Houston Downtown Walking Tours

We offer 3 different walking tours.  Each of them covers a different area and has a specialty or theme.  Each will spend time pointing out the architectural features, architects, history, usage of buildings, and history of Houston.  These tours involve walking between 1.5 to 3.0 miles/2.4 to 4.8 kilometers.

The tunnels, skybridges, and observation decks are only open Monday through Friday from approximately 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM.  We can conduct tours on weekends, but without access to the tunnels, skybridges, and observation decks.

These tours have the letters D, E, and F to distinguish them from Tunnel Tours A, B, and C.  Please go to our Tunnel Tour page to read more about these other great options.

Tour D is a combination tour that spends time both in tunnels and outside.

Tours E and F are outside.

Notes


Select the tour that sounds best to you.


 

For prices of these tours, click here. Note that you will require the free Adobe Reader in order to read these pricing documents. You can download the latest version of this software by clicking this link.


Days of the Week for These Tours:
Tour D can only be conducted on Monday through Friday as the buildings, tunnels, and observation decks are closed on weekends.  Tour D can only be conducted from October through March.

Tours E and F can be conducted everyday from October through March.

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Time of Year for These Tours:
Because of the extreme heat and humidity that Houston enjoys/endures, these walking tours are only conducted from October through March.  We used to conduct these tours in April through 2017, but due to the increase in the temperatures, we have reduced the window for these tours to 6 months of the year.  When one is sweating profusely, your eyes are stinging from perspiration, your hair is matted, and your clothes are clinging to you, being outside may not seem too comfortable.  These tours will not be conducted during inclement weather, also.

For exclusive tunnel tours that are conducted throughout the year, please read about the three (3) options that are identified on the Tunnel Tours page and the three (3) options on the Texas Medical Center Walking Tours page.

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Beginning and Ending Location:
All of the downtown daytime walking tours begin and end in the rotunda of City Hall, located at 901 Bagby Street, Houston Texas 77002.  If an event is taking place, the tour will begin either outside of City Hall on the east side of the building where the reflecting pool is located or outside the Jesse H. Jones Central Library at 500 McKinney Street, Houston, Texas 77002, across the street from City Hall.

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Entering City Hall:
One can enter City Hall from either the west side Bagby Street entrance and go through a security check or from the east side by the reflecting pool and avoid security.  One can also enter City Hall from the basement through a tunnel from a parking lot and go through security, possibly twice. 

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Starting Time:
Tours normally start at 10:00 AM, but because these are relatively short tours, we can be flexible.

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Tour Length:
Each tour is 2.5 hours or 3.5 hours with a stop for lunch.

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Walking:
The walking is leisurely. We will cover between 1.5 to 3.0 miles or about 2.4 to 4.8 kilometers.

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We covered topics of architecture (styles, materials, designs, and periods) and architects, history, art, race and bigotry, businesses, usage, housing patterns, science with heat, cold, and ventilation, illumination, ventilation, population, mass transit, and people.

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Parking:
Metered street parking is available on Walker Street on the north side of City Hall and Metered street parking is available on Walker Street on the north side of City Hall and McKinney Street on the south side of City Hall.  Underground parking is available beneath Tranquility Park via Rusk Street between Bagby Street and Smith Street on the north side of City Hall.  Use a fictitious address of 510 Rusk Street in a GPS to find the entrance.  One can also park in the parking garage behind the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (HCFPA) that is diagonally located at 800 Bagby Street, Houston, Texas 77002.  The closest parking entrance is on Walker Street between Bagby Street and I-45.  Use a fictitious address of roughly 620 Walker Street in a GPS to find this entrance.

Use a fictitious address of 245 Walker Street, Houston, Texas 77002 to park in the above ground parking lot behind the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.  The parking entrance is on Walker Street, not Bagby Street.

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Bathrooms:
Bathrooms in the tunnels are generally NOT open to the public.  Use a bathroom before beginning the tour.  We may walk 1.0 to 1.5 hours before a bathroom will be available.  Public bathrooms are available in City Hall’s basement and in the libraries on McKinney Street, across from City Hall.

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Clothing:
Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a sweater if you become cold easily. Some tunnels have excellent ventilation.

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Photography:
Bring a camera if you like to take photos. However, one cannot take photos in banks or the One Shell Plaza building.

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Decorum/Behavior:
Proper decorum is expected in professional buildings.  Large groups should walk in pairs and stay to the right so other people can pass from behind and from the opposite direction.  Private conversations should remain private.  If people are going to talk amongst themselves, they should do so quietly, so as to not disrupt others, and to allow for other members to hear the tour guide.

