Houston is the largest city in Texas, both in terms of area and population. It is located near Galveston Bay and is a must-visit on a trip to Texas. Houston has abundant cultural and family-friendly attractions and is a top urban destination in the country.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Houston for every age group. From museums and zoos to fascinating art installations and aerospace artifacts, tourists can have fun exploring the many cool things to do in the city.
The city is also known for its culinary attractions. The city has many iconic dishes from the world-famous Texas barbeque to Vietnamese Cajun crawfish boils. The city also has plenty of parks and green spaces as well as bustling suburbs like the Woodlands and Katy which are destinations in their own right.
Houston also hosts many events and festivals including the ever-popular Houston Rodeo and the unique Art Car Parade. Add in the awesome opportunities for shopping and Houston promises an exciting family getaway in the Lone Star State.
Where to Stay in Houston
While Houston has many attractions, it is also sprawling and spread out – that’s why it is essential to stay near the attractions or you will spend a lot of time caught in the city’s chaotic traffic!
If your focus is on the Houston Museum District, which contains popular attractions such as the zoo and the Fine Arts Museum, and Natural Science Museum, then stay in nearby Montrose or the Heights.
Downtown is another great place to stay. You can take a stroll at the Buffalo Bayou, enjoy the Discovery Green ice rink in the holiday season, or catch a game of the Houston Astros at the Minute Maid Park.
If shopping is more your thing, then book a hotel in the Galleria. You will be a stone’s throw away from luxury boutique stores in the Galleria, Uptown, and River Oaks shopping centers. See the beautiful Gerald Hines Waterwall and enjoy the bars, nightlife, and restaurants in this trendy district.
Best Things to do in Houston
Houston is home to an array of interesting activities and attractions. The city has many things to do for everyone regardless of interests and age groups.
Outdoor enthusiasts can go biking on the Buffalo Bayou while families with kids can enjoy the Houston Zoo and butterfly exhibit. Cultural enthusiasts can visit the Museum of Fine Art or the Holocaust Museum.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Houston:
See Apollo 13 spacecraft at the Space Center
Houston’s most famous landmark is the Space Center, the official visitor center of the Johnson Space Center. This space center was best known for the Apollo 13 quote: ‘Houston, we have a problem’.
There are educational exhibits and cool attractions: fly through space in a supersonic elevator, take a voyage of discovery to Mars, and see the Starship Gallery, where astronauts were primed for life in space.
You can also take a look here at the historic control center where Neil Armstrong’s moon landing was coordinated. The Space Center is very popular. Do you want to bypass queues? Then be ready when the museum opens its doors at 09:00.
Ride a bull at the Houston Rodeo
Can you really visit Texas without seeing a rodeo? Nah!
One of the largest annual events in the city is the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. During this three-week festival in March, “H-Town” shows off its livestock and numerous events are organized to entertain the two million visitors.
Houston Rodeo is said to be the best in the country and the lineup of concerts is equally stunning. At the live performances, you can expect an interesting mix of artists from locally famous to internationally renowned belt out everything from country to rap songs.
During the day, visitors can watch a variety of competitions including bareback riding, bull riding, roping and racing, and more. Other events include a cookoff, parade, carnival, livestock auctions, and educational events for kids.
See the fall foliage at Hermann Park
Hermann Park is adjacent to the Museum District, south of Downtown. This busy city park is one of the largest urban parks in the country. It is popular both with residents and tourists alike for its recreational opportunities.
Hermann Park is located a few minutes away from downtown Houston and is the green lung of the city. The McGovern Centennial Gardens is a focal point of the park and looks beautiful in every season. The outdoor amphitheater at the park hosts many performances year-round.
The park also has a reflection pool, a Japanese Garden, a lake where you can go paddling, play areas, a railroad ride, and picnic tables. In addition to a golf course, the Houston Zoo is also part of the park.
View the animals at Houston Zoo
Houston Zoo is located in Hermann Park and serves as an oasis in the center of Houston. Here you can admire wildlife from every corner of the world. If you are visiting Houston with kids, then we definitely recommend visiting the Houston Zoo.
Related: Best Things to do in Texas with kids
At the zoo, kids can spot gorillas, feed giraffes, see the lions and tigers roar, watch turtles swim in teh aquarium with colorful tropical fish, and get up close with many more species. The zoo also has a children’s zoo, splash areas, a carousel, and a petting zoo.
The zoo is open every day of the year except on Thanksgiving and Christmas and welcomes over two million visitors per year. Besides the fun aspect of admiring these wild animals from a safe distance, the zoo also has many educational programs for kids.
Enjoy a live performance at the Miller Outdoor Amphitheatre
The Miller Outdoor Theatre is another attraction well worth visiting, located in Hermann Park in the heart of the Houston Museum District. This outdoor theater offers about a hundred performances per year ranging from classical music, ballet, movies, and plays.
The great thing about this theater is not only that it is located in the outdoors, but is completely free as well. Performances run from March through October. Tickets are limited to four per person and come on a first-come-first-serve basis between 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on the day of the performance.
