Top 12 Free Things to Do in Seattle

Overlooked gems hide beside big-ticket landmarks in Seattle. While the city flaunts iconic paid attractions like the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle overflows with free things to do. From waterfront walks to cultural events to neighborhood exploration, savoring Seattle’s highlights need not break the bank.

Pike Place MarketHistoric market offering diverse experiences.
Kerry Park ViewpointOffers iconic views of the Seattle skyline.
Olympic Sculpture ParkOutdoor art installations in a park setting.
Waterfront AttractionsScenic walks along Seattle’s waterfront.
The Center for Wooden BoatsMaritime history and boat viewing.
UW Campus Walking TourEducational tour of the university’s campus.
Ballard Locks and Fish LadderEngineering marvel with salmon viewing.
Bastyr University TrailsNature trails through the university grounds.

Here are 12 of the best free attractions and activities to help stretch your dollars while enjoying everything the Emerald City offers.

Pike Place Market

Name and Location: Pike Place Market is located at 85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101 spanning roughly 9 acres in downtown Seattle.

History and Significance: One of the oldest continuously operating farmer’s markets in the USA, the iconic Pike Place Market began in 1907. Its winding halls lined with family-owned shops, restaurants and lively arcades of vendors draw locals and tourists alike.

What to Expect: Visitors browse the original narrow Daystall halls sampling goods from produce, flowers and crafts to fish throwing at Pike Place Fish Market and the famous neon Public Market Center sign overlooking Puget Sound views.

Visitor Information: Market open daily. While mostly pedestrian zones, paid parking garages bracket the area. Free uploads available from bathroom token machines.

One of Seattle’s most famous (and busiest) attractions asks no admission fee. At the heritage Pike Place Market, a circus-like array of sensory experiences comes free of charge. Flowers burst with color while fishmongers sling salmon over crowds gathered below. Local farmers offer free samples from mounds of just-picked produce. Watch cheesemaking and crafts like blown glass in action as you explore over 200 unique shops and eateries crammed into the 9-acre, multi-level market. Be sure to stop at the original Starbucks location too!

Kerry Park Viewpoint

Name and Location: Kerry Park Viewpoint sits on Highland Drive at 211 W Highland Dr, Seattle WA in the Queen Anne neighborhood overlooking downtown Seattle.

History and Significance: Dedicated in 1927, the small public park and viewing platform frames what’s often ranked the single most iconic skyline view of the Emerald City, especially at sunset. Centered around the historic Seattle Water Tower remaining from 1906.

What to Expect: Visitors gaze out and snap selfies with unobstructed views of the Space Needle, Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier steeped in golden light at dusk or illuminating the sparkling cityscape after dark. Benches and flower beds border the outlook.

Visitor Information: The petite hilltop park allows free access to pedestrians 24 hours a day. Limited free street parking available curbside.

While tourists flock to the Space Needle observation deck, savvy Seattleites head to Kerry Park for picture-perfect views of the city skyline with the Needle centerstage – all for free! This small park overlooks downtown and Elliott Bay from a privileged Queen Anne Hill location. Mt. Rainier seems almost touchable on clear days as a backdrop to the glittering, modern downtown. Bring your camera for that quintessential Seattle shot. Insider tip: Visit at sunset on a clear evening for magical, golden hour illumination sweeping over the city below with colors reflecting across the water.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Name and Location: Olympic Sculpture Park operated by the Seattle Museum of Art occupies 9 acres along the Elliott Bay waterfront from Broad Street to Bell Street between Western Avenue and Alaskan Way.

History and Significance: Built over former oil storage and railroad yards, the park opened in 2007 reconnecting the Seattle Art Museum to the shores of Puget Sound with rotating sculptures installed along walking paths with views of the Olympic Mountains.

What to Expect: Visitors access free daily tours exploring massive modern artworks like The Eagle by Alexander Calder plus special exhibits integrated within gardens, trails and native plants sloping down to the shoreline framed by the city skyline.

Visitor Information: Always free and open to the public daily without tickets unless otherwise posted for special events. Parking garages located under park site.

Where else can you picnic on a grassy slope while gazing up at contemporary sculptures with the Puget Sound waterfront in the background? The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park provides just that unique experience across 9 acres of green space. Paths wind past eye-catching sculptures, fountains and vistas perfect for relaxing with a to-go coffee or sandwich from nearby cafes. Special events like yoga with a view add to the appeal. Check event schedules to coordinate a visit that aligns with musicians or other performers onsite too.

Waterfront Attractions

Name and Location: Seattle’s Central Waterfront spans over a mile of attractions hugging Elliott Bay from Piers 57 to 70 along Alaskan Way from Pioneer Square up to Belltown.

History and Significance: Historically the bustling port supported fishing, shipbuilding and trade industries. Today, tourists flock to the pedestrian-friendly urban shoreline dotted with attractions like the Seattle Aquarium, Ferris wheel, waterfront park, unique shops, restaurants, street performers while taking in mountain-framed bay vistas.

