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10 Tips & Tricks for Traveling to Seattle for the First Time

Seattle, a city that defies categorization, is a unique gem in the American landscape. It blends the allure of a bustling metropolis with the serenity of its surrounding natural beauty, a hallmark of the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

Renowned for its distinct coffee culture, outdoor activities, thriving art scene, and music culture, Seattle beckons to be explored by all. 

While its nickname, the Emerald City, might make you think of “The Wizard of Oz,” they’re unrelated. Instead, it refers to the everpresent greenery found around the city. Sure, Seattle is known for having many rainy days, but as anyone who has visited Ireland can attest, all that rain means lots of incredible greenery all year round. 

Downtown Seattle skyline at twilight, Washington State

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1. Plan to Stay for 3 or 4 Days

While a brief two-day visit can offer a taste of Seattle’s charm, a more leisurely three or four-day stay is highly recommended.

This extended period allows you to fully immerse yourself in the city’s rich cultural and natural offerings, especially if it’s your first visit. With over two dozen museums, nearly 500 parks, and a vibrant cityscape to explore, Seattle promises a fulfilling experience. 

Limiting your time in the city doesn’t allow you the space to see anything else. You can drink only so much coffee from the original Starbucks to keep you going. For shorter itineraries, consider downtown as the area to stay in Seattle, so you don’t have to travel so far to see some of those big tourist spots.

2. Visit in the Summer for the Best Weather

To the surprise of no one, summer is the most popular time to visit Seattle. What makes this destination different, however, is the mild weather compared to many other spots in the U.S. in the summer months. Highs during June, July, and August sit around the high 60s and low 70s, making this the perfect place for tourists who don’t love blistering heat. 

Even though the city is known for its rainy weather, the summer is the best time to avoid a dreary Seattle. It only rains for a handful of days all summer long. While you can’t ever predict what weather will be weeks or months out, you can generally assume it won’t rain a lot if you visit in the summer. 

A view of Alki Beach in West Seattle, Washington. The month is February.

3. Visit in the Fall or Spring for the Best Prices

If you’re looking to visit Seattle on a budget, your best bet is to go during the fall or spring. Specifically, April-May and September-October are the shoulder seasons in Seattle. You’ll save money on lodging and still have milder (albeit rainier) weather. These are especially great months to visit if you’re more of an indoors person. 

The weather in the spring months will have high temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s, with more rain than in the summer. However, the average rainy days, even in notoriously rainy April, are only about ⅓ of the month, so the savings are probably worth that umbrella in your carry-on. 

4. Take Advantage of Public Transit

In spite of its size, Seattle has better public transportation options than other cities with similar populations. Besides the ferry boats (shout out to McDreamy and any “Grey’s Anatomy” fans out there who get it), you’ve also got several bus lines and train transportation options to get you around. 

Streetcars, for example, aren’t just a fun way to get around; they’re a piece of Seattle history—Seattle has had streetcars since 1889! In many cities, streetcars have gone extinct even though they’ve made a comeback in recent years. They’re particularly exciting for little ones who may never have seen one in real life before. 

5. Be Prepared for Weather

Remember how I mentioned that most visitors go to Seattle during not-so-rainy seasons? Well, Seattle is still one of the country’s rainiest cities, so you should always come prepared for some drizzles. In a given year, there will be 156 rainy days in Seattle, surprisingly making it one of the rainiest cities but not THE rainiest. 

Its unique location off the ocean but near the Cascade Mountains is one reason the weather can be so finicky. Even if it isn’t rainy when you visit, there’s a good chance it will be cloudy. It isn’t uncommon for Seattle to have 300 or more cloudy days in a year, making it not only one of the rainiest but one of the cloudiest places in the country. 

Just in case, you may want to pack a few weather-related items. They don’t take up much room, and you’ll be glad you brought them if you need them.

