The largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the U.S.A., at first sight Houston seems imposing, but it’s all an illusion. It may be a massive city, but on the ground, Houston is welcoming and down to earth.
It’s the kind of city that you have to immerse yourself in. Attend open-air festivals like Fiestas Patria, watch the best BBQ chefs in the world compete at the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, or listen to Indie and dance acts at the annual Free Press Summer Fest.
Dine on Tex-Mex or BBQ dishes in the Historic District, head to Montrose to check out the bars and drain a few Texas Sipper cocktails, or tap along to roots rock and roll at McGonigel's Mucky Duck.
But Houston isn’t just about dining, drinking, music, and parties. It’s also a city of culture, with award-winning theatrical troupes like the Alley Theatre, an opera house, classical music concerts, and museums for all the family. All of this makes Houston a truly exceptional vacation destination.
Houston was once responsible for sending people to the moon. Well, it certainly played a major role, hosting the NASA Space Center. Nowadays, tourists can see where the adventure was organized, along with actual space shuttles and other fascinating space-related exhibits.
Houston is Texas’ biggest retail center, and in The Galleria, it has one of America’s most impressive malls. Head there to stock up on branded fashion from the likes of Zara, Jimmy Choo, and Michael Kors.
Downtown Houston is a cultural hub, with an internationally respected symphony orchestra, an opera house, and an array of theatrical venues. Check out the Theater District, which is home to nine separate companies, including the Tony award-winning Alley Theatre.
Houston throws plenty of parties every year, from unique events like the Art Car Parade to massive street parties like September’s Fiestas Patrias and the Pride Parade in June. There are music festivals as well, including Houston Open Air in September, which attracts huge rock music acts every year.
Houston has major NFL and NBA teams (the Texans and the Rockets) along with a less-successful baseball franchise (the Astros), and a Major League Soccer team (the Dynamo). Whatever your sport (apart from NHL), there should be a game on to attend.
Houston is a massive sporting city. If you are lucky enough to be in town when the Texans are playing, you can catch an NFL match at the Reliant Stadium. The Astros play baseball at Minute Maid Park, while the Rockets compete in the NBA at the Toyota Center.
Houston plays host to plenty of festivals and shows, but nothing is quite as unique as the Art Car Parade. Held along Allen Parkway in May, the parade sees hundreds of people from across the world showing off their outlandishly decorated vehicles, including fire-breathing cars. There’s nothing like it.
Hermann Park isn’t just a beautiful green space at the heart of Houston, it’s also home to the city zoo, the Miller Outdoor Theater, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, with a constantly changing lineup of special exhibitions.
Houston is a great family destination and the Children’s Museum is one of the major reasons why. The museum is full of games teaching kids about geography, the environment, and science, allowing them to enjoy themselves and learn at the same time.
Across the world, Houston is probably most famous for coordinating the Apollo missions to the moon. The Space Center is now open for visitors, with daily tours, talks from astronauts, immersive video games, and exhibits like actual space shuttles. If you love space, it’s a must-see.
Houston is the perfect spring and fall destination. Between March and June, the city’s weather is warm, but not as brutally hot as it can become in July and August. March is a great month to visit, as Houston host’s its International Children’s Festival and the city’s major rodeo comes to town.
Houston has two airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (by far the larger) and William P. Hobby Airport (which is used by domestic carriers like Southwest, Delta, and American Airlines). The best way to get to the center of town from George Bush Airport is to book a taxi or rent a car. However, you can also get into town in under an hour by catching Metro Bus 102 from Terminal C. To get into the city from William P. Hobby Airport, catch Metro Bus 40. In both cases, the fare is $1.25. Taxis will cost around $50.
A single Amtrak service stops at Houston’s station, which can be found at 902 Washington Ave. The Sunset Limited service connects the city with New Orleans and California.
Houston is a road transport hub, with major arteries in all directions. If you are coming from San Antonio or the west take I-10, which also connects Houston to New Orleans and Florida. I-45 links the city with Dallas and cities to the north.
