Best Things to See in Downtown Houston

Best Things to See in Downtown Houston

As the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston has plenty to offer visitors. But where do you start in this sprawling metropolis? One of the best places is downtown. Houston’s downtown area packs many of the city’s top attractions into a relatively compact area, making it easy to get around and see quickly.

From world-class museums and performing arts to historic sites, gardens, and more, downtown Houston invites you to experience the diversity and energy that fascinates this city. Read on for an in-depth look at things to see in Downtown Houston.

Downtown Houston's Top Museums

Downtown Houston’s Top Museums

For many visitors, Houston’s museum district is a top priority. Located downtown, this walkable district contains 19 museums housing some of the nation’s most important collections.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

With something for visitors of all ages, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of the most popular attractions in Houston. This Smithsonian-affiliated museum contains extensive exhibits covering space science, chemistry, energy, gems and minerals, ancient Egypt, and dinosaurs.

Don’t miss the Burke Baker Planetarium, one of the largest planetariums in the country. The Wortham Giant Screen Theatre presents educational IMAX films on a screen nearly five stories high.

Explore replicas of King Tut’s tomb and other sites for an up-close look at ancient Egypt. The Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals dazzles with its displays of geodes, crystals, and fluorescents worldwide.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s tropical greenhouse, filled with hundreds of live butterflies worldwide.

The Menil Collection

Those who want to immerse themselves in art will love The Menil Collection. The main building houses the private collection of John and Dominique de Menil, with over 17,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, and rare books.

Highlights include works by Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, and Cy Twombly. The serene Rothko Chapel nearby is ideal for contemplating Mark Rothko’s meditative paintings.

The Cy Twombly Gallery contains a retrospective of this abstract artist’s life work, while the Drawing Institute focuses on contemporary drawings. Outdoor art installations dot the 30-acre grounds.

Houston Museum of African American Culture

To learn about African American art, history, and culture, spend some time at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. This museum contains over 4,000 artworks, artifacts, photographs, documents, and textiles relevant to the African American experience and culture.

Rotating exhibits highlight African American artists and influential figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama. The museum also annually hosts lectures, films, theatre, and dance performances.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Crafters and art appreciators will find inspiration at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. With rotating exhibits focused on every type of craft, from ceramics and fibers to glass and metalsmithing, the center spotlights both local and international artists. You can even watch artists at work in the studios.

Don’t miss the gift shop filled with unique handmade treasures to take home. The center also offers hands-on workshops where visitors can learn new craft techniques.

Holocaust Museum Houston

For a sobering and educational experience, visit the Holocaust Museum Houston. This museum teaches the history of the Holocaust through artifacts, photographs, film footage, and survivor testimonies.

The exhibits guide you through the rise of Nazism, the ghettos and concentration camps, resistance efforts, and more. The museum emphasizes how the Holocaust relates to our lives today. Special temporary exhibits provide additional perspectives.

Historic Sites Reveal Houston’s Roots

From its beginnings as a small Texas town to its current status as an international hub, Houston has a rich history. Several downtown sites provide an engaging glimpse into Houston’s past.

Sam Houston Park

Sam Houston Park contains a collection of restored historic homes and buildings dating back to the 19th century. Stroll through the small brick cottages built by formerly enslaved people after the Civil War. Marvel at the beautiful stained glass in St. Joseph’s Church, which was made in 1887.

Kids will love exploring the 1891 fire station and seeing the antique fire truck. At the Kellum-Noble House built in 1847, costumed guides share what life was like for early Houstonians. Amid the oak trees, you may spot squirrels, butterflies, and birds going about their day.

Market Square Park

Standing in Market Square Park, you can imagine the busy market operated here from the 1840s to the 1880s. Farmers sold their produce, while the influential Helper Hotel welcomed politicians and business people.

Today, two restored historic buildings remain. The Old Market Square Building houses a cafe and gallery space. The Kellum-Noble House Museum offers exhibits about early Houston. The park often hosts concerts, yoga classes, and other community events.

