With a lot to see and do in Seattle, if you only have one day in Seattle focusing on the downtown area is an easy option. Use our do-it-yourself Seattle city tour itinerary to explore the best of Seattle in one day. Perfect if you are in town for a cruise or business with a bit of spare time to explore.
Walking this itinerary is easy or utilize the light rail service running through town if you prefer or the weather is inclement. But start early as it is full day of exploring.
9 am Breakfast at Pike’s Place
Depending on your preference we recommend breakfast at Pike’s Place Market. The eateries open at 6 am and several places serve breakfast using fresh produce from the market. It doesn’t get any fresher than that! There are a few bakeries and coffee shops to choose from.
Or if you are a Starbuck’s fan, you can head to the very first Starbuck’s location located just outside Pike Place Market at 1912 Pikes Place. When we were there, the line to get in was quite long, so prepare yourself and allow time. It only serves coffee and espresso.
10 am Pike’s Place Market
Incredibly popular, Pike’s Place Market draws some large crowds, especially on the weekends. 2017 marks the 110-year anniversary of Seattle’s iconic farmer’s market. Opening in 1907, farmers hoping to bypass the middleman started the market to sell directly to consumers.
The official opening bell for Pike’s Place Market is at 9 am, with all the merchants opening by 10. Stall holders sell an amazing array of fruit and vegetables, fresh flowers, seafood, coffee, tea, spices, crafts and general grocery items. The market houses many eateries. Pike’s Place Market is undergoing a long-awaited expansion- which was just beginning to open when we visited. It should be fully open by the end of 2017.
You can also take a tour of Pikes Place Market- there are several options-
- an early morning tour and gain first access
- a ghost tour after everyone has left
- explore it during the day
For more information on Pike’s Place Market including everything you need to plan your visit including a map check the website.
11:30 am Chihuly Garden and Glass
Dale Chihuly, the very successful glass artist, is from Tacoma. Having studied glass blowing in Vienna, Chihuly returned to the USA and both taught and continued creating works of art in glass. Over 200 museums around the world contain his works.
Near the base of the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long-term exhibition of his work, opened in 2012.
If you haven’t seen Chihuly’s work here is the perfect chance. You can purchase tickets online in advance.
12:30 pm Lunch at the Space Needle
One of Seattle’s most famous icons, the Space Needle was originally built as part of the 1962 World’s Fair. At 605 feet tall, the structure contains an observation deck and restaurant.
If you head to the observation deck, the exhibits tell the history of the design and construction of the Space Needle. At the time of construction, the USA was very interested in space exploration. NASA began in 1958, the first manned space expedition was in 1960 and 1962 was the first orbit of the Earth.
So, space was firmly on people’s mind during the 1962 World Fair. The Space Needle was built in only 400 days! And in case you have always wondered, yes, the Space Needle was the inspiration for the Jetson’s “sky pad” apartment.
Skycity, is the 360-degree rotating restaurant at the top. If you would like to eat at Skycity, you need to make a reservation, usually well in advance. You can reserve online or by calling.
2 pm The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
Near the base of the Space Needle is the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), built in 2000 by architect Frank Gehry. From an aerial view, which you can see from the Space Needle next door, the building resembles a smashed guitar! Originally called the Experience Music Project, funded by Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder, to house his extensive collection of rock memorabilia, this museum has had several name changes over the years.
Current exhibits include David Bowie: Starman and the Jim Henson Exhibition (creator of the Muppets), Star Trek and Jimi Hendrix. Some exhibits have additional fees to enter. You can buy tickets in advance on the website.
4 pm Pioneer Square
Once the center of town, historic Pioneer Square is now a hip, downtown neighborhood with lots of eateries, boutique shops and art galleries. The first Thursday of the month is an evening art walk of the galleries. This a good place to explore the history of Seattle. You can pick up a self-guided walking tour of Pioneer Square at the visitor center.
With 38 stories, Smith Tower, built in 1914, named for L.C. Smith who made his money in typewriters (might have to explain that one to the kids), was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi until the Space Needle was erected. There is still an observation deck on the 35th floor which offers fantastic views of Seattle on a clear day.
Find Waterfall Gardens marking the location where American Messenger Company- now UPS- started 110 years ago. And for those of you interested in exploring the darker side of Seattle, explore the tunnel system below Pioneer Square on any number of ghost tours. It is reputed to be haunted.
As you stroll through the area you will notice in some areas there are basement apartments. The street in this section of town was raised to prevent flooding. The level of the doors into the now basement apartments is the original level of the street.
5:30 Drinks and Dinner in Pioneer Square
By this point you deserve a drink and some dinner. Not short of choices, Pioneer Square is home to some of Seattle’s best restaurants.
For drinks try the aptly named Damn the Weather for a selection of cocktails, wines, beer and ciders. Happy hour ends at 6 pm. (Monday-Friday)
If you haven’t yet tried seafood in Seattle, visit Taylor Shellfish Farms- Oyster Bar in Pioneer Square. With farm to table all the rage at the moment, what better than an oyster bar run by the farmer himself. Taylor Shellfish Farms run several oyster bars around Seattle and you are in luck as one is in Pioneer Square. The Taylor family has been farming shellfish in Puget Sound since 1890.
With a selection of fresh oysters and cocktails and wines handpicked to accompany them, this is the perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks and appetizers. Happy hour is from 4-6 pm Monday-Friday.
And for dinner if you want beautiful Italian food try the well regarded El Terrazzo Carmine, a Pioneer Square institution for over 30 years or the newer El Intermezzo Carmine by the same owner. For a historical twist, try the Good Bar in the renovated Pacific Commercial Building, complete with the vintage bank vaults and a marble bar.
If You Go to Seattle
For flights to Seattle, many airlines both domestic and international service Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
There is light rail service direct from the airport to the city center. Trams run regularly.
If you are exploring Seattle following a cruise, the Port of Seattle offers a free luggage valet service which transfers your luggage from the cruise ship direct to the airport so you can explore Seattle for the day luggage free.
Where to Stay in Seattle
There are the usual national and international hotels in Seattle. As well as several smaller boutique hotels. There are several options near Pikes Place Market if you would like to stay near the start of this itinerary or some nice hotels with views of the water.
If You Have More than One Day in Seattle: Other Day Trips near Seattle
A popular cruise port, many cruises begin or end in Seattle. This itinerary is a wonderful way to explore Seattle if you have a day before or after your cruise. If you have more time, Mt. Rainier (approximately 2 hours) and Bainbridge Island (via the ferry, about 35 minutes) make enjoyable day trips.