Seattle is the only city I’ve visited in the US so far, soaking up the sights from the Space Needle and the sounds from Belltown. When I put the word out, fellow travel blogger Annie Bettis jumped at the chance to write about her 48 hours in Seattle.
When Justin first asked me to write a post for him, I was beyond excited to get started. I was at the time, still in Seattle, with all of these fantastic ideas on how I was going to be Seattle’s big social journalist for the summer. Then I realized that Seattle already had a social journalist, many of them in fact. Then my high hopes fizzled a bit more when I realized that even living in the city for five years (all of which I was trapped inside the University bubble) I knew literally nothing about it. So, I set off to do the research.
Things to See and Do
As in any major city there are some must-see attractions that are native to Seattle alone. The most obvious being taking the elevator ride up to the top of the famous Space Needle.
Seattle has one of the most beautiful and most unique skylines in the country (and maybe the world), and the opportunity to be a part of it is something that cannot be passed up. The ticket to the top costs $18, or you can purchase a 24-hour pass for $24 which will get you in twice within a 24-hour period, giving you a chance to experience both day and night overlooking this beautiful city. Another easy option is booking a table at the Needle’s famous revolving restaurant or grabbing a fancy cocktail at its bar. The former of the two options may be out of budget for most travelers, unless it calls for a special occasion. A 24-hour ticket is included in the Seattle CityPass, which may be something to consider if you have a few days to explore.
Pike Place Market
Alongside the Space Needle in importance is Pike Place Market. No matter how many times you visit there is always something new to see. Just walk through it admiring the hand-made crafts and foods or taste-testing the perfect produce. Even if you don’t buy anything, the photo opportunities alone are worth it. Of course, you must stop at the Pike Place Fish Market and watch the show as the men behind the counter make a big ordeal about packing customers fish before eventually, inevitably, throwing one into the crowd.
Fremont is one of Seattle’s most famous neighborhoods for a few good reasons. With the most sights to be seen it becomes a sort of treasure hunt to spot all of the strange additions to this Lake Union neighborhood. The most famous of these would have to be the troll who for years has held his ground under the Aurora Bridge. He is located on North 36th Street and Troll Avenue. The troll probably gained most of his fame for being featured in the hit 90s-teen-movie Ten Things I Hate About You but just as Seattle is famous for, he is actually a piece of quirky public art.
To catch the most famous view in Seattle take the hike up Queen Anne Hill to Kerry Park. The park has a perfect outlook back over the city and it is bound to be one of the highlights or your time in Seattle. While you’re there, take a stroll around Queen Anne, although it may not have much to offer by means of attractions, it is Seattle’s oldest and one of its most popular neighborhoods.
Enjoy a picnic and the view from Gasworks Park. Looking out over the smaller of Seattle’s lakes, Lake Union, this is the perfect spot to admire the city. From here you can see the city straight across the lake and watch as the Ride the Ducks passengers travel across the water on their questionable tin boat. To your right is the Fremont Bridge making Gasworks Park and Fremont easy to combine as a one day activity. The old gas pipes that dominate the park are nothing more than a friendly contrast to the deep green grass of the rainy city.
Food and Drink
Seattle is famous for its abundance of Happy Hours. When you are on a travellers budget, this can truly be a lifesaver. Many of these offer discount priced food rather than drinks but when you substitute a few appetizer-sized plates for dinner you will find that you are still saving money.
If you are looking for a trendy bar to have drinks and meals then head to the Belltown neighbourhood, along 1st Avenue alone there are at least four or five great bars and restaurants.
Elliot’s Oyster House
One of the best Happy Hours in the city is at Elliot’s Oyster House which sits on Pier 56 along Alaskan Way. Elliot’s features a progressive happy hour starting at three o’clock with fifty cent oysters, with prices raising fifteen cents every half hour. Their Happy Hour menu includes discounted local ales and other specials.
If you only eat at one place in Seattle, make it Ivar’s. I know greasy fish and chips feels like a must-do in England but give this place a shot as well. If you visit the original location on Pier 54 you will even have the company of some of the world’s fattest seagulls. These birds were friends of founder Ivar Haglund and he never let anyone chase them away. Therefore, even 73 years later, they are still around. Ivar encouraged patrons to feed the hungry gulls and today they are so overfed that they won’t even dive for your offerings, only taking the ones that are thrown to their mouth level.
Being as these places are located on the waterfront, both are an easy take-off to explore the rest of the very touristy pier, the aquarium or if you continue on further, the beautiful water’s edge Myrtle Edwards Park.
How to get there
If you are arriving in Seattle via airplane then you’ll be landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is located in SeaTac in South Seattle. In recent years, the Sound Transit has finally finished work on the very convenient LightRail. Taking the Central Link will get you into the center of Downtown Seattle with the last stop being Westlake Shopping Center.
A bit of orientation
The main center of Seattle sits between the gigantic Lake Washington and tremendously smaller Lake Union and spreads around Lake Union with Fremont and GasWorks Park on the north end of the Lake and the city spreading along the East shores and around. If you’re short on time you’ll want to stay in this vicinity and see all that the quirky city has to offer.
If you want a bit more you can head east of the I-5 Bridge (or take I-5 North) and check out the University District. Heading south will take you to Southern Seattle, Boeing and SeaTac International Airport and North will take you to suburbs like Northgate and Everett before winding further up I-5 to Bellingham and eventually Vancouver, B.C., which is approximately a three hour drive (140 miles/230 km) north of Seattle.
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Seattle.
Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in Seattle in a larger map
Get around in Seattle
Seattle has a huge public transport system that, unfortunately, is not very user-friendly. The good news is that Google Maps has it down to a science. You just google point A to point B and it tells you what bus to catch where. Tickets on King Country Metro are $2.25 in non-peak hours and $2.50 in peak hours for a transfer lasting up to 90 minutes. Sound Transit runs slightly different but is more of a commuter system and should not need to be used if you plan on staying in the main city areas.
Where to stay
If you want to be centrally located, then I would choose accommodation in Belltown or the Seattle Center near the Space Needle. Seattle is home to two very highly-recommended hostels; The Green Tortoise, located directly across from Pike Place Market on Pike Street and City Hostel in Belltown on 2nd Avenue.
Seattle is one of the cheaper of the US’s big cities. As with anywhere you can generally always find ways to cut costs, and great Happy Hours help the cause. If you want to dine at some of Seattle’s finest restaurants then prices may be high but most of the bars and small places in the city have very affordable choices.
If you plan to stay in the city center you can save money by walking or remembering to always ask your bus driver for a transfer and planning your sightseeing strategically around the 90-minute bus period. If you want to visit Seattle’s suburbs then you’ll have to foot the bill for public transport and taxis because Seattle’s lakes and inclusion of nature into all things have resulted in a spread out city.
Seattle is a small big city but in my, unintentionally biased, opinion it deserves just as much attention. It has all the culture and art of New York, the food and diversity of San Francisco and the beautiful nature and sparkling water of San Diego. And don’t let the rumors fool you, although it may be a bit more grey than other cities, it does not rain nearly as much as many other cities in the U.S. In fact, the average rainfall per year in Seattle falls is at approximately 42 inches per year, while the average rainfall per year in Miami is nearly 60 inches!
Don’t pass up Seattle for more popular cities, plus it is an easy gateway to the cultural meccas of Vancouver and Portland.