Seattle on a Budget: 15 Museums & More You Can Visit for Free

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Photo of the Seattle skyline.
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Nestled in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is home to the Space Needle, the original Starbucks and grunge music. It’s also the city where tech giants Microsoft and Amazon got their start. 

Even so, you don’t need to have Gates– or Bezos–level bucks to afford a trip to Seattle. Cheap bus and train rides from Eugene, Portland, Vancouver and other regional hubs are available for a steal on Wanderu

And you don’t have to burn out your bank account once you get there, either: This city offers plenty of free things to do besides sitting in your room, waiting out one of Seattle’s 152 rainy days a year.

We’ve assembled a list of affordable activities that show off Seattle’s unique charm and personality: From museums and parks to boat rides and chocolate factory tours, you’ll have an awesome time visiting the Emerald City without spending a ton of green. 

Below, you can click to skip ahead to a particular section, or just scroll down and learn about Seattle’s free attractions one-by-one.

FOOD & DRINK

Photo of Pike Place Market in Seattle.

1. Pike Place Market

1st Avenue and Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98101
6 a.m. – 1:30 a.m. (Varies by Merchant)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: No trip to Seattle is complete without a visit to the famous Pike Place Market — just ask the 10 million people who visit it every year. Established in 1907 to connect citizens and farmers, Pike Place now houses more than 200 owner-operated shops and 80 restaurants. Things to do there: Catch a fish (flung at you by a salty fishmonger); cheer on the street performers; or visit the original Starbucks, which opened back in 1971.

2. Theo Chocolate Factory Tour

3400 Phinney Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98103
10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Known for its organic and fair-trade chocolate, the Theo factory (and its flagship store) is located in Seattle and offers tours — free samples included. Normally $12, tours at 4:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month are free to the public. Yes, we know that’s specific, but these melt-in-your-mouth morsels are worth it. The factory also offers classes on how to make chocolate, as well as what to pair it with. (We see a chocolate-tasting party in your future! 🔮)

MUSEUMS

Photo outside of the Seattle Art Museum.
(ctj71081 / Flickr)

3. Seattle Art Museum

1300 1st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Wed, Fri, Sun)
10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Thurs)
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: After you tour Pike Place, walk over to the Seattle Art Museum just one block away. It houses collections from around the world, along with rotating installations and exhibits — including Northwest–specific works. The main area is free to the public on the first Thursday of every month, but some special exhibitions require an extra fee.

4. Museum of Flight

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle, WA 98108
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: It’s fitting that the Museum of Flight is located in Seattle, seeing as Boeing was founded there in the early 1900s. The museum is the world’s largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum with more than 175 flying vessels and thousands of artifacts. Spread your wings on the first Thursday of the month from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., when admission is free.

5. Frye Art Museum

704 Terry Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Tues – Sun)
11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Thurs)
Closed on Monday
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Opened in 1952, this museum preserves the legacy of prominent Seattle business leaders and art collectors Charles and Emma Frye (no relation to the expensive boots). Collections include the work of local and global artists whose work addresses civic responsibility. The site offers free public tours and lectures.

6. Tacoma Art Museum

1701 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Tues – Sun)
10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Thurs)
Closed on Monday
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: In the greater Seattle area, there are few things hotter than glass blowing (for real, the melting point of glass is like 2,400°F), and the best place to see it on display is at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Famed glass sculptor Dale Chihuly is actually a native of Tacoma: The Tacoma Art Museum houses the largest Chihuly collection on continuous display in the world, and admission is free every Thursday from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The museum also offers a free tour to learn more about Chihuly’s artwork throughout Tacoma’s Museum District. Buses between Seattle and Tacoma take just 45 minutes, and start at $1. (Which we realize isn’t free, but it’d damn close.)

OUTDOORS

2901 Western Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121
30 minutes prior to sunrise
to 30 minutes after sunset
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Bring your all-weather poncho: Operated by the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park offers a way to indulge in Seattle’s art scene out in the misty Northwest air. Situated on the city’s waterfront, the nine-acre sculpture park is the largest downtown green space in the entire city. It’s legacy sculptures include the red, sharp-angled “Eagle,” and the dangling log of “Bunyon’s Chess.”

