Houston Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Places to Visit in Texas
Credit

Courtesy of joe daniel price/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Houston

Houston is home to a wealth of activities and interesting sights. The city offers things to do for outdoors enthusiasts (Buffalo Bayou), families (the Houston zoo and children's museum) and lovers of art (the unique Art Car Museum and superb Menil Collection). Shoppers will enjoy the massive Galleria, and there's even a very impressive and very sobering Holocaust Museum Houston. Visitors can learn about the origins of "Houston, we've had a problem" and NASA's astronaut program at Space Center Houston or enjoy prehistoric exhibits and colorful butterflies at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. And we can't forget Tex-Mex: The city teems with superb Texas-Mexico fusion cuisine.  

How we rank Things to Do

Updated June 26, 2017

  • #1
    Things to do in Houston
    View all Photos
    #1 in Houston
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    "Houston, we've had a problem." Most Americans have heard of the infamous phrase uttered by the Apollo 13 crew when it encountered a spacecraft explosion mid-flight on its way to the moon (or its modified "Apollo 13" movie version, "Houston, we have a problem"). The astronauts were communicating with Mission Control at this NASA space center, about 25 miles southeast of downtown Houston.

    Opened in 1963 as NASA's human spaceflight hub, the center still operates as one of the country's major space centers for personnel training, research and more. Travelers interested in learning a little more about the space center's history can check out the visitors center adjacent to the facility, Space Center Houston.

  • #2
    Houston Museum of Natural Science
    View all Photos
    #2 in Houston
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Situated in the Museum District near the Houston Zoo, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Holocaust Museum, the Houston Museum of Natural Science offers a variety of permanent exhibits. Visitors can explore everything from dinosaur fossils in the paleontology hall to sparkling emeralds, rubies and sapphires in the gem vault to interactive exhibits in the chemistry hall.

    The museum's exhibit halls cover a wide range of subjects, which is why this attraction is such a popular site in Houston – there's something for everyone. The building also houses a few special exhibits, such as the Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center, though these do cost extra. If you have to pick one, travelers say the butterflies are pretty impressive. The Cockrell Butterfly Center is home to a glass-enclosed rainforest conservatory populated with exotic flora and hundreds of colorful butterflies. 

  • #3
    Buffalo Bayou
    View all Photos
    #3 in Houston
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Just so there's no confusion, the name "Buffalo Bayou" refers to an entire 52-mile waterway that starts in Katy, Texas, and winds its way to Houston's River Oaks area. The 10-mile stretch from Sheperd Drive to the Port of Houston Turning Basin is a popular place for outdoor recreation. Recently, the stretch of Buffalo Bayou from Sheperd Drive to Sabine Street underwent a complete restoration: $58 million was put in to revitalize the area by reintroducing natural landscapes, updating hiking and walking trails and more.

    There are a number of attractions within the Buffalo Bayou Park, including a skateboarding park, a nature-inspired playground and picnic pavilion, a tributary, a dog park and the Houston Police Officers' Memorial. The park is also home to fascinating restored elements, such as The Water Works building, made from a 4-acre abandoned city water system. Today, it's a popular hub for outdoor events and performances as well as food trucks. It's also home to public restrooms and bike rental facilities. You'll also find the Cistern there: Houston's first underground drinking-water reservoir that's been converted into an interesting public space. 

  • #4
    Minute Maid Park
    View all Photos
    #4 in Houston
    Sports
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sports
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Minute Maid Park, home to Major League Baseball's Houston Astros, is another popular place to be during the summer months in Houston. And, as most visitors will testify, you get much more than a ballgame when you buy tickets to the park. 

    Travelers say that after being outside in the Texas heat, the air-conditioned (and roofed) stadium is a wonderful relief. Some also suggest trying to catch a game on a fireworks night, as the show is impressive. Those on the lookout for unique ballpark eats won't be disappointed either. The park offers a huge selection ranging from ballpark classics (like hot dogs and nachos) to healthy salad bars to an Astros Melt (two grilled cheese sandwiches with SPAM and American cheese on Texas toast). 

  • #5
    The Menil Collection
    View all Photos
    #5 in Houston
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Menil Collection is the 30-acre compilation of art gathered by Jean and Dominique de Menil. The permanent collection features 10,000 works of art collected by the couple from the 1940s until the late 90s. Exhibits range from works of African and Byzantine art to a collection of pieces of Native American art from the Pacific Northwest. 

    The collection also houses an impressive collection of modern art that the museum calls "spiritual aspirations in the abstract ambitions of modern art." Spanning decades of photography, impressionism, surrealism and sculpture this part of the collection is a favorite among repeat visitors. Because of its emphasis on how art affects spirituality, The Menil seeks to provide a quiet and contemplative environment for people to view the collection. As such, photography isn't permitted within the galleries, but is welcomed in the foyer and corridors (with no flash). 

