If you’re traveling through Texas, then setting aside some time to explore all the fun things to do in Houston is a no-brainer. Known as the “unofficial capital of Texas” for its rich history and culture, Houston has stolen the hearts of many travelers. Here, you’ll find oodles of Southern charm, scrumptious BBQ, and cheerful street art. The Texas Gulf Coast city is also the perfect choice for families, with kid-friendly attractions at every turn.
Houston is home to a whole slew of top tourist attractions and hidden gems. You can spend your vacation lounging the day away at some of the largest metropolitan parks in the U.S.—including Memorial Park and the Buffalo Bayou Park—or dawdling in the halls of ancient art museums.
If you’ve been scouring the internet trying to figure out what to do in Texas’s biggest city, look no further. This complete guide to the best places to visit in Houston, TX, is the perfect place to get started!
Must-see places to visit in Houston, TX
Space Center Houston
Only have one day in Houston? The official visitor center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Space Center Houston should be at the top of your list of things to see & do. Located about 30 minutes southeast of the city center, this famous attraction offers a full day of fun for the entire family—kids and adults alike!
During your Space Center Houston visit, you’ll peruse collections of spacesuits from historic missions, real shuttles, and space artifacts. Visitors can also hop on a tram tour that’ll take you to visit the Johnson Space Center astronaut training facilities and mission control areas. If you’re lucky, you might even meet one of NASA’s real astronauts!
On your way out, be sure to visit the Spacetrader gift shop and bring home some astronaut ice cream. If you haven’t tried this freeze-dried delicacy before, you’re in for a treat!
Looking for a way to cool down before heading back to the city? One of Houston’s most popular beaches, Sylvan Beach Park, is just twenty minutes east of the center in the town of La Porte. Catch a sea breeze with the whole family on the sandy beach, or bring a fishing rod and cast a line into Galveston Bay at the park’s popular fishing pier.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Houston is the perfect destination for museum fanatics. And the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Hermann Park Drive is among the city’s most prestigious. A blast from the past for visitors of all ages, the museum features extraordinary curations of dinosaur skeletons, ancient artifacts, precious gems, and marvels of science and technology.
In addition to the permanent collections and rotating exhibitions, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is also home to a butterfly conservatory, planetarium, night sky observatory, and a 3D IMAX theatre.
Though you could make it through the museum in a couple of hours, you should plan to carve out a whole day of your itinerary to take advantage of everything this top Houston attraction has to offer.
After browsing the exhibit halls at one of Houston’s top museums, guests should check out the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Located on the museum grounds, the Cockrell Butterfly Center features hundreds of butterflies fluttering about the plants and flowers within a rainforest habitat. Be sure to charge up your camera to snap some epic photos of these colorful creatures for your Instagram feed!
Visible from several blocks away, the LED-illuminated Downtown Aquarium has become one of the top points of interest in Houston since opening its doors in 2003. The 6-acre complex houses many themed exhibits. They showcase not only an extraordinary variety of tropical species but also the likes of a shipwreck, sunken temple, and an “offshore” rig. Oh yeah, and they also have an outdoor exhibit that’s home to 4 gorgeous white tigers!
Let’s be clear, though: This is no ordinary aquarium. Entertainment is key here, with a few amusement park rides on-site, including an iconic Ferris wheel and an under-the-sea carousel.
The Downtown Aquarium homes in on providing an immersive experience; they want you to get up close and personal with the resident fishies as you walk through the halls.
If you want to make the most of your day at the aquarium, plan a trip to the underwater restaurant. Here, you can dine amongst the colorful reefs or board a train that’ll take you on a journey through their largest shark tank.
Located on Hermann Park Drive, the Houston Zoo is rated highly among the top tourist attractions in Houston. As it’s home to over 6,000 animals and one of the top zoos in the country, visiting is sure to be an exciting all-day affair.
One of the most popular activities at the Houston Zoo for little ones is a visit to the “swap shop.” Bring along shells, fossils, or rocks (as well as some research into what you found), and a staff naturalist will trade you for points to spend in the gift shop. The more you know about your find, the more you’ll earn!
