Free Things You Can Do When Visiting Seattle

The Emerald City has plenty to keep every type of traveler busy — from the endless green space that makes for a great urban respite to fantastic restaurants and cafes (serving that famous Seattle-quality coffee), not to mention the events on almost every corner. It can be overwhelming to decide on what to do each day. However, many of those things cost money, often quite a bit. Seattle's days as a "budget city" are long gone and fun attractions such as going up the Space Needle or eating at The Pink Door (after getting a coffee at the "original Starbucks") will set your budget back quite a bit.

Luckily, while the cost of living for residents and the price of accommodations and restaurants for visitors has steadily increased, the city still has plenty to do for free. There are numerous parks, beaches, and other public spaces without an entry fee. While some landmarks might cost you a few bucks (or more), Seattle is full of great gratuit viewpoints. Additionally, many activities that normally would require spending some cash occasionally throw the public a bone by removing charges on certain days of the year. So, here are 14 terrific free things to do in Seattle.

Take a free walking tour

Walking tours are a fantastic way to kick off a trip to any city. They help you get your bearings (which is why it's a good idea to do one at the beginning of your visit) and scope out where you might want to spend your time. And just like many cities around the world, Seattle has plenty of options when it comes to walking tours. But, don't just go with the first one that pops up when you search "free walking tours Seattle" in Google. You'll receive many results, many of which are affordable, but are proponents of false advertising as the majority aren't actually free.

If you want that elusive deal, sign up with Seattle Free Walking Tours. The company has a "pay what you want" policy. Of course, it's nice to give your guide a tip, especially if you learned something fascinating or received amazing suggestions for where to eat or drink. However, unlike many of the others whose false SEO puts them on the first search page for "free tour," this one really doesn't require you to pay a cent. There are two main tour options: Seattle 101, which focuses on the history of downtown and the waterfront, and the Market Tour, which focuses on Pike Place.

Check out Olympic Sculpture Park

This remarkable outdoor art park is situated on a coveted piece of real estate on Seattle's stunning waterfront. Just down the stairs from Pike Place Market, it'd be a shame to miss. The sculptures are permanent fixtures and a marvel to see in person, enhanced by the Olympic National Park across the Sound. This backdrop is what gives the park its name and adds another dimension for your eyes to wonder at.

The park is free to visit and open every day of the year. It opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset. We recommend visiting twice if you can. Once, to truly appreciate and examine the works of art among their water-and-mountain frame, and a second time either during dawn or dusk to see the works bathed in the special light of those particular periods. The park covers 9 acres and only hosts 20 sculptures, so it's not an impossible feat. You could easily arrive early for sunrise before enjoying coffee at Pike Place and a morning wandering the market and waterfront. Alternatively, start your stroll of the area in the afternoon, checking out the sculptures in daylight before returning at sunset.

Wander Pike Place Market and the waterfront

If you only have a day to spend in Seattle, most will advise you to prioritize Pike Place and the waterfront. It's truly the essence of the city and where all the food, crafts, and people that make the Emerald City what it is come together. Plus, it's well-placed and accessible by public transportation or car, no matter where you choose to base yourself.

It doesn't cost a dime to enter either location, although you'll likely end up buying a tasty snack, coffee, or locally-made souvenir somewhere along the way! And if you're up for some free entertainment, make sure to stop by the Pike Place Fish Market to see the famous flying fish. You might even have the opportunity to catch one! Down on the waterfront, you don't need to spend a dime on the Great Wheel or aquarium. Just stroll along Puget Sound and enjoy views of the Olympic Mountains without having to pay for an observation deck.

Visit Fremont and its famous troll

Seattle is full of fantastic neighborhoods, each with their unique character. You could enjoy a very cheap, but also entertaining, vacation just wandering all of them from Capitol Hill to Eastlake, to the U-District, Belltown, and everywhere in between. However, if you only have time for one, or simply want to enjoy a more relaxed day and focus on one area, we highly recommend Fremont. It is located across the canal from Queen Anne, south of Wallingford and Ballard, and west of the University District. So, no matter where you're staying in the city, Fremont shouldn't be too far away.

If you want an active day that involves visiting two neighborhoods, start in the U-district and head south towards Lake Union until you meet up with the Burke Gilman trail. Then walk (or bike) west to Fremont for a fun scenic trip where you'll follow the water and enjoy views of houseboats à la "Sleepless in Seattle." You'll need to take the stairs at the Fremont Bridge (the blue one) up to street level from the path. Once you've reached your destination, you can enjoy a quirky area full of tasty eateries, independent coffee shops, and bookstores, as well as the place to be for nightlife. And make sure to follow Troll Avenue (yes, really) to the Aurora Bridge, under which you'll find the famous Fremont Troll.

