Until you’ve spent a few days in Seattle, it’s hard to grasp the amazing dichotomy of the city, where mountain peaks and city skyscrapers seem to blend effortlessly together, and a laidback outdoorsy culture blends with tech and art–but that’s what you’ll find while making your way through this 3 days in Seattle itinerary.
With a metro center that is spectacularly flanked by the peaks of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound on one side and the Cascades and Lake Washington on the other side, plus a looming Mount Rainier to its south, Seattle is an incredibly beautiful place.
This breadth of scenery right next to a major city is part of what draws people to Seattle, and this long weekend in Seattle itinerary will make sure you make the most of your time to explore this booming metropolis.
To make the most of your 3 days in Seattle, it’s wise to mix the downtown core with neighborhoods on the edges of the city along with a mixture of tourist attractions and live-like-a-local pursuits, and this Seattle travel guide will show you how to do so.
Note: this blog post was written for Our Escape Clause by Seattle local Gina Tarnacki of One Day in a City. Thanks for joining us, Gina!
Table of Contents
- Day 1 in Seattle Itinerary: Explore the Heart of the City
- Day 2 in Seattle Itinerary: Sea and Island Life
- Day 3 in Seattle Itinerary: The North Neighborhoods of Seattle
- Where to Stay During a Long Weekend in Seattle
- Where to Eat During 3 Days in Seattle
- Getting Around During This 3 Day Seattle Itinerary
- When to Spend 3 Days in Seattle
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Day 1 in Seattle Itinerary: Explore the Heart of the City
Grab breakfast at a coffee shop.
Seattle’s coffee obsession is famous — after all, the headquarters of Starbucks is located in the city.
While you’ll find a Starbucks on just about every block in downtown Seattle, to get the true Seattle coffee experience, visit one of the independently owned and operated coffee shops located all around the city to start your 3 days in Seattle itinerary.
You can choose from modern and sleek to cozy and comfortable to hipster-approved, and you’ll no doubt find a perfect brew waiting inside and a delicious pastry to go with it.
Visit Pike Place Market.
Pike Place Market is a must-see during your long weekend in Seattle and a great place to start your Seattle sightseeing.
As one of the oldest continuously running marketplaces in the United States, Pike Place Market is a bustling center that will please all your senses as you watch fish being thrown, hear street performers playing music, smell colorful flowers, touch butter-soft leather accessories and other souvenirs for sale, and eat mouth-wateringly delicious seafood.
When you arrive at Pike Place Market, it’s important to get your bearings. The north part of the marketplace is where you’ll find vendor stalls selling clothing, purses, artwork, and other souvenirs.
As you make your way to the other end, you’ll start to pass by onsite eateries as well as a number of flower stands and fresh produce stands. The southern end of Pike Place Market is where you’ll find the famous fish market that features fish being thrown around.
And for you coffee lovers — Pike Place Market is also home to the very first Starbucks location, which is still serving up coffee each day.
Just be aware the line to get a drink there is usually extremely long, so if you’re on a time crunch, just poke your head inside to look around and take a picture in front of the establishment.
Have lunch at Pike Place Market.
Pike Place is also a great place to get some lunch.
There are several restaurants located within Pike Place where you can sit at a table with views of the water (many of these establishments are seat-yourself after you order at a counter).
If you’re dining at a place that doesn’t have its own seating section, you can take your food to one of the public seating areas at Pike Place Market.
Go down the stairs right next to the fish-throwing stall and you’ll come to a nice little public area of the market with tables and chairs that are tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Pike Place and overlooks Elliott Bay.
Want to make the most of your time exploring (and eating your way through) Pike Place Market?
This popular Pike Place Market food tour is a fantastic option!
Ride the Seattle Great Wheel.
The Seattle Great Wheel is a large Ferris wheel overlooking Elliott Bay that boasts one of the best views of the city.
It is conveniently adjacent to Pike Place Market so do it before lunch if you’re not hungry yet, or after lunch to digest all that delicious food you ate before heading to your next destination.
The Seattle Great Wheel takes you high above the water’s edge in an enclosed gondola (making it a fun activity to do in either sunshine or rainy weather) and provides sprawling views of the water and city skyline.
