Free Things To Do in Houston
- #2View all PhotosfreeHermann Park#2 in Houston2.2 miles to city centerZoos and Aquariums, Free, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.2 miles to city centerZoos and Aquariums, Free, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
- #6View all PhotosfreeBuffalo Bayou#6 in Houston1 mile to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND1 mile to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Houston1.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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).
- #11View all PhotosfreeArt Car Museum#11 in Houston1.8 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.8 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
- #12View all PhotosfreeThe Galleria#12 in Houston4.9 miles to city centerFree, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.9 miles to city centerFree, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
- #13View all PhotosfreeHouston Murals#13 in Houston1.5 miles to city centerFree, Tours, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND1.5 miles to city centerFree, Tours, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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.
- #14View all PhotosfreeMemorial Park#14 in Houston3.7 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.7 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
- #17View all PhotosfreeDiscovery Green#17 in Houston1.5 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.5 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
- #18View all PhotosfreeGalveston#18 in Houston47 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND47 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME 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.
- #19View all Photos#19 in Houston4.8 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND4.8 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME 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.
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