Houston is the fourth-largest city in the US, and famous for its role in space travel, and its oil and gas industry. But did you know that Houston is actually a great city for tourists? There are so many things to do in Houston – and many of them are entirely free! Here are some of the best free things to do in Houston.
While it may be better known as Space city, Houston could just as easily be called Bat City, for its diverse bat population. Houstonians are grateful for the bats, as they eat mosquitos. They also keep mostly to themselves, but there are a few places in town you can get a close up look at them. Visit the Waugh Bridge just after nightfall to see one of the most incredible sights of nature – hundreds of thousands of bats emerging from under the bridge for their nightly wing stretch. There is no tour to book or tickets to buy, just show up any night of the year!
Hidden in downtown Houston, under the Preston St. bridge is a button. A mysterious red button. It’s not easy to find, but when you do, don’t press it. I’m kidding, of course you press it. The button, known as the big bubble, causes the bayou to give a ‘burp’, as an air bubble forces the water upwards. Heads up, the button is sometimes broken, so it’s hit or miss on the burp, but if you’re lucky enough to find it working, you’re in for a treat! Half the fun is finding the button, so if you’re having trouble, don’t give up.
The Japanese gardens at Hermann park is a great place to walk around and enjoy nature on a nice day. With multiple bridges and water features, it offers a place to get away from the bustle of the city and reconnect with nature. Rest on a bench in a Japanese inspired hut, or find your zen in the rock garden. Either way, don’t forget to bring some bread to feed the many ducks who call the gardens home!
Looking to get out on the water? Hop on board the M/V Sam Houston for a 90-minute round-trip educational tour along the Houston Ship Channel. You’ll get to see international cargo vessels, and view the port operations, while learning about the history and function of the Ship Channel. The boat, which has been operating as a public tour vessel since 1958(!) has indoor areas and is air conditioned, so you can enjoy this free activity all year round. Advance reservations are required.
You’ve seen sunrise and sunset, but never like this. Located on the grounds of Rice University, the James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is a grass covered pyramid with a giant dome over it. At sunrise and sunset, the LED lights interplay with the twilight, creating a mesmerizing light sequence. Get there 30 minutes before for the sunrise show and ten minutes prior for the sunset show. The light show is free but reservations are required.
On the third Sunday of every month, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens throws the doors open to the public. You can walk through Hogg house with room after room decorated in a different period, dating back to pioneer times. When you’re done viewing the fascinating historical artifacts in each room, head out to the beautifully manicured gardens for a stroll among the fountains and flowers. Kids and adults alike will enjoy these Family Fun days, with plenty of music, games, crafts, and other fun activities on premises.
Up for a picnic? I hope you don’t mind sharing a table! The large stone table at Evelyn’s Park is permanently occupied by Alice, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse, and the Mad Hatter, but don’t let that bother you. There’s plenty of room for you to sit down with them and enjoy your picnic. If you’re a fan of Alice in Wonderland, you’ll delight in the details of the sculptures, with over 150 elements from the book hidden among the carvings.
Museums can often be pricey expeditions, especially if you’re taking the whole family. The Houston Museum District tries to alleviate that burden by offering free museum days every Thursday! Here’s a list of some of the museums you can visit for free:
What’s more, all these museums are walking distance from each other, so you can count on a full day of free museum fun!
The Edith L Moore Sanctuary is an oasis of natural beauty in the heart of the city. Walk along boardwalks surrounded by native plants and catch glimpses of the wildlife, including frogs, water snakes, turtles, and more. The lush greenery will lull you into thinking you’ve escaped the city entirely as you enjoy the view of the lazy creek winding through the site. While you’re there, check out the log cabin, former home of Edith L. Moore, now a historic site.
Bring your blanket or a lawn chair and stretch out on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park. Or if you have the time to pick up tickets in advance, you can snag one of the covered seats. Catch a movie, musical or dance performance, or even children’s theater in this outdoor venue that’s completely free to attend, no matter where you sit! Concessions are available for purchase, so consider making a picnic out of it.
No visit to Houston is complete without a trip to the water wall in the Galleria area. The perfect spot for a picnic, or to snap some pictures, the water wall curves around in a U-shape, allowing you to step inside and feel the spray of the water gushing down on either side. It’s the perfect activity for when it’s hot outside (which is often), but just as fun during the winter!
More than ‘just a park’, there’s something for everyone at this free Houston destination. Kids will enjoy fun climbing structures and a summer-time splash pad, while adults and older kids will love the table putting green, tennis, foosball, and cornhole. There are always plenty of food trucks, not to mention an on-site cafe, and you’ll always find tons of free classes and events going on. The park even has carts set up with art supplies, games, books and magazines!
Ever seen a vulture up close? Check out the aviary at Bear Creek Park, where you’ll see vultures, parrots, and other birds, both in cages, and roaming free. A short walk away, you’ll find other animals to visit, like buffalos, an ostrich, and emus. This is another great place to feed the ducks, who make their home on the water next door to the aviary. From there, take a short walk over to the War Memorial to pay your respects to the Harris County residents who died in service to our country during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Persian Gulf War and conflicts in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.