Greyhound is the major company operating buses into Houston, and their major terminal is at 2121 Main St. Other companies running buses into the city include Megabus (which stop at 815 Pierce St), Starline, and Vonlane. There are also numerous connections to Mexican cities via companies like Autobus Americanos or El Expreso.
Houston has a massive number of excellent hotels, with options to suit all budgets. Business travelers should try the Marriott Houston Convention Center right in the heart of town, while the Four Seasons Hotel Houston is the most luxurious accommodation option available. A bit further out of the center, Robin's Nest B&B in Montrose is a good option if you want to be near the best bars and clubs while the Hotel Derek in Uptown is the best choice for shoppers who want to be near the Houston Galleria mall.
Montrose – The city’s bohemian hub, Montrose is packed full of straight and LGBT bars, restaurants, clubs, and entertainment venues. It’s home to Baba Yega's, one of the city’s most popular vegetarian restaurants, but the real attraction lies in bars like Lola's Depot, where you can party all night long.
The Downtown Historic District – The center of Houston is a functional collection of skyscrapers, but just outside Downtown you’ll find the Historic District, an atmospheric community of 19th century stores and homes. Market Square Park is a popular live music venue in the summer, while the area is also home to most of Houston’s cultural institutions, including the Grand Opera and Jones Hall, home to the city’s Symphony Orchestra.
Uptown/the Galleria – Uptown is Houston’s retail center, mainly because of the presence of the Galleria – a massive shopping mall, which is where bargain hunters should head to find up-market brands like Louis Vuitton, Zara, and Michael Kors. There’s more available than shopping, though. The Tasting Room is Houston’s finest wine bar, while there are some fantastic restaurants like Argentina Café, too.
Public transit in Houston is a mixture of local buses and light rail, all of which are provided by METRO. The best way to ride METRO services is by getting hold of a Q Card from local supermarkets (just ask) or the METRO RideStore in Downtown Houston. This can then be recharged at stations or on buses. Fares on light rail and buses cost $1.25 per journey.
Taxis are a cost-effective way to get around Houston, and there are plenty of Downtown taxi ranks. The basic charge is $2.75 for the meter drop, then $2.20 per mile after that. Uber is active in the city and can allow you to make big savings. Their basic fare is $1, then $0.87 per mile (for the cheapest vehicles).
Houston is a city that seems to have been designed for motorists and renting a vehicle during your stay is advisable. Be aware that rush hour starts early (around 4:00 p.m.) and look out for traffic jams in north Houston at any time of day. There are also tolls on many expressways, most of which will be automatically added to your rental bill. However, cash tolls still apply on the Sam Houston and Hardy expressways, so have some change handy. It’s also worth noting that on-street parking is free after 6:00 p.m. every day (and completely free on Sundays).
Houston’s major shopping mall is the Galleria, located in the Uptown area. It’s the number one place to go if you are looking for luxury brands like Michael Kors, Neiman Marcus, or Jimmy Choo. River Oaks is another popular mall and features a selection of independent boutiques like Pink Slip, Chico’s, and Gymboree. Then there are markets like the Houston Fleamarket, where you never know what might be available, and there are always bargains to hunt down.
Houston generally isn’t an expensive city as far as groceries are concerned. There are plenty of major supermarkets in tourist areas, including Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, and El Ahorro, which sells a variety of Mexican produce. Expect to pay around $3 for a gallon of milk and $14 for a good bottle of wine.
Dining in Houston is one of the city’s greatest attractions, and there are few better places to enjoy a Texas BBQ or Tex-Mex cuisine. You can’t beat Gatlin’s for traditional BBQ meals, but they are closely followed by Killen’s and CorkScrew. If Tex-Mex is to your liking, head to Teotihuacan or El Real. There are excellent pizzas at Dolce Vita, wonderful French food at Artisans, and healthy vegetarian dishes at Baba Yega and Quan Yin – so everyone’s tastes should be covered.