What strikes many visitors to downtown Seattle is how easy it is to see the sights, since key attractions lie within walking distance of one another. Bookended by Belltown to the north and Pioneer Square to the south, downtown can be seen on foot or by city bus at no cost – since all of it lies in the Ride Free Zone. Alternatively, for a small fare, the waterfront streetcar stops at several key points between the Market and the International District. In addition to being a business district full of skyscrapers, downtown offers a wide range of options – such as gourmet restaurants, attractive shopping centers, and a perfect place to begin exploring the city.

Denny Regrade

Named after one of the city’s founders, Arthur A. Denny, Denny Hill would have certainly become one of Seattle’s most upscale neighborhoods, with magnificent city, mountain, and water views. However, in 1905, engineers began its outright removal by extracting the mud with water jets and conveyor belts, eventually dumping the debris into Elliott Bay. Today, the unnaturally flat, 50-square-block area includes most of what’s now called Belltown, and is occupied largely by warehouses, labor union halls, motels, and car lots.

Rachel, the Market pig

Many seafood vendors at Pike Place Market package fish for long-distance travel.

Head inside the Koolhaas Library for a visual treat as spectacular as the glass and steel exterior shell.

Be sure to leave the bus while still in the Ride Free Zone; if you stay on beyond the boundary, you’ll have to pay upon exiting.


  1. Pike Place Market

    Anyone descending on Pike Place Market to stroll by innumerable stalls of seafood, fresh produce, crafts, and flower bouquets can feel the rapid pulse of a scene that’s all about hard work and hustle. The Market is famous for its salmon-throwing fishmongers and street musicians who entertain tourists daily. 

    Fish-flinging fishmongers

    Pike Place Market
  2. Seattle Art Museum

    Designed by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates, the imposing sandstone and limestone edifice houses an enviable permanent collection of about 23,000 pieces. The African collection inspires with traditional sculpture, masks, textiles, basketry, and decorative arts. The John Hauberg Collection, one of the most prized examples of Northwest Coastal Native American art, comprises nearly 200 artifacts from British Columbia, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. The museum is undergoing extensive refurbishment until spring 2007. The construction of a new Olympic Sculpture Park in downtown Seattle is also underway. 

  3. Harbor Steps

    If you happen to be near the Seattle Art Museum on First Avenue and need to get down to the waterfront, try the Harbor Steps. A street’s abrupt end has been turned into a wide-open stairway landscaped with water sculpture and planters. The steps are spacious and an ideal urban meeting place, located below a nouveau luxury apartment complex in the heart of an ever-changing downtown Seattle. Countless restaurant and nightlife options abound in the vicinity.

  4. Washington State Convention Center/ Freeway Park

    Straddling Interstate 5 in a miraculous feat of engineering, the Washington State Convention Center is located within easy walking distance of the city’s best shops, hotels, and restaurants. Marvel at the center’s 90-ft (27-m) wide glass canopy bridge that frames views to Elliott Bay and to the historic Pike-Pine neighborhood. Adjoining is Freeway Park, where blossoms delight visitors in spring and waterfalls mask the sounds of traffic flowing on all sides.

    Washington State Convention Center

    Freeway Park

  5. Columbia Tower

    The sleek, three-tiered black skyscraper that dominates Seattle’s skyline might have been even taller, but for an order to reduce the ultimate height from the Federal Aviation Administration. To break a record for most floors in any one building, the builder kept the original 76 stories but reduced the ceiling heights to compensate. The 1985 building has an observation deck on the 73rd floor that offers panoramic views of Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier. 

    The tall, black Columbia Tower
  6. Pioneer Square

    Find art galleries, intricate Victorian architecture, bookstores, and cafés in a constantly changing National Historic District. Pioneer Square’s 20-block neighborhood became Seattle’s commercial center during the boom years of logging, fishing, railroads, and Klondike Gold Rush economies. An exclusive 90-minute underground tour  offers a lively look at the 19th-century storefronts that were periodically flooded by tides from Elliott Bay until street levels were raised. Key sights include the Smith Tower, Elliott Bay Book Co. and Café, and an art walk on the first Thursday night of each month.

    Totem poles, Pioneer Square

    Elliott Bay Book Company
  7. Koolhaas Library

    Completed in 2004, the new downtown library is a work of art. Nearly 8,000 patrons per day benefit from more than 1.45 million books and reference materials, Internet access, spacious areas for children, and over 400 public computers. The art collection alone is worth $1 million. 

  8. Monorail

    In 2005, Monorail services were suspended due to a collision between trains. By mid 2007 you’ll be able to hop aboard once again to experience the future of mass transit from the perspective of engineers who built the elevated rail as an attraction for the 1962 World’s Fair. The Monorail travels speedily and nonstop for 1.2 miles (2 km) between Seattle Center and Westlake Center.

    Monorail at Seattle Center Station
  9. Belltown

    Pedestrians are welcomed with an explosion of shops, clubs, cafés, luxury condos, and fine restaurants. This upscale neighborhood was named in the 1970s after a pioneer, William M. Bell. In those days, Belltown attracted sailors on shore leave, artists seeking inexpensive loft spaces, and ragtag urban dwellers. But it was the boom of the 1990s that changed everything by engendering a commercial revival for the neighborhood. Remnants of old Belltown include a few well preserved façades.

  10. Ride Free Zone

    The downtown sightseeing area between Belltown and Pioneer Square falls within the city’s Ride Free Zone where fares are gratis. Hop on a street level bus within the Zone and don’t forget to check in with the driver. All stations in the Down­town Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) are within the Ride Free Zone but during tunnel closure buses along 3rd Avenue are free between 6–9am and 3–6pm, and the Ride Free Zone is extended to include the stops at 9th Avenue and Howell Street.

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