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Notes for School and Camp Groups:
For school and camp groups, the ratio of chaperones to students should be at least 1:10.  Ideally, the ratio should be 1:5.  At least one week in advance, the school or camp should provide Houston Historical Tours, via email or fax, a list of all of the chaperones and the cellular telephone numbers where they can be reached on the day of the tour.  We only conduct tours for schools and camps when they provide sufficient and trained supervision for the safety of the children with minimal disruptions in the buildings and public areas that we occupy.  If a school or camp group does not provide chaperone names and telephone numbers and or sufficient chaperones, the tour may not take place and the school or camp will forfeit the deposit.

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Chaperones and Teachers:
Chaperones and teachers are supposed to serve the function of supervision, guidance, and discipline of students.  To that extent, they should be trained and knowledgeable of their responsibilities.  They are to be spread out amongst the students.  With the exception of the caboose, their cellular telephones should be turned off.  One chaperone or teacher should be in every elevator with students and check the bathrooms when used.  They should know the names and have a list of the specific students for whom they are responsible.  As a courtesy from Houston Historical Tours, chaperones and teachers are FREE.  They do not have to pay.  As such, they also do not count toward the total number of students in a school group.  For example, if a school has 18 students + 3 chaperones = 21, the school is paying at the appropriate rate for 18 people.

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Group Sizes:
The ideal group has less than 10 people.  A walking tour only moves as fast as the slowest person.  The larger the group, the less ground that can be covered, or the tour needs to be extended.  More time is spent waiting for people to use bathrooms, asking questions, and waiting for the slowpokes to catch up.  Please be understanding.  Also, the security personnel for observation decks generally do not allow more than 25 people at a time.  Thus, larger groups may have to go in shifts to the observation deck and spend time waiting for the observation deck to ready for us to go up.  We can also delete going to the observation deck to save time.  The maximum number of people on a walking tour should be 49.  The tunnels and observation decks can only accommodate so many people at a time.  Talking to a large group outside will result in problems for people who cannot hear what is being said with other distractions. 

If you have 20 or more people in your group and you want to have the full tour, you will need to plan for 3.5 hours or 4.5 if you include a stop for lunch.

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Groups of 10 or more people should stay to the right and walk in columns of two inside the tunnels.  This will allow for the free movement of other walkers in each direction.  Chaperones and teachers should be spread out and keep the students in the columns.

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Escalators and Elevators:
Tour D has both escalators and elevators.  If you have a fear or phobia of either of these, do not go on this tour.

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Physical Condition:
Not all tunnels are American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible.  Buildings from before 1990, when the ADA was passed, were grandfathered.  Some escalators are not wide.  Some minor climbing on staircases of about one dozen steps is included on all tours.  Tours C and D require more climbing of outdoor stairwells.  If one uses a cane, wheelchair, or walker, these tours are not appropriate.  Furthermore, if a person with a disability ignores this information and signs up for this tour and cannot complete it and or slows the tour for everyone else in a group, they will have made this a very unpleasant event.

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Tour D – This is the most popular walking tour of the outside downtown walking tours.  This is the most balanced tour of being outside and indoors.  The first half of the tour takes us southwest into Sam Houston Park.  We see 10 historical buildings ranging from 1823 to 1905. 
These buildings include:

  1. 1823 cabin,
  2. 1847 Kellum-Noble plantation style house,
  3. 1850 Nichols-Rice-Cherry home.  William Marsh Rice, the benefactor for Rice University, lived here.
  4. 1866 circa Fourth Ward cottage.
  5. 1868 Pillot home.
  6. 1868 San Felipe Cottage.  A Creole influence can be seen in this house.
  7. 1870 Victorian home of Jack Yates, the most important civil rights leader in Houston in the 1800s.
  8. 1891 St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran church. 
  9. 1893 circa children’s playhouse from the Baker family.
  10. 1905 Staiti house.
  11. We’ll walk through the reconstructed Duncan General Store from Egypt, Texas in 1878.  This is closed on Monday.

The second half of the tour goes through the underground Red Tunnel Loop.  It takes us under six different buildings, sidewalks, and streets by several restaurants, the observation decks on the 59th and 58th floors of the Wells Fargo Plaza, and the Julia B. Ideson Library from 1924 that is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Ideson Library is currently closed on Sunday and Friday. 

As written in the introduction above, this tour can only be conducted Monday through Friday as the tunnels and observation deck are closed on weekends.

Normal Lunch Stops:  One of the restaurants in the tunnel or barbecue at a cafeteria that is at ground level.  You will smell the aroma on the city street as we approach the BBQ.

