Seattle is an expensive city, but there are ways to save money if you are on a budget. There are enough free and low-cost attractions to fill a vacation if you know where to go. I like to substitute expensive attractions with lower cost options for a similar experience. Public transit is a bargain and farmers’ markets are a bounty of local foods at reasonable prices.
Snag a low-cost picnic lunch at Pike’s Place Market (85 Pike Street).
Established in 1907, Pike’s Place Market is where to go for fresh food in Seattle. There are over 200 vendors and 80 restaurants. The best part is there is no cost to enter the market, and you can sometimes snag free samples from the vendors. Visit Pike’s Place Market for help planning your visit. You can download maps of the market and itineraries based on your interests. The area surrounding Pike’s Place Market also has a variety of low cost quick eats places.
Instead of a pricey trip to the Space Needle, consider the Volunteer Park Water Tower (1247 15th Ave E).
The tower is located in Volunteer Park, which was designed by the famous Olmstead Brothers and completed in 1912. It is 107 steps to the top and once there you are rewarded with a 360-degree view of Seattle. It rivals the Space Needle’s $22 view. If you have more time, consider a modest $4 entry fee to tour the Volunteer Park Conservatory and its collection of tropical plants. From the Conservatory, head into the Lake View Cemetery to view Bruce and Brandon Lees’ graves.
Tour the Fremont District on a Sunday for free artwork and low-cost food at the Fremont Sunday Market.
One of my favorite places to have an authentic Seattle experience is the Fremont District. Before your visit, go to Fremont Map and download the walking tour. Fremont is very walkable, and you can see everything within a few blocks.
Some of my favorites:
- The Fremont neighborhood is known for its artwork. It is nicknamed “The Artist’s Republic of Fremont,” and there’s a lot to see out in public. Check out the infamous Lenin statue that looms over the business district, the 53-foot-tall rocket from the Cold War era that sits attached to a building, and the “Waiting for the Interurban” statue of commuters (make sure to check out the dog that has a human face). The most famous sculpture, the Fremont Troll, is frankly downright creepy. It emerges out of the dirt underneath the Aurora Bridge.
- The Fremont Sunday Market is a year-round event that runs rain or shine. (Pretty much everything runs rains or shine in Seattle.) The market has both indoor and outdoor spaces and has around 200 vendors. It is a mixture of flea market junk, antiques, fashion, and world imports. Also popular are the street food vendors where you can try food from all around the world.
- The Theo Chocolate factory tour (3400 Phinney Ave N) will set you back $10. For a free alternative head into the gift shop and enjoy the free samples. The company makes many interesting flavors such as Bread & Chocolate and Cinnamon Horchata.
Instead of a pricey Harbor Cruise consider the Seattle Ferry System (801 Alaskan Way Pier 52).
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) operates a ferry system which is very economical for walk-on passengers. A Harbor Tour of Seattle will cost around $30. Instead, head down to the ferry landing and take the ferry to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island for $8.35 round trip. You can bring a bike for $1. Both options make a great cruise, but if you want to get out and explore I would suggest Bainbridge Island. It is a short walk from the ferry terminal into town and it is a fun place to tour.
Take public transit.
Public transit in Seattle is a steal! Load up an ORCA card with an $8 all-day regional transit pass. It includes Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, King County Water Taxi, Kitsap Transit (bus, foot ferry), Pierce Transit (bus), Seattle Streetcar, and Sound Transit (bus, Link, Sounder). For some trips, additional fare may be required. With this many options, you can travel all over Seattle, down South to Tacoma, out to the Kitsap Peninsula and many more locations.
Get a library card.
The Seattle Public Library offers museum passes for card-holders. Sign up for a free library card online, then reserve the passes for the days you’ll need them in Seattle.
Choose lodging strategically.
There is no budget lodging in Seattle unless you go the hostel route. Even the most budget of motels will set you back around $100 or more. You can find a few under $100 a night but most tend to be on the seedy side. You can get into the Holiday Inn Express Seattle City Center, 226 Aurora Ave N, for around $101 a night. It is a good central location. Also, consider staying outside of the city — there are plenty of options and public transportation makes it easy to get in and out of town.