42 Free and Cheap Things to do in Seattle, Washington
Planning a budget friendly trip to Seattle and looking for free and cheap things to do in Seattle, Washington? We’ve got 41 diverse, unique and fun things to do in Seattle on a budget. Keep reading to discover these hidden gems…
Back when we first got married we moved to Seattle, Washington. Seattle was where we met 4 years earlier when we were biking across America together. This city has, and always will, hold a special place in our hearts. From the bustling coffee loving urban vibe to the outdoor opportunities that await just a short drive from the city center, Seattle has it all!
When we lived in Seattle we were on a very tight, newlywed budget but that didn’t stop us from discovering all that the city had to offer! We searched high and low for affordable opportunities all across the city and discovered some truly special places and things. This list is a collection of the tried and true things we loved in Seattle. We regularly passed this list around to friends and family when they’d visit us. Years later, we’re finally sharing our best Seattle secrets with you!
The Best Free and Cheap and Things to do in Seattle, WA
When you think of Seattle, you probably think of Pike Place Market. The iconic sign, the views of the Puget Sound, and the fish being tossed across the market. While Pike Place Market can get a little touristy, don’t believe for a second the locals don’t hang around from time to time. It’s one of the locals’ and tourists' alike favorite free things to do in Seattle. In fact, some of Seattle’s best restaurants and shops have booths in the market.
Note: If you’re looking for the fish being tossed, it’ll be the first main fish booth you see when you walk into the market at the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place.
The name says it all: It’s a wall covered in gum. While the tradition goes back to 1933, it was formally recognized as a tourist attraction in 1999. Today people come from all over to get their picture in front of the brightly colored, gum covered walls. I always roll my eyes at the tourists taking their picture there, but let’s be real, I have more than one picture of myself there, too.
Discovery Park is one of my absolute favorite spots in the entire city! This was my place to relax and unwind when the city felt crowded or work got to be a little busy. No matter if you’re looking for a beautiful view or some time alone on a trail, this park is the perfect place for you! The park has miles of hiking trails, a rocky beach, and even a lighthouse. You could easily spend an entire day exploring and enjoying Discovery Park!
This just might be the best kept secret of the free things to do in Seattle. While something like the Center for Wooden Boats might now sound exciting, this center is dedicated to making water sports accessible to all. One way they help getting people on the water is by providing multiple free activities including:
Visit the "Hogwarts Library" at the University of Washington
The Suzzallo and Allen Libraries at the University of Washington share an uncanny resemblance to the famous Hogwarts library from Harry Potter. This is a total coincident since the library is much older than the beloved book series. Whether or not you're a Harry Potter fan, you're sure to find this library impressive. It's gothic style architecture is breathtaking and the fact that it's free and open to the public is a huge plus! Bonus tip: visit when the cherry blossoms are blooming on campus. People come from all over to witness these beautiful trees bloom!
Note: Please be respectful when visiting the library. It's a fully functioning library where real students are trying to study hard so be sure to be quiet.
Both of these piers located on the waters of Elliott Bay offer beautiful views of the city and a nice place to relax amidst the chaos of the more touristy area of Seattle. Grab a coffee at one of our favorite coffee shops, Storyville Coffee, and take a walk down the pier.
The Frye Art Museum isn’t Seattle’s largest art museum, but it is free. Not only is the price point spot on, it’s home to a wonderful regular collection as well as rotating collections that are worth more attention than they get. The Frye Museum is often overshadowed by the more famous Seattle Museum of Art, but both are worth a visit for art lovers.
If you’re looking for free things to do in Seattle, look no further than Seattle’s urban trail system! We specifically love the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop Trail and the Burke Gilman Trail. Both trails are connected and take you winding through North Seattle’s urban area. With breathtaking mountain views and great spots to stop along the way and grab lunch or a drink. If you want to picnic, be sure to stop at Gas Works Park along the way. We’ve found that these trails are able to give you the best of both worlds that Seattle has to offer.
While you’re on the Burke Gilman Trail, be sure to check out the Ballard Locks & Fish Ladder. This is a great experience for kids and adults alike! There are free guided tours through the ladder where you can see various fish swimming through the locks and learn more about the rich fishing and boating history in Seattle. There are also great food & drinks options right on the water nearby so grab a coffee or some lunch and stay awhile!