NOTE:  If one would like to include a fuller tour of the tunnel system that will include going through a number of skybridges also and crossing downtown east and west with a lunch stop at the food court at the Shops at Houston Center, add 2 more hours for a 4.5 hour tour for 1 to 19 people or a 5.5 hour tour for 20 or more people.

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Tour E – This tour focuses on historic buildings of Houston’s first 100 years of 1836 to 1936.  It is mostly an outdoor walk.  It is largely along Main and Travis streets and Congress, Commerce, and Franklin streets.  Most of the tour is north of Texas Street.  This tour goes into a few tunnels, but it does not have to utilize the tunnels.  When available, we will go into buildings.
These buildings include:

  1. 1849 – 1901 Donnellan Crypt.  Four people were buried in downtown Houston at this site.
  2. 1860 Kennedy Bakery and today La Carafe.  This was the site of a whorehouse in the 1830s and 1840s.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  3. 1861 Baker-Travis Building and today Treebeard’s.
  4. 1884 and 1907 Houston Cotton Exchange Building.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  5. 1889 Sweeney and Coombs Jewelry store.  It looks like a cave.
  6. 1893 Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral with a Tiffany stained-glass window.
  7. 1893 Kiam Building that was later home to Mia Bella Trattoria.
  8. 1903 circa Desel-Boettcher Warehouse, and since 1973, it has been the Spaghetti Warehouse, which is said to be haunted.
  9. 1904 Commercial Bank Building and now an office building.
  10. 1905 The Corinthian, later First National Bank, and today The Franklin Lofts.
  11. 1909 Scanlon Building.  This was the site of the White House of Texas in the 1830s.
  12. 1910 Samuel F. Carter Building and since 2014, it has been the JW Marriott Houston Downtown Hotel.  This is one of the few buildings south of Texas Street. 
  13. 1911 Union National Bank, and today the Hotel Icon.
  14. 1912 Magnolia Brewery, and since 1987 it has been The Brewery Tap.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  15. 1913 Rice Hotel and since 1998 it has been the Post Rice Lofts.
  16. 1913 remnants of the old Cotton Hotel, later The Montagu Hotel.  Bulldozed in 2008.  This is only available on weekdays.
  17. 1921 Hogg Palace.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  18. 1922 State National Bank.
  19. 1926 Ritz Theater, and today the Majestic Metro rental facility.
  20. 1928 Houston National Bank Building, and since 2002 it has been the Islamic Da’wah Center or mosque.
  21. 1983 Bank of America Center.  Philip Johnson (1906 – 2005) designed this building.  Time permitting and on weekdays only.

Parks on this tour include:

  1. Allen’s Landing.
  2. Market Square Park. 

Allen’s Landing is where the Allen family first landed to found Houston in August 1836 and Market Square Park is where the first four city halls were located from 1841 to 1939.  Market Square Park has several works of art in it.
Miscellaneous other sites include the 1876 fire bell and 1904 City Hall clock. 

Normal Lunch Stops:  The Spaghetti Warehouse, Niko Niko’s, Barnaby’s Café at Market Square, Treebeards on Market Square or Treebeards in Christchurch Episcopal Cathedral, or the Market Square Bar & Grill.

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Tour F – This is an exclusively outdoor walk.  It goes north by northwest and then northeast.  It focuses on Buffalo Bayou, parks, plazas, entertainment venues, high culture, and several statues.  We start by walking along the river walk and see artificial waterfalls. 
The parks and plazas that we visit include:

  1. Buffalo Bayou Park.
  2. Tranquility Park.
  3. Sesquicentennial Park.
  4. Fish Plaza.
  5. Jones Plaza.

We walk by the Downtown Aquarium and Bayou Place, where the only Hard Rock Cafe is located in Houston. 
The theaters that we walk by and sometimes into include:

  1. The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, home of our off-Broadway musicals.
  2. The Wortham Theater Center, where the ballet and opera perform.
  3. The Houston Ballet Center for Dance.
  4. The Alley Theatre, the largest venue for locally produced plays.
  5. Jones Hall, home of the world-famous symphony. 
  6. The live theater in Bayou Place.

Statues include:

  1. “In Minds” by Tony Cragg.
  2. George Herbert Walker Bush.
  3. James Baker, III.
  4. Virtuoso.

Normal Lunch Stops:  The Hard Rock Café, The Blue Fish Bayou (Japanese sushi and sashimi), Little Napoli Italian Cuisine, the Downtown Aquarium, Padthai Thai Restaurant, or Birraporetti’s.

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