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Welcome to Houston


The massive metropolis of Houston, sprawling across the Gulf Coast plain of East Texas from its busy port, is almost twice the size of the entire state of Rhode Island. Even with this heavy urban concentration, though, Houston is green and lush, sited at the end of a belt of forest coming down from the north, and characterised by marshlands and bayous lined with cypress trees in the southern reaches.

Houston, named after former Republic of Texas president Sam Houston, is hot and humid. To make life more bearable in the close-packed downtown area much activity has gone underground. The city centre sports an air-conditioned seven-mile (11km) pedestrian tunnel system full of restaurants and shops. Unlike most cities, downtown in Houston is the hub of residential development, so it remains busy and bustling long after dark.

Texas' largest city is not generally a sought after tourist destination, being concerned more with business than pleasure and leisure. Computer manufacture, gas and oil, and a huge concentration of medical institutions account for most of the economic activity, but all those hard-working citizens have to play sometimes, and there are some good attractions like excellent museums, the amazing Astrodome sports pavilion, some wonderful theatres and, thanks to the cosmopolitan mix of its residents, some ethnically diverse cuisine on offer in its many restaurants and neighbourhoods. For visitors the absolute 'must-see' in Houston is the famed Space Center, mission control for the US space programme.

Information & Facts


Houston has a humid subtropical climate, prevailing winds bringing in the heat from the deserts of Mexico and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico during most of the year. Summers are swelteringly hot and humid, making air-conditioning a necessity rather than a luxury. Summers are characterised by afternoon thunderstorms, which bring rain most days, and sometimes tornadoes. Winters, by contrast, are cool and temperate, with no snow but some rain. The coolest month is January.

Eating Out

The ample girths of the average Texan testify to the good eating on offer in the Lone Star state. Houston just about edges out Dallas in the battle for best regional dining scene and is home to some truly excellent restaurants. Don't miss trying the two great indigenous cuisines Tex-Mex and Barbecue.

Getting Around

Visitors to Houston are well advised to hire a car, which is relatively inexpensive and provides the quickest and most convenient way to navigate the spread-out city. There are plenty of car parks and a well-managed road system. To hire a car, a full national driver's license is required and drivers must be at least 25 years (some companies hire cars to those aged 21 to 24 with surcharges). Those opting for public transport will find that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) has it well covered with an efficient and extensive bus service, as well as a new light rail line which links Downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park. Correct change is required for on-board bus fare boxes, or purchase tokens or a day pass in advance from local stores sporting the Metro sign. Taxis are a rather expensive option, though readily available downtown.

Kids Attractions

Houston is a very kid-friendly city, making this a perfect destination for a family holiday or fun-filled long weekend. Very few children aren't excited by the idea of space travel, so launch your visit with a trip to Space Centre Houston, the visitor base for NASA's Johnson Space Center. There is plenty to see and experience here, including space flight simulators. The Orange Show is one of the quirkiest, most popular and engaging attractions in Texas. Created over 24 years by Jeff McKissack, a retired mailman, this is an architectural wonder of walkways, arenas and sculptures using found objects and decorated with mosaics. It's hard to explain, but children invariably have a strong connection with this unique artwork. The Houston Zoo is a 50 acre facility on the grounds of Herman Park. It has a children's zoo that aims to teach and delight in equal measure. Old MacDonald Farm on the edge of town is a petting scale on a truly Texan scale with 12 different petting environments for the children to get up close and personal with the animals. The excellent Children's museum of Houston is a hugely interactive and fun experience for children of all ages - and adults too! Exhibits like Kid-TV give youngsters a hands-on feel for what it's like to put on a TV show. Finally, head to Six Flags AstroWorld for a day of roller-coaster rides, carnivals and shows that will get young and old screaming for more.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.


Houston's nightlife is focused on Midtown in the area, downtown near Montrose, and in the Uptown area around the Galleria.

Houston is one of the very few American cities to have resident performance companies in symphony, ballet, opera, and theatre. The main downtown venues are Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, and the Wortham Theater Center. In terms of modern music, Houston does have venues for live gigs but doesn't attract the cachet of musicians that nearby Austin does for example. The best venues are The Big Easy, which has a great blues lineup, and McGonigel's Mucky Duck for acoustic performers.

Houston has plenty of mega-clubs in the city centre. Check out the vast expanse of HUSH for techno and house, and Liquid for Latin and hip hop. Clubs and bars generally have a smarter dress code than many are used so it's worth dressing up before a big night on the town. For details of nightlife options check out The Houston Press, published every Thursday with full listings of who's playing and what's hot in the city.


