Many people think of city trips as expensive vacations that often break the budget with pricey hotels, restaurants, and activities. But many U.S cities, such as Houston, have an amazing collection of free things to see and do around town. Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with kids, you can stay entertained and have a great time without ever opening your wallet here. Here are nine of our favorite free things to do when you’re in Houston, Texas.
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Outdoor Recreation at the Discovery Green (Nearby Hotels)
The Discovery Green is the center of outdoor recreation in Houston and a totally free place to spend your time. This is a 12-acre park in the downtown area that hosts lots of free events, such as local musician performances and browsing local markets. This is a year-around destination too, and for a small cost, you can ice skate on Kinder Lake. Also inside the park, you’ll find a couple dog runs to let your pup play off-leash, a lake to kayak on, and a public art display. In the summer, the park hours are extended from 6am to midnight, and the fountains are open until 9pm, weather permitting. Check the Discovery Green’s website to see what fun events are going on, such as the Bayou City Music Series or Tree House Happy Hour.
Free Festivals at Eleanor Tinsley Park (Nearby Hotels)
Eleanor Tinsley Park often hosts festivals and events that are fun to check out when you’re in Houston. For example, this park hosts the Free Press Summer Fest, which is an annual music festival, the Freedom Over Texas annual Fourth of July celebration, and the Houston Art Car Parade. Some events are free, while others charge an admission fee. But overall here, you’ll find an amphitheater, open-air pavilion, trail, volleyball court, and lovely gardens.
90-Minute Sam Houston Boat Tours (Nearby Hotels)
Most boat tours will cost you a pretty penny, but not the Sam Houston boat tours at the Port of Houston. These are free 90-minute tours that will teach you about the seaport, its history, and its relevance to the city. You will need to make a reservation in advance for the tour, but there is no charge to hop on-board and enjoy the waterways. The boat is 95 feet long and can hold about 100 passengers at a time. Tours typically run on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 10am and 2:30pm and also on Saturdays at 10am and 2pm. A few tours are offered at 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays as well.
Art and Entertainment at Market Square Park (Nearby Hotels)
Market Square Park is the place to be if you’re looking to be entertained and trying to stick to your travel budget. This area often hosts open art displays and live entertainment that is free to see. The park is open daily from 6am to 11pm, and Niko Niko’s Market Square is open from 8am to 8pm daily. Dogs are allowed here on a leash, and while outside alcohol cannot be brought in, you can purchase beer and wine at Niko Niko’s to enjoy outside.
Free Admission Days at Houston Museums (Nearby Hotels)
Like many cities, lots of Houston’s museums offer free admission on certain days and times throughout the month. For example, the Children’s Museum of Houston is typically free on Thursdays from 5-8pm, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is free from Thursdays from 1-5pm, and the Houston Museum of National Science is free on Thursdays after 2pm. Also, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is free from Thursday from 10am to 9pm, the Health Museum is free on Thursdays from 2-5pm, and the Holocaust Museum in Houston is free on Thursdays from 2-5pm. Clearly, Thursday is the best day to visit museums on a budget here! Other free museum opportunities exist at the Blaffer Art Museum, Heritage Society Museum, the Menil Collection, Houston Police Museum, and the Art Car Museum. Make sure to check museums’ websites before you visit to ensure that their free days and hours have not changed.
Kayak Buffalo Bayou Park and the Armand Bayou Paddling Trail (Nearby Hotels)
There are lots of great ways to get outdoors and active when you’re in Houston, whether on foot, by bike, or with a paddle on the water. The Buffalo Bayou has a 52- mile waterway with slow-moving water that’s a center for recreation in town. If you have your own canoe or kayak, it’s free to put it in the water here. You can also hike and bike along the trails at the Buffalo Bayou, which spans about 160 acres total and also has a dog park. It’s also fun to take a canoe or kayak on the Armand Bayou Paddling Trail, which is home to over 220 species of birds. Bay Area Park is the most popular launching point for this trail.
Performances at the Miller Outdoor Theatre (Nearby Hotels)
Another wonderful free thing to do in Houston is stop by the Miller Outdoor Theatre for a live performance. This outdoor venue is open between March and November and hosts everything from dance to film, music, and even Shakespearean plays. Come over to Hermann Park, where the theater is located, and pack a picnic to enjoy a free show in the spring, summer, or fall.
Cool Off at Houston’s Splash Pads (Nearby Hotels)
It’s no secret that summers in Houston tend to be hot and steamy. But fortunately, there are some really fun and free ways to cool off, especially for kids. Houston has quite a few splash pads scattered around town, including ones at Cullen Park, Hermann Park, Jaycee Park, and Levy Park. Also check out the Gateway Fountains at Discovery Green, the Ervan Chew Park Splash Pad, and the Aron Ledet Park Splash Pad.
Walking Trails at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center (Nearby Hotels)
There is also a wonderful arboretum and nature center in Houston that has about five miles of trails and interactive exhibits. Located near Memorial Park, this local attraction is free to explore. Better yet, you can even bring your leashed dog to walk on the trails with you. The arboretum grounds and trails are open from 7am to dusk or 7pm in the summer.