While it may be a tad rainier and colder, winter in Seattle is a fun time to explore the city. There are many fun things to do in Seattle in winter both indoors and outdoors, so you’ll find plenty to do during this season.
As a long-time local, I’ve experienced dozens of winters and keep finding new Seattle winter activities to do each year. Being outside hiking and snowshoeing are now some of my favorite things to do during a Seattle winter, but I also enjoy attending all the holiday festivities.
Whether you’re visiting Seattle in the winter as someone from out of town or are a local looking for new activities, here are some tips for visiting and activities to do in Seattle during winter.
Winter in Seattle Travel Tips
Here are a few tips to help you plan your trip during winter in Seattle, whether you’re looking for a quick day trip near Seattle or here for the weekend.
Seattle in the Winter Weather
First off, let’s talk about Seattle weather in the winter. The first question I always get from my readers is how much it rains. Yes, the winter weather in Seattle has more rain and is more grey than the rest of the year, but it’s not that bad.
The second question I tend to get is does it snow in Seattle, and the answer is yes. We tend to only get a few inches of snow during this time of year, but you can head to one of the many mountains around the state to get your fix of flurries.
We don’t often get multiple days in a row where it’s pouring rain, and it might just drizzle for part of the day. When the sun does come out during the winter, it makes for some beautiful days where many locals still get outside. That means you don’t have to worry about what to do in Seattle in the winter since you can still go outdoors.
If you’re wondering how cold is Seattle in winter, it’s not that cold compared to the rest of the country. The average winter temperature in Seattle is around 40°F, and you may even see a few sunny days with a high of 50°F.
What to Pack for Winter in Seattle
Add these items to your packing list for what to wear in Seattle in the winter.
- Rain jacket – It’s not a surprise that it rains during Seattle in winter, so buy one with a hood (important!).
- Rain boots – Equip yourself with rain boots so you can explore the city without getting your shoes wet (plus these are fashionable).
- Scarf – Stay warm with a scarf around your neck when walking around.
Renting a Car in Seattle in Winter
If you stay downtown and mainly plan to explore the city, you can get away without having a car. There are numerous transportation options such as Uber/Lyft, busses, and the Link Light Rail. Parking is also pretty tight in Seattle, although you might luck out with your hotel having a parking garage.
If you head to the mountains, I recommend renting an SUV or all-wheel drive vehicle and have chains with you.
16 Things to Do in Seattle in the Winter
Just because it’s colder and wetter during a Seattle winter doesn’t mean you need to stay inside! Here are some of my favorite things to do in the winter in Seattle.
1. Discover Seattle’s Music Scene
Winter in Seattle is the perfect time to spend a day getting lost in the Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPop as it’s known around Seattle. We had some pretty big names come from Seattle, including Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.
See some of the original lyrics that were written by them and some of the actual instruments they used when they first started. Exhibits are always changing, so there’s something new to see every time you go. Both the inside and outside of this Seattle winter activity make it one of the most Instagramable spots in Seattle.
2. Spend a Day Skiing or Snowboarding
The fact that Seattle is surrounded by mountains is the main reason I can make it through winter here. There are plenty of places to go around Washington State, but I recommend heading to Snoqualmie Pass as one of the best winter activities in Seattle. It’s only 45 minutes east of the city, and there are a ton of activities to do there.
Other options include Stevens Pass, which is about two hours northeast of Seattle, as well as Crystal Mountain, which is 2.5 hours southeast from Seattle.
Skiing and snowboarding are some of the more popular things to do in Seattle in the winter, so make sure you get up early to get a spot in the parking lot before it fills up. You’ll also want to know what to pack for a ski trip before you head out to make it easier.
If you don’t ski but want to be active, you can intertube instead. It’s the best way to spend a winter day! Head to one of the lodges afterward for hot chocolate and a warm bowl of chowder.
You could also spend one day at Mount Rainier National Park exploring the area via snowshoes, which is a popular activity for all ages.
3. Go on a Tour of Seattle
There are plenty of Seattle tours to do in the winter if you don’t feel like exploring on your own. Here are some I recommend!
- Underground Tour – This is one of my favorites that I’ve done multiple times when visitors come into town. Seattle was built on the old city, and you can still go underneath the current city in some spots.
- Boeing Factory Tour – Seattle is known for being the headquarters for several giant companies, including Boeing. If you want to go behind the scenes of how some of the biggest planes are made, this Seattle tour is for you.
- Leavenworth Christmas Tour – If you don’t want to drive to Leavenworth yourself, you can join a tour that will take care of it for you. It’s a fun way to spend a day during the holidays.
- Brewery Tour – Those who love beer will find the large selection of microbreweries in Seattle exciting. One of the best Seattle tours to go on is one of the many brewery tours in the area. This way you’ll sample a variety of local beer.
- Coffee Tour – Many people know Starbucks is from Seattle, but they might not know that it’s not the first choice of locals. There are way better places to get coffee from in my opinion, so go on a coffee tour to see for yourself.
