23 must-visit Houston attractions

As the largest city in Texas, Houston is home to a robust mix of attractions. Whether you’re looking for free things to do with kids, indoor activities to beat the Texas heat or landmarks that can’t be found anywhere else, Houston has something for everyone. 

Keep reading for 21 Houston attractions for first-time visitors or longtime Houstonians.

Houston attractions for kids 

The Houston Children’s Museum

The Houston Children’s Museum

The Houston Children’s Museum via Yelp

Children’s Museum Houston

Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, kids of all ages will love the Children’s Museum Houston, an award-winning attraction that offers 90,000 square feet of fun, interactive exhibits for children ages infant to 12. There are a number of permanent exhibits throughout the museum, but favorites include the EcoStation, where kids can explore the Texas outdoors and native plants; a bayou pond and woodland habitat featuring various experiments; FlowWorks, a wet and wild exhibit exploring how water flows; and Kidtropolis, a city where kids can vote, start businesses, use pretend cash to buy goods and even anchor their own TV news report.

Good to know: Children’s Museum Houston is in close proximity to other kid faves like the Houston Zoo, the Museum of Fine Art, the Houston Museum of Nature and Science, Hermann Park and the Menil Collection.

Hurricane Harbor Splashtown

Hurricane Harbor Splashtown

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Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown

Located north of Houston, in the Spring CDP of unincorporated Harris County, is where you will find Houston’s largest water park: Hurrican Harbor Splashtown. Spanning 48 acres, Spashtown is the perfect Houston attraction to beat the Texas heat. Relax and float along Paradise River, ride the waves in Hurricane Bay, splash with the kids at Coconut Bay or hang ten on the FlowRider. Feeling the need for speed? Head over to Wala Wala Falls where riders can race down 30-foot slides or try the Stingray Racer—six joined water slide lanes with a 55-foot drop. 

Good to know: Parking should be purchased prior to your Splashtown visit. Cash is not accepted. 

Kemah Boardwalk

Kemah Boardwalk

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Kemah Boardwalk


Located just 30 miles from downtown Houston, all the family fun you can handle awaits at the Kemah Boardwalk. Set on 60 acres on the shores of Galveston Bay and Clear Lake, the area covers all the bases: retail shops, restaurants, amusement park rides and water attractions like the Boardwalk Beast. Ride a 65-foot Ferris wheel which overlooks the bay; the Boardwalk Bullet, a thrilling old-school coaster; or the carousel. For adrenaline junkies, there are plenty of white-knuckle, stomach-dropping thrill rides along with a loop-de-looping coaster ride. When food calls, grab a bite to eat at the Aquarium Restaurant which features a 50,000 gallon fish tank or Joe’s Crab Shack. But don’t forget Boardwalk classics like funnel cakes and ice cream, too.

Good to know: The Kemah Boardwalk hosts special events throughout the year including car shows, concerts and fireworks.

The Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo

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Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo, the second-most visited zoo in the U.S., is home to over 6,000 animals from 900 species. Immersed in Hermann Park, the 55-acre zoo offers over a dozen animal encounters, exhibits, a nature play area, carousel, dining and retail stores. Before your visit, check the zoo’s online calendar for special events. 

Good to know: Even though animal encounters are an extra fee, a portion of each purchase goes towards protecting animals in the wild.

The Hermann Park Railroad takes a two-mile, 18-20 minute journey around Hermann Park. The train departs from Kinder Station every 25-30 minutes.

The Hermann Park Railroad takes a two-mile, 18-20 minute journey around Hermann Park. The train departs from Kinder Station every 25-30 minutes.

Stephanie C. via Yelp

Hermann Park Conservancy

When looking for a free attraction to enjoy on a beautiful Houston day, look no further than Hermann Park—a 445-acre sprawling park located in the heart of Houston. Take a train ride along the Hermann Park Railroad or a boat ride on McGovern Lake, stroll among the edible, interactive garden or just take in the views while enjoying a picnic with the family.

Good to know: The Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children includes an interactive water play area. 

Lillie D. dances on the hill before radio station 90.9 KTSU's

Lillie D. dances on the hill before radio station 90.9 KTSU’s “Keeping Music Alive” concert, Saturday, June 26, 2021, at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston. T.

Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Miller Outdoor Theatre

Miller Outdoor Theatre, also located in Hermann Park and south of the Museum of Natural Science, is another great Houston attraction for kids. The best part? The one-hour Children’s Performances, which begin at 11 a.m., won’t cost you a dime. Tickets also aren’t necessary and nearby concessions are available for purchase.

Good to know: For other performances on the calendar, be sure to reserve tickets online prior to the events.

A Space Center Houston display.

A Space Center Houston display.

DD C. via Yelp

Space Center Houston 

Looking for a jaw-dropping Houston family attraction? Head to Space Center Houston, a science and space exploration learning center encompassing a vast 250,000-square-foot complex. In addition to more than 400 space artifacts, exhibits, theaters and hands-on experiences (hello, virtual reality on a spacewalk), kids can learn about the concepts of space.

Good to know: For an out-of-this-world experience, consider an overnight family outing ($79.95 per person) which includes hands-on STEM experiences and camping outside under the SpaceX rocket or NASA 905 shuttle aircraft carrier and shuttle replica.

T-Rex on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

T-Rex on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Nellie W. via Yelp

The Houston Museum of Natural Science 

Another kid-friendly attraction that is also fun for the whole family is The Houston Museum of Natural Science. Located in Houston’s Museum District, visitors can walk through a living butterfly habitat, check out the planetarium for spectacular astronomical programs and visit a paleontology hall with giant prehistoric dinosaurs. This museum has five magnificent floors of permanent halls and consistent traveling special exhibits.

Good to know: The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s newly upgraded planetarium features Digistar 6, the world’s leading digital planetarium software and projection system. 

Hilary Sellar, of Huffman, and grandson, Charlie, 2, view sea creatures in a pool at the Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve.

Hilary Sellar, of Huffman, and grandson, Charlie, 2, view sea creatures in a pool at the Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve.

Jim Magill / Submitted

Downtown Aquarium

If you’re looking for a kid-friendly attraction in downtown Houston, the Downtown Aquarium boasts 500,000 gallons of aquatics encompassing over 300 species of aquatic life. Family-friendly activities include the Ferris wheel, carnival-style games, amusement rides, an aquatic-themed carousel and a ride through the center of a 200,000-gallon shark tank.

Good to know: The Downtown Aquarium restaurant features a floor to ceiling, 150,000-gallon aquarium which is home to over 100 species of aquatic life. Guests can view moray eels, giant groupers and shovel-nosed guitar fish right from their tables. 

Buffalo Bayou

Buffalo Bayou

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Buffalo Bayou

A 52-mile, slow-moving waterway that was formed 18,000 years ago and was the site of Houston’s founding in 1836 is now a destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. Located west of downtown Houston, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership is a 160-acre green space with hiking and biking trails, paddle boat and bike rentals, a dog park, playgrounds and plenty of space to picnic and play. The park is also a popular spot for canoeists and kayakers; the annual regatta has been taking place here for 50 years.

Good to know: A 1.5-hour boat tour aboard the Spirit of the Bayou will take you through the heart of downtown Houston along historic Buffalo Bayou and past Allen’s Landing, Sesquicentennial Park and Sabine Promenade, historic McKee Street Bridge and the industrial side of the city.

Houston attractions for adults

A car on display at the Art Car Museum.

A car on display at the Art Car Museum.

Mimi R. via Yelp

Art Car Museum

Known locally as the “Garage Mahal,” this Houston museum and popular attraction was founded in February 1998 by Ann and James Harithas, big supporters of the art car movement. The privately-owned contemporary art museum features rotating exhibits and several art cars, which are outrageously decorated vehicles with clever names like Batwing and Swamp Mutha. Located on the far edge of Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, the museum’s silver-spiked, spaceship-like exterior is a favorite for photo ops. 

Good to know: During the spring, the Art Car Museum hosts its annual Houston Art Car Parade when the city is swarmed with similar mobile works of art.

