One of the most important steps in arranging a trip to Colombia is booking a flight. Although there is a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam to Bogotá these days, it is often cheaper to transfer somewhere. The last time we visited the Netherlands we flew with United, the cheapest option. In fact, a return ticket from the Netherlands to Colombia is quite cheap, but the other way around is much more expensive and hard for us to afford. We arranged a flight with a 50-minute layover in Houston. I knew in advance that that would be way too short, but according to both United and Jimmy it should be possible, so we booked this return ticket. And so then we found ourselves totally unprepared in Houston, with a ticket to Bogotá 36 hours later. What did we do and how much fun is Houston?
Houston: the largest city in Texas
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is the largest city in Texas. With over 2 million residents in the city and some 6 million in the metropolitan area, Houston is also the fourth largest city in the United States. Greater Houston is the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the US. In the Houston area, non-Hispanic whites make up 38% of the population, Hispanics 36%, African-Americans 17% and Asians 9%. That multiculturalism is partly due to the many academic institutions and industries. In addition, Houston is an important port city. More than 90 languages are spoken and, as in New York we could get along just fine with Spanish here, too.
The first thing we noticed when we left the airport was the heat. The average temperature is around 30 degrees, but it felt like 40. After a while, we also began to believe that that temperature might have something to do with the fact that everyone literally does everything by car. Even in the downtown area, almost no one was on the streets. After all, it is far too hot to do anything outside. We obviously had neither a car nor money for a cab, so we did most of it walking. After a while it was unbearable and we went to a restaurant to cool off. This is not very difficult, since practically everywhere is air-conditioned. In 1980, Houston was even named the city with the most air conditioning.
What to do during a layover in Houston?
We ended up in Houston unexpectedly and, as a result, we were also completely unprepared. We certainly could have gotten more out of the city if we knew in advance that we were going there. Because while Houston may not be the first thing that comes to mind to spend a night, the city has quite a bit to offer. Houston is divided into several neighborhoods, each with a different character. There is Downtown, Midtown, the Museum District and you can get out into nature in The Woodlands. Not to mention, of course, the famous Space Center Houston. We have only been to Downtown and some wonderful parks.
TIP: Before leaving the airport, visit the information desk. There they have several comprehensive maps of the city with lots of information about what to do.
For hours we walked through Downtown. This neighborhood has all kinds of things to offer, including beautiful shopping centers and cozy parks.
Greenstreet shopping center
Totally abandoned, we found this mall. It looks cozy with terraces and in the afternoon there was music. Yet no one was there, but perhaps this was because a holiday was coming up or simply because it was Saturday morning. At least you can eat good food there.
Discovery Green Park
A pleasant spot in Downtown Houston, the 12-acre Discovery Green Park has something for everyone. Children can play there, there are many restaurants and cafes, and regular events take place here. We stopped here for an ice cream and to simply observe daily life.
The Toyota Center is an indoor sports stadium named after the Japanese car brand; the company paid $100 million for the naming rights for 20 years. The stadium is home to the Houston Rockets basketball team and to the Houston Aeros (ice hockey).
Strolling through the wide streets
Despite the heat, it is still nice to walk around downtown and encounter all kinds of things. Occasionally we duck into a supermarket for refreshment.
Sam Houston Park
In the middle of downtown, surrounded by skyscrapers, lies a green oasis called Sam Houston Park. And not only will you find greenery here, but also history. See historic houses from the nineteenth century and enjoy the tranquility.
From Downtown to the parks
After Downtown, we decided to walk a little further to several parks. After all, there is a Sabine Promenade there and you understand I didn’t want to miss it. To get there we had to pass under the highway, a tangle of roads crisscrossed and very close above the hiking trail. Just while walking through the park. Very unusual.
Buffalo Bayou Park
Once we passed under the freeways we came out on the Sabine Promenade. As part of the large Buffalo Bayou Park, not only is this a great place to hike, but there is plenty to do. For example, there are bike trails, you can canoe, and in the evening it is said to be beautifully lit. Click here for more information.
We walk through the park for a while and come across many beautiful things, including a cemetery, beautiful views, unusual plants and even an occasional jogger. Something I find quite extraordinary in this heat anyway. You can easily walk for miles here, which I was dying to do. But the heat was beginning to break us down, so there was nothing to do but go back downtown to cool off in a restaurant. Should I ever visit Houston again, I want to go to the viewpoint and the beautiful fountain that can also be found in the park.
How do you get from the airport into the city?
If you have the time, public transportation is an easy and very inexpensive option. For just a few dollars, take METRO Bus 102 from terminal C at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Houston Downtown. If you have less time, you can take a cab or Uber.
Where to stay.
We received a voucher from United for a free overnight stay. As a result, we could not pick our own hotel. We stayed at the Park Inn Houston North Hotel and Conference Center. Far out of downtown, but a great location to take the bus downtown. Good service and good food. Nothing special, no special neighborhood and close to the highway, but perfect if you want to stay close to the airport.
Take into account a stopover
Since our bags stayed at the airport, we literally had nothing with us for an overnight stay. Fortunately, United gave us both a bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, but we didn’t have much clothing. So now I always carry at least some extra clothing in my carry-on luggage.
A stopover in Houston: a do or don’t?
Perhaps Houston is not known as the hippest city in the US and may seem like there is little to do: as far as I’m concerned, it’s definitely worth a layover. It is a huge city with many nice neighborhoods, of which we have not even seen half. So you certainly won’t be bored. The heat is a thing, but manageable for those few hours. Above all, I also enjoyed being immersed in American culture again for a while. So I would say: in doubt about whether to take that cheap flight to Colombia or another country with a longer layover in Houston? Yes, do it!
Have you ever taken an unexpected city break because you missed your flight?
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