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Rated as one of the world's most liveable cities, the Emerald City boasts among its citizens three out of the world's ten richest men, including IT mogul Bill Gates The city's emergence as a trend-setting and fashionable metropolis with sky-high property prices has occurred in less than 200 years, since it was founded in 1869.
Sitting at the extremity of the United States' northwest, at the gateway to Canada, Seattle reaches for the sky with its landmark soaring Space Needle. Built in the 1960s, this modern monument epitomises the city's image as a high-tech, dynamic and young community.
Seattle sits on the shores of two large lakes and Puget Sound, with remote wilderness less than an hour away, and it is flanked by two major mountain ranges (Olympics and Cascades), with Mount Rainier in full view from the city. It is also within easy reach of the San Juan Islands, Pacific Ocean beaches and major rivers. Visitors and locals alike revel in the outdoor activities the city's situation provides for.
This active city lends itself to walking tours, particularly around the two main tourist areas, the waterfront and Pike Place Market. In addition, 80 percent of the city limits are surrounded by water, so tour boats also abound. To fully enjoy Seattle be prepared to go boating and bring a comfortable pair of shoes.
The busting Pike Place Farmers Market in downtown Seattle has provided the local people with producer-priced goods for decades. Today, more than 100 farmers and fishmongers continue the tradition, with a focus on local and organic food. They're joined by more than 150 local craftsmen and artists, along with street performers, dozens of restaurants and numerous speciality shops. Interestingly, the world's first Starbucks coffee shop opened here in 1971, and is still brewing up its famous beverage on the original site. At the north end of the market, Victor Steinbrueck Park provides a popular grassy place to lounge in the sun. Events are hosted at the market, such as the May Flower Fest Market and Sunset Supper at the Market.
Anyone who has seen a picture of the Seattle skyline will be familiar with Seattle's internationally recognised symbol, the futuristic Space Needle. Visitors can get to the top of the historic landmark using one of the elevators that travel at ten miles an hour, reaching the observation deck within 43 seconds. Visitors can ascend the 607ft (185m) building as far as a revolving observation deck 520ft (158m) above the city, where high-powered telescopes are positioned to allow you to pick out the city sights. There is a revolving restaurant on top of the tower that allows visitors to take in every part of the panoramic views while enjoying a meal.
Housed in a bizarre building at the base of the Space Needle is one of Seattle's most popular attractions, the Museum of Pop Culture. Its exhibit on Jimi Hendrix features artefacts associated with the rock legend, remaining the biggest drawcard at the museum. Other collections include the general history of American popular music, and another dedicated to Seattle's other famous musician, Kurt Cobain. Displays range from the first electric guitars to interactive rooms where visitors try their hands on turntables or playing instruments. A Science Fiction Hall of Fame honours the lives, works and ongoing legacies of some of the world's most influential science fiction writers, amongst them Ridley Scott, George Lucas and H.G. Wells. The museum is also the venue for numerous concerts.
Jonathon Borofsky's massive steel kinetic sculpture Hammering Man stands outside the Seattle Art Museum. And what sits within are ranges of exhibits covering European and American art, from ancient art to contemporary pieces. Currently the museum has over 23,000 pieces, with recent acquisitions of artists like Graves, Trabellesi and Hokusai. Free guided tours of the different collections are offered. The museum has a focus on collecting and exhibiting art from around the world, covering many cultures and time periods including Mesoamerican art and Aboriginal Art. The Asian Art Museum is affiliated to the original and is located at 1400 East Prospect Street, filled with Asian art from as far back as the 2nd century, while the Olympic Sculpture Park is a permanent outdoor exhibition of sculptures, including Eye Benches I, Father and Son and Schubert Sonata.
South of downtown, the district of Pioneer Square features more than 20 blocks of historic buildings, galleries and a great nightlife. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park recalls the days when Seattle was a jumping off point for hopefuls heading for the goldfields. Another visitor favourite is the unique Underground Tour, taking in the sunken storefronts of the original 'Skid Road' where timber used to be slid down to the steam-powered mills on the shores of Elliott Bay. On the first Thursday of every month, all art galleries and museums remain open for the evening, serving snacks and drinks and allowing visitors to mingle and visit while looking at the artwork on display.
