Houston Tunnels Tours

We offer 3 different downtown tunnel 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.

For exclusive or nearly exclusive downtown walking tours that are conducted only from October through April, please read about the three (3) options that are identified on the Downtown Walking Tour page.

General Information About the Tunnels

The Tours

We offer the following Houston Tunnels Tours. Select the tour that sounds best to you.

Note: You may also want to explore the walking tours that we offer of the Texas Medical Center. These tours can be conducted every day, not just weekdays, and in the evenings as well, not just between 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Click here for information about the walking tours we offer of the Texas Medical Center.


The following pictures were provided by Jennifer Zhang.

 

Downtown Tunnel Tour LoopTunnel Map.  The tunnels are, in theory, color coded.

Confusing Downtown Tunnel Tour Map

Looking at 4 different tunnel maps, see north pointing left, right, up, and down.  It can be confusing to be in the tunnels.


History: 

These tunnels began in the 1930s to connect private buildings with employee parking garages.  Initially, Ross Sterling connected two buildings that he owned.  Movie theater operator Will Horwitz connected 3 of his theaters through the tunnel system.  More tunnels were added for receiving and shipping goods, and moving freight and garbage.  In 1961, Bank of the Southwest was linked to the 1010 garage and the Mellie Esperson Building.  This was the beginning of opening the tunnels to the general public.  Underground passageways beneath Main Street were excavated in the 1970s.  They are a work in progress.  As new structures are erected, owners may decide to be connected to the tunnels.  As old structures are closed or torn down, such as the old Macy’s/Foley’s building, the tunnel passage may be closed temporarily until a new structure is erected or permanently

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Visual and Auditory (Sites and Sounds) Imagery:

These are probably the most clean and pristine tunnels open to the public in the United States.  They have waxed floors.  Some areas have marble walls and staircases.  Over 500 businesses and 10 food courts can be found in the tunnels while thousands of people work in subterranean Houston.  One cannot help but to be impressed and wonder why other cities have not achieved what Houston has.

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What, When, Where, and Why:

What
Houston has the largest collection of pedestrian tunnels in the world without a subway system. We have approximately 7 miles/11 kilometers of walking tunnels. Currently, some 95 blocks are connected.

 

When
We offer 3 different tunnel tours on Mondays through Fridays throughout the year.  The tunnels are open from approximately 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM.  None of these tunnels are open on weekends or major holidays. Our tours normally begin at 10:00 AM.  However, we can be flexible.

If you would like to go on a enclosed walking tour on the weekends or later in the day, please see our Texas Medical Center (TMC) Walking Tours.  We offer a variety of 3 different sets.

 

Where
They are located exclusively in downtown, but are not inclusive of all of downtown.  They primarily cover the west and central part of downtown.  Over 80 entrances exist to enter into the tunnel, yet most area not identified from the outside.  They are between 1.5 and 3 stories below the ground.

 

Why:
The weather, health, and efficiency. 

  • Escape the oppressive heat and humidity and inclement weather such as tropical storms and hurricanes.. 
  • Avoid the carbon monoxide of the vehicles on the street. 
  • Walk across downtown through the tunnels from west to east in 12 minutes that will take over 20 minutes at street level.

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What Else:

  • We start the tours with an introduction of between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the number of people and questions asked.  We will provide you with a history of the current and past city halls, identify what you can expect to see, what to look for in identifying the age of buildings and building renovations, and the issue of bathrooms.
  • We will show you a good location for photo opportunities for taking images of skyscrapers and or group photos.
  • We will NOT go to the JP Morgan observation deck on the 60th floor on Tour A.  The JP Morgan Chase Tower management closed it to the public indefinitely and without explanation on June 20, 2016.
  • We will walk through 3 skybridges/skywalks over the streets of downtown, including McKinney Street, Caroline Street, and San Jacinto Street and for small groups of 1 to 5 people to the Wells Fargo observation deck on the 59th and 58th floor on Tour B.
  • We normally go to the Heritage Plaza’s observation deck on the 12th floor as well as travel on the elevator to the 31st floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the Spindletop bar and restaurant is located on Tour C.  Spindletop is closed during the daytime.
  • We can provide you with underground tunnel maps.
  • You will receive narratives about the history of these buildings, businesses, people, art, and sites.
  • Cellular telephone reception is spotty.  Do not rely on a cellular telephone operating in the tunnels.

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Miscellaneous Other Tunnels:

Other unconnected downtown tunnels exist. These are generally not open to the public. These include the former Exxon Mobil/Humble building to its garage, the Courthouse District tunnels, and 1300 Main to the Travis Garage.

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Your Personal Achievements:

You will experience more of the tunnels than probably over 90% of all Houstonians.  Many Houstonians have heard about the tunnels, but have not been in them.  Basically two groups of people use the tunnels: 

  • Those employees who work downtown, and
  • Those people who come for the high culture at night. 

Neither employees or patrons of the arts have the time or opportunity to see as much of the tunnels as you will experience!

