Getting Around Seattle (A Local’s Transportation Guide)
Some of the best ways to get around Seattle include walking, public transportation, driving, biking, and using the ferries. How you choose to explore Seattle depends on your itinerary, budget, and preferred level of comfort. But with twelve ways to navigate the city and beyond, you’ll have no issue getting from point A to point B.
As a Seattle local, I’m familiar with the myriad of ways to get around the Emerald City. I’ll let you in on the intricacies of every method, including costs, comfort, convenience, and booking information.
Stick around to the end and I’ll also give you some insider travel tips to help save you from any frustrating mishaps. Plan to navigate Seattle with ease on your visit! Here are the best ways to do just that.
Table of Contents
- 12 Ways to Get Around in Seattle
- 6 Tips For Getting Around Seattle
- FAQs about How to Navigate Seattle
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12 Ways to Get Around in Seattle
Some of the most common ways to travel within Seattle include walking, biking, driving, using buses and the light rail, or taking a ferry.
Keep reading to discover which method will be best for you on your visit!
🚌 Best for: saving money, exploring different parts of Seattle
💵 Cost: $
👉 Schedule & More Info: King County Metro
Seattle’s bus system is fantastic and using public transit is a great way to get around if you’re trying to see Seattle on a budget.
The King County Metro bus system services both Seattle and surrounding areas like Bellevue and Vashon Island. Since the majority of King County Metro buses have stops in downtown Seattle, it’s easy to transfer between routes.
Using the bus gives you a way to get around the city like a local. Plus, since all buses are accessible, they’re also good options for people with mobility concerns. Planning a trip by bus is easy. You can use apps like the King County Metro trip planner, One Bus Away, and even Google Maps to check bus routes, time your trips, and more.
Pros of the Bus:
- One of the cheapest ways to explore Seattle
- Low-stress, environmentally-friendly way to get around
- Many resources are available to help plan your trip
Cons of the Bus:
- Not always the quickest, you may need to catch multiple buses if you’re going far
- Most bus service ends between midnight and 1 am
- Different buses vary in how frequently they run
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re going to be riding the buses or using any of Seattle’s public transportation options, invest in an ORCA card transit pass when you arrive. You can buy one for $3 at the Seatac Airport Station. You can easily add money to these via the myORCA app or at light rail stations so you won’t have to worry about carrying or paying cash for every ride.
🚶♀️ Best for: saving money, exploring neighborhoods with “clustered” shops, bars, and restaurants
💵 Cost: free
Seattle’s high walk score means it’s not hard to explore on foot. Many neighborhoods are walkable, particularly those with large commercial areas. You can easily walk around some of Seattle’s best neighborhoods like downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, and Fremont.
Walking is a great option if you want to check out all the city’s nooks and crannies and find hidden gems. Make sure your packing list includes some comfortable walking shoes and you’ll be all set!
Walkers should keep in mind that Seattle has a lot of hills, so you’ll inevitably have to traverse some of them. And before you decide to walk somewhere, check the weather. The rain may make you rethink your transportation options.
Pros of Walking:
- Completely free
- A good way to explore and find hidden gems
- Easy to do in many neighborhoods
- Convenient when traffic is bad
Cons of Walking:
- Seattle is hilly so it may get tiring
- Not the most comfortable option if it’s raining
- Some larger neighborhoods aren’t as walkable
🚴 Best for: freedom to explore, getting around larger neighborhoods
💵 Cost: $-$$
👉 Where to Book: Emerald City Bike Tour, Recycled Cycles, Pedego
Avid bike riders will love Seattle, as it’s one of the most bike-friendly American cities. Cycling around the area is easy with the abundance of bike lanes, trails, and rental shops. You can even book a half-day sightseeing bike tour on your visit to have a local guide show you some of the best places to ride.
The Burke-Gilman Trail and the Elliott Bay Trail are two paths to enjoy a scenic ride. You can also bike through larger neighborhoods like Ballard and West Seattle.