The Museum of Flight consists of a six-story glass and steel construction, which was the original Boeing factory and used to be one of the mainstays of Seattle's economy. It covers the entire history of flight right up to the space programme. Inside is a collection of more than 130 aircraft, including a replica of the Wright Brothers' first glider and the original Air Force One used by Eisenhower. Other acquisitions include a British Airways Concorde and NASA's Full Fuselage Trainer. Temporary exhibitions keep things interesting, while restoration work on various aircraft is constantly ongoing at the museum, with 2 to 4 new acquisitions every year and about twelve aircraft being worked on at any one time.
Located on the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium provides a window into the amazing marine life of the Pacific. The Underwater Dome is one of the largest exhibits, providing 360 degree views of creatures like sharks, sturgeons and skates while Marine Mammals features cute seals and sea otters. Touch pools contain animals like sea stars and urchins while live dive shows take place three times a day. Other exhibits at the Seattle Aquarium are Life Of A Drifter, Puget Sound Fish and Tropical Pacific. The aquarium has a big focus on environmentalism, taking care to educate visitors about marine conservation, while also hosting events for kids and Halloween.
A quintessential part of Seattle, ferrying is a culture and way of life to its residents with many commuting to work across the Union Lake and Elliot Bay areas. If possible, try to plan sight-seeing of the city around several ferry trips going from point to point, allowing for maximum sightseeing. Trips to local attractions like the San Juan Islands and Victoria in nearby Canada are on offer. But be sure to remember a passport and any other necessary and valid travel documents before embarking on a ferry ride to Victoria.
Located in Green Lake, the Woodland Park Zoo is a great place to take the kids for a day out exploring and meeting the animals. Kids will love the African elephants, Arctic foxes, sloth bears and red pandas or snowy owls, Chilean flamingos and golden eagles. There's also a fantastic variety of invertebrates such as spiders and butterflies, with over 1,100 animals from more than 300 species included in the zoo's collection. The animals' enclosures are carefully landscaped to include all kinds of interesting exotic plant life, and there is also a rose garden for peaceful strolling if the animals get to be a bit too much.
Kids will have a fabulous time exploring all the sights on offer, most of them being child-friendly and all-inclusive. Take a trip to the Seattle Aquarium where children can learn and be mesmerised by the exquisite displays of fish and marine life, or head over to the Woodland Park Zoo to meet some furry friends.
More active children will love a day out at the Olympic National Park where glacier-capped mountains meet lush green forest and they can stretch their legs and take in a hike, walk or even mountain bike. Children who are interested in aviation will love the Museum of Flight.
On days when the rain sets in and outdoor activities with the kids are not an option, head to the Children's Museum with the little ones, while older kids will love the Experience Music Project, even if just for the zany design of the pink building.
Seattle generally has a wet climate, with the most rain falling between January and May, and October and December, but daytime temperatures are mild throughout the year. June to August is the warmest and driest time of year, with summer temperatures averaging around 75°F (24°C), while winter temperatures rarely drop below 32°F (0°C), with little snowfall. April to November is the best time to visit, with less chance of rain and long summer days.
Dining in Seattle is much like the city itself, a cosmopolitan affair born from the fruits of the wilderness. The surrounding Puget Sound, with reserves from Alaska, is one large barrel of seafood, coupled with produce grown from many small local farms in Seattle, resulting in masterful and memorable dishes.
In addition to the traditional North-western cuisine like wild salmon or Dungeness crab, there is a strong Asian influence borne out of the large Asian-American communities and Seattle's importance as a trade port on the Pacific Rim. This means that the food in Seattle is eclectic and caters to many tastes.