Take in city views at a park

Seattle is called the Emerald City for a reason — it really stays verdant throughout all seasons. This is thanks to the endless Evergreens that dot the region (which give Washington its name the "Evergreen State"), but also because of the numerous parks that are spread throughout the city. An easy "free day" in Seattle can be spent just park-hopping, a favorite activity among Seattleites in the summer. Bring snacks and refreshments, as well as a football, frisbee, or other game, and you'll be good to go.

Gas Works Park provides sweeping views of the city skyline and Lake Union, and is great if you want to feel a bit like you're not in the city. Fremont is close enough that should you require supply replenishment, you won't need to travel too far. Kerry Park is best for sunset and boasts one of the best viewpoints in all of Seattle. You might recognize the scene from Seattle-set programs like "Frasier" and "10 Things I Hate About You." Volunteer Park is a good choice if you want to remain in town, as it's located not too far from bustling Capitol Hill. It's a great shady spot if you happen to visit during an uncharacteristic Pacific Northwest heatwave. Discovery Park in Ballard is where you should go if you truly want to pretend to not be in the city center anymore. There are miles of trails and beaches to be explored, and it's far enough out of town to be tranquil.

Visit the farmers markets

There isn't an entry fee at any Seattle-area farmer's markets, but you might end up spending something on a little treat at some point. But, if you can resist treating yourself, it can be a completely free activity. There are a ton of options, as almost every neighborhood has its own farmers market, and each has a different feel.

Ballard is a favorite among residents and those coming from elsewhere in the city (including residents). Entire streets are closed every Sunday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The market takes place throughout the neighborhood, making it easy to also pop into cafes for coffee or other storefronts. You could easily shop for an entire week here (although that might be difficult to fit in your suitcase), with fresh local produce, baked goods, and canned goods like jam on offer. Another popular one is the Queen Anne Farmers Market, which is a bit smaller, but no less charming. What started as a community effort to save a local grocery store is now a weekly event, every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer. And pro tip: Queen Anne has a fantastic rotation of food trucks. The market in Fremont is also popular and unique in that there is less food and more artisan and fashion products. It takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Go to the beach

Seattle has parks full of forests and mountain views, but it also has amazing beaches. The best are located primarily in two neighborhoods: Ballard and West Seattle. The former is home to Seattleite favorite and out-of-town visitor must-visit, Golden Gardens. This beach gets its name from the golden sand that graces the shores, an anomaly in the Pacific Northwest, whose beaches are usually full of rocks and driftwood. It also has superb views of the Olympic Mountains and a play area for children. Also located in Ballard is Carkeek Park, which is larger and has many trails and shady spots. However, there is also a beach, with similarly terrific mountain views, popular at sunset.

In West Seattle, you'll find Alki Beach, which honestly could be mistaken for a California beach. Like Golden Gardens, white sand is found at Alki, making it a favorite among sunbathers. It's also farther away from the center of Seattle, which makes a day here feel more like a retreat. You'll either need to drive the West Seattle Bridge or take the West Seattle Water Taxi from the downtown waterfront. Please note the ferry is pedestrian only. If freshwater is more your vibe, the shores of Lake Washington to the east of the city also have nice beaches. Try Madison Park or Matthews Beach. And in the heart of Seattle is Greenlake, another local favorite.

Visit the University of Washington campus

Did you even visit Seattle if you didn't get a pic at the University of Washington Quad or Harry Potter reading room in Suzzallo Library? Students aren't the only ones you'll find wandering the 700-acre campus. The grounds double as a community gathering place and Instagram background for out-of-town visitors. Even if you're well past college graduation, it's always fun to wander around campus and indulge in a bit of nostalgia.

And the UW campus is a gorgeous one to walk around, no matter the time of year. The grand (and recently renovated) Suzzallo Library impresses from the outside, but ups the ante once you sit inside. Head up the stairs and through arched doorways to the quiet reading room (so don't talk) that is affectionately called the "Harry Potter room" amongst students and alumni for its resemblance to Hogwarts. Back outside, the quad is a lovely spot to sit, people-watch, and take pictures. If you're into flowers, visit in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom! Finally, head down to the Drumheller Fountain, where you'll see baby ducks swimming in the spring. And if it's a clear day, you'll have one of the best views of Mt. Rainier in the entire city. Before your visit, check the UW academic calendar. If you visit during a break (unless the cherry blossoms are blooming), you'll enjoy fewer crowds, but many buildings, including the library, might be closed.

