Everything you need to know about saving money while exploring Seattle, including cheap things to do in Seattle and where to stay in Seattle on a budget.
When I first visited Seattle after Christmas last year, I actually felt a little bit of culture shock. It may have had something to do with the fact that I hopped on a bus that cost $18 from Vancouver and just 3.5 hours later I was in another country, another American state and a new city. This isn’t something that will ever happen in Australia. I visited by myself for a few days and stayed in the best hostel (in my opinion). I enjoyed my brief time in the city, so I thought I’d share how I successfully visited Seattle on a budget.
Where to stay in Seattle on a budget
I’ve stayed at the Green Tortoise twice now and highly recommend the hostel. I’d actually go so far as to say it’s one of my best hostels I stayed at across North America (and I’ve stayed in a few). This is thanks to the free meals, great events, central location and clean amenities. I’d look no further for budget accommodation in Seattle.
Here are my top hostelling tips, just in case 😉
12 free (and cheap) things to do in Seattle
1. Pike Place Market
I don’t think you can visit Seattle without stopping by this Washington State institution. Pike Place Market is not only one of the city’s top attractions; it’s also one of the best free things to do in Seattle. My hostel was across the road, and whenever I visited the place was bustling. The Pike Place Market offers everything from produce, seafood, meats, paintings, t-shirts, jewellery and other souvenirs. I purchased a couple of smaller prints for myself and my parents which I have on my desk. The market is a great place to start your day of exploring as it’s close to the downtown area and Westlake Station. There are tourism signs to guide you in the right direction from here. Oh, and it’s totally free.
2. Check out the historic waterfront
Oh how I love to be by the seaside. Seattle’s waterfront is the perfect place for an evening stroll where you may even be able to get a shot like this of the sun setting over the ocean and the West Seattle peninsula. Victoria, British Columbia’s capital. Random fact: Washington has the largest ferry system in America, transporting over 26 million people every year.at Pier 57 is a very popular waterfront stop. You won’t be able to miss the technicolour lights of the Great Wheel, but you will also find kitsch souvenir stores, restaurants and a gaming arcade here. The other big drawcard is the Aquarium and the ferries of course, which can take you to islands in Puget Sound and even to
3. See the skyline
For some reason I still haven’t done this after two visits to Seattle, but the views from Kerry Park look spectacular. You can see the Space Needle, city skyline and Mount Rainier on a clear day. I can also not confirm this, but my tour guide from the free walking tour mentioned that if you ascend the Columbia Center to the Starbucks, you can get a great view of the city. I attempted but it was closed by 5pm. Finally, there’s pretty Lake Union views from Gas Works Park.
The incredible skyline view I can confirm is from the ferry returning from Bainbridge Island. This is probably my favourite Seattle photo.
4. Go on a free walking tour
The Green Tortoise Hostel works with Seattle Free Walking Tours as the tour guide comes by the hostel every morning to pick up interested people and takes them to meet the rest of the group at the starting point. The company runs a Market Experience tour or Seattle 101, my choice. It takes you from the marketplace to Pioneer Square and down to the Waterfront, where you even get to stop by Ivar’s Seafood Restaurant for free samples of fries and clam chowder and lots of seagulls accompanying you.
I enjoyed learning a little bit more about the city from a local. Seattle has a fascinating history as after the Great Fire wiped out the town in 1889 residents literally rebuilt the city on top of the remnants. Today you can take underground tours to see how Seattle used to be. At the end you just tip your guide whatever you thought the tour was worth.
5. Check out Seattle Public Library
I’ve heard the Seattle Public Library is an architectural masterpiece. Apparently you can expect eight stories of viewpoints, colourful hallways and books, of course.
6. Hop on a bus and explore the suburbs
Seattle bus drivers are some of the friendliest I have ever met. With the effortlessness that is Google Maps today, hop on a bus and get out of the city to the outer suburbs. and Wallingford are both popular places to go for a stroll to see another side to Seattle. I loved the character of the buildings in Wallingford and you have to go to Trophy Cupcakes for melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes. The snickerdoodle was amazing. I also love the name snickerdoodle. In Fremont, don’t miss seeing the Fremont Troll.
7. Discover Discovery Park
This is another place that’s on the list for next time. Discovery Park has forested trails, rocky beaches and is home to West Point Lighthouse.
8. Get your Space Needle selfie
The Seattle Center is a great open space for epic selfies. Or you can actually visit one of the many attractions, including the Space Needle, Experience Music Project and Children’s Museum. I decided to just wander, but I went inside the EMP to have a look at the gift shop and picked up a cool birthday present for my dad – guitar salad servers. I thought they were awesome and my dad plays guitar so they aptly fit.
9. Get caffeinated
Seeing as I was working at Starbucks at the time, I was told I had to visit the first Starbucks store across the road from the market. I didn’t purchase a drink from this store as the line outside it was crazy. I’ve heard it’s always busy, because people LOVE Starbucks, especially the one that began it all. Fortunately, my Canadian discount card worked in the city so I went to a less busy stop. There is one on practically every corner so you never have to walk far for your Starbucks fix. Another random fact: Seattle is America’s coffee capital. It has more coffee bean roasters per capita than anywhere else.
10. Explore Bainbridge Island
This has to be one of the best cheap things to do in Seattle. It only cost $8 for a return ferry ticket to Bainbridge Island, so I definitely recommend adding a trip to your Seattle itinerary. It’s easy to walk from the ferry down the island’s main street, which is home to the requisite boutiques, candy shops and ice cream stores.
11. See the sunset from Olympic Sculpture Park
I saw one of the most spectacular sunsets from Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. Located on the waterfront and managed by Seattle Art Museum, there are over a dozen artworks and sculptures in the park. It’s definitely worth a visit anytime of the day.
12. Visit a Seattle museum
The Museum of Flight and Seattle Art Museum are free on the first Thursday of the month. However, the Frye Art Museum is always free and includes a large collection of German and American artwork.
It’s easy to see Seattle on a budget!
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to see the city on a budget, thanks to all of these free and things to do in Seattle. Other things I did in Seattle included shopping the sales (I heart Boxing Day) and seeing Hunger Games: Catching Fire in cinema, which definitely didn’t leave a huge dent in my holiday fund. Another budget travel hint is to look up the iTunes Store or Google Play for Seattle apps. I found a couple of free guides that showcase the best places to visit in Seattle and give you background information on places like Fremont and the Seattle Center.
Before you go, you might also be interested in these posts: my USA budget travel guide, other cities I recommend visiting alone in the USA and alternative things to do in Seattle.
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