8. Seattle Center

305 Harrison Street
Seattle, WA 98109
7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Sun – Thurs)
7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Fri – Sat)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: A park (and event grounds) that includes the Space Needle, the Seattle Center attracts more than 12 million visitors a year. The Needle itself costs more than $30 to summit, but gazing up for a slick Instagram photo is free. Elsewhere in Seattle Center, practice your triple axel, because the 74-acre campus hosts thousands of shows and activities, including ice skating in the winter and outdoor movies in the summer.

9. Ballard Locks

3015 NW 54th Street
Seattle, WA 98107
7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Open Dailiy
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Officially named the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, the “Ballard Locks” (as locals know it) is a National Historic Site operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The complex of locks (which are, effectively, narrow waterways in which the water level can be altered by gates) bridge the 20-foot gap between the saltwater of Puget Sound and the fresh water of the ship canal. The locks are also a great place to spot migrating salmon from June through September, if you’re looking to be inspired by fish who swim against the current.

10. Gas Works Park

2101 North Northlake Way
Seattle, WA 98103
6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Sitting on the north shore of Lake Union, Gas Works Park offers breathtaking views of the downtown Seattle skyline. The park’s name comes from the former gasification plant that once stood on the land, and you can still bicycle past past decommissioned factory buildings on the Burke-Gilman Trail. If photographing old factories isn’t your jam, another awesome option is to fly a kite on Kite Hill or settle down for a picnic.

11. Sunday Public Sail at South Lake Union

1010 Valley Street
Seattle, WA 98109
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Open Sundays
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Have you always wanted to sail, but don’t know a hull from a hole in the wall? For 25-plus years, the Center for Wooden Boats has been offering free rides on Lake Union every Sunday, rain or shine. Signups for the public start at 10:00 on Sunday morning, with boats departing between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (Rides last 45 minutes to an hour.)

12. Discovery Park

3801 Discovery Park Blvd.
Seattle, WA 98199
4:00 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Open Daily
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Seattle’s largest park overlooks Puget Sound and offers beaches, sea cliffs and sand dunes. The 534-acre natural area also includes West Point — the westernmost part of the city where a picturesque lighthouse gazes out at the bay.

MISCELLANEOUS

13. Seattle Public Library

1000 4th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Mon – Thurs)
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Fri – Sat)
12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Sun)
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The Seattle Public Library system’s Central branch opened in 2004, and has been catching the eye of swooning travelers ever since. With a unique glass and steel architecture, the structure looks like it was pulled straight from downtown Wakanda. Take a break from sightseeing to browse the library’s collections, which cover the history of Seattle and of the aviation industry.

14. Silent Reading Party at Hotel Sorrento

900 Madison Street
Seattle, WA 98104
First Wednesday of the month at 6:00 p.m.
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: This one is a bit of a misnomer. When you think “party,” you probably don’t think “reading quietly in the same room with other people,” but this event held by the Hotel Sorrento breaks the mold. The Silent Reading Party has been a Seattle mainstay for more than 10 years now, and takes place the first Wednesday of each month. Bring a book or magazine to read as you enjoy live piano music and drinks in the hotel’s Fireside Room. Seats go fast and the line in can stretch out the door, so make sure you show up early.

15. Art Walk at Pioneer Square

100 Yesler Way
Seattle, WA 98104
5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
First Thursday of Every Month
Official site

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Seattle’s very first neighborhood, Pioneer Square is now at the center of the city’s art scene. Since 1981, local galleries have offered a free art walk on the first Thursday of every month. The neighborhood is also home to a range of eateries and nightlife venues, as well as a 22-foot (man-made) waterfall.

Once you’ve visited some of these free sites in the Emerald City, we have no doubt you’ll be clicking your ruby slippers and saying, “There’s no place like Seattle.” 

So! Leave your Benjamins at home, because a trip to S-Town can be done on a budget. Seattle is also the perfect jumping-off point for a longer vacation, as these destinations for $20 or less prove. (Here’s a list of our own favorite day-trips from the Seattle area.)

Whatever your plans, be sure to book your trip through Wanderu, where you can compare cheap bus, train and flight options all at once. 

Looking for low-cost activities in other West Coast cities? Check out our guide for L.A. on a Budget: 15 Museums & More You Can Visit For Free.

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About the author
Peter Jones

Peter Jones

Peter Jones has a background in journalism and international relations. He loves comedy, running and travel. One time, he offered the queen of Jordan a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.