With a population of 2.3 million - and nearly 7 million in the larger metro area - H-Town (as locals dub it) is the Lone Star State´s largest city (as well as with the fourth-largest in the United States), and one of its richest, especially due in no small part to the great Texas oil boom which began in the early 20th century. All that population and wealth also means a deep bench of top-notch - and increasingly divers - cultural and recreational options for visitors (not to mention superb dining, shopping, and lodging). There´s a lot to unpack in H-Town, a few other attractions not mentioned on our list include the upscale Galleria (the USA´s seventh largest); the 12-acre downtown park Discovery Green with various fun activities; the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park with an amazing, multilevel sculptural fountain at its center; the 155-acre Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, with five miles of trails and numerous interactive exhibits and activities; a huge lazy river shaped like Texas in the local Marriott Marquis, self-guided tour of Houston's various colorful street murals (you can also choose to shell out for a guided tour); and various area historic sights). But the following quintet is definitely not to be missed:
By far the city´s most significant cultural asset - and indeed, one of the top in all of Texas, it´s divided into four walkable zones, is served by three METRORail stations, and boasts no fewer than 19 museums, with standouts including::
Houston Museum of Natural Science - With more than 1.5 million items within its collection, the 114-year-old HMNS encompasses over 430,000 square feet, including a hall of gems and minerals with more than 750 specimens (one of which is among the world´s largest blue sapphires); more than 250 animals represented in the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife; the world´s largest private collection of Fabergé (more than 600 items);. and a hall of ancient Egypt is an additional well-loved exhibit covering more than 4,000 years of this extraordinary civilization.
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston - This sleek institution, founded in 1948, specializes in cutting-edge painting, sculpture, multimedia works, installations, and performance art from around the U.S. and the world.
The Menil Collection - Perhaps Houston´s best known museum, it´s a world reknowned institution - based on a private collection, now public - with marquis names including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Yves Tanguy, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol. There are also important collections of antiquities as well as Byzantine, medieval, and tribal art.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Founded in 1917, the world´s 12th largest museum in terms of exhibition space houses some 70,000 works from across the globe, and is especially strong in art of the Italian Renaissance, French Impressionism, and postwar Europe and the U.S.; photography, art made in Texas; gold of Africa and pre-Columbian Latin America; and decorative arts of Europe and the U.S. There are also important collections of Asian and Islamic art as well as that of contemporary Latin America and Latino Texans. Names you´ll recognize include Canaletto, Cézanne, Cranach the Elder, Fra Angelico, Kandinsky, Modigliani, Mondrian, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Singer Sargent, and Van Gogh.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum - Named after the regiments of black soldiers who fought for the North in the U.S. Civil War, this remarkable institution founded in 2001 focuses not only on them but on all the African Americans who have served with distinctions in this country´s military conflicts.
Children's Museum Houston - About to mark its 40th anniversary, the CMH offers a wide variety of exhibitions to engage kids in explaining science, nature, art, music, and the world around us in general, as well as a ¨secret spy game,¨a ¨Kidtropolis¨ where they can try out different occupations; and myriad other fun/educational activities.
The Museum of Health and Medical Science - Known as the Health Museum for short, this fantastic institution covers a range of important topics from basic biology to epidemics and pollution and its effects on the body - very germane to the world we live in. One particularly exciting and innovative feature here is the DeBakey Cell Lab, where visitors don lab coats, masks, and goggles to explore in a hands-on way the wonders of cell biology; it´s also the USA´s only bilingual (English/Spanish) cell lab museum exhibit.
Holocaust Museum Houston - A wonderful - if sobering - examination of the Shoah, including World-War-II-era artifacts; art and photography exbibitions; a gallery showcasing other genocides in world history as well as prominent human-rights leaders; testimonials from Houston-area Holocaust survivors; and other aspects of Jewish history and culture. Particularly important in this day and age of resurging anti-semitism in the United States.
Houston Museum of African American Culture - Here you´ll find two stories´ worth of art and historical exhibitions about the black experience, particularly in Houston, which saw a significant influx of freed slaves after emancipation in 1865. And it´s free of charge!
Czech Center Museum Houston - Texas is home to a large Czech- as well as Slovak-American population, and this institution celebrates their accomplishments here as well as the history and culture of their mother countries, including exhibitions of crystal, glass, porcelain, potter, antique furniture, folk costumes, and fine art from the 18th century to the present day.
Hours and admission fees vary (some have free days or hours and several are completely free of charge).
Stretching from the southern end of the Museum District, its entrance marked by the horseriding statue of city namesake and Texas independence hero Sam Houston, this 445-acre spread offers not just green and wooded spaces, fountains, scultpures; lakes with pedal boats, and walking trails, but also a variety of sights and activities to appeal to anyone of any age. Highlights include a 5½-acre Japanese garden; a Friendship Pavilion gifted in 1976 by sister city Taipei; an 18-hole public golf course; a two-mile narrow-gauge train; gardens of edible herbs, vegetables, and fruits; the 65-acre, 101-year-old Houston Zoo; the 15-acre McGovern Centennial Gardens; and a play area for children including a fun water attraction; and the Miller Outdoor Theater, which presents stage productions, movies, cultural shows, and concerts (some of them free of charge) throughout the year.
This one´s just for nearly three weeks once a year, but worth scheduling your visit around (the next one will be take place February 27 through March 17, 2024). Held in NRG Stadium, nine miles from downtown and three from Hermann Park, HLSR hosts not just the titular championship rodeo action and livestock/horse exbitions, competitions, and auctions, but also carnival rides, a kids´ ¨calf scramble,¨food booths, retail vendors (get your authentic Stetsons and cowboy boots here!), a wine garden, and a star-studded entertainment lineup, past performers have included Beyoncé, Garth Brooks, June Carter Cash, Kelly Clarkson, Bob Dylan, Ariana Grande, Janet Jackson, Demi Lovato, Reba Mcintire, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Charley Pride, Gwen Stefani, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban, among many others. Pre-Rodeo events include a big parade through downtown, a barbecue competition, and 5K and 10K runs. Tickets start at $45.
Home to Major League Baseball´s Houston Astros, this air-conditioned, 41,000-seat stadium named after a frozen fruit juice company (because sure) is located on the northeast edge of downtown and has a retractable roof, and even when it´s shut, a 50,000-square-foot glass covering provides great views of the skyline. On its west side, a replica of a 19th-century locomotive comes alive when the Astros come onto the field, after a player hits a home run, and when the home team is victorious. The 2023 season runs through September, and visitors can take year-round guided tours ranging from one to three hours (prices vary).
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