The largest and most densely populated city in Washington State, Seattle is known as the Emerald City, in recognition of its lush evergreens and plentiful public green spaces that include an old growth forest, a converted military base, and parks built over freeways.
All that green is a byproduct of the temperate marine climate. And while there are many gray, wet days in Seattle, it rains less here than most visitors have been led to believe. Seattle's average annual precipitation is below what falls from the sky in Boston, Houston, New York City and Washington, D.C.; it just seems like more rain because Seattle's drizzly weather lingers longer.
All the buzz about Seattle's love affair with coffee is real. Starbucks was born here (an outpost at Pike Place Market retains the first store's original look) and the city brims with branches of that now-worldwide chain along with dozens of independent coffeehouses with steadfast followers.
While more than 200 cruises set sail from Seattle for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest each summer, the city does not sit on the ocean. It's actually at the inland-most end of Puget Sound, which wends its way north to the Pacific and is the gateway to some of the most magnificent scenery on the continent. Pristine mountain ranges rim the east, while hundreds of islands dot the Sound to the north and west.
Downtown, you'll find Pike Place Market, one of the oldest continuously operating farmers' markets in the United States. In nearby Pioneer Square is the 38-story Smith Tower, which opened in 1914 and held the title of tallest building west of the Mississippi for more than 50 years.
There's plenty of must-see modern architecture, too, from the geometrically exuberant glass-and-steel Central Library on 4th Avenue downtown to the EMP Museum at Seattle Center, which celebrates music and popular culture in a building inspired by a pile of smashed guitars. Next door to the EMP is Seattle's most famous landmark, the Space Needle, which still looks futuristic although it was created for the 1962 World's Fair.
There are limited "extra" amenities, beyond restrooms, inside either terminal.
Instead, go outside. To the left of the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66, towards Pier 70, you'll find a fine-dining restaurant (AQUA by El Gaucho), a branch of Paddy Coyne's Irish Pub, a coffee shop, and the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park. Head to the right, also along the waterfront, and you'll find more restaurants, plus a deli with an ATM and a light assortment of grocery and drugstore items, the Seattle Aquarium, the Seattle Great Wheel, and beyond that, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, a museum/souvenir shop that has been on the waterfront since 1899.
The Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91, near Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood, is in an industrial area. There's a refreshment kiosk out in front of the terminal, but getting to nearby restaurants or attractions will require a car, a cab or a long walk.
A concierge is available at both terminals to help with city information and luggage storage after cruises. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on cruise days; storage fee is $3 per bag.
Pike Place Market: One of the oldest continuously operating farmers' markets in the country, Pike Place Market offer six levels of unique shops, restaurants and vendor stalls selling everything from fresh flowers and vegetables to handcrafted items. Head for the entrance to the Main Arcade, under the neon sign at First and Pike, for a photo op with the 550-pound bronze piggy bank known as Rachel the Pig, then take just a few steps into the market to watch the famed "fish guys" toss salmon and other fresh fish from the ice-filled display tables to colleagues behind the counter. Shopping, eating, perhaps a Public Market tour, and a stop at the "original" Starbucks (in its 2nd location; 1912 Pike Place, Seattle, WA.; 206-448-8762; open daily 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.) can fill an entire day. (1st Avenue and Pike St.; 206-682-7453; open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
Seattle Center: The site of the 1962 World's Fair, the Seattle Center is home to a variety of attractions. (See below.) (305 Harrison Street; 206-684-7200)
Space Needle: The 605-foot-tall Space Needle is Seattle's most iconic landmark. From the top you get 360-degree views of Seattle and Puget Sound, and if you're lucky Mount Rainier. (400 Broad Street; 206-905-2100; open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
EMP Museum: The EMP Museum is dedicated to music, science fiction and popular culture. The museum is housed in a funky looking Frank Gehry building. (325 5th Avenue N.; 206-770-2700; daily summer hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Pacific Science Center: Also found in the Seattle Center are the Pacific Science Center. (200 2nd Avenue N.; 206-443-2001; hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 pm. weekends)
Chihuly Garden and Glass (305 Harrison Street; 206-753-4940; hours: Sunday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to 6 pm; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.), featuring the creations of glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Seattle Center Monorail: The Seattle Center Monorail, also built for the 1962 World's Fair, runs between Seattle Center and the Westlake Center shopping mall in downtown Seattle. (Two stations: Adjacent to Space Needle and Westlake Center Mall, Fifth Avenue and Pine St.; summer hours: Monday to Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Ferry Rides: The 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island, west of Seattle, is a popular and inexpensive tourist activity that offers great views of the Seattle skyline and an easy walk to shops, boutiques, beaches and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (550 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island; 206 842-4451; hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) in downtown Winslow. Board at Colman Dock, Pier 52, on the Seattle Waterfront. Fares for walk-on passengers are only collected between Seattle and Bainbridge Island; walk-ons ride free on the way back. Find schedules and current fares at www.wsdot.com/ferries/schedule. (801 Alaskan Way; 888-808-7977)
A Walk in the Park: Seattle is chock full of museums and parks, and the Seattle Art Museum's free Olympic Sculpture Park -- located on the waterfront, near the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66 -- is a perfect blending of the two. The nine-acre park has a small beach, great views and sculpture by a wide variety of major artists, including Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra and Claes Oldenburg. (2901 Western Avenue; 206-654-3100; open from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.)