You will also achieve some good exercise by walking at a steady pace.  As a general rule, when walking on a flat surface without obstructions, a person walks at about 2 miles/3.2 kilometers per hour.  During the course of the walk we will cover about 3 to 5 miles/4.8 to 8 kilometers.  However, remember that a walking tour only moves as fast as the slowest person.  The larger the group – the slower the tour.  Also, remember that more people will have more questions that will take up more time.

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Myths to be Broken:

Have you ever heard people state that Houston homes cannot have basements because we are too close to water?  Think again about this bizarre claim when you are walking for miles far lower than any basement in a residential house.  Think again when you realize that we have 11 buildings with 50 or more floors; each one of these with a foundation that goes several feet and floors into the ground as a foundation.  Think again when you see 3 levels of underground parking for tens of thousands of vehicles. 

Each of the tunnel tours 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.  Each is 2.5 hours or 3.5 hours with a stop for lunch.  We walk between 3.0 and 5.0 miles on each tour.  A walking tour only moves as fast as the slowest person.  Thus, for groups of 10 or more or with slow walkers, we may cover a shorter distance and have to delete entering some buildings whose elevators and corridors do not easily accommodate large numbers.

These are not some kind of dungeon with leaking water pipes, sparks flying from exposed wires, the underground ruins of some earlier civilization, and rodents scurrying through stone and cement openings.  These are well-maintained, attractive, and efficient corridors and centers for and to businesses.

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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.

It has been our experience that about 25% of the people who contact us do not know what the word rotunda means.  As used here and by City Hall, it is the large more-or-less square, not round, central area that can be used for receptions.  It does not have a dome over it.  It is enclosed with controlled ventilation.

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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.  Let us know if you want to start at a different time.  Because the tour is usually a minimum of 2.5 hours, the latest that you might want to start and to be able to see everything is 3:30 PM as the tunnels are normally closed by 6:00 PM.  We can start after 3:30 PM, but the tour will be abridged.

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Tour Length:

Each tour is 2.5 hours or 3.5 hours with a stop for lunch for groups of 1 to 19 people.  Larger groups need to add one hour, lengthening the tour to either 3.5 hour without lunch or 4.5 hours with a lunch break if they want the full tour.  The more the people, the slower the movement.

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Walking:

The walking is leisurely.  We will cover between 2.0 to 3.5 miles or about 2.4 to 4.8 kilometers.  Tunnel Tour A has the least amount of walking.  Tunnel Tour C has the most amount of walking.

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Topics:

We covered topics of architecture (styles, materials, designs, and periods) and architects, history, art, race, ethnicity, 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 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.

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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. 

Have one person, preferably tall, responsible, and possibly with a cellular telephone, to serve as the sweep or caboose at the end of the pack.  The leader will look for this person to always be the last person and ensure that no one is left behind.

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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Walking in Tunnels:

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.


Escalators and Elevators:

All of these tours have escalators and elevators.  If you have a fear or phobia of either of these, do not go on these tours.

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Physical Condition and Warning:

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.

Select the tour that sounds best to you.

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Houston Tunnels Tour A

This tour focuses on historical buildings that are north of City Hall.  This tour has fewer buildings than Tours B and C, but we go into more buildings to see their intricately designed interiors than any other tour. This tour has the least amount of walking as we take time to explore inside of buildings.  It goes under, to, through, or by:

  • One Shell Plaza (1971) – 910 Louisiana Street.  This was the tallest building in Houston from 1971 to 1974.
  • Two Shell Plaza (1972) – 777 Walker Street
  • Architects John (1875 – 1954) and Drew Eberson’s (1904 – 1989) Mellie Esperson Building (1942) – 815 Walker Street
  • John Eberson’s Niels Esperson Building AKA the Wedding Cake Building (1927) – 808 Travis Street
  • Architect Alfred C. Finn’s (1883 – 1964) JP Morgan Chase Bank Building, formerly the Gulf Oil Building (1929) – 712 Main Street
  • Ioh Ming (IM) Pei’s (born 1917) JP Morgan Chase Tower, formerly the Texas Commerce Tower (1982) – 600 Travis Street.  This is the tallest building in Texas with 75 floors and 1002 feet/305 meters.
  • Artist Joan Miro’s (1893 – 1983) “Personage and Birds” (1970)
  • Architect Philip Johnson’s (1906 – 2005) Pennzoil Place (1976) – 711 Louisiana Street
  • Philip Johnson’s Bank of America, formerly Republic Bank and Nations Bank (1983) – 700 Louisiana Street
  • Normal Lunch Stop:  The food courts under the J. P. Morgan Chase Tower or Pennzoil Place.
Reflection of the Niels Esperson Building

Reflection of the Niels Esperson Building.  Completed in 1927, is is 32 stories tall.  It was the tallest building in Houston from 1927 to 1929. This is on Tunnel Tour A.

(Photo by Jennifer Zhang.)

View to the southwest from the JP Morgan Chase Tower 60th floor observation deck.

View to the southwest from the JP Morgan Chase Tower's 60th floor observation deck.  The JP Morgan Chase Tower was completed in 1981.  This is the tallest building in Texas with 75 stories.  We go into this building on Tunnel Tour A.

