The following free things to do in Seattle include art, music, museums, cultural events, parks and gardens, free wireless internet service, and popular attractions around the Puget Sound region. Whether you want to have fun or learn something new, we’ve got dozens of ways to entertain yourself without opening your wallet. There are many different types of events for young or old, when you have kids in tow, want to stay indoors, or need to get outside. We zeroed in on activities that will easily provide an hour or more of fun, so some popular attractions aren’t on this list (such as the Fremont Troll, Gum Wall, and Kerry Park). Most of these free things to do in Seattle are open to the public nearly every day, so you can enjoy something free and fun any day of the week.
Free things to do in Seattle
Popular Free Attractions in Seattle and around Puget Sound
Pike Place Market “Down Under”. While any citizen and even many tourist is well acquainted with Pike Place Market, fewer are familiar with the labyrinth alleys, dark corners, and underbelly. So next time you head to the heart and soul of the Emerald City, be sure to explore the shops DownUnder at Pike Place Market.
Seattle Center is a 74-acre art, recreational, cultural, and civic center, originally constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair (known as Century 21), and gave Seattle world-wide recognition. This legacy from the 1962 Fair remains ingrained in Seattle culture. Many the city’s best (and pricey) attractions are here: The Space Needle, Seattle Opera, Chihuly Garden, MoPOP (formerly EMP Museum), Seattle Repertory Theater, and many more. But there are also a number of free things to see and do: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, International Fountain, Folklife Festival over Memorial Day weekend, summer outdoor “Movies at the Mural”, and Winterfest in December. You can also take a self-guided stroll through the grounds any time, just download the Seattle Center campus map (PDF).
Tacoma Link Light Rail. Getting around Tacoma is free 365 days-a-year on the Tacoma Link Light Rail with complimentary service from one end of downtown to the other. Catch a ride every 12 minutes during the day at these six stops: the Tacoma Dome, South 25th Street, Union Station at S. 19th, the Convention Center at S. 15th, Commerce St. and S. 11th, and the Theater District at S. 9th. Parking is also free in the six-story Link garage located next to the Tacoma Dome Station. Along the way, you’ll get views of many of Tacoma’s historical buildings.
Tacoma’s Ruston Way Waterfront offers a stunning two-mile path along the saltwater banks of Puget Sound that is a great place for walking, jogging, rollerblading, and fishing. Along the way, you can explore several waterfront parks and beaches as you promenade with views of Mount Rainier to the West, the Olympic Mountain Range to the East and Commencement Bay. It’s a great place to spend a gray day, sunny afternoon, or after-dinner constitutional.
Chihuly Glass Walking Tour in Tacoma. This free audio tour and map from Tacoma Art Museyum allows users to learn more about Dale Chihuly’s artwork as they visit Tacoma’s Museum District. The tour features 19 audio stops located throughout the Museum District that provide smartphone users the opportunity to hear a narrator—and even Chihuly himself—talk about the installations at the following free locations: Union Station, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, the University of Washington Tacoma Library, and The Swiss Restaurant & Pub, as well as those in the Tacoma Art Museum (requires admission fee). Learn how the “uglies” became Macchia, how many pieces are in the Seaform Pavilion on the Bridge of Glass, and how eight Venetians found a home at The Swiss Restaurant & Pub.
Outdoor free things to do in Seattle and around Washington State
Biking maps. Here’s a list of places to find free bike maps for Seattle, King County and Washington State, plus safety information and bicycle helmet laws.
Watch wildlife in Washington State. Watching wildlife is a popular activity for residents, as well as visitors to our state. Washington State has 33 designated Wildlife Areas across the state. Unlike many other outdoor activities, you don’t need any special equipment to watch wildlife. Binoculars can get you “up close and personal” view without getting too close, but binoculars are not required to enjoy this pastime. You need only to dress for the weather and have some idea where to look for wildlife. For more details about where and how to view wildlife, see where to watch wildlife in Washington State.
