40 Best Things to Do in Seattle for Cruise Passengers

Here are the best things to do in Seattle, Washington for those spending time in the city for a cruise vacation. Covering tours and must-do things.

If you’re departing on a cruise to Alaska, you’re probably sailing from Seattle cruise port. There are some fantastic things to do in Seattle that you can’t do anywhere else, so why not stay in the city before or after your cruise and make the most of your cruise vacation?

Many of the best things to do in Seattle are either cheap or free, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to extend your cruise and see what Seattle, WA has to offer.

Best Free Things to Do in Seattle

2. Tour a coffee roaster

Located on Pike Street, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opened in 2014 for the full coffee experience. See and smell the beans being roasted after being loaded into the green coffee pit. Discover your favorite blend with a helpful barista then scoop and bag the beans to take home with you.

2. Frye Art Museum

More artworks, this time at the Frye Art Museum which has free admission and offers a rotating exhibit as well as the original collection left to the city of Seattle by Charles and Emma Frye. Past artworks included works by Andy Warhol, Jim Woodring and others.

3. Head to the beach!

Just 10 minutes by car from downtown, you can be relaxing on your beach chair and wiggling your toes in the sand at Alki Beach. Just 6 miles from the cruise port, this is one of the best things to do in Seattle if you like watching boats and ferries coming and going from the port.

4. Free walking tour of Ballard Locks

Just 6 miles north of Seattle cruise port, Ballard Locks guard the entrance connecting Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. It’s a popular place for tourists to gather and watch salmon and steelhead leaping up the fish ladder and heading upstream to their spawning ground. The Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits and a gift shop and offers free one hour walking tours. August is the best month to see the huge chinook salmon navigating the ladder. The locks are in Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden so this provides two free things to do in Seattle in one place!

5. Walk the Elliott Bay Trail

Miles of almost flat walking takes you along the piers and waterfront on Seattle’s Elliott Bay Trail – one of the best things to do in Seattle if you want to see a cross-section of scenery and attractions. It includes the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park and you get plenty of photo ops of Puget Sound and the islands. Free to access, it is a 10-mile round trip and reaches an elevation of just 20 feet.

Check out the “Best Outdoor Things to Do in Seattle” below for more free activities.

Best Museums to Visit in Seattle

Seattle Museum of Flight
Photo: Elena_Suvorova / Shutterstock.com

6. Play pinball

Home of Nintendo, Microsoft and many other game developers, it’s not surprising that Seattle has a Pinball Museum, one of the best things to do in Seattle for those who love handheld games. See a range of collectible games machines and get to play a few of the games dating back to 1961.

7. Museum of Flight

Home of the Boeing Company, any trip to Seattle must include a visit to the Museum of Flight. Climb aboard Concorde and explore JFK’s Air Force One. World War flight history and superb flight simulators make this one of the most exciting thing to do in Seattle before or after your cruise.

8. Seattle Art Museum

Located on First Ave in downtown Seattle, the SAM  is a top place to visit for art lovers. If you prefer Asian Art, head to Volunteer Park where the original art museum building now houses the Asian art collection in a 1933 Art Deco building. It is open Wednesday through Sunday and has free admission the first Thursday in the month.

9. Museum of History and Industry

The MOHAI has over 4 million artifacts, photos and historical archives including Boeing’s first commercial plane, the Petticoat flag sewn by women during the 1856 Battle of Seattle and the sign from the Rainier Brewing Company.

10. Museum of Pop Culture

The Museum of Pop Culture is one of the most unique things to do in Seattle. Dedicated to pop music and artifacts you can test your DJ skills in the Sound Lab and see all the exhibits tracking the history of pop to the present day.

11. Seattle Children’s Museum

Everyone loves a hands-on museum and the Seattle Children’s Museum is crammed with interactive fun. It’s ideal for children 0-8 years old, igniting their curiosity with fun activities and challenges.

Best Outdoor Things to Do in Seattle

Seattle Outdoor Activity

12. Animal Fun at Woodland Park Zoo

The award-winning Woodland Park Zoo is a 92-acre attraction focusing on wildlife conservation. It has over 1000 animals from all over the world. See how many you can identify!

13. Join the fun at Volunteer Park Conservatory

Volunteer Park Conservatory always has something going on with events ranging from plant swaps to flower and orchid shows, informative lectures and plant care workshops. Climb the winding staircase up the old water tower for amazing views of the city. Check out the calendar and see what’s on to find the best things to do in Seattle for green-thumbed gardeners.

