Originally published December 13, 2017 | Updated November 21, 2018

Yeah, yeah, we know. Winter in the Pacific Northwest doesn’t always surface as everyone’s “favorite” season. Fortunately, Seattle handily counters those winter woes with enchanting Christmas lights and an abundance of rainy day refuges. We managed to narrow down our must-see list to 25 things to do in Seattle this winter, so read on and get planning!

1. Christmas By the Sea Day Trip

(Weekends in December)

Embark on a distinctly Pacific Northwest holiday experience with a festive cruise from downtown Seattle to the uber cute waterfront town of Langley. Stroll onto the San Juan Clipper, decked out in tinsel and twinkling lights, and cruise over to Whidbey Island with a steaming cup of hot chocolate in hand (whether or not you’d like to add a splash of Bailey’s is up to you!).

Get a jump on your holiday shopping at the town’s eclectic range of shops, then swing by Callahan’s Firehouse to watch expert glassblowers create one-of-a-kind works of art. After walking up an appetite exploring the charming seaside town, head back to the city for dinner in nearby Belltown or Pike Place.

Pop into Langley’s Ott & Murphy Winery Tasting Room for a sample of their Double Bluff red blend with an ocean view.

2. Seattle Coffee Tour

Avoid the ever-present line at the first Starbucks location and sample some local roasts on our Seattle Coffee Tour! Visit four unique coffee shops around the city to get a peek behind the scenes and learn what goes into making the perfect cup of joe. Book this tour with Clipper, learn more.

3. Enchant Christmas

For the first time ever, the renowned holiday spectacular known as Enchant Christmas will be setting up shop at Seattle’s very own Safeco Field! Whether you’re hoping to lace up some skates and glide along their ice skating trail or get into the spirit with some live caroling, Enchant can make all your winter wonderland wishes come true. Kiddos will love dashing around the maze of Christmas lights (the world’s largest!), almost as much as they’ll love meeting the holiday’s biggest A-list celebrity at Santa’s Landing.

Get ready for some seriously dazzling decorations at Enchant Christmas Seattle! Photo courtesy of Enchant Christmas

4. Discover Neighborhood Gems

From the city’s countless coffee shops, like La Marzocco in Queen Anne, to local distilleries like OOLA Distillery in Capitol Hill, to slurp-worthy ramen at Wallingford’s Ramen Man, Seattle’s chock-full of secret spots waiting to be discovered. Take care of some holiday shopping while you explore the city and use our neighborhood shopping guide to chart your course.

5. Seattle Space Needle

Seattle’s already show-stopping landmark, the Space Needle (a must-see with its new renovation!), undergoes an explosive transformation on New Year’s Eve that should not be missed! If you want to be right in the thick of things, head over to the Seattle Center for plenty of unobstructed views (the city also shuts down the streets in front of the Space Needle before midnight so you can stake out a spot).

View of the Space Needle's dazzling fireworks display from the Seattle Center. Credit: Shannon Kringen
Soak in the Space Needle’s dazzling fireworks display from the Seattle Center. Credit: Shannon Kringen

6. Pacific Science Center

Spend an afternoon at the Pacific Science Center! With a tropical butterfly house, a planetarium and hundreds of hands-on science exhibits, there’s more than enough to keep the whole family entertained. At night, two IMAX theaters and one of the world’s largest Laser Dome theaters provide hours of entertainment.

Looking for New Year’s Eve plans? Join in the festivities for the Center’s end of the year celebration, complete with DJ sets, craft cocktails and unbeatable views of the Space Needle’s fireworks display!

7. Museum of Pop Culture

Never met a bar trivia tournament you didn’t like? Then the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is the place for you. Before entering, take a moment to soak in the design of the building – a colorful creation of visionary architect Frank Gehry, then enjoy an afternoon of experiential exhibits covering everything from the Marvel universe to Jimi Hendrix to an ode to horror flicks.

MoPOP’s futuristic design is constructed of more than 21,000 aluminum and stainless steel shingles, and 280 steel ribs. Credit: Patrick O’Brien

8. Seattle Art Museum (SAM) Lights

Get your winter glow on with an evening stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park for their SAM Lights display. Though the park’s sculptures are typically only visible during daylight hours, for this special evening the collection will be illuminated.

Duck inside the PACCAR Pavilion and join artist Malia Peoples to create a glowing corsage or luminous bauble to add to your knit cap, then wander through the exhibit wearing your creation to become part of the light display!

9. Theo Chocolate

Did someone say chocolate? Just walk near the Fremont factory of Seattle’s favorite fair-trade chocolatier, Theo Chocolate, you’ll pick up the aroma of sweet cocoa beckoning you inside. Learn about the process of taking chocolate from bean to bar, and get a taste of their product hot off the line with a factory tour!

Experience the transformation of cocoa into what we know and love as chocolate at Theo's factory tour. Credit: Ell Duke
Experience the transformation from cocoa into what we know and love as chocolate on Theo’s factory tour. Credit: Ell Duke

10. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center

Spend an afternoon at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center to learn how the world’s largest private philanthropy works in Seattle and abroad. After a visit, you might even be inspired to help change the world yourself!

11. Seattle Public Library

Strolling down 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle it’s hard to miss the geometric, futuristic design of the Seattle Public Library. The real treat is inside, where colorful hallways and escalators add to the sensory experience.

The Seattle Public Library’s 11-story glass and steel building is eye-catching, to say the least! Credit: Ming-yen Hsu

12. Seattle Museum Month

Celebrate the diversity of Seattle’s museums and cultural institutions throughout February during Seattle Museum Month. Guests of participating hotels around downtown Seattle have access to the region’s top museums for half-price.

