Space Needle vs Smith Tower vs Columbia Center Sky View Observatory
Getting High in the Emerald City
(No, we’re not talking about Seattle’s legal cannabis stores – we’re comparing observation decks)
When planning a Seattle itinerary, the Space Needle is usually at the top of the list, which makes sense – Seattle is a city with stunning views of mountains, water, and skyscrapers, and if you want to enjoy the best panoramas of the Emerald City, you might want to see it from a tall viewpoint. However, the Space Needle is not your only option, so you may want to consider each of the city’s three observation decks: Space Needle, Skyview Observatory, and Smith Tower. Each of them offers a different perspective and experience of Seattle’s beauty. Here are some pros and cons of each observation deck to help you decide which one to visit.
Space Needle Pros:
- The most iconic landmark in Seattle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair
- The only revolving glass floor in the world, offering a 360-degree view of the city below
- A modern and futuristic design with interactive exhibits and digital photo booths (photos are included in the price of admission)
Space Needle Cons:
- The most expensive observation deck, with tickets starting from $35 per person – current hours and pricing
- The most crowded and touristy observation deck, with long lines and limited capacity
- The view can be obstructed by clouds or fog on some days (although, in fairness, this is true of all 3 observation decks) – check the webcam to see the views when you’re thinking about going up and decide for yourself whether it’s worth the money
- This might be obvious, but your view/pictures won’t include the Space Needle because you’re inside of it
If you decide the Space Needle is still your pick (and I know most of you will), timing is everything. Their convoluted ticketing website makes it as difficult as possible to see the variable pricing at a glance, so I compiled it here for you (current as of April 2023):
Space Needle Pricing by Day and Time
|Day of Week||Time of Day||Adult||Youth (age 5-12)||Senior (65+|
I’ll try to update the pricing periodically, but your lowest-priced tickets are always going to be on weekday mornings (followed by weekday evenings). Conveniently enough, this is also when you’ll encounter the smallest crowds, so it’s a win/win.
My personal favorite strategy is to try to go up around sunset, so you can not only save some money but stick around for both daylight and nighttime views of the city.
Also, consider a combo ticket with the Chihuly Garden and Glass – it’s right next door, and (in my opinion, at least) the most unique and spectacular attraction Seattle has to offer. Bonus tip – if you haven’t purchased advance tickets and need to wait for your ticket time to go up in the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass is the perfect place to wait and not feel like you’re wasting your precious limited time in Seattle.
Now, on to the alternatives to consider…
Skyview Observatory Pros:
- The tallest public observatory in the Pacific Northwest at 902 feet (you can look down at the Space Needle)
- The largest observation deck in the city, spanning the entire 73rd floor of Columbia Center
- The most comprehensive view of Seattle and beyond, including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic Mountains
- $28 general admission (during all days/times – slightly to significantly less expensive than the Space Needle, depending when you’re going) current hours and pricing
Skyview Observatory Cons:
- Located in the downtown business district with limited parking options
- The least distinctive observation deck, lacking any unique features or attractions
- The view can be affected by reflections or glare from the windows on some days
- Limited operating hours – check to make sure they will be open when you want to go up
Smith Tower Pros:
- The oldest observation deck in the city, dating back to 1914
- The most historic and charming observation deck, featuring a vintage elevator (with an elevator operator), a prohibition-themed bar, and a museum of Seattle’s past
- Least expensive option at $19 general admission (during all days/times) – current hours and pricing
- Happy Hour Wednesday-Friday | 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
- $10 daily cocktail special
- $2 off all beer, wine, and well drinks
- The most intimate and cozy observation deck, offering a 360-degree open-air view of Pioneer Square and the waterfront
Smith Tower Cons:
- The lowest observation deck in the city at 350 feet
- The smallest observation deck in the city, with limited seating and space
- The view can be blocked by nearby buildings or construction on some days
- Operating hours are more limited than the Space Needle but less limited than the Skyview Observatory as of this writing, but check to make sure they will be open when you want to go up
Finally, I wanted to give you a bonus recommendation that isn’t technically an observation deck, but it does have some great views without requiring you to buy a ticket. The rooftop bar of the Thompson Hotel called The Nest has fantastic views (especially of the Pike Place Market and Puget Sound), and although the drinks are overpriced (what do you expect?), by Seattle standards the prices aren’t terrible.
Conclusion: There is no definitive answer to which observation deck is the best in Seattle. It depends on your preferences, budget, and mood. Hopefully, this helps you to decide which option is right for you.