Houston CityPASS – Experience 5 Amazing Attractions

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Visiting any city around the world can be a daunting prospect and this is especially the case when you take a trip to the fourth largest metropolis in USA. Experiencing Houston, Texas over a holiday weekend requires planning and efficient time management. Throw into this weekend getaway our desire to visit San Antonio (almost 3 hours away) and you really have a hectic schedule planned.

Let me introduce our saving grace for this weekend trip – the Houston CityPASS! We were delighted to partner with the Visit Houston tourism board who provided us with an abundance of valuable information on places to stay, places to eat but most importantly the top attractions throughout the city.

houston citypass

Purchasing a CityPASS in one of the various cities where this is available offers tourists the opportunities to experience some of the key attractions.

Houston CityPASS

The Houston CityPASS offers visitors entry to the following attractions:

  • SPACE CENTER HOUSTON
  • DOWNTOWN AQUARIUM
  • HOUSTON MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCE
  • HOUSTON ZOO or KEMAH BOARDWALK
  • THE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF HOUSTON or MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, HOUSTON

As you can see, purchasing a CityPASS in Houston provides entry to 5 of the main attractions in and around the city. For only $49 for adults and $39 for children, this is an absolute steal with the savings on offer!

If experiencing Houston during a weekend getaway is a little too hectic for you, the beauty of the Houston CityPASS is the flexibility it offers, as it provides you with nine consecutive days to visit each of the attractions from the first day of use.

Not only do you receive tickets to the aforementioned attractions, you also receive a map of the Houston area that details exactly where the attractions are located (along with public transportation options) and additional coupons to add to your savings while exploring Space City!

One of the key benefits of being a CityPASS holder when visiting attractions is that you are able to bypass the long waiting lines for tickets and generally are treated as VIP guests which is an added bonus.

Our trip to Houston saw us opt for the following 5 attractions which we were able to experience.

Downtown Aquarium

After collecting our CityPASS booklets, we decided to visit the Downtown Aquarium first early Saturday morning to hopefully beat the rush of tourists and locals experiencing this popular spot on a holiday weekend.

Approaching the Aquarium our first hurdle to overcome was parking. On-site parking is offered at the attraction and you can either valet for $9 or self-park for $8 which may seem a little expensive for one attraction, but given that you can park here all day it’s actually a pretty reasonable deal.

houston citypass

I will be perfectly honest that I was a little disappointed by the Aquarium. I have been to a couple of others before around the world and this was a little small in comparison to others I have visited. However, as a family attraction this is worth experiencing especially if you are visiting with kids as there are plenty of exhibits to keep you interested.

I enjoyed how the self-guided tour was broken down into separate areas, each with different names to represent the animals within the section. For example, wandering through the Louisiana Swamp offers bullfrogs, alligators and snapping turtles while the Shipwreck exhibit is home to octopus, eels and a myriad of fish species.

houston citypass

As we walked through the Rainforest exhibit, we were treated to a live show from a parrot alongside one of the Aquarium’s bird trainers. I have to say though that the best part of the experience was entering Maharaja’s Temple, home of a white tiger. I am still trying to figure out exactly how this is related to an aquarium but regardless it was an awesome sight and well worth the admission alone!

Finally, the Stingray Reef concludes your journey through the Aquarium and here you can touch and feed live stingrays.

Overall Rating – 7 out of 10 (A little small but the white tiger and stingray experience make this a worthwhile adventure)

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Located about 3 miles from the Aquarium is the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston which is a completely different experience yet fascinating in it’s own right. I will be the first to admit that I am not an art critic and generally find art museums to be relatively boring. However, I can honestly say that our experience here was very positive and certainly worthwhile.

After visiting the Louvre in Paris, it’s sometimes difficult to compare the smaller art museums but the expansive collection of exhibits on offer here in Houston made this a memorable experience.

houston citypass

Parking is limited but there is a parking garage available for $6 if you are visiting the Museum of Fine Arts and again you can stay here as long as you want to! Given the museum’s close proximity to some of the other CityPASS attractions, this may well be a good spot to park your vehicle (if you are not using public transportation).

