Houston is a massive metropolis – the fourth largest in the United States – which has drawn people from all over the world for its rich music, food, and business offerings. But don’t let Houston’s size fool you, it isn't all hustle and bustle. The city maintains a diverse, down-to-earth and inclusive vibe with all sorts of cultural, scientific and outdoor offerings throughout H-town. These are 12 of the best things to do in Houston.

shutterstockRF_1170876328.jpg
August, 2018: The Lunar Module LTA-8 in Houston's Space Center. ©John_Silver/Shutterstock

1. The Houston Space Center

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, he said, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” He was referring to the on-site staff of the NASA Johnson Space Center here in H-town. Today, you can go where history was made and learn all about the moon landing and humanity’s exploration of space with a visit to Space Center Houston. The official visitor center of the NASA Johnson Space Center welcomes 1.25 million visitors each year who come to marvel at the largest collection of spacesuits and Moon rocks in the world there are over 400 space artifacts here in Houston.

2. Diverse neighborhood cuisines

Houston is the one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States and its food scene reflects that distinction. Taste your way through 70 different countries and US regions at some 10,000 restaurants in the Houston metro. Foodies will love eating their way through Houston's diverse neighborhoods. For instance, you’ll find great Korean food in Spring Branch, fabulous Chinese in Chinatown, Vietnamese in Midtown, and the best Venezuelan food in Katy. Starting in the autumn of 2021, you’ll be able to experience POST Houston, a huge food hall with live music and event spaces which will showcase Houston’s culinary scene.

shutterstockRF_585408035.jpg
HOUSTON,USA ON 21 JANUARY 2017: Houston Museum of Natual Science in a crowed day ©All Stock Photos/Shutterstock

3. The Museum District 

Culture buffs should make their way to the Houston Museum District which is home to 19 different institutions. To make things easier for travelers, the Museum District has been separated into four different walkable zones. In the first zone, you can dive into a collection of 17,000 paintings, sculptures and rare books at the Menil Collection before walking to the Houston Center for Photography. 

The second zone hosts the most museums, including the likes of the Holocaust Museum Houston and Houston Museum of African American Culture. The Contemporary Arts Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts are grouped in the third zone, while the Children's Museum of HoustonHouston Zoo and The Health Museum are just a glimpse of what you can discover in the fourth zone of the Museum District.   

4. The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo 

Texas has its cowboy reputation, and you can experience a taste of that culture for yourself at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. This rodeo, which has been around since 1932, is held over a couple of weeks in February and March and is known for having the world’s largest livestock show. 

Watch cowboys wrangle steers and cowgirls whip around barrels on their horses during the rodeo, before playing games at the carnival, shopping among local wares, tasting delicious food at barbecue competitions and watching live concerts from some of the biggest names in music. Keep an eye out for special days of celebration and performances, like Tejano Day and Black Heritage Day.  

Downtown Houston Skyline - Eleanor Tinsley & Buffalo Bayou Parks
Downtown Houston Skyline - Eleanor Tinsley & Buffalo Bayou Parks Getty Images/iStockphoto

5. Buffalo Bayou 

Houston has 580 parks that comprise 66,000 acres of land, making this urban destination a great place for outdoor lovers. Not only can you play outside, you can get a different perspective on H-town. See the Houston skyline from the water, for example, on a kayak adventure with Bayou City Adventures. They’ll take you on the 53-mile Buffalo Bayou which runs through the popular Buffalo Bayou Park, which has 15 miles of biking and walking trails and public art. 

6. See a ball game

The city of Houston has a lot of pride for their hometown sports teams and welcomes visitors to join in on the fun. Head downtown to watch the Houston Astros hit home run after home run or to cheer on the Houston Rockets as they dominate the court at the Toyota Center. Soccer fans have the option of watching the Houston Dynamo or the Houston Dash, men and women’s respective professional soccer teams, while football fans won’t want to miss a chance to see the Houston Texans take on opponents of the AFC South division. Rugby is just now growing in popularity in the United States, but Houston is well ahead of other big cities with their own professional rugby team called the Houston SaberCats.  