If you’re planning on primarily biking on your trip, check out Seattle’s bike map to help you select the best, most convenient routes.
Pros of Bikes:
- Plenty of bike-only lanes throughout the city
- Good for long or short distances
- Lots of bike rental shops
- Environmentally friendly
Cons of Bikes:
- Hills can be brutal unless you’ve got an electric bike
- Not as pleasant when it’s rainy or cold
📚 Related Reading: Both Seward Park and Myrtle Edwards Park have wonderful paths for bikers. Check out my article on the best Seattle parks to get the deets on other bikeable spots!
Washington State Ferries
⛴️ Best for: exploring the islands, day trips, beautiful views
💵 Cost: $-$$$
👉 Where to Book: Washington State Ferries
The ferries are an iconic part of Washington (which is why riding them is one of the best cheap things to do in Washington state). Not only are they useful for getting around, but ferry rides are also great for views of the mountains, skyline, and the Puget Sound.
Washington State Ferries has multiple routes throughout the state with several major ones in Seattle. Routes from downtown Seattle’s Colman Dock at Pier 52 take you to Bremerton and Bainbridge Island. Another ferry departs from West Seattle’s Fauntleroy terminal to Vashon Island.
You can walk, drive, or bike onto the ferries, though driving is the most expensive option. Although you have the option to buy ferry tickets online, this doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the ferry if you’re driving. Note that ferries are loaded on a first-come first-served basis.
Pros of the Ferry:
- One of the prettiest ways to explore Washington
- Reliably run on time
- You have the option to walk, drive, or bike on
- Can use your ORCA card if you’re walking or biking on
Cons of the Ferry:
- Expensive if you drive on
- If you miss a ferry you may have a long wait for the next one
🚘 Best for: comfort, saving time, going on day trips & hikes
💵 Cost: $$-$$$
👉 Where to Book: Discover Cars
Driving in Seattle is the best form of transportation if you want the most control of your time and limitless options for exploration. If you’re planning on going on a hike near Seattle, rent a car and you’ll be spoiled for choice.
While you can wait till your arrival to book a car rental, consider booking ahead with a trusted agency like Discover Cars. You’ll not only get the best price for your trip, but you’ll also be able to compare cars to choose the one that makes the most sense for you.
Driving in Seattle is just like driving in most other cities in the United States. Be mindful of rush hour if you’re short on time, and know that parking in garages or paid lots can add up quickly.
Pros of Driving:
- Options for exploring within and outside of the city
- One of the most comfortable and quickest ways to travel
- Easy to adapt to your Seattle itinerary
Cons of Driving:
- You may have to get creative to find parking at times
- Rush hour traffic can be a pain to deal with
- Car rentals can be pricey
Link Light Rail
🚈 Best for: getting into the city from the airport, moving from south to north Seattle
💵 Cost: $
👉 Schedule & More Info: Sound Transit
The Link Light Rail is part of the Sound Transit system and it’s convenient to use if you’re flying into the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. It’s the cheapest way to get into the city from the airport.
The light rail has stops in several neighborhoods in south Seattle and up to Northgate. You can use an ORCA card to pay at the card readers on the station platforms. Just make sure you tap your card when you get off the train too so you don’t overpay.
Because it runs on rails above and underground, the link light rail is a good way to avoid busy, rush-hour traffic. Since it’s quick, convenient, and reliable, a lot of the places I listed in my article about where to stay in Seattle are actually along the light rail’s route. Take a look at that before choosing a place to stay.
Pros of the Light Rail:
- A good way to avoid traffic
- One of the most timely and reliable modes of public transit
- Easy way to get between north and south Seattle
- Quickest and cheapest way to get from Seatac airport to Seattle
Cons of the Light Rail:
- Can get crowded during sports games and other big events
- Service ends between midnight and 1 am
🚖 Best for: comfort, low-stress way to get around
💵 Cost: $$-$$$
👉 Where to Book: Lyft, Uber, Yellow Cab
Taxis and other ride-sharing services are plentiful in Seattle. To use them, you just need to have the correct app associated with whichever service you want to book. The main ones used in Seattle are Lyft, Uber, and Yellow Cab.
