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Space Needle 101: Everything You Need to Know About Seattle’s Space-Age Icon

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Ready for a 42-second elevator ride to the future?

When it was built for the future-focused “Century 21” World’s Fair in 1962, the Space Needle symbolized Seattle’s innovative spirit and technological might. Today, the 605-foot spire is one of the world’s most recognizable skyline landmarks and the city’s most popular tourist attraction, with a revolving restaurant and an observation deck in the flying saucer-like Tophouse.

The Space Needle is no aging relic, though. In mid-2018, the Seattle icon will debut a cutting-edge new look, with an all-glass observation deck enclosure and the world’s first glass revolving floor. Part of a $100-million renovation called the Century Project, the Space Needle will eventually include a new high-end restaurant that features a glass floor framing the ground 500 feet below.

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What went into the new-and-improved Space Needle?

Many years in the planning, the Century Project involved a large global team of experts and the creation of a new kind of glass. More than 100 crew members worked around the clock during the installation phase of the renovation, which was done in sections to keep the Space Needle open to visitors. To install the floor-to-ceiling glass enclosure for the observation deck, a special crane hoisted glass panels weighing more than a ton around 520 feet in the air, where the panels were set in place using a custom robotic arm with giant suction cups. It’s a true feat of engineering, as is the glass rotating floor that’s the first of its kind in the world.

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Is it worth the crowds and the price?

The Space Needle has always been a popular tourist attraction, with crowds zipping up the elevator hundreds of times a day to take in epic 360-degree views of the city, mountains, and Puget Sound. The original observation deck design included a solid guardrail and horizontal metal safety cables that got in the way of a seamless panorama.

Now there’s nothing between you and the bird’s eye views but glass. Wrapping all the way around the observation deck at 520 feet, a series of 11-foot-tall, seven-foot-wide glass panels start at the floor and tilt outward. Glass benches around the perimeter follow the angle of the transparent walls, making a jaw-dropping backdrop for selfies. Even on cloudy days, you can see for what seems like forever. A striking grand staircase leads down to the 500-foot level, where floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a high-tech glass revolving floor overlook the ground below.

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Should I go if I’m afraid of heights?

That depends. Do you just get a little nervous or are we talking full-on acrophobia? Space Needle tours start in an elevator that holds 25 people and has windows so you can watch your rapid ascent. Your stomach might drop a little on the 42-second ride up. Once you’ve reached the Tophouse, you’ll be surrounded by glass, so there’s no getting around how high off the ground you are, especially inside the 500-foot level with glass floors. Looking down isn’t for the faint of heart.

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Why would I visit twice in one day?

The Space Needle offers a two-visit package that’s well worth it if you have the time. On a clear day, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the city, the mountains, and the glittering Puget Sound. Even when it’s gray and drizzly, the city and water views are unparalleled. For your second visit, there are a couple of options. During the summer, Seattle sunsets are sublime, and there’s no better perch than the Needle for watching the sun go down over the sound. If you can’t swing sunset, return after dark, when the city sparkles all around you. You can even glimpse ferries gliding through the inky waters of Elliott Bay on their way to the islands in the distance.

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Where can I get the best shots of the Space Needle from the ground?

You can spot the Space Needle from many parts of the city, but the most famous vantage point is Kerry Park on the south slope of Queen Anne. In a posh part of town, the park features a large terrace that overlooks the city and bay and offers an unobstructed view of the Space Needle. On especially clear days, snow-capped Mt. Rainier rises behind the city just to the right of the Space Needle. Alki Beach in West Seattle also boasts a panoramic view starring the famous landmark.

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Is there other stuff to do nearby?

Seattle Center was built for the Century 21 Exposition. In addition to the landmark Space Needle, the 74-acre campus includes a variety of cultural, educational, and entertainment entities. Right at the base of the Space Needle, The Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases work by world-renowned local glass artist Dale Chihuly. Seattle Center also includes the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), the Pacific Science Center, the terminus for the Monorail, and the modernist International Fountain, an eye-catching light, water, and sculpture display.

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Do locals ever visit?

Most Seattleites have been to the Space Needle at least a few times, often with out-of-town visitors in tow or to celebrate special occasions at the revolving restaurant. On the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, locals pour into Seattle Center to ooh and ahh at fireworks above the Space Needle. World-famous local radio station KEXP, which has its HQ in Seattle Center, provides music for the elaborate explosions of light and color.

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When will the restaurant be open?

The Space Needle’s longtime restaurant, SkyCity, is gone for good, and a replacement is still in the works. While it’s under development, the revolving level–which has glass floors and floor-to-ceiling glass walls–will feature a lounge area so guests can linger while marveling over the view far below. The Space Needle tapped preeminent restaurant designer Adam Tihany, who has created signature restaurants for Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Wolfgang Puck, among others, to come up with a new concept for the one-of-a-kind space. Some of the ideas floated include transparent tables and chairs. With any luck, it will be open by early 2019. Stay tuned.

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Should I buy tickets in advance?

There are definitely advantages to buying tickets in advance, especially during the peak summer season. Tickets are timed so you don’t have to wait in line for long. The downside? You might pick a day with lousy weather (though it’s still worth going!). You can pre-purchase tickets the day of your visit, as well, to save a bit of cash and guarantee your spot.

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Are there any discounts or package deals?

If you plan to do a lot of exploring, you’ll save up to 45 percent using the popular Seattle CityPASS ticket booklet. For $89 (or $69 for kids 12 and under), the pass, which lasts for nine days from first use, includes a day/night admission (good for two visits in 24 hours) to the Space Needle, as well as tickets to the Seattle Aquarium, the Argosy Harbor Cruise, and two option tickets for either MoPOP or the Woodland Park Zoo, and either the Pacific Science Center or the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

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How do I get there?

The Seattle Center Monorail must’ve seemed so futuristic when it was built for the World’s Fair in 1962. Today it’s a charming throwback that whisks tourists from Westlake Center–close to many of Seattle’s hotels–to Seattle Center. One-way, cash-only fares are $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for kids 5 to 12 (kids under 4 are free). You can also get to the Space Needle by foot, bus, or car, but riding the Monorail is a classic part of the experience.