Embarking on a Pacific Northwest road trip? Spending at least one day in Seattle is the perfect way to start the journey. Seattle is the biggest city in the state of Washington. Hailed as the Emerald City, this Northwest USA metropolis is known for its lush surroundings and its cultural scene.
Seattle is famous as the stomping ground for rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Chris Cornell. The Pacific Coast city is also often touted as the birthplace of gourmet coffee in North America. Even with 24 hours in Seattle, you can get a taste of the city’s cultural history, nature, and food & drink scene.
Not sure what to do in Seattle in one day? Experience this fascinating city with this complete 1-day Seattle itinerary.
Where to go in Seattle in one day: A complete 1-day itinerary
Only got one day in Seattle? You’re gonna have to get crafty. There are tons of amazing things to see & do in Seattle. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to squeeze them all into a single day.
This 24-hour Seattle itinerary focuses mostly on attractions & tourist sites within the city center. You’ll hit up historic markets, enjoy soaring city & sea views, and pop into exciting museums. You can relax in hip coffee shops and experience Seattle’s culinary scene at one of the city’s finest restaurants.
We’ve designed this Seattle trip plan as a walking tour. You should have no problem walking between all the stops. If you’re looking to squeeze more in, you can cut your transit time down with taxis or public transportation.
Eat a hearty breakfast at Pike Place Market
Not sure where to start your first 24 hours in Seattle? Pike Place Market is as good a place as any. The market has been open since 1907. It’s one of the oldest farmers markets in the United States, and one of Seattle’s must-see destinations.
Since its humbler beginnings, Pike Place Market has grown into a large multi-level complex. Today, it’s home to over 500 stalls, shops, restaurants, and bars.
You won’t be able to experience its full breadth in the morning hours. Still, Pike Place Market is a wonderful place to wander around to start the day. The morning crowds will be tamer than at other times of the day. You’ll be able to watch the vendors setting up shop before the daily onslaught.
Hungry for breakfast? You’ll find quite a few great options in Pike Place Market. For southern comfort food, grab a hearty biscuit at Biscuit Bitch. Or brave the perpetual line-up at Piroshky Piroshky. The popular Seattle bakery is famous for its over 20 varieties of handmade sweet & savory Russian pastries.
Be sure to also snap your obligatory shot of the historic neon entrance sign and a selfie with Rachel the Piggy Bank. Rub the nose of the 550-pound bronzed pig and pop in a donation to the Market Foundation for a smattering of good luck!
Grab a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks
Coffee snobs might balk at the idea of including coffee’s most commercialized brand here. But if you’re a casual coffee drinker visiting Seattle in one day, you can’t miss out on Starbucks.
Before it became a worldwide coffee empire, Starbucks opened its first coffee shop in Seattle in 1971. In 1975, it moved to the Pike Place Market where it’s remained since.
At this “original” Starbucks location, you’ll find merchandise and brews you won’t find elsewhere in the city. Be sure to snap a picture of its original mermaid logo adorning the entrance.
Catch the sea breeze Waterfront Park
Grab a cup of coffee to go and detour a couple blocks southwest of Pike Place Market. Within less than 10 minutes you’ll land upon Waterfront Park. Once wedged between Pier 57 and Pier 59, the public park is undergoing a major overhaul. Its proposed 20-acre extension will soon extend along the waterfront from Pier 62 to T Mobile Park and Lumen Field.
On your visit to Waterfront Park, be sure to roam around the recently opened Pier 62. The area features eye-popping street art installations and a few places to grab a bite to eat. On your walk along the pier, you’ll enjoy spectacular views over Elliott Bay.
If you’re travelling to Seattle with kids, you might want to budget time for a stroll around the Seattle Aquarium. The family-friendly aquarium is located on Pier 59.
