Seattle is a Pacific Rim city built in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains. Downtown skyscrapers are reflected in the waters of Lake Union, Elliott Bay and Lake Washington, while cycle tracks meander through evergreen forests that fringe the city’s borders.

Pioneer Square, a riot of Richardsonian Romanesque style, is Seattle’s oldest quarter. Its most iconic building is Smith Tower, until 1931 the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Also on the square, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park gives an insight into the 1897 gold rush (00 1 206 220 4240;; free).

Pike Place Market doesn’t look like the place that spawned the world’s largest corporate coffee chain, Starbucks – but it did. Full of independent businesses, it’s famous for its wisecracking vendors (

The ferry to Bainbridge Island provides stunning views of Seattle and Puget Sound estuary. Idle in waterfront cafés and maybe rent a bike and cycle around the invitingly flat countryside. The Washington State Ferries, integral to Seattle life, run frequently (00 1 206 464 6400;; £4.50).

Ballard, despite its recent veneer of hipness, still has the feel of a traditional Scandinavian fishing village. The old town’s now a dining and nightlife destination; in the daytime its historic buildings and cobblestoned streets are a pleasure to wander through.

The Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project is worth a look for the architecture – but it also houses 80,000 music artefacts, including handwritten lyrics by Kurt Cobain and a Fender Stratocaster destroyed by Jimi Hendrix (00 1 206 770 2700;; £9.30).

Eat and drink
Piroshky Bakery is proof that not all popular Pike Place spots go global. It’s still knocking out its delectable mix of sweet and savoury Russian pies and pastries in a space barely big enough to swing a small kitten. Join the melee and order to go (00 1 206 441 6068; snacks from £1.50).

Black Bottle is one of a new wave of minimalist bar-restaurants in Belltown serving Pacific Northwest wines. There are tasting dishes such as grilled lamb and sumac hummus, and braised artichoke heart and greens (00 1 206 441 1500; plates from £5).

The queues outside 5 Spot at 10am on Sunday testify to its superb brunch. There’s a great atmosphere and the menu has perfect French toast and huevos rancheros – the Mexican breakfast of fried eggs on corn tortillas with tomato-chilli sauce (00 1 206 285 7768; brunch £6, mains from £8).

There’s barely room for all the awards in the window of Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant. Grab a pew and watch the experts concoct delicate, delicious sushi and specials such as chef Kashiba’s grilled black cod kasuzuke or Manila clams steamed in sake (00 1 206 443 9844;; sushi from £2, mains from £12).

On top of the Space Needle, the revolving SkyCity restaurant makes a full turn every 47 minutes. Tables offer panoramic city views and the fine-dining menu features wild King Salmon with rhubarb and ginger compôte, and clam and corn chowder (00 1 206 905 2100;; mains from £22).

College Inn , a survivor of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, has European-style rooms with mullioned windows and Liberty-style dressers. Rooms share bathrooms and some have views over Lake Union. There’s also a café and the College Inn pub downstairs (00 1 206 633 4441;; from £47).

There’s something about the canary-yellow Mediterranean Inn that just works. Maybe it’s the cusp-of-downtown location, the friendly staff or the well equipped kitchenettes in every modern, bright apartment. Special rates are on offer for stays of a week or more (00 1 206 428 4700;; from £92).

MarQueen Hotel has stylish reception rooms and bedrooms with enough early 20th-century elegance to keep them feeling authentic. The sweeping central staircase leads up to rooms furnished with cherrywood beds, artwork and wing-backed armchairs (00 1 206 286 7407;; from £105).

Original artworks hang in the cool rooms of Hotel Max, and it’s tough to get hipper than its super-saturated colour scheme of moss-green walls and burntumber bedspreads. Deals include The Nirvana Experience, a grunge music-themed package that also offers a signed book and gift vouchers (00 1 206 728 6299;; from £125).

Located in a period building that once did duty as an engineering school, the Inn at the Market in Pike Place Market is a red-brick, boutique hotel. Contemporary rooms have grand views of the market, the mountains and Puget Sound. Lounge on the rooftop deck or dine in an ivy-clad courtyard (00 1 206 443 3600;; from £158).

Getting around
Buses are run by Metro Transit (; £1.25). Seattle Street Car operates from Westlake Centre to Lake Union (; £1.55). The monorail runs from downtown to Seattle Centre (; £2.50). Taxis are readily available.

When to go
Seattle has mild, wet winters and dry summers that peak at 25°C. Visit in July and August for the huge Seafair water festival, which features hydroplane races, a torchlight parade and carnival (

How to go
British Airways flies from Heathrow to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (from £790; Other UK services fly via Heathrow or US cities. Gray Line’s Airport Express bus drops passengers at a choice of eight downtown hotels (£7; and Metro buses 194 and 174 also head to the area (£1.25;;). A taxi costs £25.

The article 'Mini guide to Seattle, Washington' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.