Orienteering — the outdoor sport of navigation:
Best Free Parks and Gardens in Seattle and around Puget Sound
Bellevue Botanic Garden is 53-acres of cultivated gardens, restored woodlands, and natural wetlands. The living collections feature plants that thrive in the Pacific Northwest marine climate. Regardless of the season or weather, natural and manmade garden elements change, making the garden delightful to visit any time or the year. For operating hours, directions, parking, and other information visit the Bellevue Botanical Garden website.
Chinese Garden and South Seattle College Arboretum. The 4.6-acre Seattle Chinese Garden in south Seattle is one of the largest Chinese gardens outside of China. The garden is a showcase for four elements that are customary to Chinese gardens: plants, stones, architecture, and water. The garden is open daily and has no admission fee, although donations are greatly appreciated. Visit their website before you go for more information about hours, directions, parking, and other details. After your visit to the Chinese garden, you can take another stroll through the adjacent South Seattle College (SSC) Arboretum, which is also free to the public. Often called “the best kept secret of West Seattle”, the 5-acre park sits on the edge of a bluff with stunning views of downtown Seattle, Elliott Bay, and the West Duwamish Greenbelt. The Arboretum is a classroom and laboratory, as well as a garden, because it is used by teachers and students for the SSC Landscape Horticulture Program.
Fort Steilacoom Park, located south of Tacoma, offers 340-acres of trails, which you can navigate on foot or by bike. Four of the fort’s original buildings remain and are open to visitors. Events are held throughout the year and many are free or by donation. Check their calendar if you are headed their way to see what they have planned.
King County’s park system covers 26,000 acres of public lands, one of the largest regional parks and trails systems in the country, and includes 200 parks, 175 miles of regional trails, and 180 miles of backcountry trails, plus ballfields, playgrounds and pools, as well as lush forests, quiet meadows, and many other Northwest ecosystems. Whatever your recreational interest, you’l find a park for it: hike, bike, picnic, play, or explore. Find maps and other information on the King County Parks website and keep up to date on park activities at the King County Parks blog. Don’t know where to start? Here are seven of the best-known parks in King County: Burke-Gilman Trail, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, Interurban Trail, Marymoor Park, Rattlesnake Mountain, Sammamish River Trail, and Soos Creek Trail.
Kubota Garden features a stunning 20-acres of hills and valleys, the streams, waterfalls, ponds, rock outcroppings and an exceptionally rich and mature collection of plant material. Located in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, the garden is owned by the City of Seattle and maintained by the Department of Parks & Recreation. The Garden is open year-round during daylight hours and is free to the public. Guided Tours are offered year-round on the fourth Saturday of the month. More details are found on the Kubota Garden website.
Pacific Bonsai Museum connects people to nature through the living art of bonsai. A grand outdoor setting with the elegance of a fine museum, the Museum boasts over 100 bonsai and the most diverse public collection in North America with trees from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the United States. Free of charge and open to the public six days a week, this cultural gem offers contemporary and traditional exhibitions. You can enjoy a 30-minute guided tour every Sunday. No reservations required. Donations are always gratefully accepted.
Point Defiance Park in Tacoma is 760-acres featuring a natural forest, saltwater beaches, and spectacular views. The park is open daily from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset and parking is free. The Primary trails through the park are foot trails (no bicycles). The Five Mile Drive outer loop is closed to vehicle traffic so that pedestrians, runners and cyclists can enjoy this forest experience free from conflict with motorized vehicles. The Visitors Center is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Guided walks are available throughout the year, several are free or have a nominal cost.
W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park in Tacoma opened in 1908. Today, it is only one of three public Victorian-style conservatories on the West Coast. They offer a permanent collection of ferns, palms, figs, bromeliads, orchids and many other rare, unusual and endangered plants as well as changing floral exhibits. Wright Park is a 27-acre arboretum, with a collection of more than 600 trees, which you can find by downloading the Wright Park Tree Map (PDF).
