It may be home to Bill Gates, but you don’t have to be the richest man in the world to have a great time in Seattle. Nicknamed the Emerald City for its scenic beauty, Seattle’s got plenty of free activities outdoors, and just as many indoors for when it’s raining.
In the 1950s, Seattle was nicknamed Jet City, as it was home to North America’s largest airplane manufacturer, the Boeing Company. Today, “Jet City” is still home to the Museum of Flight. You can experience this amazing museum for free on the first Thursday of every month. Walk through Boeing’s original red barn, and check out over 150 historic air and spacecraft and exhibits for every interest. Helpful hint: Arrive a little before 5 PM to get in line for the Concorde tour.
More than an express lane for boats entering and leaving Lake Washington, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks is home to the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical garden and a fish ladder. After you watch the boats make their passage, cross the walkway and check out the viewing room at the fish ladder. Here you can witness salmon climb the ladder to freshwater as they make their annual spawning migration. Helpful hint: Salmon spawn from July to September and February through March.
Let your inner spirit come out to play in Seattle’s funky, creative neighborhood of Fremont. The self-proclaimed Center of the Universe, this neighborhood offers unexpected and unconventional entertainment year-round, including the Solstice Festival, a naked bike ride, and Oktoberfest. Pick up your free Walking Guide to Fremont from any retailer and use it to find iconic public buildings and public works of art including a troll under a bridge, a rocket, and a statue of Lenin. Helpful hint: Tour the neighborhood in the afternoon and stay for the rich nightlife.
Seattle’s original downtown, Pioneer Square is one of the nation’s best surviving collections of Romanesque Revival architecture. Architecture buffs will enjoy the 100-year-old Smith Tour or the newly renovated King Street Station. Mile Post 31 is a free museum where you can learn about the people and projects that have shaped this neighborhood since 1852. At the free Klondike Gold Rush Museum, learn about Seattle’s role as the last major stop before the Yukon. Finally, relax in the hidden Waterfall Garden – a pocket park located at the original UPS headquarters site, which is a favorite refuge for locals during their busy workdays.
Explore Seattle’s scenery without leaving the city at the Washington Park Arboretum. This spectacular 230-acre urban green space on the shore of Lake Washington is home to one of the most diverse and important plant collections in North America. Start your visit at the Graham Visitors’ Center, where you can talk to a botanist, pick up a park map, get plant and tree lists, and find out about events, tours and facility rentals. Arboretum activities include hiking, canoeing and kayaking, picnics, and enjoying the year-round collection of magnificent flowers, plants and trees.
Is there anything more adorable and awesome than a bonsai tree? The Pacific Bonsai Museum, which was opened in 1989 as part of Seattle’s 100-year anniversary celebrations, is the perfect place to feast your eyes on these little perennials since it boasts a truly impressive collection. Here you can see tiny conifers, miniature maples and up to 100 of the carefully looked after potted trees during one of the museum’s free tours (look out for the Fall Foliage Festival to see bonsais changing colors!).
The Frye Art Museum is one of Seattle’s hidden cultural gems, and it’s 100% free to visit. Located in the First Hill neighborhood (up the hill from Downtown), it first opened in 1952 as the legacy of Charles and Emma Frye, who were early business leaders in Seattle. The Frye’s original collection of 19th- and 20th-century European art remains on exhibit, with internationally renowned exhibits rotating regularly.
Formed by the Vashon Glacial Ice Sheet 50,000 years ago, Green Lake Park is one of Seattle’s most beloved parks. The park serves as a preserve for hundreds of species of trees, plants, and numerous birds. It’s also a favorite for active locals looking to get out and stretch their legs. The park includes a 2.8-mile path around the lake that connects you to soccer fields, tennis courts, baseball fields, and more!
Pay homage to a rock n’ roll icon – Jimi Hendrix
Described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music,” Jimi Hendrix is one the most famous Seattleites to emerge from the music scene. There are three free ways to honor this icon. Snap a selfie at the Jimi Hendrix statue at Broadway and Pine Streets on Capitol Hill. Spend some time in Jimi Hendrix Park in the Central District. Or, leave a guitar pick and pay your respects at his memorial at Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton.
Pike Place Market is said to be the oldest running farmer’s market in the United States and is probably the institution that it is because of the array of super-fresh, artisanal and locally-sourced foods peddled by its many vendors. While it might be tempting to buy something, you can take in all the sites, smells and sounds for free – look out for the infamous fish throwers and Rachel the Pig. More importantly, you can practically make a meal out of all the free samples on offer: think everything from popcorn and chocolate, to cheese to jams.
Looking for more free activities in Seattle? Check out the International District tour, Friday pub-crawl, weekly pancake dinners and more at HI Seattle The American Hotel. They’re a great way to get to know your fellow hostellers while experiencing the city as a local.
Find more free things to across the country in the HI USA Free For All.