A Guide to Houston

Known as both the Bayou City and the Energy Capital of the World, Houston is a diverse city that offers world-class arts and entertainment to people of all nations. Voted third most livable city in the U.S., it’s home to NASA and the Astrodome.

By the numbers

Population: 2,296,000 (city); 6,313,000 (metropolitan)

Elevation: 80 feet / 32 meters

Time Zone: GMT -6 (GMT -5 Daylight Saving Time); Central Standard Time (CST)



Average Annual Precipitation: 50 inches / 127 centimetres

Average January Temperature: 52°F / 11°C

Average July Temperature: 84°F / 29°C

Did you know?

Houston and its surrounding suburban sprawl encompass 10,062 square miles (26,060 square kms), making it as big as Israel and El Salvador.

The Gulf of Mexico looms just 50 miles (80 km) east, Dallas 240 miles (386 km) north, San Antonio 200 miles (322 km) west, and Mexico 355 miles (571 km) south.

District Guide

Welcome to the Bayou City! Houston is famous for offering a vast range of opportunities and cultural experiences to its 5.5 million residents. Often described as a “sprawling Texas town”, the greater Houston area covers more ground than any other major city in America. This creates a sense of living in a medium-sized town—one that just happens to offer big-city convenience and opportunity.

Houston City Skyline at Night & People in Park

This now-thriving central business district is most known for being the original townsite of Houston city, at the intersection of two bayous, a historical site known as Allen’s Landing. Today, the city is a prime cultural and commercial hub, abuzz with a whirlwind of businesses marked by Fortune 500 companies that dot its wide streets during the day, and a frenzy of activities, events and cultural activities that ensue as the sun goes down.

During the day, the downtown skyscrapers are alive with activity and the sidewalks are filled with bustling executives in designer suits. Do not let the daytime business atmosphere fool you, however. This city cares about much more than business, and it is out to prove it. When the sun goes down, the downtown area comes alive with an entirely different personality.

Theatre District
Catch a performance in Houston’s renowned Theatre District, which spans 17 blocks. Houston is one of the few U.S. cities with permanent, professional resident companies in opera (Houston Grand Opera), ballet (Houston Ballet), music (Houston Symphony) and theatre (Alley Theatre). The Jones Hall and the Wortham Theater Center, as well as the major sports venues of the Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center are also located here. Another primary entertainment venue is the sprawling George R. Brown Convention Center, built in 1987 and renovated in 2001.

Revention Music Center, which features restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, and concert houses all under one roof, is an asset to the downtown entertainment scene.

If all of this is not enough to impress you, then give the underground tunnels and some shopping a try. A trip through this “city under the city” is an interesting experience that should not be missed by anyone—tourist or resident.

A dynamic neighbourhood that sits southwest of Downtown, Midtown is built on principles of sustainability, and has quite a few eco-friendly projects under its belt. MATCH, or the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston is one of its more recent additions, and is home to a plethora of green spaces like the Bagby, and a host of dining selections that are all within walking distance of one another.

Montrose/Museum District
Developed in 1911, Montrose covers approximately four square miles, bordered by Buffalo Bayou’s Allen Parkway on the north, the Museum District and Highway 59 on the south, Bagby and the revitalized Midtown on the east and Upper Kirby District and Shepherd Drive on the west. Find some quiet time at the Menil Collection and neighbouring Rothko Chapel, the artistic vision of John and Dominique de Menil. Stop for lunch at the Black Labrador, with its traditional English fish ‘n’ chips. Sitting side-by-side around an Italian-inspired piazza, Nino’s Restaurant and Vincent’s Rotisserie Italian restaurants have been a Houston tradition since 1977. Nino’s is the older, and more formal classic spot, while Vincent’s, with its wide-open rooms, is more casual and a tad more trendy. And when the day is done, rest assured you’ll find peaceful sleep at one of several Montrose B&Bs.

