Houston might be one of the most surprising destinations I’ve visited recently. It’s a huge city, home to over two million people… but it’s not a popular tourist destination in the same way as other big cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago are.
Houston has been a city worth visiting since the early 19th century and has grown surprisingly in the areas of heavy industry, medicine, and aerospace. Located within close reach to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is able to be a major Southern city with good access to the water at Galveston.
If you’re headed to Houston and are looking for what to do, I’m here to help! Here’s a city guide for America’s 4th largest city, including what to see and do for 3 days in Houston.
Houston Travel Tips
After two trips in the last three years – one in February and one in July – I can safely say that anytime is a good time to visit Houston. It can be rainy in the autumn or spring or hot and humid in the summer, but there’s AC everywhere, and most of the best things to do in Houston are indoors anyway!
Before we jump into my suggested three-day Houston itinerary, here are a few quick travel tips to help you plan your trip.
Where to Stay in Houston
Need a place to stay in Houston in between days of adventuring?
- The Hotel Icon is right downtown, all luxury and modern elements. From $169/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- I stayed at the Four Seasons Houston during my second trip to Houston in July 2019. From $244/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- If you prefer a bit more history in your hotels, The Lancaster was refurbished in 2018 but still has historic charm. From $169/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- While I didn’t stay in downtown Houston during my trip (I stayed on the south side closer to Johnson), here are a couple of vacation rentals in the heart of the city that caught my eye:
- Not far from downtown, this one-bedroom apartment is historic and a great deal, from $120/night. (Also on Booking.com)
The Houston CityPass is by far the best way to see many of the city’s best sights at a reasonable price; it’s especially great for family travelers The pass includes access to Space Center Houston, the Downtown Aquarium, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo or Museum of Fine Arts, and Kemah Boardwalk or Children’s Museum of Houston. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is! Click here to buy your Houston CityPass.
The Best Things to See & Do in Houston
As you plan your three-day trip to Houston, it helps to know the most popular things to do – and some of my own favorites thrown in for fun! (You’re warned – my favorites are a bit weird: bats and funerals!)
Discovery Green is one of Houston’s most popular sights. If you want to experience some outdoors in the heart of Houston, you can walk around the almost 12-acre park along paths, or rent a kayak to paddle around the small lake. It’s a must-see sight and the top of everyone’s list – but you don’t need to spend a ton of time there, and it’s centrally located so super easy to visit.
Buffalo Bayou Park
Located just west of the downtown core, Buffalo Bayou Park is a beautiful 124-acre park with running and cycling trails, and a peacefully slow-moving river. This park is perfect for a walk, filled with public art including sculptures, and even a few hundred thousand bats, the Waugh Drive Bat Colony.
If you’re looking for great views of the Houston skyline, Buffalo Bayou Park is also the place to go.
Houston is a surprisingly colorful city. Across most of Houston’s neighborhoods, you can find pockets of street art, but the best by far is the East End. Get ready for insanely iconic and eye-popping murals on every inch of almost every building.
This is a cool spot to spend an hour or two one day if you want to get some really interesting selfies!
The Houston Museum of Natural Science
I love a good museum of history and/or natural science – and I was shocked how much I loved the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
A historic building in its own right, the museum was founded in 1909 and has exhibits from around the world. I particularly enjoyed the Egyptology exhibit and one about native peoples in the Amazon. I had never seen an exhibit about Amazonia before, and it was one of the most interesting. There’s also a planetarium, butterfly pavilion, and large screen for IMAX-format movies.
It’s definitely family-friendly, but I’m confident curious adults will love visiting too.
Skyspace at Rice University
Located in the heart of the Rice University campus, the James Turrell’s Skyspace is partially a space for displaying art — and partially a piece of public art in its own right. Used for incredible musical experiences, you can also enjoy watching the sunset or a view across the campus at any time of day.