Restaurants are helped by great views of the sea and many quirky neighbourhoods, giving either quiet romance or fun and festivity to a meal. Some of the best areas for eating out in Seattle are the waterfront district near Pike's Place Market, a long line of fine dining along 1st and 2nd Ave and Capitol Hill. In general the Northwest's formality is a little toned down and most top restaurants don't require a jacket. Tipping is between 15 to 20 percent and most places require a reservation.
A small restaurant across the road from the bustling Pike Place Market, Pike Place Chowder is famous for one thing: its delicious chowder. There's more than just your standard clam chowder fare though, as the restaurant serves five different varieties each day, ranging from New England Clam Chowder to Seafood Bisque to Southwestern Chicken and Corn Chowder, and even a vegan option! There are sandwiches, salads, and even fish tacos on the menu as well. A must for seafood lovers!
One of the best restaurants in Seattle, Canlis has been wowing diners since 1950 with its contemporary Northwest cuisine, and is a long-standing favourite for those celebrating a special occasion. The stylish interior complements its fine cuisine, and its wine list is one of the city's best. Canlis is famous for its steaks, but there are also favourites such as the prawns, oysters, and fresh fish, and the desserts are sublime. A tasting menu is available. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday. Bookings essential for Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner jacket required for men.
A cosy Parisian café that has won many awards, Café Campagne is popular for its weekend brunches, but also serves a delicious lunch and dinner, and has a wine bar with 40 wines available by the glass. The menu changes seasonally, but fare includes dishes like the French-style rolled omelette, lamb burgers, quiche, and a variety of salads and sandwiches. For dinner it is possible to have the fixed price three-course menu or a choice of meat and fish dishes from the regular dinner menu. Open for lunch Monday to Friday, dinner nightly, and for brunch on weekends until 4pm.
One of the most unique restaurants in the Northwest, the farmhouse styled exterior is decorated within by a rich and ornate décor. Herbfarm itself and its neighbouring farms grow much of their ingredients to create weekly changing nine-course meals complete with five matching wines. Lummi Island reef-netted sockeye in a squash with lemon thyme is a glimpse into the night's menu. Reservations are essential.
'The Met' is primarily a business venue, situated within the heart of the financial district in a historical building built in 1903. This traditional steakhouse has been a Seattle favourite for years, specialising in prime beef and serving up classics cooked to perfection, such as filet mignon, New York peppercorn steak, or the porterhouse steak, but there is also a good selection of pastas and salads. Meals are complemented by an excellent wine list. Open for lunch and dinner on weekdays, and dinner only on weekends. Reservations are recommended.
The spectacular bay side view over Puget Sound is a perfect complement to the fresh Northwest seafood on a menu that changes regularly to reflect what is locally and seasonally available. Favourites include the crab cakes, oysters, wild salmon, or any fish prepared in sake kasu. Upstairs there is a more casual and less expensive café with an outdoor deck that serves lunch, while the downstairs restaurant serves dinner only. Reservations are required.
One of Seattle's best Italian restaurants, Serafina is charming and romantic with a rustic ambience. The freshest ingredients are presented in a homey atmosphere that transports diners to the Italian countryside. Enjoy the bruschetta's, pasta dishes, or Serafina's signature dish, the eggplant rolled with ricotta cheese, basil, and Parmesan and baked in tomato sauce. There is live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, while live jazz on Sunday mornings makes this one of the most popular brunch spots in the city. Dinner daily, lunch Monday to Friday, brunch on Sundays from 10am. Reservations recommended.
Southeast Asian inspired food that now sets the benchmark for all Asian food in the Northwest, the Wild Ginger Restaurant is consistently chosen as a favourite among northwest dining awards and diners alike. The Chefs varied backgrounds reflect the eclectic Asian foods, and ingredients from Chinese to Indonesian and also provide a rare chance to mix great wines with Asian cuisine. Reservations are advised.
Local ingredients are thrown together to create a sumptuous Mediterranean-style menu at Andaluca. Dishes to try on the menu include the crab tower, stuffed dates, shellfish stew, or lamb dolmas, and end off with one of the tempting desserts accompanied by a dessert wine or port. Open for breakfast and dinner daily, and lunch Monday to Friday.