14. Go hiking at Green Lake

There are hundreds of hiking trails around Seattle and Puget Sound. If you’re on a limited timescale, hike around Green Lake, a natural preserve with a 2.8 mile path for enjoying hundreds of tree species, plants, birds and waterfowl on the serene lake.

15. Take a boat trip from Seattle

One of the best things to do in Seattle is take a boat trip. Hop aboard one of the ferries that depart from Elliott Bay waterfront and enjoy the islands, boats and sights as you sail to Bremerton and back.

16. Walk-in Discovery Park

Formerly the Fort Lawton military base, the 500-acre Discovery Park is a green and forested park with a lighthouse and Native American Daybreak Star Cultural Center and Art Gallery. Enjoy spectacular views of Puget Sound, the Cascades and the Olympic Mountain Ranges, often snow-capped even in summer.

17. Explore Washington Park Arboretum

The 230-acre Washington Park Arboretum was laid out by the Olmsted Brothers (sons of Frederick Olmsted who laid out Manhattan’s Central Park). It has a Japanese Garden (admission fee) and lakes for kayaking and canoeing. Take a guided tour or explore the main botanical gardens free of charge.

18. Row your own boat

Not quite a cruise ship, you can explore Lake Union on all types of boats driven by steam, sail, electricity and paddles or take a rowing boat from the Center for Wooden Boats.

19. Olympic Sculpture Park

Located on a 9-acre site on Western Ave, Olympic Sculpture Park has lots of outdoor exhibits including the jagged red eagle, Bunyon’s Chess, Eye Sculpture seats, Father and Son fountains and a laminated glass exhibit known as Seattle Cloud Cover by Teresita Fernández. Standing on the waterfront, this open-air museum is free to visit and look around and there’s a viewing pavilion if the weather turns damp and cold.

20. Experience a Sound Garden

Ever visited a Sound Garden? Set on a breezy hill overlooking Lake Washington, Seattle’s Sound Garden has many musical, art and engineering constructions such as pipes that whistle, howl and murmur when the wind blows through them. Part of the NOAA campus, admission is free but security is tight so bring photo ID and enjoy the walk.

21. Take a Fun Seattle Walking Tour

Enjoy learning about Seattle’s food, coffee and wacky history on a Seattle Fun Tour with your own guide. The 2-hour tour starts at Pike Place and includes stops for samples at some of Seattle’s most hip and fun eateries including Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Shop. It’s a memorable way to get to know Seattle like a local!

22. Take a Segway Tour

Combine a tour around Seattle top attractions with the chance to ride on a Segway with the Magic Carpet Glide Company. The two-hour tour includes some instruction and practice steering and stopping the Segway before you set off behind your guide. Explore the Olympic Sculpture Park, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. Hop off for photo ops. It’s an easy way to cover a lot of ground effortlessly.

23. Set Sail!

Whether you have just arrived or are departing on a cruise from Seattle, this Cocktail cruise around Lake Union is a great way to enjoy the sights of Puget Sound. The cruise includes the first round of drinks and a narrated commentary. Bring your own snacks and enjoy a unique sightseeing tour including watching seaplanes take off and land, the Space Needle, Fremont Bridge and St Mark’s Cathedral. Check this harbor cruise.

Best Attractions in Seattle

Seattle Space Needle
Photo: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

24. Pacific Science Center

The Pacific Science Center has something for everyone with a laser dome that plays Pink Floyd and other choices, motion-activated dinosaurs, a planetarium and an IMAX Theater. It’s just the place for curious minds.

25. Visit the Space Needle

Newly transformed, the iconic Space Needle stands 520 feet high above the city. It offers amazing panoramic views of Puget Sound, downtown and the city from the café, open-air deck or the Loupe, a rotating viewing platform with an all-glass floor – not for the acrophobic!

26. Sky View Observatory

See Seattle from above at the Sky View Observatory in downtown Seattle. It is located on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center and towers 902 feet making it the tallest public viewing tower in the Pacific Northwest. See Mt Rainier, the Cascade Mountains the Space Needle and more.

27. Admire Chihuly Glass

Visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit and see the colorful glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly. There are 8 galleries and an outdoor garden which is as colorful as the glass creations.

28. Visit Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is brimming with fresh flowers, antiques, clothing, crafts, home goods, a farmer’s market and more. It’s a hub for street entertainers and musicians to entertain while you browse the stalls. Established in 1907, it includes a huge fish market with fresh fish laid out for wholesale and retail customers to admire and choose from. The fishmongers are known for their banter and fish-throwing, bringing new meaning to the phrase “catch a fish”.

