51 FREE things to do in the Houston area

As the fourth largest city in the country, Houston offers its residents and visitors exciting things to do and places to see. From beautiful parks to street murals, there is no shortage of activities -- and many of them are free. 

With thousands expected to flood the city for Super Bowl LI, below is a list of 51 free things to do when trying to make the most of your visit here:

Perfect for picnics or an afternoon run.... 

1. Discovery Green

  • Located in downtown Houston and right across from the George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green’s 12-acre urban park offers something for all ages. There are multiple recreation areas, a lake for kayaking, two dog runs and a public art display.
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2. Buffalo Bayou

  • A beautiful bayou nestled in the heart of the city, the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park offers its visitors multiple trails to walk, jog or run. Many people enjoy having a picnic along the banks or taking their dogs to the dog park. Visit the Water Works on Sabine Street to see a beautiful view of the downtown skyline. 
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3. Eleanor Tinsley Park

  • Many of Houston's major events and festivals take place at Eleanor Tinsley Park which is part of Buffalo Bayou. The park was named in honor of the late City Councilmember and activist, Eleanor Tinsley, and has the back drop of the city skyline. 
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4. Market Square Park

  • Located in downtown, the historic Market Square Park is the place to take your pooch for a run or ride a bicycle. The park is known for offering live entertainment and open art. There is also a Niko Niko's restaurant. 
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5. Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

  • The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is the place to visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The non-profit urban nature sanctuary is meant to educate all ages about the natural environment. They have walking trails that are free to the public. 
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6. Tranquility Park

  • Tranquility Park located in downtown Houston was built to honor the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. The park provides a sense of calm when in the middle of the hustle and bustle of downtown. There are various walkways and water fountains. 
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7. Glenwood Cemetery

  • Some people find beauty in cemeteries and Glenwood Cemetery is often referred to as one of the best in the city. Just west of downtown, the cemetery is landscaped with massive trees. The grounds feature historic monuments and statues that portray Houston's rich history. 
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If you love art and culture...

8. The Menil Collection

  • This museum houses one are of the largest private art collections in the United States. It has nearly 17,000 painting sculptures, prints, drawings and more. Its founders John de Menil and Dominique de Menil opened the museum in 1987. There is no admission charged and all public programs are free. 
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9. Blaffer Art Museum

  • This unique museum is located on the campus of the University of Houston and its admission is always free. The contemporary museum offers various exhibits that change year around. Past exhibitions have included pieces from artists such as Shane Tolbert, Bret Shirley, Janet Biggs and more. 
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10. Heritage Society Museum

  • The Heritage Society Museum at Sam Houston Park allows visitors to immerse themselves in Houston's history with tours of authentically restored buildings and exhibitions celebrating Houston's culture. Tours cost, but the museum gallery is free. 
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11. Houston Bicycle Museum 

  • If you love to cycle, then plan a visit to the Houston Bicycle Museum. The museum has a large display of antique and classic bicycles. Children that are under the age of 10 years old are given free admission. 
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12. Art Car Museum

  • If you love cars and art, then this place is for you. Their exhibit is open Wednesday to Sunday and is always free to the public. They feature art cars from local, national and international artists. 
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13. Rice University Art Gallery

  • The art gallery at Rice University is unique in the fact that it is the only university gallery that is solely dedicated to site-specific installation art. Visitors can enter and explore temporary, large-scale pieces of art. The gallery offers free guided tours. 
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14. Lawndale Art Center

  • The Lawndale Art Center is located near downtown and the Museum District. It is known for its commitment to showcasing art from regional artists. In addition to its exhibitions, the museum offers various performances, lectures, film screenings and events. The center was founded in 1979 and its exhibitions are free to the public. 
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15. Asia Society Texas Center 

  • The Asia Society only has 12 locations in the United States and Houston is one of them. The center offers various programs and exhibits that showcases different artists from around the world. You can visit the building and Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall exhibition for free. 
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16. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

  • This non-profit arts organization opened in 2001 and hopes to advance education around craft. Its exhibit allows you to learn the scope of a creative process and how certain objects are made. You can view their exhibitions, talk with their resident artists, create original crafts or browse its gift shop. Admission to the center is free. 
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17. Houston Police Museum

