The Seattle Underground is one of the most unusual (and eery) attractions in the United States. It is a network of underground passageways and basements in Pioneer Square. Believe it or not, part of Seattle is built on top of an older burnt-out Seattle. The old Seattle was gutted by fire and lies abandoned beneath the streets.
Did you know there are also hidden and abandoned speakeasy tunnels underneath Los Angeles? Exploring abandoned tunnels and catacombs can be one of the most enjoyable parts of exploring a city. On the other side of the country, see here for if there really are tunnels underneath New York City.
What Is The Seattle Underground?
The Seattle Underground is located at ground level when the city was first built in the mid-19th century. But later the streets were elevated. Pioneer Square was built mostly on filled-in tidelands and had the problem of being flooded. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, buildings were required to be made of masonry, and the town's streets were raised one to two stories higher. The higher elevation had the extra benefit of that the sewer stopped backing up at high tide (ugh).
- 1889: The Great Seattle Fire
The sights here are intriguing as they are bewildering. See subterranean storefronts and sidewalks entombed beneath the city. See how a new Seattle was literally built on top of the old Seattle.
After the streets were regraded, pedestrians needed to climb ladders to get back to the sidewalks in front of the buildings. The streets are now generally 12 feet higher than before - but in some places nearly 30 feet higher. But then brick archways were constructed next to the road surface, then the gaps were covered with pavement lights. In the end, it meant that the old city had been covered and lost beneath the new ground level of the city.
As the buildings were reconstructed after the fire, the old ground floor had become an underground floor. So they reconstructed the buildings so that the building's second floor would be the new ground floor.
For a time the old ground floor continued to be used. Merchants carried on business on the bottom floors of builds that had managed to survive the fire, and pedestrians continued to use the old - now underground - sidewalks lit by the pavement lights above.
- Condemned: In 1907 (Out of Fear Of The Bubonic Plague)
But then in 1907, the city condemned the Underground. Oddly it was condemned out of fear of the bubonic plague. And so the now buried part of Seattle became abandoned and left to deteriorate (or used for storage).
All this hidden and abandoned space under the city became tempting accommodation for the homeless, for illegal gambling halls, for opium dens, and of course in the days of the Prohibition - the speakeasies.
Visiting The Subterranean Seattle
One of the leading tour providers is Bill Speidel's Underground Tours. They provide 75 minute guided walking tours of the city beneath the city. One can really see a time-capsule view of this buried city.
Today only a small portion has been made safe and is open to the public. Bill Speidel's Underground Tour has been showing curious tourists around this odd part of Seattle since 1965.
- Tour Duration: 75 Minutes
- Caution: Watch Out For Impostors Selling Fake Tickets (There's Only One Way To Tour The Interconnecting Tunnels)
Tip: This Is Downtown Seattle So Parking Is An Issue, Better To Take The Bus Or Light Rail
Tours And Hours
Tours start on the hour every day (including public holidays and weekends).
- April to September: 9 am to 7 pm
Peak Season: Extra Tours Every Half Hour June-August
- October to March: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Holiday Season: Christmas Eve: 10:00 am to 1 pm; December 26-31, 9 am to 6 pm
Cost of Tours
- Adult: $22.00 (Aged 18 to 59)
- Senior: $20.00 (Aged 60 And Over)
- Student: $20.00 (Aged 13-17 or with A Valid College ID)
- Youth: $10.00 (Aged 7-12)
But that's not all they offer. Want to look for ghosts or see the paranormal? Then they have a tour for that too!
- Combo Ticket: $50 - Underground Tour and Underground Paranormal Experience Combo Ticket
One can buy the ticket online or by phone in advance up to two hours before the start time. Alternatively, just rock up and purchase the ticket in person at their ticket booth. For this, it's first-come, first-served so it is recommended to arrive early. For more information and bookings check out their website.
Seattle is a stunning city to visit, while the Seattle Space Needle may draw one's gaze up high, don't forget that some of the best that the city offers is beneath one's feet.