Seattle Packing List

6. Rent a Car to See More

If you plan on staying in downtown Seattle for most of your itinerary, you probably don’t need to rent a car. Public transit, cabs, or rideshares will get you where you need to go. The city is also known for being very walkable and pedestrian-friendly. That said, a rental car will come in handy if you want to explore the region outside of Seattle. 

Just be prepared for downtown traffic, which can be jarring if you aren’t used to driving in a major city. According to Axios, Seattle is ranked 7th in a list of worst downtown traffic in the United States. Don’t let that scare you away from renting a car; just be aware that drive times might take longer than expected – especially if you’re driving during rush hour. 

If you want to explore areas like Mount Rainier, Snoqualmie Falls, or Tacoma, a car will be the easiest way to enjoy the day trips. I especially recommend the darling town of Leavenworth, which looks like it was airlifted straight from Bavaria. 

7. See More than Pike Place Market

Any major city has a handful of must-see spots. Whether you’re into quirkier things like the Gum Wall (which you’ll find on Post Alley), the observation deck at the Space Needle, or just perusing the homes in the Queen Anne neighborhood, Seattle has some heavy hitters. But you shouldn’t visit and just see those attractions when there is so much more to do and see! 

Glimpse into the city’s past at Gas Works Park, marvel at the wonders of Dave Chihuly’s glass sculptures at Chihuly Garden and Glass, or just take in the views of Seattle from Kerry Park.

You could take to the skies at The Museum of Flight or hang out at the Seattle Pinball Museum. When it comes to things to do, you won’t be bored in Seattle even after you have that blonde roast from the original Starbucks. 

SEATTLE; WASHINGTON - Pike Place Market at night. The popular tourist destination opened in 1907 and; is one of the oldest continuously operated public markets in the United states.

8. Buy a CityPass

When you’re trying to knock out a bunch of tourist attractions at once, the admission fees add up. That’s when something like CityPass comes in handy. I highly recommend investing in one, especially if you’re an attractions person. For the cost of the CityPass, you can get into five attractions, two of which include the Space Needle and the Seattle Aquarium. 

Besides those heavy hitters, you can also get into three more spots. You can choose from the Chihuly Garden, a harbor tour with Argosy Cruises, the Museum of Pop Culture, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Pacific Science Center. Considering that adult admission at the Space Needle is over $70, the $127 price tag for a five-attraction CityPass is a massive bargain. 

9. Download the ORCA App

For anyone who plans to use public transit anyway, having the ORCA app ready when you arrive in Seattle makes sense. With this transit ticketing app, you don’t have to fuss with a physical card and can get to where you need to go even faster. 

Kiddos under five ride for free with a paying adult. However, other kids through age 18 also ride for free with their own ORCA card or school ID. For families traveling in Seattle without a car, this is a chance to save money as you toodle around the city. ORCA discounts are also for seniors (65+), people with disabilities, Medicare recipients, and other benefit program participants. 

10. Be prepared for hills

It may surprise you, but Seattle is one of the hilliest cities in the country. That’s right, like San Francisco, Seattle has a lot of hills.

If you have difficulty walking on inclines or use mobility devices, you may want to map out less hilly routes. Otherwise, be sure you pack good shoes to protect your feet and give your legs the support they need to keep you going. 

The terrain south of University Street is particularly steep and hilly when you’re downtown. A few apps that might be of help in finding the flatter terrain, as well as accessible businesses and locations, include: 

Seattle, Washington State, United States - Pioneer Square district and Centurylink Field stadium.

Regardless of what brings you to Seattle, your first trip should be magical! It would be an understatement to say it is a unique place, though you won’t know how unique it is until you get there.

For travelers like me who long for gloomy weather, a city like Seattle can hit the spot. The abundant greenery will draw you in, the enticing aroma of coffee in the air will keep you, and the vibes will make it hard to say goodbye. 

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Author

  • Amanda Finn

    Amanda, a Chicago-based travel journalist, has explored 20 countries and 27 states since childhood. Featured in publications like Huffington Post and Ms. Magazine, they specialize in LGBTQIA+ travel, theme parks, itineraries, traveling with pets, and purposeful travel.

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