Houston is nothing short of amazing. The southern city is one of the best places to visit in the USA, thanks to its plethora of attractions and infectious cosmopolitan style. Historic buildings, cultural centers, art museums, and green space – Houston ticks so many boxes. It is also iconically nicknamed ‘space city’ and is home to the NASA Johnson Space Center. There are tons of fun things to do in Houston.
Top Things to Do in Houston
Visiting Houston is a guaranteed adventure. As the fourth largest city in the USA, it has some of the most diverse neighborhoods and cool entertainment scenes. When it comes to things to do in Houston, a world-class itinerary awaits you. We’ve managed to whittle it down to the top 25 things to do in Houston – check out these show-stopping attractions.
1. NASA Johnson Space Center Houston
NASA Johnson Space Center is the Houston icon. NASA Johnson is where US astronauts undertake their training, and it is the home of Mission Control. Aka, NASA is the base of US space exploration. Whether you are a space enthusiast or have just watched many movies, the Space Center is one of the best things to do in Houston.
Next to the NASA space center, Space Center Houston is a nonprofit museum and official visitor center for NASA. Spacer Center Houston is where you can learn more about how astronauts are trained and all things space. It is a great itinerary addition with permanent exhibits, interactive exhibits, and of course, a gift shop.
You will need a timed entry ticket which you can purchase here before visiting. Or if you are planning on seeing a lot of different museums and attractions the Houston CityPASS is definitely worth it. Check out prices here.
2. Cockrell Butterfly Center
Cockrell Butterfly Center is one of the most immersive things to do in Houston. In a huge glass building in Houston’s Museum District, the Butterfly Center has hundreds of butterflies living in a tropical greenhouse-style habitat.
The massive center is large enough to fit countless full-size trees and features waterfalls and ponds. Not only is it a beautiful indoor garden space, but it is also a wonderful setting to see the myriad of butterflies.
Cockrell Butterfly Center is adjoining the Houston Museum of Natural Science. However, it is such an iconic attraction in Houston that we had to give it its own section. Besides, you book entrance tickets separately anyway.
The center is a beautiful attraction in Houston, and the extra exhibit halls in Brown Hall at the end make it an educational day out.
3. Houston Museum of Natural Science
Houston Museum of Natural Science is worthy of an entire day from your itinerary. We love how immersive and engaging it is – it was guaranteed a place on our list from the start. The museum isn’t just full of exhibits.
It has cinema-style entertainment with films on topics ranging from Tutankhamun to astrology. Houston Museum of Natural Science is also home to Burke Baker Planetarium, which is fitting considering Houston’s nickname of space city.
Regarding museums in Houston, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is easily in the top three. Check out the schedule before visiting because there’s so much on. This museum is constantly throwing out new exhibits, events, and attractions. It is a good idea to get your tickets before you go so you don’t have to stand in line.
4. Art Car Museum
Art Car Museum is one of the more unusual things to do in Houston. The private museum is a contemporary art venture. It displays a range of vintage cars decked out in decorations by lesser-known or up-and-coming artists. Art Car Museum is really one-of-a-kind. If you want something novel to do in Houston, it’s a fun addition to your stay.
The museum doesn’t just stick to local artists; you can view ‘car art’ from a broad range of international artists. Car enthusiasts prepare to shudder at using such classic cars as a canvas. But art enthusiasts (or anyone with an open mind) will appreciate the creativity of the exhibits.
Houston’s Chinatown is the ultimate spot for embracing Indochinese culture. We suggest doing the classic food crawl experience. Chinatown has a Hong Kong Food Market – you can pick up some staples if you have booked self-catered accommodation.
It also has a ton of brilliant restaurants. You could treat yourself to some delicious dim sum, a heaped plate of prawn chow mein, or fragrant duck meat.
Chinatown is in Houston’s western suburbs, near a collection of golf clubs and below Bear Creek Pioneers Park. It is just a 20-minute drive from the city center or an hour on public transport. Don’t just visit for food, either.
Houston’s Chinatown offers a fantastic range of discount shops with electronics and jewelry on Harwin Drive. While for a more educational experience, you can take an Asian heritage tour from the Chinese Community Center.
6. Galveston Island State Park
It is no secret that Texas has some of the most incredible beaches. And in Galveston Island State Park, its 2,000 acres contain gorgeous beaches connected by a network of hiking trails and wildlife along the way. Spending a day at the state park is one of the best things to do in Houston. Galveston is like a beach day with a twist.
There are plenty of activities when you aren’t kicking back on a remote beach. Galveston has perfect conditions for kayaking adventures, and its coastlines are lined by scenic boardwalks that are great for birdwatching. Visiting this park is easily one of the most fun things to do if you want to get out of the city.
7. Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park is beautiful. The urban park spans 160 acres of manicured grounds and is famed for its view of the Houston skyline. The skyscrapers peeking up from behind the trees is honestly postcard worthy – or at least, a must-snap for your Instagram. Visiting Buffalo Bayou Park is one of the most scenic things to do in Houston.
The park gets its name from the Buffalo Bayou, a slow body of water that is somewhat halfway behind a waterway and river. The lazy water runs straight through the middle of Buffalo Bayou Park, which is famous for watersports.
8. Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall is a tall, white tower of a building. It is the city of Houston’s government headquarters and the hub of all things political. Architecturally, Houston City Hall is interesting to stop by and look at. The most striking features are the trademark Texas Cordova limestone and the elegant reflective pool in front.
One of the most political things to do in Houston is to tour the interior of Houston City Hall. Amazingly, tours are free when booked through the official website. They run on weekdays and whisk visitors through the council chambers and offices. A tour is the most engaging way to experience Houston City Hall. And by heading inside, you get an in-depth and rare insight into the background of the political scene.
9. Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is one of Houston’s most accomplished attractions. This colossal museum displays stunning fine art from ancient to contemporary periods. Rather than just permanent exhibits, the museum always has a fresh rotation of fine arts exhibits – including pieces in unique, futuristic settings like rainbow light tunnels. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most fun things to do in Houston.
Located in the Houston Museum District, Art lovers will appreciate diversity and creativity. Even those who believe galleries are dusty and can be found anywhere will love Houston’s Fine Arts Museum. The museum has a strong personality and lots to add to an ongoing creative conversation. If you are really into museums then we suggest grabbing the Museum Pass which gets you into all the coolest museums including this one.
10. Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Attending Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the most exciting things to do in Houston. The event runs annually from late February into early March. It claims to be the world’s largest of its kind, and one thing is for sure – you are guaranteed a good show.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have everything from classic rodeo events like bareback riding and roping to buying opportunities in auctions and sales. Because of the range of the event, it attracts a mixed crowd. So be prepared to rub shoulders with all sorts of visitors. To embrace the Texan cowboy and cowgirl spirit, mark it on your calendar.
11. Memorial Park
Memorial Park is the largest park in Houston. Houston’s memorial park is a staggering 1,500 acres – nearly 2 times the size of Central Park in New York. The park was dedicated to the soldiers of World War I and opened to the public in 1925. Visitors can enjoy a mix of walking, running, and biking trails.
Memorial Park is also full of wildlife. You can spot doves, snakes, and turtles, just to name a few. The park is a beloved nature reserve in Houston.
Memorial Park is one of the most classic things to do in Houston. If you want a large park to explore while paying your respects to the soldiers of World War I, note this attraction down.
12. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is a collection of American decorative arts and paintings. Most impressively, it is situated in the former residence of Ima Hogg – a renowned philanthropist and previous civic leader. Ima’s house makes the perfect setting for this collection of fine art.
The home resides on 14 acres of pristine gardens. It opens its doors all year round to visitors wanting to experience fine art in a private, domestic setting.
The historical and private setting bags Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens a spot on our recommendations of things to do in Houston. The museum has a unique setting ideal for art enthusiasts looking to experience a slightly different gallery style.
13. Health Museum
The Health Museum is one of the most fascinating (and niche) scientific things to do in Houston. The museum is entirely dedicated to health and the human body. From a Living Icons photo exhibit devoted to hundreds of Houston’s COVID-19 victims to a bicycle you pedal to see how hard the heart works, the Health Museum works hard to immerse its visitors. The museum doesn’t just feature exhibits; it has a 4D and 3D theater to watch the latest science and health-related movies.
The Health Museum is easily one of our top recommendations. Whether you are 5 or 50, the creativity behind the museum’s exhibits and layout makes it a fascinating place.
14. Graffiti Park
This attraction is one for the skater crowd and art enthusiasts. Anyone who loves snapping photographs should also be interested because the artwork at Graffiti Park is awe-inspiring. Iconic in some cases.
Graffiti Park is located south of Houston City Center – easy to reach by car or public transport. The graffiti covers a few blocks, so visiting isn’t massively time-consuming. Allow at least an hour, perhaps a little longer, if you want to get involved with the art or more serious photography. Check out this Instagram Tour that takes you to all the best spots.
15. The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is a hub for drama and all lovers of the stage. The Hobby Center boasts two theaters and a three-story lobby with views of the Houston skyline.
In short, it is a beautiful setting for an elegant evening watching a performing arts show. The dress code is business casual – which can include cocktail dresses and usually suits.
If you love live music and acting, check out the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts schedule. Tickets sell out in advance. But if you are organized, you’ll have no issues; even last minute, you can get lucky. Past and current shows include Moulin Rouge, Treasure of the East, and Legally Blonde.