You may be familiar with Theo Chocolate from seeing it on the shelves of your local market. Did you know it originated in Seattle? The factory and flagship store are right in the city and you’re able to visit and take a factory tour. Although the tour is not free (currently $12 per person) you are able to peruse all the amazing chocolate options at their flagship store! We love Theo since it’s local to Seattle and all fair trade chocolate with a beautiful mission that helps people around the world, plus it tastes amazing! Be sure to grab a chocolate bar while you’re there, it’ll pair well with a picnic at a nearby park!
Located in Seattle’s West Seattle neighborhood, Alki Beach is by far the best beach in Seattle. With great views of the Seattle skyline from the west, you’ll find a lot of folks enjoying their summer weekends here. The beach spans half a mile, allowing for ample space to bring a couple beach chairs and umbrella with friends or by yourself with a good book. There are also volleyball courts, fire pits, an art studio and ample parking on Alki Ave SW. This is one of our favorite free things to do in Seattle in the summertime.
Columbia Tower is the tallest building in Seattle and offers incredible views of the city and mountains surrounding the Puget Sound. Here’s the deal though: you can pay to get to the very top of the tower and experience Seattle from the observation deck on the 73rd floor to get the best view, or, if you want to save a bit of money, you can take a free ride to the 42nd floor and enjoy views from the Starbucks there.
This may be obvious, as most folks think Starbucks when they think of Seattle. We still had to make sure to put it on the list as it’s a must-see! Located right in Capitol Hill, the roastery is a beautiful place to visit and grab some fun drinks you may not see on most menus at your local Starbucks. For a small price (about $15 per person) you can take an extensive tour or even book a private tour, but simply visiting the roastery is one of the best free things to do in Seattle!
There are so many amazing hikes in the Seattle area! Closest hikes would be near Snoqualmie Pass which is home to some of our favorite hikes! If you’re looking for a quick day trip, we recommend hiking Snow Lake Trail, Mt. Si, or Poo Poo Point. If the wind is right, you can catch paragliders taking off from Poo Poo Point which is super fun to watch!
Although riding the ferry is not one of the free things to do in Seattle, the $8.50 ferry ride ticket is definitely worth the cost. If you’re looking for something slow paced and relaxing to do on your trip while taking in great views, the ferry is a great option! You will want to check the ferry schedule before you head out. There are ferries coming and going often during the day. Once you get off the ferry, Bainbridge Island is there waiting for you with fun shops, diners and even museums.
Getting there: Seattle Ferry Terminal, 801 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA | Use Google Maps
The Woodland Park Zoo is located in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood and is actually one of the oldest zoos in the United States. The zoo itself is not free to visit, but the admission price is worth the almost 100 acres of wildlife you will see! There are also some great restaurants nearby so it’s very easy to grab lunch or dinner after a day at the zoo.
One of our absolute favorite parks in Seattle is Volunteer Park. A quiet, laid back gem in Seattle’s busy Capitol Hill neighborhood. Bring a hammock and maybe a picnic lunch and enjoy the shaded, quiet acres. While there, be sure to climb to the top of the observatory and take in the views.
Getting there: Water Tower, 1247 15th Avenue E, Seattle, WA | Use Google Maps
As the name suggests, this one is in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park, too. This historic greenhouse is a real life secret garden in the middle of the city. Tucked away in a beautiful glass building, the Volunteer Park Conservatory is the perfect place to escape for a few quiet moments during a busy vacation to Seattle. Admission is $4 per adult.
Located on the outskirts of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, Golden Gardens Park is one of the few sandy beaches in the Seattle area. While Alki might be the most popular beach in town, Golden Gardens is the (usually) quieter option with more locals than tourists. Grab a spot on the beach, play a bit of volleyball or walk around the marina to sitesee some of the beautiful sailboats that call this marina home.
Note: We highly recommend grabbing dinner to go from one of the many Ballard restaurants. Dinner on the beach at sunset is pretty hard to beat!
There seems to be an infinite number of incredible public parks and gardens in Seattle! The Washington Park Arboretum just might be the best. The arboretum is a part of the University of Washington but is loved by the entire community. With miles of walking/running trails, incredible flora and fauna, this place is one of the most relaxing free things to do in Seattle. The majority of the arboretum is free, but the Japanese garden requires an admission fee ($8 for adults).
