Home to the city’s main business and financial institutions, downtown Houston by day is a bustling hive of commuter activity, but come night fall it transforms into an entertainment hub.
This chameleon-like quality is most starkly seen in the suited and booted folk going about their daily office toil during daylight hours, who are then replaced by packed crowds of eager fun-seekers who come to fill the district’s myriad theatres, art galleries and music venues to the brim after dark. Together it represents why the area is a perpetual magnet for visitors. We’ve picked out 10 of the most unique things to see and do in downtown Houston.
Let your hair down at an entertainment hot-spot
After experiencing a long spell in the doldrums, the bustling downtown dining and entertainment complex known as Bayou Place has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years and is now once again the place to go in Houston for a big night out with family or friends. A number of buzzing nightlife spots can be found here, including a popular music venue that stages regular live concerts, several cinemas owned by legendary Hollywood actor Robert Redford, and the perpetually busy Hard Rock Café.
105 Sabine Street / Thurs-Fri 3pm-7pm; Sat-Sun 10am-7pm; Closed Mon-Weds
Take in some top-class theatre
Houston’s two main cultural heartlands are its Museum District in the south of the city, and its Theatre District right here in downtown. The lively entertainment zone lays claim to a total of nine theatre venues spread across some 17 downtown blocks, each hosting a wide variety of performing arts events including Touring Broadway shows, opera, ballet, musicals, symphonies, live bands, stand-up comedians and more. There’s also no shortage of restaurants nearby offering special pre or post-show theatre deals.
615 Texas Avenue
Hit the Main action
Stretching over four miles all the way from downtown to Houston Zoo in the city’s most southern reaches, the central thoroughfare of Main Street constantly buzzes with activity. Passing through some of the city’s most desirable districts, its shops, restaurant and bars attract large crowds, with the area pulsating with energy during the day and night. Running down the middle of the street is a light rail connecting the north and south of the city, helping make it accessible to everyone.
Discover underwater life at a world-class aquarium
Don’t be fooled by the name – this is no ordinary aquarium, but rather an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment complex complete with a Ferris wheel, carousel and restaurant. But if you’re coming purely to marvel at an array of marine life, then you won’t be disappointed by the Downtown Aquarium, with exhibit highlights including wild encounters with alligators and snapping turtles in the Louisiana Swamp; the chance to step inside the sunken hull of a 17th-century Spanish galleon and peer out to view giant octopus, moray eel, and majestic coral reefs; and a thrilling train ride through the Shark Voyage where you’ll see Blacktips, whitetips, sandtigers, zebra sharks and sawdish swimming all around you.
410 Bagby Street / Sun-Thurs 10am-8.30pm Fri-Sat 10am-10pm
Soak up the atmosphere of a historic district
With its charming 1800’s-era architecture, tree-lined streets, eclectic mix of sidewalk cafes, pubs and night spots, Historic Market Square serves up an enticing mix of culture and commerce. The site of Houston’s original City Hall until it moved to its current location in 1939, today the area has grown into a vibrant urban neighbourhood featuring a blend of old world charm and contemporary attractions, and one of the city’s most popular meeting points for locals and visitors alike.
Get spooked while sinking pints
Every city has a dark and mysterious underbelly and Houston is no different. This 2.5-hour evening ghost and pub tour invites visitors to delve deep into the city’s murky past while enjoying some of the local beverages. As you walk, your guide will make every effort to scare the wits off you with stories of hauntings and other spine-tingling tales. Along the way, you’ll stop at four pubs housed in historic buildings, with the option to purchase drinks at your own expense.
Catch a baseball game
Like most cities across the US, baseball is a seriously big deal in Houston. At the heart of the city’s baseball scene is Minute Maid Park, a retractable roof stadium and the home ballpark of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros. Nicknamed The Juice Box, the downtown arena attracts packed crowds for every game, and is also a popular tourist attraction with tickets available either to book online or in person at the box office. Lashings of beer, hot dogs and popcorn add to this most quintessential of American sporting experiences.
501 Crawford Street
Escape the city hubbub at an urban park
Located in the heart of downtown, Discovery Green is the ideal antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city. The expansive 12-acre public park is a grassy oasis packed full of fun things to see and do, including art installations, interactive water features, a jogging trail, a playground, a skating rink, and a pond where visitors can take out canoes. Meanwhile, at the park’s amphitheatre touring musicians and performing arts groups take to the stage each day to keep the crowds entertained.
1500 McKinney Street / Mon-Sun 6am-11pm
Get a taste of downtown’s delectable foodie scene
Houston has a rich and diverse culinary scene and visitors can discover it for themselves by joining a guided downtown food tour. Over the course of 3.5 hours, you’ll walk around the district in the company of an expert guide who will regale you with fascinating stories and facts about the city’s food heritage and traditions, including how immigrants have imported delicacies here from around the world. Along the way, you’ll stop at regular intervals to try a variety of dishes and treats, including samplings at a bakery, a taco stand, a BBQ restaurant, a unique supermarket, and a Vietnamese restaurant.
Jump aboard a scenic railroad
For passengers on the Hermann Park Railroad, it is all about the journey not the destination. Located in the green expanse of Hermann Park, the ride was installed in 1959 and has been transporting visitors across the perimeters of the urban 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.
6104 Hermann Park Drive / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Walk through America’s biggest underground tunnel system
A little-known fact about Houston is that the city is home to the largest downtown tunnel system anywhere in America. If that’s piqued your curiosity, then let us pique it even further by presenting the chance to explore them for yourself on a fully guided underground tunnel tour. Run by renowned local company Astroville Tours, over two hours you’ll navigate the incredible subterranean metropolis, traversing the network of passageways that pass below the city’s myriad of downtown skyscrapers. Along the way, your guide will provide narration about the history of the tunnels and there’ll be plenty of opportunities to stop for photos, too.
Visit some of Texas’s finest breweries
Houston is at the epicentre of Texas’s burgeoning beer brewing scene, with a number of the state’s best breweries found here in downtown. This 2-hour brewery tour is one of the best ways to explore them for yourself, with the journey between them coming courtesy of an electric cart. As you and your group are chaperoned across the district aboard your fun transport, you’ll have the chance to take photos and listen to narration by your driver. At each of the three or four breweries visited, you’ll get to learn about the history behind each facility before the moment everyone has waited for – a chance to taste the local brew.