21st-century Houston is a thriving art nexus, the home of world-class museums, acclaimed art galleries and a huge community of talented artists. At the heart of it all: The Houston Museum District, whose 15 museums and 50-acre zoological park—all within walking distance of one another and accessible by METRO Rail—form one of the largest cultural districts in the country, with more than half a million square feet of exhibition space. It’s also one of the most vital in the nation, drawing six million visitors annually. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum house some of the finest masterpieces in the world. If your interest in museums leans toward the historical, do not miss the Holocaust Museum Houston. It is recognized worldwide as a leading source of information about the horrifying events of the Holocaust.

Hermann Park
Running alongside the Texas Medical Center, in what can only be described as an odd blend of technology and nature, lies Hermann Park. Or perhaps the blend is not as odd as it might seem. When striving to maintain a position as a leader in the healthcare industry, a peaceful view of a nearby park might be just what the doctor ordered for stress relief.

Besides providing a peaceful view and getaway for the local medical workforce, the park offers a variety of fun options to tourists and residents. Sports enthusiasts can commune with nature while exploring the bike and jogging trails or hit the golf course for the afternoon. Families can enjoy spending the afternoon riding the train around the park and exploring the water on paddle boats. For a little cultural enhancement, Miller Outdoor Theatre offers exceptional evening performances during the warmest ten months of the Houston year. Grab your cooler and arrive early, because the grounds are usually packed with fans.

If you enjoy learning a thing or two while having a good time, visit the Houston Zoo and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. But do not try to do both in one day! The museum features three levels of amazing sights that will keep you busy for hours, and it also houses Burke Baker Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Combined, they definitely represent an all-day adventure. The zoo also features an assortment of exhibits that require a full afternoon to experience them all. The white Bengal tiger habitat is just one of the many popular exhibits.

The prestige and glamor of the Galleria area is undeniable. Office space in one of the nearby skyscrapers is expensive, and the shopping consists primarily of exclusive shops offering designer merchandise. If money is no object, put a trip to The Galleria on your list of things to do. This glamorous shopping center showcases the best names in American and European design, with more than 375 shops and restaurants in residence. If your shopping expenditures tend to be a bit more low-key, this outing still offers a world of fun in the form of window-shopping. The ice skating rink on the bottom floor is also a popular attraction, especially at Christmas, when a lavishly decorated, three-story tree is erected in the middle of the ice.

Restaurants and clubs, like most things in the area, tend to be fairly sophisticated and cosmopolitan. Arcodoro Ristorante Italiano, Morton’s The Steakhouse and Capital Grille are all outstanding options for fine cuisine. Uptown’s fashionable evening scene includes the Post Oak Grill.

The Memorial area, comprising of a long, languorous stretch hemmed by neighbourhoods like the Energy Corridor and Uptown, consists of a vibrant culinary scene that hosts cuisines ranging from Vietnamese and Korean, to earthy Southern ones. It is also home to iFly, a premier center for indoor skydiving.

If you head south past the Loop on I-45, you will run into the Clear Lake/Kemah area. Unless you are the boat-loving outdoors type, the greatest attraction in this area is Space Center Houston, Houston’s famous home of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Tours through various NASA buildings—including the original Mission Control room—and other exhibits provide a whole day of fun and enlightening activities.

If you happen to prefer the “splashier” side of life, you will undoubtedly love this area for its water sports and boating activities. Both Clear Lake and Galveston Bay offer ample opportunities to get your feet wet. In fact, this area has been labeled “the nation’s third coast for boating” and contains one of the largest concentrations of pleasure boats in the country.

Of course, an area with ocean access has to provide delectable seafood offerings, or it simply would not be worth its weight in salt. The Kemah Boardwalk excels in this respect.

East Houston/San Jacinto
A visit to San Jacinto State Historical Park is a must for history buffs. The park encompasses the actual fields where General Santa Anna’s troops were defeated by the troops of Sam Houston and other Texas patriots at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Those who have watched the movies or read the history books and “remember the Alamo” will definitely appreciate the 570-foot monument that stands as a reminder of Texas’ hard-won independence from Mexico. The history of Texas and its prominent leaders, both before and after this battle, is fully captured in the Museum of Texas History, located in the base of the monument.

