Houston: the "Space City" Overview
The largest city in the entirety of the southern United States (and, as home to 2.3 million people, the fourth largest in the entire country), the city of Houston sits close to the Texan coast, having been founded in 1837 along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou. The city offers a fascinating contrast of old-world charm and cutting-edge technology. It's a truly global city, the most ethnically diverse in the whole of the USA, and its position as a global hub of technology and industry means that visitors arriving here are met with a thriving, buzzing city, full of life and interest.
Known as "Space City" due to its housing of NASA's Lyndon B Johnson Space Center (The Mission control of "Houston, we have a problem" fame), Houston is definitely a future-facing city, but it takes care not to forget its past. Home to more Fortune-500 companies than any city other than New York, it's a city bursting with industry and humming with activity, and the Port handles more international trade than any other city in the US.
So of course, with all this work going on, there has to be plenty of play, too -- you've got to keep these things in balance. The visitor to Houston will find much to divert them from award-winning restaurants to fascinating museums, top-flight sports teams and high-end shopping. There's always something happening: gigs, food festivals, organised bike rides (the Tour of Houston is a great way to see the city) and spectacular Fourth of July celebrations; whenever you visit Houston there's something amazing to see or do. Also, as well as being a bustling metropolis, Houston is surrounded by some stunning scenery.
Things to do in Houston
There's a wide range of activities and sights for any visitor to the Space City to enjoy. As befits a place with such a storied history there's a range of museums, galleries and places of interest. For the foodies there's a great craft beer and food scene, and sports fans can go and see one of the city's six major-league sports teams.
Places you have to see
There are some absolute must-sees in the city. No visit here would be complete without a trip to the Space Center, the place which etched Houston into the world's consciousness. Take a bus tour to marvel at a piece of living history (and the chance to have lunch in the NASA cafeteria whilst imagining that you're an astronaut). Or why not try the world-famous zoo, which is home to over 900 species of creature, and a great day out for kids and adults alike.
Time to reflect
The city is well stocked with fascinating museums and art galleries. For something cerebral, why not try the Museum of Natural Science. For the more culturally inclined, the Museum of Fine Art has an impressive permanent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. One stunning place to visit is the Rothko Chapel, a beautiful contemplative space in the middle of downtown; go to clear your head and recharge your batteries.
Something more physical
For sports fans, Houston is home to six major-league sports teams, most notably the Houston Rockets, the two-time NBA champions, while the Astro and the Texans compete at the highest level in Baseball and American Football respectively. For something quintessentially Texan, a visit to the Rodeo is an absolute must. All the family will be enthralled by the cowboys' horse-riding and rope tricks. Those who prefer to put the effort in themselves should take part in one of the many organised walks, runs and bike rides which are a great way to see the city and get fit at the same time.
Eat, drink, be merry
Befitting of a city with an annual Barbecue festival, Houston is a place that loves to eat and loves to drink. There are a number of organised tours to sample the city's many culinary and alcoholic delights. Who could resist a tour of the atmospheric Old Town's pubs? Restaurants range across all styles and price brackets, which is appropriate for such a multicultural city. But the true local flavour is barbecue. Locals argue hotly about the best places to experience this, so best to try a few. While you're at it, make sure to wash it down with a local brew. Dozens of craft brewers operate in the city.
Shop 'til you drop
Suitably refreshed and refuelled, you can hit the shops. The city is packed full of malls. A local favourite is the stunning Galleria, but be sure to visit the fascinating Downtown Tunnels: a network of businesses beneath the city streets. Tours are available for this unusual shopping experience.
Calendar of Events
There are a number of annual events in Houston, from food festivals to Independence Day celebrations, there's something happening every month of the year to interest any visitor.
Azalea Trail. Each March, as the Azaleas come into bloom, locals and visitors alike follow the Azalea Trail, viewing spectacular gardens both municipal and private, as people open their houses. A sure sign that spring has arrived!
World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. The city certainly takes its BBQ seriously, as this three-day-long festival of cooking, smoking, pulling, saucing and eating amply demonstrates. A great chance to see cooks getting competitive and the locals letting their hair down.
Tour de Houston. This annual bike ride is for a good cause with all the proceeds going towards the city's reforesting program that aims to bring more greenery into the metropolis. Saddle up for this unique way to view the city, pedalling your way through its parks and historical districts.
Freedom over Texas festival. Nothing is more quintessentially American than a Fourth of July celebration, and this city does it in style with live music and stunning pyrotechnic displays. It feels like the whole city's down on the Buffalo Bayou celebrating -- a truly unique experience.