Texas and space. Now that sounds like an interesting combination, doesn’t it? Yes indeed, the city of Houston will deliver that and so much more if you visit it, and you are most certainly in for a great time in this big city (fourth in the United States). You probably already know that NASA’s space centre is located here, but this bustling place has so much more to offer. From culture and architecture to food and shopping, everything a tourist wants to see when they come to a new city is available in spades. To help you get through it all and make the most of your one day in this city, here’s a list of the best things to do in Houston, Texas.
What’s the best time to visit Houston?
Summers in Houston are exceptionally hot, with average highs going way above 30 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit). The wet season also lasts from April to October, so you should consider visiting the city in winter if you want more bearable weather. Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is held in March, and you simply can’t afford to miss it if you’re looking for a real Texas experience.
Art lovers will love the Bayou City Art Festival, which is held twice a year (fall and spring), but there are many other festivals and parades that celebrate Houston’s diversity and are very much worthy of your time (Houston Greek Festival is a great example). As far as events are concerned, the chances are you’ll stumble upon something interesting whenever you come.
A few facts about Houston
As mentioned, Houston is the fourth largest city in the country (population-wise). It was founded in 1836 and got its name from Sam Houston, the man who defeated Mexicans and made Texas an independent republic. General Houston was also the president of that republic for two years. Obviously, NASA’s Mission Control is located here too, but what is really worth mentioning is the fact that Houston is considered to be the most diverse city in the United State. That does wonders for the cultural scene around here, which is very active and attracts millions of people every year.
One Day in Houston Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Houston.
Start your day in the Houston Space Center
So, what to do in Houston, Texas? Let’s face it, Houston Space Center is probably the most famous of all Houston attractions and there’s not a tourist around who doesn’t have it in their itinerary. It would be good to visit this place in the morning because it’s about half an hour by car away from the city. If you don’t have a car, get an Uber or a regular taxi. You can also take the Metro Bus number 249, but it will take you a lot longer to reach your destination. To book a tour in advance and save yourself some time, click here.
Once at the Space Center, you will be able to see hundreds of artifacts and many more fascinating exhibits, some of them interactive. You will also learn about the incredible history of this place, so your morning will simply fly by.
Choose something delicious for lunch
By the time you finish your space explorations and come back to Houston, it will be time to eat something. For a nice brunch or lunch, consider booking a table at Grace’s, a very popular restaurant that will offer you great American classics like mac-n-cheese, ribeye steaks, short ribs, great burgers and many other succulent dishes.
If, on the other hand, you’re careful about what you eat, True Food Kitchen will make sure you get only the healthiest of ingredients. And if you’re in the mood for some seafood, Truluck’s Steak & Stone Crab is an excellent choice. But this is just the tip of the iceberg that is Houston’s food scene, and thanks to the amalgamation of cultures on the city streets, you’ll be able to find all kinds of cuisines all over the place.
Explore the Houston Museum of Natural Science
Once you’re done eating, it’s time to move on. When you visit Houston, you really shouldn’t miss checking out the incredible Museum of Natural Science. Now, this is something truly special. Anything from space stations to mineral collections can be found here, including skeletons of real dinosaurs, primarily T-Rex! There is also a planetarium, an observatory and so much more, so if you’re looking for things to do with kids in Houston this is one of them, for sure. Just don’t forget about the time!
Visit the aquarium
Downtown Aquarium is also one of the more famous Houston attractions. It is actually a huge complex with examples of marine life from all over the world. It also includes shops, restaurants and bar, so if you want to grab something it’s easy to do so here. Even a Ferris Wheel is here to provide an amazing view of the city.
As for the animals, you can get on a train ride and surround yourself with sharks, buy some food and go and feed the stingrays and even see the majestic white tigers. Yes, they have those, too. One of the best things to do in Houston with kids.
Shop in Houston underground tunnels
You may notice a strange lack of people when you’re walking around the city center. That’s because everybody is below in Houston underground tunnels which serve as a kind of a mall. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and all other things you’d expect to find in a mall. In total, these tunnels span about 10 kilometers and are great for souvenir shopping. You can also sit down for a nice drink (Treebeards is quite good) or get a sweet treat at Rustika Cafe and Bakery (their cupcakes are excellent!). So, if you crave some shopping experience, go here for something quite unique. There’s also a local guide that can show you all you need to know about the tunnels and take you through the history of it.
Play in the Children’s Museum
If you’re visiting with your whole family and you’re looking for the best things to do in Houston with kids, the Children’s Museum will answer all your prayers. It is a huge place in which your kid can explore, play and learn or simply enjoy some of the numerous events this institution organizes.
