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North America > United States > Seattle

See: Why hire a car in Seattle ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments

(All of these pages will look a lot nicer when they are tidied up later in the spring. Yes, this site is being updated, but the graphics will come later)

Your key questions for any destination:

Do I need a car in Seattle?

Strictly speaking, there are very few travel destinations anywhere in the world where it's absolutely essential to rent a car in order to see the main points of interest. That's why we give you loads of ratings scales from 1 to 10, rather than simple yes or no answers!

  • The need question is generally answered by looking at public transport (transit) options. Is it good enough for visitors who are happy to consider using it?
  • How many public transport routes are there, and are they mainly rail or road (bus) based?
  • Is public transport fast, frequent, safe, reliable and cheap?
  • Does public transport actually take you to the places you'll probably want to see?

Is it worth hiring a car in Seattle?

This question is usually more about value for money. For this, we look at Seattle car hire options, and consider how rental costs compare with using transit.

How far are you likely to drive anyway, and how much might you expect to spend on fuel, road tolls, parking and any other charges. We compare Seattle with other destinations locally and around the world.

This is obviously much more of an issue if you are planning a longer road trip than it is on a small island.


Should I rent a car in Seattle? 

This is basically a merging of the two questions. Everything else might be about giving certain facts about the costs of car rental or using public transport in Seattle, but answering this question is very much a matter of opinion.

On first impressions, Seattle looks like the ultimate in ultramodern cities, and the city is home to Microsoft as well as other major corporations like Starbucks and of course Boeing, who may or may not have helped you get here in the first place.

Please note that is currently being revised and updated in preparation for the Summer 2021 (northern hemisphere) tourist season. It is expected that some social distancing rules will still apply. For additional Seattle car hire advice, please use the comments form below.

Quick Ratings

Price band

Seattle is in car rental price band: 4/10 (1 = cheapest car rental location)

General comment - based on price alone, is it worth renting a car in Seattle? 

Sometimes. Car rental is slightly cheaper than global averages.


Can you expect big swings in car rental prices in Seattle between the peak and the off peak season?

5/10 (0 = stable prices)

Driving score: 7/10

Non car score:5/10

Balance: 6

(0 = car hire not advised / 10 = rental car essential)

General comment -


The most iconic landmark in Seattle might be the Space Needle, and if you venture up to the top, you will also see what a huge amount of impressive scenery there is in all directions. Another popular visitor attraction in Seattle is the Experience Music Project (EMP), funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and designed by the starchitect Frank Gehry. Continuing on the futuristic theme, the Experience Music Project has the Seattle Center monorail gliding right over it, and this system combines with a new light rail and plentiful local buses to create a city that is easy enough to get around without needing a rental car.

Why? Visiting Seattle using a hire car

Why do you need a car in Seattle ?

  • Yet the city of Seattle itself really is only a very small part of what the state of Washington has to offer, and for heading further inland, and in particular for heading towards Mount St Helens or Mount Rainier, then a hire car really is going to be very useful. Naturally, you can still plan your own trip using local bus services or guided tours, but it’s just nothing like as flexible a self drive hire car.
  • If you are looking at a typical trip to Seattle that might involve staying in the area for a week, then a partial rental might make a lot of sense, depending on what sort of Seattle car hire deals are available at the time, and whether or not you are staying in a hotel that provides free parking.

Why not? Visiting Seattle without a car

Why don't you need a car in Seattle ?

  • Bear in mind that the roads around the city of Seattle suffer heavily from suggestion, with the State of Washington having trialled variable toll pricing in recent years in an attempt to encourage car sharing.
  • Looking outwards from Seattle, the city has a small network of commuter rail services, and you can effectively do a reverse commute on this and head down to the Pacific coast, whereas a variety of different ferry services are available, providing connections all the way up towards Vancouver in neighbouring Canada and beyond.
  • Long-distance train services from Seattle aren’t particularly fast or frequent, but they are still a perfectly viable option for travelling northwards to Vancouver or south towards Portland and beyond.

Ratings: How does Seattle compare?

Is it worth hiring a car in Seattle? TBC

This is based on a rough consideration of the costs of renting a car in Seattle, and how this compares with the costs of using public transport. The answer to this varies hugely from one destination to the next, based on a wide range of factors. It's based on renting a car at the airport (TBC), and driving for an average of 2-3 hours on open roads on most days.

How does this compare if:

You are travelling:

Solo / As couple / small family / larger family / senior couple etc

Does car rental make sense on different budgets?



Do you need to hire a car in Seattle? TBC

This is based strictly on whether or no we think it's possible to visit Seattle (and the surrounding area) without using a car. Of the three key questions, this one is the most likely to be a "no".

Should you rent a car in Seattle? TBC

This is a balance of all factors. Remember this is an answer to the question for people who are already asking it. That's why the answer might still be a "yes", even when public transport is good. 

See global comparisons

Hiring | Driving | Parking

Trains | Buses | Local travel


Car hire basics:


Public transportation basics:


Regular bus services: YES

Coach (inter-city): YES

Tram: NO

Metro: NO

Commuter Rail:

High Speed Rail:

Rail type (end stub / through / junction / hub):


As you start ....

Does Seattle airport have a direct rail link?

(Yes - within terminal / adjacent / short walk) (Yes - bus transfer / other) No






Has our advice for Seattle car rental changed over time, or has it been pretty constant?

2017 - 4

2019 - 7

2021 - 6

Average score - 6



All of these factors point to an urban area and a variety of impressive landscapes beyond it that can be perfectly easy to enjoy just by sticking to public transport, walking and cycling. People coming here with little intention to hire a car in the first place will get on absolutely fine without one.

Do you need a car in Seattle? Although a rental car is far from necessary, and many visitors might want to look into a partial rental, rather than having a car for their complete stay. Seattle is still a destination where we recommend getting a hire car, but the pendulum swings dramatically between city (not such a good idea) and country (hire car advisable). This might be the case in many other places too, but it’s particularly strong in Seattle.


Do you or don't you need a car in Seattle ?

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