Allen’s Landing

No trip to Houston is complete without visiting Allen’s Landing along Buffalo Bayou. This minor downtown park marks where Augustus Chapman Allen arrived by boat in 1836 to establish the city.

Reflecting on how Houston grew from this wilderness river landing into today’s metropolis is neat. The University of Houston-Downtown and Main Street Metro Rail lines border the park.

1859 Frost Town Site

For an archaeological view of Houston’s past, visit the Frost Town Site. You can see excavated foundations from Frost Town, one of Houston’s first neighborhoods established in the 1820s. Frost Town declined after the 1900 hurricane.

Plaques describe the intriguing artifacts, like medicine bottles, marbles, dice, broken dishes, and animal bones. Costumed historians often provide educational demonstrations about what life was like back then.

Performing Arts Venues

Houston’s downtown performing arts centers provide top-notch entertainment from Broadway musicals to symphony performances. These venues also host local performance groups like the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera.

Jones Hall

The palatial Jones Hall is home to the renowned Houston Symphony. This world-class orchestra performs an exciting array of concerts each season from September through May. Famous guest artists and pop culture collaborations keep things fresh.

Jones Hall also frequently presents popular Broadway touring shows like Hamilton, Wicked, and The Lion King—the interior dazzles with crystal chandeliers, gold leaf, and plush red seating.

Wortham Theater Center

The Wortham Theater Center is two theaters in one. The elegant Brown Theater presents performances by the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera in its ornate, old-world style setting.

Meanwhile, the more contemporary Cullen Theater hosts a variety of music, dance, theatre, and other performances. Check the calendar to see what’s on during your Houston visit.

Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

The Hobby Center opened in 2002 as downtown Houston’s new state-of-the-art performing arts venue. Musical theatre fans can catch Broadway across America touring shows in the elegant Sarofim Hall.

Zilkha Hall offers an intimate setting for chamber music, dance, cabaret shows, children’s theatre, and more. Don’t miss the lobby’s dramatic installations like the Playbill Chandelier sculpture made from 3,000 Broadway playbills.

Miller Outdoor Theatre

Head to the Hillside Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park for free outdoor entertainment. This open-air venue hosts an eclectic mix of performances from April through November. Founded in 1923, it’s the nation’s first permanent outdoor theatre.

Enjoy musicals, dramas, concerts, operas, dance, and children’s shows under the stars. The covered seating is first come, first served, so arrive early. Bring a blanket for the expansive lawn seating.

Downtown Parks and Green Spaces

When you need a break from the concrete jungle, Houston’s downtown parks provide welcome pockets of nature. These green spaces are ideal for picnics, strolling along trails, enjoying public art, and letting the kids run free.

Discovery Green

Directly across from the George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green is downtown’s lively central park. Kids love playing in the interactive water features, treehouse-like climbing structures, and misty “rain” fountain. Special event programming includes fitness classes, concerts, story times, and more throughout the year.

The park has several restaurants, and the Lake House Cafe overlooks the pond. Public art installations like painted rocking chairs make for fun photo ops.

Buffalo Bayou Park

For city hiking immersed in nature, head to the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park just west of downtown. Paved trails wind through wilderness-like landscapes of native grasses and wildflowers, with the bayou’s waters rippling alongside.

Pet-friendly and great for cycling, the trails pass excellent urban art installations like the Dandelion Fountain and installations made from repurposed materials. Stop at the Waugh Bat Colony Bridge at dusk to watch millions of bats emerge into the sunset.

Houston City Hall

The green space surrounding Houston’s eye-catching modernist city hall creates a pleasant oasis downtown. Locals love coming here on weekdays to sunbathe by the reflecting pool, read under the colorful Richard Lippold sculpture, or enjoy a sack lunch.

Kids can’t resist running through the dancing water jets in the interactive water feature. Benches under shade trees line the perimeter.

Main Street Square

For people-watching, concerts, and seasonal festivities, spend some time at Main Street Square. Colorful Adirondack chairs surround a central lawn and performance stage.

On Tuesdays from 11 am to 2 pm, Food Truck Tuesdays brings delicious mobile food here. During the holiday season, the square twinkles with thousands of lights.

