If you are visiting Seattle on a budget, we’ve got you covered with plenty of fun things to do that don’t break the bank! From exploring the famous Pikes Place Market, to enjoying a lakeside picnic at the curious Gas Works park, to adding your mark on the city at the colorful downtown Gum Wall. Read on for our top list of free things to do in Seattle.
Since Seattle is such a large and vibrant city, you can spend weeks exploring here without spending too much money at all. For a more exhaustive list of our top activities, see our complete guide to the 50 Best Things to do in Seattle. Looking for kid-friendly acitviites? Check out our fun list of 25 Things to do in Seattle with Kids.
1. Pikes Place Market
Coming in as the top tourist destination in Seattle, Pikes Place Market is a lively top place to visit in Seattle. You can experience the legendary fish market where you can see all of the day’s freshest seafood caught in the local waters and watch the workers throw fish through the air in a sort of mesmerizing fish ballet! With many great restaurants, shops museums along this great waterfront district, there is always something to do and usually happy crowds.
In operation since 1907, this public market is full of interesting farm-fresh products, and craftspeople selling their wares. Throughout the waterfront district, there are usually many street entertainers and musicians that are fun to stop and watch as you explore. One notable spot you should check in the Pikes place market is the original Starbucks Coffee location – That’s right, Pikes Place Market is the birthplace of Starbucks, so why not order a tasty coffee while you stroll this fantastic waterfront destination.
2. Seattle Center
As the top destination and activity center of Downtown, Seattle Center is home to many of the famous Seattle attractions, like the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass. There are so many interesting things to see here, like the piece of the Berlin Wall on display, or the curious historical Kobe Bell landmark.
The International Fountain is also a fun activity in Seattle Center on hot days and features a massive water fountain that you can walk through and cool off. The fountain’s spouts are coordinated with recorded world music and is a fun interactive part of the Seattle Center. If you are visiting Seattle in the summer, then we’d highly recommend cooling off at the Seattle Center.
3. Gas Works Park
One of the most interesting parks in Seattle, Gas Works Park is a public park that sits on the industrial ruins of the Seattle Gas Light Company. Gas Works Park is located on the edge of Lake Union and serves up some of the best views of the Downtown skyline.
The grassy hills of Gas Works park make it a great picnic spot and the remnants of the old factory are fun to explore. One interesting feature of the park is the “Great Mound” that is a grassy hill built on top of rubble from the surrounding factory buildings that were demolished. The top of the hill features an enormous sundial made by local artists out of shells, concrete, glass, and rock among other materials. The most interesting part of this unique sundial is that the visitor can only see the time when they stand directly in the center of the dial, effectively becoming part of the sundial itself!
For another great free thing to do in Seattle with kids, Gas Works Park should be at the top of your must-do list.
4. Fremont Troll
The Fremont Troll is an impressive public sculpture that is located under the George Washington Memorial Bridge in the Fremont neighborhood close to Lake Union. This nearly 20-foot tall troll was designed by 4 local creative artists and is made out of concrete and steel. The troll is actually holding a Volkswagen Beetle car as if it had just grabbed it from the road overhead.
We think that the Fremont Troll is one of the top public art installations in all of Seattle, so it’s worth a quick trip under the George Washington Memorial bridge to see this amazing work of art.
5. Washington Park
If you are looking for a scenic nature walk near downtown, then you should definitely visit Washington Park. This 200+ acre park is home to the famous Washington Park Arboretum, a lush series of themed gardens and walking paths that’s popular with artists and photographers due to its picturesque collections of colorful flowers and trees.
In addition to the nature trails, there are many fun destinations inside Washington Park, such as the Woodland Garden, Azalea Way, and the Shoreline and Foster Island. The legendary Japanese Garden is also located on the south side of Washington Park and is just another example of the interesting things you can find in this amazing park.
As you can see, there are many things to do and see in Washington Park and so it’s one of our favorite free things to do in Seattle.