Washington Park Arboretum. Commune with nature at the 230-acre Washington Park Arboretum using the UW Botanic Gardens Trail Map for a self-guided tour, or taking in a free weekend guided tour. Centrally located south of SR520, The Arboretum Park is free and open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.
Art, Music, and Culture free things to do in Seattle and the Puget Sound region
Art Galleries and Art Walks. View art anytime with this Northwest art gallery guide (where viewing art is always free). In Seattle and throughout the Puget Sound region, art walks are held in many cities and neighborhoods. During art walks, participating merchants often offer specials on food, drinks, gifts, and other fun. Here’s where to find them, and when:
Storefronts Seattle puts art and artists into empty storefronts in the Pioneer Square, Chinatown-International District, and South Lake Union neighborhoods. Local artists display their artwork, house their creative enterprises and establish artist residencies in vacant retail spaces. These projects are proposed by artists throughout the region, and are chosen by a panel that includes neighborhood representatives, local museum curators, arts professionals, and our programming staff. Storefronts is a program of Shunpike, launched in 2010 as a neighborhood support program, designed to fight urban blight caused by the economic downturn in Seattle’s retail core. The arts were seen as a tool to affect change on the streetscape.
Book readings and book discounts. Seattle is one of the most literate cities in the country. Book readings are casual events in bookstores and libraries. An author talks about their work and reads selected portions of the book, usually followed by a question and answer period. Books are always available for purchase at these events, sometimes at a discount. It is also an opportunity to chat with the author and have him or her autographs your book purchase. Most book signings are free. For popular books from well-known authors in high demand, tickets and/or a nominal fee may be required. Check our list of book reading locations.
City Arts magazine is your free guide to the Puget Sound artistic community. The publication provides information about all the arts in the region, including music, dance, theatre, comedy, film, visual art, and literature. The magazine is distributed for free in newspaper boxes, concert venues, libraries, coffee shops, galleries, bookstores, and other businesses in Seattle, Tacoma, and the eastside. Find out more and where to pick up a free copy.
Civic, music, and cultural events. Seattle Town Hall offers a broad program of music, humanities, civic discourse, and world culture events. Many of the public events are free or just $5. Note: while Town Hall is closed for renovation in 2018, they have a program of events in other locations. Check the Town Hall event calendar for upcoming events.
Live music. Many popular spots in Seattle offer live music with no cover charge, and we include a few that have a cover charge for some performances for $10 or less. Most are 21+ only; but some have all ages shows, so read the fine print on their website if you plan a family outing. Check our list of free and cheap live music venues in Seattle.
Library free things to do in Seattle and the Puget Sound region
Library services for card holders. Check out library materials including books, ebooks (digital books), audiobooks (recorded book reading), magazines, movies, music, and games. Getting a library card is free for residents, workers, and student in Seattle and surrounding cities. In addition, library systems in the Puget Sound region offer reciprocal library cards; if you have a card for Seattle public libraries, you can get a library card at a reciprocal system such as King County Libraries (including Bellevue) or Pierce County Libraries.
Public events at the library. Visitors to the Seattle area can pay for a temporary library card. However, many library events are free and open to anyone without a library card. Most have limited capacity (so go early) and some require registration. Typical events include: author readings, children’s story time, teen events (gaming, music, anime), language classes, ESL and citizenship programs, movie screenings of popular films, computer and technology classes, income tax help, technique classes (anything from knitting to playing the ukulele), and more. Check the calendar at your nearest library for upcoming events. The major library systems in the region are: Seattle Public Libraries, King County Libraries, Tacoma Libraries, Everett Libraries, and Pierce County Libraries.
Wireless internet access at regional libraries. Whether you have a Seattle library card, or library card at any of the other regional library systems throughout the Puget Sound region, you can visit any branch library and access the internet from your wireless-enabled device (laptop or smartphone) using the library’s free wireless network. Note: because it is a public network, the free library internet service is not secured for vulnerable activities such as banking and shopping.
If you manage to get through all of these free and cheap things to do, then check out our list of best free and cheap tours in Seattle and around Puget Sound.