Museum District Tour, Houston

Museum District Tour (Self Guided), Houston

Houston is often considered more of a business obligation than a tourist destination, which is unfortunate since many of the city's museums and cultural attractions are first-rate. Those who make the effort to visit them, be it for personal or professional reasons, will discover several days' worth of intriguing activities. To maximize your experiences during a brief visit, head to the Museum District, where nearly a dozen attractions appeal to the entire spectrum of interests.

One of the district's standout landmarks is the Museum of Fine Arts. It houses an extensive collection of art from different eras and cultures, making it a haven for art enthusiasts. Nearby, you can also explore the Cullen Sculpture Garden, which features captivating outdoor sculptures that add an artistic flair to the district.

For those interested in history and education, the Holocaust Museum Houston provides a moving and informative experience, shedding light on the horrors of the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the Children's Museum of Houston and The Health Museum offer interactive exhibits and hands-on learning opportunities for all ages.

Nature lovers will find solace in Hermann Park, a beautiful green space featuring lush gardens, serene lakes, and walking trails. The Cockrell Butterfly Center, located within the Houston Museum of Natural Science, is a must-visit for those curious about these graceful insects and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Entertainment seekers can catch a show at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, known for its free performances and diverse lineup of events. Nearby, the Houston Zoo offers a chance to get up close with a variety of animals from around the world.

Whether you're a local looking to explore your city's rich offerings or a visitor seeking a memorable experience, the Museum District will satisfy your cravings for culture, history, and entertainment all the same. Visitors can realistically make it to several destinations in a day before losing steam, so take this self-guided walk and make the most of it!
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Museum District Tour Map

Guide Name: Museum District Tour
Guide Location: USA » Houston (See other walking tours in Houston)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Cullen Sculpture Garden
  • St. Paul's Methodist Church
  • Holocaust Museum Houston
  • Children's Museum of Houston
  • The Health Museum
  • Hermann Park
  • Cockrell Butterfly Center
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science
  • Miller Outdoor Theatre
  • Houston Zoo
Museum of Fine Arts

1) Museum of Fine Arts (must see)

One of the Museum District's hallmark institutions, this museum is outstanding, balancing a collection of excellent Western art from antiquity to modern times (to include a few Picassos) with a a whole other section dedicated to (largely pre-modern and early modern) art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and pre-Columbian America. And that's before one gets to the special exhibitions that change regularly through the year, showing some of the world's finest collections.

The touching, relevant, and sometimes exclusive exhibits – both permanent and temporary – always leave visitors with either a new appreciation for a favorite artist, or reward with the discovery of a new favorite artist. Everything is curated with care and every artist is explored in a way that makes viewers/listeners think about the world. These days, they almost always offer an audio guide that allows simply pointing at the little boxes by the artwork in order to hear the commentary.

It also helps that visitors can also go see films and live musical orchestras, stroll through the nice outdoor sculpture garden, or have a nice coffee and lunch at the café. The gift shop is not to be missed, either, with all kinds of wonderful, unique artifacts, jewelry, books, children's toys and so much more (museum stuff always makes great gifts!).

Why You Should Visit:
The diversity and educational value of the thousands and thousands of works here is admirable and among the highest in the U.S. A definite must-visit for art lovers!

Be sure to pass through the underground light tunnel to access the museum’s second facility across the street, in which you'll find intricate Italian glass carvings, Spanish and colonial-era art artifacts, and more.
Cullen Sculpture Garden

2) Cullen Sculpture Garden

This wonderful – albeit relatively small – sculpture garden is owned and maintained by the Museum of Fine Arts whose buildings are nearby. Free to enter and enjoy, it has a nice mix of art – some modern and some of a more classical style, all clearly identified with small plaques. Most of the work benefits from multiple viewings, with many sculptures looking differently from different angles, seemingly changing as visitors walk around them. Although on a much smaller scale than Chicago's "Bean", the shiny "Cloud Column" here, created by the same Anish Kapoor, is particularly fun to see.

