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Welcome to Seattle

Seattle

Seattle is known as the 'Emerald City', and just like the home of the Wizard of Oz in the fairy tale, it is a magical place. Rated as one of the world's most liveable cities, after Melbourne and Montreal, it boasts among its citizens three out of the world's ten richest men, including Bill Gates, head of the mighty Microsoft Empire. The city's emergence as a trend-setting and fashionable metropolis with sky-high property prices has occurred in less than 200 years, since it was founded in 1869.

Sitting at the extremity of the United States' northwest, at the gateway to Canada, Seattle reaches for the sky with its landmark soaring 'space needle', built in the 1960s, a modern monument that epitomises the city's image as a high-tech, dynamic and young community.

Seattle is not a place that fosters couch potatoes. Visitors and locals alike revel in the outdoor activities the city's situation provides for. Seattle sits on the shores of two large lakes and Puget Sound, with remote wilderness less than an hour away, and it is flanked by two major mountain ranges (Olympics and Cascades), with Mount Rainier in full view from the city. It is also within easy reach of the San Juan Islands, Pacific Ocean beaches and major rivers.

This active city lends itself to walking tours, particularly around the two main tourist areas, the waterfront and Pike Place Market. In addition, 80 percent of the city limits are surrounded by water, so tour boats also abound. To fully enjoy Seattle be prepared to go boating, and bring a comfortable pair of shoes.


Information & Facts

Climate

Seattle generally has a wet climate, with the most rain falling between January and May and October and December, but daytime temperatures are mild throughout the year. June to August is the warmest and driest time of year, with summer temperatures averaging about 75°F (24°C), while winter temperatures rarely drop below 32°F (0°C) with little snowfall. April to November is the best time to visit with less chance of rain and long summer days.

Eating Out

Dining in Seattle is much like the city itself, a cosmopolitan affair born from the fruits of the wilderness. The surrounding Puget Sound, with reserves from Alaska, is one large barrel of seafood and when coupled with produce grown from many small local farms, lets restaurants use the ingredients, rather than fanciful preparation, to make masterful dishes. Added to traditional Northwestern cuisine like wild salmon or dungeness crab is a strong Asian influence, both from the large Asian-American communities and Seattle's importance as a trade port on the Pacific Rim. Restaurants are helped by great views of the sea and many funky neighbourhoods giving either a quiet romantic or fun and festive ambiance to a meal. Some of the best areas for eating out in Seattle are the waterfront district near Pike's Place Market, a long line of fine dining along 1st and 2nd Ave, and Capitol Hill. In general the Northwest's formality is a little toned down and most top restaurants don't required a jacket. Tipping is between 15 to 20 percent and most places require a reservation.

Getting Around

Seattle city centre is well serviced by public transport with an excellent bus system, historic streetcars along the waterfront, and a high-speed elevated Monorail which links downtown to the Seattle Center and offers views over the harbour and beyond. There is also the Washington State Ferry system that offers scenic excursions outside the city limits. The bus system is the most extensive and runs throughout the night, but less frequently after 8pm. Buses provide free transport within the downtown area between the Waterfront and 6th Avenue and Pioneer Square and Battery Street, from 6am to 7pm. The Ride Free Area also includes the Metro Tunnel, which goes underneath the city avoiding traffic congestion. In addition there are the old-fashioned Waterfront streetcars or trams that are of more use to tourists than commuters, allowing passengers to hop on and off with an all day ticket at the various tourist attractions along its route. Fares on buses and trams are slightly more expensive during peak hours and there are no services on Sundays. Taxis can be hailed from taxi ranks or ordered by telephone. Parking in Seattle is expensive and limited, but traffic isn't too bad outside of rush hour and the city is fairly easy to navigate. Renting a car for excursions outside the city is a good option; a minimum age of 25 years, an International Driving Permit (national drivers license sometimes accepted) and a credit card are required.

Kids Attractions

It may not be the most thrilling city in the United States, but kids on holiday in the rainy city of Seattle will have a fabulous time exploring all the sights on offer. Take a trip to the Seattle Aquarium where children can learn and be mesmerized by the exquisite displays of fish and marine life, or head over to the Woodland Park Zoo to meet some furry friends. More active children will love a day out at the Olympic National Park where glacier-capped mountains meet lush green forest where they can stretch their legs and take in a hike, walk or even mountain bike. Little boys will love the Museum of Flight, while little girls should visit the Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art. On days when the rain sets in and outdoor activities with the kids are not an option, head to the Children's Museum with the little ones, while older kids will love the Experience Music Project, even if just for the zany design of the pink building.