The park’s Battleship Texas is from a different era, but is equally impressive. Docked on a branch of the Houston Ship Channel that runs adjacent to the park, it stands as a proud reminder of its wartime service. The ship was commissioned in 1914 and is both the last of the World War I era dreadnoughts and the only surviving combat ship to have served in both World Wars—an impressive accomplishment to say the least. Tours are self-guided, and guests are free to roam most areas of the ship.

Traveling through the area also offers a chance to see the famous Houston Ship Channel. While it is not necessarily as scenic, the sight is certainly splendorous in its own way. Depending on the route taken, you can cross the channel via a toll bridge or a ferry. Naturally, the ferry is recommended for the best view.

Dining and drinking

The diverse industrial focus of Houston has inspired people from numerous countries to settle here. With so many cultures represented, it is no great surprise that the city’s dining opportunities reflect their influences. If you are homesick, there is a good chance you will be able to find a restaurant that specializes in your native cuisine. If you are simply adventurous and like to sample the flavours of the world, you will have a lot of chances to do so while visiting. In fact, you would have to live here a very long time to exhaust the possibilities.

Overhead view of family seated together on outdoor patio for celebration dinner

Beyond the realm of traditional Texan, the possibilities are equally impressive. The close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico has inspired a love of seafood, which has, in turn, inspired the birth of a large number of seafood restaurants across the city. The downtown area boasts the expertise of Massa’s Seafood Grill and McCormick & Schmick’s. A variety of Asian food types are popular in Houston. In addition to the tasty Tex-Mex offerings, the city also boasts a number of restaurants that specialize in traditional Mexican fare. Irma’s Restaurant has been a famous Houston mainstay for years. Irma herself will come out of the kitchen and treat you like one of the family at her homey establishment.

Steaks are considered to be a strong runner-up as a Texas tradition, and some of the finest steakhouses in the state are located in Houston. Morton’s The Steakhouse is yet another former President Bush-approved restaurant. It is classy and elegant, as is Capital Grille.

Not to be outdone by the Big Apple, Houston also has its share of restaurants that specialize in contemporary, cutting-edge cuisine. Rudi Lechner’s Restaurant pays tribute to German and Austrian cuisine. Pizzerias are essentially Italian, of course, but the concept has been Americanized to a large extent. Fun-loving diners are drawn to the boisterous atmosphere of New York Pizzeria, while out-of-the-ordinary options, like barbecue pizza, attract a full house at California Pizza Kitchen.

Montrose/Museum District
When it comes to Tex-Mex, the city’s restaurants offer a variety of atmospheres to suit every mood. You can enjoy the best at a place called Little Pappasito’s. The décor is eclectic Mexican, complete with roaming mariachis, but the menu offers some sophisticated twists in addition to traditional Tex-Mex. Not to be outdone, Goode Company Barbecue is famous across the city for the sweet-spicy-smoky barbecue sauce they slather on a variety of meats. Brennan’s of Houston specializes in Cajun and Creole creations, while Baroque offers the best in French dining with a romantic, elegant theme.

An interesting mural, this one of Saigon, can be found at Miss Saigon Cafe. Traditional Greek cuisine is the focus at Nikos Nikos. Thanks in part to Houston’s influence in the oil and energy fields, the city has a sizable number of Middle Eastern residents and quite a few restaurants that specialize in the region’s cuisine; try Istanbul Grill, the famed Turkish restaurant.

West Houston
Casual diners might prefer Taste of Texas, which offers the more traditional “rustic cowboy” atmosphere to go along with that excellent cut of beef. Bistro Provence head up the city’s list of elegant and impressive bistros. Houston is also kind to health-conscious diners. If your concept of healthy food revolves primarily around low-fat, grilled meat, you will find a large number of restaurants to accommodate you. If you prefer total vegetarian dining, A Moveable Feast is a fantastic option.


From sophisticated theatres and museums to live music events in funky bars, Houston is a city that offers a very broad range of entertainment. Creativity runs rampant through the city, so there are hundreds of ways to have a good time while you visit.