Menil Collection

Menil Collection

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Menil Collection

The Menil Collection—a multibuilding, 30-acre art museum in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood—is a well-known attraction and arguably one of the best museums in Houston. The museum opened in 1987 and contains the private art collection of John and Dominique de Menil, a French couple who moved to Houston during World War II.  The collection includes works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Picasso, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol. The de Menil’s also commissioned the Rothko Chapel, a spiritual space for people of all faiths, a block down the street. The unassuming brick building features 14 murals made by American artist Mark Rothko, and provides a vast collection of holy books and spiritual texts for public use.

Good to know: Since the de Menil’s believed in making art accessible to everyone, entry to the museum and chapel is always free.

Bat Watching at Buffalo Bayou Park

Bat Watching at Buffalo Bayou Park

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Bat watching at Buffalo Bayou Park

Roughly 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Waugh Drive Bridge in Buffalo Bayou Park. The bats emerge daily at sunset in large groups, which is a surreal experience and cool photo opportunity. For the best views, snag a spot on the viewing platform on the southeast corner of the bayou bank beside the bridge on Allen Parkway, the bayou’s northeast bank near Memorial Drive or the east rail sidewalk on the bridge itself. But be sure to check the weather before you go—the bats don’t like the cold and the best emergences are on days when the temperature is above 50 degrees.

Good to know: Plan to arrive early to get a good viewing spot and to give yourself some time to explore the 160-acre park that hugs a 2.3-mile stretch of shoreline along Buffalo Bayou. 

The Beer Can House

The Beer Can House

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The Beer Can House

What do you do when you are retired and in possession of a very large collection of empty beer cans? Create one of the most unique Houston-area attractions: The Beer Can House. The art project is the legacy of John Milkovisch, who was a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad and who needed a project to keep his hands busy. He began to tinker in his yard sometime around 1968 and over the next couple of decades created a homage to recycling. The project, at 222 Malone Street, started with Milkovisch’s collection of 28,000 marbles (plus other materials like rocks and metal pieces) to landscape his yard because he was tired of mowing the grass. Over the following 18 years, he tacked aluminum beer cans to the outside of the house as siding, eventually covering the entire house from top to bottom. Milkovisch also created garlands out of the cans, which hang along the edges for decorative purposes (and also make music). An estimated 50,000 cans adorn the house—according to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!—which is now a museum visited by thousands of people annually. 

Good to know: Thirty-minute tours are available year-round on weekends and Wednesday-Sunday during the summer months. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

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Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

One of the best things to do in Houston at sunset is to watch the light show at the Twilight Epiphany Skyspace adjacent to the Shepherd School of Music on the Rice University campus. The art installation by American artist James Turrell consists of a large pyramidal structure that projects a LED light sequence onto the ceiling of the 72-foot-square roof. The show begins 40 minutes before sunrise and 10 minutes before sunset daily, except Tuesdays.

Good to know: Arrive early to get a seat—the space can only accommodate 120 people.

A Platypus Brewing beer flight.

A Platypus Brewing beer flight.

Belly G. via Yelp

Houston Brew Pass

Beer lovers will have no shortage of tasty brews to try in Houston—the city’s greater metropolitan area is home to over 50 craft breweries. With the Houston Brew Pass, beer lovers can sample the taps at 15 breweries at a discounted rate. Pass options include a one-day, three-day or 90-day pass. Most participating breweries offer complimentary tasting flights and additional discounts for pass holders. The one-day pass allows four brewery visits within 24 hours, while the other passes only have a time limit—72 hours for the three-day pass and 90 days for the 90-day pass, which start after the first use.

Good to know: Passes are delivered to your smartphone and can be used instantly. 

Gerald D. Hines Water Wall Park

Gerald D. Hines Water Wall Park

Maria F. via Yelp

Gerald D. Hines Water Wall Park

This stunning 64-foot, U-shaped fountain—located in the Uptown/Galleria area—is one of Houston’s most photographed attractions. Every minute, 11,000 gallons of recirculated water cascade down both sides of the wall. (The water also recycles through a filtration system every three hours and 20 minutes.) The concave side of the fountain is enclosed by a pedimented arcade that serves as the entrance to the interior section, which is an excellent location to cool off in the mist on hot summer days.

