it’s not hard to see why. Located on the eastern shore of Puget Sound, there is much to see and do in the city’s 83-square miles. From fabulous family-friendly activities to great restaurants and offshore wineries, Seattle is the ideal destination for all kinds of travelers.

No matter if you have a day or a month to spend in Seattle, we have come up with 25 cheap and free things to do in this eclectic hot spot.

Stroll Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market
Hit the market (Image: Michael Righi / Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

One of the oldest farmer’s markets in the U.S., the nine-acre Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle is an iconic attraction. From vendors throwing fish to colorful produce stands to watching street performers, this lively market is fun for all. Be sure to try Rainier cherries and Washington apples.

Get lucky with Rachel the Pig at Pike Place Market

Rachel the Pig, Pike Place Market
Get lucky at Pike Place Market (Image: Charlie Schuck)

No visit to Pike Place Market is complete without stopping to see Rachel the Pig, the mascot of the lively area. She is located beneath the “Public Market Center” sign and clock at the corner of Pike Place. Sculptor Georgia Gerber created the 550-pound bronze cast pig after a real prize-winning 750-pound pig. Rachel is actually a piggy bank; her coins provide funds to the five social services located in the nine-acre historic district, including a food bank, senior center, childcare center, medical clinic and assisted living facility. Since 1986, more than $200,000 has been raised. Folks put coins in Rachel the Pig and rub her snout for luck. 

Seattle CityPASS

It’s easy to find dozens of cheap and free things to do in Seattle, especially when you buy a Seattle CityPASSThis multi-attraction ticket is good for nine days and offers entry to Seattle’s popular attractions like the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Seattle Aquarium, Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum (Ticket: $69/adult, $49/child).

Go on an art walk in Pioneer Square

Architecture buffs will appreciate a walk through historic Pioneer Square. Located on the southern fringe of downtown, the neighborhood features 20 blocks of Victorian Romanesque architecture, museums, art galleries, restaurants and nightlife. On the first Thursday of each month take advantage of the Pioneer Square First Thursday Artwalk, a free self-guided tour of the galleries.

Eat doughnuts at Top Pot Doughnuts

Top Pot Doughnuts
Time to eat the doughnuts (Image: Lauren Mack)

Seattle is famous for artisanal treats like the hand-forged gourmet doughnuts at Top Pot Doughnuts. Since 2002, lines have been forming for the gourmet doughnuts served in vintage storefronts. More than 40 options include the Old Fashioned (a cake doughnut that is moist on the inside, slightly crunchy on the outside and comes in a variety of flavors, from raspberry glazed to maple icing), Feather Boa (a cake doughnut topped with pink or chocolate icing and coconut shavings) and filled doughnuts like Raspberry Bulls-eye and Valley Girl Lemon.

Explore the Seattle Center

The site of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair is the epicenter of culture in Seattle. The 74-acre Seattle Center is a sprawling park where folks find some of Seattle’s most famous attractions, including the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre and Seattle Children’s Museum.

Take a ferry ride

A laid-back ferry ride to idyllic Bainbridge Island is a wonderful way to take in Seattle’s skyline and tour one of the dozens of islands off its shores. Washington State Ferries, which carries more than 23 million passengers each year, offers a low cost option to Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute journey that leads to quaint farms, charming wineries and scenic trails.

Sip fine wines at Bainbridge Vineyards

Bainbridge Winery
Head to Seattle’s wine country (Image: Ratha Grimes / Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

The first winery in Seattle to grow all their grapes on location, Bainbridge Vineyards is a short ferry trip across Puget Sound. The winery crafts a limited production of 1,200 cases annually, made from grapes grown on its seven-acre vineyard. Wine tastings are offered on Saturday and Sunday afternoons only.

Eat dim sum and shop in the Chinatown-International District

Chinese immigrants originally came to Seattle in the 1860s to work at the town’s saw mills, rail lines and on fishing boats. They settled into an area now known as the Chinatown-International District. Located south of downtown Seattle, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese and Southeast Asians call the International District home. Don’t miss dim sum and a stroll through Uwajimaya, one of the largest Asian grocery and gift stores in the U.S.

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Go on a musical journey at Experience Music Project

Founded by Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen, Experience Music Project explores creativity and innovation in American popular music. Housed in a Frank O. Gehry-designed building, visitors can view artifacts and memorabilia and listen to musicians tell their stories.

Enjoy Chef Tom Douglas’ cooking

The Bohemian Palace Kitchen, helmed by James Beard Award-winning Chef Tom Douglas, serves sensational New American cuisine like crispy fried pig tails with cabbage, honey-smoked chili glaze and buttermilk blue dressing; parsnip and Meyer lemon fritter accompanied with Cyprus Grove goat cheese, wild mushrooms, almond, browned butter braised fennel and Prosser paprika chili sauce; and Dahlia triple coconut cream pie with white chocolate and toasted coconut. Pair dinner with one of 10 signature cocktails like the Aviation Cocktail (gin, Luxardo, crème de violette and lemon) or the Perro Rosa (El Jimador tequila, Aperol, grapefruit, Aleppo pepper and salt).

