By Mary-Therese Kinsella
Seattle has a lot to be proud of - it gave the world grunge pioneers Nirvana, aircraft manufacturers Boeing, tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, and coffee industry giants Starbucks.
It's an incredible city with no shortage of things to see and do and getting around is easy via the light rail, the monorail and a comprehensive bus network.
However, the best way to get around central Seattle is on foot, as it's a very walkable city with statues, monuments and modern art scattered throughout its city streets. It's clean, well-lit and even as a solo female traveller, I felt safe.
I stayed in the central district of Belltown, equidistance between the Space Needle, the central shopping district and Pike Place Markets. Staying in the heart of the city does come at a premium and hotel accommodation in Seattle is expensive, with an average hotel room costing a minimum of NZ $500 per night.
That said, the Emerald City is an amazing place to visit. Here are my top five Seattle sights:
The Space Needle
Built in 1962 for the World's Fair, you cannot go to Seattle and not ascend the 184m to the top of the Space Needle. It is the pre-eminent landmark and is as beloved to Seattleites as the Sky Tower is to Aucklanders. Once at the top, you have an unparalleled view of Seattle either from inside the tower, or from the glass walled viewing deck.
The Space Needle is currently undergoing a US$100 million renovation, which once completed, will have the world's first revolving glass floor and an open air observation deck. While undergoing this work, the Space Needle is - very obviously - a construction site. However, disruption is minimal and the Space Needle is very much open for business.
It's open daily from 9am to 9pm and is one of the attractions included in the Seattle City Pass. With the City Pass, you have the option to go twice in the same day to experience the view both by day and at night.
The Museum of Popular Culture is a great destination for anyone with a love of music, cinema, anime or gaming - it's a mecca for all forms of contemporary culture. The building is modern, futuristic and includes permanent, temporary and visiting exhibitions. You can get lost in a world of movie memorabilia, play some vintage computer games or enjoy the many music exhibits, including the permanent Nirvana and visiting Marvel exhibitions.
MoPOP is open daily from 10am - 5pm
Pike Place Market
Since opening in 1907, Pike Place Market has been a hub of activity. These days, however, humble Seattle citizens seeking fresh produce have been replaced by throngs of tourists looking to catch sight of the famous flying fish. Pike Place Market is so much more than a tourist trap - it is filled with craft stores and artisan food producers and many places to enjoy great food and drink. The market does not allow "chain" stores, to keep true to its independent nature. The one exception to that is a Starbucks, but not just any Starbucks - the very first Starbucks cafe, which only serves coffee and still has the original sign and mermaid logo. Though it gets quite busy, Pike Place Market is a wonderful place to while away a few hours and I definitely recommend seeing the flying fish.
General market opening hours are 9am - 6pm Monday - Saturday, and 9am - 5pm Sunday, but opening hours for the cafes and vendors vary.
Bill Speidel's Underground Tour
If you're keen on a bit of alternative tourism and perhaps something a little more underground - literally - then this tour is for you. I never imagined that 75 minutes, underground, learning about the seedy and scandalous side of Seattle's history could be so entertaining. The history includes introduction of the toilet (or "crapper", as this was the name of the manufacturer) to Seattle, the original skid row, and how in the late 1800's, 87 percent of the city's taxes came from prostitution or as it is subtly dubbed, "from houses of negotiable affections". Despite the subject matter this tour really is suitable for all ages. The tour guides skilfully, and hilariously, navigate how to get the point across to the adults in the group without younger ears getting the drift.
Bill Speidel's Underground Tours start every hour on the hour and is open daily 9am - 7pm April to September, and 10am - 6pm October - March.
After a long day of sightseeing, you can enjoy a drink at the iconic Smith Tower, Seattle's very first skyscraper. It's 38 stories (148m) tall and opened to the public in 1914. Walking into it is like stepping back in time; marble floors, brass railings and the original historical elevators to whisk you up to the observatory. The 35th floor has a prohibition, speakeasy style bar where you can enjoy classic cocktails in leather wingback chairs while looking out over Seattle and the Puget Sound. If you're brave enough, you can venture out onto the open-air viewing deck to enjoy the view.
Smith Tower is open daily from 10am, with the observatory closing at 9pm, but the bar remains open Sunday - Wednesday until 11pm and Thursday - Saturday until midnight. Happy hour is a great time to visit as ticket prices are halved and the drinks are cheaper too - that's 4pm to 6pm daily.
If you have limited time in Seattle, grab a City Pass, which covers a few of the city's top attractions. Passes are US$89.00 for adults and US$69.00 for children, but under 5s go free. https://www.citypass.com/seattle.
Mary-Therese Kinsella is a freelance wine and travel writer.