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A Traveling Insider’s Guide To Houston

Hit all of Houston’s high notes with this comprehensive guide to the Lone Star State’s largest city. | By Joanna Tweedy | December 13, 2022 (Updated March 15, 2023)

The largest city in the Lone Star State, Houston packs a punch when it comes to attractions, putting world-class fine art, space exploration, inventive food and every kind of shopping on visitors’ horizons. Here’s how to make the most of a trip to H-Town.

  • Tour the art district: This uniquely creative quarter is home to the celebrated Menil Collection

  • Venture out of this world: Explore NASA’s history at Space Center Houston

  • Feel the rainbow: Houston hosts Texas’ largest Pride parade every June

Why visit Houston?

North of Galveston Bay, in southeast Texas, Houston reigns supreme over the surrounding landscape — a dazzling vision of glass, steel and brick, visible from miles away. The fourth-largest city in the U.S., Houston’s reputation as America’s oil town has long been cemented, but this fascinating metropolis holds plenty of surprises.

There are more parks in Houston than in New York — with 1,466-acre (593-hectare) Memorial Park and 445-acre (180-hectare) Hermann Park offering residents and visitors easy access to nature. The fine arts flourish here too, in the Museum District and at Art District Houston. Encompassing 30 acres (12 hectares) set around the Washington Avenue Corridor, Art District Houston impresses art aficionados who visit from far and wide. At the district’s heart lies The Menil Collection, a series of free museums designed to make art accessible.

Downtown Houston dovetails upscale dining experiences with great shopping, particularly around Main Street Square. Elsewhere, there’s a clutch of vibrant neighborhoods that bang to the beat of their own drum, offering fun foodie experiences — from dim sum in Chinatown to artisan coffee in Houston Heights’ historic district.

Just 30 minutes from downtown, Space Center Houston is a thrill for visitors of all ages. Meanwhile, would-be ranch hands will delight in the authentic, outdoor experiences on offer close to the city. Head to nearby Richmond to experience blacksmithing, cattle roping and more at the historic George Ranch.

When is the best time for your trip to Houston?

The ‘H’ in Houston could stand for hot — temperatures at summer’s height can hover for days at a time around 91 degrees F (32.7 degrees C). Hotel rates do fall in June, July and August, though, when Houstonians head to cooler climes. If you don’t mind the heat, then you’ll also find the city is quieter for exploration.

Fancy a Texan sojourn without so much sunscreen? Then spring or fall are the best times to visit — plus, there’s a packed calendar of festivals, events and live music throughout both seasons. Don’t bother with a winter coat, though – Texas’ year-round relative warmth means winter highs in Houston can reach just shy of 64 degrees F (18 degrees C), with blue skies making it the ideal time to sightsee in comfortable temperatures.

Getting to and around Houston

Most visitors arrive via George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport  (IAH), around 20 miles from downtown. Alternatively, William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) is also a good access point — and just 11 miles from downtown. 

Booking a rental car will give you the most freedom, especially if you’re looking to explore the greater Houston area or nearby Galveston Island. There are buses from IAH though, and the metro line 102 is inexpensive and takes around an hour to reach downtown. Once there, METRORail and bus links are wide-reaching. Ride-hailing services, like Lyft, are also easy to get, reasonably priced and a great option for short hops. Trying to make your travels eco-friendlier? The B-Cycle scheme lets visitors rent bikes by the half-hour and offers access to more than 600 bicycles across Houston.

Cultures and customs

Founded on the banks of Buffalo Bayou in 1836, the city is named after General Samuel Houston, a heroic figure in the Texas War for Independence. Roll back the centuries — millennia, even — further and there’s a strong indigenous history too; the Akokisa tribe inhabited the greater Houston region long before the city’s founders.

For modern day visitors, H-Town's evolution from a 19th-century frontier town to a hugely diverse city is clear to see, with many cultures and customs celebrated. There are breathtaking Hindu temples, for example, including the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, completed in 2004 and the largest of its kind in Texas. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world, celebrates Houston’s cowboy and rancher history with animal auctions, rodeo demonstrations and classic Texas barbecue.

Houstonians paint the town rainbow every June for its Pride parade — and have done so for the last 44 years, with the celebration of LGBTQ life centering around Houston City Hall, on Bagby Street.

There’s a rich food heritage to be devoured, with Houston specialties reflecting the cultures of the people who’ve called this city home, including mouthwatering Tex-Mex and barbecue, pecan pie and kolache (Czech-style donuts) and Cajun crawfish dishes. Meanwhile, chili con carne remains the state dish.

Houston is a diverse metropolis with a flavor and style for every visitor. Culture, entertainment, dining, shopping and outdoor adventures are abundant and ready to explore. In fact, the only thing you may need on your next trip to Houston is a few extra days to enjoy it all.

Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.

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