Check out the Seattle Central Library.
From an architectural standpoint, Seattle Central Library has to be one of the most impressive libraries in the world. The design is modern and geometrical with a myriad of edges.
The library is part of the Seattle Public Library System and is free to the public to go in and walk around, making it an easy addition to your long weekend in Seattle.
Central Library consists of multiple levels with an assortment of collections and even an onsite coffee cart with lots of light-filled seating.
Head to Seattle Center.
Seattle Center is where you’ll find a number of Seattle’s top attractions.
It’s not within walking distance from Pike Place Market so you’ll want to take an Uber or public transportation there.
A really fun way to get between the two is to walk to Westlake Station (less than 10 minutes from Pike Place or Central Library) and take the Seattle Center Monorail from there that goes straight to the Seattle Center.
So what is the Seattle Center? It’s where you’ll find some of Seattle’s top museums, several restaurants, and the iconic Space Needle, making it a must-see during your 3 days in Seattle.
It also has a massive playground for kids called Artists at Play that is full of rope tunnels and structures that look more like modern art.
In the common areas between the buildings, there are often food stalls and street performers entertaining the crowds. For a peaceful moment, take a seat by the International Fountain.
To really experience Seattle Center, though, you’ll want to go into some of its attractions. Here are the ones you won’t want to miss:
After an extensive remodel, the viewing platform atop the Space Needle is recently reopened and better than ever. Views are no longer obstructed by bars and the lower platform features a revolving glass floor.
When visiting the Space Needle, it’s best to get tickets in advance. You can purchase them online and select your ideal time to head up to the top of the attraction.
In summer, the sun sets pretty late, but the rest of the year, the Space Needle is a great place to see the sunset (well, if the sun is out), so timing your visit with that can be quite memorable.
Even if the sun’s not shining, it is pretty to watch the city go from daylight to dusk. You can have a beer and an appetizer while you watch the sun go down and then head into the city for dinner once you come down from the Space Needle.
If you’d rather call it a night and head back to your hotel after your time atop the Space Needle, you can also get dinner there — the revolving restaurant is no more after the remodel, but you can get local eats from the cafe like Beecher Mac and Cheese or fish and chips.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Dale Chihuly is an artist who was born in Tacoma, Washington, and became renowned for his impressive and large-scale glass creations. Many of these creations are housed in the Chihuly Gardens and Glass Museum in the Seattle Center.
The museum expertly combines glass artwork with natural elements for an impressive array of color and presentation that is dazzling to walk around and is one of the most popular things to see when spending 3 days in Seattle.
Other Museums and Science Centers
Seattle Center is also home to the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Children’s Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.
Your afternoon probably won’t allow for time to go to more than one if you’re also planning on going to the Chihuly Glass Center and making it to Seattle Space Needle for sunset.
Most places can be explored in a few hours, though the Pacific Science Center is somewhere you could easily spend all day. If that interests you, then leave it for day three (more on that later).
If you’re just there for a few hours, make sure to make a visit to the Tinker Tank, the Science on a Sphere exhibit, and walk through the Tropical Butterfly House.
Day 2 in Seattle Itinerary: Sea and Island Life
Visit the renowned Seattle Aquarium.
The Seattle Aquarium is located right on the harbor, overlooking the glistening Puget Sound. The aquarium features many exhibits about ocean animals, including ones that call the waters off of Washington home.
As soon as you go around the ticket counter, you’re instantly greeted by marine life at the Seattle Aquarium; you’ll enter a large room with a humongous floor-to-ceiling fish tank making up one of the room’s walls.
From there, you’ll continue your way through the aquarium, seeing both sea and river otters, fur seals, and harbor seals.
Seattle Aquarium has six main exhibits that together focus on Washington waters and its animals, Pacific coral reefs, birds that live by the shore, and other marine mammals.
You’ll also have the chance to go through an underwater dome and have hands-on experience in the tide pool area where you can touch sea stars and sea urchins while asking the naturalists who work there your questions.
The Seattle Aquarium has a big focus on conservation for sea animals in the Pacific Northwest. While you go through the aquarium, you’ll learn more about its conservation efforts, which help many different species.
On the top floor, you can enjoy a snack, sandwich, or coffee while enjoying views of the water.