29. Drink coffee in the original Starbucks café

Visit the original Starbucks in Pike Place and treat yourself to some unique souvenirs and gifts that you can only buy at this original store. Oh yes, and get yourself a grande, non-fat, decaff, no-foam latte while you’re there!

30. Seattle Center

Located around the International Fountain, the Seattle Center is a civic and arts-based gathering place on the site of the 1962 World Fair. It brings together over 30 sports, arts and cultural organizations with regular activities and events. It is home to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, the Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens and Glass and the Pacific Science Center – all listed individually in our round-up!

31. Sample Teriyaki, Seattle’s signature dish

According to history, teriyaki was invented in Seattle in the 70s as a cheap alternative to fast food. It has become Seattle’s signature dish so give it a try at Okinawa Teriyaki near Seattle Art Museum. Meat is boiled or marinated and grilled with a glaze of teriyaki sauce which is made from soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Yum!

32. Ride the Monorail

The Seattle Monorail (not to be confused with the Link Light Rail) is the best way to get between all the attractions and things to do in Seattle downtown area. It runs between two stations every 10 minutes. The stations are at the Center Station (near the Space Needle) and Westlake Center Station on 5th Ave and Pine Street. Fares are $2.50 for adults.  

33. Seattle Aquarium

Families looking for the best things to do in Seattle with youngsters will enjoy a day at Seattle Aquarium right on the waterfront at Pier 59. As well as seeing tanks of fish and playful otters, the aquarium has and underwater dome so you can see what’s happening beneath the waves in Puget Sound. Learn the lifecycle of the salmon that inhabit the rivers here and look out for octopus feeding at noon and 4 pm daily.

Best One-of-a-Kind Things to Do in Seattle

34. Visit the Scarecrow Screening Room

Perfect for a cold or rainy day, a visit to the Scarecrow Screening Room is one of the best things to do in Seattle. It’s the largest independent video store in the USA with special screenings several times a week.

35. Go Wine Tasting

This is an unusual way to taste local Washington wines as there are 10 cellars and wineries all in one place at SoDo Urban Works in South Downtown Seattle. Sip your way around the tasting rooms to find your own particularly favorite from these boutique wineries from all over Washington State.

Here is also a wine tour outside the city with a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls and the Woodinville Wine Country.

36. Climb the Spiral Staircase at Seattle Central Library

Designed by Dutch architects, the Seattle Central Library on Fourth Ave has an extraordinary contemporary exterior due to the inside design. Walk up the Book Spiral that climbs up four storys with continuous shelving without a single step. Enjoy the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows too.

37. Haunted Happenings at Hotel Sorrento

Drop in for coffee in the fireside lounge of the Hotel Sorrento on Madison St and enjoy the surroundings of the oldest hotel in Seattle, built in 1909. The Italian Renaissance architecture presents a grand appearance, but you may get goosebumps as it is extremely haunted by Alice B. Toklas, known for her biography written by her partner Gertrude Stein.

38. The Arctic Building

Another extraordinary hotel, this time the Arctic Club Hotel on 3rd Ave. The façade is decorated with 28 terracotta carvings of walruses which made it a city landmark. The interior is a lavish affair worth seeing as the building was built in 1908 to accommodate a club of men who returned to Seattle after striking it rich in the Yukon Gold Rush.

Cruises from Seattle: Must-Know Pros and Cons

Best Things to Do Beyond Seattle

39. Snoqualmie Falls

Take a half-day trip from Seattle to visit the amazing Snoqualmie Falls and Seattle City Tour. You won’t miss a thing as your guide provides fun facts and historic stories including how Seattle got its name and why it rains so much!

40. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields

If you’re visiting Seattle in April, you must take a trip to the nearby tulip fields in the Skagit Valley. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival runs for the whole month and celebrates the vibrant color of millions of tulip bulbs in full bloom. Visit show gardens, take photographs and buy some of your favorite tulip bulbs as a souvenir. This well-kept secret is where more tulips are grown than the whole of the Netherlands.

Still wondering whether to book an extra night or two before your Seattle cruise? With so much to see and do you can easily fill a whole week!

Gillian Birch
Gillian Birchhttps://www.cruisehive.com/author/gillian

Gillian Birch is a full-time travel writer and author of 12 travel books. British educated with a diploma in journalism she has traveled the world, writing about her experiences with wonderful clarity and eyewitness detail. She uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many cruise experiences around the Caribbean, Mediterranean, trans-Atlantic, Norwegian Fjords, Panama Canal and South America including Cape Horn.

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