Seward park is a nature oasis not far from the city. Located in the middle of beautiful Lake Washington, Seward Park is home to both paved and dirt trails. This park is perfect for hiking, running, and walking. On a clear day you can spot Mount Rainier from the southern side of the park. It’s one of the most beautiful views of Washington’s iconic volcano and we can’t recommend it enough!
Kerry Park is arguably the best view in Seattle. You can’t visit Seattle without stopping by the park to get a picture with the Space Needle, Mount Rainier and the Puget Sound all in the same shot. Fun fact: this is the view they used for Frasier’s apartment. We recommend grabbing ice cream at the neighborhood location of Molly Moon’s, then walking the 3 blocks to the park. (Molly Moon’s is my absolute favorite ice cream in the country! You must try the honey lavender flavor.)
Seattle is a water centered city. Surrounded by lakes and the Puget Sound, you have to get on the water while visiting Seattle. The most cost effective option is to rent a kayak on Lake Union and kayak around for a bit. While experiencing the city is enough in and of itself, if you want to have a certain point to kayak to, try finding the Sleepless in Seattle home on the western side of the lake. It’s still there and looks the same today as it did in the movie. While renting kayaks isn’t one of the free things to do in Seattle, it can be pretty inexpensive, especially if two people rent a double kayak instead of 2 single kayaks. We recommend checking Groupon to see which rental company is running specials. We rented through Moss Bay and had a wonderful experience!
Note: If you do plan to kayak past the house, please be respectful. This is a private residence and privacy should be respected.
There’s nothing more magical than spending a warm, summer evening in Gas Works Park. Climb to the top of Kite Hill and enjoy the sites of planes landing on the water in front of you, boats floating across the lake, and even paragliders taking off from the same hill you’re standing on. It might just be the most beautiful of the free things to do in Seattle.
Seattle loves their Mariners! However, the Mariner’s have been very good the last several years. That's how they landed here on our list of free and cheap things to do in Seattle. When we lived in Seattle we loved grabbing cheap tickets to the game. Usually the cheapest tickets cost us about $8 per person. Heading down to T-Mobile Park for a game was always a fun date night out. We recommend topping off your visit with a soft pretzel and beer while you cheer for the Mariners.
If you love the Seattle Sounders or the Seattle Seahawks, you might enjoy touring Lumen Field. Home of two of Seattle’s most beloved teams, this place is full of all sorts of sports excitement. Tickets can be purchased online ahead of time.
This nine acre sculpture park garden is a part of the Seattle Museum of Art. Above all, it's meant to be enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike, this garden is the largest green space in downtown Seattle. Be sure to walk through and get a taste of Seattle’s art scene while enjoying views of the mountains on the Olympic Peninsula off in the distance.
When Smith Tower opened in 1914, it was the tallest building on the west coast and one of the tallest in the world. However, today it's the old time style gives it “roaring ‘20s” vibes that instantly transport you back in time that make it so special. Ride up the 35th floor and enjoy a drink in the beautiful Observatory Bar that features daily happy hour specials.
Seattle’s Great Wheel is the tallest ferris wheel on the west coast standing at 175 feet tall! Hop on and experience Seattle’s views of Elliott Bay to your west and the Seattle city skyline towering directly behind you in the east. It’s not free to ride but tickets aren’t too expensive ($15 for adults and $10 for kids ages 3-11).
This might be one of the weirder free things to do in Seattle, but it’s worth a visit. The Fremont Troll was an art installation back in the 1990s and people loved it so much that it’s become iconic. You may have even caught a glimpse of it in the hit movie 10 Things I Hate About You. Find your way to the very top of N 36th Street and you’ll dead end into the troll hiding under the overpass. Climb on it and take a picture of this weird Seattle favorite.
Did you know Amazon is based in Seattle? While the company is located in dozens of buildings across the city, the most iconic contribution they’ve made to the city skyline are The Spheres. These unique bubble looking glass buildings are one of Amazon’s most inventive ideas yet and feature a greenhouse in the middle of the city center. According to the website, “The Spheres are a result of innovative thinking about the character of a workplace and an extended conversation about what is typically missing from urban offices-- a direct link to nature.”
Famous for its unique architecture, Seattle’s Central library is home to more than just books. With some of the best views of Seattle’s downtown city streets, the Seattle library is a great place to grab some truly incredible pictures (and maybe a quiet moment with a good book).
