Top things to do in Houston: the best attractions of the city

Buffalo Bayou Park Houston

Houston, aka the Space City, is the most populous city in Texas. This big metropolis mixes Texas rodeo culture with aeronautical history and big shopping malls. The city is also known for its diversity and offers a variety of international cuisines, making it one of the top food destinations in the USA.

In addition to cowboys and astronauts, Houston has an effervescent cultural life, mainly represented in the following districts: the Museum District, with 19 museums, and the Theater District, with 9 professional performing arts organizations.

Finally, the city also stands out for being an excellent place for shopping. If you enjoy wandering through malls, galleries, thrift stores, and outlets, Houston is the right city for you.

In this post, you’ll find the best things to do in Houston and learn more about the city’s top attractions.

This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing through these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Tips for visiting Houston

Houston CityPass

To explore the best of Houston, you should purchase the Houston CityPass. By purchasing the pass for US$ 64, you can save up to 47% on some of Houston’s top attractions.

When you purchase the Houston CityPass, you can visit 5 of the top places to visit in Houston, including the Space Center Houston, Downtown Aquarium, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Zoo OR Museum of Fine Arts, and Houston Kemah Boardwalk OR Children’s Museum Houston.

downtown houston skyline

The Best Hotels in Houston

  • Marriot Marquis Houston – A great option of a hotel in Downtown Houston and a perfect place to stay near Minute Made Park, the Convention Center, and the Theater District – a few main places to visit in the city. This well-located hotel also has the world’s largest Texas-shaped rooftop lazy river.
  • The Post Oak Hotel – This hotel is in the Galleria area, where you’ll have access to a wide offer of malls and some of the best restaurants in Houston.
  • Hotel Zaza Museum District – A perfect hotel if you’re planning on exploring the museums of Houston and walking around Herman Park, one of the best parks in the city.
  • Hilton Nasa Clear Lake – This hotel is located only 5 minutes away from the Space Center Houston, giving you the flexibility to explore the nearby attraction without the need for a long commute.
  • La Colombe d’Or – A boutique hotel set in a 1920s mansion, this hotel is in the trendy Montrose neighborhood, close to many cafés and shops. You’ll also be relatively close to Downtown and the Museum District, and the top attractions of Houston.

Getting around Houston

The best way to get around Houston is with a car. If you’re not from the area, you can rent a car at the airport and use it to explore the city. For a big city, parking is relatively easy, making car a convenient way to get around.

I personally use and recommend RentalCars for my trips as it allows me to choose the best price amongst the top car rental companies.

If you don’t want to drive, you can also use the ride-sharing services available in the city, like Uber, Lyft, and the local Alto.

And if you prefer to use the public transportation system, you can rely on METRO. Though it isn’t available throughout the entire city, it’s a good way to explore the main tourist path – Downtown, Museum District, and other areas.

Hermann Park reflection pool

Top things to do in Houston

Here you’ll find the best things to do in Houston. Instead of listing 100 activities in the city, in this guide, you’ll find a curated selection of the city’s top attractions.

So, let’s dive straight into it!

Space Center Houston

You can’t talk about Houston without thinking about the iconic phrase “Houston, we have a problem”, immortalized in the movie Apollo 13.

The famous phrase is used because Houston is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, a facility that houses the International Space Station Mission Control and the astronaut training facility.

And here, you can explore and wander through the Space Center Houston, a museum and Visitor Center full of space artifacts and interactive exhibits to learn more about space exploration. You can also join the NASA Tram Tour to have a peek inside the NASA Johnson Space Center.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the history of the Apollo 13 mission and the universe of spaceships, then the Space Center is worth a visit.

Tickets can be bought online on the Space Center website for US$ 29.95 per adult, US$ 27.95 for seniors, US$ 24.95 for kids ages 4-11, and children ages 3 and younger are free. These prices include parking.

You can also purchase the Space Center Houston ticket at GetYourGuide for US$ 23.49 per adult and pay an extra US$ 5 for on-site parking.

Also, the Space Center is one of the attractions included with the Houston CityPass.

