We found a cache of free tours (and a few cheap ones at $15 or less) that visitors and residents alike will enjoy. Each tour is unique to Seattle, something you won’t find anywhere else. We think that makes them priceless. But, we’ll take free!
The free tours included guided tours, self-guided tours, and walking tours on a variety of interesting topics at sites around Seattle and the Puget Sound region. Most of these cheap and free tours are offered year-round. The last section features seasonal tours offered only at certain times of the year.
Free Seattle tours
Seattle Free Walking Tours include “Seattle 101” and “Market Experience”, as well as other partner tours that seek to educate people about Seattle’s diverse history and culture. Tours in downtown Seattle charge $20 to $40 per person + requested tip. Seattle Free Walking Tours sustains itself through voluntary contributions alone. Seattle 101 is their flagship tour showcasing a grand vision of Seattle. It features downtown, Pioneer Square, and the waterfront. The Market Experience does not repeat any aspects of the Seattle 101 tour. It puts a microscope on Pike Place Market specifically designed to show guests the detail and history of our country’s longest running farmers market. Tours run daily and a spot can be reserved about one month in advance. Tours are limited, so advance registration is recommended, but walk-ups are accommodated if possible. Visit the tour website for more information: http://www.seattlefreewalkingtours.org/ or the Tour Calendar to see what’s available: http://www.seattlefreewalkingtours.org/tour-calendar.php.
Free tours about technology
Amazon offers several ways to see its headquarters in downtown Seattle. Guided free tours of the Seattle headquarters are available most Wednesdays at 10am and 2pm PT, from January-October (no tours during November and December). The guided tours are booked months in advance, so expect to sign up way ahead of time. If you miss out, you can opt for an audio, self-guided free tour, which covers much of the same information as in the guided tour. Amazon’s Headquarters is made up of over 30 office buildings. The guided and audio tour starts at the office building called Day 1 at 2121 7th Ave and ends in South Lake Union at 399 Fairview Ave N. Beginning February 2018, the tour will include a stop at the Amazon Spheres building on Lenora between 6th & 7th Avenues. While Amazon Spheres is another workplace for employees and not open to the public, a free exhibit on the ground floor is open to the public, but requires a advance reservation. The Spheres exhibit is open 7 days a week; sign up to see the free Spheres exhibit at The Spheres Discovery at Understory. Sign up for the guided tour or download the audio tour at: Amazon Headquarters Tour.
Microsoft Visitor Center (MVC), located about 15 miles northeast of Seattle in Redmond offers self-guided, interactive free tours during regular business hours. At the MVC, you will experience some of the latest technology products, explore hands-on exhibits, and learn about the people whose ideas and creativity make Microsoft a world leader in computer and software technology. Most people get through in 30 to 60 minutes, but you can take as much time as you like. No registration is required. However, be sure to check the schedule on the Microsoft Visitor Center website or call the MVC before you head over; they may be closed if a private event is scheduled.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation near Seattle Center works to tackle critical problems in four program areas: Development (addresses hunger and poverty), Health (advances in science to save lives), high school and postsecondary education in Washington State, and Policy & Advocacy to promote policies that help advance the work of the Foundation. Public Drop-In free tours are offered Tuesdays through Saturday from 2-3pm. Advance registration is not required. After your tour, be sure to visit the interactive gallery to see new ideas, suggestions, and inventions from other visitors. For more information, visit the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website.
Bullitt Center, World’s Greenest Building. The Bullitt Center demonstrates that it is possible to exist comfortably and productively in a modern environment, while making the least possible demand on resources. The goal of the Bullitt Center is to drive change in the marketplace faster and further by showing what’s possible today. Using only off-the-shelf products that any building project could choose, the design team and public sector partners achieved net zero energy, net zero water, and net zero carbon, using composting toilets and toxic-free materials, plus a grand stairway and 90-percent-plus day lighting in a six-story infill office building in a dense, urban neighborhood. Tours include the building’s mechanical and electrical rooms, the gray water and rainwater treatment systems, non-flush toilets and the “irresistible” stairway. Public tour tickets are $5 and advance reservations are required. For available tour dates, and to make a reservation, visit the Bullitt Tour page.
Free tours about food
Check our list of free and cheap cooking classes and food tours throughout the region, including coffee, chocolate, cheese, and self-guided walking tours.