Friends crossing street in city carrying shopping bags

Live Music
If you enjoy the sounds of live music, you will have ample opportunity to satisfy your desires. Houston offers an abundance of live music of all types. Some bars and nightclubs showcase live bands on weekends or specific nights, while others like the Anderson Fair in Montrose clubs folksy acoustics with a 60s nostalgia that is inexplicably charming. For more country music, head to the Firehouse Saloon on the Southwest Freeway that coaxes you to surrender to its fabulous honky-tonk vibes and swing to its foot-thumping beats. Fitzgerald’s, a Houston live music institution has been captivating local crowds since its opening in 1977. Popular bands play rock, blues, country and folk music to entertain sizable crowds.

In a completely different respect, live concerts and classical performances are equally popular and entertaining. Jones Hall is home to the critically acclaimed Houston Symphony and features numerous classical concerts every month. Other artistic musical presentations also take place in this downtown music hall from time to time. The White Oak Music Hall, Warehouse Live, the Toyota Center and Arena Theater regularly hosts concert tours featuring the hottest performers.

For jazz and blues lovers, there is no better place than the House of Blues and Cezanne, known for hosting two sessions every weekend. If your preference is jazz and seafood, head downtown to Sambuca Jazz Cafe for nightly performances. The management at this ritzy club books at least one national act a month.

Museums and Galleries
Houston’s extensive number of museums and galleries house a plethora of unique artifacts, gorgeous artistic creations and scientific memorabilia. Both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Arts Museum display the work of world-renowned artists, and Menil Collection boasts one of the finest private art collections in the country. A visit to Lawndale Art Center will familiarize you with the work of many very talented local artists. Art lovers can spend days enjoying these and many other area galleries.

Aside from artistic offerings, you’ll also find some exceptional examples of museums that feature historical and scientific exhibits. The Houston Holocaust Museum is relatively unique and features in-depth information about the tragic events of the Holocaust. The Houston Museum of Natural Science offers three levels of fun that you’ll be hard-pressed to view in a single day. Burke Baker Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center are conveniently located in the same building. There’s so much to see and touch, you might want to allow two days for this outing. If the impressive history of Texas intrigues you, take a drive out to San Jacinto State Historical Park and visit the San Jacinto Museum of History and the Battleship Texas.

Without a doubt, the city’s most interesting museum experience will be had at the National Museum of Funeral History. Not many museums in the country focus on funeral memorabilia and artifacts. The themed coffins are definitely excellent conversation pieces. For other interesting and slightly unusual museum experiences, visit the Houston Fire Museum, the Art Car Museum and the Orange Show Center.

During the course of the past century, Houston gained a formidable reputation as a world-class center for the arts. It is one of the few cities with its own resident professional companies in ballet, opera and theater. If you enjoy theatrical performances, you won’t lack for entertainment during a visit to the city. The 17-block Theater District is home to over 200 performing arts organizations and houses some very prestigious theaters and performance halls. You can catch first-rate Broadway and off-Broadway productions at the Alley Theatre, or opt for incredible opera performed by the Tony, Grammy and Emmy-winning Houston Grand Opera. Bayou Place is one of the oldest fixtures to the downtown entertainment scene. It features theaters, concert houses, nightclubs and restaurants all under one roof. The Revention Music Theater is the resident theater at Bayou Place and offers a broad range of productions, including comedies and concerts.

Outside of the Theater District, you will also find excellent productions in other parts of the city. Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park offers free performances of dramas, comedies and musicals. Main Street Theater at Chelsea Market has two Houston locations that offer an assortment of productions. Cutting-edge, modern plays are the specialty at Stages Repertory Theatre, while Playhouse 1960 specializes in old comedies and mysteries.

If you enjoy watching the latest Hollywood films in your spare time, a multitude of cinemas can accommodate you. The latest trend is the giant, multi-screen complex that features stadium seating and modern comforts, and Houston already has an abundance of these cinemas. On the West Side, visit AMC Studio 30. The northwest part of the city features Cinemark Tinseltown 290. In the Galleria area you will find Edwards Theater Greenway Place 24, and Cinemark Hollywood Movies is located on the East Side.

