When people think of Houston, Texas, they often think of cowboy hats and space shuttle landings. However, there is much more to this beautiful city than just those two things.
In this post, we’ll tell you about the best Houston attractions to visit, whether you’re a tourist or a local.
Houston and Its Surrounding Area
Houston is the largest city in Texas, and the fourth largest city in the United States. It has a population of around 2.2 million and is multicultural. In fact, you can hear over 90 different languages being spoken within the city.
The city of Houston is located 165 miles east of Austin and 250 miles south of Dallas. It covers an area of 627 miles, 22.3 miles of which, is water. The climate is hot and humid with the occasional tornado, though it’s not part of the infamous Tornado Alley.
The multicultural population of Houston make it one of the most fascinating cities in the world to visit. You can find food and entertainment from nearly every country in the world and the locals are more than happy to chat with you.
How We Chose Our Houston Attractions
When we compiled our list of top 10 attractions in Houston we wanted to include something for every member of the family. We found family attractions for both fun and education, and we found some activities for young and single people too.
We’ve added some free attractions to our list for those of us who are traveling on a shoestring budget. But, we haven’t forgotten to include some nightlife venues too.
Some of the attractions on our list are only available at certain times of the year, so we advise you to check your dates before you book your flights.
The Top 10 Houston Attractions
1. Buffalo Bayou
We thought we’d start the list with one of the most beautiful locations in Texas. The Buffalo Bayou runs from Katy, Texas to Houston’s River Oaks area, and covers a waterway of 52-miles.
Access is free, but there is a cost to attend some of the activities and programs that the Buffalo Bayou Partnership runs.
Here’s just a small list of what the bayou has to offer:
- Buffalo Bayou Park: Johnny Steele dog park, Barbara Fish Daniel nature play area, Cistern.
- Sabine Promenade: hike and bike trails, canoe and kayak launch, stainless steel boat sculptures, lunar lighting display, hobby center pedestrian bridge.
- Sesquicentennial Park: James A Baker monument, George Bush monument, pedestrian bridges, big bubble, and seven wonders.
- Allen’s Landing: historical site with the Sunset Coffee Building.
- Buffalo Bend Nature Park: 10 acres of passive recreation and wildlife conservation.
Buffalo Bayou is host to many events and exhibitions throughout the year, including the KBR Kids day in October and the BBP Gala in November.
The KBR Kids day is a free family activity day with local performers and entertainment. There’s a rock-climbing wall, a sports zone, balloon artists, Dia de los Muertos face painters and a Halloween costume parade.
2. The Menil Collection
This is another free Houston Attraction that will keep you amused for hours. The Menil Collection is an art museum which spans a 30-acre campus. The collection of over 10,000 pieces was originally collected by Jean and Dominique de Menil between the 1940s and late 90s.
Here’s a list of the current collections at the time of writing:
- Arts of Africa
- Arts of the Americas and Pacific Northwest
- Arts of the Ancient World
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Medieval and Byzantine Art
- Menil Drawing Institute
- Modern and Contemporary Art
The campus regularly holds special events for members and for the public.
3. Space Center Houston and NASA Johnson Space Center
Owned by the nonprofit organization, Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, the space center has far too many attractions to list here.
Here’s just a few highlights:
- Mission Briefing Center: hear the latest news about current NASA projects, for ages 5 and up.
- Stellar Science Show: a 30-minute interactive presentation for children and adults of any age.
- Lunch with an Astronaut: a casual lunch for you and your family, where you can meet an astronaut.
- Meet an Astronaut Friday: included with your admission price, astronauts give short presentations at regular intervals and answer your questions.
- The Gallery Wall: a chance to view your heroes, the wall has portraits and photos taken by crew members of every astronaut who has flown in space. This is limited to ages 8 and up.
- Level 9 tour: For ages 14 and up this is the VIP experience of a lifetime. It’s a 4 to 5 hour guided tour of the NASA Johnson Space Center.
- Mission Mars: see what it’s really like on Mars. You can climb into a simulated Orion capsule and can even touch a piece of rock from Mars.
- Saturn V at Rocket Park: view the tallest and heaviest rocket that has ever flown.
If all that doesn’t keep you amused for a few days, there’s also overnight experiences, day camps, field trips, and outreach programs as part of the Space Center University. And of course, you should visit the giftshop for souvenirs.
4. Houston Museum of Natural Science
Founded in 1909, the museum is home to the Burke Baker planetarium, the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre. Their permanent exhibitions include displays of astronomy and space science, Native American culture, paleontology, Texas wildlife, gems, minerals, energy and crystals.
At the time of writing the museum is showing the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes and Microsculpture: The Insect Photography of Levon Biss.
5. Houston Museum of Natural Science
Although educational, you might want to leave the younger children at home when you visit the Holocaust Museum Houston. The museum runs special programs for children and students as their mission is to educate people about the holocaust and teach others about the dangers of apathy, hatred, and prejudice.