Language
English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.
Money

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Nightlife

Making a name for itself on the international music scene with its grunge explosion in the early 1990s, some of Seattle's best nightlife and entertainment have nothing to do with music. Amongst the ubiquitous live music clubs there are scores of local bars, Irish bars, dive bars, posh lounges, clubs and trendy eateries to enjoy. After catching a sunset at the waterfront, Bell Street Pier or Myrtle Edwards Park, head to Pioneer Square where bars, live music and nightclubs prevail. Those planning to spend their evenings here should get the Pioneer Square Club Stamp, which lets patrons pay one admission to get into six clubs, though it is worth taking note that this area can attract quite a rowdy frat crowd. Belltown is also a popular spot for young and hip nightclubs while in Capitol Hill the gay scene is always buzzing. Culture vultures should check out the Seattle Opera, which is ranked at the top of companies in the country while the renowned Seattle Symphony is also worth checking out. The Seattle Repertory Fringe Theatre is great for the more avant-garde productions. It's worth picking up a copy of Seattle Weeklyor the Seattle Timeson Fridays as this includes a section called 'Ticket' listing all the week's arts and entertainment offerings.

Shopping

Shopping in Seattle is underrated. Famed for Grunge music and Seattle coffee companies, this city also has excellent retail outlets. The prime spots include Downtown Seattle, Fremont, the International District, Pike Place and the University District. Downtown Seattle is a square of several blocks with large outlets such as Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom and Gap. This is also the site of Westlake Center Plaza and Pacific Place, both large malls. The International District encompasses a vast area featuring numerous Asian shops, while Pike Place Market is a waterfront shopping area offering local produce, fresh fish and various restaurants. There are many bargains to be found at the retro and vintage stores of the Fremont Market on Sundays, and districts like Fremont, Ballard, Capitol Hill, Wallingford and West Seattle, all of which have independently owned shops and specialty stores to entice shoppers. Tax refunds can be applied for by foreign visitors.

Sightseeing

Seattle's skyline, with the prominent Space Needle, is one of America's most recognisable cityscapes which hints at the eclectic attractions below. The attractions in Seattle both celebrate and preserve various roles in history, alternating from aviation and shipbuilding industries, music epicentre and Native American and contemporary art centre. Other attractions just let visitors enjoy the moment, including three sports stadiums, an aquarium, zoo, music laboratory and festive city districts. Sightseeing Seattle's watery attributes can be enjoyed criss-crossing Puget Sound in state ferries (recently enjoying a spotlight from Grey's Anatomy) or from the lively waterfront bizarre and shopping area Pikes Place Market. Among the other highlights are especially great museums showcasing variously the history of flight, contemporary art, an ode to Rock 'n Roll at the Experience the Music Project's architectural wonder, and of course, the views from the Space Needle. Yet perhaps the best thing to do is follow the locals out of the city and into the surrounding nature.

Large cruise ships regularly travel to major ports in Alaska but a better, smaller option is the Alaskan Ferry. Departing from Bellingham Washington, these large ferries bounce against the major coastal towns of Canada, The Gulf of Alaska and stretching to the Alaskan Peninsula. The landscape is staggering, revealing hundreds of craggy forest-dense islands and coastlines. Eagles, killer whales, bears and other hardy wildlife are all part of the view. The months of operation are May to September, when the weather is bearable and sunshine illuminates most of the 'night' hours. Costs vary greatly on length of voyage and accommodation. Most ferries rent cabins but those in tune with Alaska's pioneer spirit can pitch a tent on deck or just use a blanket.

One of Seattle's most popular attractions is the Experience Music Project, basically a rock 'n roll music museum with a difference, housed in a colourful psychedelic building designed by Frank Gehry at the base of the Space Needle. The museum was planned originally by Microsoft entrepreneur Paul Allen as a memorial to Jimi Hendrix, the superstar guitarist who was born in Seattle and died more than 30 years ago. The Hendrix exhibit, featuring artefacts associated with the rock legend, remains the biggest drawcard at the museum, but the collections and interactive exhibits have been expanded to include the general history of American popular music, and another exhibition dedicated to Seattle's other famous musician, Kurt Cobain. Exhibits range from the first electric guitars of the 1930s to a rock 'n roll thrill ride akin to a roller coaster. In interactive rooms visitors can try their hands at mixing on DJ turntables or playing various instruments. The museum is also the venue for numerous concerts.

Next to Boeing Field, south of downtown Seattle, the Museum of Flight consists of a six-story glass and steel construction, which was the original Boeing factory. Inside is a collection of more than 130 aircraft, some suspended from the ceiling, which includes some of history's most famous airplanes. There is, for example, a replica of the Wright Brothers' first glider and the original Air Force One presidential plane used by Eisenhower. The museum covers the entire history of flight right up to the space programme. The Museum's most recent acquisition is a British Airways Concorde - the only one on America's West Coast. Concorde arrived in true style setting a new world record time from New York to Seattle.

Wilderness lovers revel in retreating to the wild Pacific Coast with its glacier-capped mountains, magnificent stands of ancient forest, fascinating biological diversity, and wild Pacific coastline. About 95 percent of the park has been designated a wilderness area, which protects a unique ecosystem on the Olympic Peninsula that encompasses eight kinds of plants and 15 species of animals occurring nowhere else on earth. The Peninsula separates Seattle from the Pacific Ocean.

