Seattle can be an expensive city to visit, but if you know where to look and how to entertain yourself, you can save a lot of money.
Between exploring lively markets and heading out on outdoor excursions, the Emerald City has a variety of activities that will leave your wallet in your pocket and your tourist heart amused.
Here are the top 25 free things to do in Seattle.
1. Explore Pike Place Market
Touristy, but justifiably so, Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s top sights and absolutely free – except for the money you’ll be tempted to spend here.
The range of stalls, from fishmongers and florists to food stands, demonstrates the Port of Seattle’s importance and why it became such a valuable jewel in the Pacific Northwest’s crown. This is a great place to shop and people-watch any day of the year.
2. Enjoy Fremont's Public Sculptures
You don't need to pay museum entrance fees to see some of the city's best and most iconic art. Fremont is an art gallery in and of itself, with public sculptures sharing sidewalk space with pedestrians and cyclists throughout the neighborhood.
Each of the 10 or so pieces is totally unique, and you'll often find them dressed up for holidays or other special events. Together they represent a window into Fremont's golden era of counterculture bliss.
While in the neighborhood, pay a visit to the iconic Fremont Troll. The 18ft-high cement figure snacking on a Volkswagen Beetle is a popular spot for late-night revelry.
3. Tour the Frye Art Museum
This small museum on First Hill preserves the collection of Charles and Emma Frye. The Fryes collected more than 1000 paintings, mostly 19th- and early-20th-century European and American pieces, and a few Alaskan and Russian artworks.
Most of the Frye Museum's permanent collection is stuffed into a rather small gallery and comes across as a little “busy." Still, the Frye's tour de force is its sensitively curated temporary shows, which usually have a much more modern bent.
4. Stroll through Olympic Sculpture Park
The Space Needle isn’t the only large-scale metal construction in the city; Olympic Sculpture Park, managed by the Seattle Art Museum, is home to over a dozen large artworks, with access free and open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.
From the sweeping red Eagle to the unusual Echo, this is a great place to partake of Seattle’s art-loving culture.
5. Wander through Ballard Locks
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, more commonly known as the Ballard Locks, are a valuable link for ships moving between Puget Sound and lakes Union and Washington. About 40,000 to 50,000 boats move through the locks annually.
Construction began in 1911, and thanks to a fish ladder that allows salmon to reach the spanning waters of the Sammamish River, sea lions are a constant presence.
6. Go for a hike at Discovery Park
Covering 534 acres near the Magnolia neighborhood, Discovery Park provides a variety of terrains for those wanting a bit of outdoor time in the heart of the city.
Choose between forested trails, the rocky beach and exploring the West Point Lighthouse – as far west as you can be within the city limits. All are free and beautifully preserved by the city.
Additionally, the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center at Discovery Park is free and displays a permanent collection of Native American artwork and special exhibitions.
7. Join a neighborhood art walk
Throughout the summer months, Seattle’s neighborhoods take turns opening their gallery doors for the artistic-minded to explore at will.
Pioneer Square galleries open the first Thursday, Belltown hosts on the second Friday of each month, and Capitol Hill’s event is on the second Thursday. (Full neighborhood schedule).
In addition to free gallery access, many local businesses offer daily specials for these nights, making them perfect for a cheap evening out.
8. Head out on a pay-what-you-feel walking tour
Since 2012, Seattle Free Walking Tours has brought European-style informative strolls to the Emerald City. Organized as a nonprofit, these intimate two-hour walks give you a chance to learn more about corners of the city like Pioneer Square, the waterfront and downtown.
Visitors also hear the stories of many notable people who have called Seattle home, from the native Duwamish to the city’s biggest celebrities.
9. Drink in the locals’ view of the skyline
There are far cheaper ways to take in the Seattle skyline than forking out big bucks for the Space Needle.
Enjoy the view over Lake Union from Gas Works Park while families and dogs frolic on the grassy hills. Or contemplate the free but priceless panorama of the entire skyline (Space Needle included) from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill.
Another great spot is the 107-step Water Tower Observation Deck in Volunteer Park. Built in 1907, the deck provides beautiful vistas of the Space Needle, Elliott Bay and – should it be in the mood – Mt Rainier.
10. Stop by an open mic night at Hugo House
On the first and third Monday of every month, the mics at Hugo House are open to any and all writers in the city through an event called “Works in Progress.” Listeners are welcome, though we’ve heard that the stories are not necessarily family-friendly – it’s a public open mic night, after all!
