Many museums and attractions in Houston offer free admission on select days, with free recreation opportunities also available at the city's public parks along the scenic Buffalo Bayou. For lower-cost transportation, visitors can travel to many attractions via the city's METRO public transit system, which offers bus, light rail, and paratransit service. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
© Discovery Green
Discovery Green is one of Houston's newest public parks, spanning nearly 12 acres near the city's Avenida Houston entertainment district. The park was designed by architectural firm Hargreaves Associates and opened to the public in April of 2008, earning LEED environmental certification the following year. The park is home to the Anheuser-Busch Stage performance venue, which showcases free concerts and films throughout the year, along with the one-acre Kinder Lake and two casual dining restaurants. Public art abounds, including a 15-foot Mist Tree interactive water sculpture. Two dog runs are also available, along with several children's playgrounds, a tree-shaded jogging trail, and a number of recreational lawn areas. Free public events held throughout the year include a performing and visual art event series, a weekly urban market, and family-friendly yoga and exercise classes.
1500 McKinney St, Houston, TX 77010, Phone: 713-400-7336
2.The ArtCar Museum
© The ArtCar Museum
The ArtCar Museum, also known as the "Garage Mahal," celebrates the unique craft of creating art cars, showcasing a rotating collection of remodeled and redecorated stock cars and mobile apparatuses. The museum was originally founded by Art Car Movement supporters Ann and James Harithas and opened to the public in February of 1998, striving to celebrate and educate the public on the reclaimative individuality principles behind the artistic movement, which began in the 1980s in America. Other types of reclaimative and experimental artwork are also showcased periodically, including photography exhibitions. The museum is free at all times and open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays during the afternoon hours. Due to the museum's small size, visitors attending with large groups should call the museum in advance to confirm accommodations and viewing availability.
140 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007, Phone: 713-861-5526
3.The Menil Collection
© The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection is a free-admission Houston museum that showcases the extensive art collections of John and Dominique de Menil, acquired as a result of intellectual pursuits throughout the mid-20th century. The collection now encompasses more than 17,000 works of art from cultures around the world, dating back as far as the ancient era and spanning through the present day. Collections include bodies of work from the Americas, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and ancient Byzantine works, along with collections of modern and contemporary Western art and Surrealist works. The museum is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays during the afternoon and evening hours, with the exception of major national holidays. Free parking is available at the museum's adjacent parking lot, with additional overflow street parking available nearby.
1533 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006, Phone: 713-525-9400
4.The Contemporary Arts Museum
© The Contemporary Arts Museum
The Contemporary Arts Museum is a nonprofit contemporary visual and multimedia arts institution in Houston that was originally founded in 1948 to document the role of art in modern life. Since 1972, the non-collecting museum has been housed in a building designed by architect Gunnar Birkerts, showcasing a variety of rotating temporary exhibitions by regional and international contemporary and modern artists. Past exhibitions have included significant works by Dalé Gas, Ida Applebroog, Juan Muñoz, and William Kentridge, with a focus on exhibits presenting innovative multimedia works and pop culture and political themes. The museum is open to the public for free Tuesdays through Sundays during the afternoon and evening hours, with the exception of major national holidays. A variety of free public special event programming is hosted by the museum annually, including artist talks, film screenings, and family-friendly art workshops.
5216 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006, Phone: 713-284-8250
5.Asia Society Texas Center
© Asia Society Texas Center
Asia Society Texas Center is the headquarters of the Texas Asia Society, one of 12 international organization branches striving to strengthen the relationship between Asian and Western cultures and governments through public exhibitions and programming. As the leading educational organization in America dedicated to Asian culture, the Society was originally established in 1979 by Ambassador Roy M. Huffington and First Lady Barbara Bush, moving into its permanent home in 2012 in a multipurpose museum building constructed by architect Yoshio Taniguchi. The free-admission Center hosts temporary rotating exhibits of works by Asian artists, with a focus on art forms and topics related to Asian culture and society. Free programming is also offered at the Center, including monthly Night Markets, Family Days events, student tours, and business forums. The Center is open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays during the morning and afternoon hours, with low-cost transportation available nearby at the city's Museum District METRO station.