Family Fun

While Houston has no shortage of kid-friendly attractions, downtown conveniently packs several of the best options. These interactive spaces will entertain young ones while providing learning opportunities.

Children’s Museum of Houston

The Children’s Museum of Houston delights little ones with hands-on exhibits on science, technology, engineering, and math. Kids can enter a bubble room, pilot a supersonic jet in a flight simulator, experiment with circuits, and more.

Toddlers have their particular area called Tot*Spot. Other museum highlights include an outdoor garden with climbable sculptures, an innovation maker space, and daily programming. It’s easy to spend a whole day here.

Houston Firefighters Museum

Children climb on actual fire trucks and ambulances at the Houston Firefighters Museum while learning about fire safety and Houston’s firefighting history. Interactive exhibits let kids try on fire gear, remember to stop, drop, roll, slide down a pole, and test their skills on a Junior Firefighter Training Course.

Historic artifacts date back to the late 1800s. Make sure to check out the moving 9/11 exhibit too. It’s a memorable outing for future firefighters.

Houston Police Officer’s Memorial

Located across from the Minute Maid ballpark, this touching memorial honors the sacrifices of Houston’s fallen law enforcement officers. Young visitors enjoy sitting in the driver’s seat of a vintage police car and seeing the old jail cell.

But the memorial’s Wall of Honor makes the most significant impact as kids realize the dangers police face. Discussing community, safety, and sacrifice issues is an excellent opportunity.


For upscale shops, diverse eateries, water features, and lush landscaping, head to CityCentre just west of downtown. Kids can burn off energy racing through the “Pretend Prairie” interactive fountain. Meet storybook characters in the elaborate treehouse play area.

Colorful public art includes a 34-foot sculpture of Red Eared Sliders climbing a DNA strand. Special events like Movies on the Plaza keep families entertained.

Must-See Sports Venues

Houstonians love their sports teams. Catching a game or match in one of downtown’s significant venues offers a fun glimpse into local culture. The crowds bring infectious energy whether you’re a die-hard fan or not.

Minute Maid Park

Home of the Houston Astros, beautiful Minute Maid Park offers exciting MLB baseball action in an open-air setting. Kids are thrilled to ride the miniature train encircling the stadium’s perimeter or slide down the 30-foot high “Shooting Star” slide.

The park incorporates signature Houston elements like a hill in the center field, steam locomotives, oranges. Don’t leave without trying classic ballpark fare like hot dogs, nachos, and ice-cold beer.

Toyota Center

The state-of-the-art Toyota Center hosts downtown Houston’s beloved NBA team, the Rockets. High-energy basketball games feature dancers, T-shirt cannons, stunt dunkers, and Clutch the Bear. Concerts by superstar performers like Beyonce and Paul McCartney also take the arena’s stage.

Before the event, get in the team spirit by grabbing Rockets apparel and souvenirs at the team shop. Outside, pose by the 17-foot tall bronze Rockets sculptures.

BBVA Stadium

Soccer fans unite at BBVA Stadium, the Houston Dynamo and Dash home. This open-air stadium designed for MLS matches creates an intimate fan experience with excellent sightlines.

Supporters march to the games, waving flags and chanting fight songs. Grab some tasty tacos and the house-made orange Dynamo pale ale to complete the gameday atmosphere. The best place to watch is the beer garden.

Trendy Bars and Restaurants

As an international city, Houston offers a wildly diverse food scene. Downtown alone contains excellent options ranging from ramen joints to high-end steakhouses. Trendy craft cocktail lounges encourage bar hopping.

Weights + Measures

Make a reservation at Weights + Measures in Midtown for an expensive night out. James Beard-nominated chef Richard Knight opens the menu with crudos, small plates, and comfort dishes like chicken and dumplings before transitioning into steak and seafood.

The craft cocktail program mixes INTENSO with green chili-infused tequila, pineapple syrup, lime, and Q ginger beer. Save room for the heavenly Millionaire’s Macaron dessert.

