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With so much to see and do, here’s how to spend the perfect one day in Seattle!
A city known for its coffee, culture, art, and world-famous market, there are literally so many exciting things to do in Seattle, Washington!
If you’re taking a day trip to Seattle or are looking for things to do in Seattle before a cruise, you’ll need to narrow down your options, however.
This guide walks you through what you can reasonably see and do in one day in Seattle, as well as includes additional things to do in Seattle if you have more time.
Stick around until the end to find our complete 1-day Seattle itinerary that includes a special note on things to do in Seattle before a cruise.
One Day in Seattle: Must-do Attractions
Seattle is home to beautiful scenery, iconic landmarks, lakes, mountains, and plenty of outdoor recreation!
If you’re limited to 24 hours in Seattle, I recommend spending the majority of your time in Seattle’s Downtown, Uptown, and Waterfront neighborhoods.
When concentrating on these three areas, you’ll maximize your time and see the city’s most notable sights.
Here, you’ll find the highest density of Seattle’s most popular attractions, all of which happen to be within walking distance of one another.
Fun Facts About Seattle
- Seattle’s Waterfront is home to 9 historic piers, some of which have fun restaurants and activities. (You’ll find several tourist attractions located on Pier 57 and Pier 59.)
- Seattle is nicknamed the Emerald City because the city and surrounding areas are filled with lush greenery all year round – even in the fall and winter due to all the evergreen trees.
What’s the best way to get around Seattle?
If you’re spending one day in Seattle, we recommend starting from a central location and then walking between Downtown, Uptown, and the Waterfront.
These locations are all within 1 mile of each other and are connected by safe, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
Alternatively, you can use rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft.
There’s also public transportation (bus, rail, water taxi) and a great monorail system in Seattle, however, learning the systems and timing them out can be tricky if you only have one day.
1. Explore Pike Place Market
A jaunt around Pike Place Market is one of the very best things to do in Seattle before a cruise or if you only have 24 hours in Seattle.
Known as the “soul of Seattle”, Pike Place Market is a 9-acre, multi-level market visited by nearly 10 million people each year.
It’s home to more than 300 commercial businesses, 200 craftspeople, 120 farmers, and nearly 500 apartments.
Here, you’ll find reasonably priced fresh seafood, produce, flowers, jewelry, crafts, and other handmade items.
Peruse the farmer’s market, chat with the local artisans, and grab a delicious bite to eat at its unique, exciting restaurants.
Keep in mind that the market can get very busy – especially when there are cruise ships in port.
It is typically less crowded if visiting before 12 PM.
2. Visit the Original Starbucks
Seattle holds a special place in coffee history as the birthplace of the iconic Starbucks brand.
Having first opened in 1971, The Original Starbucks coffee shop is located on Pike Place Street in Pike Place Market.
Step inside and savor the aroma of freshly brewed coffee while admiring the nostalgic, vintage décor – after all, everything in the entire store is original: the floors, the fixtures, the counters.
It’s truly one of a kind.
Visiting the Original Starbucks offers a unique opportunity to connect with the roots of a global coffee phenomenon.
There is always a very long line to buy coffee as the Original Starbucks attracts hundreds of daily visitors. I didn’t personally stand in line to order anything, but I still enjoyed simply stopping by and photographing this little slice of history.
3. Visit Seattle Center
Centered around the International Fountain, Seattle Center is a tourism and entertainment hub located in Uptown Seattle – just 1 mile from Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.
Here, you’ll find seasonal festivals and events as well as:
- The Space Needle
- Chihuly Garden and Glass
- International Fountain
- Seattle Center Armory Food & Event Hall
- Artists at Play (outdoor playground)
- Skate Plaza (skateboard park)
- Climate Pledge Arena
- Gates Foundation Discovery Center
- Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop)
- Seattle Children’s Museum
- Pacific Science Center
4. Ride up the Space Needle
The Space Needle is arguably the most iconic landmark in the city and is a must-do in you’re only visiting Seattle for one day.
If you’re not afraid of heights, I highly recommend buying a ticket to ride to the top! This experience is similar to visiting the Willis Tower in Chicago.
