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The city of Seattle is located in a lovely lake and mountain region in the far northwest corner of the US. The city attracts visitors with its plethora of unique museums, hip culture and cafés, and iconic landmarks such as the Space Needle. Of equal interest are the abundance of activities and pristine natural sights that are in the surrounding areas of Washington State that can be reached with ease in a car rental.
Who to Book With
Fifteen hire companies operate from service offices and depots in Seattle. Reputable international suppliers such as Avis, Dollar and National as well as Fox Rent a Car and Advantage maintain at least one service outlet in locations close to the city centre and suburban industrial parks. The easiest option is to book online as this ensures your desired vehicle will be available and at a preferential rate.
Best Time to go
Although June to August is the best time of year to land in Seattle, it is crowded with tourists. Hoteliers and rental firms hike their room rates and normally serene tourist sights are busy. May and September to mid-October are warm and dry enough to enjoy the city’s plentiful charms. Skiing and other snow based activities in the surrounding mountains can be enjoyed from December to February.
Need to Know Essentials
The following items will need to be produced when picking up your car hire:
- A valid driver’s license and preferably an International Driving Permit. If you are the holder of the new photo card UK license, you also will need its paper counterpart
- A passport or other photo identification document
- The booking confirmation voucher or its serial number
- The debit or credit card used when making the booking
Driving in downtown Seattle is not for the timid. One-way streets and queues of traffic ensure that locals try to use public transport when they can. On the positive side, there are lots of signposts while traffic lights allow drivers to get their bearings. Another big plus for Seattle is its electronic parking guidance system which has digital signs indicating routes to car park spaces and the number of unoccupied spaces. On-street parking is metered. Parking fees range from US$1.50 to US$3.50 per hour and stays are limited to either two or four hours.
Car hire is better suited for day trips. Freeways and interstates radiate out from the city and are the primary routes for access to North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park on the opposite side of Puget Sound. The I-5 is a north-south route linking Seattle to the Canadian border and south to beaches on the Pacific and around Grays Harbor. Car ferries from downtown Seattle ply routes to other waterside locations in the area.
Seattle has two land transport organisations, Metro Transit and Sound Transit, which share responsibility for the operations of buses, trams and suburban trains. Buses serve locations in the city and the surrounding areas, while tram routes are a recent addition to the city’s transportation options and are fairly limited. There are also passenger-only and car ferries to ports on Puget Sound. Seattle has no underground rail system.
Passengers boarding buses in Seattle pay their fares as they board. The fare is shown on the fare box and requires the exact amount to be placed in it. Fares for single journeys within the downtown zone are presently US$2.25 off-peak and US$2.50 in peak hours. No change is given. Visitors planning on using public transport a lot can buy a basic ORCA card for US$5 and load it up to suit their specific needs. The card can be used on all public transportation services.
King Street Station in central Seattle is operated by Amtrak and has services from cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles. The station is also a stop for Sounder commuter services from Everett to Lakewood. These services only run during the mornings and early evenings. There is a light-rail service from SeaTac Airport that terminates at Westlake Station in the downtown district.
Buses and Trams
Buses are frequent in the downtown area, but less so to the suburbs. The South Lake Union Streetcar runs along a three-mile track from South Lake to Westlake with services departing at 15-minute intervals between 06:00 and 21:00 (23:00 on Fridays and Saturdays).
The US’s biggest ferry operator, Washington State Ferries, runs car ferries from the downtown pier to Bremerton and Bainbridge Island. From Fauntleroy Terminal there are additional car ferries to Southworth and Vashon Island. There are smaller ferries to and from various locations on Puget Sound which are passenger only.
Taxis are plentiful in Seattle. Fares in the city are regulated by city authorities and shown on meters. Most of the taxi firms operating in the town take telephone reservations. Yellow Cab is one of the bigger operators.
Despite the fact that Seattle is a mecca for tourists, its surrounding areas offer abundant opportunities for interesting day trips and even multi-day excursions. Well-signposted roads and cheap petrol make car rental the obvious choice for these trips. Unique attractions in the vicinity include miles of beaches near Grays Harbor, Cama Beach State Park, the Snoqualmie Valley, Mt Rainier and Leavenworth.
The Northwest Railway Museum - Located in Snoqualmie this features an attractive Victorian station and old steam locomotives, rolling stock and rail artefacts. Steam-drawn train services operate on summer weekends. A museum visit can be combined with one to the magnificent Snoqualmie Waterfall.
Mt Rainier - This is a soaring 14,000ft (4,267m) peak and ultimate destination for winter-sports aficionados. Guided snowshoe walks, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowboarding are among the options.
Cama Beach State Park - This offers outdoor activity aficionados a diverse range of activities including swimming, boating, crabbing and diving. The park is on Camano Island which is less than a two-hour drive from Seattle. Accommodation is available in heritage cedar cabins.
Leavenworth - This is a Bavarian-style town set against the stunning background of the Cascade Mountains. It boasts numerous outlets that cater to even the most discerning gourmands and wine buffs as well as the chance of hiking, white-water rafting and winter sleigh rides.