Angel Share

Discover Houston’s vibrant cocktail culture at Angel Share. Tucked away in a graffiti-covered alley, this intimate bar takes speakeasy vibes up a notch. Tell the hostess your liquor preference and any flavors you like or don’t like to receive a custom drink recommendation from the bartender.

The cocktails are creative and delicious, from the Blood Diamond with cognac, blood orange, and raspberry to the Manhattan Rye-Tai. The rotating menu has something for every palate.

Huong Giang Bakery

Hit up Huong Giang Bakery in Chinatown for cheap, authentic Vietnamese food. This casual counter-serve spot makes massive banh mi sandwiches with grilled meat, pâté, pickled veggies, cilantro, and jalapeños. Get there early before they sell out.

You can also order pho, vermicelli bowls, and pastries like coconut macaroons and custard-filled eclairs. It’s some of the best value dining downtown. Cash only.


In a 1910s warehouse, Presidio takes a farm-to-table approach with the best local, seasonal ingredients. Start with Gulf shrimp tostadas or watermelon salad before moving on to entrees like redfish on the half-shell, seared duck breast, or Texas wagyu.

The elegant industrial atmosphere with exposed brick and leather booths makes this an excellent choice for a special night out. Don’t miss specialty cocktails like the Prickly Pear Margarita. Reservations recommended.

Niko Niko’s

Long lines gather at Niko Niko’s on Montrose Blvd for a taste of Greek cuisine. This family-run eatery serves up generously sized gyros, moussaka, spinach pies, kebabs, and other Mediterranean favorites at budget prices.

The massive Greek Salad alone can feed two people. Top off the meal with a flaky nut-filled baklava. Niko’s offers a fun, lively dining experience between the bustling crowds and loud Greek music.

downtown houston for couples

Can’t-Miss Annual Events

Throughout the year, downtown Houston provides a backdrop for exciting festivals, parades, and celebrations. Mark your calendar for these top annual happenings.

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Each February through March, rodeo fever hits Houston. The massive three-week Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo draws over 2 million visitors with its mutton busting, calf scrambles, livestock auctions, carnival rides, and PRCA bull riding.

The rodeo parade kicks things off in a colorful, western style. Top music artists like George Strait perform nightly concerts after the rodeo events.

Art Car Parade

Quirky and creative, the annual Art Car Parade rolls through downtown in April. Artists transform vehicles into wacky, mobile sculptures and drive them down Allen Parkway. Entry themes in recent years have included “Haunted” and “Escape.”

Spectators line up early to watch decorated cars that resemble everything from talking robots to fire-breathing dragons drive by. Live music and food trucks create a festive atmosphere at the parade staging area.

Juneteenth Celebration

Each June, Houston hosts one of the nation’s largest Juneteenth celebrations commemorating the end of slavery. Local musicians and artists line up for an entire weekend of performances in Emancipation Park.

The colorful parade of African-inspired prints and drums winds through downtown streets. Food vendors serve soul food while attendees browse local arts and crafts booths.

Pride Houston

In June, Houston shows its pride for the LGBTQ+ community. The Pride Houston festival and parade draws over 700,000 people yearly for concerts, DJs, and dances. Participants don eye-catching ensembles and carry rainbow flags as they march down Westheimer Road.

Recent grand marshals have included Houston’s first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker. Pride Houston promises an atmosphere of fun, inclusion, and celebration.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I rent a car to see downtown Houston?

While having a car can help get to some attractions around Houston, exploring downtown is easy without one. Many downtown sites are within walking distance of each other or a short Metro rail ride apart. You can take the Metro bus to central districts farther away, like the Museum District or Montrose. Rideshare apps like Uber are also popular options. With so much congestion, parking downtown can get pricey too.

What time of year is best to visit Houston?

Houston’s hot and humid summers can be sweltering. For more pleasant weather, plan your visit during fall, winter, or early spring. September through November sees primarily sunny days with temperatures in the 60s to 80s. From December through February, expect cooler temps between 40-60 degrees. However, brief cold snaps can happen. March and April bring wildflowers and warming temperatures around 70-80 degrees.