Waugh Bridge Bat Colony
Waugh Bridge Bat Colony Bats Flying From Under the Bridge at Sunset Getty Images/iStockphoto

7. The Waugh Bridge Bats

Austin doesn't have a monopoly on bat colonies that spice up summer sunsets. Make your way to Waugh Bridge to see some 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats fly out at dusk. Unlike Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge bat colony, Houston's bats live here full-time, s0 you aren't limited to seeing them during any particular season. You can view them from the Waugh Bridge itself, or across the way as they fly into Buffalo Bayou looking for dinner.

8. Spend the day at the beach 

Although Houston doesn’t technically have a beach, it only takes up to an hour’s drive to enjoy the Gulf of Mexico. At 26.2 miles from downtown Houston, Sylvan Beach Park is the closest beach. It’s known as one of the better places to swim because of its lack of seaweed.

If you want to skip the crowds of Sylvan Beach Park, make your way to the charming and quiet El Jardin Beach. You won’t mind driving the hour to Surfside Beach, as it’s known for its beauty and laid-back atmosphere. That said, you won’t find a lot of amenities here so pack an ice chest and bring snacks before you hit the road.  

Airborne skater
Man skakteboarding on ramp Getty Images

9. Try extreme sports

For Texas-sized thrills, ride the bowls of the 30,000-square-foot Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark or catch some air wakeboarding at the full-scale cable wakeboarding park, Wake Nation.  You can also try indoor or outdoor skydiving at iFly Houston and Skydive Spaceland, respectively, hit the Texas Rock Gym, or give the prairie single track a turn at Jack Brooks Park's mountain biking trails. You can even try gliding over the Houston landscape with the Greater Houston Soaring Association, who practice a motorless style of flight.

10. The Houston Farmers Market

The Houston Farmers Market is a great introduction to the city's diverse food scene. The Market technically dates back to the 1940s, but is housed in a brand-new building that developers hope will be H-towns version of Seattle's Pike Place Market or the San Francisco Ferry Building. Here you will be able to find fresh produce and eateries serving everything from breakfast to Tex-Mex to cajun dishes – and all the restaurants showcase some element of Houston culture.

Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
Houston Texas, USA - August 14, 2016: Water feature and stunning glass tower in Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park with Williams Tower rising in background in Uptown or Galleria District Houston Getty Images

11. Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park

Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, which has an impressive sculpture fountain that’s best described as a ‘waterwall.’ It's 45 feet high, shaped like a horseshoe, and recycles sheets of water to the tune of 11,000 gallons per minute. It's been a favorite in Houston since 1983 – so popular, in fact, you need to get a special permit if you are hoping to get engaged, married or even professionally photographed here. No one is stopping you from snapping a photo for personal use, however – and indeed, the Watewall seems like it was made with Instagram in mind.

12. National Museum of Funeral History

Many major cities have an art museum or a natural history museum, but Houston is one of the few to boast a museum about the funeral industry. It might sound morbid, but the National Museum of Funeral History is an interesting institution blends history, science, art and culture with exhibits on everything from embalming to wild and whimsical coffins to the unique jazz funerals of New Orleans. You can see a Victorian hearse, learn about presidential funerals, and find out more about Hispanic culture at the Dia de los Muertos exhibit.

Introducing Texas

But Lonely Planet's Ultimate Travel List

The second edition of Lonely Planet’s bestseller presents an all-new ranking of the greatest places to visit on Earth, reflecting the travel tastes and trends of today’s world. Decided by our global family of writers, editors and industry experts, and packed with insightful commentary, awe-inspiring photos and over 200 new entries, this is a must-have coffee table book for explorers and armchair travelers.

Buy Lonely Planet's Ultimate Travel List

Explore related stories