When a winter trip to Seattle beckons, there are plenty of good reasons to answer the call. The food (it’s a mecca for Vietnamese cuisine), the city’s music history, great Instagram-worthy views everywhere, and day trips that will knock your socks off.
While we’re talking about winter travel in Seattle, it’s best you know that the city’s light rail has heated seats. So you’ll need to be prepared for a chilly introduction to the Emerald City. But the other thing is a nicer thought. The light rail designers were courteous enough to consider the temperature of your butt and how it could be made more comfortable with the addition of a heating device applied directly to it. It was an omen for me on my ride from Seattle’s airport to the city. From that moment on, everyone I met in Seattle was lovely to me, which was comforting since this was the first trip I took after moving to California, and I was doing it all on my own.
YOUR WINTER TRIP TO SEATTLE
I could wax lyrical about visiting Seattle all day – it feels like my spirit city, if I enjoyed the rain a little more. It might be different things to different people, but for me Seattle was a huge 1990s themed park, which is my favourite decade by far. I got to recapture my teenage years and try things I’d never done before – like snowshoeing. If I could give you any advice it would be not to put off a trip to Seattle just because you’re worried about the snow and the cold weather. It’s beautiful any time of year. But we’re focusing on winter right now.
1.Visit The Museum Of Pop Culture
Where the music lives. If Seattle is the home of grunge then the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is the place it’s documented in detail. I loved it every second of it – from the epic funnel of guitars, keyboards and drums, all the way to the Hello Kitty exhibition. MoPOP has specialised spaces dedicated to Jimi Hendrix and another to Nirvana, a giant screening of a Hendrix gig and so many sound-proof booths for you to record your own drumming, vocals, guitar, keys and bass. I was in heaven. I can’t actually play any of those instruments, but I had so much fun making noise like a toddler on his parents’ pots and pans.
Tip: If you know you’re going to visit for sure, buy your tickets online, they are a few dollars cheaper there.
As the name suggests, MoPop isn’t just about music. The non-profit museum also showcases contemporary pop culture exhibits, from science fiction to fantasy, horror, fashion, sports and video games and comics. If you can think of it within the pop culture realm, they’ve got it.
Address: 325 5th Avenue N, Seattle.
Cost: Walk up prices quoted, Adults $28, Seniors $25, Students $25, Military $22, Youth $19.
Hours: Daily 10am-5pm.
2. Eat A Piroshky Pastry (or two)
It’s cold outside, which means you get to eat whatever you want to stay warm. Your body needs fuel and there’s no better place to get it than Piroshky Piroshky. So nice they say it twice. Don’t be deterred by the line that snakes out of the tiny shop and onto the street across from Pike Place Market. It moves deceptively quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be standing at the counter wondering how you’re going to choose just one! The Russian Pirosky is sort of like the English Pasty – a parcel of pastry with savoury or sweet fillings. But these can come in any shape or size, and like most traditional dishes, each Polish family seems to have their own ‘best’ recipe.
Tip: If you’re wary of the lines, don’t visit on a Sunday morning. It was packed between 10am-11am when I visited. But the line moved quickly.
Fear not, because you can find them all in this bakery, from a chocolate cream hazelnut roll, to a bacon hashbrown cheese and egg piroshky. We weren’t kidding when we said they have a bit of everything!
Address: Pike Place Market, Seattle.
Cost: Varies depending on filling.
Hours: Monday to Friday 8am-7pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am-7.30pm.
3. See Seattle From Above At The Space Needle
The Space Needle truly is the best place to capture that bird’s eye view of Seattle and its surrounds. It used to be the tallest building (or structure) west of the Mississippi River, standing at 184 metres tall, but even though that record has since been broken, it’s still a great place to visit. Don’t worry about visiting on a windy day either, it was built to withstand winds of up to 320km/h and earthquakes up to 9.0 on the Richter Scale (are there any other scales?
Tip: Visit the Space Needle on Thanksgiving Day. You won’t find the usual crowds of tourists waiting in line for tickets or up on the observation deck.
The main observation deck is 160 metres above sea level and will give you views of the Seattle skyline, and a ton of mountains like the Olympic, Mount Rainier, and Mount Baker. Elliott Bay and the islands around it are also visible from the deck.
Address: 400 Broad St, Seattle.
Cost: Based on general admission. Adult $32.50-$37.50, Senior $27.50-$32.50, Youth (5-12) $24.50-$28.50.
Hours: Daily 10am-8pm.
4. Witness The Macy’s Holiday Parade
My scrambled brain thought that this was a Thanksgiving Day parade, so I showed up a day early for no reason. Luckily the parade route is in the centre of the city so I was able to get some shopping in (more on that later). The Black Friday parade includes inflatable floats, marching bands, characters from cartoons and TV, sports teams and Santa Claus! Be ready to share some body heat though, because the crowds can really pack themselves in. On the bright side, it’s warm and if you’re a solo traveller like me, you tend to make a few friends.
Tip: Come back later to see a 161-foot high star and Westlake Center’s Christmas Tree being lit for the first time (5pm).
Address: Macy’s Downtown Seattle, 1601 3rd Ave, Seattle.