In the area, you can also take a spin on The Seattle Great Wheel. The 175-foot-high Ferris wheel offers fantastic views of the cityscape, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic Mountains. Book a VIP Gondola ($50/person) for the extra thrill of watching the city streets sink from its glass-bottomed floor.
Stroll through Belltown
From the waterfront, retreat to Pike Place. Walk north for a stroll through Belltown. Not long ago, Belltown was one of downtown Seattle’s more rough-and-tumble neighborhoods.
Today, Belltown is jam-packed with trendy restaurants, hip coffee houses, cool boutique shops, and craft beer joints. Art lovers will also be able to spot cool street art and check out several art galleries around the area.
If you’re hungry, Belltown is a great place to grab a bite to eat for lunch. You’ll find plenty of great food options around Bell Street and 1st Avenue & 2nd Avenue. The area is also home to some of Seattle’s most legendary nightlife hotspots, including The Crocodile, a famous rock music venue.
Enjoy the views at Olympic Sculpture Park
From Belltown, walk southwest along Broad Street towards the bay. Close to the waterfront, you’ll stumble upon Olympic Sculpture Park. The public park is an offshoot of the Seattle Art Museum. (More on that later.)
Olympic Sculpture Park stretches out over 9 acres. As you stroll through the park, you’ll stumble upon about 20 quirky modern sculptures. You’ll also enjoy amazing views over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
See the city from above at the Space Needle
From Olympic Sculpture Park, it’s less than a 10-minute walk up Broad Street to the Space Needle. Located at the Seattle Center, the legendary Space Needle is the city’s most famous landmark.
The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Since then, the 605-foot-high observation tower has been one of the most enduring symbols of the Pacific Northwest.
Of course, there’s more to do at the Space Needle than gawk at it. Grab your tickets and zip up the elevator to the observation deck at the 520-foot level. On a clear day, you’ll enjoy spectacular 360-degree views over the city and the surrounding mountains & seascapes. In the distance, Mount Rainer in the Cascade Mountains to the south and Mount Baker in the Olympic Mountains to the east pop into your sights. Be sure to also check out The Loupe, the world’s first revolving glass floor observation deck.
Visiting Seattle on a rainy day? Skip the Space Needle observation deck and check out the Seattle Center’s museums. Options include the Pacific Science Center, Seattle Children’s Museum, and Chihuly Garden & Glass.
Unleash your inner Hendrix at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
Launched in 2000, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is a must-visit Seattle attraction for music fans & film lovers. Once called the Experience Music Project, the museum sits on the northeastern edge of the Space Needle.
Designed by the famed architect Frank Gehry, MoPOP catches the eye from the moment you catch a glimpse. Like Gehry’s other buildings, the museum’s twisting & wavy exterior metal panels aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Before you settle on an opinion though, pop in for a visit. You may soon change your mind.
Although MoPOP covers all things pop culture, its sweet spot is its music collection. At the music exhibition, you’ll find priceless artifacts from Seattle’s most famous musical acts. Browse through its exhibits. You’ll find gems like stage-worn clothes & guitars from Jimi Hendrix, and demo tapes & handwritten lyrics from Kurt Cobain. You’ll also see memorabilia from other Seattle rock legends like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
Elsewhere in the museum, check out its interesting science fiction & fantasy exhibitions. They include costumes, props, and models from TV shows and movies like Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Star Wars.
Zip downtown on the Seattle Center Monorail
Once you’re done experiencing MoPop, hop onto the Seattle Center Monorail. The monorail station is a 2-minute walk east of the museum; in fact, the monorail track runs right through the museum!
Built for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, the Seattle Center Monorail isn’t just a cool public transport option; it’s one of the city’s major points of interest. The elevated rail line completes a 0.9-mile run from the Seattle Center to the Westlake Center Downtown Seattle. The trip only takes about two minutes. The bird’s eye views of Seattle’s downtown will be unforgettable.
