I’m going to take a quick break from sharing travel tips about Iceland and give you some travel tips about the city of Seattle, Washington. We just took a 10 day trip to the Seattle area and it was incredible. We spent a few days in downtown Seattle and spent the rest of our time hiking at Olympic National Park, Mt. Rainier, the Cascades, and taking day trips around the Islands that surround Seattle.
If you are looking to hit the highlights of downtown Seattle, you can easily do that over a long weekend and rely on public transit. Seattle is an awesome city, and it is a haven for foodies, artisanal coffee drinkers, and culture lovers.
Stay Downtown, near Public Transit
There are a lot of AirBNB’s and hotels of varying luxury in downtown Seattle. It will cost you more to stay downtown, but you can save money by not renting a car and paying exorbitant parking fees. I outline most everything you need to know below about how to get around Seattle without renting a car.
We were lucky and stayed with a friend who lives downtown in the International District, directly outside of the metro station. This was the perfect spot to get around town and visit the tourist attractions.
First, purchase an ORCA card
You can purchase a $5 ORCA card and reload it as often as you need. (You must reload it with a minimum of $5 each time.) Our typical metro trip cost about $2.25 one way. You scan the metro card against their machine and head down to the train and bus spots. Pro tip: once you complete your metro journey, scan your card again so that it only charges you for the portion of the journey you’re on, rather than the full fare.
Learn more about ORCA cards and what they work for here.
We used the Light Link Rail to get everywhere we needed. We most frequently traveled between the International District and Westlake Center, which is a major hub. Westlake is the center of a major mall, movie theaters, restaurants, car rental agencies, and within a few blocks of the Pike Place Farmer’s Market. The Light Link will even take you from the major airport SeaTac into downtown! While they run often, they are not 24/7, so if you have a super early flight, double check the schedule to make sure you can even take the train. We ended up booking a hotel airport on our last night and using their free shuttle service to get to our 5:50 a.m. flight, because the Light Link train did not run prior to 5:30 a.m. on Sundays.
The Seattle Center Monorail is fun, and makes traveling between Westlake Center and the Seattle Center very easy. Seattle Center is where the Space Needle and other major museums reside. We got between Seattle Center the the Westlake Center in 3 minutes using the Monorail, and it was only a few dollars! (Note: it currently does not accept ORCA or Sound Transit cards, so prepare to use cash or your credit or debit card instead.) If you’re staying elsewhere in downtown, you could take the metro to Westlake and hop on the Monorail to the Seattle Center.
While we never rode the King County Metro bus, we saw them everywhere! They can certainly get you around town, and to places the Light Link train and Monorail can’t take you. You can use the ORCA card to pay. In general, King County Metro has a lot of options for getting around town including water taxis and trains and streetcars. Use their helpful trip planner to map out which routes you will take.
Flexible Car Rental Options
Seattle is a city of innovation, and there are a few companies that offer you the opportunity to temporarily rent a car by the minute to take you where you need to go. There are two companies that stood out to me: Car2Go and ReachNow. These companies offer something even better than Uber or Lyft, because you have the ultimate flexibility and control over who is driving and how long you are in the car. You can rent their cars by the minute or for full days as the driver. You pick up the car closest to you, drive where you need to go, and drop it off in a valid parking space. You don’t have to return the car where you originally picked it up. You don’t even need to worry about refilling the fuel or paying for parking meters. A lot of locals use these rideshare options rather than buying cars, because paying for a permanent parking space in downtown Seattle is very expensive!
I would recommend using one of these options if you are going to do a day trip to some of the areas that are harder to get to by mass transit. If you are interested in this option for you trip, go ahead and sign up ahead of time. These companies have to take a few business days to validate your license so that you can use their apps to find and rent the cars.
It’s a bit obvious, but worth mentioning: you can always use a rideshare service like Uber, Lyft, ReachNow, or a Taxi to get around.
Free-Floating Bike Rental Options
If you liked the sound of flexible car rentals, you may also be intrigued by free-floating bike rentals! These bike rentals work very similarly to the cars — the bikes are equipped with GPS, so when you rent via their app you can easily find a bike that isn’t in an official “docking” station, which means when you’re done riding, you can leave the bike at any city bike rack or on the sidewalk. I was a little concerned when I saw so many bikes randomly sitting on the sidewalk, seemingly unlocked and unattached to anything. But apparently these bikes are locked by the previous renter using the app.
You can take a ferry across the Puget Sound to get to the surrounding Islands. What’s cool is that you can take a ferry as a pedestrian or with a vehicle! It is cheaper to ride as a pedestrian. For instance, if you took the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, it would cost $8.35 per person. If you took your car, the car and the driver would cost around $15 (depending on the size of your vehicle), and any additional passenger in the car would also pay the pedestrian rate. If you only went as a pedestrian to Bainbridge, coming back from Bainbridge to Seattle would be free. So clearly, going as a pedestrian would be the cheaper option, but you would need to rely on the public transit options there (likely the bus) to get to the main attractions.
The ferry is a pretty cool experience. You can get out of your car and walk around the ferry. There are decks for you to view the city and surrounding mountains, but you can also remain inside the ferry to use the restrooms, purchase food and drinks from their concession, and eat at the provided tables. There are also chairs all throughout for comfort.
Downtown Seattle is only a few miles total. If you are comfortable and able to walk, and if the weather permits, consider walking across the city to stop and enjoy the architecture, scenery, and local culture. There are a fair amount of steep hills, so don’t be surprised if you get winded!
Car rentals can be very useful, but if you intend to spend most of your time in Downtown Seattle, they are an unnecessary expense and give you the added hassle of finding parking and paying for it. Ditch the car and get around with all these other great options, you’ll be glad you did!