(It takes the Space Needle elevators 43 seconds to travel from the ground to the tower’s top level, 520 feet above Seattle.)
At the top, you’ll see amazing, panoramic views of Seattle as well as get to experience stepping onto The Loupe, the world’s first and only rotating glass floor.
Also located on the upper observation level are the Atmos Cafe and Atmos Wine Bar.
Additional planning tip: Visit the Space Needle at night for an amazing experience seeing the city lights!
5. Expore Chichuly Garden and Glass
Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass is conveniently located at the base of the Space Needle.
A must-visit attraction when spending one day in Seattle, this captivating exhibition features the extraordinary glass creations of Dale Chihuly.
Here, you can explore both its indoor galleries and outdoor gardens full of intricate glasswork.
The combination of artistry, nature, and the play of light makes Chihuly Garden and Glass a truly enchanting experience not to be missed in Seattle.
Though it’s a bit hard to portray just how awesome this place is, our entire family (both kids and adults) loved visiting here and had fun exploring and taking photos of the amazing glass sculptures.
Additional planning tip: For the best value, bundle an admission ticket to the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass from their corresponding websites.
6. Take Photos at Olympic Sculpture Park
Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park is a captivating outdoor art space nestled along the city’s waterfront.
It showcases a diverse collection of contemporary sculptures and installations, alongside waterfront views of Puget Sound.
Stroll through the park’s winding paths, discovering captivating artworks by renowned artists.
With its tranquil atmosphere and stunning setting, the Olympic Sculpture Park offers a unique opportunity to engage with art in an outdoor environment.
This park is entirely free to visit.
7. Ride the Seattle Great Wheel
The Seattle Great Wheel is located on Seattle’s Pier 57 and offers panoramic views of the city’s skyline and Elliott Bay.
This iconic, 175-foot tall Ferris wheel features fully enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable ride in any weather.
As you ascend, the stunning vistas unfold, showcasing Seattle’s beauty from a new perspective.
Whether it’s a romantic date, a family outing, or a solo adventure, a visit to the Seattle Great Wheel promises an unforgettable experience if you only have 1 day in Seattle.
8. Take a harbor tour with Argosy Cruises
Also located on Pier 57 is the departure point of Seattle’s Argosy Cruises.
Hop aboard an Argosy Cruise and embark on a scenic cruise through Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, or Lake Washington.
Along the journey, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Seattle skyline, iconic landmarks, and majestic mountains.
With informative narration, friendly staff, and the opportunity to see Seattle from a unique vantage point, an Argosy Cruise is a fantastic way to experience the beauty and charm of the Emerald City.
9. Go to the Seattle Aquarium
The Seattle Aquarium is a captivating marine sanctuary located on Pier 59.
Dive into the wonders of the Pacific Northwest’s underwater world as you explore engaging exhibits and observe fascinating marine creatures.
From playful otters, harbor seals, pufferfish, and a giant Pacific octopus, the aquarium showcases a diverse array of aquatic life.
Interactive touch pools and educational programs provide opportunities to learn about marine conservation.
With its commitment to inspiring stewardship of the marine environment, a visit to the Seattle Aquarium promises both entertainment and enlightenment for visitors of all ages.
10. Browse a museum
One of the best ways to spend a few hours in Seattle is to browse its exciting museums.
Best known for its vibrant art scene and downtown galleries, the city is also home to special-interest museums that may pique your interest.
Museum of Pop Culture: Explore contemporary pop culture at MoPop, a non-profit museum with incredible music-history artifacts, video game exhibits, film genre favorites, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Seattle Art Museum: This downtown museum is just a short walk from Pike Place Market. Visit the Seattle Art Museum to view stunning works of art with global collections and fascinating rotating exhibits.
Seattle Asian Art Museum: Located in Volunteer Park, the Seattle Asian Art Museum is home to an impressive Asian art collection. Self-guided tours of the museum are available for free with your smartphone device.