The Museum is divided across three floors, each with a variety of exhibits on offer. Consider your personal interests before determining which exhibits you want to spend most time on. Our experience saw us spend more time in the temporary Charles Marville, Photographer of Paris exhibit before moving to some of the geographical and cultural exhibits from around the world.

houston citypass

The Arts of India and other Asian exhbits provided an insight into the life and times of the Eastern empires but the main highlight for us was the Soto: Houston Penetrable located in the Cullinan Hall. 24,000 hand painted PVC tubes hang down from the ceiling of this hall and provide a great interactive opportunity to take selfies among the maze of tubes.

Unfortunately this was yet another temporary exhibit that was only avaiable through September 1 but if you get to experience any more of Soto’s work, I would highly recommend it.

Overall Rating – 8 out of 10 (The Houston Penetrable was AMAZING but many of the other permanent exhibits were worthwhile to immerse yourself in the history of art and geographical regions of the world)

Houston Museum of Natural Science

Having visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, I was looking forward to experiencing the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We were able to walk there from the Museum of Fine Arts but the first thing we noticed entering the museum was the vast number of people waiting to gain entry. The ticket lines were unbelievable and I am not exagerating that the wait times were likely well over a hour before getting admission into the actual exhibits.

As I mentioned earlier, as CityPASS holders we were able to bypass some of the longer lines and head to the will-call windows which were still pretty busy and apparently we should have gone through the corporate/member line instead (miscommunication on the museum employees part).

houston citypass

There are a variety of attractions at the Museum of Natural Science, some of which are included in the base ticket provided by the CityPASS but others that are added costs should you wish to see them. As with most museums, there are permanent exhibits along with special, seasonal displays. We visited during the Shark! season which gives you the opportunity to touch live sharks! A pretty cool experience I am sure but given the wait time was about 3 hours for this, we opted against this.

The Wortham Giant Screen Theatre offers a 4k digital experience with advanced 3D technology and a variety of shows are on display here. In addition, if you prefer the more relaxing Planetarium or Butterfly Center, you can purchase tickets for these also.

houston citypass

My favorite experience was in the Wiess Energy Hall where you can learn about the processes of energy development, from the drilling of oil wells to the various ways energy is used. The ‘Geovator’ is a simulator that takes you on an interactive experience down an oil well and explains the various stages in oil production.

The Morian Hall of Paleontology was also really insightful as it took you through the various pre-historic periods to the current day and provided a number of exhibits highlighting the various transitions from dinosaur to current day humans.

houston citypass

You could certainly spend several hours in the Houston Museum of Natural Science and leave with a plethora of knowledge in this domain. I would certainly love to back here and spend some more time to really enhance the overall experience.

Overall Rating – 8 out of 10 (The permanent exhibits are really cool but it was disappointing that the wait times for the temporary exhibits prevented us from experiencing them)

Space Center Houston

The attraction I was most looking forward to was Space Center Houston which is the official visitor center to the active Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Part of the NASA group of active space centers, the location in Houston is about 30 minutes south-east of the downtown metroplis.

We opted for a late afternoon visit to the Space Center and after spending a couple of hours here we headed down to Galveston for the evening which is only another 30 minutes from there and highly recommended if you want to take a break from the city lifestyle for a few hours.

houston citypass

There are really two main parts to the Space Center Houston experience. The first is encapsulated in the actual visitor center and provides a variety of interactive experiences that you can participate in along with learning about the history of space exploration. The second which I have to admit was my favorite is the NASA Tram Tour which takes you around the grounds of the active space center.

houston citypass

There are a couple of tour options available, one that takes you to Mission Control and the other which we opted for takes you through the astronaut training process. Both tours culminate at Rocket Park, home to the legendary Saturn V rocket.

Overall Rating – 9 out of 10 (Highly recommend taking one or both of the tram tours if time permits! The interactive visitor center offers plenty for all the family to embrace your learning of space exploration)

Houston Zoo

After completing all of the first four attractions on our first day, we saved Houston Zoo until our final day prior to heading home. Parking at the zoo is free which is always an added bonus and a short walk through Hermann Park takes you to the entrance.