6. Alki Beach
For beach activities in the summer months, Alki Beach is one of our favorite destinations. Though Alki Beach isn’t like the beautiful white sand beaches of Hawaii, it is still a great beach and full of fun activities for the whole family. From Paddleboarding in the crisp Seattle water to exploring the tidepools at low tide, to eating at one of the great beachside restaurants, there’s something for everyone here. There’s also a 2-mile boardwalk that you can find visitors and locals walking, riding bikes, or rollerblading to soak up the summer rays.
It’s a short drive from downtown Seattle, or for a more convenient way to enjoy Alki Beach, take the water taxi that runs between downtown and the beach. For another great free thing to do in Seattle during the summer months, you need to visit Alki Beach.
7. Lake Union
As Seattle is surrounded by ocean and lakes, it’s common to see seaplanes and sailboats everywhere you go. The closest freshwater lake to Downtown is Lake Union, and it’s full of activity. As a main thoroughfare for commercial and pleasure boats traveling between the larger Lake Washington and the Pacific Ocean, this lake offers some of the best views of downtown Seattle. If you get a chance for a boat ride on Lake Union, you should take it.
There are many parks and destinations along the edge of Lake Union, and Gas Works Park is one of our favorite. You can also rent kayaks or paddleboards on Lake Union and go on a self-guided tour. For fun water activities close to Downtown, we vote Lake Union is one of the top destinations.
8. Ballard Locks
The Ballard Locks is an interesting place to visit in Seattle if you want to see the curious mechanism for moving boats from the lower saltwater bay of the Pacific Ocean, up into the fresh water of Lake Union. Surrounding the Ballard Locks is a beautiful park and botanical gardens. Since this is one of the most trafficked locks in the entire US, you are sure to see many boats being lifted or lowered in these curious locks.
The Ballard Locks also features an amazing man-made fish “ladder” where you can watch salmon swim upstream through a complex maze of twists and turns that lead the fish up into Lake Union. The fish ladder features clear panels where you can watch the fish fight their way uphill.
9. Pioneer Square
To see where Seattle was born, you need to travel to Pioneer Square, the historical center of town. While most signs of the original settlers are long gone, you can still see parts of the old city on one of the Seattle Underground tours.
Today, Pioneer Square has been turned into a cultural landmark with lots of fun things to do. You can experience the monthly art walk that takes you through many local art galleries or stroll through the relaxing Occidental Square Park, or try one of the many unique restaurants that grace this historic district. Pioneer Square is where it all began in Seattle and now continues to offer one the best cultural experience of the city’s best art, shops, and restaurants.
10. The Gum Wall
Another unusual, but fun place to visit in Seattle is the famous Gum Wall which is located downtown right next door to the Market Theater. If you want to leave your mark on Seattle, you can add your chewed gum alongside the thousands of others who have contributed to this colorful and sticky gum mural. With some spots on the wall reaching 1 inch thick of gum, this has been voted one of the top 5 most “germ-infested” tourist destinations in the world
For an unusual thing to do in Seattle, a visit to Gum Wall should be near the top of your list.
11. Saint Edward State Park
For another great nature destination near Seattle, we’d recommend Saint Edward park. This 326-acre public park is located on the shore of Lake Washington and features multiple playground areas for kids, picnic tables, and miles of trails surrounded by rich foliage and forests of trees. Because of the extensive trails, Saint Edward Park is a popular spot for runners and mountain bikers. And since it borders Lake Washington, you can enjoy the many lake activities like Kayaking and paddleboarding.
12. Capitol Hill
To visit one of Seattle’s modern cultural centers, you should check out the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Just east of Downtown, this hilly district is known as one of the top music, food, and nightlife destinations and definitely worth exploring. From one-of-a-kind restaurants, to lively bars, and one-of-a-kind music venues, Capitol hill is a lively and colorful neighborhood that will give you an authentic experience of current Seattle culture.