Have a favorite animal you’d like to get a little closer to? Included in your admission pass is the chance to feed the zoo’s Masai giraffes. Just be sure to build this into your schedule, as these feedings only occur between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
The Houston Zoo also offers several other animal encounter experiences. Give an elephant a bath, go on a walk with a cheetah, play catch with a sea lion, cuddle a sloth, or give a sweet treat to a gorilla—the choice is all yours!
After your zoo visit, spend some time roaming around the rest of Hermann Park. Sprawling a whopping 445 acres, Hermann Park hosts a swath of attractions of its own, including a Japanese Garden, the Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Sam Houston Statue.
Buffalo Bayou Park
A massive urban park, Buffalo Bayou Park is the ideal place in Houston to spend a leisurely day soaking up nature. The renowned expanse of green space has gained national attention for its size: 160 acres is practically unheard of in the middle of a big city!
There’s plenty to do at Buffalo Bayou Park, including a stop at the Wortham Foundation Grove, another Houston sightseeing icon that’s been affectionately dubbed “the dandelion” by the locals.
There’s a network of hike and bike trails running throughout Buffalo Bayou Park, with bike rentals conveniently located at the park entrance. You’ll also find the park filled with food trucks and picnicking families on weekends.
If you plan a day at Buffalo Bayou Park, be sure to stay until sunset. At dusk, a massive colony of Mexican free-tailed bats (nearly 250,000 large) takes flight in droves from under the Waugh Bridge. Though Houston’s bat colony is less of a local phenomenon here than in Austin, you’ll still find massive groups of tourists waiting each night to watch.
Built up an appetite on your Buffalo Bayou adventure? Make a pit stop at Truth BBQ. This rustic Texas barbecue joint on S Heights Blvd is famed among Houstonians for its smoked meat and homemade side dishes, from mac & cheese to banana caramel cake.
The epicenter of Houston outdoor recreation, Memorial Park is much more than a series of well-groomed jogging trails alongside the bayous. This 1,400-acre property is located in the Washington Avenue Coalition / Memorial Park neighborhood, a quick 10-minute drive from downtown. Save time in your itinerary to relax at this urban oasis—or add outdoor activities like mountain biking, tennis, swimming, or golf to your travel plans.
Memorial Park is the largest park in Houston and nearly twice the size of New York’s famous Central Park. Lace up your shoes to explore over thirty miles of walking paths and hiking trails, winding through the natural beauty over small creeks. Or, for a more exhilarating adventure in the outdoors, tune up your mountain bike for a ride along the park’s biking trails in the Bayou Wilds.
If hiking and biking aren’t up your alley, grab your clubs and practice your swing at the Memorial Park Golf Course. Built in 1912, the 18-hole course is considered one of the finest municipal golf courses in the United States.
Built up an appetite on your Memorial Park visit? Slide over to the Picnic Loop entrance near the Eastern Glades to taste some local flavors at one of the food trucks.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Embrace your inner artist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. At this top-notch art museum, you’ll travel across the world and back in time through a creative lens as you wander permanent antiquities collections and rotating art exhibits.
With almost 70,000 works of art from around the globe, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, offers something for every type of art lover. Browse antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Near East in the Audrey Jones Beck Building. Dazzle at the modern & contemporary art collection, featuring artwork by famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. Or get lost exploring the wide array of Islamic, African, and Asian decorative arts.
To get the most out of your experience at the art museum, participate in one of their free guided tours. It’ll guide you through the permanent collection and visit the museum’s satellite sites: the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and the Rienzi House.
Want to set the tone for a fun vacation? Houston Funplex is one of the most popular places to go in Houston if you’re looking for a chance to let loose. Located on Beechnut Street, this indoor amusement park has all the thrills and excitement you could ever imagine under one roof.
Embrace your inner child as you play your way through two stories of VR simulators, gaming stations, inflatable playscapes, arcade rooms, roller skating rinks, go-kart tracks, bowling lanes, and carnival rides. There’s even a full-service sports bar in case you’re needing a few adult beverages to get the party started.
Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly nightlife option or an indoor attraction to escape the Texas heat, the Houston Funplex is sure to be a hit with everyone in your travel crew.
Minute Maid Park
Home of the Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park is a staple of the Houston experience. Especially if you have some MLB fans amongst your travel buddies, a visit to this popular ballpark needs to be added to your Houston itinerary.
As Minute Maid Park is centrally located in Downtown Houston, it’s easy enough to pop in for one of their daily stadium tours on a whim. Or, if you’re visiting during baseball season, head on over to the box office and score some last-minute tickets to the game.
Be sure to indulge in some peanuts or a classic stadium frank as you enjoy this good ol’ fashioned American pastime. You’ll be humming the tune to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” all day long as you cheer on the home team alongside thousands of wild local fans.
Minute Maid Park also opens their doors to fans looking to watch batting practice and potentially have a few autographs signed. It may be worth calling ahead to see what’s happening during your stay in the Houston area.
Outdoor entertainment in Houston lives at the Discovery Green. Wedged between McKinney Street and Lamar Street in the heart of downtown, this pretty urban park is a hotspot for Houston events, from daily gatherings to special celebrations. Two spectacular restaurants surround the green, as well as a dog park and a popular picnic lawn in the shadow of Houston’s downtown skyscrapers.
At Discovery Green, you’ll find yoga classes, festivals, concerts, movies under the stars, night markets, and more. Grab a cup of coffee at the Grizzaffi Coffee stand before catching a breath of fresh air pondside at Kinder Lake. If you’re craving a bite to eat, enjoy some American cuisine at the Lake House or stick-to-your-ribs Brazilian dishes at the Churrasco Food Truck.
When you’re done chillin’ out at Discovery Green, walk a few blocks east to escape the crowds and explore Houston’s East Downtown (EaDo) neighborhood. Downtown’s east end is one of the city’s most interesting corners, jam-packed with street art, craft breweries, and art galleries. Stop by Graffiti Park to check out its colorful wall murals. End the evening wandering along bustling Saint Emanuel Street, the area’s dining and nightlife hub, to enjoy delicious food and cocktails at one of its many eateries, bars, clubs, and live music venues.
Children’s Museum Houston
Right in the heart of Houston’s Museum District is the Children’s Museum Houston. If you’re traveling with kids in tow, it’s the perfect opportunity for your youngest travel companions to let some of their pent-up energy out and learn about the world around them.
Kids as young as three will be enchanted by the educational exhibits and challenge courses at the Children’s Museum Hoston. During each interview experience, they’ll be free to explore age-guided STEM themes and, ultimately, play all day.
And even older kids will adore this top-rated attraction. They’ll have the opportunity to complete secret spy missions, experiment with a 3D printer, and build basic robots with Lego.
The Children’s Museum Houston aims to bring you a stress-free excursion with your kiddos, and every last detail has been thought of to do just that. The museum cafe menu was even designed with picky eaters in mind so you can breeze through lunchtime without a hiccup.
Market Square Park
Sculpture gardens, gargoyles, and mosaic fountains, oh my! Market Square Park is a unique city square in Houston’s Historic District, with plenty of good restaurants and sights to see. Each evening, the park lawn is transformed with activities like lawn games, dancing, live music, and picnics under the Edison lights.
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Be sure to take a picture with “Buster,” the Market Square Park mascot. Crafted by James Philips, the giant wooden dog loves to make friends with tourists—and their furry companions.
In the mood for a little on-the-go dining? Chow down on delicious Greek dishes at Niko Niko’s in the heart of Market Square Park. An outpost of the popular Greek restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood, Niko Niko’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to help fuel your adventures.
After relaxing in Market Square Park, carve out time to explore more of Houston’s Historic District. Exercise your shutter button, grabbing snapshots of the area’s beautiful historic buildings juxtaposed with views of the towering skyscrapers in the nearby business district. Duck into one of the many cafes, eateries, and bars to enjoy everything from a cup of coffee to tacos paired with margaritas.
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Located next to Memorial Park, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is one of the city’s most popular places to visit for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown and into nature.
Tackle one of the 13 hiking trails that span Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, featuring a variety of different landscapes. You can link up from one trail to another if you’d like to extend your walk.