Cybernetics, fantasy worlds, ecology, engineering and even a real kids-sized city are all waiting for your children. And don’t be surprised if you get the urge to get in with them and be a kid again yourself. But if you want to just sit down and take a breather, there’s a cafe here too full of great treats and snacks. A great place to let the kids spend their energy.
Check out the animals at the zoo
Just like any other big city, Houston also has an awesome zoo. It has gorillas, anacondas, elephants and even a section dedicated to dinosaurs. So, this is another place that is great to visit with kids, but also a fun thing to do for couples. What really makes it stand out from many other Houston attractions is the fact that Houston zoo provides free days, usually on the first Tuesday every month. So, if you’re in town then, consider yourself lucky because you’re getting a free event in Houston, but if not you really shouldn’t miss this – it’s great fun for the whole family.
Free things to do in Houston
Traveling on a budget? No problem, there are plenty of fun and free things to do in Houston! You don’t have to aim just for the free days in the zoo. Here’s a short list of things to see and events to visit for nothing while in town. Mind you, these are just some of the examples. You will surely find plenty more to see and do. So, let’s go:
- Mill Outdoor Theatre offers free shows! The quaint little hill just outside of it makes for a perfect picnic destination, an extremely romantic destination in the evening. Culture is big in this city, so this is one of the best things to do in Houston for couples. And it’s free!
- Local musicians perform for free in Discovery Green, a 12-acre park in downtown Houston. Check out the city’s music scene without any admission fees.
- Port of Houston Authority has a public charter boat that will take you on a 90-minute cruise for free.
- If you want to visit museums, Thursday is your day. Many institutions in the Museum District will offer free admission and given the variety of exhibits and the quality of museums, this is certainly one of the best free things to do in Houston.
- Walking tours of Rice University, a private university with more than one century of tradition, are also free. Explore one of the best undergraduate universities in the country.
Where to stay in Houston?
Hampton Inn Houston Downtown
If you want to be close to the city centre and get great value for your money, Hampton Inn Houston Downtown is a perfect choice. The hotel is in a modern building, all rooms are air-conditioned, plus you can use the gym and the bar. You will be close to the Theatre District (about a mile away) and get a hearty American breakfast included in the price. A great stay!
Aloft Houston Downtown
Still in the downtown area. Aloft Houston Downtown is located in a beautiful building and even closer to the Theatre District than the previous hotel (about half a mile). You can enjoy the rooftop pool here all year round surrounded by Houston’s skyline, and the interior is very colorful and quite pleasant. Naturally, all rooms have their own bathrooms, as well as flat-screen TVs and private parking.
Hotel Granduca Houston
For the ultimate luxury when it comes to staying in this city, you’d do well to get a bit outside the city centre and to Hotel Granduca Houston. This five-star beauty has everything you could want from a top-tier hotel: bath-tubs in every private bathroom, garden terrace for some peace and quiet, outdoor pool, hot tub, a fantastic Italian restaurant… you name it and it’s there! This is an offer that is really hard to beat.
Day trips from Houston
Only about an hour from downtown Houston, Galveston Island is a great summer destination with its miles of sandy beaches. This is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Texas and an exceptionally charming place that offers plenty of activities such as fishing, dolphin watching and all kinds of water sports. The island’s rich history only adds to the experience.
If you didn’t know, Austin is the capital of Texas and is, all in all, quite a unique city. This is a town of eccentricity whose hero used to be a man running around in high-heels and thongs, so you should be able to see a fair amount of interesting things, not to mention the great food they offer. Being three hours away, it’s a good idea for a day trip from Houston, but you may want to get an early start.
Sam Houston National Forest
For all you nature lovers, Sam Houston National Forest is one of the best places to visit while in Houston. It’s just over an hour away and offers plenty of great hiking trails and opportunities for mountain biking. Its numerous streams and creeks will help you relax and recharge your batteries, and you can even do some fishing and boating while you’re there. All in all, a great place for a day out in the open.
Remember “Remember the Alamo!” ? This historic location is in San Antonio, about three hours away from Houston, so if you want to see the site of the famous battle that helped spark the Texas Revolution and see another fascinating US city, this is a great choice for your day trip. Many legends are told about this place and many movies were filmed about the heroic defenders of this mission.
Extra tips for visiting Houston
- Houston City Pass will save you almost 50% on the main Houston attractions. However, there are other passes you can pick up too, especially if you’re looking to visit a lot of museums. Look into it and save money!
- If you don’t have one with you, renting a car is very much recommended. Do be careful, though – rush hour traffic can be pretty bad.
- Sunscreen is a must if you’re planning on walking around the city, but don’t be surprised if the weather changes suddenly. Showers are known to occur quite unexpectedly.
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Houston Itinerary, feel free to share it in the comments below!