And on your left

The Top Guided Tours of Seattle

You don’t have to be a newbie to appreciate a shrewd insider look at the city.

By Allison Williams and Allecia Vermillion Illustrations by Ryan Snook March 28, 2023

Pop quiz, what's the pointy thing? The downtown skyline from an Argosy cruise.

Sometimes the in-laws from out of town need entertainment, and there’s no shame in joining a tourist excursion around Seattle. We gathered the most notable guided experiences and deep dives into Emerald City basics.

Two if by Sea

Around longer than the Space Needle—if you count the company’s roots as a water taxi operator—the harbor-roving Argosy cruises Boat Tour operation runs like clockwork to give tourists the perfect cityscape photo. Washington residents score a small discount on the $50-ish excursion, best spent on the Locks Cruise to ride the century-old boat elevator from the inside. The roundtrip Harbor Cruise is solid for guests who want to scurry back to the Great Wheel. Daily year-round

The Scoop on Lake Union

Mike Luis, captain of the M/V Fremont Avenue, motors around Lake Union offering a happy combination of local history and root beer floats in the Seattle Water Tours Ice Cream Cruise. His narrative surpasses the usual historic tales (he’s written a few books on Seattle and the Eastside) and ice cream bars help engage kids whether you’re on the scenic upper deck or the protected lower level. Few Seattle excursions have such broad appeal—families or kid-free, visitors or locals, dogs welcome. At $18, tickets are a great deal—provided you don’t blow your budget on for-purchase ice cream sandwiches. Sundays year-round; Saturdays in the summer 

Culinary Confidential

Because the Eat Seattle Tours owner has French culinary training, she encourages the restaurant industry guides of her Chef Guided Food Tour of Pike Place Market to delve into the quirks of Northwest ingredients and share kitchen insights. The walking route through Pike Place Market ($54) mostly visits prepared food stalls for Costco sample–size bites, though when in season the group may stop for fresh cherries or strawberries. Daily year-round 

Beecher's cheese bites from a chef-guided tour of Pike Place Market.

Image: CJ Photo

Something Strange in Your Neighborhood 

Call it spooky with a side of paranormal science: Ross Allison of The Spooked in Seattle Tour claims his is the oldest ghost hunters group in the city, and he grew frustrated with hearing “made-up stories” on other ghost walks. He shares some of his evidence—videos, photos, electronic voice phenomena—on a rambling route ($20) through Pioneer Square. His company rents ghost-hunting kits for DIY pursuit. Thursday–Monday year-round

Hill of Beans

National company We-Venture specializes in hyperlocal tours, including the Seattle Coffee Culture Tour, an exploration of our city’s signature caffeinated beverage. Walks begin at the Jimi Hendrix statue; seasoned guides weave Capitol Hill’s high-spirited history into conversations about roasting beans or the difference between second- and third-wave coffee. Cafe stops exude local cred, like Ghost Note or Wunderground Cafe, where tour-goers can sip adaptogenic mushroom coffee (the better to prepare you for the tour’s final visit, Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery). Ticket prices ($59) include a coffee drink at each stop. Daily year-round

There's no excuse for nodding off during a Seattle Coffee Culture Tour.

Image: Kyle Johnson

Killer Queen Anne

Unlike a ghost-and-ghouls romp, Private Eye Tours sticks to the facts for its Queen Anne True Crime Tour, apt for a company launched by a real private detective. While murder isn’t the sole subject—you’ve got your arsons, your burglaries—it’s a PG-13 van ride ($45) through an architecturally stunning neighborhood where few tourists linger. Guide Jake Jacobson takes pains to be respectful, both of past victims and the new owners of infamous houses. Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays or by appointment year-round


Hill Street Clues

With no more than four guests in her SUV, Lynn Curtis of Under the Radar shows off a neighborhood she lived in for 14 years in her Capitol Hill Tour ($119). From which street was born as the wagon road to the cemetery to the realities of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, she bridges history with frank talk about housing and urban planning. Her wider-spread Neighborhoods 101 tour is especially popular with new residents scouting out where to live. Tuesday–Sunday year-round

Capitol Hill's rainbow crosswalk can tell newcomers a lot about the neighborhood.

Dumplings in the District

Wing Luke Museum Food Tours ($56) at Seattle’s Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience draw from one of its biggest assets: All the great food in the surrounding Chinatown–International District blocks. Attendees visit a handful of nearby restaurants, with each stop essentially a sit-down family-style meal—usually with a cameo from the owner and some valuable cultural context. Tour themes change each season; these leisurely progressive dinners might plunge you into the intricacies of noodles, dumplings, rice dishes, or summertime’s “grilled things and chicken wings.” Fridays

Wing Luke food tours demand an empty stomach.

Everybody’s Free

Reservations are recommended even if the ticket is gratis for the Seattle 101 Free Walking Tour, though guides accept walk-ups when possible. Starting between the totem poles of Victor Steinbrueck Park (or nearby during construction), the on-foot tour sticks to the Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square standbys. Looking for the catch? Free does mean free but since guides work for tips, failing to toss down cash earns questionable karma. Friday–Monday year-round


Under the Circumstances

The Underground Tour into old Pioneer Square basements and buried storefronts has earned almost as much infamy as the brothels-and-bandits tales (and bad jokes) that pepper the experience ($22). Newspaper columnist Bill Speidel always emphasized thrilling storytelling over well-sourced history when he launched the enterprise in the 1960s, but it survives on the ever-cool concept that Seattle built its downtown on top of its previous one. For balance, take guests to the fun and fact-based Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park visitor center right after. Daily year-round

The Underground Tour: Not so underground anymore.

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