8 Hours in Seattle

From Pike Place Market to hot tub boats and mountain vistas, the Emerald City has something for everyone.
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Seattle is a popular destination and a jumping-off point for cruises to Alaska.

Credit: iStock

Seattle is a city of delightful contradictions. It’s a nature-lover’s paradise with ocean views, mountain vistas and beachfront parks. And it’s also a metropolitan hub, home to a variety of museums, grunge music and more.

The Emerald City shines for both outdoor enthusiasts who hike its many forests and kayak around the Puget Sound and culture seekers who get a thrill out of visiting places like the century-old Pike Place Market and the one-of-a-kind Pop Culture Museum. Plus, it’s jumping-off point for a cruise vacation to Alaska on Royal Caribbean ships like Ovation and Quantum of the Seas.

If you’re looking to spend time in Seattle for a day or a few hours before or after a cruise, here’s a list of the things to see and do in the Pacific Northwest city.

Pike Place Market on Elliott Bay opened in 1907, and it’s one of the most popular attractions in the U.S.

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If you want to soak up the local culture …

Wander Through the Century-old Pike Place Market

Time it takes: It’s up to you.

Recommendation: Check out the Gum Wall. Hidden in a narrow alleyway, it’s a colorful work of art entirely made of chewed gum.

Pike Place is like a bustling city-within-a-city, where fish fly across aisles, grocers sell farm-fresh produce and musicians play on every corner. Open since 1907, it is the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in the U.S. Around 10 million visitors come by every year, making it one of the most popular destinations in the country. And you’ll find more than foodstuffs when you’re there—from antiques to comic books, the multilevel space has over 500 shops, vendors, restaurants and bars, all with sweeping views of Elliott Bay.


Take in Panoramic Views from the Space Needle

Time it takes: It’s up to you.

Recommendation: Grab a cocktail at The Loupe Lounge, which sits at 500 feet and has a revolving glass floor for continuously changing views.

An iconic symbol of Seattle, the Space Needle defines the city’s skyline. Even today, 60 years after it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the sights from the observation deck of this futuristic, 605-foot-tall tower are nothing short of epic. Look out, especially, for the Cascade and Olympic Mountains—even Canada on a clear day.

Pro tip: If you like a birds-eye view, look no further than the North Star on Quantum and Ovation of the Seas. The world record-holder and Royal Caribbean favorite is an all-glass observation capsule that will take you up to 300 feet above the ocean.


Visit the Museum of Pop Culture

Time it takes: It’s up to you.

Recommendation: Check out the Guitar Gallery, which houses 20 guitars that belonged to music legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Nancy Wilson.

Formerly known as the Experience Music Project or EMP, the Museum of Pop Culture is a fascinating trip through Seattle-centric recent history that covers everything from local music legends, like Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, to exhibitions on indie video games and science fiction film and TV, including artifacts from “Star Trek” and “Men in Black.” The building itself is a work of art—designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry (who is also behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles)—and reportedly inspired by one of Hendrix’s smashed guitars. Fun fact: The museum is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.


The Pike Place Starbucks, also known as the original Starbucks, opened in 1971 and features the franchise’s original logo.

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If you’re a coffee lover…

Hit Up the Oldest Starbucks

Time it takes: It depends on the line.

Recommendation: Check out the brass labels on display that were used on the shop’s bulk coffee bins back in the day.

Whether you’re a Starbucks aficionado or prefer an independently owned shop, take the chance to fuel up at the world’s oldest Starbucks location. The Pike Place Starbucks, also known as the original Starbucks, opened in 1971. The first thing you’ll notice, besides the line out the door, is the original brown logo, which is very different than what is used today. You may also observe that it has a small interior, prioritizing grab-and-go style service over a sitdown experience, reflecting that the famous brand was originally intended to be a place to buy roasted coffee beans rather than a cafe environment.

Pro tip: You can even grab your drink of choice on board ships like Quantum, Ovation and Navigator of the Seas, which all serve Starbucks coffee.


Take a Coffee-making Class at Seattle Barista Academy

Time it takes: 3 hours

Recommendation: Check the academy’s calendar and book your spot in advance.

Does being in the American epicenter of coffee culture inspire you to step up your own java game? Then take a class at the Seattle Barista Academy to learn anything from beginner latte art to how to brew the perfect espresso. Seattle residents consume more coffee than any other American city. In fact, there are 35 coffee shops per 100,000 residents. So if there was ever a place to hone your coffee expertise, it’s here.


On a clear day, you can see the Olympic Mountains from Seattle’s Discovery Park.

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If you’re the outdoorsy type…

Go for a Stroll in Discovery Park

Time it takes: It’s up to you.

Recommendation: Download the map from the park’s website before you get going, so that you have it on hand if you lose signal.

The largest stretch of green space in Seattle, Discovery Park has more than 530 acres of forests, sand dunes and beaches, as well as sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains. The coastal park on Puget Sound is a former military base. It’s filled with wildlife, like deer and puffins, and has 12 miles of trails for walking, biking and hiking. The short and easy 2.8-mile Loop Trail is a favorite, too.

Pro tip: You can also take a walk while in the middle of the ocean, thanks to the jogging tracks on Ovation, Quantum, Radiance and Serenade of the Seas—and look out for the 40-foot-high rock climbing walls, too.


Take a Ferry to Bainbridge Island

Time it takes: This is a great day trip.

Recommendation: Take a seaside walk around Waterfront Park and City Dock.

Want even more time on the water? Then take a 35-minute ferry from the Seattle Ferry Terminal to Bainbridge Island, a quiet destination that offers quaint cafes and boutiques, as well as farms and wineries. There’s also the Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre botanical garden with 23 different landscapes that you can explore, all along a 2-mile loop trail.


Set Sail on a Hot Tub Boat

Time it takes: These can be rented by the hour.

Recommendation: Prepare a playlist—there are Bluetooth speakers available.

Grab a group of your best friends and family members to soak in the sights while…soaking. When you book a floating hot tub, you can cruise around Lake Union in style year-round. See the downtown Seattle skyline, the Museum of History and Industry, Gas Works Park and the city’s famous houseboats, all while comfortably kicking back in 104-degree water.

Pro tip: Have your pick of lux suites on Royal Caribbean ships that have whirlpools on their balconies, like the two-story Royal Loft Suite on Ovation and Quantum of the Seas.


Ready to visit Seattle before or after discovering the wilds of Alaska? See which Royal Caribbean cruises set sail from the Emerald City here.