While Houston is known for its ample highways and intimidating driving culture, it’s entirely possible to visit Space City without a car. Here’s your go-to guide for visiting Houston without braving the roads yourself.
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Where to Stay
Houston’s not exactly famous for its mass transit, but its METRORail hits many of its main attractions.
The Museum District offers more attractions per square foot than anywhere else in Houston. It is located right off the Red Line's Museum District train stop and is home to Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo. These attractions, as well as the highly acclaimed Children’s Museum of Houston, Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston are all within a few walkable blocks from each other. Because it’s off the train line, you are also just a short ride away from other attractions, such as the Downtown Aquarium and Discovery Green Park, located near downtown train stops.
Midtown sits between the Museum District and downtown and is located off of the Ensemble/HCC and McGowen train stations on the Red Line. While Midtown doesn’t have any of the big-name attractions, it does have many of the city’s prized restaurants and bars, all in close proximity of each other. Because of this, Houston’s Midtown is home to many pub crawls and raucous gatherings, and it's not uncommon to see a pedal bar making its way down Hadley Street. Whether you are looking for tasty breakfast tacos, trendy gastropubs, or high-end seafood, you’re bound to find something delicious. Similar to the Museum District, its proximity to the train makes it perfect for those who want to get to museums and other attractions during the day, but Midtown also provides visitors with opportunities to let loose at night.
An honorable mention here is the up-and-coming EaDo, short for East Downtown. EaDo joined the train-line neighborhoods in 2015 when Houston’s METRORail expanded, opening up the city’s visitors and locals to exploring the neighborhood on the Green Line. You can still access Houston’s museums and Inner-Loop attractions by transferring to the Red Line via Downtown’s Central Station, but EaDo offers a totally different experience than that of the Museum District or Midtown with its gritty architecture, amazing street art, and less overtly trendy (yet still highly tasty) restaurants and coffee shops. Bonus: EaDo is close to the George R. Brown Convention Center, one of Houston's largest meeting facilities.
If you’re not here for the attractions—or if you are more comfortable trying alternative forms of transit, such as cabs or bike rentals—there are some great, walkable neighborhoods in addition to the ones already mentioned.
Montrose, which sits just west/northwest of Midtown, is known for its vibrant residents and eclectic culture. It's a great place to spend a leisurely morning sipping a latte in one of Houston's best coffee shops before scouring antique shops for vintage lamps along the Westheimer curve and getting that tattoo you always wanted (because why not?). The north end of the neighborhood also includes a stretch of the scenic Buffalo Bayou Park, which offers a great walking/running trail and Johnny Steele Dog Park.
Just on the other side of I-10, the historic Houston Heights neighborhood is one of Houston's oldest planned communities, and it shows. Early 20th-century craftsman bungalows mix with modern new constructions that demonstrate the diversity of its residents. The Heights Hike and Bike Trail stretches almost the entire length of the neighborhood, connecting Lawrence Park near North Shepherd Drive to Donovan Park on Heights Boulevard, before swooping down close to White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail and ultimately into downtown. In addition to its heralded restaurants, it's also known for its widely popular events, such as Lights in the Heights and White Linen Night in the Heights.
Downtown Houston isn't just a business epicenter, it's also home to Houston's Theater District as well as the highly popular Discovery Green and Downtown Aquarium. During Houston's famously scorching summers, you can escape the heat by going underneath the skyscrapers and parking garages and exploring the sprawling network of tunnels that span several dozen city blocks throughout downtown. Inside, there are restaurants, gyms, coffee shops, even hair salons that cater to Houston's downtown workforce. Evenings and weekends are much quieter as workers head home to other more residential neighborhoods or suburbs, but visitors can always hop on the Red Line to visit the Museum District or Midtown areas.
If shopping and restaurants are more your thing, Houston's Galleria area has that in spades. Its namesake mall and surrounding businesses house more than 300 shops, restaurants, and hotels within just two square miles.
Note: While it's certainly possible to walk or bike around the Galleria area, a large amount of traffic clogs its streets night and day, sometimes making it dangerous for pedestrians and bikers. Be cautious if you head out on foot, or consider taking one of the ubiquitous cabs or rideshare cars instead.
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What to Do
For visitors just passing through or with a limited amount of free time, you might want to take a bus tour to see the Houston highlights. Hop-on hop-off tours take only about 90 minutes, and it provides you with a quick lay of the land, as well as a glimpse at the major Inner-Loop attractions.
When you're in Houston with the whole family, you really can't go wrong with the Museum District. Not only is it home to the highly acclaimed Children's Museum of Houston, but it also has the Houston Zoo, Hermann Park Railroad, and Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Even for a large city with plenty of cars and concrete, Houston has many opportunities to get outside and enjoy some greenery. Check out a Buffalo Bayou boat tour, a bike tour, or one of Houston's many walking tours. You can also take a stroll around Hermann Park in the Museum District or up along Heights Boulevard in the Heights.
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How to Get Around
METRORail Train Lines
To get somewhere quickly, you can almost always take a cab from one of Houston's taxi companies or hail a ride from a rideshare such as Uber or Lyft. If you're going anywhere near the METRORail lines during the work week, however, it's often quicker to travel by train.
Houston has three light rail lines. The most popular line is the Red Line train, which extends from north of downtown, through the city center, past Midtown, the Museum District, and the Med Center, before stopping at NRG Stadium and ending just outside the 610 Loop. The Green Line and Purple Line are together in the Theater District but then branch off in EaDo, with the Green Line linking riders to the East End, and the Purple Line dipping down passed the University of Houston. You can transfer to the Red Line from the Green and Purple lines or vice versa at the Central Station stop downtown.
Fares can be paid either by purchasing a ticket on the platform or by using one of METRO's pre-paid cards purchased online or at participating retailers such as Randalls, Kroger, or Fiesta.
Most locals use the re-loadable METRO Q Fare Card (commonly known as simply a "Q Card"). Riders pre-load their Q Card online or at METRORail stations and then simply tap their card on the station platform before jumping on the train. Infrequent or visiting riders can also get a Day Pass, Money Card, or by using the METRO Q Mobile Ticketing app on their smartphones. It's important to note that pre-loaded cards can only be used by a single rider and cannot be used to pay for multiple riders at the same time.
For the most part, ticket purchases are on the honor system. There are no turnstiles or ticket collectors stationed before you board. Every so often, however, METRO Police conduct random fare checks to verify that passengers on board have purchased a valid fare. If caught, violators face a citation.
The Houston BCycle bike-share program has dozens of stations downtown, Midtown, Museum District, Montrose, and even the Heights.
In order to check out one of the BCycle bikes, you'll first need to purchase either an annual or monthly membership or a walk-up rate. All levels can be purchased online or through the BCycle mobile app, but you can buy a walk-up rate at any one of the BCycle stations using a credit card. Follow instructions on the mobile app or the touch screen located at any B-station to check out your bike. When you're done, you simply lock it back in at any available B-station. Rides under 60 minutes for members have no added fee, but you can avoid overage fees by docking and undocking at any station along your route.
Houston has an extensive public bus system that's simple to use and goes most anywhere—even the Johnson Space Center.
The routes are fully integrated with Google Maps, or you can plan your trip by going online to METRO's website or using the METRO T.R.I.P. app. Payment methods are similar to that of the METRORail. If paying with cash, however, be sure to have exact change. For real-time updates on when buses will arrive, check out the METRO T.R.I.P. app.
Visitors downtown can also take the free Greenlink bus to one of the stops on its loop, which runs weekdays.