Houston Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Places to Visit in Texas
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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 October 7, 2019

  • #1
    Things to do in Houston
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    #1 in Houston
    Amusement Parks, Entertainment and Nightlife, Festivals, Sports
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Amusement Parks, Entertainment and Nightlife, Festivals, Sports
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    No trip to Texas is complete without a visit to a rodeo. And in Houston, there's no better place to watch riders saddle up than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. When competition season rolls around (typically between late February and early March), crowds descend on NRG Stadium to watch daily rodeo shows that feature a variety of competitions, such as bareback riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and more. Livestock shows, which also occur during rodeo competition season, feature traditional events such as livestock auctions, calf scrambles and horse shows. 

    No trip to Texas is complete without a visit to a rodeo. And in Houston, there's no better place to watch riders saddle up than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. When competition season rolls around (typically between late February and early March), crowds descend on NRG Stadium to watch daily rodeo shows that feature a variety of competitions, such as bareback riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and more. Livestock shows, which also occur during rodeo competition season, feature traditional events such as livestock auctions, calf scrambles and horse shows.

  • #2
    Hermann Park
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    #2 in Houston
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Those looking to feel like a local should take a trip to Houston's Hermann Park. The park borders several different city neighborhoods, attractions, universities and local institutions, meaning you'll find plenty of green spaces and amenities that will appeal to all ages. Hermann Park boasts playgrounds, pavilions, picnic areas, lakes, gardens, a golf course, a railroad ride for kids, pedal boats and trails. What's more, the park is also home to the Houston Zoo

    Aside from the zoo, the McGovern Centennial Gardens and the Miller Outdoor Amphitheater are some of the most popular points of interest in the park. The McGovern Centennial Gardens cover 8 acres and feature 50 different species of trees as well as plenty of flowers, shrubs and other greenery, including a rose garden and woodland garden. The Miller Outdoor Amphitheater is an entertainment venue that showcases movies, plays, performance art, cultural presentations and musical performances year-round.

  • #3
    Houston Museum District
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    #3 in Houston
    Museums, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Houston's expansive Museum District is by far the city's greatest cultural asset. This district features 19 museums, which include popular spots such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, The Menil Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

    Located south of Downtown Houston, The Museum District stretches from the southern edge of Midtown and includes Hermann Park. The area garners about 7 million visitors per year thanks to its diverse array of offerings and the fact that admission to 11 of the 19 museums available is free, year-round. Top museums to see include:

  • #4
    Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston
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    #4 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.

  • #5
    Houston Museum of Natural Science
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    #5 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. 

  • #6
    Buffalo Bayou
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    #6 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. 

  • #7
    Minute Maid Park
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    #7 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). 

  • #8
    The Menil Collection
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    #8 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). 

  • #9
    Holocaust Museum Houston
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    #9 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.

  • #10
    Children's Museum of Houston
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    #10 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. 

  • #11
    Art Car Museum
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    #11 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.

  • #12
    The Galleria
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    #12 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. 

  • #13
    Houston Murals
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    #13 in Houston
    Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you have even the slightest affinity for street art, you should make the time to tour Houston's vibrant collection of murals. These murals can be found splashed on the walls of boutiques, restaurants, parking lots, yoga studios and more all over the city.

    What makes these public pieces of art so unique is their diversity. Murals vary from delightfully simple to extraordinarily intricate and from vibrantly colorful to strictly monochromatic, conveying messaging that ranges from specifically political to universal. The murals been painted by a variety of different artists, both local and international. Some have been commissioned while others are a result of the yearly HUE Mural Festival.  

  • #14
    Memorial Park
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    #14 in Houston
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Memorial Park is the perfect place to go if you want to get lost in nature in the city. Compared to Hermann Park, Memorial Park is much bigger in size and features fewer things to do, making the flora its main attraction. And thanks to the park's 30-plus trails, it's easy to take in the scenery. The trails, which travelers can hike or bike on, zigzag through the park's lush, wooded grounds. Some even take visitors to the Buffalo Bayou, which runs along the park's southern border.

    In addition to beautiful trails, Memorial Park offers a nearly 3-mile granite running trail, picnic areas, a fitness center, a swimming pool and a golf course. For sports, there are fields and courts for croquet, volleyball, baseball, tennis and soccer. And if you get peckish, you will find food trucks are stationed at the Eastern Glades entrance regularly.

  • #15
    Armand Bayou Nature Center
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    #15 in Houston
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Flora and fauna abound at this nature center, located about 26 miles southeast of Houston. The Armand Bayou Nature Center is the largest urban wilderness preserve in the U.S., measuring more than 2,500 acres. The nature center features forests, wetlands and prairies, with 370 different species of animals including armadillos, alligators, turtles, deer and eagles calling the area home. Plus, there's so much to see and do here – the venue dozens of various activities, events and programs.