4. Explore a Glass Garden
Another famous person to come from Seattle is Dale Chihuly, who is a master when it comes to glass blowing. He has since started a school to teach his work, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases some of the best of this.
There’s nothing like spending a rainy afternoon in Seattle in the winter under the shadow of the Space Needle walking around an assortment of colorful glass.
The Chihuly Garden and Glass also has some unique events to check out, such as doing yoga in the beautiful glasshouse that sits in the shadow of the Space Needle. You’ll want to add this to your list of what to do in Seattle in the winter if you love yoga.
The big event to be at every year is the New Year’s Eve party. While it’s not cheap, you’ll enjoy a fun night of partying in the heart of Seattle. You’ll also have the best view of the fireworks when they go off from the Space Needle.
5. See the Lights at the Zoo
Every year, thousands of people head to Woodland Park Zoo at night to see the WildLanterns display. This is a fun way to see the zoo in a different “light,” as all the pathways are illuminated with colorful lights. There are plenty of places for photo ops, and it’s great for families and adults alike looking for cheap things to do in Seattle.
They have the concession stands open at night so you can grab a snack or hot chocolate as you walk around. This year, WildLanterns runs from November 13, 2020 – January 17, 2021.
6. Go Snowshoeing in the Mountains
While I love hiking in the summer, I know that I don’t have to stop exploring the mountains when the Seattle winter snow comes. Just bundle up and rent or buy a pair of snowshoes to head out to trails by Stevens Pass or Snoqualmie Pass.
There are so many Washington winter hikes you’ll want to check out this season. Just make sure to read the WTA trip report before you go to make sure there aren’t any avalanche advisories, but there are usually plenty of easy, flat trails you can do that are safe.
I own a pair of MSR Lightning Explore Snowshoes since I like being able to go out whenever I want. You can also rent them from places like REI for the day or the weekend.
7. Get Lost in a Map Store
When looking for things to do in winter in Seattle, head to Metsker Maps. If you’re a traveler or just love maps, you can easily spend an hour in this store. I personally have to restrict myself to not buy everything I see here! The store is located just around the corner from Pike Place Market.
Metsker Maps is full of everything related to traveling the world, including globes, passport holders, and of course, maps. There are world maps as well as specific country maps, and they’re all surprisingly affordable. This ie one of the more unique things to do in Seattle during winter and a great way to pass time on a grey day.
They have a ton of unique maps specific to different areas of Seattle, which one day I’ll get back to buy (when I can have more self-control!).
8. Visit a Bavarian Village
An adorable Bavarian-themed village in the mountains that I love visiting any time of the year is Leavenworth. When you’re looking for places to visit near Seattle in winter, you have to make a trip to Leavenworth. Leavenworth in winter is magical, as there’s snow on the ground and Christmas lights everywhere.
Leavenworth has plenty of holiday events going on during this time of year, such as the Christmas tree lighting and holiday concerts (note – as of 2020, all holiday events have been canceled). Staying in Leavenworth for the weekend is a fun way to celebrate the holidays.
There are many people there who wear traditional Bavarian outfits and sing Christmas carols, which is a great way to be put in the holiday mood during winter in Seattle. You can warm up with hot chocolate and German sausages when it gets cold out.
Leavenworth is about two hours northeast of Seattle and you can easily get there by car, but make sure you have chains when you drive there. You go over a mountain pass and don’t want to get stuck.
A very popular thing to do in Seattle in the winter is to take the famous Leavenworth snow train there so you don’t have to worry about driving. This fills up fast, so call in advance to reserve your spot on the train.
9. Go Ice Skating
If you cross the bridge over to the city of Bellevue, you can lace your skates up and go on an outdoor skate rink. It’s open from the day after Thanksgiving until mid-January and should be on the top of your list for what to do in Seattle in winter. They also have free lessons on Tuesdays-Thursdays if you haven’t gone since you were a kid.
Grab a cup of hot chocolate to warm up, and you’re in for a fun evening! Ice skating is the perfect winter activity in Seattle and you’ll get some exercise in. I recommend staying in Bellevue for the weekend if you’re on a weekend trip from Vancouver.
10. Watch a Parade of Boats
During December, head down to Lake Union to see some beautiful boats lit up with holiday lights as they float around the lake. This is a fun thing to do in Seattle in the winter for the holidays.
You can get a window seat in some of the restaurants near the water to get a view or book a spot on the ship for the most action. This is a pretty popular event, so book your ticket in advance.
11. Watch a Hockey Game
While Seattle’s NHL team The Kraken isn’t playing quite yet, we do have the Everett Silvertips hockey team. There’s nothing like getting some popcorn while watching grown men get into fights when you need winter things to do in Seattle!
Everett is about 30 minutes north of Seattle, but you can easily take the train from the King Street Station downtown if you don’t have a car.
