Known as ‘The Emerald City,’ Seattle is a beautiful city and one of America's most affluent urban centers. It got its nickname from the lush evergreen trees surrounding the area, which remain emerald green throughout the year, even in the winter. It is known for its grunge music scene and coffee culture, home to the Starbucks Center, the world headquarters of the famous coffeehouse chain.
The city isn’t exactly the cheapest to visit, but there are plenty of free things to do in Seattle for travelers on a budget. If you plan right and know which places to go and activities to do, you can make the most of your trip without breaking the bank. Consider the best time to visit Seattle when accommodations and flights are cheaper and use its public transit system instead of renting a car. Even better, tour the area on foot and marvel at the architecture, visit the parks and gardens, and admire the Seattle skyline.
No matter how you plan to spend your days in the city, don’t forget to store your bags at a secure luggage facility in Seattle. It will give you peace of mind knowing your belongings are safe and well protected.
Book Seattle’s Free Walking Tours
Just coming to Seattle won’t be enough; you must experience and immerse yourself in its culture, lifestyle, and tradition. A tour is the best way to achieve that. Book a free tour with Seattle Free Walking Tours and discover the city’s rich history and culture. While most guided trips in other parts of the world charge fees, Seattle offers it for free, though donations are highly appreciated.
You can go for Seattle’s Free Walking Tours with their flagship Seattle 101 or Market Experience. The former takes you along downtown Seattle to the city’s key landmarks, including its beautiful waterfront, old town Pioneer Square, totem poles, and the best parks, restaurants, and pubs. Meanwhile, the Market Experience offers you a stroll along the 11-acre Pike Place Market. Expect exotic food samples, the oldest Starbucks, storied history, the infamous Gum Wall, and more.
Location: Totem poles, 2001 Western Avenue Victor Steinbrueck Park
Appreciate Art at the Olympic Sculpture Park and Seattle Art Museum
A former industrial site transforms into a nine-acre park with open, vibrant green space for nature and art lovers. The Olympic Sculpture Park is a new Seattle waterfront park allowing visitors to appreciate art in a scenic outdoor setting while admiring picturesque views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
As you explore the park, you’ll find monumental artworks, including Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, Louise Bourgeois’ Father and Son, and Tony Smith’s Wandering Rocks. Admission is free, and the park is open daily, so everyone is welcome to visit the park daily at any time of the week.
The Seattle Art Museum owns and maintains The Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s only a short walk from the park, making it an incredible cultural attraction for art enthusiasts and historians. While Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle isn’t entirely free, you can enjoy free admission on the first Thursday of every month!
Location: 2901 Western Ave, Seattle, WA 98121; 1300 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98101
Enjoy Breathtaking Views at Discovery Park
Glorious views, fresh air, and a pleasant atmosphere await you at Discovery Park. It is Seattle’s largest city park, with 543 acres of natural area, occupying most of the former site of Fort Lawton. Its miles of walking trails will lead you through forests and open meadows and offer views of the Puget Sound of access to the beach.
Since the Park is vast, you might want to spend an entire day tackling the trails and learning about the site's history. The park is located on the northwest end of the Magnolia neighborhood, around five miles north of downtown Seattle. It is open for visitors year-round and offers free parking. But take note that the parking area at the visitors center can fill up quickly, especially during weekends.
Location: 3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle, WA 98199
Tour the Pike Place Market
When coming to Seattle, you can’t miss out on Pike Place Market, which has served as the city’s icon for over a century. It was founded in 1907, and until now, it’s still considered “the soul of Seattle” for its showcase of the area’s vibrant and thriving historic neighborhood. Hundreds of independently owned shops, craftspeople, farmers, buskers, social service programs foundations, and residents make up the market.
You can tour the Pike Place Market for free and even join its annual events. Some of these are Love in the Market, Mom’s Market Day, Annual Flower Festival, Harvest Festival, and Annual Magic in the Market. These activities only happen once a year, so if you want to get the experience, you can schedule your visit to match the festivals.
Location: 85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
Relax and Meet New People at the Seattle Center Grounds
Seattle Center is an ideal gathering spot for events, entertainment, and family. It is home to over thirty educational, entertainment, sports, and cultural organizations residing on the grounds. For the past decades, the Seattle Center has transformed into a beloved hub for culture, sports, arts, and community gatherings, attracting over 12 million visitors each year.
Some of the iconic landmarks you’ll find at the 74-acre park include the Children’s Museum, Space Needle, Seattle Opera House, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Intiman Theatre, Pacific Science Center, and many more. While entry to many of these sites requires a fee, you can explore the Seattle Center grounds for free. You can spend a relaxing afternoon with friends, take your little ones to the Artists at Play playground, or chill around the impressive International Fountain. Ride the Seattle Center Monorail if you're looking for the fastest and most cost-efficient way to travel from the downtown and the Center area.