    Many of Armand Bayou's guided offerings occur during the weekends, so if you're interested in a tour, it's best to come then. There are a wide range of tours to choose from, including canoe tours, boat cruises with options for a day, sunset or moonlight cruise, guided photo hikes, nighttime hikes tailored to spot bats and owls, and nature talks that cover specific animals ranging from monarch butterflies to bison. Travelers who embarked on one of the nature center's tours were very pleased with their experiences, crediting the knowledgeable guides for a great time.

  • #16
    Houston Zoo
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    #16 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.

  • #17
    Discovery Green
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    #17 in Houston
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    This park may be small but it gets a lot of love from both locals and tourists. Discovery Green is located in the business district of Houston and is just blocks away from hotels and entertainment venues such as the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center. As such, the park often features a mix of residents enjoying their lunches and visitors savoring some green space in the concrete jungle.

    The park measures a mere 12 acres but it is packed with amenities for both the young and old. Kids will enjoy the playground and two fountain areas, while all sorts of travelers can take advantage of the putting green, bocce ball courts, picnic lawns and library. The park also features a lake that offers kayak rides, a jogging trail, a dog park, two restaurants, two performance spaces and multiple promenades. What's more, the park offers unique art carts, which are decorated golf carts filled with free toys for kids to play with. This includes hula hoops, Frisbees, bouncy balls and more. And Discovery Green hosts a variety of seasonal events, from exercise classes to markets, as well as live performances.

  • #18
    Galveston
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    #18 in Houston
    Amusement Parks, Beaches, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Amusement Parks, Beaches, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you'll be in Houston long enough to squeeze in a daytrip, head to Galveston. Located 50 miles southeast of Houston, Galveston is a barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast that boasts miles of beaches, a lively amusement park pier and a state park.

    The best beach for you in Galveston depends on who you are as a traveler. Families like Stewart Beach for its ample amenities (including a kids playground and concession stands) and its ban against alcohol. Adults will enjoy East Beach and the beaches lining Seawall, where alcohol is permitted. Seawall Boulevard is also where you'll find the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. For its small size, the pier is populated with plenty of arcade games and thrill rides, including a rollercoaster, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, a water ride and more.

  • #19
    Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
    View all Photos
    #19 in Houston
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you find yourself in Houston's Uptown neighborhood, make sure to visit the grand Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. This water wall is not your run-of-the-mill neighborhood fountain. Postmodernist in design, the Waterwall is 64 feet tall and pours out a whopping 11,000 gallons of recirculated water per minute, creating a spectacular backdrop for photos. It's the perfect place to visit on a hot summer's day – the area is typically cooler and visitors can even soak in some of the fountain's spray.

    Travelers found the attraction to be incredibly unique and highly recommended a visit if you have time. The cascading waterfall – located on all sides of the fountain – is an impressive site to behold. Not only that, but the park also occupies is a lovely space for kids to run around or for a group picnic. Recent visitors do warn though that there is no street parking available and that if you aren't staying close to this attraction, it likely wouldn't be worth the drive.

  • #20
    George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
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    #20 in Houston
    Monuments and Memorials, Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Ardent supporters of former President George H.W. Bush will delight in a road trip to the late President Bush's presidential library and museum. The presidential library and museum is located about 97 miles northwest of Houston, making it a great daytrip for those interested in politics and history.  The museum features both permanent collections and rotating exhibits. The permanent collections chronicle the former president's life in its entirety, from his time as a congressman to the CIA, as well as what he and his wife, Barbara Bush, did as private citizens after their time in the White House.

    In addition to learning about the lives of George and Barbara Bush, visitors can snap pictures of themselves in the museum's Oval Office replica as well as peer into recreations of President Bush's Camp David and Situation Room. There are also plenty of incredible artifacts available at this attraction, including all the state gifts Bush received as president, a part of the Berlin Wall and a World War II Avenger Torpedo Bomber plane, to name a few. In total, the library and museum is home to more than 100,000 artifacts from President Bush's life. 

  • #21
    San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site
    View all Photos
    #21 in Houston
    Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    History aficionados will be intrigued by the San Jacinto Battleground. The State Historic Site is where an important, if not the most important, battle for Texas' independence took place. When Texas was still part of Mexico, settlers in the region grew to despise Mexico's then-dictator and mobilized to gain independence. After many hard fought battles were lost by Texans, Gen. Sam Houston, who the city of Houston was named after, strategically planned his next attack while the Mexican Army, which at the time had been divided and was much smaller, wasn't expecting it. Houston and his army became the victors of the Battle of San Jacinto, known for shouting "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad!" as they wiped out most of the Mexican troops.

    Shortly after capturing General Santa Anna, whose infantry had almost completely fallen, Houston was able to force the Mexican president to sign a treaty that authorized Texas' independence. It was this treaty that paved the way for even more eventual expansion in the USA. What stands at the battleground today is a history museum and the San Jacinto Monument, a 570-foot tall column that is billed as the tallest masonry memorial structure in the world (it's 15 feet higher than the Washington Monument). There's actually an elevator you can take to the top of the monument, where you'll be greeted with sweeping views of the battleground, Houston and the Houston Ship Channel. 

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