If you are into Coffee, Capitol Hill is also known as a hotspot for up-and-coming coffee shops and coffee roasters. We’d recommend starting your day off at one of the fantastic coffee destinations throughout Capitol Hill before heading off on other adventures.
13. Seattle Japanese Garden
If you plan on visiting Seattle’s Washington Park, then you should definitely pay a visit to the adjacent Japanese Garden that’s located on the south side of the park. Compared with other Japanese gardens in other cities, the Seattle Japanese Garden is considered one of the oldest in all of North America and also one of the most authentic in its design and layout.
Completed in 1960, this lush garden covers 3.5 acres and features a glassy lake, a traditional Japanese Teahouse, and many massive granite boulders transported to the garden during its construction. For a truly Zen experience, we vote Seattle Japanese Garden as our favorite local destination.
14. Kerry Park
If you are looking for the best viewpoint for watching sunsets over Downtown Seattle and Lake Union, then Kerry Park is worth a visit. This small park is located in the Queen Anne neighborhood and sits on a hill with a perfect view of Downtown and the surrounding landscape.
Kerry Park is also great for kids, with fun play equipment and grassy areas. On warm summer evenings, Kerry Park can get quite crowded with locals and visitors alike taking in the panoramic sunset views.
15. Ballard Farmer’s Market
For another fun experience of local Seattle culture, the Ballard Farmers Market is a fun destination to visit. As the first all-year farmers market in Seattle, you can browse and shop the local produce, baked goods, and arts and crafts from local artisans. The Ballard Farmers Market is located in the Ballard neighborhood just north of Downtown and happens on Sunday Mornings, rain or shine.
Coming in near the top of our list of free things to do in Seattle, we’d highly recommend strolling through the Ballard Farmer’s Market.
16. Volunteer Park
For a great park for kids in Seattle, we’d suggest visiting Volunteer Park. Located near Downtown in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, this large park has large play structures for kids, fun water “spray parks” for warm summer days, and many grassy areas for relaxing and picnicking. Covering over 40 acres, Volunteer Park is also home to the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Volunteer Park Conservatory, and multiple event spaces.
Volunteer Park is a great destination if you have kids, so we’d highly suggest exploring this fantastic kid-friendly park.
17. REI Flagship Store
If you are an outdoor enthusiast then you know that REI is one of the largest outdoor and adventure retail stores in North America. And Seattle is home to their amazing and incredible large REI Flagship store, which although it has much of the same merchandise that is offered at their “regular” stores, it offers so much more.
Throughout this sprawling 100,000 square foot store, REI has created many cool outdoor experiences within the outdoor departments that give you a tangible immersive outdoor experience even though you are indoors. From feeling the mist from the massive indoor waterfall, to sitting around a campfire next to a wooden yurt, to trying out climbing shoes on their rock-climbing walls, you are in for a retail experience unlike any other.
18. Olympic Sculpture Park
For another fun outdoor thing to do near downtown Seattle, we’d recommend exploring the Olympic Sculpture Park. Located on the waterfront, this free outdoor sculpture park features many interesting permanent and temporary art installations that will capture your imagination. There is also a beach and many open grassy areas at the edge of the park, so you can enjoy the water on warm summer days. The Olympic Sculpture Park is our favorite outdoor museum in Seattle and we think you’ll enjoy this fascinating and award-winning park.
19. West Point Lighthouse
If you are looking for one of the best views of Puget Sound and the surrounding waterways, the West Point Lighthouse has got you covered. This historic lighthouse was first lit in 1881 and its original kerosene lamp was burned and provided the lighting source for its first 44 years in operation. Located inside Discover Park, the West Point Lighthouse is surrounded by miles of trails and is a great place to watch the sailboats and freighters that are constantly sailing through the Seattle waters.
Though it’s a considerable walk to get out to the lighthouse from the main parking area, we think that a visit to the West Point Lighthouse is a great activity if you want to experience amazing panoramic views of Puget Sound.