16. San Jacinto Monument
The San Jacinto Monument is a dramatic 567-foot column in the Houston Ship Channel. A 220-ton star sits atop the colossal structure as a commemoration of the Battle of San Jacinto. History buffs will likely already know that the Battle of San Jacinto was a turning point in the Texas Revolution.
And the San Jacinto Monument honors those who fought for Texan independence. Plus, it is the world’s tallest war memorial, if all that wasn’t enough for you.
You can ride the elevator to the observation tower at the top of the monument. Tickets are extremely reasonable as well, at under $10. The San Jacinto Monument is a fascinating place to visit and perfect for those interested in US history.
17. Miller Outdoor Theatre
Ready for another performing arts attraction? Catching a performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre is one of the most entertaining things to do in Houston. Unlike the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, its draw is the fact that it is outdoors.
Located on 7.5 acres in the corner of Hermann Park, the theater has rows of seats under a tent-style canopy. But most people just grab a spot on the surrounding grass. If you visit in the summer, check the schedule and bring some movie snacks for a unique take on your standard theater experience.
18. Discovery Green
Discovery Green is an exciting attraction in Houston. It best suits families and teenagers and contains different activities and miniature attractions. The 12-acre park has a putting green, art installations, and countless scenic gardens – including the Allen Family Rose Garden. Entering Discovery Green is free. And on a warm day, you can easily spend all day there rotating between its different mini attractions.
19. Children’s Museum Houston
The Children’s Museum Houston is one of the best things to do in Houston for family fun. The museum contains interactive exhibits targeting children’s development stages and key interests.
Like many others across the US, the Houston Children’s Museum is a perfect indoor day out. Parents can relax knowing they are taking their kids somewhere educational, yet kids love the experience. It is one of the most fun things to do in Houston for young visitors.
The Children’s Museum Houston exhibits include the EcoStation, Cyberchase, Challenge Course, and Power Science Lab. The exhibits are so engaging it will be fun for the parents to watch their tots play too.
20. Watch a Baseball Game at Minute Maid Park
Watching a game of baseball at Minute Maid Park is an absolute must. Baseball fan or not, the Houston Astros are a leading team in the baseball Major League. And there is no better way to experience a city’s community than to attend a home game.
Booking a ticket to watch the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park might need some forward planning. If you are keen on watching a game at Minute Maid Park, we suggest booking your trip to Houston around the dates you buy tickets. The last thing you want is to miss out because the game has sold out. Baseball is popular. What can we say?
21. Sam Houston Park
Sam Houston is a beautiful urban park in the center of Downtown Houston. It is intended to be a sort of oasis amongst skyscrapers and features many fountains and ornate bridges.
If you are downtown, we suggest grabbing a takeout coffee and having a stroll. Sam Houston Park is one of the best places in Houston for skyscraper views. So bonus points if you visit for sunrise and sunset when the buildings look even more stunning.
22. Market Square Park
Market Square Park is a beautiful public space that thrives after dark. From outdoor movies to an open-air Greek restaurant, it is a place to come together and socialize in Houston. With a Downtown and quirky vibe, it is the perfect addition to a list of fun things to do in Houston. It is hard not to love the fairy lights aesthetic – especially on a warm summer night.
Don’t forget food trucks as well; Niko Niko’s does the best gyros. Grab a gyro and sit out on the grass under the lights. Market Square Park is a brilliant attraction for those who want to relax in Houston. It is also ideal for getting off the traditional tourist track.
The Waterwall is one of the most intriguing things to do in Houston. Put simply, it is a cascade of water that falls artificially from a massive landmark. It is located within Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park – a small park west of the city center.
The ‘wall’ is a towering curve and an interesting piece of architecture. The real novelty comes from the splash of the waterfall, though, estimated to drop 11,000 gallons per minute.
The Waterwall is an excellent stop for your itinerary if you love photo opportunities. It is also less than a 10-minute drive from Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, so it is definitely well-combined.
24. Hermann Park
Hermann Park is next to Houston City Hall, so note down this attraction if you were tempted by the City Hall tours earlier. So why does Hermann Park deserve a separate mention? The 445-acre park encompasses running tracks, a dog park, a Japanese garden, and a cute little kid’s train ride.
But most impressively, it was the first public park in Houston. Historically, it was a momentous addition to the city’s relationship with green spaces. And it remains an iconic attraction today.
Hermann Park is open from 6 am until 11 pm, so you can easily factor in a visit. We recommend planning an early morning visit to avoid the crowds and heat. As a quick side note, we don’t recommend venturing into Houston Zoo, located in Hermann Park. Keep your animal interactions ethical by investing in wild conservation rather than animals in captivity.
25. Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is one of the best outdoor things to do in Houston. It is the total picture of tranquility. The nature center spans 155 acres, which visitors enjoy on a network of 5 miles of hiking trails. Houston Arboretum also runs regular events and workshops – so it’s worth keeping an eye on the upcoming schedule.