Peruse the Seattle Art Museum
From the downtown monorail station, you’ll have a few options. The area around the station is home to some of the best places to go shopping in Seattle. You may want to spend time browsing fashions at boutiques or shopping malls like Pacific Place. Need to stock up for your Pacific Northwest trip? There are several outdoor stores nearby on Pike Street, including The North Face and Arc’teryx.
If culture is more your jam, embark on the 8-minute walk from Westlake Center to the Seattle Art Museum. The museum, known as SAM by locals, is one of the West Coast’s coolest art museums.
The collection at the Seattle Art Museum is eclectic. Its 35 galleries span everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern American art. Outside its permanent collection, SAM hosts several rotating exhibits. The temporary exhibits feature artists from around the world.
Gawk at the Seattle Public Library
Done perusing art? From the museum, it’s less than a ten-minute walk to the Seattle Public Library. While it may seem like an odd suggestion for a 1-day Seattle trip, you’ll quickly see the method behind the madness.
The Seattle Central Library is one of the city’s most stunning modern architecture examples. Opened in 2004, the building was designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The 11-story unique metal and glass structure is striking both inside and out. (And, for book lovers, its 1.5 million-strong book collection is bound to excite, too!)
Marvel at the skyline from the Columbia Center
It’s impossible to miss the next stop on your Seattle travel plan. Quite literally. Two blocks south of the library, you’ll spot the soaring Columbia Center. At 933 feet, the Columbia Center is the tallest building in Seattle.
While the Space Needle gets all the attention for its high-flying views, the Columbia Center might have it beat. The tower’s Sky View Observatory is perched upon the 73rd floor. At 902 feet above the ground, the observation deck is a whopping 382 feet higher than the Space Needle’s.
Surprisingly, admission to the Columba Center is also cheaper. If you want to Seattle from above at its finest, don’t skip it!
Chow down in the Seattle Chinatown-International District
Walk south of the Columbia Center. In about ten minutes, you’ll land in the Seattle Chinatown-International District. The neighborhood comprises the city’s three historic Asian-American communities: Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon.
By this point in the day, you’ll likely be famished. And the Seattle Chinatown-International District is one of the best places to eat in Seattle.
Of course, the focus is delectable Asian fare. If you’re craving a sushi dinner, book yourself a table at Maneki. Dating back to 1904, this popular Japanese restaurant is a Seattle foodie landmark. For yummy Chinese soup dumplings in an industrial-chic setting, hit up the Dough Zone Dumpling House. Or slurp noodles to your heart’s content at Mike’s Noodle House.
If it happens to be open, try to sneak in a visit to the Wing Luke Museum. The museum details the journey of Asian Pacific American culture in Seattle. Fans of martial arts & film will love the exhibit on Seattle’s most famous Asian-American resident, Bruce Lee.
Once you’re fuelled up, spend some time wandering through the district’s eclectic shops. Book lovers will cherish the chance to browse the collection at Kinokuniya. The Seattle branch of Japan’s most popular bookstore chain is located in the Umajimaya Village shopping complex. You’ll also find a large Asian supermarket if you want to stock up on hard-to-find ingredients for some cooking adventures.
Unwind in Capitol Hill
Still got some energy left in the tank? Grab a taxi (or hop aboard the Seattle Streetcar) and head to the Capitol Hill district. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from the Chinatown-International District.
By night, the diverse Capitol Hill neighborhood is one of the coolest places to hang out in Seattle. The youthful & vibrant district is packed with trendy bars, pubs & restaurants.
Most of the action in Capitol centers around E Pike Street and E Pine Street. Stroll around the surrounding blocks to see what tickles your fancy.
Where to stay in Seattle in 24 hours
If you’ve got limited time, choosing where to stay in Seattle isn’t so difficult. For a quick trip or layover, stick to the main areas & neighborhoods in & around downtown. It offers the best selection of hotels & lodgings. Be sure to book well in advance if you’re visiting in the tourism high season.