The museum’s permanent exhibitions include:
- Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers – testimony from survivors, artifacts, film footage, photographs, and propaganda documents make up this display and take you from pre-war Europe to today.
- World War II Holocaust Railcar: the same railcars would carry Jews to their deaths in the concentration camps.
- Destroyed Communities Memorial: a memorial to the 20,000 Jewish communities that were destroyed and the 6 million Jews who were killed.
- Danish Rescue Boat from World War II: a rare Holocaust artifact that carried Danish Christians who helped save more than 7,200 Jews in 1943.
The museum also offers group tours and member’s only benefits.
A visit to this museum will take your right back to your childhood. There’re interactive exhibits for the kids to enjoy including a challenge course, ecostation, and inventors’ workshop. Admission is $12 per person but they also host a free family night on Thursday’s.
Everybody is welcome, but the Museum’s focus is on children from birth, up to the ages of 12. That doesn’t mean that the teenagers of the house can’t attend, and children under 16 years must always be accompanied by an adult.
The museum runs education programs for parents and teachers and they even host birthday parties. A popular regular event is their Sensory Friendly Day for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and sensory processing differences. The museum ensures that these days provide a less crowded environment for the children to explore with a reduction in lights and sounds. They also add extra visual safety signs for the day and have designated quiet rooms available.
7. Houston Zoo
Who doesn’t love the zoo? Here’s a small selection of the many fun and educational exhibits that can be found at Houston Zoo:
- African Forest
- Bird Habitats
- Carnivore Habitats
- Carruth Natural Encounters
- Hoofed Run
- John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo
- Kipp Aquarium
- McNair Asian Elephant Habitat
- Reptile & Amphibian House
- Sea Lion Habitat
- Wortham World of Primates
The zoo also hosts overnight stays, field trips, up close animal encounters, and teen programs.
Birthday parties can be held with various features and there’s family adventure programs, so that the grown-ups don’t miss out on any of the fun.
8. The Galleria
The Galleria is 2.4 million square feet of shopping mall heaven. Everybody who is anybody has a store here including Chanel, Burberry, Giorgio Armani, Christian Louboutin, and Gucci. It’s not just for the rich and famous though, the mall also has stores like Forever 21 and Gap.
Every food you could possibly imagine is available at the Galleria. Doesn’t a Caramel Parfait & Caramel Crunch Chocolixir sound divine? There’s always something new and different to see at the Galleria, so make sure you wear, comfortable, walking shoes.
9. The Galleria
You’ll find a delicious and educational experience at restaurant Indigo. The restaurant seating is seats 13 people who eat at a curved, communal table made from concrete. African-Indigenous handcrafts and ceramics are on display.
The restaurant prides itself on using modern and ancient foodways to segway soul food.
Reservations are a must and dinner are served at two sessions: 6pm and 8.45pm. This is a great way to enjoy a modern twist on traditional food while learning more about indigenous people and customs.
10. The Galleria
The Axelrad Beer Garden celebrates life in Houston by offering the community a fun place to gather. Its tagline is Beer, Cocktails, Hammocks, Music.
The bar was originally a small grocery store built by David and Gertrude Axelrad, over 100 years ago.
The beer garden is surrounded by a mix of native, heirloom, and regional plants and live music is often hosted there. The outdoor space is also used for film screenings, festival, video art pieces, and gatherings of every size.
Axelrad has a wide selection of craft beers and is next door to Luigi’s pizzeria. You’re welcome to enjoy something from Luigi’s menu while sitting in the beer garden and listening to live music from the large outdoor stage.
How to See the Houston Attractions
Traveling around the city of Houston isn’t difficult and there’re options to suit every budget and time constraint.
Metrorail is an affordable option and metro’s bus service runs on most streets. The average fare one-way is $1.25. They also run park and ride service between key destinations in the city. Fares range from $2 to $4.50, one-way.
Houston has a $6 cab fare that runs in Houston’s central business district area. This flat rate applies anywhere within the Interstate 45, Interstate 10, and U. S. zones. If you’re traveling further afield the city has over 2,400 taxis and 1,700 limos.
Houston also gives you a few ride-sharing options such as Uber and there’s plenty of rental cars if you’d like to drive yourself. The Wave is a jitney service that operates between nightlife venues predominately in the Rice Village, Downtown, Uptown, Midtown, Montrose, and the Washington Avenue corridor.
The SuperShuttle service is a great way to save money on transport as it allows you to share the cost with other people who are going in the same direction. Greenlink buses provide free transport in the downtown area between 6.30am and 6.30pm each day, during the week.
Houston’s B-Cycle bike share program allows you to see the sights while enjoying the fresh air. You can hire a bike from one of the kiosks around town for $3 per 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can sign up for a program membership which will allow you to hire the bike for longer periods of time.
The Final Word on Houston Attractions
Our list has only touched the tip of the iceberg on the delights and entertainments Houston has to offer. We guarantee you won’t have time to be bored when you visit this beautiful city.