While most of the main attractions at Seattle Center aren’t free (or even cheap), it’s still a really cool place to visit and walk around. You can walk right up to (and underneath) the iconic Space Needle, check out the Neototems Children’s Garden, and see some of the free art installations that surround the museums. If you decide you want to check out some of Seattle's most popular paid attractions located at Seattle Center, we’d strongly encourage you to try the City Pass option to save a significant amount of money.
This might seem like a weird item to have on a travel guide list, but if you’re a Bruce Lee fan, you might want to pay your respects to Mr. Bruce while in Seattle. We had no idea he was buried in Seattle until we happened to wander past his grave one day and saw a crowd of people surrounding it. The cemetery is right next to Volunteer Park so maybe combine these two things if you’re in the area.
Legend has it that this house is the inspiration behind Pixar’s famous movie UP. While Pixar claims it was not the inspiration behind the movie, they did however tie balloons to the house as publicity for their 2009 hit movie to gain national attention.
The story goes that in 2008 Edith Macefield was approached by a Seattle developer to sell her home to make way for what is now a shopping center with a Trade Joes, gym, and more. She refused to sell her beloved home and instead the developer had to build his multi story shopping center around her family home. Seeing the 100+ year old house sandwiched between modern shopping centers is a snapshot of the Seattle that once was side by side with the too quickly developing Seattle of the 21st century. Today locals still regularly tie balloons to the fence in memory of the Late Edith Macefield who lived there until her death in 2008.
Seattle’s farmers markets are one of the best places to try local food and buy some of the most gorgeous flowers the pacific northwest has to offer. During the peak season there are farmers markets to be had everyday around the city (each neighborhood holds their farmers market a different day). For the complete schedule you can visit the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Market Website here.
Note: We recommend the Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday year round.
Watch water planes take off and land from Lake Union Park
One of the things that makes Seattle so unique is the way that water transportation is such an essential part of the lifestyle. Water transportation doesn’t just include boats though-- planes regularly land on the water in Seattle’s Lake Union. Grab a seat (and maybe coffee from nearby Caffe Umbria) and watch planes take off and land. If you want to give flying in a water plane a try, consider booking a trip to nearby Vancouver Island, BC! While tickets are a bit pricey, it’s a direct flight to one of Canada’s gems right from downtown Seattle. (Just don’t forget your passport!)
Looking to get a little exercise on your vacation? Head to the Howe Street Stairs! At 388 steps, these stairs climb 160 feet up the side of Capitol Hill. Once you get to the top, be sure to turn around and appreciate the view you’ve worked for. When we lived in Seattle we used to go run up and down these stairs over and over. Let me tell you, they’re a butt kicker!
Part of what makes Seattle so cool is the amount of outdoor adventure opportunities so easily accessible. REI has always called Seattle home and their flagship store is the perfect place to stock up on all of your outdoor gear needs. Or, if you’re more interested in just walking around and seeing what it’s all about, they always have fun displays set up and there’s a rock climbing wall open for climbing (with a small fee). Be sure to head upstairs to check out their amazing clearance section while you’re there (in the back by the theater), too. If you’re in Seattle for vacation and don’t want to bring all your gear with you from home, consider renting some of your gear from the store.
Seattlites love their beer. With so many fun breweries to choose from, there’s no way you’ll visit them all in one short trip. Every neighborhood is home to unique places to grab a local drink, so we recommend just choosing whichever one you happen to be closest to and give it a try! If you’re with friends (including your four legged friends) we recommend visiting either Optimism Brewery (Capitol Hill neighborhood) and Fremont Brewery (Fremont neighborhood). With rotating food trucks and dog friendly atmosphere, conversation and good drinks are never in short supply. But really, there are so many incredible breweries in Seattle and many of them offer tours if that’s your thing.
We know this one isn’t technically in Seattle, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive day trip from the city to experience the outdoor beauty Washington has to offer, you can’t go wrong visiting any of the national parks. Washington is home to three, all of which rank in our list of favorite national parks in the country. Mount Rainier is definitely the most accessible, but it’s also the busiest (and it’s the only one that charges an admission fee). A short drive north and you’ll find North Cascade National Park and a quick ferry ride west from the city you’ll find Olympic National Park. All of have amazing opportunities outdoor adventure including hiking, kayaking, mountaineering, camping, and more!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!