You might also like to read: All you need for planning your visit to Space Center Houston, including how to get here, places to stay nearby, and other tips.

Check out Houston’s museums

The art scene is also another high point of the city, as it has an entire district filled with art attractions – the Museum District. Here you can find top museums and other noteworthy attractions such as the stunning Rothko Chapel and the fun Houston Zoo.

In the area, the must-visit museums include the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Permanent exhibits include the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, packed with stunning gemstones, the Cabinet of Curiosities, where you see and touch the objects displayed, the Morian Hall of Paleontology, with many dinosaur fossils, and more.

Entrance to the Houston Museum of Natural Science is US$ 25 for adults and US$16 for children, but the museum is one of the attractions included in the Houston CityPass. You can also purchase the ticket at GetYourGuide, along with other attractions of the city.

If you’re more into art, you should stop by the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum houses an impressive collection of art from Europe, America, and other parts of the world and hosts temporary exhibitions.

General admission tickets to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts are available online for US$ 19 for adults, US$ 16 for seniors, and US$ 13 for ages between 13 and 18. Additionally, if you purchase the Houston CityPass, the MFA is one of the places you can visit with it.

Other interesting museums are The Menil Collection, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Children’s Museum Houston, and more.

Also, if you’re interested in checking-out many museums in Houston, you should consider purchasing the 1-Day or 3-Day Museum Pass. It allows you to visit up to 8 museums in the city – Houston Museum of Natural Science, The Health Museum, Houston Children’s Museum, Holocaust Museum Houston, Asia Society Texas Center, Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Czech Center Museum Houston, and The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park.

Lastly, if you find yourself in the Museum District, don’t miss the chance to walk around Hermann Park and wander the area to see the reflection pool, the Pioneer Memorial Obelisk, and the Sam Houston Statue.

Downtown and Discovery Green

There’s plenty to do in Downtown Houston, and you can easily spend one day roaming its streets to find colorful graffiti walls, wander its green parks, and eat in its delicious restaurants.

If you prefer to be outdoors, there are two parks you should visit in Downtown Houston: Market Square Park and Discovery Green. The first is small but a good spot for meeting friends or a family day. The last is one of the best parks in the city, with a children’s playground, some art sculptures, a picnic area, a fountain for kids to cool down during the summer, and even an ice rink during the winter months.

Then, along Mckinney St., you’ll find some of the best Downtown Murals, which feature colorful walls with epic writings like Made in Texas, Houston Love, Dream Big, and Hey Y’all.

Also, one of the must-visit spots in Downtown Houston is Phoenicia Specialty Foods, an emporium with international food products and household items. After wandering through the corridors, grab a coffee or something to eat from the food stations – the salads are fresh, the hot dishes are beautifully prepared, and the sweets are delicious.

Additionally, in Downtown Houston, visitors usually spend some time at the George R. Brown Convention Center, a place packed with year-round events that attract people from the whole country.

Another highlight of Downtown is the POST Houston, a newish cultural development with more than 20 food stalls and a communal seating dining style. Here, from the outdoor terrace, you’ll have stunning city views.

You might also like to read: POST Houston – tips for your next visit

And let’s not forget that in Downtown Houston you’ll also find the city’s aquarium, a great place to visit, especially if you’re traveling with kids, the Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, and The Toyota Center for a concert or Houston Rockets game.

Downtown Aquarium

One of the top attractions of Houston for family fun is a visit to the Downtown Aquarium, home to approximately 200 species from both land and sea.

Highlights of Downtown Aquarium include the Texas Bayou exhibit, to tour the marsh and bayous of the Gulf Coast and see alligators and turtles, and the Stingray Reef, where you can touch and feed live stingrays.

After your visit, finish your day with a ride at the Diving Bell Ferris Wheel to be 100 feet in the air and have epic Downtown skyline views.

All-day passes to Downtown Aquarium Houston can be purchased online for US$ 22.99 for kids and US$ 24.99 for adults. Additionally, the aquarium is one of 5 places you can visit with the Houston CityPass.