Good to know: The 2.77-acre park has 186 live oak trees and a plethora of benches surrounding three sides of the fountain. The attraction is also within walking distance of The Galleria, the largest shopping center in Texas.

Houston landmark attractions

Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens (Ima Hogg Mansion)

The sprawling estate of Houston’s legendary philanthropist and civic leader, Ima Hogg, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens now houses the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s collection of American decorative arts and painting. The property has become a Houston landmark attraction—containing one of the premier collections in the world—and showcases 2,600 pieces of American furnishing, silver, ceramics and paintings spanning 28 rooms. The 14 acres of beautifully maintained gardens are impressive, too, and include a woodland glen and a bird sanctuary. In 2010, a visitor center was added just a short walk from the house, over a suspension bridge. Individual tours are self-guided and group tours can be arranged. Guests can also participate in additional programming like the Azalea Trail and the History Book Club. 

Good to know: Usually, on the third Sunday of every month, Bayou Bend Family Days welcome families for station-guided house tours of the first floor, performances by musicians, puppeteers, dancers and storytellers and craft activities, demonstrations and workshops centered around the day’s theme. 

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 

Helene S. via Yelp

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 

When you want to get some culture on in The Houston Museum District—an association including 19 museums, galleries, cultural centers and community organizations—The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is a must-see among Houston attractions. The museum is one of the largest museums in the country and the 12th largest in the world, and its permanent collection includes more than 6,000 years of history with approximately 70,000 works from six continents.

Good to know: Children 12 and younger are always admitted free, and on weekends all children receive free general admission when they show their card from any Texas public library. General admission is also free for everyone on Thursdays, courtesy of Shell Oil Company.

Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel via Yelp

Rothko Chapel

Celebrating its 50th year, the Rothko Chapel is a world-renowned art installation on the grounds of the Menil Collection. The unassuming brick facade of the octagonal building is a Greek cross that Rothko incorporated into his design. Known for his abstract color field paintings, the chapel contains 14 paintings, either grouped as triptychs or as individual works, hanging in dark velvety repose.

Good to know: The non-denominal chapel has won numerous awards and is known around the globe as a gathering place of cultural exchange and art performance.

The Buffalo Bayou Cistern

The Buffalo Bayou Cistern

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The Buffalo Bayou Cistern

Before you ask: “How can a 1920s cistern be a fun Houston attraction?” read on. The Buffalo Bayou Cistern once held drinking water for the entire city, but when an irreparable leak made the building obsolete, it sat empty for decades before being repurposed as a tourist attraction. Reopening in 2016, the eerie underground cavern is filled with columns that appear to hover in shallow water which reflects them, and is lit with shafts of natural light from above.

Good to know: You can take a self-guided tour or go along with a guide, but the coolest thing in the cistern is its live concert series and art installations.

Graffiti Building

Graffiti Building

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Graffiti Building

Behind the PNC Stadium (formerly BBVA Stadium) in downtown Houston’s East End, the Graffiti Building (also called Graffiti Park, since it covers several buildings) doesn’t have a website and isn’t a pin on a map, but it stands out in the cityscape as a must-see attraction. So much more than a cool place for a photo op, the murals have become a Houston landmark and often reflect current political opinions and cultural events.

Good to know: The brightly painted walls do change with the times, but some of the originals were created in 2015 during the Houston Urban Experience (HUE) Mural Festival. 

The Galleria 

The Galleria 

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The Galleria 

In the heart of Uptown Houston, the premier shopping destination known as The Galleria is where you will find more than 400 stores and 60 eateries. Spanning over 2.4 million square feet, the shopping mall—which is the largest in Texas and the fourth largest in the country—has turned into a Houston landmark attraction for all ages. Here, you will find a full-sized ice skating rink, a state-of-the-art play area, two swimming pools, national and international banks, beauty salons and even a post office. Anchor stores include Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Macy’s and luxury stores include CHANEL, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tiffany & Co. and Valentino.

Good to know: The Westin Galleria, a AAA Four-Diamond hotel, is directly connected to The Galleria in case you need to shop ’til you drop. 

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