There is also an abundance of traditional cinemas, special “dollar” cinemas and art houses. Dollar cinemas, like Wind Chimes 8, offer reduced ticket prices on recent Hollywood movies that just left the big theatres. If your film preferences run to artistic productions, you will prefer the films at art houses like River Oaks Theatre and the Museum of Fine Arts’ Brown Auditorium Theater.

Apart from its renowned live music scene, Houston has managed to weave a largely impressive net of nightlife for its locals, a blossoming scene that accommodates everything from modern EDM clubs, to laidback DJ hotspots and sensational Latino clubs. Barbarella, Houston’s versatile bar that is both a dive and a dance club is known for its 80s disco nights, whereas the Club Tropicana is the city’s hottest salsa and merengue club that has been hosting enthralling parties and incredible dance nights since 1999. Etro Lounge dials down the intensity to a steady simmer, and hosts laidback crowds in its two-storied club in Montrose. The retro-themed Fox Hollow on Nett Street is set out to do it all, with an exciting mix of Latin nights, DJ-centric parties and even live music gigs on occasion. Others like South Beach give you a taste of Houston’s after-parties, and others like Stereo Live are wildly popular for their EDM acts, and have previously featured famous DJs like Steve Aoki and Diplo.

Houston certainly isn’t New York on the comedy circuit, but it still has some comedy clubs that will inspire an evening of full-blown laughter. The Houston Improv Comedy Club features a line-up of seasoned comedy stars, with occasional newcomers. This popular club on the Katy Freeway performs at the Improv Houston in the Marq-E Entertainment Center. Book in advance and arrive early to get a good seat. The Station Theater also hosts improv comedy at its location on Houston Avenue. Smaller comedy cafes include Joke Joint Comedy Showcase and The Music Box Theater.

A variety of fun and entertaining festivals occur in or around Houston each year. The Texas Renaissance Festival starts in October every year and runs for seven weekends. Step back into the Renaissance period and watch a couple of knights joust at this popular event. It is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. In October every year, the Bayou City Art Festival showcases the work of local artists and is wildly popular with art-lovers. The Texas Crawfish Festival goes on during two weekends in May and provides a double treat. Not only is the festival a lot of fun, but it takes place in scenic Old Town Spring, an area worth visiting at any time.

Nature and Parks
Houston is a city of warmth and sunshine, so it should not be a surprise to find a lot of nature centers and parks in the area. Many of the parks, such as Hermann Park—home of the Houston Zoo—and Sam Houston Park, offer a broad assortment of activities in addition to the simple pleasure of communing with nature and enjoying the outdoors. You can easily turn these outings into all-day events. Popular nature centers that feature both native plant and animal life include Armand Bayou Nature Center and Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens is equally popular, but it focuses solely on native plant life. Be sure and bring the kids along for an educational experience that will also provide a great deal of entertainment.

Recommended Tours

Houston is a city with a lot of popular attractions and a plethora of things to do. Even many of the locals have never managed to see and do everything, and most of them have spent a lifetime here.

City Hall of Houston Texas at dusk

Astrodome, or the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” is a must-see. Be sure to browse the museum as well. Try down home cooking at Irma’s Restaurant. If you are a shopaholic or simply a lover of the unique, you will want to experience the Tunnel Walk, an amazing modern tunnel system lies under many of the most prominent buildings in the downtown area. Classical music fans will enjoy the Houston Symphony, while the Sam Houston Park is a haven from the hustle and bustle.

Montrose/Museum District
The Montrose District is also known as the Museum District for its dozens of world-class galleries and art collections. The Contemporary Arts Museum has exhibits that reflect modern art styles, while the Houston Museum of Natural Science contains interactive displays such as a live butterfly exhibit. Other important museums include the Houston Holocaust Museum and the Children’s Museum of Houston, which is dedicated to enriching the lives of youngsters.