Interestingly enough, the location is not well-known by even the people of Houston, as the maze of streets surrounding Hermann Park can be daunting to navigate. Combine that with the fact that the park is walled in for privacy (and sound insulation) and you have the makings of a hard-to-find place. It is very much worth finding, however, as you can have a great visit with few people competing for space. There are chairs and tables should you like to bring a lunch or to just sit and enjoy the view; plus, with the museum's security guards constantly wandering around, safety is not an issue.
St. Paul's Methodist Church

3) St. Paul's Methodist Church

Built in the early 1900s in the Stone Gothic style, this graceful church is one of the most visited landmarks in the beautiful area surrounding Hermann Park. Its elegant bell tower could easily have been set in some European town – but not to forget the beautiful stained-glass windows and hand-carved cedar ceiling inside, both of which are outstanding to view.

St. Paul's is also known for its traditional style of worship as embodied by its renowned choir (which sometimes can be found performing with the Houston Ballet), and also for the beautiful Great Organ that currently comprises 4,359 separate pipes! Hymns, choral accompaniments and voluntaries played on the organ are an integral part of worship here.

The church has as its vision statement: "To be a cathedral for the city of Houston, embodying its diversity, inspiring faith, and leading change for the common good of all peoples and communities." Apart from the interior which is open for tours and visitors, the outside grounds are also very beautiful with many benches to sit on.
Holocaust Museum Houston

4) Holocaust Museum Houston

A somber subject is commendably handled at the Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH), whose mission is to educate people about the dangers of prejudice and hatred in society. Opened in 1996, it has certainly made an impact on everyone who walked through its doors, by way of numerous artifacts, photos, films, informative panels, and a research library.

Visitors learn about the historical and personal stories associated with the Holocaust in the museum's permanent exhibit called "Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers", which focuses on the moving stories of survivors living in the Houston area. Displays chronicle the Nazi rise to power, then detail the systematic extermination of Jews in all of the nations conquered by the Third Reich. Two other exhibits (located outside) include the powerful pairing of an actual WWII rail-car "used to carry millions of Jews to their death" with the Danish Rescue Boat, which "tells the heroic tale of a three-week period in 1943 when Danes risked their own lives to save more than 7,200 Jews from almost certain execution".

The end of the tour introduces visitors to a different section that addresses hate, segregation, genocide, and other atrocities that have happened and continue to happen around the world (e.g., Zambia, Serbia, Rwanda, South Africa, Ukraine...), including America's own history of mistreating certain groups of people. This area is by no means exhaustive but it is enlightening as visitors see that the Holocaust was not an isolated event. Consequently, there is hope that such an educational experience will help prevent future atrocities from occurring.

The permanent exhibit can be very graphic and is not recommended for children under 10.
Children's Museum of Houston

5) Children's Museum of Houston (must see)

With over 90,000 square feet of interactive, hands-on exhibits, the Children's Museum of Houston (CHM) is "dedicated to transforming communities through innovative, child-centered learning with a vision to spark a passion for lifelong learning in all children". Founded in 1980 and housed in a whimsical building designed by internationally-acclaimed architect Robert Venturi, it offers a multitude of innovative exhibits and bilingual learning programs for kids up to 12 years of age.

From cultural experiences to silly games, to physical obstacle courses, to obstacle courses for the mind with science experiments, there's an incredible variety of great things to check out. Kidtropolis – basically, a "mini-town" for kids – is complete with skyscrapers, city government, a supermarket, and professions, while upstairs, infants and toddlers have a special exploration area ('Tot Spot') where they can run, jump and crawl around to explore many things on their own level.

In a 2005 ranking of children's museums ranked it in first place in general. In 2001 Child Magazine ranked the museum in second place, after the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, in consideration of availability of staff, diversity of exhibits, and the overall experience. More recent awards include TripSavvy's 2018 Editor's Choice Award "Best Family Attraction and Experience", along with AAA 2018 Editor's "Best of Things to Do".