Texas is a state where you either go large or go home, and Houston's shopping is no exception. Here the malls and credit card bills are super-sized - so be careful when embarking on a shopping spree! Houston's most famous shopping zone is undoubtedly the Galleria, the fifth largest retail complex in the USA. It hosts high end stores and all the big names in fashion along so-called Millionaire's Mile, with 320 shops in total plus high quality entertainment and restaurant options in a glitzy, gleaming mall where it is quite normal to wear sunglasses. If this is all too intense for you, stop by the Galleria's predecessor Highland Village which has all the glitz of the quality stores without the elitist attitude. At Uptown Park visitors can enjoy the atmosphere of a European village as they stroll from store to store. In Kirby District you can find The Village, a 16-block shopping zone with plenty of boutiques, galleries and spas aimed at the more affluent shopper. Finally, Houston's oldest department store, Foley's, has recently become Macy's but is still a pleasant and worthwhile place to shop. On weekends don't miss Trader's Village, an enormous flea market with everything from jewellery, and clothing to tools and old Texas number plates. A great place to find a really unique memento of your visit to Houston. An ideal souvenir of your Houston visit is some Western gear - look no further than Pinto Ranch which stocks belt buckles, boots, saddles and even ten gallon hats.


The largest city in Texas offers visitors plenty to see and do making it the perfect destination for a short holiday or weekend away.

Culture lovers will enjoy the Museum District, which features 16 varied and interesting museums as well as numerous restaurants in this leafy green area where travellers can stop and rest their weary legs, grab a bite to eat and move on to the next museum, or relax under the shade of a tree in Herman Park. And while you're in the area, visit the Miller Outdoor Theater to see what's on, check out the animals at the Houston Zoo or get into the swing of things on the Hermann Park Golf Course.

For something completely unique check out the quirky Orange Show, a celebration of orange folk art while science lovers will make a pilgrimage to the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake where they can view the actual Apollo and Mercury launch vehicles and even check out the space flight simulators.

Visitors should get hold of the Houston CityPass, which is valid for nine days and entitles bearers to free admission to six of the city's attractions.

The magnificent muted pink mansion in the marshy elbow of Buffalo Bayou in Houston's River Oaks area was the home of Miss Ima Hogg, a woman much loved in the community until her death in 1975, at the age of 93. Miss Hogg left her home and the gracious gardens that surround it as a legacy for the city. The house contains a remarkable collection of Americana and is regarded as a cultural treasure, with several thousand objects displayed in 28 period room settings in the mansion. Miss Hogg designed the gardens as outdoor living rooms, fed by bayou waters, and today they continue to provide a peaceful oasis in the heart of the metropolis planted with indigenous species as well as exotics like azaleas, camellias and magnolias.

The visitor's Space Center is attached to the headquarters of America's manned space programme, Nasa's 'Mission Control' that directs the space shuttle project and guided the pioneering astronauts. The Space Center, Houston's most popular tourist attraction, is located at Clear Lake, 20 miles (32km) southeast of downtown, off the Gulf freeway I-45. There are numerous wonders to behold at this facility, which both entertains and educates, from a mock-up of a space shuttle to an Imax theatre and hundreds of hands-on exhibits. Tram tours run every half hour taking in the highlights, including Rocket Park where retired spacecraft come to rest, Mission Control and even astronauts in training.

Set within a scenic part of central Houston is the city's Museum District, featuring 16 varied and interesting institutions and numerous restaurants set among some lovely green spaces like Hermann Park. One of the highlights in the area is the Byzantine Fresco Chapel on the corner of Branard and Yupon Streets containing 13th century frescoes from Cyprus. There is also a children's museum, contemporary arts museum and the Houston Holocaust Museum. One of the most interesting museums in the district is the Museum of Health and Medical Science, which features a walk-through re-creation of the human body. The Menil Museum has a collection of contemporary, surrealistic and 20th century art in an interesting building at Sul Ross. In Hermann Park is the comprehensive Museum of Natural Science and Planetarium, the Houston Zoo and a Japanese Garden.

At Barren Springs near Houston's International Airport is the unusual private museum run by a major funeral company in the United States, dedicated to funeral memorabilia. Customs, rituals and traditions associated with burial from ancient Egypt to the present day are covered in this interesting institution. Highlights of the collection are restored horse-drawn and vintage automobile hearses, and a unique 1916 Packard funeral bus. The museum also features a gallery devoted to the funerals of the famous, containing memorabilia from the funerals of Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy and Rudolph Valentino.

The Sam Houston Historical Park near the city's visitor centre in Bagby Street provides visitors with a large as life look at Houston history. The 19-acre park features seven of the city's oldest buildings that have been restored and relocated here. The oldest building is a small 1826 cabin that originally stood at Clear Lake, while one of the more recent is the 17-room home built in 1905 for oil field pioneer Henry T. Staiti.

For a touch of the bizarre call at the Orange Show to see how obsession can become art. A former postman spent 26 years of his life assembling a collection of weird and wonderful objects and meshing them together into a labyrinth of passages and staircases, almost all of it orange. The result is a quirky curiosity, which is billed as 'folk art'.

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