Overlooking Pike Place Market, Etta's is always packed with both locals and tourists, who come to savour the delicious crab cakes, oysters on the half shell, or Alaskan halibut. Besides a variety of fresh seafood dishes there are also other options such as beef burgers, Thai chicken salad, or lime leaf coconut curry. The breakfast menu offers a range of egg dishes, along with French toast, oats and granola with yogurt, while the brunch menu comes straight from the sea.
Celebrating the traditional arts of North America, the Folklife Festival has been running for 45 years, and in that time has grown to become the largest in the country. Different traditional acts are staged, including storytelling and dance and music performances from over 100 countries. There is also an international food village, craft market, workshops, folklore exhibits and hands-on educational opportunities for kids. There are ziplines and boat-building demonstrations, as well as displays that allow visitors to look, handle and play music instruments. The Living Green Courtyard hosts demonstrations and talks on ways to live green, including composting, recycling and reusing.
Seafair is one of the biggest community festivals in the country, a summer tradition that is rated as one of the top events in North America. Major events include the famous US Navy Blue Angels air show, prestigious hydroplane races, the Torchlight Run and Parade, and the traditional Milk Carton Derby. There is also plenty of live music, art and cultural attractions and a rock and roll marathon. Seafair has been an annual event in Seattle since 1950. The Seafair Pirate Landing at Alki Beach is a fun version of a pirate ship attack while there is also a trucking cup, inflatable games and a wakeboarding competition.
Bite of Seattle is the city's largest summer festival, with enticing food and exciting entertainment. More than 60 restaurants and pop-up vendors take part, as well as food product companies, beer gardens and wine tasting exhibitions. There's also live entertainment like music, comedy clubs and kids entertainment, alongside dog-jumping competitions and regional barbecue cook-offs. Last but not least, the Bite Cooks features top celebrity chefs partaking in creative and interactive cooking demonstrations.
Bumbershoot is one of the biggest arts and music festivals in the country, showcasing the work of thousands of artists from around the world. The festival began as a state-funded project to lift the city's spirits amidst financial depression after Boeing's near-collapse and is now an extravaganza featuring live music, dance, theatre, film, comedy, literary and visual arts, as well as street performers, an international food bazaar and the Indie Market selling a wide variety of artisanal goods. The festival has been running for more than forty years and takes place at the Seattle Center, drawing more than 100,000 visitors.
Making a name for itself on the international music scene with its grunge explosion in the early 1990s, some of Seattle's best nightlife and entertainment has nothing to do with music. Amongst the ubiquitous live music clubs there are scores of local bars, Irish bars, dive bars, posh lounges, clubs, and trendy eateries to enjoy. After catching a sunset at the waterfront, Bell Street Pier, or Myrtle Edwards Park, head to Pioneer Square where bars, live music, and nightclubs prevail. Those planning to spend their evenings here should get the Pioneer Square Club Stamp, which lets patrons pay one admission to get into six clubs, though it is worth noting that this area can attract quite a rowdy frat crowd. Belltown is also a popular spot for young and hip nightclubs, while in Capitol Hill the gay scene is always buzzing. Culture vultures should check out the Seattle Opera, which is ranked at the top of companies in the country while the renowned Seattle Symphony is also worth checking out. The Seattle Repertory Fringe Theatre is great for the more avant-garde productions. It's worth picking up a copy of or the on Fridays as this includes a section called 'Ticket' listing all the week's arts and entertainment offerings.
Shopping in Seattle is underrated. Famed for grunge music and Seattle coffee companies, this city also has excellent retail outlets. The prime spots include Downtown Seattle, Fremont, the International District, Pike Place and the University District.
Downtown Seattle is a square of several blocks with large outlets such as Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom and Gap. This is also the site of Westlake Center Plaza and Pacific Place, both large malls. The International District encompasses a vast area featuring numerous Asian shops, while Pike Place Market is a waterfront shopping area offering local produce, fresh fish and various restaurants.