On Foot: Many of Seattle's waterfront attractions are a 15- to 20-minute walk from the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66.
The Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 is in an industrial area, so getting to attractions or restaurants will require a car or a cab.
By Bus: Seattle's metro bus system (King County Metro Transit) is easy and safe to use, and it offers a helpful trip planning tool for getting around. Exact fare is required at the fare box when you board.
The closest bus stop to the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66 is on 1st Ave and Wall Street, about 0.3 miles from the terminal.
The closest bus stop to the Smith Cove Terminal at Pier 91 is on the Magnolia Bridge, and is about 0.4 miles from the terminal.
By Car: Taxis and ride-hailing car services (including Uber and Lyft) are plentiful and reliable to use around town.
Passengers on cruises departing from Seattle usually fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Downtown Seattle and the cruise terminals can be reached via taxi, town car and shuttle van companies such as Shuttle Express and SpeediShuttle.
Beyond coffee, the Seattle dining scene centers around seafood, international and internationally-influenced cuisine, and a bountiful array of chef-driven venues showcasing regionally-sourced ingredients.
Anthony's trio of dining venues: Located on Seattle's waterfront next to Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66, these restaurants (2201 Alaskan Way) offer something seafood for everyone. Anthony's Pier 66 restaurant (206-448-6688) serves dinner (only) with an Elliot Bay view and a menu featuring everything from raw Northwest oysters and Alaskan king salmon to Dungeness crab and fresh Pacific ahi tuna. In the same building, Anthony's Bell Street Diner and Anthony's Fish Bar serve more casual, seafood-centric dishes and are open for lunch and dinner. (Anthony's Bell St. Diner: 206-448-6688, lunch served: Monday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Anthony's Fish Bar (Walk-up/To Go: 206- 448-6688, Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday – Sunday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Palisade: This place, near Smith Cove Terminal at Pier 91, is a classy steak and seafood venue with great views and impeccable service. (2601 W. Marina Place; 206-285-1000; Lunch served Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday buffet brunch: 9:30 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m.)
Maggie Bluffs: Also nearby is the far more informal and entertaining Maggie Bluffs, which offers great views of the marina and waterfront as well as a lunch and dinner menu with reasonably price fish and chips, tacos, burgers and sandwiches, including the popular Alaska cod po' boy. (2601 W. Marina Place; 206-283-8322; lunch served: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday.)
Cafe Campagne: One of more than 30 places to grab a bite at Pike Place Market, Cafe Campagne is a much-loved classic French restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (1600 Post Alley; 206-728-2233; lunch served: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
The Pink Door: This spot in Pike Place Market offers Italian-American food with an emphasis on organic Northwest produce, as well as a killer rooftop view. (1919 Post Alley; 206-443-3241; lunch served: Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Pike Place Chowder: More than a half-dozen different seafood chowders (several award-winning) are ladled up for the lunchtime crowd at Pike Place Chowder. (1530 Post Alley; 206-267-2537; lunch served: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
There are two cruise ship terminals in Seattle.
Bell Street Pier: Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line passengers embark and disembark from the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66, on the downtown Seattle waterfront.
Smith Cove: Passengers traveling with Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International embark and disembark from the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91, which is located at the north end of the Elliott Bay waterfront, at the base of the Magnolia neighborhood and two miles from Seattle's downtown core.
Rain: Yes, rain is common in Seattle, but locals don't let that keep them from doing anything they'd do on a sunny day, and neither should you. Pack light rain gear and a hat, and you should blend right in. Locals say they can spot a tourist by the umbrella. (That said, don't hesitate to use one if you need it.)
Pot: Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington State, but if you want to shop and partake there are rules you'll need to follow. Most important to keep in mind is that you cannot consume pot in public and it is illegal to take marijuana out of the state or onto cruise ships. Most cruise ships also do not permit passengers to bring pot paraphernalia on board.
Visa Requirements: Most cruises headed for Alaska make a stop in Canada. That means U.S. citizens will need to travel with a passport or a U.S. passport card, and passengers from certain countries will need to have a Canadian Visa. Be sure to check with your cruise line or travel agent for requirements to avoid being denied boarding.
There are no ATMs in the terminals, but ATMs are plentiful in the city. The closest for many cruises is in the Bell St. Deli next to the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66.
For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Travelex offers currency services at SeaTac International Airport and at Westlake Center, the downtown shopping center at 5th Avenue and Pine Street. Most banks exchange currency for a fee, but fee-free currency conversion vouchers (which can be used at downtown Wells Fargo locations) can be picked up at both downtown visitor centers.
English is the native language in Seattle, but it might be helpful to brush up on basic coffee lingo before you arrive so you can confidently order the correct caffeinated brew while in town.
You'll find a wide selection of unique goods and gifts made by local and regional artists at the daily crafts market held in the North Arcade of Seattle's historic Pike Place Market. This is a great place to purchase cutting boards, boxes and other handmade items made from Pacific Northwest wood. If you're heading home, many market seafood stalls will pack salmon and Dungeness crab for travel.