While consistently using rideshares can become expensive, these are the best options for people who want to go out late at night to drink and bar hop. This is because they operate at all hours of the night and can get you home safely.
Pros of Taxis and Rideshares:
- Comfortable and stress-free
- You can schedule future pick-ups to save time
- Available at all hours of the night
- Don’t have to navigate Seattle’s traffic yourself
Cons of Taxis and Rideshares:
- One of the more expensive ways to get around
- Need to have a smartphone, the right app, and service to call
🚋 Best for: saving money, getting through First Hill and SLU quickly
💵 Cost: $
👉 Schedule & More Info: Seattle Streetcar
Seattle’s streetcars are historic modes of transportation for the Emerald City. There were once 48 miles of Seattle streetcar lines, making this one of the city’s top modes of transportation in the 19th century.
Today, there are only two streetcar lines. On the First Hill streetcar, you can ride from Pioneer Square through Capitol Hill. The South Lake Union Streetcar transports passengers from downtown Seattle to Lake Union.
The streetcars are comfortable, clean, and rarely crowded, making this a good option for someone who wants a leisurely ride. They’re not always the fastest compared to several other transit options, but they are pleasant, accessible, and simple to use with an ORCA card.
Pros of the Streetcar:
- Easily get from downtown to South Lake Union or from Pioneer Square to Cap Hill
- Not as crowded as other public transportation options
Cons of the Streetcar:
- Limited route
- Not always convenient or faster than other modes of transit
🛳️ Best for: scenic views, quick way to get to West Seattle or Vashon Island
💵 Cost: $
👉 Schedule & More Info: Seattle Water Taxis
The King County Metro water taxis are similar to ferries, except they’re solely walk-on, passenger boats. Take a water taxi for a scenic ride from downtown to West Seattle or Vashon.
The water taxis are cheap to ride and you can pay with an ORCA card. Sit inside or enjoy the awesome views from the deck. Seattle’s water taxis are good to use if you want to take a mini trip to the city’s west side. Just make sure to double-check your timing to get there and back since routes are limited on certain days. This especially applies if you’re visiting outside of summer.
Pros of the Water Taxi:
- A quick way to get to West Seattle and Vashon
Cons of the Water Taxi:
- Limited service on certain days and outside the summer
- Doesn’t run as frequently as other transit options
👉 Pro Tip: If you take a water taxi to get to West Seattle’s Alki Beach, keep in mind that they don’t drop you off directly at the beach. You’ll have to walk about 2 miles to get there, ride down with a scooter, call a taxi, or wait for one of the buses.
🛴 Best for: saving money, getting around quickly
💵 Cost: $-$$
👉 Where to Book: Link, Lime
Grab a scooter if you want to ride along the waterfront, around Alki, or get through a neighborhood a little faster. Rent a Link or Lime scooter through their app and you’ll be charged by the minute.
These are great for going distances that feel a little too far to walk, or just as a fun way to get around the city, particularly if it’s a really hot day.
Pros of Scooters:
- Same exploration benefits of walking, but faster and less tiring
- Good for shorter distances
Cons of Scooters:
- You’re exposed to the elements
- There may not always be a scooter available near you
🚝 Best for getting to Seattle Center from downtown
💵 Cost: $
👉 Schedule & More Info: Seattle Monorail
The Seattle Monorail is both a spectacle and a mode of transportation. Originally built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, it’s still used today and is a cool Seattle landmark.
This futuristic-looking ride takes visitors from downtown Seattle’s Westlake Station to the Seattle Center. It drops you off near the Space Needle and The Museum of Pop Culture, two of the best things to do in Seattle.