There are many bargains to be found at the retro and vintage stores of the Fremont Market on Sundays, and districts like Fremont, Ballard, Capitol Hill, Wallingford, and West Seattle, all of which have independently owned shops and specialty stores to entice shoppers. Tax refunds can be applied for by foreign visitors.
Seattle city centre is well serviced by public transport, with an excellent bus system, historic streetcars along the waterfront, and a high-speed elevated Monorail that links downtown to the Seattle Center and offers views over the harbour and beyond. The bus system is the most extensive and runs throughout the night, but less frequently after 8pm. Fares on buses and trams are slightly more expensive during peak hours. Taxis can be hailed from taxi ranks or ordered by telephone. Parking in Seattle is expensive and limited, but traffic isn't too bad outside of rush hour and the city is fairly easy to navigate. Renting a car for excursions outside the city is a good option.
Seattle's skyline, with the prominent Space Needle, is one of America's most recognisable cityscapes which hints at the eclectic attractions below. The attractions in Seattle both celebrate and preserve various roles in history, alternating from aviation and shipbuilding industries, the music epicentre and the Native American and contemporary art centre.
Other attractions let visitors enjoy the moment, including three sports stadiums, an aquarium, zoo, music laboratory and festive city districts. Sightseeing Seattle's watery attributes can be enjoyed criss-crossing Puget Sound in state ferries or from the lively waterfront shopping area Pikes Place Market.
Among the other highlights are the great museums showcasing the history of flight, contemporary art, an ode to rock n' roll at the Museum of Pop Culture, and of course, the views from the Space Needle. Yet perhaps the best thing to do is follow the locals in and around the city to see and enjoy Seattle the way they do.
Ferries depart regularly from the Seattle piers, carrying passengers to the many islands in scenic Puget Sound. On the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula is Bremerton, with the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Museum and the USS Turner Joy, and Bainbridge has its own winery. Winslow is a small historic town with fine restaurants and a great view of Seattle while Vashon Island is an artists colony. Further afield are the San Juan Islands, with their miles of unspoilt beaches and state parks. Travellers can go whale-watching, kayaking or cycling, or partake in a round of golf or a run on well-kept trails.
Outdoor enthusiasts revel in the wilds of the Pacific Coast, with its glacier-capped mountains, ancient forest and fascinating biological diversity. About 95 percent of the park is a designated reserve, protecting the unique ecosystem on the Olympic Peninsula. Visitors can go mountain biking, horse-riding canoeing and kayaking, as long as they bring their own kit. Fishing in the 3,000 miles (4828km) of rivers and streams is particularly popular, as is hiking. But the weather can be temperamental so travellers should dress accordingly. Also, it's unsafe to drink the water so bringing water is essential.
Large cruise ships regularly travel to major ports in Alaska, however a better, smaller option is the Alaskan Ferry. Departing from Bellingham Washington, these large ferries travel around the major coastal towns of Canada, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Alaskan Peninsula. The landscape is staggering, revealing hundreds of craggy forest-dense islands and coastlines. Eagles, killer whales, bears, and other wildlife are all part of the view.
The months of operation are May to September, when the weather is bearable and sunshine illuminates most of the 'night' hours, making the days long so there is plenty of time to fit in lots of sight-seeing. Costs vary greatly on length of voyage and accommodation. Most ferries rent cabins, but those in tune with Alaska's pioneer spirit can pitch a tent on deck or just use a blanket. However, if you do choose to go with a cabin, there are some very comfortable options available. It's possible to plan an extensive tour of Washington's, Canada's, and Alaska's coast lines, stopping off at various points of interest along the way. Special fares are available throughout the year upon request.
Located off the northwest coast of Washington, the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands are separated by nationality but form part of the same scenic archipelago. Much of the area is a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest, with little island communities, great wildlife and the open water providing a retreat from the mainland. Seemingly out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the islands contain many little farms and fisheries, and agri-tourism has become an important part of the island's tourist trade. The wine farms host guests in charming cottages overlooking vineyards, where they learn more about grape and wine cultivation. Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination.
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