1370 Southmore Blvd, Houston, TX 77004, Phone: 713-496-9901
DiverseWorks is a nationally-recognized contemporary arts center, showcasing cutting-edge performing, visual, and literary arts works, with a focus on works centered on topics that typically have no other cultural outlet within the Houston area. The organization was founded in 1982 to raise community awareness for the arts and serves as a forum for artists to engage the public with new ideas. The center is open to the public Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays during the afternoon and evening hours, with free rotating gallery exhibitions showcasing the visual and multimedia artworks of emerging and mid-career artists. Public special event programming is also showcased regularly, with some performances and events open to the public for free admission. For lower-cost transportation, the center is accessible via the city's Ensemble/HCC Station MetroRail stop.
3400 S Main St #292, Houston, TX 77002, Phone: 713-223-8346
7.Houston Center for Photography
© Houston Center for Photography
Houston Center for Photography was originally founded as an artist-led cooperative in 1981, striving to showcase the talents of Houston-area photographers working in all mediums and art forms. Since 1982, it has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization, led by a 24-member board of directors and receiving significant national support from major arts organizations such as the Houston Arts Alliance and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Rotating temporary exhibitions of works by regional and national artists are showcased at the Center's free gallery, which is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays during the afternoon and evening hours. The Center's Learning Center also offers a full Digital Darkroom facility, a 4,000-volume research library, and educational workshop programming for area students. Free parking is available at the Center's parking lot, with additional overflow street parking available nearby.
1441 W Alabama St, Houston, TX 77006, Phone: 713-529-4755
8.The Jung Center of Houston
© The Jung Center of Houston
The Jung Center of Houston is a cultural and philosophical center dedicated to improving human spirits and society through the teachings and philosophies of famed 20th-century psychiatrist Carl Jung, noted for significant contributions to the field of psychoanalysis. Founded in 1958, the Center now offers more than 200 free and paid public workshops and events throughout the year centered around topics such as ethics, meditation, relationships, religion, and arts and culture. Free rotating art exhibits are also showcased within the Center's gallery space, which is open to the public Mondays through Saturdays during business hours. The Center's bookstore is also open to the public every day except Friday, showcasing the American Southwest's most complete collection of volumes related to the topic of depth psychology. Free parking is available for Center patrons at the adjacent Museum of Fine Arts Houston parking lot on weekends and evenings after 5:00pm.
5200 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006, Phone: 713-524-8253
9.The Rothko Chapel
© The Rothko Chapel
The Rothko Chapel National Register of Historic Places-listed chapel that doubles as a significant work of modern art, showcasing 14 artistic panel paintings by famed American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, who had a significant hand in the building's design and construction. The chapel was commissioned in 1964 by Menil Collection founders Dominique and John de Menil and completed in 1971, serving as a major center for international social justice issue colloquiums since 1973. It is open to the public every day of the year between 10:00am and 6:00pm, allowing visitors to view its unique modern architecture and public works of art, including Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk sculpture, which was originally commissioned in Washington, D.C. in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and is showcased on the chapel's grounds. Public forums, services, and special events are also hosted at the chapel regularly, including the ceremony for the biannual Óscar Romero Award, which honors significant contributions to human rights advocacy movements.
1409 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006, Phone: 713-524-9839
10.Buffalo Bayou Park
© Courtesy of Irina K. - Fotolia.com
Buffalo Bayou Park is a new 160-acre park on the western edge of downtown Houston, opened to the public in October of 2015. The park was constructed through a public-private partnership agreement and is overseen by the nonprofit Buffalo Bayou Partnership organization, which protects a 10-mile stretch of the city's slow-moving Buffalo Bayou waterway. It is designed to facilitate flood control in the city and is home to a wide variety of free visitor attractions, including two visitor centers offering restaurants and information about the park, waterway, and city attractions. Public art is showcased throughout the park, along with native landscaping and garden areas and a number of community gathering and picnic lawns. Bike and paddlecraft rentals are available for exploring the park's waterways and nature trails, with children's playgrounds, a dog park, a skate park, and a creative nature play area also offered.
1800 Allen Pkwy &, Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 77019, Phone: 713-752-0314
11.Waugh Drive Bridge
© Courtesy of Irina K. - Fotolia.com
Waugh Drive Bridge is one of the best sites in Texas for bat colony viewing, home to a peak population of more than 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats throughout the year. The bridge is located along Waugh Drive approximately two miles from the city's downtown, spanning over the Buffalo Bayou near Buffalo Bayou Park. An ADA-accessible bat viewing platform is offered at the southeastern end of the bayou bank near the bridge along Allen Parkway, though visitors can also observe bats from the bridge's east rail sidewalk. Bat emergences typically take place at sunset on warm evenings, with peak bat populations visible during the summer and early fall months. Public Bat Chat special events are hosted at the bridge Friday nights between March and October, featuring question-and-answer sessions with Houston Area Bat Team presenters.