View of Downtown Aquarium from POST Houston

Houston Zoo

When you visit the Museum District, you’ll also find the Houston Zoo nearby, a great place to visit for families in the city.

Of the many animals found in Houston Zoo, which include the Black Bear, African Lion, and Malayan Tiger, the flamingos are some of the cutest you can find here.

Besides, kids can ride on the wildlife carousel and have the opportunity to meet some animals through the Animal Encounters program.

Tickets to the Houston Zoo operate on a flex pricing basis and start at US$ 20.70. And in case you need more reasons to purchase the Houston CityPass, the zoo is one of 5 attractions.

Experience the Houston Rodeo

Every year, the city hosts the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo – the world’s largest livestock exhibition and rodeo.

Apart from the livestock show, you can attend music concerts by famous artists. In the past, big names like Tim McGraw, Khalid, Brad Paisley, and Beyoncé have performed on the stage.

And if you want some family amusement, you can attend the carnival, which is full of fun rides, food stands, and a 130-feet Ferris wheel.

The event usually happens from the end of February until mid-March. In 2023, the Houston Rodeo will run from February 28 until March 19.

Explore the restaurants and flavors of the city

Houston is known for its culinary scene and its restaurants and bars, being the perfect weekend getaway for some wine and dining in the USA.

Amongst the restaurants, you can find great Mexican food (or Tex-Mex), exceptional Asian cuisine, delicious Texas barbecue, and a touch of Gulf flavors.

When craving barbecue, the best places to eat in the city are Truth BBQ, The Pit Room, Pinkerton’s Barbecue, and Killen’s BBQ (located in Pearland, approximately 30 minutes from Houston, but so worth a visit).

For Mexican Food and Tex-Mex, the go-to and must-visit restaurants in Houston are Xochi, The Original Ninfa’s, Hugo’s, and Escalante’s.

Other top restaurants in the city include Coppa Osteria, for Italian dishes; Uchi, for Japanese food; Le Colonial, for Vietnamese French fusion; Traveler’s Table, for international food; and Perry’s, for high-quality steaks.

Stroll the parks of the city

Besides the summer, when the heat can be extreme, the weather in Houston is perfect year-round. So, it’s one of the best cities in Texas to be out and enjoy a lovely day outdoors.

Perfect for outdoor activity, the lush and spacious parks of the city are some of the best places to visit in Houston.

Of the best parks to visit in Houston, Buffalo Bayou Park is a famous one and a personal favorite. There are miles of trails for exercising, whether walking, running, or biking. You can also kayak and canoe in the park’s waters.

Also, due to its location, Buffalo Bayou Park offers stunning views of the Downtown skyline and is a great sunset spot in Houston.

Now, if you’re in the Museum District, Hermann Park is loved by families and visitors exploring the area’s museums.

At Hermann Park, don’t miss the chance to see the stunning reflection pool with the Pioneer Memorial Obelisk at the end and the Sam Houston Statue. You can also rent pedal boats to navigate McGovern Lake in the park.

Other must-see spots in Hermann Park are the Japanese Garden, Miller Outdoor Theater (for outdoor presentations), and McGovern Centennial Gardens.

Another park to visit in Houston is Memorial Park, an extensive green area with lots of running/walking trails and a golf course. The park’s highlight is Hines Lake, which forms a reflection pool and is near the picnic area. You’ll also find the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary here.

Pedal boats at Hermann Park lake in Houston

Go shopping

Houston is also one of the best cities in Texas for shopping. There are tons of places to visit here and get what you need.

When it’s time to shop, the best option is a stop at The Galleria – the largest mall in Texas and one of the biggest in the USA. The mall has a variety of shops: from department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom to designer ones like Chanel, Celine, and Saint Laurent, and the more common ones like GAP, Abercrombie and Banana Republic. It’s a place you’ll certainly find everything you need.

If you’re looking for designer brands, you should visit the River Oaks District, an open-air mall with big names like Dior, Cartier, and Hermès.

And if you’re more into vintage stuff, head over to the Montrose neighborhood to wander its streets filled with thrift stores.