Learn about salmon at the Locks

The Ballard Locks are a historic engineering feat and Seattle institution completed in 1917. The small canal bridges the divide between the saltwater of Puget Sound and the freshwater of Lake Union. Visitors can watch boats enter from either side (fresh or saltwater), with a canal in each direction. Please note that there are narrow bridges that allow you to cross from one side of a lock to the other, but as soon as the alarm goes for the gate to open, you'll need to move. The park is popular among visitors and locals alike throughout the year, but particularly on sunny days.

And that's not even all there is to the Ballard Locks! A major highlight for those who visit from out of town is the fish ladder. This is essentially the fish locks where the salmon going to spawn pass through. The viewing seasons change a bit from year to year and differ between salmon species, but are typically during the summer months between mid-June and September. The underwater viewing platform is located on the south end of the grounds, so you'll need to cross one of the bridges over the canal. Then just follow the signs. If you're extra lucky, you might see salmon jumping in the water during summer. And finally, on the north end of the locks near the entrance, you'll find the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, perfect for a stroll or picnic.

Go to the library

The Seattle Public Library might not initially sound like a "must-see" attraction, but trust us, the building is an amazing architectural feat you won't want to miss. The "library" is actually a system with numerous locations throughout the city, many in beautiful historic buildings. Here we're focusing on the downtown branch, referred to as the Central Library. Constructed in 2004 and designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the building's style is very early 2000s modern. Referred to as a "space age" design, the all-glass geometric structure does feel a bit like something out of "Star Trek."

The library is located in the heart of downtown, near many hotels and Link Light Rail stations. It's very easy to add to any walking tour of Seattle. Or, if you just need access to free Wi-Fi while working remotely, or a restroom while strolling the city, it's a great option. The interior of the building is almost as cool as the outside. The all-glass windows make you feel like you're walking on air (not recommended if you're scared of heights) and the sunlight on a bright day is unmatched elsewhere in the city. It's almost the same as wandering Amazon's glass spheres, but those are only open to the public on the first and third Saturday of the month. The library is open year-round, every day of the week, to locals and visitors.

Climb the Volunteer Park water tower

Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill is a great place to visit on any Emerald City trip. The views of the skyline and Space Needle won't be found in any other part of town. And the numerous trees that fill the park provide much-needed shade on hot days — which do occur in Seattle, even if less frequently than in other parts of the country. The true highlight, however, is the old water tower located in the center. The signature landmark of Volunteer Park and Seattle in general is unique, to say the least. And better yet, you can actually climb it for epic views of the city, for absolutely $0, unlike, cough cough, the Space Needle. Sure, the view won't be exactly the same, but if you're looking for a fun free activity, this is a good option.

The observation deck is open every day between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. Climbing the tower in the evening is a great thing to do in summer for sunset. Or, go during another time of the year and enjoy a starry night and the lights of the city.

Visit a free museum

Museums aren't an obvious choice for travelers looking to save money and benefit from a "free" activity. There are many in Seattle, though, that have no entrance fee, either year-round or on certain days of the month. Those that are always free to enter include the Center of Contemporary Art in Pioneer Square, which features new and up-and-coming artists from around the Pacific Northwest. Additionally, the Duwamish Longhouse and Culture Center, where visitors can learn about the history of the Seattle area before white settlers arrived, and the Frye Art Museum in Capitol Hill are also free to enter.

Some of the most well-known museums in the city also have gratuit entrances on the first Thursday of the month. This includes the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) downtown, the Henry Art Gallery, and the Burke Natural History Museum on the University of Washington campus.

Walk through the Arboretum and Greenlake

The Washington Park Arboretum is a great respite from the city and free activity in Seattle. Enjoy paths along Lake Union, including floating boardwalks and leafy green trails with views of the television-famous Husky Stadium. You'll enjoy the tranquility of the park, shared with turtles, birds, and dogs accompanying their owners. All this makes for a wonderful background soundtrack for a stroll.

The next neighborhood over, Greenlake, is a great destination to combine with the U-district and Arboretum. The lake from which the area gets its name has a lovely 2.7-mile loop, popular with walkers and joggers throughout the seasons. In summer you can rent paddle boards and kayaks to take out on the lake and cool off. Alternatively, the docks and grassy shores that line the water are the perfect place to suntan, picnic, or take a nap in the sun. And on most days, if the weather isn't horrible, you'll find the poem lady somewhere around the lake. She sets up a table next to the walking path and asks passers-by to choose themes and topics before writing you a free custom poem.