1019 Commerce St, Houston, TX 77002, Phone: 713-752-0314
12.Houston's Memorial Park
© Courtesy of paolav1 - Fotolia.com
Houston's Memorial Park is one of the United States' largest urban parks, originally opened in 1924 on the site of the former United States Army training base Camp Logan. Today, the 1,466-acre public park is located in Houston's Memorial neighborhood and is dedicated to the memory of fallen American soldiers. It is home to the state's highest-rated municipal golf course, the 18-hole Memorial Park Golf Course, which was redesigned in 1936 by John Bredemus and has hosted the PGA Houston Open more than a dozen times. Softball, tennis, volleyball, swimming, and croquet facilities are also available for public use, along with cycling trails and the 2.93-mile Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail. The 155-acre Houston Arboretum and Nature Center showcases botanical garden areas, while a picnic loop area offers soccer and rugby fields and day-use picnic areas.
6501 Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 77007, Phone: 713-863-8403
13.BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
© Courtesy of Vadim - Fotolia.com
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir was the first traditional Hindu Mandir facility in North America, constructed according to regulations set out in sacred Hindu texts more than 5,000 years ago. The spectacular place of worship was built with more than 34,000 pieces of hand-carved marble and limestone and is the largest facility of its kind in the state of Texas today, spanning more than 22 acres. The mandir is open to the public daily for exploration and worship, with a free Understanding Hinduism exhibit hosted at the site to acquaint visitors with the cultural practices and rites of Hinduism. Traditional weekly congregation services are also held at the mandir's haveli cultural center, with several annual events hosted at the site each year, including a Women's Day Conference Assembly, an annual walkathon, and an annual health fair.
1150 Brand Ln, Stafford, TX 77477, Phone: 281-765-2277
14.The Armand Bayou Paddling Trail
© Courtesy of Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia.com
The Armand Bayou Paddling Trail offers rare glimpses into threatened coastal tallgrass prairie and riparian coastal flatwoods forest ecosystems protected as part of the Armand Bayou Coastal Preserve. The trail begins at the confluence of Clear Lake and Armand Bayou, traveling upstream past the Armand Bayou Nature Center to nearby Horsepen Bayou. Along the way, more than 220 species of birds are showcased, along with 10-foot alligators and other native Texas wildlife. Paddlers frequently launch from bay Area Park and are welcome to chart their own courses along the trail, which is accessible for free every day of the year. Fishing is permitted along the trail, with areas of bass, redfish, trout, and drum populations accessible for anglers. Periodic paddling trail events are hosted along the trail in cooperation with the Armand Bayou Nature Center.
4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744, Phone: 512-389-4800
© Courtesy of duydophotography - Fotolia.com
Sesquicentennial Park is a 22-acre urban park in downtown Houston, located along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou near the city's Theater District. The park was originally established in its first 10.4-acre phase in 1989 as part of the city's 150-year anniversary celebration, with a second 8.2-acre phase added to the site in 1998. It is home to a number of prominent pieces of public artwork, including the Seven Wonders pillar sculpture, constructed by Houston artist Mel Chin, and several works by Houston artist Dean Ruck, including The Big Bubble, Sounds From the Past, and Site Seeing. Baker Common offers public green and gathering space, while a 250-foot boat dock provides boat access to the Buffalo Bayou. A pedestrian bridge, the Preston Street Bridge, recreates historic lighting and footpaths over the Bayou.
400 Texas St, Houston, TX 77002, Phone: 832-395-7000
16.The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
© The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is one of Houston's most unique and iconic attractions, originally constructed as a drinking water reservoir in 1926. Following the discovery of a leak, the reservoir was decommissioned for public use in 2007, but was preserved as a civic and artistic structure in 2010 as the result of efforts by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Today, the Cistern has been converted into a space to host rotating art installations, named for its resemblance to ancient Roman cisterns once located under present-day Istanbul. Public history and art tours of the Cistern are offered for free throughout the day on Thursdays, with advance reservations required to secure tour slots. Paid ticketed events are also hosted in the Cistern periodically, including art exhibit openings and meditation sessions.
