Visiting Houston - What to See and Do
(Houston William P. Hobby Airport HOU, USA)
In a state where everything is big, Houston
stands tall as the biggest Texan city. Though little remains of its cow-town origins, the culture remains firmly intact in the city's ubiquitous barbecue joints, honky-tonk bars and cowboy apparel shops.
Houston isn't all cowboy hats and spurs. This is a modern metropolis with a thriving arts scene, a superb Museum District and some of the finest dining venues in Texas
. The city also does a commendable job of keeping its urban landscape green, with dozens of top-notch public parks spread around the area.
Other attractions in Houston include the Space Center, a lively Theater District and three professional sports teams. If the city gets too hot (and it often does in summer), simply head to the beaches of Galveston, just a short drive away on the Gulf of Mexico. A great zoo, a couple of theme parks and a nice downtown aquarium ensure there's plenty to work with when planning a day out.
Ten things you must do in Houston
- Few people realize that Houston is home to one of America's largest NASA space centers. This amazingly appealing place is the top attraction in the city, if not the whole state. A wealth of interactive exhibits and space simulators provide as real an experience as possible, short of getting high security clearance to the real deal. The IMAX theater is the largest in Texas, and the 90-minute tram tour shows you all around the complex. This is a working Space Center, and when a mission is underway you can feel the excitement building.
- The best and largest art repository in Texas is the Museum of Fine Arts. Two massive buildings connected by an underground tunnel contain a superb collection of artwork from around the world and across the ages. Of its 40,000 pieces, its Impressionist, Renaissance and American art collections are the best, although the African Tribal Art exhibit is also very notable.
- While you are in Houston, it would be a shame not to experience the local style of drinking and dancing. Country Western and honky-tonk are the indigenous musical genres of Texas, and local institutions like Blanco's and Gilley's are as good as they come in this state. Live music is on tap almost every night, and dancing is a given.
- One of the best ways to see the city during the pleasant autumn and winter months is by biking around its urban cycle paths. The prettiest is found within Memorial Park, where its long path winds along the Buffalo Bayou waterway. Hermann Park is another major downtown green space, with the lovely Brays Bayou path starting here. Bike rentals are easy to come by anywhere near these parks.
- Bayou Bend is the city's premier site to experience the grandeur of Texan wealth during the early 1900s oil boom. Built in the 1920s, the mansion's 28 rooms are an exquisite example of American décor, furnishings and artwork from the Colonial era through the late 1800s. Just as nice is the 14-acre / 6-hectare garden outside.
- One of the most unique features of Houston is the 6-mile / 10-km network of tunnels that run directly under the downtown district. Far from being dank dirty passageways, most of the tunnels are privately owned and contain a number of restaurants and shops. Venturing underneath the city is an adventure not to be missed, with maps available at the Tourist Center.
- Although it is a bit touristy, the Kemah Boardwalk is a very popular place to go for a taste of seaside air and some of the best seafood in the city. Situated right on Galveston Bay, the long boardwalk is lined with seafood restaurants that all boast lovely views of the bay. Its location near the Space Center makes it a popular place to eat and have a beer after touring this particular attraction.
- With three professional sports teams based in Houston, there is usually a game of some kind being played throughout the year. Baseball fans can watch the Astros at the very comfortable Minute Maid Field, with its retractable roof to keep the climate comfortable. NBA basketball happens with the local Rockets at the Toyota Center downtown, while NFL football is represented by the Texans at the very impressive high-tech Reliant Stadium.
- Summer visitors can find relief at the fun SplashTown water park about 40 minutes outside of Houston. The park has dozens of water slides, both fast and mellow, along with other activities, rides and special events all through the busy summer months. This place is extremely popular, and best enjoyed on a quieter weekday.
- Another of the city's top museums is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Among the exhibits you'd expect to find here, like complete dinosaur skeletons, are some very special attractions such as the Butterfly Center and its miniature rainforest. The Insect Zoo is another fascinating part of the museum, while its IMAX theater and planetarium are both state-of-the-art.