Bellevue vs. Seattle: Two Neighboring Northwest Cities Compared

Bellevue and Seattle are neighbors, just a few miles apart and separated by a lake and a few floating bridges. Despite their close proximity, the two cities are pretty unique from each other with each offering distinct advantages in different areas for both residents and visitors.

Overall, Seattle is the city where you’ll want to head for any big city experiences, from events and concerts to high-end meals. Bellevue is the place for you if you want to be close to the action without being right at its center. You’ll find perks like free parking there, too (good luck finding that in most of Seattle’s center)! But, really, it comes down to what you’re looking for as Bellevue and Seattle both are great cities overall!

Read on for a comparison of these two Northwestern cities to figure out which best suits your needs, whether you’re moving to the Northwest or coming for a visit.

Other city comparisons: Seattle vs. Portland | Seattle vs. Denver | Seattle vs. San Francisco

  • 01 of 07

    Location, Size and a Bit about History

    Seattle skyline
    ••• Kristin Kendle

    Seattle and Bellevue are located on opposite shores of Lake Washington—Seattle to the west (sandwiched between Lake Washington and the Puget Sound) and Bellevue to the east (situated between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish). Bellevue is often referred to as the Eastside. Both cities are close to the water, but Bellevue’s shorelines are lakeside and recreational only, whereas Seattle fronts the Puget Sound and has a major West Coast port.

    Both cities were founded in the late 1800s—Seattle in 1851 and Bellevue in 1869. Bellevue remained pretty rural until the first floating bridge was built in the 1940s. A second floating bridge was added in 1963 and the city began to boom. Today, Seattle has about 660,000 residents to Bellevue’s approximately 120,000.

  • 02 of 07

    Things to do

    Space Needle
    ••• Space Needle. Kristin Kendle

    With its big city appeal, Seattle has a lot more events and attractions to offer than Bellevue, from touristy heavy hitters like the Space Needle to local favorites like Volunteer Park. Seattle is Western Washington’s cultural hub with theaters and museums galore, including the Paramount and 5th Avenue, Seattle Art Museum, as well as plenty of smaller venues like ACT Theater, too. Seattle gets many major headliners, concerts and touring plays and musicals, but also has a thriving local music scene. It’s also home to many of Western Washington’s largest events, like Seafair, Seattle International Film Festival, Bite of Seattle, Seattle Pride and Bumbershoot.

    Seattle is also the place to go for major sports events as the Sounders and Seahawks play at CenturyLink Field, the Mariners at Safeco Field, and the Seattle Storm at KeyArena.

    Bellevue is a bit quieter, but still has things to do. Visit the Bellevue Botanical Gardens or Bellevue Arts Museum. Especially for families, Bellevue can be a...MORE great choice as there are many great parks and playgrounds, such as Crossroads Park Water Playground. Bellevue also has a few festivals to its name, including an annual Strawberry Festival and Bellevue Sculpture Exhibition in Downtown Park. The biggest perk of living or staying in Bellevue is that all it takes to get to all the attractions and activities in Seattle is a trip across a bridge.

  • 03 of 07

    Outdoors and Parks

    Bellevue Downtown Park
    ••• Bellevue Downtown Park. jc.winkler

    Both cities have amazing parks that offer everything from playgrounds to seashore to forest hikes. Both cities are also not a far drive from mountains, forests, national parks and ocean beaches, if urban nature is just not enough. It’s an easy drive from either city to Issaquah for hikes, Mount Si for a challenging hike, as well as Woodinville for walks or bike rides in the country (and plenty of wineries to boot)!

    Within Seattle’s city limits, you can explore a number of stellar green spaces and parks. Walk or jog on the paved trails at Green Lake. Explore wooded trails and beaches at Discovery Park. Spend some time at the glasshouse in Volunteer Park, or relax in the grass, or go to the Seattle Asian Art Museum located within the park’s boundaries. Or enjoy the beautiful views from Gas Works Park. There are tons of parks in Seattle!

    Bellevue also has no shortage of parks. Right in the heart of downtown is Downtown Park, a beautiful green space that makes a nice place for a picnic....MORE Crossroads Park’s water playground and Bellevue Botanical Gardens are both free and excellent for families. Meydenbauer Beach Park is another place families can find a bit of everything—a playground, a small grassy area, and also a small beach perfect for kids. Explore the city’s parks and you’re sure to find one that suits what you’re looking for.
     

  • 04 of 07

    Education

    University of Washington
    ••• University of Washington. Joe Mabel

    Both Seattle and Bellevue have school districts with the usual run of elementary, middle/junior high and high schools, but what sets the two cities apart is access to hire education. Seattle definitely eeks out an edge in this department, as would be expected from a much larger city. However, both cities do have opportunities for higher ed.

    Seattle is, of course, home to the largest university in Washington—University of Washington—as well as several smaller schools, including Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University and The Art Institute of Seattle. There’s a selection of several community colleges, too.

    Bellevue’s largest school is Bellevue College, which offers two and four year degrees. City University of Seattle is also technically in Bellevue.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Jobs

    Amazon
    ••• simone.brunozzi

    While Seattle has a great deal of the area’s jobs, Bellevue’s employment scene is nothing to sniff at.

    Seattle is home to Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Tullys, but Bellevue has Costco’s headquarters as well as Paccar, T-Mobile, Expedia and it’s not very far at all from Redmond. Redmond is the location of Microsoft, Nintendo and Valve Corp.

  • 06 of 07

    Parking

    Seattle Parking
    ••• Seattle Parking. Kristin Kendle

    It’s tough for Seattle to hold a candle to Bellevue’s parking situation—mainly because most parking in Seattle is paid and has time limits while most parking in Bellevue is free. Parking is also a whole lot easier to find in Bellevue and it’s less likely you’ll have to parallel park. However, let it not be said it’s difficult to find parking in Seattle. There is a plethora of parking garages downtown so you can always find parking, but during peak hours you’ll pay for it. Parking on evenings and weekends (especially Sundays) is much cheaper. There’s also some free parking around Pike Place Market, if you can grab one of the coveted spots.

  • 07 of 07

    Cost of Living

    Seattle neighborhoods
    ••• Millionaire's Row near Volunteer Park in Seattle. Kristin Kendle

    Neither Bellevue or Seattle are cheap places to live or buy a home. The median Seattle home price in 2016 was $575,000, but the median home price in Bellevue is $682,000 (it’s known for its slightly upscale feel). While neither city is known for cheap real estate, both have many free things to do and more affordable neighborhoods (but do check the crime rates in some Seattle neighborhoods). Overall, Bellevue is known as a more upscale city, while Seattle’s neighborhoods run the gamut from sketchy to very ritzy.