Clear Lake/Kemah
The area around the Kemah Boardwalk is filled with things to do. The Boardwalk itself has many interesting shops, cafes and restaurants that keep visitors busy for hours. If you’d like to go antiquing, check out Almeda Antique Mall. Space technology junkies, especially those who experienced first-hand the wonder and thrill of America’s first moon landing, will definitely want to visit Johnson Space Center. The renowned Comedy Showcase, where many famous comics got their start, is also nearby.

West Houston
Ima Hogg is the famous philanthropist responsible for creating the Houston Symphony in the early 1900s. Her magnificent estate, Bayou Bend, is a 28-room mansion that contains over 4800 pieces of American art that represent various styles from colonial times to the mid-1900s. A wander through the nearby Buffalo Bayou Park and Memorial Park is also a nice way to break up the day. Dine at Lynn’s Steakhouse.

McFaddin-Ward House is the historic home of Texas oil and cattle pioneers Perry and Ida McFaddin. If you don’t mind a short drive, Galveston offers two historical wonders that shouldn’t be missed if you enjoy palatial homes. Ashton Villa was built in 1859 and features Italian architecture with carved moldings and exquisite antique furnishings. The Bishop’s Palace has been ranked in the nation’s Top 100 Homes for its stunning architecture.

Many sights in the city can be discovered on self-guided tours, but professional tour companies offer many unique ways to see the city; from boat tours to tours of historic homes.

Historic Homes Tours
Heritage Society Museum & Tour ( +1 713 655 1912/ http://www.heritagesociety.org )

Helicopter Tours
Paradigm Helicopter Tours ( +1 877 345 8687/ http://www.paradigmhelicopters.com )

Boat Tours
Sam Houston Boat Tour ( +1 713 670 2416/ http://portofhouston.com/samhou/samhou.html )
Colonel Cruise ( +1 409 744 4673/ +1 888 740 7797/ http://www.galveston.com/colonel )

Factory Tours
Imperial Sugar Company ( +1 281 490 9555/ http://www.imperialholly.com )
Blue Bell Creamery ( +1 800 327 8135/ http://www.bluebell.com )
Spoetzel Brewery ( +1 361 594 3383/ http://www.shiner.com )

Marine Tours
Sea Turtle Tours ( +1 409 766 3500/ http://galveston.ssp.nmfs.gov/ )
Dolphin Watch ( +1 409 765 1700 )
Sea Center Texas ( +1 409 292 0100 )

Nature Tours
Bayou Wildlife Park ( +1 281 337 6376/ http://www.bayouwildlifepark.com/index.html )

Train Tours
Treasure Isle Tour Train ( +1 409 765 9564/ http://www.galveston.com/treasureisletourtrain )


From its humble beginnings as a cotton-shipping port to its current designation as the “Energy Capital of the World”, Houston has enjoyed more than 160 years of existence.

Texas Flag out after hurricane Harvey destroyed Houston Texas Morning Sunrise

The first settlement in this area was actually started by John Harris in 1826 and was called Harrisburg. At that time, the area was still under Mexican rule, but Texans were growing increasingly discontent. Ten years later in 1836, war between Texas and Mexico was in full swing, and Harrisburg was destroyed by Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna as he chased the Texas army across the area. A short week later, General Sam Houston led the Texas troops to victory and independence at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Later that same year, Augustus and John Allen, two brothers and land speculators from New York, purchased land near the burned-out remains of Harrisburg and started a new settlement. They decided to name the new city after Sam Houston, in honour of his amazing victory at San Jacinto State Historical Park and his new status as the first President of the Republic of Texas. They also managed to convince the first Congress of the Republic of Texas to move to Houston. However, the move didn’t quite take, and the government relocated to Austin after two years.

With its economy was based primarily on the shipping of cotton, the town grew slowly during the early years. After the widening and deepening of Buffalo Bayou—now part of the Houston Ship Channel—in 1869 and the periodic addition of railway systems, the town began to grow into a transportation center for southeast Texas. The city’s full-blown surge into expansion and prosperity was brought about by the discovery of oil in the area in 1901. The construction of refineries and other petroleum-related industries began during World War I; these were expanded during World War II. The completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914 established Houston’s importance in the shipping world, and the city hasn’t stopped growing since.