Enjoy a whale-watching tour during your weekend in Seattle.
If aquariums don’t excite you, consider learning more about water life in the Puget Sound through a whale-watching expedition.
Whales are often spotted passing through the waters of the Puget Sound and whale-watching tours leave from a north suburb of Seattle called Edmonds, located about 30 minutes north of downtown.
These whale-watching tours typically last four to five hours and take you out onto the Sound for the chance to view sea mammals both large and small in their natural habitat.
Book your whale-watching tour in Seattle today!
Head to Bainbridge Island for sightseeing and dinner.
After your morning animal adventures, a great way to spend the rest of the day is to head to Bainbridge Island.
Located right next to Seattle Aquarium is the ferry terminal that connects downtown Seattle with Bainbridge Island.
It takes less than an hour to cross the harbor to Bainbridge Island and along the way you’ll be privy to striking views of the skyline that are picture-perfect.
Once on the island, you can depart the ferry and walk right into its quaint downtown area.
Do some shopping, walk through art galleries, and head to the shoreline for peaceful views. If you have a car with you (the ferry is a walk-on or car ferry) you can do a drive around the island as well, but a car is not necessary to enjoy the rustic island beauty of Bainbridge.
Bainbridge is also a great place for dinner, especially during crab season when you can order fresh, locally-caught Dungeness crab on which to feast.
Ultimately, an afternoon in Bainbridge will give you a taste of just how close Seattle is to sprawling nature and spectacular water sights.
Alternative Seattle Itinerary Idea: Edmonds
If you did the whale-watching part of the day, you may want to stay in Edmonds and explore this cool suburb.
Its downtown area has a number of art galleries, restaurants, and shops.
Edmonds also has one of the few sandy beaches in the area and you can sit on it and wade in the water just a short walk from the Edmonds ferry terminal.
Day 3 in Seattle Itinerary: The North Neighborhoods of Seattle
To wrap up your long weekend in Seattle, head north.
Some of Seattle’s most beloved neighborhoods are here: Ballard, Fremont, and Green Lake.
In Ballard, you’ll find an assortment of breweries and whiskey bars plus the alluring Ballard Locks.
The Ballard Locks is an intricate system that connects the vast Puget Sound to Lake Union and Lake Washington, making it possible for boats up to 760 feet in length to sail through. It’s a fun place to watch the engineering of the locks come to life.
Ballard Locks also has a fish ladder, so during the salmon run season (autumn), you can see salmon making their way up the ladder to get back to their place of birth so they can spawn.
Fremont is a funky, happening neighborhood to the southeast of Ballard.
It is home to the Fremont Troll, a large troll statue that lives under the George Washington Memorial Bridge off of Aurora Avenue North.
In Fremont you’ll also find the tasting room for one of Seattle’s most prominent breweries, aptly called Fremont Brewing Company.
Green Lake is northeast of Fremont and is a lovely part of Seattle to spend a couple of hours.
You can walk around the small lake on the paved trail, or rent paddle boats to go out onto the water.
The lake is also right next to some adorable craftsman-style houses and the eastern end of the lake is near many restaurants and shops.
Alternative Ideas for the End of Your 3 Day Seattle Itinerary
Option 1: Campus Walk
Visiting Seattle in spring?
Go to the University of Washington campus to walk through its famous cherry blossoms on the Quad part of campus.
Option 2: Beaches
Love the beach? Head to one of Seattle’s best beaches (and a favorite of locals): Alki Beach.
Located in West Seattle, Alki Beach has a pebbly beach adjacent to a boardwalk that is popular with walkers and joggers.
The boardwalk runs parallel to several seafood eateries and bars that are popular hang-outs on warm, summer days (or go for the clam chowder on blustery winter days).
Option 3: Museums
Go back to Seattle Center and check out some more of the museums there.
As mentioned earlier, the Pacific Science Center is easily somewhere you can spend a whole day.
Be sure to get a ticket that includes Planetarium and VR experiences!
Where to Stay During a Long Weekend in Seattle
Unless you’re planning to spend your evening hours in Ballard or Fremont, it probably makes the most sense to stay in Union Square.