  • #6
    Children's Museum of Houston
    View all Photos
    #6 in Houston
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    This museum, just like its name suggests, is all for the little ones. Exhibits include the Tot*Spot, for kids up to 35 months old, which is complete with mirrors and a ball and pillow pit. Older kids will enjoy exhibits like Invention Convention, a mini engineering workshop, or EcoStation, an indoor/outdoor area where kids can do everything from bug collecting to leaf rubbings.

    Then there's the FlowWorks interactive exhibit where kids can play water games and stand in the middle of an 18-foor Cauldron (perfect for those hot summer days). The museum's most popular exhibit is the Kidtropolis: a mini-city for kids, run by kids that mimics a real city. Children can get a job, receive a paycheck, sit on the city council, go grocery shopping and more. 

  • #7
    Holocaust Museum Houston
    View all Photos
    #7 in Houston
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're looking for an educational stop to add to your itinerary, consider the Houston Holocaust Museum. Exhibits include everything from film footage taken during World War II and inside the concentration camps to a 1942 railcar for transporting victims. But the museum also tells of resistance efforts, and to that end, displays a Danish fishing boat that rescued more than 7,000 Danish Jews from their deaths.

    Recent visitors said the museum is particularly well-designed, adding that the exhibits were thought-provoking and informative.

  • #8
    The Galleria
    View all Photos
    #8 in Houston
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Galleria is just a fancy way to say "humongous mall." This gargantuan shopping center sprawls across 2.4 million square feet of space with more than 400 stores. The massive mall predominantly contains upscale brands like Burberry, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Giorgio Armani, Gucci and more. If those stores are out of your price range, you will find brands like Forever 21 and Gap here, too.

    Aside from the retail stores, the Galleria is home to more than 50 dining options. Recent visitors cautioned if you plan to do a lot of shopping, anticipate a lot of walking (and wear some comfy shoes). They also say there are plenty of upscale accommodation options within walking distance. 

  • #9
    Art Car Museum
    View all Photos
    #9 in Houston
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Art Car Museum is exactly what you might think it is – a museum filled with ornately painted and decorated vehicles. Also affectionately known as the "Garage Mahal," this museum opened in 1998 and features an array of different automobiles ranging from low riders and hippie vans to derby racers and police cruisers. Some cars are bejeweled, some are painted and some are outfitted with additional intricate art installations. Along with the brightly colored cars, the museum houses rotating modern art, photography and sculpture exhibits.

    Recent visitors said that while the museum is small, the decorated vehicles are quite a sight and certainly worth a visit. Keep in mind, though, there are only a few cars on display at a time. If you're interested in seeing a wider variety of the brightly colored cars, plan a visit during the Art Car Parade, which is held every April.

  • #10
    Houston Zoo
    View all Photos
    #10 in Houston
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Houston Zoo contains more than 6,000 animals that range from cheetahs and giraffes to otters and bats. There's even a habitat for rare albino reptiles. The zoo's interactive kids section is a great place to keep young tikes occupied. What's more, the zoo offers special activities like giraffe feedings, a water play park and a 4-D movie experience. Most visitors say the zoo's layout makes it easy to navigate and they appreciated the large variety of animals. 

    The zoo is open every day except Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.). Admission is $18 for adults, $14 for kids ages 2 to 11 and free for kids 1 and younger. You'll find the zoo in Houston's Museum District, inside Hermann Park near the Museum of Natural Science. For more information visit the official website.

Explore More of Houston

When purchasing from our site, we may earn commissions. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

30 Amazing Caribbean Islands to Visit

It's time to plan your next tropical getaway.

Holly JohnsonAugust 8, 2019

The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2019-20

See which airline and hotel loyalty programs come out on top.

Erin ShieldsAugust 6, 2019

20 Surprising Ways to Earn Loyalty Program Points or Miles

Branch out beyond hotel stays and flights to maximize your earnings.

Christine SmithAugust 6, 2019

The 12 Best Cancun Tours

These excursions will show you what lies beyond the city's bright beaches.

Lyn MettlerJuly 26, 2019

Traveling With Toddlers: 16 Tips to Make Your Vacation Go Smoothly

These expert travel hacks guarantee a happy trip for the whole family.

Kyle McCarthyJuly 25, 2019

The 11 Best New Orleans Ghost Tours

Hear chilling tales of the city's paranormal activity on one of these guided tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 25, 2019

The 10 Best Seattle Boat Tours

Take in the Emerald City's top sights from the water.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 24, 2019

The 6 Best Maui Helicopter Tours

Combine sightseeing with a breathtaking adventure on one of these flights.

Gwen PratesiJuly 23, 2019

The 7 Best San Francisco Boat Tours

Take in the city's major sights by water with one of these excursions.

Holly JohnsonJuly 22, 2019

How to Pack a Suitcase: 16 Tips and Expert Tricks for Perfectly Packed Luggage

Take the stress out of vacation prep with these handy recommendations.

Lyn MettlerJuly 22, 2019