Houston’s prestigious billing as the “Energy Capital of the World” is a fact that is well known, but energy is only a small part of what makes the city the thriving corporate center it has become. The chemical industry produces almost half of the United States’ petrochemical supply. Manufacturing firms are valued at over billions of dollars, and one out of every three jobs in the area is tied to international business in some way. With the Port of Houston serving as the second largest port in the U.S. in total tonnage, the import/export trade always thrives as well. Numerous computer companies have located their headquarters and data processing operations here—including Compaq Computer Corporation—and over 400 local firms are involved in software development. Electronics companies abound, and engineering firms employ nearly 47,000 engineers and architects in various fields.

Houston medical facilities oversee the health of residents and people across the globe; local medical centers provide some of the best patient care, medical research and medical education in the world. The renowned Texas Medical Center is highly respected for its pioneering work in cardiac and organ-transplant surgery and cancer treatment. Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, M.D. Andersen Cancer Center and many other prestigious institutions are located here.

And last, but certainly not the least; remember those first words spoken from the moon? “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”. Houston’s past and future impact on the aerospace industry is in a league of its own. Space Center Houston, the mission control headquarters for manned U.S. space flights, has played a significant role in further developing and expanding Houston’s contribution to scientific fields.

The city’s extreme industrial diversity has resulted in a cultural blend that is equally impressive. With over 60 primary languages spoken in the homes of Houston Independent School District families, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States. It has been further estimated that an additional 30 languages are also spoken on a smaller scale.

Residents typically have a broad knowledge and a great deal of respect for other world cultures and enjoy numerous cultural events every year. Along with common neighbourhood events, Talento Bilingue de Houston has become extremely popular over the years by offering productions that illustrate the values of these different ethnic cultures. Needless to say, ethnic diversity has also broadened the horizons in the restaurant world. The number of cultures and cuisines represented throughout Houston is both impressive and appreciated. Ima Hogg, a renowned local philanthropist, first blessed Houston’s arts and culture scene back in 1913 when he established the Houston Symphony. In the years since then, Houston has gained a formidable reputation as a world-class center for the arts. The 17-block Theater District is home to numerous performing arts organizations and is second only to New York’s Broadway for number of theater seats (over 12,000) in a concentrated area. It is also one of the few U.S. cities that has its own professional symphony orchestra and resident professional companies in ballet, opera and theater. More than 200 visual and performing arts organizations are currently active in the Houston arts scene.

The visual arts are equally represented in the numerous museums and galleries that are located primarily in the Museum District. In 1987, the Menil Collection opened and added a new sense of prestige to Houston’s museum scene. It boasts what is recognized as one of the finest private collections in the country. With more than USD100 million poured into the economy by the television and motion picture industry recently, the city is also emerging as a prominent force for Hollywood businesses.

To a large extent, the growth and development of Houston has been based on the education of its residents. The city has always put significant emphasis on the education of children at both the primary and secondary levels. Several of the local school districts traditionally win state and national achievement awards for academic aptitude.

To this day, residents of Houston are more likely to have completed four years of college than the rest of the U.S. adult population. The city boasts some excellent universities and colleges. Among them are the very prestigious and highly acclaimed Rice University, which first opened for classes in 1891, the University of Houston (1927), Texas Southern University (1947), University of Saint Thomas (1947) and Houston Baptist University (1960). Also, both Baylor and the University of Texas have prominent medical schools in the Texas Medical Center. More than 240,000 students are currently enrolled in colleges and universities in the area.