11. Work up a sweat at Green Lake and Myrtle Edwards Park
With the great outdoors on their doorstep, it’s no surprise that Seattleites love their exercise, and there are plenty of ways to get some – many of them free.
If you need somewhere to get back in cycling shape, try a few circuits on Green Lake Park – a 2.8-mile loop. Runners should head for Myrtle Edwards Park and hit the paths along the shores of Elliot Bay.
12. Celebrate the cultural side of the city at the Seattle Center
Nearly every weekend, the Seattle Center hosts various events, including cultural festivals collectively known as Festál.
From the Irish Festival in March to the Polish Festival in July and CroatiaFest in October, immerse yourself in ethnic food, dance and celebration, all without spending a dime on admission.
13. Watch the sunset or light your own fire
Pyromaniacs can indulge their fiery tendencies in Golden Gardens Park, one of the few public parks that allow open fires (in designated areas).
The park is also one of the best spots in the city to watch the sunset (on those days when Seattle is graced with a cloudless sky). The only thing you’ll spend is time deciding on your favorite location to enjoy the moment.
14. Hit the beach for some saltwater fun
Many of Seattle's plentiful parks also double as beaches, thanks to the bounty of salt and freshwater shoreline. Whether you're looking to swim, kayak, soak up the sun on a beach blanket, or even go ziplining, Seattle’s beaches have plenty of free and affordable activities.
15. Marvel at the botanical Spheres
Amazon's latest construction in the Denny Triangle opened in January 2018 and is quite different from the Amazon Tower I, which went up in 2015 down the street.
Relatively low to the ground with a sci-fi movie aesthetic, the name – the Spheres – says it all. Constructed in white metals and glass, the spheres house a veritable botanic garden's worth of plants.
You can stop in the atrium (called the “Understory”) for a small exhibit on the building's architecture and ethos. Tours are available on the weekend and can be booked on the website.
16. Visit the historic Alki Point Lighthouse
The focal point of one of Seattle's most popular beaches (Alki Beach), Alki Point Lighthouse, dates back to 1913. The US Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse but offers limited seasonal tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
17. Attend a Ladies Musical Club performance
The Ladies Musical Club exists to further interest in classical music in Seattle through free concerts throughout the city.
From West Seattle to Wallingford, this female-only group selects and produces a variety of classical music styles, staging shows in smaller community venues. You can find the club's performance calendar on their website in addition to streaming them on LMC's YouTube channel.
18. Admire art at Roq La Rue
This gallery has secured its reputation by taking risks: the work on view skates along the edge of urban pop culture.
Since opening in 1998, Roq La Rue, owned and curated by Kirsten Anderson, has been a significant force in pop surrealism and is frequently featured in Juxtapoz magazine.
19. Smell the azaleas at the Washington Park Arboretum
This wild and lovely park stretching from Madison Valley to Union Bay offers a wide variety of gardens, a wetlands nature trail and 200 acres of mature forest threaded by paths.
More than 5500 plant species grow within the Washington Park Arboretum’s boundaries. In the spring, Azalea Way – a meandering trail that winds through the arboretum – is lined with a giddy array of pink- and orange-flowered azaleas and rhododendrons.
20. Relax at Waterfall Garden Park
Waterfall Garden Park was one of Seattle’s first small “parklets” or “pocket parks.” Tucked quietly into the Pioneer Square neighborhood, the park has a 22ft waterfall and is a great spot to take a break during a busy day of sightseeing.
21. Wander the rows at the Seattle Rose Garden
The 2.5-acre Seattle Rose Garden, near the entrance road to the zoo off N 50th St, was started in 1924 and contains 5000 plant species, including heirloom roses and a test garden for All-America Rose Selections.
22. Dive into history at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Eloquently run by the US National Park Service, this wonderful museum has exhibits, photos and news clippings from the 1897 Klondike gold rush, when Seattle acted as a fueling depot for prospectors bound for the Yukon in Canada.
Entry would cost US$20 anywhere else; in Seattle, it’s free! The museum opened in 2006 and is housed in the old Cadillac Hotel (built in 1889). It was rescued from a horrible fate after nearly being toppled in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.
The best part of the Klondike Gold Rush Museum is its clever use of storytelling. At the outset, you’re introduced to five local characters who became stampeders (Klondike prospectors) in the 1890s.
You're then invited to follow their varying fortunes and experiences periodically throughout the rest of the museum. Sound effects and interactive exhibits bring these stories to life.