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Getting Around Seattle Using Public Transportation
May 30, 2022 By CityPASS
Planning your dream vacation to Seattle? Between the gorgeous scenery, culinary excellence, and wealth of intriguing attractions, you'll have no trouble staying entertained as you explore the Emerald City.
Seattle vacations are unquestionably memorable, but they aren't always easy. Getting around, in particular, can be a huge source of stress for ill-prepared travelers. The city is vast, with over a decade of rapid sprawl having created considerable transit obstacles for locals and tourists alike. As such, Seattle regularly ranks among the nation's worst cities for traffic stress, with near-constant gridlock making even the shortest commutes feel overwhelming.
The good news? There's no need to deal with local traffic. Seattle public transportation is exceptional. You may actually discover that taking the bus or light rail saves you time. A little planning will make navigating the area even easier; do your homework, and you can rest easy once you arrive.
To help, we've highlighted the value of exploring Seattle via public transportation, as well as your best options for seeing the best of the Emerald City without stressing about the traffic.
Navigate the City Using Seattle Public Transportation
Seattle boasts wonderful public transportation, but its many routes and transit methods can sometimes be difficult for tourists to understand. These do not fall under the umbrella of a single name (as is the case in some major cities), but rather, they occupy a few main categories. The main approaches for how to use public transportation in Seattle are highlighted below:
King County Metro
Often referred to simply as the Metro, this transit system serves the entirety of King County, including the city of Seattle. This may be your best bet for accessing not only top destinations within the city but also a variety of suburban attractions. In addition to several important bus routes, the King County Metro operates and maintains Seattle Streetcar's South Lake Union Line.
Link Light Rail
Managed by Sound Transit, the Link Light Rail system delivers the convenience of rapid transit via two main routes:
- Line 1. Once known as the Central Link, Line 1 extends nearly 25 miles to connect the Angle Lake and Northgate stations. As the go-to transit solution for travelers, this line links several of the city's most important destinations, such as the downtown district, the university area, and even the airport. If your accommodations are situated near this line, you may never need to rely on another mode of transportation.
- Line T. Based in Tacoma, this line is far shorter than its Line 1 counterpart. It extends just over 1.5 miles, linking key Tacoma attractions such as the Tacoma Dome and the downtown area.
From carsharing to taxis, a wide range of transportation services help locals and tourists alike navigate the Seattle area. Several unique forms of public transit are also available, such as the Washington State Ferries and King County Water Taxi.
Ferry services turn everyday transit into an exciting adventure. They also provide ample opportunities for snapping photos. Water-based public transit is easy to access, with payment handled via the One Regional Card for All (ORCA) card. This card can also be used to pay for a variety of train or bus rides throughout the Seattle region.
Do you like the idea of someone else handling the driving but also dread the guesswork of navigating public transit? Local shuttles may provide an excellent alternative. Taking the guesswork out of your commute, shuttles bring you from point A to point B with minimal effort.
A variety of shuttle services are based in and around Seattle. Many focus primarily on airport transit, shuttling vacationers to and from their flights. Offering luggage assistance, these door-to-door solutions serve not only the city of Seattle but also nearby hubs such as Tacoma, Olympia, Bremerton, and more.
Several hotels also operate private shuttle services. These take vacationers to and from the airport, plus around the downtown area and the famed Waterfront.
Where You Can Find Light Rail Stations
If you choose to get around via light rail, you'll want to locate the nearest stations in advance. Depending on where you stay and which attractions you visit, you may be able to walk to these stations—or you may need to add buses, taxis, or carsharing to the mix.
The SoundTransit website provides a thorough overview of the many light rail stations in and around Seattle. These are divided into categories such as Link Light Rail stations and Tacoma Link stations. Top stations of interest to tourists include:
- Capitol Hill
- University of Washington
- International District/Chinatown
How to Navigate the King Street Station With Route Maps
King Street Station is an iconic public transit hub. Served by multiple Amtrak trains as well as Sounder commuter lines, this expansive station is conveniently located near Lumen Field and the International District. The classic station boasts gorgeous architecture that makes it worth visiting even if you don't plan on taking the many trains that arrive and depart throughout the day.
Unfortunately, navigation can be a struggle, with many travelers complaining that they don't know when or where to catch specific trains. A lack of WiFi compounds these problems. As such, it's important to examine route maps in advance.
Many helpful transit maps are available online. Check out the Sound Transit website for service maps or examine Amtrak's Train Routes in the Northwest page. Both offer helpful insight into routes commonly caught from the King Street Station.
Beat the Heavy Traffic on Your Way to the Attractions
By now, you should have a promising answer to the common question: how is public transportation in Seattle? From light rails to ferries, there's a lot to love about local transit. You may find that you actually look forward to riding the bus or the train around town.
Once you know how to get around Seattle, it's time to plan your itinerary. The public transit options highlighted above should easily get you to all the hottest attractions in and around the Emerald City, but you'll still need to do a little research to ensure that all of the area's must-visit destinations make the cut.
You'll save quite a bit by taking the bus or hopping on the light rail, but you can stretch your budget even further by bundling tickets via Seattle CityPASS. There's no better way to plan your dream vacation, free of compromise.