It’s popularly known as the ‘Space City’, but there’s a lot more to the largest city in Texas than ’Houston, we have a problem.’ Founded in the early nineteenth century, today Houston combines Big Oil with culture, an internationally renowned Museum District, four universities and the finest facilities for every sport you can name. Linked to the Gulf of Mexico by fifty miles of canal, the importance of shipping to Houston’s booming economy is reflected in the skyscrapers, which fill the business district. Less of a Stetsons and cowboy boots place than other Texan towns, tourist attractions in Houston include designer shopping, vintage outlets, top-class theatre and a growing foodie scene supported by the city’s port heritage and ethnic diversity. Business traveller or tourist, family looking for a week of fun or couple looking for a romantic getaway, you’ll find much to discover here.
10. Pub tours
Houston’s nightlife is lively, from dueling piano bars to hip-hop dives. If you’re not sure where to start, take the guided pub tour which leaves the Public Service Wine and Whiskey Bar at 6.30 each evening and takes you round half a dozen cool places in the historic Old Town, hearing about the hell raising Houston inhabitants of the past, and seeing a few of the present. Expect to pay around $30 (excluding drinks), and the tour takes about three hours. It ends at Georgia’s Market in the downtown near the theater district. Popular with the locals, this cool organic bistro sources all its food from nearby and combines a grocery store, restaurant and wine cellar.
9. Children’s Museum of Houston
You don’t have to have kids to enjoy this fabulous place at 1500 Binz Street in the Museum District. Three floors of fun will keep everyone entertained for half a day at least. Older children will enjoy experimenting with magnets, airflow and paper rockets in the various interactive science exhibits, there’s a soft play area for the very little ones, and supervised arts and crafts activities. It’s a great choice for the family when the city is hot and humid, and there are seasonal activities and exhibits every month – Halloween is a favorite! It’s open Tuesday through Sunday 10 to 6 and tickets are $10. If you’re in town on a Thursday, go for the free family night between 5 and 8.
8. The Menil Collection
Houston has art aplenty, but our recommendation is the Menil Collection at 1515 Sul Ross. With over 17,000 pieces, it’s one of the US’ outstanding private art collections, put together by the French-American businessman and philanthropist John (or Jean) de Menil, and it’s open to the public for free. Spread over several buildings in lovely grounds, it’s a perfect size – not so large that it’s overwhelming but not so little that you’re back out in ten minutes wondering why you bothered. Among the highlights are works by European painters such as Picasso, Cezanne and Magritte, as well as Americans including Warhol, Rothko and Cy Twombly.
7. National Museum of Funeral History
Surprise your friends by messaging them a snap of the National Museum of Funeral History at 415 Barren Spring Drive. It may not sound like a bundle of laughs but you’d be surprised just how fascinating the exhibits of Papal funeral accessories, Day of the Death paraphernalia, embalming tools, historical hearses and other macabre artifacts are. At $10 per adult and $7 per child, it’s great value, kids love it, and it’s open every day of the week until 4pm, 5pm on weekends. And if all that doesn’t get you in a thoughtful mood, take a walk in the beautiful grounds of Glenwood Cemetery close by, surprisingly another of Houston’s most-visited attractions, where some of the most noted citizens of the short-lived Republic of Texas are buried.
6. Kemah Boardwalk
If you’re looking for family-friendly outing in Houston, head twenty miles out of town to Kemah Boardwalk, a huge amusement park overlooking Galveston Bay. There are rides for big kids and little kids, including a charming double-decker carousel, a 65-foot Ferris wheel and a terrifying 140-foot free fall, or you can just stroll down the boardwalk itself and wave to the boaters. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes, including a dining room in the aquarium, which encircles a massive fish tank full of sharks and stingrays. It’s open seven days a week from 11 am until 9 on weeknights, 11 on Fridays and Saturdays and 10 on Sundays. There’s parking available, or you can take a bus from downtown Houston. An All Day Ride Pass costs from $18.99.
5. Houston Zoo
The zoo is one of the places to visit in Houston if you’ve brought the family. Kids won’t want to miss the elephant baths or the new gorilla exhibit and soon they’ll even be able to see the baby capybaras, which were recently born! If you’re willing to pay $3 for some lettuce leaves, you can even feed the giraffes. On hot days, visit the children’s splash pool and get soaked before you tour the enclosures, and if the temperatures are really high, take an hour out in the climate-controlled Wildlife Carousel. It’s reasonably priced at $16 for adults and $12 for children and open every day of the year except Christmas.
4. Museum of National Science
No one visiting Houston should miss out on the grand complex in Hermann Park which houses the Houston Museum of National Science, just one of the buildings in the city’s Museum District. A Planetarium which will hold kids’ attention for hours, a butterfly habitat, an Imax, seriously good exhibits covering everything from fossils through dinosaurs, butterflies and Fabergé eggs … you’ll need half a day at least to do this place justice, and you’ll probably want to go back for more even then. (Checking out the gift shop alone will keep you happy for a good hour). Permanent exhibits are free, temporary ones vary in price. Last entry for the exhibitions is 4pm, and for the planetarium 4.30.
3. Hermann Park
When you’re done with the science, head out into beautiful Hermann Park itself, 400 lush acres to stroll, go pedal boating or take a moment out in the tranquil Japanese Garden. And don’t go home when dusk falls, because that’s when the fun is just beginning at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, where a mixed program of theatre, music and dance is performed eight months a year. Families picnicking on blankets, adults sipping white wine from coolers and the little ones tucking into beef burgers before curling up and dozing to the sounds of jazz, or just the chink of glasses. A magical experience!
2. Galveston Island
Take a trip out of town – some would say, out of Texas itself – to romantic Galveston Island, just fifty miles away on the Gulf coast. If you don’t have your own transport, your best bet is to head back to the airport and take a shuttle bus from there at $20 for the round trip. Head for those long, sandy beaches, rent a bicycle and tour the island at your own leisurely place (expect to pay around $30), explore the vintage shops and charm of the Victorian buildings of Post office Street in the historic Strand, wander along the newly-reopened Pleasure Pier and make sure you eat a seafood grill in one of the many enticing restaurants of the Seawall Boulevard before you return to Houston.
1. Johnson Space Center
You can’t come to Houston and not visit the NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center at 1601 Nasa Parkway. Twenty-five miles south of the city on Clear Lake, the Space Center is home to Mission Control, from where all NASA’s manned space flights have been monitored. Take an open tram tour (check the weather beforehand) round the centers which controlled the Apollo, Mercury and Gemini programs, marvel at real rockets and encounter a virtual rocket launch at the Blast Off Theatre, weigh moon rocks in your hand and experience how it feels to eat, sleep, exercise and work in a microgravity environment. Tickets are $19.95 per adult at the gate (cheaper online) and the Space Center is open 10 to 5 weekdays and 10 to 6 weekends. On Fridays – for an extra fee – you can even have lunch with an astronaut and listen to tales of life in space from someone who was really there.
There a lot of things to do in Houston that you can expect. For cheap travel round the city, buy a Houston City Pass online for $51. It comes packed with useful information about timetables and fees, lasts nine days and includes entry into five attractions including the Space Center and the ‘Museum of Natural Science’.