Downtown Houston is a district with many faces. Home to the city’s main business and financial institutions, it is a bustling hive of commuter activity, with suited men and women going about their daily office toil. But as night falls, the area transforms chameleon-like into a vibrant epicentre of culture, teeming with theatres, art exhibitions and music venues.
Its physical features, too, help make Downtown Houston visually distinctive. An extensive network of pedestrian tunnels and skywalks connect its buildings, traversed by its worker bees, tourists and passing locals alike.
Below are seven of the more off-the-wall things to see and do in Downtown Houston; the ones you might not find in the guide books, but are worth checking out all the same.
But before, that a very quick word on hotels in Downtown Houston. We recently wrote an article about the range of options available to visitors, focusing on those at the budget end of the scale. You can read our article on the best cheap hotels in Downtown Houston here.
1. The Hermann Park Train
For passengers on the Hermann Park train, it is all about the journey not the destination. Located in Hermann Park, the ride was installed in 1959 and has been transporting visitors across the perimeters of the park ever since, skirting nearby attractions such as the zoo and the Museum of Natural Science along the way. But the most anticipated part of the journey is the tunnel – a barren, metal shed with amateurish cartoon depictions pained on the sides, the creation of local artist Trenton Doyle Hancock. The tunnel is accessible by foot, but visitors are strongly recommended to navigate it using the train due to safety concerns. The whole train ride takes around 20 minutes.
LOCATION 6104 Hermann Park Drive HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
2. Room Escape Time
A perfect family activity for a rainy Houston day – or any kind of day, in fact – Room Escape is a fun-packed interactive theatre experience featuring live actors and a whole host of stimulating challenges that tests your ingenuity and mental sharpness. Participants are locked in a room where you have to locate puzzles and clues that will guide you to the key needed to escape, save the world or other enthralling and adrenaline-pumping tasks, all the while negotiating your way out of the clutches of hungry zombies and super villains. Groups are restricted to 4-10 people.
LOCATION 1301 Leeland St Suite 200 HOURS Fri 6pm-12am; Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-8pm; Weds-Thurs 6pm-10pm Closed Mon-Tues
3. Museum of Health and Medical Science
Of all the museums in Houston, none can lay claim to a more eye-catching exhibit than the Museum of Health and Medical Science, where a 27-foot model of a human intestine grabs the attention of everyone who encounters it. But there’s plenty more to see and do at this top quality educational facility and interactive space, including a walk-through brain with memory games and a walk-in eyeball that demonstrates how your eyes receive and perceive images. Look out, too, for the skeleton riding a bicycle. A relative newcomer to downtown Houston, the museum attracts almost 200,000 people a year and has quickly become one of the city’s most popular attractions with locals and tourists alike.
LOCATION 1515 Hermann Drive HOURS 9am-5pm Daily
4. Bayou Place
This dining and entertainment complex has experienced a renaissance in recent years and is now once again the place to go for a taste of nocturnal Houston fun. A number of buzzing nightlife venues can be found here, including several cinemas owned by legendary Hollywood actor Robert Redford. There’s also a music venue that stages regular live concerts and the perpetually popular Hard Rock Café another staple.
LOCATION 105 Sabine Street HOURS Thurs-Fri 3pm-7pm; Sat-Sun 10am-7pm; Closed Mon-Weds
5. The Big Bubble
Hidden in a shallow alcove on Houston’s Preston Street Bridge is this unique art installation that helps keep the marshland below from becoming a nauseating, foul-smelling bog. Anyone walking across the bridge is invited to press a big red button that causes the Buffalo Bayou waters below to bubble and churn, helping to oxygenate them and avoid a perpetual stench enshrouding the area. The installation has become a popular attraction with visitors to Houston, but also provides a genuinely valuable contribution to the local environment.
LOCATION 515 Preston Street
6. Prohibition Supperclub and Bar
Nowhere exemplifies downtown Houston’s energetic, street-friendly vibe more than Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, which can be found in the Historic District in a building dating back to 1912. Rebranded recently to include an oyster bar, the venue is one of the city’s premier entertainment venues, featuring burlesque and cabaret performances along with a wide range of food and beverages, including expert craft cocktails and regionally-sourced cuisine.
LOCATION 1008 Prairie HOURS Thurs-Fri 4pm-11pm Mon & Weds-Sat; 11am-3pm Sun; Closed Tues
7. Alley Theatre
Founded more than six decades ago by internationally renowned artistic director Nina Valance, The Alley remains one of the city’s foremost cultural venues and offers a unique insight into Houston’s rich heritage of treading the boards. The theatre runs a busy and diverse programme of performances across two stages, with a total of 11 productions each season, and a strong emphasis on American works, including contemporary and classic plays. The Ally is also home to educational programmes, designed to connect with the youth of the city and inspire both future audiences and artists alike.
LOCATION 615 Texas Avenue