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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > United States of America > Washington State > Seattle

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Seattle History

Settlers first arrived in the Seattle area in 1851, attracted by a protected, deep-water harbour. The settlement was named Seattle, after a local Indian leader named Sealth who had befriended the settlers.

The town’s main source of income came from a local lumber mill, followed by coal found near Lake Washington in the 1870s. The term ‘skid road’ (used to describe a dilapidated part of town) originated here and referred to the Yesler Way route where logs were skidded from the hills to the port.

The creation of a transcontinental railroad terminus station at nearby Tacoma led to a massive surge in the town's population in the late 1880s. Other industries started to flourish such as fishing, shipbuilding and shipping. A fire in 1889 led to extensive municipal improvements and the construction of grand brick and steel buildings.

In 1897, the discovery of gold in Alaska and along the Klondike River in Canada inspired another boom in Seattle, as thousands of prospectors and shiploads of goods headed north via the city.

In the early 1900s, improved rail links reinforced the city's position as a trade and shipping centre, particularly with Asia and the North Pacific as migrants from around the world flowed into the city.

WWI boosted the city's shipbuilding industry, but the Depression of the 1930s hit Seattle hard. WWII then rejuvenated the shipyards once again.

After the war, the arrival of Boeing and the first American passenger jet to enter commercial aviation has been closely tied to the city’s fortunes. The Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 then helped cement the city on the world map.

More recently, high-technology firms like Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia, have moved in, and the city has grown in political strength. Then there’s a certain coffee company’s stratospheric rise. Starbucks started life as a single coffee shop in Pike Place Market in 1971, but today has over 15,000 stores worldwide.

Did you know?
• Successful Seattle restaurateurs, Tim Firnstahl and Mick McHugh, divvied up their businesses by tossing a coin from the Space Needle in 1988.
• The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed nearly the entire central business district. Street levels were raised by 6.7m (22ft) as a result.
• Sand Point Airfield in Seattle was where the first aerial circumnavigation of the world landed in 1924.

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Thompson Seattle Hotel

Housed in a spectacular Tom Kundig-designed building, the 12-storey Thompson is the hottest new addition to Seattle's hotel scene. The 158 guest rooms are the epitome of class – think dark-wood panelling with brass details – and the best rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views over Pike Place Market. There's a rooftop bar boasting a dazzling outlook towards the Olympic Mountains, a 'glam-rustic' restaurant and a spectacular events space for business travellers.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Fairmont Olympic Hotel captures the elegance of a bygone era - without stinting on modern luxuries. Its 450 rooms have cosy furnishings with excellent amenities, and the service is impeccable. This Seattle hotel, built in 1924, also has a sumptuous health club with indoor pool and whirlpool plus an on-site spa. Other features include two superb restaurants.

Moore Hotel

Just a couple of blocks away from Pike Place Market, the Moore Hotel and Theater date back to 1907. Rooms are basic, but clean, and a good price for the location. The theatre itself (run separately by the Seattle Theatre Group) is Seattle's oldest operating theatre and has been renovated in 2013. All the grunge-era greats played there, including Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden.

The Maxwell Hotel

Wonderfully eccentric décor, friendly staff and an enviable downtown location combine to make this one of the city's top mid-range boutique hotels. Rooms are famously comfortable (some even boast views over towards the Space Needle) and guests have access to an indoor pool, fitness centre, café and 24-hour business centre. Outside, it's just a hop-and-a-skip to major attractions such as the Teatro ZinZanni, Seattle Center and Experience Music Project Museum.

Hotel FIVE

Modern and colourful, Hotel Five's guest rooms are all shiny hardwood floors, bright red accent walls and super-contemporary furnishings. It's the neat little extras that make this hotel stand out too – freshly baked pineapple cupcakes and coffee each afternoon in reception, golf umbrellas in every room (a Seattle essential), plus complimentary bikes and town car service. Max's Café is a great stop for breakfast or lunch.

Hotel Ändra

Hip Hotel Ändra's sleek décor is a tasteful nod to Seattle's Nordic heritage melded with Pacific Northwest contemporary design, featuring wood, water and stone throughout. Finnish architect's Alvar Aalto salon chairs and Arne Jacobsen's striking orange swan chairs make the living room loft a cool place to hang out. Guest rooms come with traditional Scandinavian patterns, alpaca headboards, striped chenille bedspreads, Lacava sinks and FACE Stockholm bath products.