There are many free and fun things to do in Seattle. Some are obvious: Getting out to a city park is always free and Seattle’s parks are beautifully unique. And most Seattle-Tacoma museums have free days at least one day a month. But there is much more to do that’s free or cheap and unique to the Puget Sound and Seattle like Pike Market and Ballard Locks.
Do be aware, though, that Seattle parking is not always free. Research the cheapest lot ahead of time and you can keep the day very cheap. On Sundays, street parking is free, but finding a spot can be tricky in some locations. Public transportation may be your answer.
Wander Seattle Center
Many of Seattle’s major landmarks are free to visit. You can wander around the Seattle Center, view the Space Needle, go into the Seattle Center Armory and art galleries, and hang out by the International Fountain—all for free.
The Seattle Center Armory, originally built in 1939, features fresh, local foods and beverages and offers cultural celebrations and free performances. Enjoy the view of Seattle Center from the 60-foot outdoor deck.
See the remnants of the "old armory." The basement of the Armory still has markings from the old firing range and an unfinished swimming pool once intended for military recruits. Today, over 3,000 free public performances are given in the Seattle Center Armory each year.
The free ride area of Metro Transit buses gets pretty close to the borders of Seattle Center; otherwise, parking near there will likely still cost you a few dollars.
Shop at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is a store, but also a bit of a museum. You can see Sylvester the mummy, a collection of shrunken human heads, and other surprising and interesting items.
The shop is currently on Pier 54 but has a long history. The curio and souvenir shop was first opened in 1899 and has had several locations since then, all along Seattle's Puget Sound waterfront.
On designated free days or free evenings (some are specifically for teens and/or seniors) head to Seattle and Tacoma's museums such as the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Bellevue Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum.
The many interesting Museums range from natural history and science to local history and are located in both Seattle and Tacoma, to the south.
Cruise From the Center for Wooden Boats
The Center for Wooden Boats is a resource for all who love sailing or wooden boats, and it has things to do for free. Admission is free and allows the chance to get up close to the collection of non-motorized boats. Free sails take place every Sunday on Lake Union. Sign up is only in person the day of the sail, so get there early.
The Fremont Troll is a giant sculpture that lives, appropriately, under the Aurora Bridge in Fremont near N. 36th Street. The Fremont Troll shares the space to the northwest of the bridge with a small park and community garden. There isn't much to do at the Troll, but he makes a great photo op.
Enjoy the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection
Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all year round, you can view the impressive bonsai collection at Weyerhaeuser in Federal Way to the south of Seattle.
The collection houses over 100 bonsai trees from China, Japan, Canada, Korea, Taiwan & America and are displayed in an outdoor setting with gravel paths. There are free public tours every Sunday at 1 p.m., and no reservations are required.
Parks and Green Spaces
Seattle is filled with parks and green spaces that are all free. Depending on the park, you might hang out on a beach, enjoy the view, take a hike or explore unique places like old water towers or glasshouses.
- The Olympic Sculpture Park overlooks the Puget Sound and features large-scale outdoor artwork and some lovely water views. The park is located at 2901 Western Avenue.
- Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill is one of Seattle's most interesting parks. Within its bounds, you'll find an old water tower you can climb (with great views), the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and a vintage glasshouse, all found at 1400 E Galer Street.
- Gas Works is no ordinary park. A former gasification plant, the park preserved the ruins of the former plant. You can get up close to and touch some of the ruins though others are fenced off. This is also an ideal park to fly a kite on a windy day. Find the park at 2101 North Northlake Way.
- Washington Park Arboretum is an urban green space near Lake Washington. With more than 200 acres of trails, it's a massive and shady park. The park is located at 2300 Arboretum Drive East.
- If you seek a beach to hang out on, visit Carkeek Park or Golden Gardens.
- For great walking trails, Greenlake Park and Alki Beach Park are perfect.
Some of the public parks are major tourist destinations with amazing views and some are tucked away in neighborhoods, but all offer a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Walk the Seattle Waterfront
The Seattle Waterfront area includes many attractions all along it, including Pike Place Market, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
While there are many attractions that will cost you, walking along the Puget Sound and looking won't cost you a thing. You can walk along the piers and watch the tour boats ply the waters, photograph the Seattle Great Wheel, and watch the iconic ferries come and go.
Peruse Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market overlooks the Seattle Waterfront. Parking here will cost a fee, but you can wander the market, watch the fish get tossed, or add in a stroll to the waterfront area all for free.
Officially designated as a National Historic District, the market is open year-around. You'll find established businesses and restaurants as well as seasonal stalls and crafts vendors.
It's a colorful and exciting place to explore where you can get a sense of both the bounty of the sea and the earth in the area. There are always colorful flower vendors and smoked fish and shellfish for sale. A favorite free activity is to watch the "flying fish show" at the Pike Place Fish Market. When a customer selects a fish, the fishmonger picks it up from the iced display and throws it to the cashier who will weigh and wrap it. Tourists gather to watch this event and urge on potential fish-buyers so they can see the fish toss and catch it on their cameras.
Yes, it’s a grocery store, but no ordinary store. Cheese and other food samples are often out for sampling. Cheese classes are offered for free to the community every month or so. Special wine and cheese tastings also take place here for free.
Seattle Public Library
Visiting a library might not seem like an interesting thing to do, but exploring this eight-story-tall wonder is an adventure. Colorful hallways, surprising viewpoints, and more await around every corner.
There are displays in the gallery, sometimes on Seattle history.
Watch the Boats Go Through the Locks
The Ballard Locks, or Hiram M Chittenden Locks, are a National Historic Site. The locks, between Puget Sound and Lake Union, are the busiest locks in the nation and a major tourist attraction. The locks are open daily 24/7 for vessels and from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for visitors. It's fun to watch the large boats and boats as small as kayaks go through the locks.
There are a visitor's center and museum in the historic administrations building. The grounds are beautiful and worth strolling through. Have a picnic and watch the boats.
There are free walking tours starting at the Visitor Center and lasting about an hour. No reservations are required.
There is also a fish ladder at the locks where you can watch migrating salmon June through September.