(Photo by Jennifer Zhang.)

View to the south from the JP Morgan Chase Tower 60th floor observation deck. 

View to the south from the JP Morgan Chase Tower 60th floor observation deck. The JP Morgan Chase Tower was completed in 1981.  This is the tallest building in Texas with 75 stories.

(Photo by Jennifer Zhang.)

This view is looking up within the Penzoil Place buildings.

This view is looking up within the Pennzoil Place buildings.  Completed in 1976, it is 36 stories tall.  This is on Tunnel Tour A.

(Photo by Jennifer Zhang.)

 

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Houston Tunnels Tour B

This tour focuses on retail and small businesses, eating establishments and food courts that are east of City Hall.  Remember that a walking tour only moves as fast as the slowest person.  It goes under, to, through, or by:

  • Wells Fargo Plaza, formerly Allied Bank Plaza (1983) – 1000 Louisiana Street.  For small groups of 5 or less, we will normally go to the observation decks on the 59th and 58th floors in this building.  This is the second tallest building in Texas with 71 floors.
  • Kinder Morgan Building – 1010 Milam Street
  • United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, formerly known as Bank One Center and the Bank of the Southwest (1956) – 919 Milam Street
  • Commerce Towers (1928) – 914 Main Street
  • Reliant Energy Plaza (2003) – 1000 Main Street
  • Main Street Square (2004) – the 1000 block of Main Street.  See the ponds and sometimes fountains of water.
  • One City Centre (1961) – 1021 Main Street
  • First City Tower (1981) – 1001 Fannin Street
  • The Shops at Houston Center, formerly known as The Shops at the Park and The Parks at Houston Center AKA 4 Houston Center (1982) – 1200 McKinney Street
  • The Four Seasons Hotel (1981) – 1300 Lamar Street
  • Fulbright Tower, formerly Chevron Tower AKA 3 Houston Center (1982) – 1301 McKinney Street
  • Lyondell Basell Tower AKA 1 Houston Center (1978) – 1221 McKinney Street
  • 2 Houston Center (1974) – 909 Fannin Street
  • Architect Alfred C. Finn’s (1883 – 1964) International Bank of Commerce, formerly City National Bank Building (1947) – 1001 McKinney/921 Main Street
  • Alfred Finn’s Holy Cross Chapel (1929), its current location was dedicated in 2005 – 905 Main Street
  • Two Shell Plaza (1972) – 777 Walker Street
  • Bob Lanier Public Works Building, formerly the Electric Tower (1968) – 611 Walker Street
  • Tranquility Park (1979) – 510 Rusk Street
  • Normal Lunch Stop:  The food court at the Shops at Houston Center.
In the photo, to the far left, one can see the second tallest building in Texas, the 71 story Wells Fargo Plaza (WFP). 

In the photo, to the far left, one can see the second tallest building in Texas, the 71 story Wells Fargo Plaza (WFP).  We go into the WFP is on Tunnel Tour B.  (Photo by Jennifer Zhang.)

 

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Houston Tunnels Tour C

This tour focuses on the businesses and hotels that are south of City Hall.  Remember that a walking tour only moves as fast as the slowest person.  It goes under, to, through, or by:

  • Heritage Plaza (1987) – 1111 Bagby Street
  • The Doubletree Hotel, formerly the Hotel Meridien (1980) – 400 Dallas Street
  • One Allen Center (1972) – 500 Dallas Avenue
  • Two Allen Center (1977) – 1200 Smith Street
  • Three Allen Center (1980) – 333 Clay Street
  • Antioch Missionary Baptist Church (the oldest African American church in Houston) (1875 and 1895) – 500 Clay Avenue
  • The former Continental Center I (1984) – 1600 Smith Street
  • Crowne Plaza Houston Downtown – 1700 Smith Street
  • Cullen Center (1971) – 600 Jefferson Street
  • KBR Tower, formerly the Dresser Tower and the M. W. Kellogg Tower (1973) – 601 Jefferson Street
  • Wedge International Tower (1983) – 1415 Louisiana Street
  • Architect Argentine American Cesar Pelli’s (born 1926) formerly Enron II building (2002) – 1500 Louisiana Street
  • Four Allen Center, formerly the Enron I building (1983) – 1400 Smith Street
  • Hyatt Regency Hotel (1972) – 1200 Louisiana Street
  • Total Plaza, formerly the Entex Building (1971) – 1201 Louisiana Street
  • CenterPoint Energy Tower, formerly known as the Reliant Energy Plaza (1973) – 1111 Louisiana Street
  • Wells Fargo Plaza, formerly Allied Bank Plaza (1983) – 1000 Louisiana Street
  • Normal Lunch Stop:  The food court under the CenterPoint Energy Tower.
Heritage Plaza - Completed in 1987, it is 53 stories tall. It has a Mexican Mayan style pyramid on the top. 

Heritage Plaza - Completed in 1987, it is 53 stories tall.  It has a Mexican Mayan style pyramid on the top.  We go intdo this building on Tunnel Tour C

 

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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.