The biggest city in Texas is also big on choices for visitors, writes Leila George

NASA

The crown jewel of the city, Nasa is how Houston got its name as the Astro City. Head to the Johnson Space Centre for a taste of outer space - it's not just a tourist attraction, astronauts are still trained there and it's where Mission Control is based. Visitors can see the old one and the new one, which runs the International Space Station. As well as historical artefacts, the centre has a varied schedule of events and exhibits - kids will love the Star Wars exhibits.

The centre also puts on regular "Lunch With an Astronaut" events for small groups - they have some amazing stories to tell. Be sure to book, as numbers are limited.

SHOPPING

Houston is a moneyed city, which means the shopping is great. Consistently recommended is the Galleria mega-mall, which includes 400 shops and dozens of restaurants. It's the largest mall in Texas, which means it's really, really big - Texas takes big to the next level. A bit of window shopping could easily turn into a full-day excursion.

And once you've been in the Houston heat for a while, you'll really appreciate the air conditioning and the ice skating rink inside.

Or if your tastes skew more towards the retro, 19th St in the Heights is where to go. The area has plenty of eclectic shops to explore, selling all sorts of vintage goodies.

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DOWNTOWN TUNNELS

Nearly 10km of air-conditioned tunnels, six metres underground, connect 95 blocks of Houston's downtown shopping area - known simply by locals as "The Tunnel". Before you head below ground, make sure you have a really in-depth map, as it's easy for visitors to get lost in this maze. Better yet, several companies offer guided tours of the tunnels - a great way to get your bearings before exploring solo.

HOUSTON MUSEUM DISTRICT

For culture-lovers, Houston has kindly placed 19 museums and galleries in one easily accessed district - although it does require some planning and dodging of school groups.
There's everything from the Houston Zoo to the Health Museum to explore and many attractions are free. If you have only an hour to spare, the Menil Collection is a particular highlight. This private, diverse art collection includes works by Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.

MAJOR SPORTS

Houston is a city that takes sports seriously, so if you're keen to see some live action, there are plenty of options. Houston's home teams include the Houston Texans (NFL), the Houston Astros (MLB) and the Houston Rockets (NBA). Catch the Texans at the NRG Stadium, which hosted this year's Super Bowl, or see the Rockets downtown at Toyota Stadium. Also close to the city centre is Minute Maid Park, home to the Astros. And if you can't make it to the stadiums, Houston has plenty of sports bars. visithoustontexas.com

GREEN SPACES

Despite its skyscraper-filled landscape, Houston has several green oases to stroll through. Discovery Green, Houston's version of Central Park, sits smack in the middle of downtown. Hundreds of free events take place here each year including movie screenings, concerts and festivals.

Near Memorial Park is the Houston Arboretum and Nature Centre, which offers educational activities including classes on orchid-growing and bird-watching. The park contains more than 8km of nature trails through forests, wetlands and lush meadows.
houstontx.gov/parks
CHECKLIST
Getting there
House of Travel has one-way flights with Air New Zealand starting from $699. A three-night accommodation add-on starts at $399pp, twin-share.