Learn about the gold rush at the Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park

Operated by the National Park Service, the Seattle part of the Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park (there is another Klondike Goldrush park in Ketchikan, Alaska) commemorates Seattle’s role in the 1890s gold rush. The “park” is actually a building in Pioneer Square that features exhibits about the 70,000 people who rushed to Seattle in search of gold.

Indulge in Fish ‘n Chips at Ivar’s

Eat seafood on the shore (Image: Anne Swoboda / Used under Creative Common Attribution and ShareAlike Licenses)

Aquarium proprietor Ivar Haglund introduced Seattle to his crispy fish ‘n chips in 1938 and the rest is history. With more than two dozen restaurants, Ivar’s is the king of seafood in Seattle. Try the signature clam chowder and the battered fish with crispy golden French fries.

Stroll through Olympic Sculpture Park

This nine-acre public Olympic Sculpture Park is perfect for a leisurely walk. The park features a 2,500-foot path flanked by sculptures that connects the Belltown neighborhood in downtown Seattle to the waterfront.

Get artsy at the Seattle Art Museum

Housed in an Art Deco building, the Seattle Art Museum features intriguing rotating exhibits and permanent collections of major Asian, African and Pacific Northwest art collections. The Seattle Art Museum is free to visit on the first Thursday of every month.

Enjoy cocktails at Canlis

Named for the Canlis family who have been running their fine dining restaurant and bar for three generations, a stop at Canlis for cocktails is a must. When Canlis opened in 1950, a year after Seattle lifted its ban on restaurants serving liquor, it brought back the cocktail tradition. The lounge offers a cozy spot for one of the bar’s eight cocktails like the Key to Door #8 (Belvedere Diamond Rye Vodka, lime, Falernum, Rivesaltes and Jamaican rum) or a whisky from the Canlis Family Whisky Collection (each bottle has been hand carried by one of the Canlis brothers).

Admire the Space Needle

Space Needle
Go to the top (Image: Bryce Edwards / Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

Built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the futuristic, 605-foot Space Needle is an icon of Seattle. There is an observation tower 520-feet up, which affords a 360 view of the Seattle skyline, Puget Sound and the Cascade and Olympic mountains.

Go underground with Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

The 90-minute guided tour goes underground below Pioneer Square’s neighborhood. The subterranean passages once served as roadways and storefronts, but a great fire in 1889 destroyed much of the original wooden structures. Seattle was rebuilt atop the ruins, leaving these tour-able remnants.

Nibble chocolate at Fran’s Chocolates

Fran's Chocolates
A chocoholic’s destination (Image: Maria Ly / Used under Creative Commons Attribution and ShareAlike Licenses)

A trip to France inspired Fran Bigelow to create European-style chocolates. For more than three decades, locals and visitors alike (including the Obamas) have fallen in love with Fran’s Chocolates. From caramels to truffles to gold bars, these are some of Seattle’s best sweet treats.

Visit the home of the Seattle Mariners

The one-hour tour of Safeco Park includes an up close and personal look at the ballpark. A tour guide leads baseball fans to the press box, private suites, field, dugouts and visitors clubhouse.

Grab a coffee at the original Starbucks

The original Starbucks
The original Starbucks (Image: Starbucks Coffee Co.)

Located in a corner storefront in Pike’s Place Market, the original Starbucks opened here in 1971. The LEED Gold certified coffee shop features a wall tapestry made of burlap coffee bags from the local roasting plant.

See the home of the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders FC

Football and soccer fans can go behind the scenes with a 90-minute tour of CenturyLink Field. The tour includes suite and club level access, a walk on the field where the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders FC play and the field’s iconic 12th Man Flag Pole.

Play outside in Discovery Park

Seattle’s largest park is the perfect place to go for a run, play tennis or enjoy a picnic (there are even two miles of protected tidal beaches here). Located at the site of former U.S. Army’s Fort Lawton in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, the 534-acre Discovery Park offers enviable views of Puget Sound and the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.

Browse the Fremont Sunday Market

Celebrating its 25th year, the Fremont Sunday Market is a European-style market featuring 180 vendors that sell fresh produce, flowers, crafts, antiques and more rain or shine each Sunday.

Grab Drive-Thru at Dick’s Burgers

Dick's Burger
Drive-by goodies (Image: whistlepunch / Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

Since 1954, Dick’s Burgers has been the go-to place for inexpensive, but exceptional burgers, hand-cut fries and thick milkshakes. A regular 1/8-pound hamburger will only set you back $1.35. There are five locations in Seattle and one in Edmonds, Wash.

(Main Image: angela n / Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

25 cheap and free things to do in Seattle was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (163 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.