For something a little more unique, you can also take a self-guided “habitat hike,” which comes with a curated playlist for your adventure.
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If you’re planning to head to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center during your travels, you should check their events calendar. The nature center frequently hosts wine and cheese nights, stargazing experiences, and night hikes which have a bit of a cult following amongst the locals.
The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection began as the private art and artifact library of John and Dominique de Menil. Now, it’s so much more! Located on Sul Ross Street in the Montrose neighborhood, the art museum features over 19,000 pieces from across the globe and throughout history. The collection includes works from Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands, as well as Ancient, Byzantine, Medieval, Contemporary, and Modern eras.
Your admission ticket will also grant you entry to The Menil Collection’s rotating galleries of photography, paintings, drawings, and mixed-medium artwork.
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
Located in the Galleria/Uptown neighborhood, Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is one of the most iconic places to see in Houston. Tourists come from far and wide to snap a picture in front of the infamous waterwall, a local feat of engineering and architecture. Constructed of black obsidian, the semi-circular wall is 64 feet tall. It features an intricate fountain system that pumps out nearly 11,000 gallons of water every minute of the day.
Once you’ve taken in the magnificence of the waterwall, the rest of Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is a lovely place to take a stroll or settle in for a relaxing afternoon reading under the trees. Either way, a stop here is a quintessential addition to your Texas sightseeing bucket list.
Art Car Museum
Looking for a quirkier attraction to add to your trip itinerary? The Art Car Museum should be the first stop on your agenda. Rather than roaming the halls of a silent and stuffy art gallery, go explore room after room of eclectic designs and automobile art installations.
Houston is known as the art car capital within the niche, with the highest volume of decorated cars roaming the city streets in the United States. It’s only fitting that the city is home to a dedicated museum.
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You have probably never seen a bedazzled derby car, a wood-bodied vintage covered in forest animals, or a motorized bike with a hippo head. But after one visit to the weird and wonderful Art Car Museum, you won’t be able to say that anymore!
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
Deep downtown is the heartbeat of Houston’s Theater District: The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The venue on Bagby Street is made up of two theatres and is the place to go for a night out to check out performances, whether it’s a musical, play, symphony, or comedy show.
You can choose between a performance in the larger 3-tiered Broadway and box seat hall or its smaller stage for more intimate events. Check the center’s event schedule to see what’s playing during your visit.
The Hobby Center itself is a marvel of architecture, and the interior is equally impressive. You’ll find the lobby decorated with local paintings and sculptures. Even if you’re not taking in a show, the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is worth a trip.
Is the weather not cooperating? Like many of the top downtown landmarks, the Hobby Center is connected to the Houston Tunnel System. Linking 95 blocks with six miles of passageways, the tunnels offer a fantastic way to roam between several popular destinations—without the burden of the hot Texas sun to rattle your adventure.
Where to stay in Houston for sightseeing
For travelers, the top choices for where to stay in Houston include Downtown, Galleria/Uptown, and Northwest Houston/Energy Corridor. These areas & neighborhoods are home to many of the city’s top hotels and will give you easy access to its top points of interest.
Need a comfortable spot without breaking the bank? Bring the whole family along to the Holiday Inn Express Galleria Area. The Galleria shopping mall is just steps away, with hundreds of shops and boutiques to fulfill all your retail therapy needs. After your day of sightseeing, recharge at the rooftop pool or sweat out some Texas BBQ at the fitness center.
Located in the heart of downtown, the Hyatt Regency is the perfect mid-range accommodation choice for your stay in Houston. Before settling down in your relaxing modern digs, eat a delicious meal at the on-site Spindletop, the city’s first rotating restaurant. Or lounge around the heated outdoor pool to cool down in the Texas summer heat.
For the ultimate in Houston luxury, book yourself into one of the luxurious rooms at The Lancaster Hotel. Marked as a Texas Historical Landmark, this boutique hotel charms with golden chandeliers, spiral staircases, and towering columns. Before settling down for the evening, enjoy an innovative meal at the on-site bistro, Cultivated F+B.