Sip a coffee

One of the top things to do in Houston is to visit its many coffee shops. So, whether you want a place to study or work, a place to shoot Instagram content, or just a great coffee, you won’t be disappointed!

Of the many coffee shops in the city, my go-to ones are BlendIn Coffee Club, Tenfold, Luce Avo, and Cavo Coffee.

For a trendy one with lots of unique flavors, head over to La La Land Kind Cafe.

And if you want to grab a coffee along with a bite to eat, then Bluestone Lane is a cute Aussie café that also has locations in New York and recently landed in Houston.

You might also like to read: the best coffee shops to check out in Houston

Oat milk flat white at BlendIn Coffee Shop

Go to an Astros Game

The Minute Maid Park is the home ballpark of the Houston Astros (go Astros!). The stadium is located in Downtown Houston, near other top attractions of the city.

If you’re visiting the city during the baseball season, you should add an Astros game to your itinerary.

Find instagramable spots

The most Instagrammable places in Houston are scattered around the city.

For graffiti walls, the best ones are located in The Heights (Greetings from Houston and the Texas flag are here), Montrose, and Downtown (Hey Y’All, Dream Big, and Houston is Inspired).

Other top Instagrammable places in Houston are the Japanese Gardens, Gerald D. Hines Waterwall, McGovern Centennial Gardens, and Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.

Immersive experience

If you visited the Museum District and still need a bit more art, there are some immersive art experiences to enjoy while in the city.

You can check out the Van Gogh exhibit, where you see his art coming into life with the help of technology.

Also, the Immersive Monet & The Impressionists exhibition can transport you to the canvas of renowned artists.

Van Gogh Immersive Experience Houston
Van Gogh Immersive Experience Houston

Brewery

Any craft beer lover can find an interesting brewery to visit in Houston.

For the days you want an outdoor patio for day drinking, Saint Arnold is the most famous one. This brewery is an institution and one of the top breweries in Houston.

If you prefer to sip a beer with incredible views, Buffalo Bayou has extraordinary views of Downtown and is an excellent spot for sunset.

Other top breweries in the city are 18th Street, 8th Wonder, and Karbach.

The best day trips

If you have enough time to explore all the things to do in Houston and the attractions mentioned above, you should consider exploring other places near the city. You can go on fantastic day trips from Houston and explore the best of Texas.

The easiest one is Galveston, a quick 40-minute drive from Houston and a great day trip for a seaside getaway. You can spend your day by the beach, going on rides at the pier, or strolling through the Strand District – a National Historic Landmark District with Victorian-era buildings that house restaurants and antique stores today.

Meanwhile, Texas Hill Country, San Antonio, and Austin are less than 3 hours away by car.

In San Antonio, you can visit The Alamo, the Spanish Missions, and the River Walk. If you’re with kids, you can also go to the Sea World and Six Flags.

In Austin, you can visit the Texas Capitol, dine in excellent restaurants, and stroll around Lady Bird Lake.

In the Texas Hill Country, you can spend your day visiting top wineries and sampling various wines. If you like being outdoors, in the area, you can see the Pedernales Falls and Enchanted Rock, some of the best natural attractions in Texas.

With more time, you can go on a 4-hour drive to Waco, where Magnolia Market and Silos is, or Dallas to glimpse the cowboy culture in Texas.

Pedernales Falls State Park
Pedernales Falls State Park

FAQ

Is Houston famous for anything?

The city is known for its cultural diversity and big dining scene. Also, Houston is famous for being home to the Space Center, a museum and Visitor Center where you can peek inside NASA Johnson Space Center and learn about space exploration.

Is there anything fun to do in Houston?

Of the fun activities in the city, the top attractions are a visit to the Space Center, attending an Astros game at Minute Maid Park, trying Texas BBQ, and going to the Houston Rodeo.

Is Downtown Houston safe?

Yes, Downtown Houston is safe and one of the city’s best places to visit. However, it’s always advised to be cautious at night. Like anywhere, you should mind your belongings and avoid walking alone late at night.

Done with all the places to visit in Houston? You might also like to read:

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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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