Inside Seattle’s Historic Underground Walking Tour

20 feet beneath the Seattle we know lie the remnants of the city as it used to be. Back in the days of horse-drawn carriages, Seattle was more rough-and-tumble than rock-and-roll. The old city flooded, burned down, and washed away and, as tides rode, the citizens of old Seattle took on a daunting task: raising the entire city by a story.

The Seattle we know today sits atop the remnants of this old city, which is now home to rats and tourists who dare venture below. During my last trip to Seattle, I revisited these underground walkways with my friends and teammates Hilary and Anthony. The tour leaves the underground city unusually untouched – it’s littered with dilapidation, rats, and the occasional ungrounded wire – and yet I get the impression that leaving it in this state is the most authentically Seattle thing they could have done.

Read on to see snapshots of the underground, the cool tiles that line the streets for light, and the original toilet (no, I’m not kidding)!

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Walking around Seattle, it’s hard to tell that the street level was once the second story in most buildings. But a trained eye knows to look for a clue to reveal the old city paths below. Those purple tiles you see on the sidewalk were placed there to shed natural light on the old city pathways. Though from above they look dark, a surprising amount of light passes through the glass tiles.

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The underground is full of curious relics, some historic, some modern. The structures themselves are barren, stripped of most historical context. Were it not for the tour guide, you would have no idea what each nook and cranny had been, but the attraction’s guides are absolutely hilarious – fully aware of Seattle’s rough past, they pepper the tour with satire and a satisfying self-deprecation.

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Partway through the tour we resurfaced to an alleyway filled with artwork. A welcome beauty break from the underground.

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Now, the photo you’ve been waiting for. BEHOLD! An original Crapper! Yes, the toilet was originally created in England by a man named Thomas Crapper, whose legacy lives on in the mouths of crass schoolchildren. The crapper plays an important role in Seattle history, because the changing tides made plumbing incredibly difficult to maintain in the old wooden pipes. According to our tour guide, Seattle was a stinky place until they sorted out their crap.

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And that’s that! Everything’s better with friends – meet Hilary and Anthony, who enjoyed the tour with me. The three of us were in town for Microsoft Build and had a few hours for exploration! Check out our VR vlog on my YouTube channel, featuring a really cool bar in the city.

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