Located in the heart of the business district, The Paramount Hotel is a fantastic accommodation option that won’t break the bank. Rooms are spacious & styled with modern furnishings. The hotel is a 10-minute walk from Pike Place.
One of the city’s top mid-range hotels, Hyatt Regency Seattle sits between Belltown and Downtown. The location puts you minutes from the city’s top shopping & sightseeing opportunities. The clean & contemporary room design is perfect for enjoying a relaxing night.
Looking for the ultimate Seattle luxury experience? Splurge on a night at the Four Seasons Seattle. The 5-star hotel is one of the top luxury hotels in Seattle. Every aspect of your stay will be perfect. Besides the divine rooms, you’ll enjoy extra amenities like a rooftop infinity pool, hot tub, and sauna.
More 24 hours in Seattle itinerary ideas
Woodland Park Zoo
Got extra time and want to escape the crowds? Venture 15 minutes north of downtown to Woodland Park Zoo. It’s a fantastic addition to your trip plan if you’re traveling with kids.
The award-winning Woodland Park Zoo sits on 92 acres of lush greenery. Over 300 species call the zoo home. The zoo is also a worldwide leader in its conservation and education programs. It’ll be an educational & entertaining outing for the whole family.
Gas Works Park
Of Seattle’s almost 500 parks, few are more popular with visitors than Gas Works Park. The park pokes out onto the northern shores of Lake Union on the edge of the Northlake neighborhood.
Gas Works Park is one of Seattle’s most unique parks. The park sits on the site of a former gasification plant. Walking about Gas Works Park, you’ll be to explore the old installations in all their grungy industrial glory.
Try to time your visit to Gas Works Park with the sunset. Grab a seat on the grass to watch the sun dip below downtown’s glimmering skyscrapers. If you want to avoid the crowds, mornings are generally quieter.
Located about a mile northwest of the Needle, Kerry Park is another favorite panorama spot in the city. The park is a hit with local Seattleites and visitors alike.
Although small, Kerry Park clings to the southern slopes of Queen Anne Hill. The higher vantage point unleashes the most iconic skyline views in the city. On a clear night, you’ll even see mighty Mount Rainier in the background.
One of Seattle’s quirkier attractions, the Fremont Troll is a must-see 18-foot-tall sculpture. It dwells underneath the Aurora Bridge north of the downtown. The artwork was carved by a handful of University of Washington architecture students. It depicts the giant troll crushing an old VW Beetle to oblivion.
Parking around the sculpture is tight. You may want to park elsewhere in Fremont and take a stroll to the installation.
Got an extra day to spare? Spend on a day trip to Bainbridge Island. The island is located just 35 minutes from Seattle by ferry. Bainbridge Island is a quaint small-town escape from the buzzing Pacific Northwest metropolis.
The island’s main town is quite pleasant itself. You’ll find a couple art galleries & museums. The selection includes the Bainbridge Island Art Museum and Bainbridge Island Historical Museum.
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The true treat of visiting though is the Bloedel Reserve. The leafy 150-acre nature preserve delights with its lush forest and landscaped gardens. The views over Puget Sound from its manor house are breathtaking.
When to visit Seattle
The best time to visit Seattle is between July and October. Although the weather is at its best in July and August, the crowds are also at their densest. Room availability is tighter and accommodation prices higher at this time of year.
A great alternative is the fall shoulder season. September is one of the drier months in Seattle and the weather is still mild to warm. In the shoulder season, you should be able to score better deals on your hotel room.
How to get to Seattle
Seattle is served by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Also known as Sea-Tac, the airport lies about 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of downtown. SEA is a major gateway for Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
Seattle is within driving distance of several popular destinations in the United States and Canada. Sample routes and shortest driving times include:
- Vancouver, BC (2h27m)
- Victoria, BC (4h39m)
- Tacoma, WA (35m)
- Spokane, WA (4h4m)
- Portland, OR (2h40m)