Short Breaks: 48 hours in Seattle

Now is the time to visit this famously rainy city. Not only is its arts festival in full swing, it is also the driest month.

WHY GO NOW?

September sees the edge taken off August's heat and the blooming of some beautiful autumn colours. It's also just about the driest month in America's wettest state. Another good reason to visit the city this month, however, is for Bumbershoot. One of the US's top music and arts festivals (for details, visit: www.bumbershoot.org) takes place on the Labour Day long weekend (3-6 September) and, if it's got you inspired, Seattle is a great jumping-off point for trips further afield in the States or in Canada.

BEAM DOWN

British Airways (0345 222111) has the non-stop Heathrow-Seattle route to itself, but any of a host of US carriers will take you there from a variety of UK airports with a single change of plane. Examples: United from Heathrow via Chicago; Northwest from Gatwick via Minneapolis; Continental from Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow via Newark; American from Heathrow or Glasgow via Chicago, or from Gatwick or Manchester via Dallas- Fort Worth. Expect to pay around pounds 300 return through a discount agent until the end of October, and possibly less thereafter.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Unlike most American cities, Seattle can be a beast to navigate due to hilly terrain and waterways. Conveniently, most of the major points of interest are in the downtown area but, for others, you'll have to trawl the city's many neighbourhoods. A good map is a must. Look out for copies of Streetwise Seattle, similar to an A-Z, (available from bookshops). Seattle's main Visitor Information Center (1) is downtown at 800 Convention Place, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center (00 1 206 461 5840). For information before you go, contact the Port of Seattle UK Office (0171- 978 5233).

CHECK IN

Seattle certainly has imagination when it comes to hotels. The Ace Hotel (00 1 206 448 4721 or: www.TheAceHotel.com) is a funky place (2) that crosses minimalist deco architecture with youth hostel chic. Instead of the requisite bedside bible and mints, you get a copy of the Kama Sutra and two condoms. Rates start at US$65 (pounds 41). For something more opulent, check into the MarQueen Hotel (001 206 282 7407 or: www.MarQueen.com) in the Lower Queen Anne neighbourhood (3). It started life as an apartment building in 1918 and still holds its early 20th-century charm despite all the mod cons. A corner suite, with two large rooms and kitchen, starts at US$239 (pounds 153). If your budget is a little tighter, try the excellent Hostelling International youth hostel (4) near Pioneer Square (001 206 622 5443 or visit: www.hiseattle.org). For a great central location, you pay from only US$15 (pounds 9.60).

TAKE A HIKE

Pioneer Square (5), the heart of old Seattle, is an excellent starting point for a tour of Downtown and, with an inexplicable number of shops devoted to oriental rugs, it's also a great place for antique hunting. The square's 19th-century architecture makes it feel like you're on the movie set of a Jack London adaptation. Nearby is the Smith Tower (6), a 42-storey building - the tallest building in the world outside New York when it was built in 1914. And, if you want some greenery, don't miss Pioneer Square Park (7) and Occidental Park (8). Both have fine examples of Northwest Coast Indian totem poles.

TAKE A RIDE

America is a car kind of country. From cruising classic Chevys to faster- than-light Italian jobs, Americans love their cars. This love is reflected in the gridlock, which occurs daily - morning and evening - so the best way to avoid it is not to rent a car, at least if it's a short visit. Seattle has an excellent bus system and a day pass costs just US$2 (pounds 1.30). Otherwise, join the tourists along the waterfront (running as far as Pioneer Square) and hop on its revitalised tram system.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Once you've had your fill of turn-of-the-century Seattle, catch the streetcar to the international district (9), Chinatown and Little Saigon, for some tasty nosh. Five dollars should be enough to fill up on delicious noodles and, afterwards, you can stroll through the International District Community Gardens (10). A hangover from Depression- era poverty, it's used today by about 120 people to grow their fruit and veg. There are also some great views of the Seattle skyline and Elliot Bay from this area.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The Pike Place Market (22) is a Seattle institution. Despite some close calls, the market has been there since 1907, and is the oldest continually operating market in the United States. It's a maze of vegetable and fish stalls, of clothing and antiques, and arts and crafts. Fresh crabs are stacked in chest-high piles, while fishmongers toss huge salmon around like a rugby balls. Just remember the two cardinal rules of a visit to the market: don't eat before going, and don't ever attempt to drive there. There's masses of delicious food to munch on and, even if you get your car close enough, you'll never find a parking space.

SUNDAY MORNING GO TO...

Bainbridge Island to worship the skyline. The ferry ride across Puget Sound to Winslow on Bainbridge Island offers some amazing views of Seattle's skyline. Only from the boat can you appreciate how Seattle fits into the natural setting that surrounds it. There are plenty of package boat trips, but the best way is to take the commuter ferry like the thousands of locals who do the trip each day. Ferries depart from Pier 52 (21) on the hour, almost every hour. The journey takes 35 minutes each way, and costs US$3.50 (pounds 2.25) and the return trip is free for foot passengers.

DEMURE DINNER

America's Pacific Northwest is a fish and seafood lover's dream. Local fish includes salmon, red snapper, tuna, halibut, cod and trout and there's also an abundance of razor clams, crabs, mussels, oysters and shrimps. No wonder most Seattle restaurants make fish such a big part of their menus. McCormick's Fish House & Bar (00 1 206 682 3900) (18) is a bustling place that offers a daily sheet of fresh fish dishes, mostly grilled with zesty sauces, and accompanied by local oysters. There are also a number of good restaurants along the shores of Lake Union. Chandler's Crabhouse & Fresh Fish Market (00 1 206 223 2722) (19) serves excellent fish and seafood and its open-air seating (weather permitting) makes it a great place to eat while watching the sun set or seaplanes take off. Alternatively, catch the Teatro ZinZanni (001 206 352 2727) (20), which promises "love, chaos and dinner" in a giant red tent on an empty lot. Diners are served a five-course meal while listening to the music of a six-piece band and watching the antics of jugglers, magicians and opera singers.

AN APERITIF

Downtown Seattle is largely for the Armani-suit set, but don't let that put you off. Try the bar at El Gaucho (00 1 206 728 1337) (13), a 1940s timewarp with mink-lined booths. The bartenders at Von's Martini and Manhattan Memorial (001 206 621 8667) (14) can make 'em both shaken and stirred. However, a stay in Seattle isn't quite right without a visit to a brewpub. One of the nicest is the Six Arms Pub & Brewery (15) in Capitol Hill or, if you enjoy a little rowdiness, try Big Time Microbrew and Music (16) next to the university. For something completely different, check out the Big Picture (00 1 206 256 0566) (17), a newly-renovated cinema that not only has a great bar, but also has waiters to bring you a drink while you're watching the latest flick.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

A tight schedule is going to narrow your choices. First and foremost head to the Seattle Art Museum (11). It's unmistakable thanks to the four- storey sculpture of the Hammering Man wielding his tools at the building's entrance. And, since 1991, the museum has housed one of the best collections of Northwest Coast Native art in the region. Especially interesting are the totem poles, masks and canoes. Admission costs US$6 (pounds 3.80), which includes entrance to the Seattle Asian Art Museum (12) if used within a week.

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