Go on a weekday if you can, as weekends can get too crowded to get around through all of the activities.
Although you can buy food, it would be good to bring some since you might end up spending a long time here.
Also, during a hot day, bring extra clothes for your kids as the museum has an outdoor water playground.
The Health Museum

6) The Health Museum

The Health Museum is a great concept and an interesting strategy to demystify the human body, health and disease. There are only a few "health"- or "medical"-themed museums around the world, and this one stands out for its actively engaging interactions and mind-opening encounters. It certainly helps to have the Texas Medical Center – the largest and one of the most influential medical centers in the country, and perhaps the world – in the same neighborhood.

Among other highlights, the museum has produced an exhibit that allows visitors to walk through the human body, understanding anatomy, organs, nerves, arteries and veins; with particular respect to functions of the heart and their importance. For children, there are science classes and mini medical schools, opening their eyes to many biology-based science experiments, new possibilities, and career choices. Temporary exhibits from institutions across the U.S. provide additional options, in addition to the already rich permanent collection and the 4D theater inside.

Since its opening in 1996, the Health Museum has been clearly maturing, making for a great addition to the Museum District.

Why You Should Visit:
Exciting museum with lots of state-of-the-art exhibits that are easy to follow, interactive, engaging, and educational.
The staff is extremely informative and willingly responds to questions, and the gift shop has numerous unique items!

You may want to inquire about when field trips are not scheduled or a time of day when they are not overly present.
Hermann Park

7) Hermann Park (must see)

If you only get time to visit one place in Houston, you may want to make that Hermann Park. Located in the heart of the Museum District just southwest of downtown, this huge green swath is magnet for joggers, dog walkers, bikers, and families in search of some green space in a city known for its rampant development.

For many years now, the city has been working on making this the best park of its kind in the nation. Trails and trees are abundant, as are the amenities and services, including an enormous golf course, a large pond with paddle boats, an outdoor theater, a butterfly house, a zoo, and a garden center filled with exotic plants.

There is no shortage of statues, either; look for monuments to Sam Houston, Mahatma Gandhi, and namesake George Hermann, who donated the first 284 acres to the city.

Why You Should Visit:
One of Houston's great assets and there is usually a free concert or play to enjoy during spring/summer.

If you're an avid train lover and/or a kid at heart, come here to ride the train! It's a super cute experience which also allows you to see more of the park. Alternatively, make sure to contact Houston Ghost Tours for a nighttime park tour.
Cockrell Butterfly Center

8) Cockrell Butterfly Center (must see)

Part of the Museum of Natural Science, with a separate fee, this butterfly exhibit is a worthwhile investment, especially to see the thousands of colorful, lithe winged creatures peacefully meander throughout the towering domed Mayan rainforest habitat. A lengthy waterfall flows gently in the background, and the butterflies occasionally drop by for a personal visit.

Getting into the space is an experience in itself. Immediately after opening the door, you can feel (almost see!) the humidity, but do not fret as walking down into the garden area will offer some welcome relief. There are a few benches around to sit and watch, as well as many interesting plants (all labeled), plus small exhibits featuring a variety of insects (beetles, centipedes, roaches, tarantulas, etc.), and a small play area for children.

The enclosure has small walkway trails that could get crowded on a busier day, but other than that there is enough room to comfortably observe the habitat. Should you somehow get bored, ask the docents a question; they're dying to share information and can point out really interesting, not-to-be-missed specimens.

Wear bright colors like blue or teal and the butterflies might land on you, making the experience that much more fun.
Houston Museum of Natural Science

9) Houston Museum of Natural Science (must see)

One of the best places in Houston for a family adventure, this museum features an almost overwhelming array of exhibits and artifacts covering everything from dinosaurs to gems and minerals to ancient Egypt. Its permanent collection is especially impressive, most notably the Hall of the Americas, with its compelling exhibits depicting the stories of how people of various cultures arrived on the continent and their ways of life once they became permanent residents.