Chase the dinosaurs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is very popular with families and science enthusiasts. The museum has several galleries and exhibits which focus on diamonds and precious minerals, chemistry, Texas wildlife, and energy.
Our favorite section is the dinosaurs hall. Here kids can see skeletons and learn more about the prehistoric beasts that once roamed the earth. Another great gallery is Ancient Egypt – here you can see mummies and a real cabinet of curiosities.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science also has a gigantic IMAX screen on which you can watch nature films in razor-sharp 3D. The films keep changing and are based on natural phenomena such as oceans, hurricanes, or the human body.
The Natural Science Museum is located within Hermann Park in the Museum District. It is adjacent to the Houston Zoo and you can easily see both the attractions in one day.
Watch the colorful butterflies at the Cockrell Butterfly Center
Always wanted to take a stroll through a world filled with fluttering butterflies? You can at Houston’s one of a kind Cockrell Butterfly Exhibit!
The Cockrell Butterfly Center is a separately ticketed attraction of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Here you can marvel at some of the largest and most colorful butterflies in the world. The exhibit has about 50 to 60 species of butterflies to admire.
The center also includes several educational exhibits. Kids can learn more about bugs and also catch a glimpse of scorpions, spiders, beetles, cockroaches, and more.
Admire the artwork at the Museum of Fine Arts
In addition to the Museum of Natural Science, you will find six major art museums in Houston. The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is by far the most popular choice.
The museum collection ranges from African masks and hats to sculptures and paintings by American artists. They also have an extensive collection of Asian art. The museum also hosts many temporary exhibitions that change regularly.
The museum has free entry on Thursdays and is closed on Mondays. Part of the Museum of Fine Arts is the Bayou Bend Collection & Gardens. Located in the former home of philanthropist Ima Hogg, the collection displays period furniture, silver, ceramics, and paintings by American artists.
See the Menil Collection
If you have the time, The Menil Collection on Sul Ross Street is also worth a visit. The collection has over 10,000 works of art. The museum was created from the private collection of John and Dominique de Menil and is free to visit.
The Menil collection ranges from antiques, Byzantine & Middle Ages, African art, Native American art, Pacific Northwest art, to contemporary modern art. You will find renowned works by Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso in the collection.
Be inspired at the Rothko Chapel
Rothko Chapel is a perfect place to visit for those who are looking for solitude, beautiful artwork, or a stunning place to pray. The chapel is located in the Museum District of Houston and also serves as an art museum.
Shaped like an octagon, the chapel has beautiful architecture. The chapel walls have several paintings of the artist Mark Rothko. These unique paintings are all black but have slightly different hues and are open to interpretation by visitors.
Looking at the paintings is almost a spiritual experience. The chapel walls also have murals by other artists. In the exterior, you will find the beautiful Broken Obelisk sculpture which is also worth a look.
The chapel is free and open to all people, regardless of their beliefs, every day of the year. It is located next to the Menil Collection and we recommend seeing both in a single visit.
Enjoy the modern art at the Contemporary Arts Museum
The stainless steel building that now houses the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum was built in 1972 but the collection has its origins in a traveling exhibition around the city.
The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston is dedicated to displaying whimsical and striking modern art pieces to visitors. Entry to the museum is always free and it is a great place to visit on a rainy or hot summer day.
While the museum does not have any permanent collections, the temporary exhibits always keep changing and offer a different experience with every visit.
Let the kids run amok at the Children’s Museum of Houston
The Children’s Museum of Houston is the most visited museum of its kind in the country. The museum contains ten highly interactive exhibits, such as the FlowWorks water system and Kidtropolis – a child-sized city complete with skyscrapers, city government, and different professions.
Babies and toddlers up to the age of 35 months can also explore the Tot Spot, which houses toys and structures with the youngest children in mind. Constantly changing activity stations have been set up throughout the museum meaning there is always something new to discover.
The museum is a favorite with our kids and we love recommending it to all families with kids.
Photograph the skyline at Buffalo Bayou Park
The Buffalo Bayou Park is a recreational park named after the Buffalo River that runs through downtown Houston. The park stretches from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive and is considered one of the most beautiful urban areas in the United States.
In the park, you will find beautiful gardens, hiking and biking trails, public artwork, and two visitor centers. There is also a dog area for residents to walk their dogs. Recreational visitors can rent a bike, canoe, or kayak to explore the surroundings.
The expansive skatepark is also very popular with skateboarders. We especially love photographing the skyline from the eastern end of the park.
Have a romantic evening at the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
The Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is probably the most photographed site in Houston. This horseshoe-shaped water wall is located near the Galleria Mall at Post Oak Boulevard.
It is the most famous water fountain in the United States. It is 20 meters tall and looks absolutely beautiful. Over 40000 liters of water flow per minute over the structure of inner and outer walls.
While the water wall is beautiful at any time of the day, we highly recommend visiting it in the evening or night when the wall is lit. The fountain used to be private property but in 2008 the city bought it to make it public.
The park also has a lawn and beautiful live oak garden which is popular for proposals and photo ops in the city.
Take a stroll around Memorial Park
Memorial Park in Houston is often referred to as the largest urban park in Texas. Its size attracts many joggers as a lap around the park takes about 2.8 miles. This is a great place to get in some exercise while visiting the city.
Besides being a great location for joggers, the park is also home to the municipal 18-hole golf course, tennis facilities, swimming pool, biking trails, and a skate park. There also is a baseball and football field within the park. The annual Bayou City Art Festival takes place here in March.
Enjoy being in nature at Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is located in the north of the river Buffalo Bayou and occupies the western section of the Memorial Park. The arboretum is a great place to visit for tree lovers and nature enthusiasts.
This non-profit nature area is not only a great place to learn about different plants, but it plays a crucial role in the preservation and protection of many native plants and animals that are threatened by the development of the city.
The Houston Arboretum has a 5-mile network of trails that is free for visitors to explore. The arboretum looks stunning in different seasons. Our favorite time to visit is the spring when you can admire a variety of flowers.
Go ice skating at Discovery Green
The Discovery Green is located in the center of Houston. Ever since 2008, when it was opened to the public, the park has been an oasis for residents who want to escape urban life and interact with nature.
The Discovery Green park has a small artificial lake where you can rent kayaks. The park also has many resting areas, picnic tables, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Families can enjoy a game of croquet, bocce ball, or horseshoes.
The park is also a popular setting for several events throughout the year, including free yoga lessons, outdoor movies, and live concerts. In the holiday season, the park hosts a skating rink and is very popular to visit.
See the Twilight Epiphany at the Rice University
Rice University in Houston is one of the top universities in Texas and has a campus of whooping 294 acres. It is located in the very heart of Houston, close to the Houston Museum District. While university campuses are often overlooked as tourist attractions, Rice University has plenty of things to do.
Near the Shepherd School of Music, you will find the Twilight Epiphany skyspace. Created by the American artist James Turrell, the pavilion paints an ethereal picture at sunrise or sunset. The campus also has beautiful architecture and various pop art installations.
Visit the Orange Show and Smither Park
The Orange Show is one of the most underrated attractions in Houston. Here you will find handcrafted art and sculptures. It is one of its kind folk art in the country. Its creator was inspired by Florida oranges and created the entire artwork dedicated to the fruits.
The Orange Show foundation also manages the nearby attractions of Smither park, Houston’s famous Art Car Parade, and the Beer Can House. We recommend visiting these as well, especially the Smither Park.
Smither Park is a colorful urban area that was developed with the aid of artists and the community. It is located right next to the Orange Show and you will always see artists working on the next project in the park.
Enjoy the thrilling rides at Kemah Boardwalk
Kemah Boardwalk, located about 20 miles outside of Houston, is an amazing place to visit for the whole family. This typical American boardwalk has everything from roller coaster rides, carousels, ferris wheels, to gaming arcades and boutique shops.
Entry to the boardwalk is free while the ticketed attractions are extra. The Boardwalk train ride is a favorite with our kids. The boardwalk also has many amazing restaurants where you can dine on freshly caught seafood. The boardwalk is fun to simply wander, people watch, enjoy a sunset, and have fun with the little ones.
Dine underwater at the Downtown Aquarium
Well, not exactly underwater but pretty close! The Downtown Aquarium in Houston is part attraction and part unique dining destination. The aquarium has a restaurant where you enjoy great meals while admiring the wall-to-wall aquarium.
If you are lucky you can spot scuba divers in the tank feeding the fish. The Downtown Aquarium also has a ferris wheel, an aquatic carousel, and several exhibits including a Bengal tiger!
Visitors can encounter alligators in the Louisiana Swamp or step inside the sunken hull of a 17th century Spanish galleon in the Shipwreck exhibit. This is our favorite, here you can see coral reefs and several species of the underwater world.
Other exhibits include the rainforest and the Sunken Temple that educates about the legend of El Dorado.
Shop til you drop at the Galleria
The Galleria is the largest mall in Texas and therefore the place in Houston to shop for all your needs! The super modern mall has over 375 stores with famous brands and is the reason why Houston has a reputation as a shopping destination.
The Galleria attracts about 24 million visitors a year with designer shops including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren. Kids can visit the Lego store and then have a cheesecake at the cheesecake factory.
In addition to a number of luxury brands, the shopping center also has many restaurants and an ice rink. We love going to the Galleria to enjoy an amazing day out with the kids.
See the historic structures at Sam Houston Park
Sam Houston Park, in downtown Houston, is dedicated to preserving and conserving buildings of Houston’s Past. The Heritage Society preserves the park and also manages the Heritage Society Museum.
Within the park, you can view many historical buildings. Most of the houses date back to the 19th century. The park is a tribute to the people who have founded the city and have been instrumental in its development.
The park is built in Victorian style and has several footpaths. Inside you will find several historic homes and buildings including an old mill, rustic cabin, 1891 church, and a rustic bridge over the river.
Some of the most famous homes include the Kellum-Noble House, Pillot House, Nichols-Rice-Cherry House, and Yates House. The museum also has many exhibits related to Texas’s history.
We hope you liked our post on the Best Things to do in Houston. Did we miss out on any of your favorite attractions? Let us know in the comments!