With its coffee culture, gastronomic scene and fascinating museums and history, Seattle makes the ideal starting point for a stay-and-cruise adventure to Alaska, says Rhian Colley
A cool city with a pioneering spirit, Seattle was founded by settlers in 1851, but Native American tribes first came here 4,000 years ago.
Located in Washington State in the Pacific Northwest, with a backdrop of forests and mountains including impressive Mount Rainier, Seattle is well-known for its contribution to music and the arts – it’s the city where Jimi Hendrix was born while Ray Charles made a name for himself here. Seattle is also known as the birthplace of grunge, with bands including Nirvana making their mark.
The irresistible combination of culture, spectacular scenery and outdoor lifestyle means that the Emerald City is also one of America’s fastest-growing metropolises.
Spend an afternoon visiting the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum (chihulygardenandglass.com) where you can admire striking glass works by internationally acclaimed sculptor Dale Chihuly in a tranquil ambience. The exhibition includes eight galleries and a lush garden. It’s also situated next door to Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle (spaceneedle.com). It stands a towering 184m with amazing views in every direction from its Observation Deck, offering spectacular views of the city – from the snow-capped Cascade Mountains to the east to the majestic Olympic Mountains in the west.
Don’t miss out on a visit to the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP.org). Here you can explore some of the most significant moments in rock music, science fiction and popular culture through MoPOP’s exhibitions and interactive installations.
Also worth visiting is the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour (futureofflight.org), located just 25 miles north of Seattle, where you can marvel at the airline’s impressive fleet of Dreamliners as part of a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour.
Washington State Ferries offers trips across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island in just 35 minutes if you fancy a trip outside the city. This cute little town offers a selection of art galleries, cafés and restaurants.
Another must-see is Woodinville Wine Country. Just 30 minutes from Downtown, it’s a fabulous way to spend a day or even an afternoon, with more than 100 wineries, large and small, all sharing a passion for Washington wines. Take a tour of JM Cellars, a family-owned winery set in the most beautiful woodland hills; Novelty Hill Januik Winery for a more contemporary environment where you can see the wine distillery in action; and Col Solare Winery where you can experience a “taste of Red Mountain” inside the stunning Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.
If you want to travel in style, swap Uber for a chauffeur-driven car with Butler Transportation. Your guide will pick you up and drive you in a flash car to each winery, giving you his best knowledge of the local areas en route (woodinvillewinecountry.com).
Taking a seaplane flight is a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience – Kenmore Air, whose terminal is located in Westlake, makes it easy to enjoy this thrill. Take off from the water and soak up the unique vantage point of the metropolitan area. Everyone gets a window seat on this narrated 20-minute flight so you can enjoy the full effect of Seattle’s natural beauty (kenmoreair.com).
On Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour (undergroundtour.com), you will roam the subterranean passages that once were the main roadways and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle. Guides will regale you with stories the pioneers didn’t want you to hear – it’s history with a twist.
Any foodie will enjoy taking the Savor Seattle Food Tour (savorseattletours.com). Starting at Seattle’s original food and cultural hub, Pike Place Market, spend two hours exploring the hidden gems that the local food scene have to offer, from the speciality clam chowder to the famous Beecher’s café for melted cheese sandwiches and an insight into its cheese-making process.
If you fancy a boat trip and if time is on your side, choose Clipper Vacations to see more far-flung parts of Washington and further afield. It offers year-round daily departures to Victoria, BC, and seasonal daily departures to the San Juan Islands where you have the chance to spot majestic Orca whales in their natural habitat (clippervacations.com).
What to eat Seattle’s gastronomic scene is one of the most inspiring and eclectic in the world. Once you’ve experienced the buzzing farmers’ markets over at Pike Place in the day, a visit to one of the city’s many first-class restaurants that pairs cocktails or wines to each dish changes the tempo.
Heartwood Provisions offers a menu inspired by the chef’s personal experiences (heartwoodsea.com). Try the yellowtail paired with an Old Tom Gin – flavours are fresh and simple and complement each other perfectly.
Head to Space Needle’s revolving SkyCity Restaurant for panoramic 360-degree views of Seattle. The chef creates delicious dishes with local produce and seafood from the Puget Sound area. The northwest fisherman’s stew is highly recommended – finfish, shellfish, tomato confit, chorizo and grilled sourdough arrive in a huge bowl with fresh muscles and scallops, while a glass of red wine combined with the sounds of a live pianist make for a truly romantic setting.
Lunch at the Barking Frog (willowslodge.com/barking_frog) is also a must. It offers a completely unique setting away from the city as it’s set in Willows Lodge, located in the heart of Western Washington’s wine country. Try the dungeness crab and bacon prawn cobb, fresh and delicious with a crisp dry white wine.
Take a short taxi ride over Aurora Bridge towards Fremont where the award-winning Whales Win restaurant (thewhalewins.com) is located. Chef Renee Erickson’s menu is inspired by his favourite places in southern Europe and England. Most dishes are wood-fired while the décor makes you feel as if you are dining in a contemporary wooden cabin, with its exposed architectural features and cool lighting dangling from the beams.
Seattle’s diverse neighbourhoods offer fantastic shopping. Downtown has the Nordstrom flagship store, the always on-trend finds at Macy’s and countless boutiques. Make your way over to the Chinatown-International District for exotic Asian groceries at Uwajimaya, while Pike Place Market (pikeplacemarket.org) offers locally made jewellery, pottery, candles and more that also make ideal souvenirs for family and friends. If you’re an art lover, head to the Belltown neighbourhood for delicately beautiful glass works at both Canlis Glass Gallery & Studio and Seattle Glassblowing Studio & Gallery.
Where to stay
The recently renovated Fairmont Olympic Hotel has redefined downtown sophistication with its beautifully appointed guestrooms and gorgeous bathrooms. In addition to being Seattle’s most historic hotel, Fairmont Olympic is also a local favourite for dining with its award-winning restaurants. You can have breakfast in The Georgian, which offers French-inspired Northwest cuisine – try the crab cakes there, they are superb (fairmont.com/seattle).
The tastefully eccentric Kimpton Hotel Monaco Seattle puts you right in the heart of the city’s business district, just blocks from the famous Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square,
the convention centre and the waterfront. You’ll find sophisticated yet playful design in the boutique hotel’s stylish, spacious guest rooms, along with indulgent upscale amenities (monaco-seattle.com).
Virgin Atlantic’s new daily route from London Heathrow to Seattle begins at the end of March, with return flights from £639pp, valid for travel on selected departures this year (virgin-atlantic.com). Arrive at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and transfer by Light Rail or taxi to the centre. The train takes about 35 minutes and is the quickest option.
It’s also worth getting the official CityPASS, which offers admission to Seattle’s top five attractions – the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) and Chihuly Garden and Glass – for $138.70 for adults and $93.15 for children (citypass.com/seattle).
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