Pacific Science Center: Curious minds of all ages will enjoy learning (and playing) at the Pacific Science Center. Experience interactive discovery games, IMAX theaters, and laser show spectacles.
Seattle Children’s Museum: Located on the lower floor of the Armory in Seattle Center, the museum currently features 18,000 sq feet of play space with 11 exhibits designed for kids 6 months to 8 years.
11. Sample the local cuisine
Seattle has a thriving food scene you don’t want to miss out on!
Whether you have time for a quick meal before your cruise or a few days to sample the goods, I highly recommend you try some local restaurants over familiar chains.
If you have the time, try a Seattle food tour for locally-loved favorites.
Seattle restaurants that are worth a try include:
- The Pink Door – Italian American
- Sushi Kashiba – Upscale Japanese
- The Wayward Vegan – Vegan American diner-style
- Plum Bistro – Plant-based and sustainability-focused
- Cafe Juanita – Northern Italian with local ingredients
- The Walrus and the Carpenter – Fresh seafood and American plates
- Cafe Munir – Lebanese
- Barking Dog Alehouse – Seattle-style hot dogs, causal seating
12. Go Whale-watching
Want the chance to see magnificent orca whales?
Go on a whale-watching tour with FRS Clipper.
There’s also a possibility to see humpback, minke, and gray whales!
*Note that whale sightings are guaranteed – and on the chance that you don’t spot them, you’ll be offered a free trip.
13. Spend time in Pioneer Square
If you’re looking to venture out of the tourist hub while spending one day in Seattle, consider spending an hour or two in Pioneer Square.
Pioneer Square is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city and is a great place to grab breakfast, window shop, and wander the charming streets.
Known as Seattle’s “first neighborhood,” Pioneer Square encompasses a lot of the local culture, making it a great way to integrate yourself into the city.
Streets are lined with 1800’s Romanesque Revival buildings, trendy restaurants, and fun shopping opportunities.
14. Explore a park
The Pacific Northwest is known for its natural beauty, with ample green space to enjoy.
Whether you’re looking for an active hike or a spot to lay out and enjoy a picnic lunch, consider visiting one of Seattle’s parks.
Kerry Park: The park is perched on a hill in the Queen Anne neighborhood, offering panoramic vistas that make it a popular spot for photography, picnics, and enjoying the stunning scenery.
Waterfront Park: Coming soon! The first piece of the park, Pier 62, is now open while the rest of the park is being built. Waterfront Park completion is set for 2025.
Discovery Park: Seattle’s largest public park, Discovery Park overlooks Puget Sound with a backdrop of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Enjoy a walking trail, bike ride, or picnic on the grass.
Olympic National Park: Located nearby in Port Angeles, Olympic National Park is one of the United States’ premier national parks – containing three unique ecosystems (glaciated mountains, temperate forest, and Pacific coastline).
Camp, hike, fish, ski, snowshoe, or go tide-pooling in this incredible park.
1 Day Seattle Itinerary
For ultra convenience (and comfort!) we stayed at Seattle Marriott Waterfront when spending one day in Seattle.
The Seattle Marriott Waterfront is located directly across the street from Pier 66 (the Norwegian cruise terminal) and is within walking distance to this entire 1-day Seattle itinerary.
They’ll even store your luggage for you before check-in while you explore the city, or after your cruise, if you have a later flight.
Though the nightly rates are a bit steep, I highly recommend this hotel as the best place to stay in Seattle (especially if you’re only there for 1 day).
8:00 AM = Breakfast at Biscuit Bitch (Mmmm!) in Pike Place Market with donuts at Daily Dozen Donut Company to follow.
9:00 AM -12:00 PM = Explore Pike Place Market and visit the Original Starbucks. Try a Piroshky or one of the market’s other infamous foods.