105 Sabine St, Houston, TX 77007, Phone: 713-752-0314
© Courtesy of John Saunders - Fotolia.com
Houston Greeter is a unique service connecting local informal tour guides with Houston-area tourists for custom-designed tour experiences of the city. The free service strives to give Houston tourists an insider look at the city or to help area residents broaden their horizons and explore parts of the city that they might otherwise be unfamiliar with. Visitors are welcome to browse the Houston Greeter website to look for available greeter tours and experiences, with flexible greeter times and programs available in some instances. All prospective tour participants fill out a greeter request form and confirm tour times and arrangements directly with greeters. Tours typically last approximately one to three hours, with many tours conducted on foot or via public transit. All tours are free, though participants are welcome to tip their greeters or donate to the Houston Greeters nonprofit organization following experiences.
901 Bagby St # 100, Houston, TX 77002, Phone: 713-473-3837
18.The Heritage Society
© Courtesy of Mihail - Fotolia.com
The Heritage Society is Houston's premiere outdoor interactive historical society and park, showcasing nine preserved historic structures within a 10-acre radius of Sam Houston Park that were constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Society was originally founded in 1954 to preserve the 1847 Kellum-Noble House, located within the park's lands. Today, it is headquartered at the Heritage Society Museum Gallery, which offers paid-admission exhibits related to the city's civic and architectural history. Though docent-led tours of the Society's buildings require paid ticketed admission, visitors can explore the historic structures for free using the Society's cell phone tour program. Instructions for cell phone tours are posted in front of each historic building, prompting visitors to call an informational number or download audio from the Society's website elaborating on the history and architecture of structures.
1100 Bagby St, Houston, TX 77002, Phone: 713-655-1912
19.Flea by Night
© Courtesy of Waravut - Fotolia.com
Flea by Night is an eclectic monthly night market hosted at Houston's Discovery Green, modeled after Brooklyn Flea and other similar American modern flea market events. The monthly event is held at the park's southeastern end from 6:00pm to 10:00pm on select nights, with additional events held as frequently as every week during the winter holiday months. Vendors sell unique items, including midcentury modern-style furniture, vintage home goods and clothing, and repurposed and upcycled items. Local artisans and designers are also hosted on site, selling a variety of homemade goods and maker items. Live music performances are presented throughout the evening, with food trucks parked on site from local vendors.
1500 McKinney St, Houston, TX 77010, Phone: 713-400-7336
20.Art at Discovery Green
© Courtesy of axl007 - Fotolia.com
Art @ Discovery Green is an annual visual arts festival hosted at Houston's Discovery Green, showcasing the works of more than 60 contemporary and fine artists from throughout the Texas region. A featured artist is selected annually, with works highlighted throughout the event grounds. Artists working in a variety of multimedia are showcased, including painting, sculpture, photography jewelry, furniture, and home goods. The market is held each November, offering an opportunity for alternative holiday shopping. Live music performances are presented throughout the event, along with family-friendly craft activities and Día de los Muertos crafting workshops presented by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.
1500 McKinney St, Houston, TX 77010, Phone: 713-400-7336
21.Miller Outdoor Theatre
© Miller Outdoor Theatre
Miller Outdoor Theatre is an outdoor performing arts venue located on 7.5 acres within Houston's Hermann Park, offering free public performances in a variety of media between March and November. The theater was originally designed in 1992 as an amphitheater by architect William Ward Watkin and was significantly refurbished in 1998 to incorporate an additional stage and a new open plaza area. Today, the theater is overseen by the Houston First Corporation and offers seating for over 1,700 visitors, with lawn space accommodating an additional 4,500 patrons for some events. Theatrical and musical performances are showcased regularly, including jazz and classical music concerts, musical theater productions, and showings of family-friendly classic films.
6000 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX 77030, Phone: 832-487-7102
22.Sam Houston Boat Tours
© Courtesy of Oleksii Fadieiev - Fotolia.com
Sam Houston Boat Tours offer a chance to explore the Houston Ship Channel aboard the M/V Sam Houston historic public touring vessel, which has been in operation since 1958. Free 90-minute guided educational tours are offered twice daily Tuesdays through Saturdays, with a third limited-availability tour offered on Friday and Saturday evenings. All tours showcase information about the city's port and maritime history and industry, carrying up to 100 passengers per tour. Though all tours are free, passengers must register at least 24 hours in advance to secure tour spots and present a valid government-issued photo ID to board. Free beverages are served on board during tours, with free parking available for tour participants at Sam Houston Landing.