  • In the lobby of the Houston Police Department headquarters is a museum dedicated to Houston police officers. Visitors are able to see badges, uniforms other equipment displayed. There is also a memorial wall for officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. The is no admission charge for the museum. 
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18. Contemporary Arts Museum

  • The Contemporary Arts Museum features some of the best international, national and regional pieces of contemporary art. It was founded in 1948 and it's located in the Museum District in a stainless steel building that is hard to miss. There are two galleries that offer various exhibitions and are always free to the public. 
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19. First Saturday Arts Market

  • This art market located in the Historic Houston Heights showcases pieces from various local visual artists. At this event, you can see paintings, sculptures, photography and more. This free and family-friendly event happens every first Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
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20. Tour Houston’s Street Art 

  • On the streets of Houston, walls have become canvases where graffiti artists bring their stories to life. There are more than 30 murals to see around the city. Take a tour of the murals using the link below and be sure to bring your camera. 
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21. Orange Show Center for Visionary Art

  • The Orange Show Center promotes personal artistic vision. Their monument attracts a lot of visitors.
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22. Project Row Houses

  • Located in the heart of Historic Third Ward, Project Row Houses is a community-based arts and culture non-profit. PRH hopes to revitalize, preserve, and celebrate art and education in this predominately African-American community. The houses are free to visit Wednesday to Sunday. 
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23. Houston Center for Photography

  • If you have a passion for photography, plan a visit to the Houston Center for Photography. The center started as a small organization in 1981 and now offers an exhibition gallery that is free and open to the public. They feature works of contemporary photography. 
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24. Free Museum Days

  • Many Houston museums offer free admission on Thursdays. The museums that take part in the free day include: the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Children's Museum of Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts, The Health Museum, the Houston Museum of African American Culture, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and the Holocaust Museum of Houston. Be sure to check their website for the hours they offer free admission. 

Will make you say wow.... 

25. The Beer Can House 

  • More than 50,000 cans adorn the Beer Can House. The project was started in 1968 by a retired upholsterer.  Free admission is offered to children 12 years old and younger. 
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26. Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park

  • You've probably never seen a waterfall like the wall that stands at Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. Nearly 11,000 gallons of water are re-circulated per minute in the 64 foot fountain. Water flows down the structure's inside and outside walls. The park is often referred to as the centerpiece for Uptown Houston. 
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27. James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

  • Located on Rice University's beautiful campus, the James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is the place to visit for music lovers. Made of grass, concrete, and stone, the two-level structure is engineered to host various musical performances. 
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28. Waugh Drive Bat Colony

  • Houston is home of a large bat community, and one of the best places to view them is at the Waugh Drive Bridge near Buffalo Bayou. The colony is made up of Mexican free-tailed bats and they can be seen nightly stretching their wings and feeding on insects. The bat colony is visible year round. 
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29. Water Works Underground Cistern

  • The cistern was the city of Houston's first underground drinking-water reservoir that was built in 1927. After being drained because of a leak, the cistern has been turned into a public space for visitors to enjoy at Buffalo Bayou Park. The park offers free tours on Thursday, but a reservation is required. 
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30. Downtown Tunnels

  • There are a system of  tunnels in downtown Houston that expand more than 6 miles long. If you aren't afraid of going 20 feet under, then explore Houston underground. There are restaurants and shops for visitors to enjoy. There are various entry points downtown. 
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31. Bayou Burp 

  • Yes, you can make Buffalo Bayou burp with the push of a red button. "The Big Bubble" attracts many people who press it will get a small bit of entertainment. The button can be found hidden inside a brick pillar on Preston Street at the bridge. Just a heads up, the button is often not working. 

32. Southern Pacific Steam Engine 982

  • If you are into history and trains, then take some time to visit Souther Pacific Steam Engine 982. The train was brought to Houston as a symbol of the importance railroads had to the city. The train was built in 1919 and placed downtown in 2005. 
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For those who love sports... 

33. Root Memorial Square 

  • If you love to hoop, then you should visit Root Memorial Square. Hoopers from all over the Houston area come to play at the outdoor basketball court located across the street from the Toyota Center. 
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34. Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark

  • This is no ordinary skatepark. The 30,000 square foot park contains one of the biggest cradles in the nation. The park welcomes skaters at all levels. There is also a display of urban art. 
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If you are willing to drive a little outside the city limits.... 

35. Kemah Boardwalk

  • The Kemah Boardwalk is located just 20 miles from downtown Houston and is home to a beautiful waterfront. This is a great place to take the family to visit their daily festivals and seaside shows. There are also various restaurants, rides and shops. 
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36. Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge 

  • The Anahuac Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 and expands nearly 34,000 acres. The refuge is located east of Houston in Anahuac and visitors are able to explore its many trails free of charge. 
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37. Take a trip to Galveston Island 

  • Feeling the need to get away from the busy city streets and relax by the water, then you should consider driving about an hour south to Galveston Island. The water may not be blue, but there is a lot of history packed into this island. Their historic downtown offers a variety of shops and restaurants. 
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38. Sam Houston Boat Tour 

  • Enjoy a 90 minute free tour of the Houston Ship Channel. Once aboard, you can see views of passing international cargo vessels and learn about the port and maritime industry. The 95 foot vessel holds about 100 passengers and offers lounge seating. 
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If you are in need of some peace and tranquility....

39. McGovern Centennial Gardens

  • Located in Hermann Park, this 15-acre public park includes everything from roses to fruits and vegetables. Weddings and special occasions can often be seen hosted here. 
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40. Mercer Botanic Gardens

  • Located just north of Houston in Humble, the Mercer Botanic Gardens offers a little over 20 acres of beautiful botanic gardens. The gardens feature bamboo, ferns, gingers and more. There is also an arboretum that offers playgrounds, picnic tables and walking trails. 
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41. Rothko Chapel

  • If you are looking for a peaceful place for reflection or prayer, the Rothko Chapel is a place to visit. This public chapel is located in the Museum District and is a place for solitude and gathering. There are 14 murals created by American artist Mark Rothko. There is a reflecting pool on the plaza and a sculpture dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. 
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42. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

  • Located in Stafford, the Mandir often catches the eyes of those driving by. It is the first traditional Hindu Mandir of its kind in North America. Although it is a place of worship and prayer for those who follow Hinduism, it opens it doors for the public to enjoy. There is also an exhibition that details the history of Hinduism. 
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More free things to do...

43. Window shop at Houston's malls 

  • You don't have to spend money at the mall, the strong-willed can always just browse. There are plenty of malls in the Houston area that are worth the trip. Popular Houston malls include: The Galleria, Memorial City Mall, Katy Mills Mall, and Houston Premium Outlets. 


44. Houston’s college campuses

  • Houston is home to many universities with beautiful campuses. Take a tour on your own to learn the rich history in each. Campuses include: The University of Houston, Rice University, Texas Southern University, University of St. Thomas, Houston Baptist University and more. 

45. Hermann Square-City Hall 

  • City Hall is beautiful in its own way. Right outside its doors, you can see a reflecting pool and small park. There is always a festival, protest or concert taking place in Hermann Square and you are minutes from any downtown attraction. 
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46. The Square at Memorial City 

  • The Square is an open green space located on the west end of Memorial City Mall. Every week The Square offers free, family-friendly activities to enjoy. There is huge video screen that often shows movie screenings.
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47. Houston Wine Merchant

  • If you love wine, the Houston Wine Merchant is the place for you to visit. The offer free wine tastings Friday evenings and Saturday afternoon. Customers are able to sample various wines and often meet with the winemakers and vineyard owners. 
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48. Houston Public Library 

  • In need of a good book for free, you should visit the Houston Public Library that is downtown. The library offers thousands of books and has multiple activities including exhibits for children. 
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49. Houston Greeters

  • Exploring Houston shouldn't be a challenge, and Houston Greeters provide you with a personal tour guide to all of what Houston has to offer. You can select a greeter based on what works best for your schedule. The service is free, but be sure to request a person at least a week in advance. 
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50. Houston Zoo 

  • On the first Tuesday afternoon of each month, the Houston Zoo offers free admission. There are more than 6,00 animals who are cared for in the zoo. There are also various exhibits for the family to enjoy from their reptiles to their aquarium.
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51. Feed mounted HPD patrol horses

  • The Houston Police Department encourages visitors to come to its stables. Visitors are allowed to feed the horses apples, carrots and peppermint candy. 
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