12:00 – 1:00 PM = Visit the Space Needle (purchase a Chihuly Garden and Glass combo ticket)
1:00 – 2:00 PM = Visit Chihuly Garden and Glass
2:00 – 3:00 PM = Explore the rest of Seattle Center and have a late lunch at The Armory Food Hall
3:00 – 4:00 PM = Walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park
4:00 – 6:00 PM = Visit the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59 or any of Seattle’s parks or museums
4:00 – 9:00 PM = Explore Pier 57, take an evening Argosy Harbor Cruise (if you have time), and ride the Seattle Great Wheel at sunset
Things to Do in Seattle If You Have More Time
If you find yourself with more time to explore Seattle, there are several additional activities and attractions that go beyond the well-known landmarks.
Venture beyond the city center to uncover diverse neighborhoods, local theaters, and surrounding mountains and lakes.
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Seattle, or if you have more time, venture out to Seattle’s other fun neighborhoods including:
- Belltown – located between Pike Place Market and Seattle Center; legendary music scene, boutiques, and trendy cafes
- Queen Anne – connected to downtown via the vintage monorail; inviting eateries and boutiques
- South Lake Union – thriving tech area of Seattle located on Lake Union
- Chinatown – one of the nation’s most dynamic and historic Asian American communities
- Fremont, Capitol Hill, University District, and more!
In addition, if you have 2 days in Seattle, consider taking a 35-minute ferry ride across Elliott Bay to spend a day on Bainbridge Island.
Once you’ve arrived, you’ll be greeted by the island’s abundant natural beauty with several beautiful gardens and trails.
Popular activities on Bainbridge Island include:
- A visit to Lytle Beach
- Shop at the flagship REI store in the Cascade neighborhood
- Graffiti viewing at Blakely Harbor Park
- A picnic at Battle Point Park
- Enjoying fresh seafood at B.I. Fish Company
- Exploring Bainbridge Island Museum of Art
- Shopping for Artisan gifts and souvenirs
Finally, here are some additional things to do if you have 1 or 2 days in Seattle and want to explore more of the city.
- Tour the Emerald City via a free walking tour
- Visit the Ballard Locks
- Tour relics of the World’s Fair
- Take a photo with the Fremont Troll
- Learn the haunted history of Seattle with a spooky ghost tour
- Pet kittens at the Cat Cafe
- Kayak along Lake Union
- Tour the underground city of Seattle
- Have a beach day in West Seattle
Things to Do in Seattle Before A Cruise
Seattle is a popular seaport city, and as you can see, there are several things to do in Seattle before a cruise.
When you’re planning on a Seattle-docking cruise and aren’t a local, you’ll probably have a day or so of downtime between your flight and setting sail.
Take advantage of this time block, no matter how short, by using or customizing our Seattle 1-day itinerary to your liking.
If you only have time for one activity in Seattle before a cruise, I’d definitely choose Pike Place Market as the place to go!
Cruises that leave from Seattle
These are some of the major cruise lines that depart from Seattle.
- Celebrity Cruises – Alaska, Hawaii, Pacific Coastal
- Royal Caribbean – Alaska, Pacific Coastal,
- Princess Cruises – Alaska, Pacific Coastal, Hawaii
- Holland America – Alaska, Pacific Coastal, Pacific Northwest, Yukon + Denali
- Norwegian Cruise Line – Alaska
Check with your cruise line for transportation offers, travel recommendations, and more.
Most cruise lines also often offer complimentary shuttle services between the airport or hotel and your cruise terminal.
Also, for information on complimentary luggage storage and transfer, read about Port Valet from the Port of Seattle.
Additional planning tip: Make sure you double-check which Seattle cruise terminal you’re leaving from, as different cruise lines use different terminals.
Major cruise ship terminals include:
- Bell Street Cruise Terminal (Pier 66): Located directly across the street from Seattle Marriott Waterfront – you can literally roll your suitcases to the cruise ship! This is a popular terminal for Norwegian cruises.
- Smith Coast Cruise Terminal (Pier 91): This is a popular terminal for Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Holland American cruises.
One Day in Seattle: Conclusion
Seattle is a great city to explore as a day trip, or if you’re departing from the city on a cruise.
There are literally so many iconic things to see and do – which conveniently, are all located within walking distance of one another.
Whether you’re taking a mini Pacific Northwest road trip, or just have a morning to spare before you set sail, these exciting Seattle activities are well worth the effort.