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Nickel Tours: See The Emerald City for Less

Lisa.Kramer

Seattle is the birthplace to two of my favorite things: Starbucks and the romantic comedy by which all other romantic comedies are measured. No, it’s not Gigli, silly! I’m talking about Sleepless in Seattle.

Seattle, which is affectionately called “The Emerald City,” “Rain City” and “Seatown,”  is nestled between the Olympic Mountains, lush forests, and the beautiful Seattle Riverfront. It’s like Tiramisu.

There is something for everyone to do in this gem of a city. It’s easier  to find many free and inexpensive activities in Seattle than for a woman to find a husband after the age 40. That statistic is not true. But it feels true. (Don’t be shocked, ladies — just a play on lines from the movie.)

  • Ride the Seattle Monorail: Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Seattle Monorail is the nation’s first full-scale commercial monorail system. It runs on a 1-mile track which goes by the Music Experience Project Building and ends right at the base of the Space Needle. For a unique view of the iconic Seattle skyline, hop aboard. A one-way ticket costs is $2.25 for adults and $1.00 for children under 12.
  • Stroll Through the Olympic Sculpture Garden: The Olympic Sculpture Garden is a nine-acre sprawling park that features sculptures from a variety of artists set against the magnificent backdrop of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Admission is always free.
  • Take a Historic Wooden Boat Ride on Lake Union: Every Sunday, the Center for Wooden Boats offers the free sailing program called Cast Off! on Lake Union. Signup starts at 10:00 a.m. and rides are given on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, click here.
  • Explore Pike Place Market: The historic Pike Place Market has been called the “soul of Seattle.” Meander around this iconic market which features more than 200 businesses,190 craftsman, and 100 farmers. If you’re a Starbucks fan, check out the original Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place. Sure, there are thousands of Starbucks around the country, but since this one is the first it feels a bit special. If you want to avoid forking over three bucks for a cup of Starbucks coffee, get a free pick-me-up at Pike Place Market’s Vital Tea Leaf which offers free tastings of high-end tea in a traditional Chinese tea house.
  • Watch Fish Fly at Pike Place Fish: While at Pike Place Market, be sure to check out the flinging, flying fishmongers at Pike Place Fish who famously lob seafood over the counter. Oh, and if you want to buy some of this amazingly fresh fish, Pike Place Fish will even wrap your selection in airplane-safe containers.
  • Visit the Space Needle: The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and has since become the symbol of Seattle and one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Tickets to the Space Needle’s observation deck are a little pricey ($19.00 for adults and $12.00 for children under 12), but the panoramic views are priceless. For more information, check out the Space Needle’s website here. If you don’t want to shell out for Space Needle tickets, climb the water tower at Volunteer Park to see what the readers of Seattle Weekly voted as the “best free view in Seattle.”
  • Take a Quirky Photo with the George Washington Memorial Bridge’s Troll: Want a funky family photo to commemorate your trip to Seattle? If so, you must snap a photo in front of the 18-foot-tall, one-eyed stone troll that squats ominously below the Georgie Washington Memorial Bridge in Fremont. This larger than life troll even features an ill-fated automobile (a VW bug) squashed in his left hand. Just think, this quirky family photo would make a great Christmas photo card! For more information, check out fremont.com.
  • Attend a Author-Reading at one of Seattle’s Independent Bookstores: Seattle’s quite the bookish town—after all, it’s home to Amazon.com’s corporate headquarters. Make sure to check out Seattle’s beloved independent bookstore, Elliott Bay Book Company, which often has free book readings by well-known authors. There are also free author-readings at The Mountaineers, University Book Store, and the Richard Hugo House. For a schedule of readings, check listings in local publications like The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly
  • View (free) art: Seattle Art Museum is free each first Thursday. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is free each first Thursday and Saturday. The Frye Art Museum is always free, and complimentary tours of its large 19th and 20th century European and American art are available Tues. through Sun. at 1 p.m. Closed Mondays.If you’re looking for a vacation destination rich in culture and history, even if you have never seen potatoes cooked that way, consider Seattle.

Other Cities

Free tourist sites are available in almost every city across the country. Here are some tips for finding free tourist attractions:

Travel/Tourist Websites: The official tourism site for the city or state you are visiting is a great resource for fun and free things to do. Call or send an email. These cities want you to come visit and will happily provide you with all the information you need.

Local Visitor’s Bureau: Make the local visitor’s bureau your first stop. Tell them you are interested in free local activities, and see what they come up with.

Ask Locals: Who knows better than residents the best of free things to do. Every town has a few hidden gems, and if you don’t ask, you might not find them.

Call Before You Go: Before you head out to a tourist site, pick up the phone and ask a few questions. Many places offer reduced prices or free tickets on certain days and times or have free exhibits available. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts and specials.

 

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