If you’re traveling through Texas, then setting aside some time to explore some of the best 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 Houston, look no further. This complete guide to the best places to visit in Houston, TX, is the perfect place to get started!
Best 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 in Houston.
During your Space Center Houston visit, you’ll peruse collections of spacesuits from historic missions, real shuttles, and space artifacts. You can also hop on a tram tour that will take you to visit the Johnson Space Center astronaut training facilities and mission control areas. If you’re lucky, you might even meet a real astronaut!
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!
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. 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 really plan to carve out a whole day of your itinerary to take advantage of everything this top Houston attraction has to offer.
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, 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 Houston Zoo 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!
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, such as 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 do 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.
The epicenter of Houston outdoor recreation, Memorial Park is so much more than a series of well-groomed jogging trails alongside the bayous. Throughout this 1,400-acre property, you can go mountain biking, play tennis, go swimming or play golf.
Memorial Park is the largest park in Houston and nearly twice the size of New York’s infamous Central Park. Be sure to save time in your itinerary to relax at this urban oasis.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Embrace your inner artist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Here, you’ll travel across the world and back in time through a creative lens as you wander permanent antiquities collections and rotating art exhibits.
To get the most out of your experience at this 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 best places to go in Houston if you’re looking for a chance to let loose. 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 every member of your 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 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.
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. Located in the heart of downtown, this pretty urban park is a hotspot for Houston events, from daily gatherings to special celebrations. There are two spectacular restaurants surrounding the green, as well as a dog park and a popular picnic lawn.
At Discovery Green, you’ll find yoga classes, festivals, concerts, movies under the stars, night markets, and more. Be sure to pop by to see what’s up.
Children’s Museum Houston
Right in the heart of Houston’s Museum District is the Children’s Museum Houston. If you’re traveling to Houston 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 Houston 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.
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is one of the best places to visit in Houston for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown and into nature.
There are 13 hiking trails that span Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, featuring a variety of different landscapes. You can link up from one to another if you would 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.
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. 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 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
The 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 Houston sightseeing bucket list.
Art Car Museum
Looking for a quirkier Houston attraction? 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 Theatre District: The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The venue is made up of two theatres and is the place to go for a night out at 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 Houston visit.
The Hobby Center itself is a marvel of Houston 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.
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 Houston’s 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 popular Galleria shopping mall is just steps away for 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 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.