Houston is a city like no other. Few metropolitan regions in the U.S. can match Houston’s sheer diversity and character. Here, you’ll find any cuisine you can imagine, from authentic Thai and Vietnamese food to old-fashioned Texas BBQ and soul food. But aside from the hundreds of restaurants to try, Houston has plenty of local hot spots to check out, too!
The only catch is newcomers may find it difficult to decide which places to see first. There are so many destinations to choose from, but if you live or stay in a Midtown apartment, riding the METRORail is the fastest and most adventurous way to get around town.
It’s pretty easy to find these destinations once you know how to buy tickets and which stops to take, so here’s what you need to know about Houston’s light rail:
Originally opened to the public in 2004, Houston’s 3-line light rail is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to get to some of Houston’s busiest neighborhoods (namely downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, NRG Stadium/Reliant Park, and the Texas Medical Center.)
The Red Line runs north and south through the heart of downtown, eventually reaching the 610 Loop on both ends. The Purple Line goes to the southeast of downtown through the University of Houston stops, and the Green Line takes you through the East End of downtown. That’s the Houston light rail system in a nutshell; it’s fairly simple compared to other large metropolitan areas.
The METRORail runs from 4 a.m.- midnight Monday through Friday. Although the weekend hours vary by destination and route, certain stops are open until 1 a.m. or later Saturday and Sunday.
Before you head out on the town, we highly recommend downloading the RideMETRO app! The app is always up to date with the latest arrival times in case there’s a delay.
When it comes to buying tickets for the METRORail, you have a few different options. You can always buy your ticket directly at the rail platform kiosk, but the Metro Q Ticketing app significantly simplifies the process. (You won’t have to worry about waiting in line or carrying around a physical card!) You can load money into Q Ticketing via the app itself or by visiting RideMETRO’s web portal here.
If you plan to use the light rail frequently, you’re going to want to pick up a METRO Q Fare Card. This reloadable card can be used on the:
• Local Bus
• Park & Ride bus
• METRO curb2curb
You can order the card online, and refill the balance online. And after every 50 rides, you get five rides free! (FYI: If you’re a student or senior 65-69, you’ll receive a discounted METRO Q® Fare Card.)
Once you buy a Local Single Ride ticket for $1.25, you have unlimited transfers for three hours before purchasing another fare. If you want the freedom to ride the rail all day, the best choice is a Local Day Pass, which only costs $3. Either way, the best time to use the light rail is in the morning and during lunch hours, when the city is most active and bustling.
By the way, all light rail platforms are accessible for the disabled, with ramps and audio-visual announcements for departures and arrivals. Seating is widely available since many Houstonians choose to stand up while the rail is in motion. Both mobile apps also keep you in the loop with service alerts, or you can text (713) 635-4000 with the words “light rail” to receive automated responses for more information.
As you can see, it’s simple to ride the METRORail in Houston! Now you just have to know the stops that take you to the best hot spots, but don’t worry, we’ll go over some popular stops to help you plan your next outing. (Learn more about staying in Midtown for downtown events or NRG events.)
In total, Houston’s Museum District boasts 19 different museums, some of them featuring fascinating historical collections. The Holocaust Museum Houston is a must-see for history buffs, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is the creme de la creme of them all, hosting national exhibitions throughout the year.
To reach the museum district from Midtown, take the Red Line to the Museum District platform southbound at stop number 25015, close to the MFAH, which is only a short walk across Main Street. The most accessible landmarks for this stop will be Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo, in case it’s your first ride.
Check out our post on exploring Houston’s best museums for free.
Houston’s most famous park by far is Hermann Park. Not only is it near the Houston Zoo, but it’s also the most prominent open green space inside 610 Loop. You can walk the Marvin Taylor Exercise Trail to view the entire park or visit the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool – a perfect spot for photos and videos.
By light rail, getting to Hermann Park is easy because you can use the Museum District stop to walk to the park’s north end. The other option is to take the rail to the Hermann Park/Rice University platform, stop number 25013, to arrive closer to the reflection pool.
Houstonians love the Houston Zoo, especially the children who flock there every weekend in droves. Interestingly, the zoo is actually located inside Hermann Park’s grounds, although it’s a separate attraction. The exhibits are diverse, with new exhibits dedicated to the Galápagos Islands and South America’s Pantanal. The exit platform to the Houston Zoo is stop number 25012, just before the primary stop for Hermann Park.
Rice University is ranked among the 25 Most Beautiful College Campuses in the U.S. in 2022, and is popular with runners for its shady trails. It’s easy to reach Rice via the same stop as Hermann Park (25013), near Cambridge Street, and walk across Main Street to see the college.
You could easily spend your entire afternoon perusing Rice Village. Here you’ll find an assortment of shops and restaurants (like Sweet Paris and Sixty Vines), from boutiques, chain stores and grocery outlets to lively bars, coffee shops, and international restaurants. Rice Village also hosts a lively farmer’s market from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of the month.
To get to Rice Village from the light rail, take the Red Line southbound to stop number 25010, the Dryden/Texas Medical Center platform. The catch is that Rice Village still lies further to the west, so the easiest way to take the scenic route is to walk along University Boulevard.
Downtown Houston needs no introduction, home to world-class entertainment, sporting events, and nightlife. You can eat off the beaten path at fine dining restaurants, casual cafes, and bars. It’s a very bustling area of the city, as you might expect, and you have many options to arrive via the Red Line northbound from Midtown. Any stops will suffice along the Red Line downtown, from the Preston platform, stop number 25029, to the Bell Street southbound platform, stop number 25026. Check out the famed underground tunnels for a cooler option or head over to our post on What to do in Downtown Houston for more ideas.
Minute Maid Park is the home of the Houston Astros, one of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball! If you can’t catch a game while you’re here, you can always buy tickets for an Astros Ballpark tour!
You can reach the ballpark via the Red Line to the Central Main platform, stop number 25050. The baseball field is a bit of a walk to the west along Crawford Street and Texas Avenue, but you’ll avoid paying for parking while still enjoying the festive atmosphere.
The Toyota Center is home to the Houston Rockets. This state-of-the-art arena hosts all kinds of events year round. If you’re coming from Midtown, take the Red Line to the Bell northbound platform, stop number 25025. The basketball arena lies further west along Bell Street and La Branch Street next to Root Square park.
If you’re in the mood for a touch of sophistication, the Theatre District near downtown is where you want to be. It hosts the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Ballet, the Houston Symphony, and other fine arts entertainments, too. But the Bayou Place Entertainment Complex is where the action is before and after shows.
To get to the Theatre District from Midtown, take the Red Line northbound to Central Main stop number 25050. But from there, you transfer onto the Purple Line and ride the rail to the Theatre District Capitol platform, stop number 25052. Alternatively, the Green Line will stop at the same venues.