111 East Loop North, Houston, Texas 77029, Phone: 713-670-2400
23.First Saturday Arts Market
© First Saturday Arts Market
First Saturday Arts Market is a regular fine arts event in the Houston area, offering two periodic markets at Sawyer Yards and Historic Houston Heights. Markets are held on the first Saturday of each month throughout the morning and afternoon hours, showcasing the works of dozens of visual artists throughout the Houston area, including artists working in painting, sculpture, photography, and jewelry mediums. Folk art and artisan works are also emphasized at the Sawyer Yards market. In addition to artist vendors, the market showcases some of the area's best food trucks, along with live music performances by local and regional musicians.
530 W. 19th Street, Houston, TX 77008, Phone: 832-273-4798
24.Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
© Courtesy of duydophotography - Fotolia.com
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a 155-acre nonprofit nature center and arboretum within Houston's Memorial Park, open to the public for free daily from dawn to dusk. The arboretum was originally developed in 1951 by Robert A. Vines and the Houston Botanical Society, with construction on the nature center facility begun in 1967. Today, the facility is overseen by a board of directors in conjunction with the city's Parks and Recreation Department, offering more than five miles of nature trails connecting its botanical gardens and natural pond, forest, meadow, and wetland ecosystem areas. Specialty garden areas include a Sensory Garden, a Wildlife Garden, and a Hummingbird and Butterfly Island. Family-friendly exhibits and activities are offered at the nature center's Discovery Room, while gifts for nature lovers are available at the facility's Nature Shop. Free parking is available at both of the arboretum's entrances, though visitors should note that parking spaces are limited and fill up quickly during peak times.
4501 Woodway Dr, Houston, TX 77024, Phone: 713-681-8433
25.Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
© Courtesy of st_matty - Fotolia.com
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is one of Houston's most iconic landmarks, located in the city's Uptown District directly adjacent from Williams Tower. The water wall fountain was originally constructed in 1983 as part of the development of the Transco Tower complex, designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee Architects. It has been featured in a number of feature films and television series and gained national prominence for its use during the 1992 Republican National Convention. Today, it is one of Houston's most-photographed attractions, operating as a multi-story fountain stretching 64 feet tall. The fountain operates daily between 10:00am and 9:00pm, pumping over 78,500 gallons every three hours. Colloquially referred to as "The Waterwall," the fountain serves as a popular public spot for picnics, concerts, and other community special events.
2800 Post Oak Blvd, Houston, TX 77056, Phone: 713-850-8841
25 Best Free Things to Do in Houston, Texas Year Round
- Discovery Green, Photo: Discovery Green
- The ArtCar Museum, Photo: The ArtCar Museum
- The Menil Collection, Photo: The Menil Collection
- The Contemporary Arts Museum, Photo: The Contemporary Arts Museum
- Asia Society Texas Center, Photo: Asia Society Texas Center
- DiverseWorks, Photo: DiverseWorks
- Houston Center for Photography, Photo: Houston Center for Photography
- The Jung Center of Houston, Photo: The Jung Center of Houston
- The Rothko Chapel, Photo: The Rothko Chapel
- Buffalo Bayou Park, Photo: Courtesy of Irina K. - Fotolia.com
- Waugh Drive Bridge, Photo: Courtesy of Irina K. - Fotolia.com
- Houston's Memorial Park, Photo: Courtesy of paolav1 - Fotolia.com
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Photo: Courtesy of Vadim - Fotolia.com
- The Armand Bayou Paddling Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia.com
- Sesquicentennial Park, Photo: Courtesy of duydophotography - Fotolia.com
- The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, Photo: The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
- Houston Greeter, Photo: Courtesy of John Saunders - Fotolia.com
- The Heritage Society, Photo: Courtesy of Mihail - Fotolia.com
- Flea by Night, Photo: Courtesy of Waravut - Fotolia.com
- Art at Discovery Green, Photo: Courtesy of axl007 - Fotolia.com
- Miller Outdoor Theatre, Photo: Miller Outdoor Theatre
- Sam Houston Boat Tours, Photo: Courtesy of Oleksii Fadieiev - Fotolia.com
- First Saturday Arts Market, Photo: First Saturday Arts Market
- Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, Photo: Courtesy of duydophotography - Fotolia.com
- Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, Photo: Courtesy of st_matty - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com