11 Best Free Things to Do in Houston

One of the great things about living in a city the size of Houston is that there are plenty of fun and interesting things to do that don't cost a lot of money. Being the most populous city in the state of Texas, Houston supports the arts, outdoor recreation, cultural events, and preserves Texas history.

With no cost at all, you can take a harbor cruise, hit the museums on a free admission day and wander the historic district.

Here's your go-to guide to the best free attractions in the Bayou City.

01 of 11

Cruise the Houston Ship Channel

Visitors on a Sam Houston Boat Tour of the Houston Ship Channel

Roy Luck/Flickr

Address
7300 Clinton Drive, Houston, TX 77020, USA
Phone
+1 713-670-2631

Sam Houston Boat Tours are a free, 90-minute cruise aboard the Port of Houston Authority’s public charter boat. This 95-foot vessel holds 100 passengers. Check the tour schedule to find out when you can reserve a spot. On occasion, the vessel will be pulled for maintenance and that will be announced on the website.

The vessel leaves from Port Houston’s Sam Houston Landing and the tour will take you around the port where you'll see international cargo ships and see them unload at the port’s Turning Basin Terminal. There is both lounge seating and outdoor places to stand and enjoy the tour.

The boat tour is free, but reservations at least 24 hours in advance are required. Reserve your spot online.

02 of 11

Watch a Mexican Free-Tailed Bat Colony

Flying bats silhouetted against the illuminated buildings of downtown Houston

Norm Lanier/Flickr 

Address
Waugh Dr, Houston, TX 77002, USA
Phone
+1 713-752-0314

More than 250,000 Mexican Free-Tailed bats live under and emerge each night from the Waugh Drive Bridge at sunset—unless it’s rainy or foggy, of course. This bat colony inhabits the Waugh Drive Bridge over Buffalo Bayou between Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. The Waugh Bridge Bat Colony remains in Houston throughout the year, one of the few colonies in Texas that does not migrate seasonally.

Kids are fascinated by bats, so this is fun free entertainment. There is a bat observation deck in Buffalo Bayou Park which is a great place to watch the bats at nightfall. 

Free parking is available along Allen Parkway and Spotts Park.

03 of 11

Browse the Museum District, Parks and Zoo

Museum

Robyn Correll 

Address
Museum District, Houston, TX, USA

Houston's remarkable Museum District has more than 17 attractions all within a 1.5-mile radius. There are four walkable zones where you can discover art, natural history, and parks. Thursday is the magic day for free admission to many of Houston’s museum, though it varies by location.

The museums are places to explore subjects ranging from natural science to the African-American experience. The Museum of Fine Arts collection includes Egyptian antiquities, Impressionist art, and American sculpture.

Also in the Museum District is the Houston Zoo, home to rhinos and cheetahs. The Houston Zoo offers free admission on the first Tuesday of each month September through May from 12:00 p.m. until closing.

Nearby Hermann Park is popular for its pedal boats and miniature railway. A Japanese Garden at the park is a great place to find a bit of peace and quiet.

04 of 11

Play at Discovery Green

Children of all ages enjoying the interactive splash pad at Discovery Green Park
Larami Serrano
Address
Julian St, Houston, TX 77009, USA

Downtown Houston is home to a unique outdoor green space dubbed Discovery Green. With a schedule consisting of all kinds of free weekly events—Zumba, Thursday Concerts, and STEM Saturdays—as well as loads of special events, including a winter ice rink, Discovery Green is a winner in free entertainment. The venue also offers fountains, restaurants, a dog run, and a playground.

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05 of 11

Skate at Jamail Skatepark

A skater at Jamail Skatepark in Houston
Skate Houston
Address
103 Sabine St, Houston, TX 77007-8322, USA
Phone
+1 713-222-5500

Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark is a public skatepark near downtown Houston with 30,000 square feet of fun. Skaters of all levels are encouraged to work on their tricks—or just learn how to stay balanced. Helmets are required.

06 of 11

Marvel at the Waterwall

Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park

 Robyn Correll 

Address
Waterwall Dr, Houston, TX 77056, USA

The horseshoe-shaped water wall in Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park in the Uptown District is a sight to behold. At 64 feet high, the rushing water fountain is certainly worth a visit. It’s especially beautiful at night with the lights shining on the unique sculpture, which has been in operation since 1983.

Waterwall Park is 2.77 acres and is surrounded by 186 live oak trees. It is the community centerpiece for Uptown Houston, the nation’s 14th largest mixed-use business center.

07 of 11

Catch a Show at the Miller Outdoor Theater

Miller Outdoor Theater

 Robyn Correll

Address
6000 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX 77030, USA
Phone
+1 832-487-7102

Miller Outdoor Theater is a rare outdoor amphitheater situated in Hermann Park near the Houston Zoo. For more than 80 years, it has offered Houstonians dance, theater or ensemble performance for free. Miller Outdoor features lots of cultural events and performances each weekend.

08 of 11

Explore Nature at the Houston Arboretum

Children walking the Outer Loop Trail, Houston Arboretum

Roy Luck/Flickr 

Address
4501 Woodway Dr, Houston, TX 77024-7708, USA
Phone
+1 713-681-8433

Outdoor spots promoting nature, fun and education are great choices for free family entertainment. The Houston area is home to two such venues—Houston Arboretum & Nature Center and Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens (in Humble).

The Houston Arboretum features a 155-acre nature preserve with five miles of walking trails, a Discovery Room with hands-on activities, and lots of special programs and classes.

Mercer Arboretum features 300 acres of East Texas Piney Woods along Cypress Creek. Sights include a beaver pond at the Endangered Species Garden, trails, visitors’ center, playground, and special educational events.

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09 of 11

Experience Hands-on Science at the Nature Discovery Center

Children inspect pond creatures in nets at the Nature Discovery Center
Nature Discovery Center
Address
7112 Newcastle St, Bellaire, TX 77401-5225, USA
Phone
+1 713-667-6550

Hana and Arthur Ginzbarg Nature Discovery Center is a little-known gem for free science-related activities. It offers a variety of kids’ science activities geared to toddlers through elementary and up. Discovery Rooms feature interactive exhibits and 23 Discovery boxes—modeled after the Smithsonian—for hands-on learning. Topics are targeted to specific age groups and entice children to explore topics such as shells, critters, snakes, seeds, minerals, birds, and animal teeth.

10 of 11

Catch Some Crazy Cars at Houston's Art Car Museum

A car painted with psychedelic designs at the Art Car Museum in Houston

 A Yee/Flickr

Address
140 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007-3729, USA
Phone
+1 713-861-5526

What more can you say about Houston’s Art Car Museum? This collection of eclectic, unusual and creative cars is all about fun. If you miss Houston’s classic Art Car Parade in the spring, you can still catch a glimpse of some of the elaborately decorated cars here. The museum also features innovative art throughout the museum, so it’s not just about cars. The best part? Admission is always free.

11 of 11

Walk the Downtown Historic District

The Historic District in downtown Houston is a place that is fun to explore. Found on the northern edge of downtown, there are quaint restaurants and shops in historic building facades lining the streets. There are residences in some of the historic buildings. In the middle of the district is Market Square Park with a dog run, summer movie nights, and live music making this a vibrant neighborhood.

You can stop in at places for coffee or enjoy a beer at one of the historic bars. Allen’s Landing is the site of the original port of Houston and was at this exact place in 1836 that August Chapman and John Kirby Allen stepped ashore and claimed Houston. Industrial buildings have been re-purposed and the area is now a pleasant place to stroll and bike.

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Best Free Things to Do in Houston