Seattle is the gateway to Alaska cruises – but as Liz Jarvis discovers, the Emerald City and Washington State are definitely worth exploring too

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I’m in the middle of a Western. Snow-capped mountain ranges give way to eerie forests with sky-high Douglas firs; close by there are wild rivers, waterfalls and lakes; buffalo are roaming, an eagle soars overhead and there are rumours of bears and wolves in the woods.

Washington State, located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, is without a doubt one of the most atmospheric places on the planet, with extraordinary landscapes and breathtaking vistas. No wonder it has inspired so many writers, TV programmes and film makers (everything from Twin Peaks to Twilight has been set here). Meanwhile its largest city, Seattle, is the setting for Grey’s Anatomy, Frasier and of course Sleepless in Seattle.

Cruise holidaymakers will usually see one of the Port of Seattle’s two cruise terminals, and the airport. But Seattle and Washington State have so much to offer, it’s definitely worth extending your trip and spending some more time exploring.

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Seattle – known as the Emerald City because of its evergreen forest backdrop – is compact and most of its attractions are within easy reach of each other. A good place to start is the wonderfully atmospheric Pike Place Market. Founded in 1907 and overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront, it still has many of its original signs and décor. A food tour of Pike Place Market is a must: not only will you get to sample everything from fresh clam chowder to chocolate-covered cherries (no need for breakfast beforehand), you’ll also get to see the fishmongers throwing their wares, and the first ever Starbucks, which for some reason is a tourist attraction.

Head to the Westlake Center mall, jump on the monorail – built in 1962 and still going strong – and this will take you round to the Space Needle, which offers a 360-degree view from 520 feet above the ground. Close by you’ll find the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, home to some of the most stunning, colourful creations by famed artist Dale Chihuly; and the Museum of Pop Culture, which is basically music lovers’ heaven and, as well as many hands-on exhibits, includes a whole exhibition dedicated to Seattle’s favourite sons, Nirvana.

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If you can spare a few more days, though, venture further into Washington State itself; take a ferry to the Victorian sea town of Port Townsend, with its ridiculously pretty gabled-homes, old-fashioned ice-cream parlour and soda fountain and intriguing museum. From here it’s just another ferry ride to Whidbey Island, which forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound.

On our way back to Seattle we passed through three Native American reservations, and visited tiny towns, including La Conner, which hosts tulip festivals every spring (people actually stop by the roadside to take photos of the purple, red and yellow blooms); and of course the impressive peaks of the Cascade mountain range, including Mount Rainier.

We arrived back in Seattle on a Saturday afternoon, with plenty of time for shopping and dinner. I was surprised to find that I already knew my way around the city, and had actually missed it. There aren’t many US cities you can get to know quite so well in such a short space of time and I’ve definitely fallen in love with Seattle. I can’t wait to go back.

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Where to stay:

A Seattle landmark, the historic Fairmont Olympic hotel is a luxurious haven with sumptuously appointed rooms, a good-sized swimming pool, spa and the Georgian Restaurant, which serves a particularly excellent brunch (from $409 per room per night, fairmont.com/seattle).

With a waterfront location on Whidbey Island, the Inn at Langley is a fabulous boutique-style hotel and spa with fantastic views of the Cascade Mountains and Saratoga Passage and an extraordinarily good breakfast buffet (rooms from $325 a night, innatlangley.com).

Where to eat:

Wild Ginger – delicious Asian fusion cuisine and excellent dim sum (wildginger.net).

Purple Café and Wine Bar – fantastic atmosphere, great food (special mention has to go to the Dungeness crab cakes and grilled filet mignon) and an extensive wine list (thepurplecafe.com).

GETTING THERE

British Airways has flights to Seattle (britishairways.com). Pike Place Market tours can be booked at savorseattletours.com. For more information on visiting Seattle go to visitseattle.org, and to find out about cruises from the Port of Seattle go to portseattle.org.