Beer Can House
Lest you forget you’re in Texas, the Beer Can House is a home in the Rice Military neighborhood that has become an unusual public attraction. You can now take a guided tour to learn more about how the house was built – and how many cans it took to cover the entire house (spoiler: it took twenty years from 1968–1988 and over 50,000 Texas Pride beer cans!).
Johnson Space Center & Space Center Houston
Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston are my favorite experiences in Houston. Many people know Houston for its space heritage, and this is the best way to experience it first-hand.
If you’ve seen basically any famous space movie and want the chance to see the hard work NASA is doing every day – including building technology we use in our everyday lives –, spending the day at Johnson (and opting for the VIP tour) is a must.
The National Museum of Funeral History
Admittedly, the National Museum of Funeral History is a pretty obscure recommendation – and it’s a ways out of town, so it’s almost better to do on your way to the airport if that makes sense… but I went here on my last trip and it was just too unusual and interesting not to recommend.
First of all, this museum is way bigger than you’d expect, with a handful of wildly fascinating exhibits: famous deaths, the history of hearses, funerals around the world, the history of embalming… and some special exhibits from time to time! Instead of being creepy or weird, the National Museum of Funeral History is educational and normalizes what happens after death. Seriously, must do if you’re up for that sort of thing.
3 Days in Houston: A Weekend Itinerary
Okay, with all those ideas swirling around in your brain, it’s time to plan your weekend itinerary for Houston. Since you’ve made it this far, I assume you want my suggestions, so here’s how I would spend three days in Houston as a first-timer.
Day 1 – Downtown Houston’s Sights
On your first day in Houston, start out seeing the city’s most popular sights: wandering the city streets, exploring Discover Green, taking in some of the street art, and going for a long walk in Buffalo Bayou Park. I’d do it in just that order.
Make your way to Discovery Green, the epicenter for many of the city’s biggest events (like when Houston hosted the Super Bowl during my first trip – or the Apollo 50th anniversary on my second visit). Take a leisurely stroll or boat on the lake. Lunch at The Grove with a view out over the park.
In the afternoon, you could catch an Uber over to the East End to see street art, or head straight for Buffalo Bayou Park for a long walk. If you time it right, you can enjoy some of the public art in the park, and see the bats come out at sundown before or after dinner at The Dunlavy.
Day 2 – NASA Day: “Houston, Do You Copy?”
If you decide to visit Houston to learn about NASA history, I recommend giving a full day to enjoy all that Space Center Houston and Johnson Space Center have to offer.
Show up early and make your way through the Starship Gallery to visit Independence Plaza first – the space shuttle gets really toasty and crowded as the day goes on. There are other exhibits and shows to explore when you need to come in and cool off, before taking a VIP tour of Johnson Space Center.
The exact things you’ll see on the VIP tour can vary, so I won’t go into specifics, but yes it’s worth every penny to get to see what’s really going on at NASA nowadays.
In the evening, stop for dinner at Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant on NASA Parkway. The walls are adorned with NASA photos and memorabilia, which makes it a perfect end for a day of space experiences.
Day 3 – Day at the Museums
All Night at the Museum jokes a side, Houston is home to some pretty fantastic museums and it’s worth spending a day at 1-2 of them – even if you don’t consider yourself a huge museum person (I don’t.)
I recommend you start in the morning at the Houston Museum of Natural History before all of the field trips arrive. You can plan to see a planetarium show, explore the exhibits, and get lost among the collections – from gemstones to Instagram-worthy art installations.
After lunch, there are several options. More conventional museum-goers might choose to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which is included in your Houston CityPass. If you’re a fan of more off-beat options, the National Museum of Funeral History is a must. It’s weirdly interesting to learn about the history of hearses or the deaths of famous people.
If you’re staying in Houston another night, grab dinner at somewhere fun like South African Peli Peli. Follow it up with a nightcap at Neil’s Bahr or The Cottonmouth Club to cap off an epic 3 days in Houston!
Headed to Houston and still have questions? Hit me up in the comments.
This post was originally published in May 2018, and was updated in September 2019. On my second trip to Houston, I was hosted by Visit Houston.