What to Expect: Strolling the lively harborfront visitors can ride the Great Wheel or Wings Over Washington for aerial views, tour historic ships, eat at scenic restaurants, watch waves crash at the seawall, photograph street art murals or join free walking tours of the area.

Visitor Information: Attractions have varying hours but public spaces open daily. Metered street parking available or public garages bracketing the strip.

Strolling along the Seattle waterfront allows ample opportunity for free entertainment simply people watching the eclectic locals. Explore the shops and restaurants at Pier 57. Pose by the neon “Public Market Center” sign in neon Americana style. Watch swimmers and kayakers in Elliott Bay from Sculpture Park. Continue past the Aquarium and Harbor Cruises to Myrtle Edwards Park’s paths hugging the shoreline.

Further north, stop to see the Olympic Mountains visible across Puget Sound on clear days. And don’t miss the combo of trains, ferries and cars circling the waterfront along Alaskan Way as quintessential Seattle transportation.

The Center for Wooden Boats

Name and Location: Center for Wooden Boats is situated at the south end of Lake Union at 1010 Valley St, Seattle WA 98109

History and Significance: Founded in 1976, the Center for Wooden Boats shares maritime heritage by offering small wooden boat rentals, exhibits and free sailing lessons using their fleet of classic vessels maintained by volunteers at their floating museum on Lake Union.

What to Expect: Visitors can rent rowboats and small craft hourly or join free one-hour Sunday public sailboat rides on a restored historic sloop while learning basic sailing skills from expert volunteers. Special events, exhibits and youth programs also hosted.

Visitor Information: Rentals and rides offered seasonally, generally April through September. Lake Union Park provides adjacent street parking options.

A treasure for both boat buffs and families, the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union offers free admission and sailboat rides. Old wooden boats in various states of repair fill Lake Union Park where the Center is located. Chat with boat builders restoring historic vessels as you check out displays explaining sailing history and boat construction. Then on Sundays, climb aboard the vintage sailboats with volunteer captains to experience the thrill of wind power firsthand during a free public sail. Center for Wooden Boats brings maritime history alive through place-based, hands-on learning.

University of Washington Campus Walking Tour

Name and Location: University of Washington’s Seattle campus contains over 600 acres with 26 million gross square feet of buildings mostly within the area bounded by 15th Ave NE, NE 45th St, Montlake Blvd NE, and NE Pacific St.

History and Significance: Founded in 1861, the University of Washington ranks among the oldest and largest on the west coast with award winning libraries, pioneering research and over 45,000 students populating its verdant campus spread overlooking Union Bay.

What to Expect: Self-guided public walking routes could incorporate student hotspots like Rainier Vista, Red Square or Cherry Blossom Walk. Interpretive signs detail architecture and campus history framed by mountain views.

Visitor Information: Campus grounds and perimeter roads allow public access daily without permits. Timed parking zones surround campus with arboretum and stadium parking lots available for a fee.

Get to know Seattle’s premier public research university with a free self-guided walking tour around the 703 acre campus. With sweeping views of mountains and Lake Washington, UW’s gorgeous natural setting will impress right from the start. The campus boasts beautiful architecture, historic landmarks and artworks at every turn too. Must see stops include the dramatic red brick Suzzallo Library, the peaceful Rainier Vista, and the intriguing Broken Obelisk sculpture. Or join a free student-led tour on weekdays during the school year for deeper insights into campus history and highlights.

Ballard Locks and Fish Ladder

Name and Location: Hiram M. Chittenden Locks sit on 15 acres at 3015 NW 54th St, allowing boats to pass between Puget Sound and freshwater Salmon Bay in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

History and Significance: Completed in 1917, the Ballard Locks enable Pacific salmon migration from saltwater habitats to historic breeding grounds by using its engineered “fish ladder” allowing visitors glimpses of spawning in season. Both functional and whimsical, public viewing areas overlook the filling/emptying lock chambers enabling maritime traffic.

What to Expect: Visitors can watch from underwater glass tunnels and overhead decks as boats and ships pass through the concrete locks while salmon swim upstream via fish ladders bound for freshwater lakes during spawning months. Informational displays, botanical gardens and a historical exhibit detailing construction of the locks also interest visitors.

Visitor Information: Outdoor areas always open for public viewing of locks passage and seasonal salmon runs. Free 2-hour parking.

Built in 1917, the Ballard Locks connect Puget Sound and Lake Union allowing boats to navigate the 21-foot water level change. Visitors can watch the engineering marvel in action daily as boats queue up then elevate or lower with water flow before passing through. Underwater windows also reveal salmon and other fish swimming by enroute to spawning grounds via the adjacent fish ladder. The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden flanking the locks bursts with floral beauty too. On hot summer weekends, find free live music performances adding to the festivities as well.

Bastyr University Gardens

Name and Location: Bastyr University Gardens span 14 acres of biodynamic arboretum, forests, and meadows surrounding Bastyr University at 14500 Juanita Drive NE Kenmore, WA located north of Seattle city center near Lake Washington and the Burke-Gilman trail.

History and Significance: Started by visionary co-founders in 1978, the gardens cultivate Northwest native species for education of the next generation of natural health arts and sciences healers studying mind-body medicine on the campus focused on nature’s healing potential.

What to Expect: Winding dirt footpaths encircle duck ponds perfect for contemplative strolls while interpretive signs identify 167 native species in forest, field and wetland plant communities interspersed with occasional sculpture art, rock features and seating nooks overlooking the gardens.

Visitor Information: Peaceful public grounds remain open daily without fees, leashed pets welcome. Park along hospital drive or neighborhood curb parking.

Escape into a whimsical secret garden in the heart of Seattle at Bastyr University. Winding brick paths reveal one beautiful outdoor “room” after another mixed with intriguing sculptures, vine-covered arbors, and placid ponds across the lush grounds. Find a quiet bench under a willow and let your imagination wander free. Blanketing over an acre right on the edge of Volunteer Park, Bastyr’s Living Medicine Garden delights the senses with healing flowers and plants from around the globe labeled to enhance your explorations.

Kubota Garden

Name and Location: Kubota Garden Park occupies 20 acres at 9817 55th Ave S in southeast Seattle between Renton and Seattle.

History and Significance: Originally a private family garden started in 1927, Kubota Garden Park was donated to the city in 1981 and now welcomes visitors to explore its stunning Japanese garden landscapes year-round.

What to Expect: Walking paths meander past waterfalls, ponds and streams crossed by iconic orange bridges amidst landscaped hills, waterfall rocks, bamboo and flowering plants across the site designed in traditional Japanese garden style.

Visitor Information: Free public access daily 9:00am to 7:00pm off Renton Ave S. Street parking available near park entrances. Trail access may have weekday closures for events.

Entering this overlooked 20-acre garden transports you to serene Japanese landscapes half a world away. A former family garden opened to the public in 1987, Kubota integrates hills, streams, waterfalls and ponds with bridges, stone steps and mature landscaping. Blooming cherries and maples ignite color alongside evergreens sculpted in classic bonsai style. The garden’s mountain views and peaceful aura leave visitors feeling continents away rather than merely south Seattle. Meander slowly along the paths to fully soak up the majestic vibes.

Bhy Kracke Park

Name and Location: Bhy Kracke Park sits on 18 acres at 510 NE Jacobsen Rd, Seattle WA north of the University District near Portage Bay and the Montlake Cut bascule bridge.

History and Significance: Named after early preservation activist Bhy Kracke instrumental in creating the Washington Park Arboretum, the small neighborhood park provides access to the Montlake community, Lake Washington Ship Canal and Burke-Gilman trail in an oasis of peaceful greenery.

What to Expect: Tree-shaded lawns filled with native understory plants slope down to Lake Washington Rowing Club docks framed by the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, passing trains and respites from busy city life with a few park benches but otherwise limited amenities.

Visitor Information: Park open daily from 4am to 11:30pm. On-street curb parking available nearby without restrictions.

Seattle squeezes in green space and bird habitat along the industrial Duwamish River in this tiny park. What the small size lacks in grandeur is made up by the awesome views of Mt. Rainier, downtown Seattle skyscrapers, and Boeing Field’s aircraft flying by. Shooting up along the steep riverbank, the linear park connects via stairways and paths. From the viewpoints and benches above, watch tugboats and barges navigate the working Duwamish Waterway alongside kayakers out for paddles. Definitely one of Seattle’s quirkiest skyline scenes!

Alki Beach Park

Name and Location: Alki Beach Park follows the shoreline in the West Seattle neighborhood running roughly from Alki Point to Duwamish Head near 63rd Ave SW and Alki Ave SW.

History and Significance: Alki Beach Park contains the site of the first European settlement in Seattle. Today the waterside park provides over 2 miles of pedestrian walkway, beaches, picnic tables and recreation opportunities for locals and visitors.

What to Expect: Beachcombing, sunbathing, swimming, bonfires in designated pits, volleyball courts, restaurants/shops nearby complement the views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

Visitor Information: Beach park area always open. Roadside parking areas may have day use fees seasonally. Lifeguards absent so swim at your own risk.

Few American cities offer an urban beach experience to rival Alki’s charms. Golden sand meets the crisp waters of Puget Sound against the Olympic Mountains backdrop. Walk, bike or jog along the 2.5 mile promenade bookended by quirky beach cottages converted into shops and cafes. Stop into one of the laidback restaurants for fish and chips or enjoy your own picnic while taking in the panoramas. Then explore the quiet side streets to discover beautiful residential views of downtown Seattle’s skyline from across Elliot Bay.

When tackling Seattle sightseeing on a budget, luckily admission costs need not limit the adventures. The city overflows with fabulous freebies from famous marketplaces to stunning urban strolls. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to start enjoying Seattle’s best attractions and activities that even visitors watching their wallets can appreciate!

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