Location: 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA 98109
Discover Washington Park Arboretum
One of the favorite free things to do in Seattle for plant lovers and outdoor enthusiasts is the Washington Park Arboretum. It’s a welcoming oasis on the Lake Washington shores, jointly managed by the city of Seattle and Washington Botanic Gardens. It features 230 acres of natural areas, landscaped gardens, wetlands, and an outstanding collection of woody plants, shrubs, and trees.
All parts of the Arboretum are free and open to the public daily, except the Seattle Japanese Garden. You can explore it on an independent tour by following the trains winding through the park, free-guided tours, activities, classes, and events hosted throughout the year.
Location: 2300 Arboretum Dr E, Seattle, WA 98112
Find a Good Book at the Seattle Public Library
Bookish and avid readers who want to take a break from their city adventure will love to spend hours or even a day at the Seattle Central Library. The Public Library has always been a part of the city since 1890. It moved from different downtown locations until it found a home on the 11-floor building containing a large auditorium and open spaces for visitors to gather, study, and research.
But before you get a book and settle at the Reading Room, take a tour of the Seattle Public Library and admire its architecture. There are interactive displays on the first floor with building information and an innovative ‘Books Spiral’ from the sixth to ninth floors.
Location: 1000 Fourth Ave. Seattle, WA 98104-1109
Visit the Frye Art Museum
Your trip to Seattle won’t be complete without a museum visit. The Frye Art Museum is the only museum in the city that allows free admission. It’s perfect for people who are into art and history, especially late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Europe and America.
The Frye Art Museum has been around since 1952 when it was founded by the art collectors Charles and Emma Frye. Fast forward several decades and the museum is now home to 232 oil paintings, reflecting Seattle’s evolving identity. Exhibitions, exclusive programs, community engagement activities, and a showcase of local and global artists are also held.
Location: 704 Terry Ave, Seattle, WA 98104
Experience The Center for Wooden Boats
For a one-of-a-kind Seattle experience, visit The Center for Wooden Boats. The community behind the center offers an exhibition of docks and boats, education, firsthand boating experience, and even hands-on craftwork. It’s the best place to go for those who love maritime activities and nature.
The Center for Wooden Boats is most well-known for its Sunday Public Sail, where different kinds of boats, from sprit boats, steamboats, and electric boats to schooners, ketches, yawls, and yachts, sail along Lake Union. As a visitor, you can be a passenger for free on Sundays, granted you reserve one of the peapod rowboats. You can also sail through the model boat pond by borrowing one of the center’s boats or bringing yours.
Other activities in The Center include the Saturday Toy Boat Building at Cama Beach, Wooden Boat Storytime, and the 3rd Friday Speaker Series. However, if you just want to enjoy the view, you can also explore the center.
Location: 1010 Valley St, Seattle, WA 98109
Stroll through the Seattle Spheres
Offering an experience with nature’s gift amongst the urban offices, the Seattle Spheres is one you should definitely add to your go-to list in the city. It’s located amid Amazon’s business center and is very easy to spot with its three massive glass domes. What makes Spheres well-known is for bringing the rainforest to downtown Seattle. It started with the Australian Tree Fern in 2017, and as of 2022, the 3,400 square feet greenhouse is now home to over 40,000 plants from more than 30 countries.
In Seattle’s Spheres, you get to view and take pictures of the unique flora and meet the horticulturists who played a significant role in the greenhouse’s foundation. If you want to visit this massive indoor garden for free, get a reservation during the first and third Saturdays, all year long.
Location: 2111 7th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121
Tour the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks
One of Seattle’s most renowned tourist attractions is the Hiram M. Chittenden Lock, otherwise known as the Ballard Locks, located along Lake Washington Ship Canal. This is primarily because of its relevance in the city’s economy, specifically for being a critical link for the spawning of salmon and steelhead. Small kayaks to boats about 760 feet in length also pass through the locks, and visitors can watch this up close by strolling through the area.
Besides touring the Ballard Locks, you can also try their viewing area. Watch the large, spawning king salmon, coho salmon, sockeye, and steelhead in their spawning months. Otherwise, you can visit the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden for a relaxing picnic while watching the boats pass by the Locks.
Location: 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107-4213
Journey through the Funky Capitol Hill
The city’s vibrant and colorful Capital Hill neighborhood is one of the ideal destinations if you’re looking for free and cheap attractions in Seattle. It hosts multiple events annually, live music shows, and performances at world-class venues. It also boasts spectacular gardens, museums, and other attractions you won’t find anywhere else in Washington’s Emerald City.
One of them is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, nestled in the middle of the gorgeous Volunteer Park. It’s a small museum but offers plenty of incredible exhibits. If you’re in the area on the last Friday of the month, be sure to visit the museum, as it provides free admission to the public.
Enjoy Seattle for Free!
As one of the country’s most prosperous urban centers, it’s not surprising that Seattle is an expensive city to visit. But seeing more of the city and its offerings doesn’t have to hurt your wallet. Apart from the famous landmarks, there are hidden gems and exciting places to discover in the Emerald City that won’t cost a dime. So take advantage of the endless budget-friendly adventures and numerous free things to do in Seattle. You may want to browse a few malls or shops for inexpensive souvenirs too!