20. Original Starbucks Location
To see where the iconic Starbucks coffee empire had its humble beginnings, you can visit their Pikes Place location along the waterfront next to the Pikes Place Market. It was here the Starbucks brand began selling coffee and offering their own roasted coffee beans to locals and visitors. Many were curious why anyone would be trying to roast their own coffee beans when they could just buy from one of the traditional coffee distributers. Starbucks applied a new focus on craftsmanship to their coffee that was unheard of at the time and started a new coffee culture that continues in Seattle and around the world to this day.
If you love coffee, then this is a one of those destinations in Seattle that you don’t want to miss. So, as you explore the popular Pikes Place Market, just head down the street for a warm cup of coffee or tea at the original Starbucks location and experience where it all began.
21. Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park is a great place to relax and enjoy the view of the water. With picnic tables, benches, and coin-operated telescopes for looking out over the water, this park is essentially built on top of a wooden wharf and is located right next to the Seattle Aquarium. If you are visiting the waterfront area, we’d suggest stopping at Waterfront Park to enjoy the view and maybe even catch a glimpse of the sea life in the water below!
22. Olympic National Park
Known for its diverse regions and dramatic mount range, the Olympic National Park is a huge protected area of Washington wilderness that’s nearly 1,000,000 acres in size. Olympic National Park to the west of Seattle and lies between the city and the Pacific Ocean. There are so many amazing regions within the park, like the astounding Hoh Rainforest that gets more than 150 inches of rain per year, or the pristine Lake Crescent that is known for its brilliantly clear blue water and picturesque camping.
With seemingly endless places to explore, the Olympic National park is an incredible place to visit if you have the time.
23. Burke-Gilman Trail
Weaving its way along the western shore of Lake Washington, the Burke-Gilman trail is a popular recreational trail that offers 27 miles of scenic views along the lake and through several suburbs of Seattle. This trail is popular with walkers, joggers, and bicyclists and we’d recommend seeing this trail by bike if you have a chance.
For a way to fun way to experience Seattle by bike, we’d highly recommend renting a bike and riding this scenic trail.
24. Mount Rainier National Park
For a fun day trip option from Seattle, we’d recommend visiting Mount Rainier National Park. This 369 square mile park is located at the base of the impressive 14,411 ft volcanic mountain. Though this national park is a 2-hour drive south of Seattle, it offers an amazing playground for nature-lovers and is filled with scenic hiking and camping options as well as amazing waterfalls such as Narada Falls.
Mount Ranier is visible from Seattle on clear days and is a popular destination for Seattle visitors and locals alike to get out into the mountains and escape the business of the city.
25. Discovery Park
As the largest public park in Seattle, Discovery Park features over 500 acres of forested wilderness situated on a long peninsula. Discover park is not far from downtown and is a popular spot to walk and bike out into the over 11 miles of official trails that weave throughout this protected area. Many say that Discovery Park is the best place to see and experience the Seattle wildlife and there are over 270 known species of birds that can be spotted here. The West Point Lighthouse is also located within Discovery Park and is a popular place to walk out on the trails.
26. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center
If you are visiting Downtown or Exploring the Seattle Center, you should check out the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center. This facility is an educational and inspiring destination that focuses on solving large-scale world issues using technology and features many of the programs and solutions that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are already involved in around the world. For an inspiring look at the future of global problem-solving, we’d highly recommend a visit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center. Also, since there’s no charge, it’s on our list of free things to do in Seattle.
27. Green Lake Park
Green Lake Park is another great park destination to visit if you have kids. This park is part of a large area that includes Green Lake, miles of walking and biking paths, playgrounds, wading pools, tennis courts, and much more. We vote Green Lake Park as a top place to visit with kids
28. Seattle Central Library
To see one of Seattle’s most interesting buildings, you need to visit the Seattle Central Library. Though it seems like a library is not all that exciting, the architecture of this library alone makes it worth exploring. Standing at 11 Stories tall, this library is made primarily out of steel and glass. With a distinctive and modern design, it has won many honors in the architectural world and has even been voted one of the top 150 structures in the entire United States.