From tiny cow-town to the fourth largest city in the U.S., Houston has had quite a historical journey. Petroleum might be what launched the city on the path to growth and success, but it is the diverse population and quality of life that make it a city worth living in and visiting. Houston is truly an international city in every sense of the word.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport (IAH)
Car Rental:

Advantage (+1 800 777 5500 / http://www.arac.com/)
Alamo (+1 800 462 5266 / http://www.alamo.com)
Avis (+1 800 230 4898 / http://www.avis.com)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700 / http://www.budget.com/)
Dollar (+1 800 800 4000 / http://www.dollar.com)
Enterprise (+1 800 325 8007 / http://www.enterprise.com)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3001 / http://www.hertz.com)
National (+1 800 227 7368 / http://www.nationalcar.com)
Thrifty (+1 800 331 3550 / http://www.thrifty.com)

Taxi: If money is not a concern a taxi presents the quickest option to downtown. Passengers are charged the cheapest fare between a flat rate and a metered rate. Most rides, factoring in traffic, take an hour. Some of the more noted cab companies are:

Fiesta (+1 713 236 9400)
Liberty (+1 713 695 6700 / http://www.libertycab.net/)
Square Deal (+1 713 659 5105)
United (+1 713 699 0000 / http://www.unitedcab.com)
Yellow Cab (+1 713 236 8877 / http://www.yellowcabhouston.com)

Shuttle: Express Shuttle (+1 713 523 8888 / +1 877 615 4577 / http://www.coachusa.com) is the popular choice with most arriving passengers. Call well in advance to know the Shuttle service operating hours and total cost.

Bus: Bus service, via the METRO (+1 713 635 4000 / http://ridemetro.org), is the ideal choice for the budget minded. All rides are reasonably priced. The buses run from 4:30a-12:45a and can be found on the south side of Terminal C.

By Bus
Greyhound (+1 800 231 2222 / http://www.greyhound.com) ushers passengers in from all over the country via Houston’s city bus terminal.

By Train
Amtrak (+1 800 872 7245 / http://www.amtrak.com) pulls into downtown Houston’s train station (902 Washington Avenue) three times a week. The Sunset Limited services between Los Angeles and Orlando but does not possess a solid reputation for arriving on time. The station’s surrounding area leans towards the seedy side. Stemming your walking radius is recommended.

By Car
Driving options into downtown are many, highlighted by Interstate 610 (I-610). Better known as the loop it completely surrounds Houston’s outer rim, making it a good choice for bypassing rush hour situations. Interstate 10 (I-10) accesses downtown from an east/west direction. And Interstate 45 (I-45) runs north/south, making it the popular route for drivers traveling from Dallas.

Getting Around

Because of Houston’s staggering sprawl a car is necessary. Its web of Interstates give Houston the stunning distinction of being one of the very few cities in the last ten years to see traffic congestion subside, making it easy to negotiate even for visitors who loathe city driving. However, Houston’s strange need to pin two and three names to its Interstate system creates confusion. Interstate 45, for example, goes by North Freeway to the north, Gulf Freeway to the south, and the Pierce Elevated through downtown. Your best bet is to disregard the names and only pay attention to the Interstate numbers.

Public Transit
The METRO (+1 713 635 4000 / http://www.ridemetro.org) services all of Houston via 100 bus lines. Geared towards weekday commuters service extends as far north as the Bush Intercontinental Airport and as far south as Clear Lake near Galveston Bay. On weekends, however, service is far more limited in range. Call ahead for further details.

The Metro Trolley (+1 713 635 4000) offers free transportation in the downtown area only. Trolleys pass every 12 minutes.

The Uptown Shuttle (+1 713 621 2011 / http://www.uptown-houston.com/), a bus decorated as a trolley car, provides free service up and down Houston’s famed Post Oak Boulevard. It stops at or near most of the strip’s popular restaurants and shops.

Taxis are quick, but pricey. Charges are heavy for every mile. So, check before you get into one.

A1 Hidalgo Cab (+1 281 706 0094/ http://www.hidalgocab.com/) Yellow Cab Services (+1 713 224 4445 / http://www.yellowcabhouston.com) A1 Houston Taxi (+1 713 722 8888 / http://www.a1houstontaxi.com)

Thanks to Houston’s ambitious Bikeway Program (http://www.houstonbikeways.org) the city provides around 227 miles of bike paths and on-street bike lanes.

Traffic Information
To find out city traffic information go to http://www.traffic.com/

If traveling overseas, take the safety precaution of registering your trip at https://travelregistration.state.gov and for helpful, practical advice about traveling technicalities and safety standards check out http://travel.state.gov/