5. Check Out A Candy Factory
There are no shortage of chocolate and candy factories to satisfy your sweet tooth on your winter trip to Seattle. If you’re looking for the oldest, head to Liberty Orchards. Opened in the late 1930s by Armenian immigrants, Liberty Orchards began manufacturing a type of Turkish delight, now known as Aplets and Cotlets. The Aplets were originally made from apples and walnuts, but they are are now available in lots of different fruit and nut flavours. You can do a tour during the week in the winter time and see the simmering candy and how it’s all put together. Plus you get to taste test some of the treats for yourself!
Address: 117 Mission Avenue, Cashmere.
Hours: Monday to Friday 8.30am-4.30pm.
6. The Seattle Public Library (Not Just For The Books)
Booklovers should flock to the library anyway, but if you’re more about architecture or just appreciate buildings that look a little bit different, then the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library is for you. The 11-storey building is made of glass and steel. It’s built to look as though those 11-storeys are floating platforms.
Did You Know? The Seattle Library has space for almost 1.5 million books and has over 400 computers.
The architects decided to let function dictate the building’s form, so a major section is built in a spiral, to allow the non-fiction titles to be displayed on one unbroken series of shelves that span four floors. It even has a living room to sit in and read or chill out and escape the cold weather for a bit. The library was voted one of the top 150 favorite structures in the US, by the American Institute of Architects.
Address: 1000 Fourth Ave, Seattle.
Hours: Monday to Thursday 10am-8pm, Friday & Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm.
7. Run The Seattle Marathon
It makes so much sense. Why be one of those spectators freezing on the sidelines, decked out in coats, sweaters and mittens, when you could be creating your own heat by running the Seattle Marathon? I started off as a walker because of an injury but the atmosphere was just stellar, for the most part because of the awesome volunteers, that I ended up running a fair chunk of the half marathon. And I was warm. So very warm.
Address: 5th Ave + Harrison St, Seattle.
Cost: Full Marathon from $95-$170, Half Marathon from $85-$160 depending on when you book.
Hours: Full Marathon starts at 7am and the Half Marathon goes at 7.30am.
8. Take A Stroll In A Park
I ended up in Kerry Park, which was a good two mile walk from where I was staying. At least half of it was uphill. I don’t care what the weather is like, I challenge anyone to keep a jumper/sweater on as you go up that incline crafted by the devil. Diabolical. But you are rewarded with an unimpeded skyline view of Seattle, and some interesting street art to go along with it. You might want to stop and catch a breather before starting your descent though.
Address: 211 W Highland Dr, Seattle.
9. Take A Day Trip To Mt Rainier
Strictly speaking, this one is outside of Seattle but you can hire a car or take a tour bus on a day trip and I rate it as a must-see. Mount Rainier is Washington’s highest mountain and stands at 4.392km above sea level. It is also the highest peak in the Cascade Range, a strip of volcanic mountains stretching from Washington down throw Oregon to northern California. The active volcano last erupted in 1894 and is made up of many glaciers. During winter the National Park is blanketed in snow and the lodge museum is a great place to soak up some heat after snow shoeing or snowboarding down the slopes.
Address: 55210 238th Avenue, East Ashford.
Cost: $30 per vehicle.
Hours: See the National Parks website for more information.
10. See A Gingerbread Village You Won’t Forget
This one takes a lot of awe and mixes it with a dollop of goodwill to produce a holiday display that will get you into the spirit. For the past 22 years the Sheraton Seattle’s kitchen staff get together with architecture firms to dream up and create a Gingerbread Village. With all that sugar involved, of course all viewing donations go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I visited a few years back when it was Star Wars themed, focusing on pivotal scenes across the Star Wars saga. You know it’s good because I haven’t even really seen the Star Wars films and it was still worth waiting an hour in line for.
Previous displays include Whoville from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Emerald City of Seattle, and the Wizarding World.
Address: 1420 Fifth Ave. Ste 450, Seattle.
Cost: Donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Hours: Monday to Thursday 6.30am-11.30pm, Saturday 8am-12.30am, Sunday 8am-11.30pm.
11. Warm Up With Vietnamese Pho
Seattle has one of the highest Vietnamese populations in the US so it stands to reason that the Vietnamese food is fantastic. It’s impossible to walk very far without coming across a Vietnamese restaurant. My favourite place was right next door to the Green Tortoise Hostel, and across from the main entrance to Pike Place Market, but unfortunately it’s closed down now.
12. Buy A Few Trinkets At Pike Place Market
This market is probably one of the most oft-photographed and iconic images of Seattle after the Space Needle. Set in the heart of Seattle and on the water front, Pike Place Market is made up of a vibrant Farmer’s Market bursting with fresh produce, as well as the wares of artisans, florists, craftspeople and other small businesses. The building sprawls across nine-acres and it’s a great place to grab a quick meal on the run or a souvenir or two to take home. There’s also an awesome comic book shop downstairs.
Address: 1st Ave and Pike Street, Seattle.
Cost: Free except for your shopping.
Hours: Various, see the website for more details.
13. Bow At The Feet Of Jimi Hendrix
Music lovers already know that Jimi Hendrix was (and still is) one of Seattle’s favourite sons. So it stands to reason that they have a bronze statue to honour him as well. Unveiled in 1997, the statue shoes Hendrix absolutely whaling on his guitar. He was born in Seattle in 1942 and began playing guitar when he was 15. But he didn’t start playing gigs until he moved to Tennessee, where he got into Little Richard’s backing band. His career soared when he had three UK top 10 hits, but he died in 1970 from accidental overdose.
Address: 1604 Broadway, Seattle.