You will really see the benefits of pre-ordering the CityPASS as you are able to skip directly past all the ticket lines and go through the main entrance. I would highly recommend grabbing a map of the zoo because it can be difficult to navigate you way around ensuring you don’t miss any of the animals.

houston citypass zoo

Some of our favorite exhibits included the elephants and giraffes which both provided easy access for viewing. I tend to compare a lot of zoos with our experience at St. Louis Zoo which is still my favorite here in USA, probably because it is free and the exhibits are well designed for visitors to see the animals in near natural habitats.

houston citypass

Houston Zoo offers a fun-filled family adventure with plenty of animal species to keep you interested.

Overall Rating – 8 out of 10 (A wide variety of animals on show made this a great experience but disappointed that it didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor to really make this zoo stand out among others)

Summary

There you have our weekend getaway experience with the CityPASS attractions in Houston. As you can see from the list at the top of the post, there are a couple of other options available such as the Kemah Boardwalk which gives you free access to theme park rides for a day (with a few exceptions) and The Children’s Museum of Houston.

Our recommendation is do you research prior to heading to Houston and decide exactly which attractions you want to visit. We proved that you can explore all five in a weekend but if time permits I would highly recommend taking more time in certain spots to really enhance your experience.

Disclaimer – We would like to thank Visit Houston for providing us with 2 CityPASS booklets for our trip.These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post. 

Weekend Wanderlust


41 COMMENTS

  1. I would love to go to the space centre – awesome! We got the city pass for NYC for 2 days and it let us go anywhere on a very long list. I think it is a great idea as it means that it isn’t necessary to think about the cost of spending 30mins here and 30mins there and it also opens up places that you probably wouldn’t normally think about visiting! Very clever! I thought it would be useful if they could be topped up for metro too a bit like an oyster card in the UK – as the public transport bit is always the most challenging thing about visiting a new city!

    • Those 30 minutes here and there soon add up don’t they Anna! I definitely agree that adding a public transportation option into the Metro cards would be a great idea for CityPASS, perhaps this is something that we could recommend to them because especially in NYC walking and taking the Metro is really the only way to get around Manhattan.

  2. Wow, those long horns are really long, amazing! This looks like great value for visiting Houston, I had no idea there were so many world class attractions to see there.

    • The beauty of Houston Zoo Noel was the ability to get up close and personal with many of the animals and really allowed us to take some great shots (stay tuned for more pictures from this experience as we have way too many to share on this post!) I think cities like Houston rarely get the tourism coverage they deserve despite being the 4th largest in the States. Perhaps this is because they don’t attract as many tourists as the likes of NYC or San Francisco, but there really is a great variety of attractions there worth experiencing.

    • You hit the nail on the head Kate with your two points as to the key benefits of the CityPASS! I would also add that the CityPASS provides a great, diverse selection of attractions in different locations around the States (and Canada now I believe!) so it makes it easy to decide on spots you want to visit when sometimes it can be difficult to choose where you want to explore.

  3. I am a big fan of CityPASS! Two of my college friends came to visit me in Chicago and we used CityPASSes to see and do so much. We all had a blast and I got to be a tourist in my hometown. It definitely saved us a ton of time and money!

    • Nothing like being a tourist in your hometown Francesca 🙂 I bet that was a really cool experience! We all too frequently take our hometown for granted so actually getting out there and experiencing some of the Windy City attractions for yourself was probably a really eye opening experience. WE LOVE CHICAGO by the way 🙂

  4. The pass sounds like a great idea! We always use that sort of thing when we’re doing city breaks, they save so much money and make it all a lot easier don’t they. I’d love to visit the space centre one day, looks awesome.

    • The Houston Space Center was top of my list the moment we decided to head to Houston for the Labor Day weekend. I really want to visit the JFK Space Center in Orlando but the Johnson Space Center was a great alternative. These passes are great for weekend breaks or longer vacations, as you certainly see the benefits in cost savings!

  5. We have used CityPass before in Chicago and just recently in our hometown of Toronto – it’s a great way to save time and money if you plan to see those attractions anyway! I would love to be able to do some sightseeing in Houston. We stayed overnight at an airport hotel there before a cruise out of Galveston but our flight had been delayed which didn’t leave us time for exploring. Will have to return!