It’s cheap to use and runs often. While it’s not practical if you want to explore beyond the Seattle Center, its cool, 60’s era design makes it a worthy tourist attraction to ride at least once.
Pros of the Monorail:
- Runs often and on time
- Fun, tourist attraction
Cons of the Monorail:
- Only goes between downtown and Seattle Center, not good for getting anywhere else
🚆 Best for: day or weekend trips, comfort, scenic views
💵 Cost: $$-$$$
👉 Where to Book: Amtrak
If you want to go on a day trip or a weekend getaway from Seattle, taking the train from King Street Station in the International District is a good option.
This is a great way to explore some of the other great cities in Washington state, including Tacoma, or to go as far north as Vancouver, BC. Easily book tickets online through Amtrak’s website.
The trains are comfortable and offer pretty and scenic views. However, if you choose this mode of transport, you’ll need to make sure you fully plan out the details of your trip. You don’t miss a train back or find you don’t know how to navigate your way around the next city upon your arrival.
Pros of Trains:
- A fun, scenic way to explore outside the city
- No need to think about driving, parking, gas, etc
Cons of Trains:
- Less freedom or flexibility than driving
- You’re limited by train route schedules
6 Tips For Getting Around Seattle
Arrive Early for Your Ferry Trip
Ferries are loaded on a first-come, first-served basis. Going on a popular route at a time when it may be more crowded (sunny weekends, holidays, commuter hours, etc)? Arrive at least 20 minutes early to ensure you’ll catch the ferry you want. If you’re late and miss it, you may have to wait up to an hour for the next boat.
Think Twice About Driving Downtown
While a car is a great option for exploring most places, downtown Seattle is not one of them. Traffic downtown gets extremely congested because of one-way streets and bus-only hours. Plus, parking is expensive. The quickest way to get around downtown is by foot, metro buses, or other public transportation.
Seattle’s Hills Are No Joke
If you plan on walking, biking, or driving around the city, know that you’ll probably encounter some steep hills. Make sure you’ve brought comfortable walking shoes, rent an e-bike, or that you’re comfortable driving on hills in the rain when you visit.
Familiarize Yourself With Metro Trip Planning Tools
If you plan on almost exclusively using the bus and other metro options to get around, familiarize yourself with your trip planning options before you come. I like to use a combination of Google Maps and the One Bus Away app, but the metro trip planner is a solid option that combines the features of the other two. These can all be used to plan ferry, streetcar, bus, and other trips.
Street Parking May Save You Time, Money, and Frustration
If you can’t find a parking space, try checking out the street parking on a residential block nearby. Pay-to-park lots fill up fast, but if you’re willing and able to walk a little bit, you may find free parking around the corner. Just pay close attention to signs listing any day or time limitations.
Pay Attention To Bike and Bus-Only Lanes
Drivers are not the only ones on the road, and you’ll find yourself sharing the road with bikers and buses often. Always watch out for bike lanes and drive cautiously around cyclists. Don’t enter a bus-only zone unless you want to risk leaving with a hefty fine.
📚 Related Reading: Enjoyed these tips? Check out my tips for Seattle travel next!
Can I get around Seattle without a car?
You can easily get around Seattle without a car. Places like Pike Place Market, the Seattle Center, the waterfront, and a lot of neighborhoods are walkable.
Is it easy to travel around Seattle?
It is easy to travel around Seattle if you review all your transportation options and determine what’s best for what you want to do. Choose a car rental if you want to go out on hikes, utilize public transportation to save money, or take a ferry for day trips.
Is public transportation good in Seattle?
Public transportation is good in Seattle, as it is both inexpensive and easy to use.
Map of Seattle
Want more resources for Seattle travel? Check out my other Washington state and Seattle guides to help you.
Hopefully, this article has given you insights into the best ways of getting around Seattle. Use one or a combination of these methods to navigate Seattle and make the to make the most of your trip!
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