As far as scenic places go in Houston, the arboretum rates highly. The mixture of wooden boardwalks through wetlands and forest tracks is peaceful to explore. And since it opens at 7 am daily, you can easily squeeze in a walk before you start hardcore sightseeing.
How to Get to Houston
Houston is incredibly well-connected, and the easiest way to get to Houston is to fly. There isn’t just one Houston Airport either. You can fly into George Bush Intercontinental Airport or William P. Hobby Airport. Hoston is connected to hundreds of destinations worldwide, with direct flights to many international destinations and domestic spots. Grab your transfer into the city here.
The cheapest way to get to Houston is by Amtrak train. Amtrak connects Houston to cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans – so consider reaching the city by rail if you want to save some bucks and take the scenic route. Train travel is better for the environment as well. While if you aren’t traveling from somewhere connected to Houston by Amtrak, it’s worth traveling by bus or a coach service like Greyhound.
If you have a little longer, you could plan a road trip. The deep south is a classic road trip, and you could combine Houston with places like Nashville by sticking to the East side. Otherwise, set off from the west and stop by places like Las Vegas, Denver, Grand Canyon National Park, and Grand Mesa.
Getting Around Houston
Houston is a big city but a breeze to get around using public transport. The METRORail links Downtown Houston with the city center. If you visit attractions in the Museum District, Theater District, Downtown region, or NRG Park – chances are you’ll be catching the train. As of 2023, you can purchase day passes for $3 a day.
The METRO also offers bus service in Houston. This is a mixture of connections around residential neighborhoods and a park-and-ride system. If you are staying on the outskirts of the city center in quieter neighborhoods in the Houston area, the bus service is a fantastic option.
Finally, hiring a car is the best option to get around Houston for visitors planning day trips. Decide whether you want to explore outer city attractions like Galveston Island State Park and Sam Houston Park. If you do, hiring a car is a brilliant way forward. Otherwise, stick to public transport and taxis if you want to stay around the city center.
Best Time to Visit Houston
March to May is the official shoulder season for visiting Houston. As general guidance, you should aim for these periods to avoid the crazy crowds that Houston attracts from July to September. You will find the cheapest accommodation and the most peaceful experience during this period.
The temperature is still mild in this period but without the humidity and the irritation of swatting off mosquitos throughout the day. Spring is also beautiful for hiking in the nearby green space – bring a high-quality camera to capture all the wildflowers bursting into color.
Where to Stay in Houston
It isn’t just things to do in Houston that you need to decide on; where will you stay? These are the top places to stay in Houston for each budget level.
Budget: Wanderstay Houston Hostel
Wanderstay Houston Hostel is a brilliant budget-friendly base in Houston’s Museum District. Guests get access to a shared kitchen and lounge – perfect for a homely environment and saving money on eating out.
Mid-Range: Courtyard by Marriott Houston by the Galleria
Courtyard by Marriott Houston by the Galleria is a fantastic mid-range option just west of the city center. It has all the comfortable luxuries, including an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, and gym.
Luxury: Hyatt Regency
Hyatt Regency Houston is part of the well-respected Hyatt chain. Situated in the middle of Downtown Houston, this hotel is most famous for its rotating dining room – which has stunning views of the city skyline. It also features a heated outdoor pool and a FedEx business center.
Houston FAQS: Essential Information
Now that we’ve covered the best things to do in Houston, let’s look at some common FAQs. These are the essential details you need to know for visiting Houston.
Is there anything fun to do in Houston, Texas?
There are so many fun things to do in Houston. Houston has fantastic live music, amusement rides, and iconic attractions like the Space Center Houston.
What to do in Houston for the first time?
When visiting for the first time, you should explore Downtown Houston, visit the Space Center and museums, and learn about Houston’s Native American culture.
Is Houston famous for anything?
Houston is famous for the Space Center Houston. It is also known as an urban oasis, with plenty of green space and urban parks.
How many days do you need in Houston?
You need a minimum of three days in Houston. This allows you to visit a few museums, Space Center, and Galveston Island.
Why Should You visit Houston?
As you can see, there are many things to do in Houston. From the Space Center to the Museum of Natural Science and Galveston Bay, Houston is somewhere you’ll kick yourself for only booking a short stay. The almost-coastal metropolis is ideally located to head to the best beaches in Texas or bounce between art museums in Downtown Houston.
And if you prefer forest and nature reserves, Sam Houston National Forest and Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge are a short drive out of the city. Houston is the perfect balance of cosmopolitan fun and beautiful green space.
Looking for more Texas travel inspiration? The only way to improve a trip to Houston is to combine it with more of Texas’ top destinations. Check out our guides on the best things to do in Austin and South Padre Island. Otherwise, have a wonderful time experiencing all the exciting things to do in Houston. Space City has a lot in store for you.
Photos courtesy of Houston First Corporation.