    • We didn’t spend very long in Galveston aside from walking along the beach for a while and along one of the stone piers. It was dusk but really cool to see the sun setting near the ocean (you don’t get to experience that too often living in Arkansas!)

      Definitely recommend heading to downtown Houston and taking advantage of the CityPASS – you won’t be disappointed especially with the great collection of attractions available.

    • The CityPASS is a great concept! There is nothing worse than heading somewhere and then having to wait hours in line to see some of the major tourist attractions in the area. Plus the cost savings is huge also, especially if you are heading somewhere with the family.

    • Cheers Cat! Of course there is plenty more to do in Houston outside of these attractions but these are certainly a good place to start especially if you have never been there before.

  6. Great post! It makes sightseeing so much easier in a new (to you) place when you have a pass like this. Half the research is done for you, and what a great way to save money.

  7. Seeing the white tiger makes me want to go the Houston Aquarium and check it out in person. What a magnificent creature! This is a great post too..a big help for those who are planning to visit Houston. Thanks to the CityPass…an added convenience for the Houston first timers.

  8. Definitely love the idea of the city pass! Never really considered Houston as much of a tourist destination, but the Space Center seems like it would be a fascinating day out. Those long horns are quite majestic too!

  9. We have a similar pass in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It was a struggle to fit everything in over a short period of time. So, well done for visiting everywhere you did over the weekend.

  10. Great tips thank you. I would definitely visit the museums. The rest I’d have to check my mood first 🙂

  11. I like this idea, not so much for any cost savings but for the fact you know all of the key places to go to without having to think too much. And I agree I think my fave would be the energy hall. We have relatives in Texas, so I think we need to head over and check Houston out.

  12. $49 sounds like great value for all those attractions…

    What are those animals with the horns? Those look so heavy, it doesn’t look natural!

    I’d be keen to visit the Space Center Houston… I bet that was really interesting.

    • Come on Paul we are in Texas here – home of the Longhorns!! I believe it is actually a long horned bull but that’s what Texas is famous for. The University of Texas is nicknamed the Longhorns so that’s where it derives from. Impressive right!

      The Space Center in Houston was really cool, I would really like to experience the JFK Center in Orlando though as I think that would likely be even better.

    • It really is a bargain Sammi, it’s all about time management though with a pass like this and especially if you are only visiting over a weekend like we did!! Houston was a great experience as was San Antonio where we also ventured, so watch this space for upcoming posts on that!! We really enjoy visiting Texas, it’s a great state with a lot of cool attractions worth exploring!

  13. $49 is a pretty awesome price for a CityPass, I remember buying a CityPass in Canada, near the falls and it was way more expensive and not as worth it as it was for you. Maybe I can give CityPasses another try.

  14. That’s a pretty sweet deal, guys. We love visiting museums wherever we go, but I’ll admit I would love to check out the Space Center. My inner geek would have a field day… Good luck and safe travels!

  15. Houston has come a long way since my last visit there. Back then there were plans to transform the downtown area into a destination but those were just plans. It is great to see when a city actually steps up and makes it a reality…and for $49. That does seem like quite the steal.

  16. You had the bad luck of visiting The Houston Museum of Natural Science the same weekend the Shark! exhibit opened, which accounted for the long wait times. Usually it’s much quicker to get in (especially in September, after schools are back in session). I”m glad you enjoyed the permament exhibitions! I’ve worked there for three years now and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t seen everything, lol.

  17. Have you had any good experiences with City Passes in other countries? I’ve tried Amsterdam, and Berlin, and NYC, that’s about it. What about Museum Cards?

  18. I’m from Houston and I’ve never even heard of the city pass! Very cool. I LOVE the Space Center. No matter how many times I go, I always learn something new there. Plus, I LOVE astronaut ice cream. 😉

  19. Thanks for this Chris, I’ve got so much to explore in Houston. I’ll definitely purchase CityPASS for our visit. Thanks for sharing the first hand experience. Feels like going somewhere we’ve been to!

  20. Wow, I didn’t know that the Houston CityPASS offered so many attractions. I have lived in the San Antonio and Austin areas before, but I would love to visit Houston sometime. The low price of the tickets makes it an even more attractive option at $49 per ticket. Thanks for the info!

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