Seattle in winter: 8 great cold-weather activities

Explore Seattle in winter with this guide to 8 things to do and see, from festive displays to indoor gardens.

Winter means colder days and the potential for snow in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things to enjoy in the city. Picture yourself wrapped in a cozy coat, strolling through the illuminated pathways that show up at Green Lake during this season, or escaping the weather at an indoor tropical sanctuary. From tranquil gardens under a blanket of frost to lively cultural events that lighten up the shorter days, this guide unveils eight of the best things to do in Seattle in winter for all interests and ages.

Whether you're drawn to the secluded environment of a Japanese garden in its winter garb, the ambiance of a hands-on cooking class in the city on a rainy day, or unique local events and concerts, Seattle's winter landscape has it all and more. Known for its eclectic mix of indoor activities, like the lush Amazon Spheres and the must-see Museum of Flight, Seattle in winter is a time to explore, learn, and enjoy.

1. Stroll along the Green Lake Pathway of Lights

The Green Lake Pathway of Lights is a Seattle winter tradition that transforms the Green Lake Park into a luminous wonderland. As you walk around the lake, the pathway is adorned with twinkling lights, creating a magical atmosphere. This event, typically held in December, is a perfect way to enjoy the crisp winter air and the beauty of Green Lake while experiencing a festive, community-focused event.

Why do it in winter?

The Pathway of Lights is a unique winter event that allows you to experience the natural beauty of Green Lake in a new light, quite literally. The reflection of the lights on the lake’s surface, coupled with the serene winter setting, offers a peaceful yet festive outdoor activity, ideal for families, couples, or anyone looking to enjoy a winter evening outdoors.

2. Enjoy the serenity of the Japanese Garden in winter

The Seattle Japanese Garden is a place of tranquil beauty, and in winter, it takes on a serene, almost ethereal quality. The garden's architecture, combined with the bare elegance of winter trees and possibly a dusting of snow, creates a peaceful retreat. It's perfect for contemplation or a quiet walk; just make sure to dress in layers.

Why do it in winter?

Winter strips the garden down to its bare essentials, highlighting the architectural elements and the subtle beauty of the garden's design. The lack of foliage gives a different perspective on the garden's structure, and the smaller crowds make for a more personal experience.

3. Ice-skate at the Seattle Center Winterfest

The Seattle Center Winterfest offers a festive outdoor ice skating experience in the heart of the city. Surrounded by festive lights, live performances, and the buzz of the city, it's a perfect way to enjoy the crisp winter air while engaging in a classic cold-weather activity.

Why do it in winter?

Ice skating is quintessentially a winter activity, and doing it outdoors amid Seattle's winter ambiance is a memorable experience. The festivities of Winterfest, usually running through the entire month of December, add an extra layer of festive charm to the experience.

photo: Oskar Minin

4. Warm up indoors with a cooking class

Winter is the perfect time to explore workshops and classes in Seattle, and a hands-on cooking class is a great option to beat the cold. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned cook, learning to create a warm, homemade meal is both fun and rewarding. Cooking classes offer a chance to learn new recipes and techniques while enjoying a cozy atmosphere with others.

Why do it in winter?

Winter's chill creates the ideal time for warming up with a cooking class. It's a fun and interactive way to spend time indoors.

5. Visit the Museum of Flight's special winter exhibits

The Museum of Flight, one of the world’s most extensive air and space museums, often features special exhibits in the winter months. These exhibits, ranging from historical aircraft to space exploration displays, provide an educational and fascinating indoor activity for all ages.

Why do it in winter?

Winter is an ideal time to explore indoor attractions like the Museum of Flight. The holiday season means special winter exhibits are often on display, meaning there will be something new to experience even if you’ve visited before.

6. Visit the Amazon Spheres for a tropical escape

The Amazon Spheres in Downtown Seattle offer a unique escape from the cold winter weather. Inside, you're greeted by a lush, verdant environment housing over 40,000 plants from around the world. This indoor rainforest provides a warm and humid retreat, complete with walking paths and seating areas where you can relax amidst the greenery.

Why do it in winter?

Visiting the Amazon Spheres in winter allows you to immerse yourself in a tropical setting while outside temperatures are chilly. It’s an ideal spot for plant enthusiasts, photographers, or anyone seeking a tranquil escape from the winter weather.

7. Catch a winter event or concert in Seattle

Seattle's winter calendar is filled with unique events and concerts, meaning there’s something for everyone. From candlelight concerts held in intimate settings to special events like Harry Potter-themed experiences, the city’s stages buzz with activity in the winter.

Why do it in winter?

Winter-specific events provide a perfect opportunity to engage with the community, all while experiencing the unique charm of Seattle in winter. Iconic Seattle events like the annual Polar Bear Plunge only happen in the winter.

8. Experience wintry magic at the Woodland Park Zoo

Did you know many animals are more active in cooler temperatures? A winter visit to the Woodland Park Zoo brings many surprises, including winter-themed events, winter exhibits, and special displays like the seasonal WildLanterns — a wildlife-themed light show. It’s a fun and educational destination for families and animal enthusiasts.

Why do it in winter?

Visiting the zoo in winter allows you to see animals in a different light, as the cooler weather encourages more activity from certain species. Additionally, the zoo is less crowded, offering a more intimate experience with the animals and exhibits.

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What outdoor activities can I enjoy in Seattle during winter?

In addition to skiing and snowboarding at Snoqualmie Pass, winter in Seattle is great for snowshoeing in the Cascade Mountains or enjoying a brisk walk along Alki Beach with stunning views of the snow-covered Olympic Mountains. The Green Lake Pathway of Lights also offers a picturesque evening walk.

Where can I go ice-skating in Seattle during winter?

Seattle offers several ice skating options in winter. The Seattle Center Winterfest features an outdoor ice rink perfect for enjoying the winter ambiance. Additionally, indoor rinks like the Highland Ice Arena offer a chance to skate regardless of the weather, providing a fun and active way to spend a winter day.

Does Seattle host any special winter events or festivals?

Seattle's winter calendar is filled with events like the Seattle Winter Beerfest, candlelight concerts, cultural festivals, and themed experiences. The annual Seattle International Film Festival often has special winter screenings, and the seasonal Polar Bear Plunge is a Seattle tradition for brave visitors and locals alike.

What are some recommended indoor activities in Seattle for cold days?

For indoor activities, Seattle offers a range of options, including workshops and classes, interactive exhibits at the Pacific Science Center, and an abundance of museums like the Seattle Art Museum and MoPop. The Museum of Flight and the Seattle Aquarium are great options for educational and entertaining experiences, and these sights often have seasonal exhibits and festive displays that you can only find in the winter.

How does Seattle's winter weather affect travel and sightseeing?

Seattle's winter weather, typically mild with some rain, rarely hinders travel and sightseeing. However, it's always wise to check the forecast and be prepared for rain with waterproof gear. Snow is infrequent in the city, and if it does snow, it typically does not stay around for long. Nearby mountain areas may require chains or four-wheel drive, however, so it’s recommended to always check before traveling.