Another option is to go to Seattle Thunderbirds, who are the hockey team south of Seattle in Kent. You can take the light rail from downtown Seattle to the Kent station and either walk about half a mile to the ShoWare Center or take an Uber.
Hockey is one of the more lively winter activities in Seattle you should put on your list, especially if you prefer to stay indoors. This is one of my favorite things to do in Seattle during winter when I need some entertainment.
12. Learn About Sea Life
The Seattle Aquarium is the perfect place to spend a rainy winter in Seattle. You can explore the different types of sea life floating around and even touch a few.
They have different events throughout the day where they’ll showcase a few of the creatures there so you can learn more. This is one of the best things to do in Seattle in the winter with kids, as they’ll be entertained for hours. On the weekend, a diver will even go in the tank and answer questions from the crowd.
While I love the aquarium year round, it’s the perfect way to spend a day when wondering what to do in Seattle in January since all the holiday festivities are over with by then.
13. Visit Westlake Center
From November 29th-January 1st, downtown Seattle in the winter is the place to be to celebrate the holidays. They have a ton of different events going on such as parades, a carousel ride, and even a holiday market on the weekends. With all the fun and festive winter activities in Seattle during this time of year, you won’t want to leave.
14. Explore a Chocolate Factory
Going to Theo’s Chocolate is like going to a real-life Willy Wonka chocolate factory (without the Oompa Loompas). You’ll go behind the scenes to see how chocolate is made and get to sample along the way.
Theo’s is a very popular chocolate bar throughout Seattle, so you’ll want to take a few bars home to share with your friends when you do one of the tastiest things to do in Seattle in winter.
15. See a Holiday Wonderland
If you want to be swept away to a winter wonderland, visit Enchant Christmas for what’s sure to be one of your favorite winter activities in Seattle. This takes place at T-Mobile Park and has a Christmas market, local food vendors, a kid zone, and even Santa. Enchant is one of the more festive things to do in Seattle in December.
The highlight of the park is the Light Maze, which provides a fun place for kids to run around as well as a great background for photos. You can also take a few laps on the ice skating rink.
16. Visit a Hot Spring
One of the best reasons to visit Seattle during winter is to spend a day exploring a hot spring in the mountain. My favorite is Scenic Hot Springs by Stevens Pass (this is reservation only though, so make sure to read my post on it for more details of how to book a spot).
Other hot springs in the area include Olympic Hot Springs and Sul Duc Hot Springs on the Olympic Peninsula. Wherever you go, find a trail report online first if you have to hike there so you bring the proper gear.
Where to Eat and Drink in the Winter in Seattle
Here are some of my favorite places to visit in Seattle in winter for comfort food:
- Pike Place Chowder – With items on their menu such as smoked salmon chowder and crab and oyster chowder, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. No winter in Seattle is complete without having a cup of warm chowder, as it’s practically a Seattle winter activity in itself (the more rainy the day, the better!).
- Duke’s Seafood – With multiple locations around the Seattle area, you’ll want to stop by one of them to try some fantastic seafood. While they also have chowder, they always have a seasonal menu using local ingredients. It’s an excellent place to stop for happy hour as well.
Of course, I couldn’t give you a guide to winter in Seattle without recommending a few breweries! They’re the perfect way to warm up during this season.
- Queen Anne Beerhall – This is a German-style hall with long tables, steins of beer, and even a sausage station. They import many German beers here, so you’re likely to find your favorite one if you’ve been to Germany. Visiting this brewery makes Seattle in the winter more bearable!
- Two Beers Brewing Company – Located in the SoDo district, this brewery combines both the companies Two Beers and Seattle Cider, so you have plenty of options to choose from. It’s a good place to spend a night playing pool, darts, or shuffleboards with friends.
Where to Stay in Seattle in the Winter
Here are a few hotel recommendations on where to stay in Seattle in the winter. They’re both close to various main attractions so you won’t have to walk far in the rain, and I always recommend people stay here when they want to be downtown.
- Motif Seattle – You’ll be in the heart of the shopping district at this hotel so you can hit up Pacific Place, Westlake Center, and a variety of stores in the area before walking back to your room. They also have a rooftop dining area that has heat lamps in the winter. (rates start at $135 per night)
- Lowe’s Hotel 1000 – I love Hotel 1000 because it’s located close to Puget Sound, so you’ll have beautiful views of the water from your room. You can easily walk to Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, and the waterfront from here. (rates start at $215 per night)
Prefer an Airbnb? Here are a few choices.
- This one-bedroom apartment is right by Pike Place Market and sleeps up to four people. (rates start at $137 per night)
- You’ll have some of the best views in Seattle at this waterfront condo with two bedrooms. (rates start at $175 per night)
- I also have an entire post on the best Airbnb cabins in Washington to stay at if you prefer that.
As you can see, there are plenty of Seattle winter activities to do during this time of year! Whether you go ice skating, visit a Bavarian-themed Christmas village, or go skiing, there are plenty of fun things to do in Seattle in winter.