Five Free Things to do in Seattle

Seattle is a spectacular place to visit: green, gorgeous and exciting. Sitting on the eastern shores of Puget Sound, Washington State’s largest city offers scenic views of the sound and snow-capped Olympic Mountains. Looking at scenery is only one of the many things visitors to Seattle can do. Seeing everything the Emerald City has to offer is a daunting task, not to mention expensive. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Seattle has many activities that don’t cost a penny. Here are five of them:

Pike Place Market

The Pike Place Market and the Space Needle are Seattle’s most famous attractions. It costs to visit the Space Needle, but people can visit the Pike Place Market for free. Market organizers say this iconic landmark draws about 10 million visitors a year, making it one of the state’s most popular attractions.

Pike Place Market
Colorful veggies on sale at the Pike Place Market.

Located in downtown Seattle at First Avenue and Pike Street, the market has been going strong since 1907 when it was established as a result of a consumer revolt against the high price of onions in grocery stores.

Today the market sells more than just onions. A hundred farmers arrange colorful vegetables and fruits so artistically, you’ll think you’re in an art gallery. And watch out for the flying fish!  Pick out a fresh salmon from a bed of ice, then stand back as one fishmonger throws it to another behind the counter who will weigh and wrap it for you. The lower floors of the market are filled with shops selling funky jewelry, antique clothing and the like.

The market is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.


Walk by the Water

After the market, head down the hill to the waterfront. Ride a trolley for free along Alaskan Way or walk on the waterfront side lined with gift shops and seafood restaurants. Take a rest at Waterfront Park, a large deck that extends out over the water.  The park offers panoramic views of Puget Sound with ferries running across it.

If you want a more nature-oriented walk, try Alki Beach in West Seattle for great views of the Seattle skyline.

Downtown Seattle viewed from Alki Beach.

The City of Seattle owns Alki Beach Park with its 2.5 miles of waterfront trails, starting at 1702 Alki Avenue SW. The entrance starts just after you exit the West Seattle Bridge onto Alki Avenue or drive a couple of miles to a small commercial district filled with restaurants, delis and coffee houses. Take time to walk on the beach in this historic community which got its start as a summer resort for early Seattle residents.

Ballard Locks

The Ballard Locks, known officially as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, are located in Seattle’s Scandinavian community where pleasure  boats line up to travel through Ship Canal that connects Puget Sound with Lake Washington.  The locks, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are on the National Register of Historic Places. They are open around the clock, but the grounds are open only between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Visitors can take a break from watching boats  to watching Pacific salmon  make the same trip via a fish ladder  to their spawning grounds.

Visitors can also walk through the delightful Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden named in honor of the locks’ first horticulturist. The garden has more than 570 species of plants.

The locks are located at 3017 NW 54th Street.

Historic Seattle

Pioneer Square played an important part in Seattle’s history, and is a great place to view restored buildings that house professional offices, boutiques and trendy restaurants. The Underground Seattle tour starts here, but there’s a charge for that. Visitors instead should take in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park at 319 Second Avenue South.  The park, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, pays tribute to the role Seattle played in the 1897 gold rush to the Klondike in Canada. Seattle was the departure point for prospectors headed north to make their fortunes. The National Park Service, which operates the facility, says an estimated 70,000 prospectors bought their provisions in Seattle before embarking on their sea road to riches. The museum hosts videos of this historic gold rush and gold panning demonstrations daily.


USA Travel SpecialsSeattle has numerous museums, all of which charge. However, many offer free admission days, which means you’ll need to plan ahead to make the most of these money-saving opportunities.For example, admission to the Seattle Art Museum is normally $15 for adults, but visit the museum on the first Thursday of the month, and you’ll get in free. Senior citizens get free admission on the first Friday of the month; the second Friday of the month is free to teens from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The museum, located at 1300 First Avenue, has permanent collections of art from around the world, porcelains and textiles.Its sister museum, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, located at 1400 East Prospect Street, offers free admission to families on the first Saturday of the month as well as the Thursday and Friday free days. There’s also no cost to visit the museum on the second Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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About the author: Cheryl Probst

In a previous life, Cheryl Probst was an award-winning photojournalist writing about natural resources, health care, and politics and government (all levels). Now retired from the daily work rat race, she spends her time writing about travel, especially about China, where she lived for two years, and the Pacific Northwest, where she now lives. Her guidebooks, “DIY Beijing,” “Parents Guide to Beijing, ” "Yellowstone on a Motor Scooter" and “Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom,” are available in print from and for Kindle from Amazon. She returns to China once every year or so for information to update her website, Cheryl’s China.

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