With a museum ready to be explored in nearly every neighborhood, it’s the perfect way to duck the raindrops for an hour or two. Map out your route with our top picks for must-visit exhibits.

13. Savor Seattle Chocolate Indulgence Tour

‘Tis the season for indulgence! Learn about where chocolate comes from, how it’s made and tips on what’s best to pair with this crave-worthy confection. Luxuriate in 15+ decadent chocolate tastings on the ultimate chocolate lover’s tour of Seattle. Book this tour with Clipper, learn more.

14. Pacific Northwest Ballet

Watch professionally trained bodies bending, leaping and twirling at the venerable Pacific Northwest Ballet. This December, catch the eternal holiday classic The Nutcracker, featuring gorgeous scenery and costumes by celebrated author and illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig).

Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, spectacular costumes and beautiful set design make for a memorable holiday tradition. Credit: KUOW 94.9 Public Radio
Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, spectacular costumes and beautiful set design make for a memorable holiday tradition. Credit: KUOW 94.9 Public Radio

15. Catch a Show

Though Seattle’s grunge heyday might be in the past, the city is still a hotspot for burgeoning talent in the in the music scene. Catch shows from both local and international artists at Capitol Hill’s Neumos, Ballard’s Tractor Tavern or The Crocodile in Belltown.

16. Children’s Film Festival

Hosted by the Northwest Film Forum, the Children’s Film Festival Seattle celebrates the best and brightest of international cinema for children. Each year, films from dozens of countries are chosen and featured at this cinematic extravaganza, alongside live performances, animation tutorials and immersive educational workshops, all curated with care for the next generation of movie lovers.

17. Dig Some Crates

There’s nothing more satisfying than unearthing a rare gem in a dusty stack of albums, and fortunately, Seattle has no shortage of record shops. If you’re in Ballard, Sonic Boom Records is a must-visit, even offering an impressive lineup of in-store performances and events. Easy Street in West Seattle is another local favorite, also doubling as a diner café! Vinyl and hash browns, is there anything better?

Explore the eclectic interior of West Seattle’s Easy Street Records. Credit: Patrick O’Brien

18. Seattle Center Winterfest

Visit a world of twinkling lights, child-sized amusements and lively entertainment at Seattle Center Winterfest, now through January 6th. Featuring an ice rink, ice sculptures, the return of their Winter Train & Village and live performances on weekends.

19. Wings Over Washington

Take a ride in Wings Over Washington’s state-of-the-art “flying theater” and allow it to transport you on an aerial adventure high above Washington! 5K Cameras and Mushroom VR make for an immersive and lifelike experience as you soar over the state’s most scenic landmarks.

20. Renegade Craft Fair

The Renegade Craft Fair is coming through town just in time to offer you a unique alternative to stale gift giving. With two days’ worth of meaningful, handmade goods from all around the Northwest, you’re bound to find something special for even the pickiest person on your shopping list!

Spend an afternoon browsing through one-of-a-kind goods at the Renegade Craft Fair. Photo: Hollin Brodeur

21. Argosy Christmas Ship Festival

Make the most of Seattle’s waterfront location and hop aboard Argosy’s Spirit of Seattle – their Official Christmas Ship! Take in the sparkle of the season as a dazzling caravan of boats cruise around seaside communities to perform classic tunes during the Argosy Christmas Ship Festival. Enjoy holiday crafts and activities for the kiddos, a full bar stocked with holiday spirits and photos with Mr. Claus himself as you board the decked out ship deck!

22. Plan a Romantic Dinner

It’s no secret that Seattle is a city with a wealth of incredible dining options, which makes it an ideal place to be when Valentine’s Day rolls around. For dinner with a view try Six Seven, with its sweeping vistas of the Olympic Mountains or fine dining institution Canlis, set into the hillside above Lake Union. For an intimate atmosphere, grab a table at The Blue Glass in Ballard or Single Shot in the heart of Capitol Hill.

23. Become a Pinball Wizard

Thanks to the Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show (going on its twelfth year in Seattle) and the world’s largest weekly pinball tournament at Fremont’s Add-a-Ball, the Emerald City is something of a pinball haven. Transport yourself back to your childhood days of arcades, lights and pinball flippers at the Seattle Pinball Museum. Or gather up some quarters and head to Shorty’s, a dive bar in Belltown credited with igniting Seattle’s pinball fever.

Coney Island-themed Shorty’s is a favorite hangout, offering hot dogs, nachos and most importantly, pinball. Credit: Flickr user Fourthisto

24. Comedy of Love

Whether you’re “flying solo,” out with some friends or looking to have a laugh with your better half this Valentine’s Day, the Comedy of Love is a guaranteed good time. Chuckle along as veteran improvisers take on love, lust and everything in between using tales inspired by the audience! Hilarity and horror stories are all welcome – from awkward first dates to absurd wedding anecdotes.

25. Central Cinema

Central Cinema brings together some of Seattle’s specialties – good beer, good food and top-notch rainy day entertainment. One of the first theaters in the area to add drinking and dining to your movie, they have this model mastered. Order bites from your wait staff and choose from draft beer, cocktails or wines to wash it down. 

Though wintertime in Seattle is known for being a bit dreary, that doesn’t have to mean a bleak calendar. From eclectic cultural experiences to local cuisine that will broaden your palate, the Emerald City is bursting with winter activities to keep your mind, belly and schedule fulfilled!

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