Unique free tours
Outdoor clothing and gear manufacturer. For more than 100 years, Filson of Seattle has manufactured outdoor clothes and accessories using the best raw materials and construction techniques for garments, bags, and outdoor gear that make them last for generations. During your tour, you may even get a peek at some new items the product team has in development upstairs. Filson factory free tours are offered twice a week at their store located in the SODO district, located south of the sports stadiums on First Avenue South. Visit the Filson tour page to sign up for a tour.
Outdoor sculpture and park tour at SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle’s premier waterfront park, features world-class sculpture against the spectacular backdrop of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Guided free tours require no registration (just show up). During a tour, you will explore Olympic Park’s dynamic spaces, learn about the park design, discover the monumental works of art, and more. Tours are typically offered spring through fall, on Saturday and/or Sunday afternoon. Check the tour calendar on the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) website before you head out. Olympic Sculpture Park is always free and open 365 days a year. The Park opens 30 minutes prior to sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset.
Historic Seattle walking tour. The Trail to Treasure Map is a free self-guided Walking Tour of Seattle’s Pioneer Square Historic District immediately south of the central downtown business district. Explore the rich history of the city’s oldest neighborhood. The map identifies 16 special places and events that helped shape the history and development of Pioneer Square, the city of Seattle, and the greater Puget Sound region. You can choose to pick up the trail at any of the 16 stops. Pick up a map in the visitor center at Klondike Gold Rush Park, 319 2nd Ave South, Seattle, or at participating locations throughout the district. In addition, free ranger-led Seattle Historic District Walking Tours are offered during summer (Memorial Day weekend and runs through Labor Day weekend). Tours generally last 45-60 minutes. Be prepared to walk on uneven terrain throughout the historic district, and expect weather ranging from warm and sunny to wet and cool. While the program is free, space is limited to 20 individuals on a first come basis. All tours begin the Visitor Center. See the tour web page for schedule or more details.
Historic theater tours. Seattle Theatre Group operates three Seattle Historic Landmarks: The Paramount, The Moore, and The Neptune Theatres. Performances include Broadway productions, concerts, stage plays, lectures, education, community, and film programs. You can take guided free tours of each historic theater, led by a well-versed volunteer staff, for a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at each of these storied venues. For more information, visit STG theater free tours.
Online historical tour of Seattle’s Chinatown. 16 Square Blocks is an online multimedia documentary by Andrew Hida. Hida celebrates the stories and people of the 16-block area known as the Seattle Chinatown International District (aka “The ID” pronounced eye-dee). Through photos and documentary shorts images, Hida creates a contemporary presentation of this neighborhood’s people and their histories.
Pioneer presentation in Poulsbo. “Poulsbo Pioneer” in the historic Martinson Cabin is the setting for a hands-on lesson exploring life in Washington State at the turn of the 20th century, with artifacts dating from the 1880s to 1930. Participants will view the inside of the cabin, listen to stories of early Poulsbo, and take part in discovering the uses for a variety of early Poulsbo artifacts. Available weekdays by appointment, scheduled at least one week in advance. Each session will last approximately 60-90 minutes. Cost: $10 per person for up to 10 participants.
Seasonal free tours
The following free tours of attractions in and around Seattle are of limited duration, offered only during certain times of the year due to their seasonal nature.
Ballot Counting, is one of the more inspired and unique free tours where you get to see democracy in action at the King County Election office in Renton. No appointment is needed for the FREE public viewing loop. The viewing loop is open during business hours with extended hours on Election Days. The Elections office recommends visiting during an election, which usually take place in February, April, August, and November. For a list of current elections, visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/elections/elections. For direction to the Elections Office, visit http://kingcounty.gov/depts/elections/about-us/contact-us/directions.
Hiram M. Chittenden (aka “Ballard”) Locks are situated in the Ballard neighborhood along the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which bisects the city of Seattle. Ballard Locks is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The ship canal connects (salt water) Puget Sound to (fresh water) Lake Washington. The locks accommodate the approximately 20-foot difference in water level between the sound and the lake. The Locks are the Nation’s busiest, with over 40,000 vessels per year. Open to ship traffic 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the locks provide a transportation route for thousands of commercial vessels and pleasure craft. Guided Free Tours (March-November): No registration is required. The walking tour lasts about an hour. Tour times: Summer (May – September) Seven days a week at 1:00 pm & 3:00 pm, plus 11:00 am on Saturday and Sunday. Winter (March-April and October-November: Thursday – Monday 2:00 pm. No free tours January, February, and December. Self-guided free tours: stop at the visitor center to pick up a brochure. Visitor center hours: summer (May-September) open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; winter (October-April) closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, open Thurs-Mon: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free fish ladder viewing: A special feature of this park is the fish ladder viewing gallery, where you can watch salmon migrate mid-June through September. The fish ladder and grounds around the Locks, the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, are open everyday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., including all holidays.