Is downtown Houston safe for tourists?

Like any major city, taking typical safety precautions when visiting Houston is wise. But downtown is generally relatively safe, especially during the day and in popular tourist areas. At night, stick to well-lit public spaces and travel in groups. Only walk or take public transportation to areas you’re familiar with after dark. As always, leave valuables at your hotel and avoid flashing cash.

How do I use the Houston Metro?

Houston’s user-friendly Metro light rail system makes getting around downtown easy. Buy a reusable Q card at any Metro station, then load it with a Day Pass or money for single rides. Trains come every 6-12 minutes. Key routes are the red line running north-south through downtown and the green and purple lines connecting to Theater District stops. The app METROgo shows schedules and helps plan trips.

What is there to do downtown at night?

Downtown Houston hops after dark, especially on weekends. For concerts and shows, check the schedules at Jones Hall, Wortham Theater Center, and other performing arts venues. Famous nightlife districts include Market Square with clubs like HandleBar and High & Dry, Washington Ave for Louie’s Dueling Piano Bar and Etro Lounge, and Midtown’s vibrant LGBTQ+ scene. For craft cocktails, visit Anvil Bar & Refuge or OKRA Charity Saloon. Many restaurants transition into late-night lounge spaces, too.

What Should I Expect For Weather in Downtown Houston?

Houston’s weather is generally hot and humid, though it varies throughout the year. Summer brings the most intense heat from June through August, with high temperatures in the 90s Fahrenheit and heat indexes above 100 F. Afternoon thunderstorms occur frequently. Fall provides some relief from September to November, with highs in the 80s. A cold front may dip temps into the 40s or 50s briefly. Winters are mild, ranging from the 40s to 60s. Occasional windy rainstorms happen. Spring warms up into the 70s and 80s with pleasant weather for enjoying the outdoors. Pack lightweight, breathable clothes for any time of year.

What About Mosquitos?

With its humid climate, Houston does see mosquitos, especially near bodies of water. They tend to be worse during the warmer months between May and October. Insect repellent, lightweight long sleeves, and pants help prevent bites when outdoors. Many areas spray to control the mosquito population. But they can still be bothersome in parks, on trails, or in outdoor venues at dusk. Luckily, air-conditioned hotels, restaurants, and attractions provide plenty of refuge if they get nasty. Mosquitos aren’t a reason not to visit and enjoy Houston. Just take reasonable precautions.

Where Can I Experience Houston’s Multiculturalism?

One of the most diverse cities in America, Houston offers many opportunities to experience different cultures. Eat through ethnic neighborhoods like Koreatown with Korean barbecue joints, Mahatma Gandhi District for Indian curry houses, or Chinatown’s mom-and-pop eateries. The Asia Society Texas Center spotlights both historical and contemporary Asian art. Attend the crowdsourcing Houston Greek Fest or Turkish Festival. For Latin culture, Artists for Humanity Epicenter has Latino arts programs. The annual Houston International Festival celebrates cultures worldwide through music, food, and dance.

What About Cajun and Creole Food?

Though New Orleans may be the more famous destination, Houston also has plenty of authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine. Seasonal crawfish boils are a classic experience with big batches of boil-seasoned mudbugs to peel and devour. Visit BB’s Cajun Cafe for crawfish étouffée, fried alligator and po’ boys. Ragin’ Cajun serves up Amazin’ Cajun seafood platters and stuffed crab. Make reservations at the Creole-inspired Eunice for upscale dining on dishes like shrimp and tasso Henican, duck campechana, and Louisiana blue crab beignets. Don’t miss the Cajun cocktails too.


With its top-notch museums, performing arts, historic sites, green spaces, family fun, and so much more, downtown Houston truly has something for every traveler. Walkable districts packed with attractions make it easy to experience the diversity and culture of this fascinating Texas city. Discover the best travel accessories and gifts for travelers to enhance your downtown Houston getaway, ensuring a dynamic blend of educational and fun experiences that you won’t soon forget, whether you’re visiting for a few days or longer.

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