You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy what Houston has to offer. In some cases, you don’t have to spend anything at all! As the fourth largest city in the US, Houston has no shortage of cool and exciting things to do. This makes the city a great place to visit for a weekend getaway without being completely stripped of cash by the end of it.
From historical sites to magnificent attractions, Houston has it all. There are so many cheap and free things to do in Space City that it’ll probably take months to go through the list. To keep things simple, we’ve rounded up some of the top free things to do in Houston—those that deserve to be at the top of your bucket list!
In Houston, the best experiences are enjoyed for free. From extensive museums to picturesque public parks, here are some of the best things to do in Houston on a budget!
Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano in the mid-80s, the Menil House is one of Houston’s many art museums. Spanning 30 acres in the heart of Houston, the museum houses a 19,000-piece art collection amassed by Dominique and John de Menil, which they’ve affectionally called the Menil Collection.
The Menil Collection consists of sculptures, drawings, prints, paintings, and rare books dating back to the 1800s. It includes pieces from the Byzantine and medieval worlds, alongside Oceania, Africa, and American Pacific Northwest. You’ll also find several paintings by Picasso, Miro, and Max Ernest.
The museum offers free admission as part of the Menils’ mission to make art accessible to everyone. The public programs are free, as well. Just make sure to book a reservation beforehand!
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you should visit the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. Located on the western edge of Memorial Park, the Houston Nature Center is a 155-acre nature sanctuary with a five-mile walking trail.
The trail winds through meadows, forests, and wetlands under towering oak, pine trees, and sycamore. Here, you’ll be met with dozens of mammals, including fox squirrels, Virginia opossums, nine-banded armadillos, owls, hawks, and other birds.
You’ll also find frogs, turtles, lizards, and insects. The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center doesn’t charge for admission. Parking is free on Thursdays and free for all Arboretum Members, otherwise, it’s only $5.
The Rothko Chapel is just a short distance from the Menil Museum, so you can drive through here after you’ve enjoyed the Menils’ stunning collection.
The Rothko Chapel isn’t like any other chapel, and trust me when I say you’ll leave the place with a new perspective on life.
The chapel was designed and created by Mark Rothko, who unfortunately succumbed to depression and committed suicide a year before the sanctuary opened.
Filled with dark-palette paintings and absent spaces, the Rothko Chapel is a safe space for meditation, personal contemplation, and interfaith dialogue. Visitors are encouraged to linger and appreciate the paintings, simple as they may be.
The Rothko Chapel is free and open to the public. It’s open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm. Parking is free, as well.
Designed in 1985 by local architects, the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is a 2.77-acre park that enframes a 64-foot-high fountain that cascades at 11,000 gallons per minute. The water leaves a welcome cool mist that combats the Texas heat.
The Waterwall Park is built around limestone and brick portals, which protect the area from outside noise. Once you enter the park, you’ll hear the ambient noise of rushing water—perfect for downtime. Bring your camera, but don’t get too close to the water!
Waterwall Park has free admission and free parking. It’s at its busiest at the weekend, so it’s best to visit on the weekdays to enjoy some quiet time.
Open from March to November. The Miller Outdoor Theatre is an open-air theatre situated at the heart of Hermann Park.
With nearly 8 acres of land, it’s the largest “always free” theatre of its kind, and attracts thousands of visitors from across the nation each season.
From live music to comedy shows to dance performances, there’s surely an act you’ll enjoy. Performances vary weekly, so check out the theatre’s official website to see who’s performing.
The Miller Outdoor Theatre is free, but you can get reserved tickets for a small price. Parking is free but limited, so come early if you bring your car!
The Urban Harvest Farmers Market is Houston’s oldest and largest farmer’s market. It opens year-round every Saturday from 8 am and 12 pm, and hosts over 85 local Houston vendors and producers.
Visiting the farmer’s market might not be everyone’s definition of “fun,” but it’s a great place to stock up on fresh (and affordable) local produce. Plus, it’s a great way to encourage kids to live a healthy lifestyle.
The Urban Harvest Farmers Market isn’t just any ol’ farmer’s market. Since it opens only once a week, the vendors make the best of the day. There’s live music, cooking demos, and even free samples—which is enough reason to visit as any!
The Sam Houston Boat Tour is one of Houston’s few free boat tours. For 90 minutes, visitors would be given an educational boat tour around the Houston port.
The M/V Sam Houston is a massive 95-ft. vessel that holds up to 100 passengers at a time. It features lounge seating, standing rooms on the boat’s deck, restrooms, and air-conditioned facilities. The drinks are free, too! It doesn’t get any better than that.
Though free, visitors must book a reservation at least 24 hours in advance. The earlier, the better.
Located across the Avenida Houston entertainment district, Discovery Green is another one of Houston’s most popular hangouts.
Discovery Green is an 11.78-acre public park with two dog runs, a playground, bandstands, and recreational lawns. It’s also home to the Anheuser-Busch Stage performance venue, which hosts live concerts and movie screenings.
Discovery Green holds dozens of monthly free public events, including visual and performance art events, weekly urban markets, exercise classes, and family-friendly yoga.
If you’re not too keen on public interaction, take your pup as your companion! Walk your dog in the tree-shaded trails and enjoy the park’s magnificent signs.
Spanning 55 acres of land within Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo is a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise. It houses over 6,000 animals of more than 600 species. From alligators to lions to red pandas, Houston Zoo has it all!
The Houston Zoo offers free daytime admission on the first Tuesday of every month, from open until closing.
Unless you’re a member, you’ll have to make a reservation online to visit the zoo for free. You can bring food and drinks from outside (provided they’re not made of glass and use the refilling stations to your heart’s content without additional fees.
Located on the campus grounds of Rice University, the Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is a pyramidal structure designed to interact with the rising and setting sun.
The sunrise light sequence begins 40 minutes before sunrise, and the sunset sequence begins 10 minutes before sunset.
The Twilight Epiphany lets you experience some of the most magical light shows you’ll ever see. The sun’s beams create a hypnotic array of hues of varying colors, from brilliant tangerines to dreamy cerulean blues, bruised periwinkles, and sage greens.
It’s as though you’re entering an alternate universe or heaven itself. Mere words can’t describe the beauty it surrounds you!
This fantastic light show is free and open to the public every day. However, evening shows must be reserved at least 24 hours beforehand.
Are all services in Houston Zoo free on Free Tuesdays?
Houston Zoo only offers free admission on Free Tuesdays. Giraffe feeding, carousel rides, and other attractions are available at the regular price.
Can you take pictures in the Menil Museum?
The Menil Museum allows visitors to take pictures for personal use in its corridors, foyer, entry spaces, and outdoor spaces, as long as the camera doesn’t have a flash or tripod. However, photography isn’t allowed within the gallery as the museum seeks to provide a quiet and contemplative space for viewing works of art.