In Union Square, you’ll be close to public transportation stops, Pike Place Market, and a plethora of bars and restaurants to help you easily enjoy Seattle at night.
Here are 3 popular, well-reviewed options for staying in Union Square, depending on your budget for your Seattle weekend trip.
Green Tortoise Hostel — This highly rated hostel is located just a couple blocks from Like Place Marker and provides a fun, convenient location for travelers on a budget.
Both dorm-style rooms and private rooms are available, making this a good option for couples or groups of friends traveling together.
The Palihotel — With 96 eclectically decorated rooms, the Palihotel has an intimate vibe while still offering an on-site restaurant, coffee bar, and location right by Seattle’s top sights.
Seattle Marriott Waterfront — Enjoy panoramic water views of Elliott Bay when staying at this well-appointed hotel located just a short walk north of Pike Place Market. The luxurious hotel has a bar, restaurant, and alluring pool that stretches from the indoors to the outside.
Where to Eat During 3 Days in Seattle
Seafood in Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is an excellent place to go for seafood.
There is no shortage of entrees featuring fish and oysters and more, but two that stand out are Pike Place Chowder, home to award-winning seafood and clam chowder, and Lowell’s, which spans three levels with views of Elliott Bay.
Tom Douglas Restaurants
Tom Douglas is a renowned chef and restaurateur in the Seattle area.
He operates over a dozen eateries of differing vibes, price points, and cuisine, but one thing is consistent: excellent service and high-end ingredients resulting in delicious menu items.
The Carlisle is an especially famous restaurant for high-end dining with an eclectic atmosphere, while those looking for a more laid-back, hip atmosphere will like Serious Pies’ scrumptious pizzas.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
This is considered to be one of the best seafood restaurants in Seattle and is especially a must-eat for oyster lovers.
Located in Ballard, the Walrus and the Carpenter has a first seating each night, which people line up for outside the door.
The line continues even after that first seating and for those willing to wait, you’ll get your chance to dine after others leave.
The restaurant is bright but narrow, but you’ll likely be focused much more on the many seafood tapas, impressive oyster bar, and cool cocktails you can get than the decor.
Getting Around During This 3 Day Seattle Itinerary
Seattle has an extensive public transit system connecting all parts of the city.
King County Metro Transit lists its schedules and timetables online, making it easy to plan out your day if you are taking a bus from one attraction to the next.
If you choose to rent a car for your three days in Seattle, you’ll find that there’s plenty of parking in Seattle, but it’s quite expensive.
Your hotel in the city center will likely charge for overnight parking so be sure to add that into your budget.
In Union Square and other areas around downtown Seattle, your best bet for parking is paid parking garages, while you are more likely to run into parking meters in the neighborhoods outside the city center.
If you find a pay-free street, check if there’s an hourly limit since most streets in Seattle have such a parking limit.
When to Spend 3 Days in Seattle
Summer in Seattle and the rest of the Pacific Northwest is generally amazing.
Over the summer, Seattle’s famous rain subsides and most days are filled with sunshine and blue skies.
It’s a great season to spend time on the water, do some hikes or park walks, visit Mount Rainier, or ensure you’ll get some clear photos of the city from atop the Space Needle.
On the flip side, summer is going to be much more crowded at tourist attractions than other times of the year, and there are other benefits to experiencing a long weekend in Seattle during the non-summer months if perfect weather isn’t a huge concern for you.
Spring is gorgeous for the cherry blossoms that bloom all around the Seattle metro area, and you might even get some sunshine during your 3 days in Seattle.
Likewise, in Fall, the city is awash in shades of amber and crimson as the leaves change color and sunshine is also still a possibility (though so is a lot of rain).
Fall is also a cool time to visit since you can see the annual salmon run at Ballard Locks as part of your Seattle itinerary.
As for winter, unless you get incredibly lucky weather-wise, you’re going to have gray and probably very rainy weather if visiting Seattle in the winter.
However, the tourist attractions will be much less crowded — though indoor ones like museums and the aquarium can get busy on the weekends when local families go there to escape the rain.
No matter when you decide to experience a long weekend getaway in Seattle, with proper planning and an expectation of the weather you’re likely to encounter, you are sure to have a fun-filled and unforgettable 3 days in Seattle.