Skagit Valley tulip fields April 1-30 and is one of the destination events for the Pacific Northwest. Hundreds of thousands of people from every state across the United States and from around the world have visited the area to see millions of tulips burst into bloom. The Skagit Tulip festival is designed as a free self-guided driving tour. Hundreds of acres of blooming flowers are scattered across farms throughout the valley. The festival is not just about tulips; there are also daffodils, irises, and hyacinths. Check the Bloom Map to see what is blooming during your visit, as well as the tulip festival events list to see what else is happening on the days you plan to visit There are many other activities to enjoy in the area, such as art galleries and museums, breweries and wineries, farms and nurseries, plenty of food options, and much more.
Getaway: Pump-Generating Plant at Grand Coulee Dam (230 miles northeast of Seattle). This free guided tour of the of the John W. Keys III Pump-Generating Plant at Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington is available only on a first-come, first-served basis. The 50-minute guided tour begins with a bus ride to the Pump-Generating Plant. Highlights of the tour include a look at the large pumps used for transporting water from Lake Roosevelt to the Columbia Basin Project, concluding with a ride across the top of the dam. Accessible tours are available with advanced notice by calling (509) 633-9265. All tour participants are required to pass through a metal detector prior to beginning the tour. Weapons, purses, bags, backpacks, fanny packs, and packages are not permitted on the tour. Cameras, but not camera cases, are allowed on the tour. Onsite storage for personal belongings is not available. Be sure to lock your car. Tour times are subject to change without notice. Please call the Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center at (509) 633-9265 for the latest information. Tours operate several times a day from April – October, visit the tour website for more information: https://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/visit/tour.html. You might also like: https://www.greaterseattleonthecheap.com/grand-coulee-dam-recreation-area/.
Getaway: Solar Energy. The Wild Horse Wind/Solar Facility (130 miles east of Seattle) takes advantage of the wind and sun in Kittitas County, which are a tremendous natural resource for producing clean, renewable energy. Set high on a ridge, Puget Sound Energy’s Renewable Energy Center offers a first-hand look at how these elements are turned into electricity. Overlookingg the facility’s 149 wind turbines, you also enjoy 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and the Columbia River Basin. Weather permitting, free guided 45-60 minute walking tour depart daily, April 1 through November 15 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. No reservation is needed for these tours. Dress for the weather. Wind speeds average 17 mph, and it is typically 10 degrees colder on the ridge. Closed-toed shoes are REQUIRED. The tour covers a 1/2 mile on gravel trails. Those with mobility issues can arrange vehicle access with site staff. All participants must sign a liability form. Minors must have the liability form signed by a parent or guardian to participate in the tour. Tours can be cancelled or modified at any time due to inclement weather, high winds, or any unsafe conditions.
Artist studio tours in May. Several times a year, artists in the Puget Sound region open their studios to the public, presenting the opportunity to meet artists in their creative spaces, see many diverse styles, and a wide variety of mediums. Art Studio Tours are free and artwork is also available for purchase. The Camano Island Studio Tour (located about 60 miles north of Seattle, west of I-5) is typically offered Mother’s Day weekend and the weekend following Mother’s Day. Kirkland Artists Studio Tour (located 15 miles northeast of Seattle and west of I-405) is also held Mother’s Day weekend.
Northwest Glass Pumpkins September-October. The traveling glass pumpkin patches “sprout” in several locations throughout the region, for several weeks in the fall. Each glass pumpkin patch features over 1,000 hand-blown glass pumpkins, crafted by local glass artisans. You can wander through a dazzling array of one-of-a kind glass pumpkins in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The glass pumpkins are for sale and certainly make unique gifts. In these gardens, viewing happens rain or shine and admission is FREE. For information on the current locations, visit Northwest Glass Pumpkins.
If you manage to get through all of these free and cheap tours, then check out our list of best always free things to do in Seattle and around Puget Sound.