Rachel, a giant piggy bank, stands guard over the Pike Place Farmer's Market in downtown Seattle, placed there to raise funds to preserve this National Historic District founded in 1907. The bustling market has provided the local people with producer-priced goods for decades, and continues to do so today as about 100 farmers and fishmongers tout their wares. They have been joined by more than 150 local craftspeople and artists who have also set up shop here, along with street performers, dozens of restaurants and numerous speciality shops. The world's first Starbucks coffee shop opened here in 1971, and is still brewing up its famous beverage on the original site. At the north end of the market Victor Steinbrueck Park provides a popular grassy place to sit in the sun and escape the milling crowds.

Billed as 'where Seattle begins', the historic district of Pioneer Square features more than 20 city blocks of historic buildings, more than 30 galleries, a vibrant retail sector and the city's most exciting nightlife. The district is south of the main downtown area, and encompasses two major attractions. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park recalls the days when Seattle was a jumping off point for hopefuls heading for the goldfields. Another visitor favourite is the unique Underground Tour, taking in the sunken storefronts of the original 'Skid Road', where timber used to be slid down to the steam-powered mills on the shores of Elliott Bay.

Washington State Ferries depart regularly from the Seattle waterfront piers carrying passengers to and from the many islands in scenic Puget Sound. Visitors generally favour Bremerton, about 20 miles (32km) west of the city, actually on the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula. Here stands the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Museum, and visitors can also explore the historic destroyer, USS Turner Joy that is tied up at the ferry dock. A popular island destination is Bainbridge, just 10 miles (16km) west of Seattle, which has its own winery. Winslow, the main town on Bainbridge Island, is a pretty historic town with some fine restaurants and shops and a great view of Seattle. Vashon Island, 10 miles (16km) southwest of the city is an artist's colony. A little further afield are the San Juan Islands boasting miles of unspoilt beaches, state parks, whale-watching opportunities and primeval forests.

A must for little girls and doll lovers of all ages, the Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art contains one of the largest doll collections in the world, with more than 3,000 dolls on display, including 17th-century wooden dolls, 19th-century china dolls, and the original Barbie. A fascinating day out for the whole family, or just for mothers and daughters.

The San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf islands form one of the best boater paradises in the world. The hundreds of islands are separated by nationality but are part of the same scenic and rugged archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Washington State. Much of the area is in a rain shadow behind Vancouver Island, making a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest. Little island communities, great wildlife and the open water provide a real and intuitive disconnect from the mainland. Frequent government ferry services connect the mainland and larger inhabited islands to each other, but scores are only visitable by smaller shuttle boats and yachts. Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination, seemingly out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Anchorages are bustling throughout summer, but largely empty in other seasons. Yacht charters are available out of Bellingham.

Located on Seattle's waterfront, the Aquarium provides fun and exciting ways to see amazing sea creatures and colourful coral life of the Pacific, and includes touch pools with animals like sea stars and urchins from Puget Sound and Washington's outer coast. The Window on Washington Waters is a huge exhibit that is filled with native marine life, where dive shows take place three times daily, while the Marine Mammal exhibit features sea otters and seals viewed from both above and below the water. The Underwater Dome is one of the largest exhibits, an undersea room that provides 360 degree views of the fish and sharks as they swim.

Seattle's downtown Art Museum is landmarked by the animated thudding massive steel sculpture by Jonathon Borofsky called 'Hammering Man' that stands outside. Inside the remarkable building, designed by Robert Venturi, are a large range of exhibits covering European and American art, from ancient art through to a vast 20th-century collection devoted to Northwest contemporary art. Free guided tours of the different collections are offered.

Kids will absolutely love the Seattle Children's Museum, located in the Seattle Center. With constantly-changing exhibits and programs ranging from the corner grocery store to a Ghanaian village, families are guaranteed to see something fresh and new and children will constantly be challenged and will have fun learning.

Anyone who has seen a picture of the Seattle skyline will be familiar with Seattle's internationally recognised symbol, the futuristic Space Needle building. From afar it looks like a spinning top, with the needle pointing skywards. The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World's Fair to showcase upcoming architectural development, and proved itself by withstanding an earthquake in February 2001 measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale. Visitors can ascend the 607-foot (185m) building as far as a revolving observation deck 520 feet (158m) above the city, where high-powered telescopes are positioned to allow you to pick out the city sights. There is also a restaurant on top of the tower.

As riding the mechanical bull is to Dallas, so is the ferry ride to Seattle - a quintessential part of experiencing the city. Coffee mugs are adorned with ferries, little model ferries are offered to tourists as trinkets to remember their visit by. Ferrying is a culture and a way of life to Seattle residents, many of whom commute to work across the Union Lake and Elliot Bay areas. Ferries are operated by Washington State Ferries and a schedule is available on their website. Wake up early and drink your morning coffee (Seattle's other cultural pastime) on the water with the friendly locals.

Located in the Green Lake neighbourhood of Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo is a great place to take the kids for a day out exploring and meeting the animals. Kids can enjoy animals such as African elephants, Arctic foxes, sloth bears and red pandas, or birds like snowy owls, parrots, Chilean flamingos and golden eagles as well as a fantastic variety of invertebrates such as spiders and butterflies. For families on holiday in Seattle, a trip to the Woodland Park Zoo is not to be missed.

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