As if the museum didn't already have enough amazing exhibits, in 2012 it added an entire wing devoted to paleontology. Featuring dramatically lit dinosaur fossils and exhibits dedicated to evolution and early humans, the hall is a sight to behold, especially with its action-packed scenes of predators and prey.

Another new section, the so-called Cabinet of Curiosities, features drawers, shelves, even things hanging from the ceiling, chock-full of oddities and antiquities from private collections. This exhibit is well-decorated and really makes you feel like you are in some big game hunter' or collector's den or study.

Interactive hands-on and touch-screen displays about oil density, drilling, and delivery allow children to learn through play, which is always a winning combo. Also, kids will be (perhaps unexpectedly) interested in the museum's large gemstone exhibit, featuring colorful and sharply cut gems in fascinating back-lit displays.

Why You Should Visit:
To explore the far reaches of outer space, roam with the dinosaurs, wander through Africa's Serengeti, and marvel at the world's rarest and most beautiful gems and minerals.
The layout is superb and the curators have an incredible eye for the unique. Very educational and plenty of interactive things to play with (on the bottom floor).

Prices are reasonable – if you want a real treat, however, try visiting on Thursday afternoons. From 2–5pm during the school year and 3–6pm during the summer, the location is free of charge.
Miller Outdoor Theatre

10) Miller Outdoor Theatre

From March to October of each year, Miller Outdoor Theatre offers the most diverse season of professional entertainment of any Houston performance venue, including classical music, jazz, ethnic music and dance, ballet, Shakespeare, musical theatre, classic films, and much, much more. All you have to do is show up at the box office on the day of the performance, from 10:30am to 1pm, and wait in line to snag your FREE ticket(s) for covered seating. Check the calendar online!

If the box office runs out of tickets or you just feel like being more social during the performance than you'd be able to by sitting in an assigned seat, there is always the option of sitting on the hill to view the show. Despite being farther away, the view is still pretty good and the acoustics are good enough. You can bring a blanket or a towel and not worry about avoiding obstructed views as ground-sitters are relegated to one side of the hill, and chair-sitters on the other.

Another great thing about this place is that you may bring your own food and alcohol in non-glass containers – as long as you also bring a garbage bag and properly dispose of trash after the event.

Why You Should Visit:
Houston's best-kept secret for experiencing world-class free entertainment!
And, of course, you have the lovely Hermann Park to explore before or after the show.

In general, when sitting on the hill, you should try to arrive early to find a good place to set up camp. Since you will be outdoors, keep the weather in mind and pack any necessary bug spray, rain gear, jackets, etc.
Houston Zoo

11) Houston Zoo (must see)

Consistently rated one of the city's top attractions is the lush, welcoming, and occasionally stinky Houston Zoo. Five thousand animals keep adults and children entertained on 55 acres of various ecosystems of the world. As with all AZA-accredited zoos, the one here takes extraordinary care to provide healthy and happy living conditions for its animals.

Be sure to drop by the world of primates, the Asian elephant habitat, the lion and tiger exhibit, and the grizzly bear habitat. A kiosk by the entrance shows the schedule for the day so you can plan on watching feedings, listening to keeper chats and participate in other special activities. Giraffe feeding happens twice a day, starting at 11am & 2pm, and even if you buy just one ticket, the entire family can go up on the platform to be almost eye-level with the beautiful reticulated creatures and take photos.

Families with children will want to set aside time for a little excursion on the train, which takes a short journey through the park along the zoo’s border. Also, if you have children in tow, consider bringing some extra clothes since most kids love the water play area and will undoubtedly get soaked.

Why You Should Visit:
Good for a slow walk under the big trees and covered pathways; there are also A/C view enclosures to get away from the hot weather. With all the new renovations to the exhibits, things here have only gotten better.

You can bring a backpack, as food and (non-alcoholic) drinks are allowed.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles