There are over thirty different airports in Houston and the Greater Houston area. The busiest, most commonly used, and the one you're most likely to make a Houston stopover at is the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
As befits the fourth largest city in North America, the IAH covers over forty square kilometers of ground space with its five runways, five separate terminals, and a multitude of other facilities connected with the operations there. Almost as big as a city in itself, getting around Houston Airport can take up all of the time on a short layover and considerably eat into one of eight to ten hours.
The shuttle bus Metro Service 102 runs from the airport into Downtown Houston and takes between sixty to ninety minutes to complete the journey. Add to that the time it takes to travel on the inter-terminal train from the terminal you arrive at to Terminal C where the shuttle stop is, and you'll be stuck at the airport unless your stopover is for twelve hours or you fork out for a cab. The cab ride can take up to half an hour or more and will cost around $60 to get you as far as Downtown.
Don’t forget to make things easier on yourself by dropping off your luggage at a Houston luggage storage location. The lighter you travel, the more fun you’ll have.
6 to 8 hour layover in Houston
When you're on a short Houston layover that's six hours or less, cross your fingers and hope your connection takes off from the same terminal, otherwise you'll be doing a lot of moving about. If you’re on an eight hour layover then you should fare better. There are two ways of moving between the airport’s five terminals which are by subway or skyway. Both services are free and there are stations for each in all of the terminals. The main difference between the two apart from the obvious is that the skyway is only accessible by passengers who have passed through security while the subway is pre-security.
- The skyway is a continuous service departing every two minutes that takes five minutes to complete the full journey between the five different terminal stations.
- There are subway stations in all terminals. Trains leave at regular three-minute intervals until 12.30am when services cease until 3.30am. Journey time from terminal station to terminal station is three minutes and fifteen minutes to complete the full trip from Terminal A to Terminal E.
- If you find yourself with a couple of hours of your short layover in Houston to spare, there are live music performances in terminals A and D from Monday through to Friday. Music styles vary and can be anything from jazz to blues or classical. A schedule of performers and times is published on the airport's official website.
- When you feel the need for some pampering you'll find a spa in Terminal A where you can get a massage, manicure, pedicure, or facial.
10 hour layover in Houston
There's a mind-boggling amount of things to do in Houston but on a ten-hour stopover, you're only going to have enough free time to do a couple at most. A good time-saving tip is to choose two attractions that are close together so you don't waste precious time going from one place to another. You can explore some of Houston's past while seeing the new if you go to the Heritage Society Museum in Sam Houston Park. There you can tour a nucleus of historic buildings which are surrounded by the city's skyscrapers, then take a stroll through the acres of gardens.
- In contrast, to see some of Houston's tallest buildings wander around to the Wells Fargo Plaza and get a kink in the neck while trying to spot the tops of the buildings
- Houston City Hall is just a short walk from Sam Houston Park and an impressive building to take a selfie in front of.
12 hour layover in Houston
Houston is synonymous with space exploration. When you're on a twelve-hour layover you'll have time to pay a visit to the Houston Space Center though it will take up most of your layover. Drop your bags at a convenient luggage storage facility in Houston Airport and either take a cab directly there from the airport - it's the quickest way but will cost around a hundred bucks - or hire a car and drive yourself there. The NASA Tram Tour around the installation and although it takes ninety minutes is totally unmissable.
- While the NASA Tram Tour is free, you need to be in possession of a boarding pass before you go. You can do that by downloading the Space Center Houston app from the official website.
- When you're on an evening layover you can catch films of astronauts which are shown frequently in the center's Destiny Theater. If you plan on walking through the Galaxy Lights nighttime exhibition try not to get lost among the displays or you could end up missing your Houston connection.
24 hour layover in Houston
Houston is far too widespread to consider exploring on foot even when you have an overnight layover. Make it easier by jumping on one of the city's hop-on hop-off tourist bus services which will speed you between many of the main sights. There are several in operation that go via City Hall, Market Square, do the rounds of Downtown and its museums, plus stop off at the Downtown Aquarium. Unless you get off to take a look at something the circular journey will take up around ninety minutes of your layover.
- Explore Houston's subterranean level by going down into the Downtown Tunnels. It's not creepy, but a six-mile-long maze of a shopping mall twenty feet below the ground.
- Get some exercise by either hiring a bicycle or going on a guided bike tour around Buffalo Bayou. There are miles of cycle paths alongside the water.
- Take it easy by navigating Buffalo Bayou on a one-and-a-half-hour boat tour. The boat departs from Allen's Landing on Commerce Street. Do some wildlife spotting by keeping an eye out for alligators.