15 Totally Free Things to Do in Houston

Watch the bats, admire world-class art, get outdoors, and more.

With a population of nearly 2.3 million and 640-plus square miles to cover, you’d think spending some time in one the nation’s biggest cities would cost a pretty penny. But if you work it right, you can actually spend zero pretty pennies, and zero ugly ones, too. There’s a wealth of totally free, totally fun ways to get your Houston jollies, from transformative garden strolls and gratis movie nights to super cool one-of-a-kind experiences featuring things like LED lights, captivating art, and bats. Here’s how to have a zero cost good time in Houston.

The Menil Collection | The Menil Collection

Deepening your understanding of the world through art, history, culture, and science is worth any penny you may spend on it, but sometimes, you don’t have to spend a single one. Many of the Houston Museum District’s finest institutions—from Museum of Fine Arts Houston and The Menil Collection to the Houston Zoooffer free days, and some are free all the time (though many also accept and appreciate donations).

Shuttershock | IrinaK

True story. Many nights (usually when the temperature is above 50 and it's not raining), you’ll find around 200,000+ Mexican free-trailed bats spiraling out from underneath the Waugh Bridge. Locals started noticing them years back, and while the bats have seen some hard times due to hurricanes and winter freezes, the colony remains strong. Show up at the viewing platform at the southeast corner of the Waugh bridge along Allen Parkway just before sunset and you’ll likely catch a show.

Getty Images | Buffalo Bayou Park

Bike the city’s many awesome trails

Okay, so you have to have a bike for this to be totally free. If not, you can check out rentals at one of our local bike shops or rent a BCycle. Once you do secure some wheels, the city’s renovated hike and bike trails are a wonder, including the Heights Hike & Bike Trail, Brays Bayou, White Oak, and Buffalo Bayou Trails, and Terry Hershey Park, for starters.

Project Row
Project Row Houses | Project Row Houses

Twice a year (in March and October) in one of the city’s oldest African-American neighborhoods—Houston’s historic Third Ward, seven row houses are transformed into thought-provoking installations by visiting artists and collectives. Each art house touches on cultural identity, addressing a challenge or topic facing the community, and its impact on the urban landscape. Installation rounds run around four months, and while installed, the art houses are open to the public Wednesday - Sunday from noon to 5 pm.

Miller Outdoor Theatre | Miller Outdoor Theatre

The free seasonal programming at this Hermann Park amphitheater is a Houston bucket list item for sure. Usually starting in the spring and running through fall, the theater hosts an array of concerts and shows from the Houston Symphony and Shakespeare to classic films, musical theatre, and jazz. Pack a picnic and enjoy the entertainment from the hill, or score some free covered seating ahead of time.

Historic Market Square
Historic Market Square Houston | Historic Market Square Houston

Break a sweat with a free fitness class

Sunrise yoga. Zumba on the green. Parkour. Whatever your preferred way to break a sweat, you can likely find a free version of it at one of Houston’s many parks. There’s open to the public programs at Discovery Green, Levy Park, Midtown Park, Sugar Land Town Square. And if you can’t find one that suits your schedule, there’s always ol’ reliable—Memorial Park’s three-mile running loop.

Houston Dairymaids | Houston Dairymaids

Speaking of picnics… The local cheese gurus over at Houston Dairymaids offer a free five-cheese tasting every damn day it is open. While it’s true there is no charge to taste, something tells us you’ll be opening that wallet to purchase some cheese, and maybe some cheese-friendly wines and accompaniments.

James Turrell
Rice University | James Turrell Skyspace

Over by the Shepherd School of Music on Rice Campus lies an epic blend of art and sound, James Turrell's sensational Twilight Epiphany Skyspace. Composed of concrete, stone, composite steel, and grass, the architectural stunner is acoustically engineered and equipped with super cool LED lights that project a sequence onto the ceiling and through an aperture. The visuals go down around 40 minutes before sunrise and 10 minutes before sunset, and it’s totally free to experience (just be sure to show up early and grab a seat).

Historic Market Square
Historic Market Square Houston | Historic Market Square Houston

Watch classics and blockbuster films without buying a ticket

Both Discovery Green and Market Square Park host open to the public movie nights under the stars (Market Square does seasonal Bingo nights, too). Plus, a bunch of Houston bars and breweries have been known to rock free movie screenings, including drink fueled fun zones Axelrad, Eureka Heights Brewing Co, and Social Beer Garden.

Getty Images | Hermann Park

Explore Houston’s many, many parks and gardens

Houston’s got a lot of parks, so we’ll give you a head start. You’ll definitely want to hit big guns like Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park, and its Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. There's also Hermann Park and its Japanese Garden and McGovern Centennial Gardens. Looking to get some steps in? There’s these totally underrated nearby hikes and most beautiful runs in Houston.

Johnny Steele Dog Park | Johnny Steele Dog Park

Over in Buffalo Bayou Park, the two-acre Johnny Steele Dog Park is a pup’s dream. Bring your best pal and let ‘em run amok among the other dogs, or just pop by on your run to get in some puppy watching. Other totally free and totally fun attractions in the park include a skate park, public art installations, and sand volleyball court.

Rothko Chapel | Rothko Chapel

Those who need serenity now can find it with a visit to the total zen zone, Rothko Chapel, over on Menil Campus (which is also free and worth an exploration). Created by American artist Mark Rothko, the tranquil, sacred space dubs itself “a sanctuary for the seeker,” inviting all walks of life to find the beauty in the quiet disruption of murals and darkness. Outside the space, Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk soars over a reflecting pool, the sculpture a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Person Speaking at Rudyard's
Rudyard's | Rudyard's

Every Monday night, local comedy vets and newcomers hit the stage to either totally kill it or shamelessly bomb while working their material. The beer may not be free, but the laughs are. Doors open at 7:30 pm and the show starts at 8 pm.

Getty Images | Galveston, Texas

Galveston Island’s 32-miles of Texas coastline are open to you at no charge anytime of year. There’s the booze welcome East Beach at the island’s far eastern tip, family-friendly Stewart Beach over by where Broadway meets the Seawall, and the quieter West End Pocket Parks, for starters. The 2000-plus acre Galveston Island State Park is worth a visit, too.

Arts District
Arts District Houston | Arts District Houston

Your Instagram cup will runneth over with good material after your mural, graffiti, and art tour of the city. Head to the Arts District Houston and you’ll find an entire Art Alley. The Houston is Inspired graffiti wall by local artist Gonzo247 is a bucket list shot in Downtown. Nearby, Discovery Green plays home to a number of awesome art installations. White Oak’s got a whole bunch of fun ones. And over by the East End, Smither Park’s got funky mosaic sculptures by the dozen.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston writer who feels like she just saved herself a bunch of money. Find her @BrookeViggiano on Twitter, @brookiefafa on IG, or tasting cheese at Houston Dairymaids.