Houston is a city with a lot of popular attractions and things to do. In fact, most of the locals have never managed to see and do everything, and many of them have spent a lifetime here. Whether your interests lie with the arts, the sciences, nature or simply good old-fashioned fun, you'll find a multitude of things to make you happy and keep you busy. Many sights in the city can be enjoyed on your own, but if you like to have assistance, you'll find that guided tours are also available at many attractions. The ones noted below are among the best offered.

Of all the things to see in Houston, the Astrodome is the one thats a "must-see". Its simply unthinkable that a visitor leave without personally experiencing the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Guided tours are available at 11am, 1pm and 3pm on Tuesday through Saturday of every week. Not only will you experience the wonder of the stadium itself, you'll see first-hand all the amenities that were included when the dome was built in 1965. Tour the museum, hotel rooms and a bowling alley as well as other special features.

Space technology junkies, especially those who experienced first-hand the wonder and thrill of Americas first moon landing, will definitely want to visit Johnson Space Center. Many self-guided activities are available at the center, but the biggest thrill is the guided tour of some of the complexs original buildings and technology. You'll ride a tram to various buildings that house life-size segments of original Apollo rockets, a life-size shuttle mock-up, training facilities and the original mission control room that was in use during all the Apollo missions. You'll sit in the same viewing chamber that reporters and spouses of Apollo astronauts sat in during mission broadcasts. The entire experience is amazing.

Head downtown and you'll see a lot of modern, artistic buildings mixed in with the skyscrapers. If you're an avid shopaholic or simply a lover of the unique, you'll want to experience the Tunnel Walk. Under many of the most prominent buildings in the downtown area, you'll discover an amazing modern tunnel system. The tunnels themselves are lined with restaurants, gift shops, specialty shops, hair salons and more. Everyone should experience this sight at least once. Your trip through air-conditioned comfort can be either professionally or self-guided. The tour company who handles the tours will also be able to give you information about specialty tours that are available seasonally in the downtown area. Examples include the Symphony Stroll and Holiday Happenings.

Houston is a city with a lot of history, and there are many historical attractions that will take you on a trip down memory lane. The downtown area is also a great place to start your tours of these historical sights. The prestigious Heritage Society offers a guided tour that will take you through several historic homes and a small museum. The 1868 Victorian-style Pillot house and a quaint 1891 German church are merely two of the beautiful buildings you'll see. Surrounded by skyscrapers, this experience is a bit like stepping into a 19th-century time warp.

Ima Hogg is the famous philanthropist responsible for creating the Houston Symphony in the early 1900s. Her beautiful home, Bayou Bend, is a 28-room mansion that contains over 4800 pieces of American art that represent various styles from colonial times to the mid-1900s. The house is beautiful beyond belief, but the grounds are equally impressive. Walk through 14 acres of gorgeous woodlands and formal gardens and your appreciation for nature will intensify. Guided tours through the house are limited to adults and children over ten. Children under ten are welcome to wander the gardens while their parents take the house tour.

McFaddin-Ward House is the historic home of Texas oil and cattle pioneers, Perry and Ida McFaddin. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the house is a monstrous 12,500 square feet of space that features Colonial Revival-style architecture. You'll gaze in awe at the large white columns and sweeping porches on the outside and the impressive array of antiques and furnishings on the inside. Guided tours provide information about the familys history and the beautiful heirlooms.

If you don't mind a short drive, Galveston offers two historical wonders that shouldn't be missed if you enjoy palatial homes. Ashton Villa was built in 1859 and features Italian architecture with carved moldings and exquisite antique furnishings. Guided tours are available on request if you'd like additional information about the family and the artifacts. A film provides a lot of details about the house itself. The Bishops Palace was built in the early 1900s for Colonel Walter Gresham and was later purchased (1923) for the Bishop of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. Because of its architecture, its currently ranked in the nations Top 100 Homes, but the interior is equally impressive. It can only be described as obscenely lavish. You'll have to see it to believe it.

If the beauty of nature is what truly fascinates you, the city won't disappoint you with its many nature tours. Numerous nature centers and arboretums are available and most offer guided tours in addition to self-guided browsing. You'll be able to commune with nature and catch glimpses of native wildlife along with native plants. Examples of those that offer tours include Armand Bayou Park & Nature Center, Edith Moore Nature Sanctuary, Mercer Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, and Bayou Wildlife Park. Relax and take a deep breath of fresh air for a change.

Houstons proximity to the ocean typically inspires an interest in ocean or ocean-related tours. Four miles east of downtown, you'll find one of the nations top ports, the Port of Houston. Jump aboard the Sam Houston for a one and a half-hour tour of the ship channel. You'll learn about the interesting history of the port while you view ocean-faring freighters, ships and barges. In Galveston, take the Colonel Cruise and enjoy a tour of Galveston Bay from the deck of a paddlewheeled steamboat. For added enjoyment, the interior of the boat is a museum. If you prefer to enjoy a tour on solid ground, visit the Texas Seaport Museum and see the newly restored Elissa, a Scottish sailing vessel that was built in 1877. In addition to the ship and other maritime exhibits, it also features exciting sea films on two large screens. If sea creatures interest you more than antiquities and relics, head to Lake Jackson and visit Sea Center Texas for a crash course in marine preservation. Large aquariums, rearing ponds and fisheries provide hours of educational entertainment.

The primary mode of transportation in Houston is the automobile. Rental prices are usually reasonable, whereas taxi fares can be pretty steep. Unless you're used to (and don't mind) the outrageous expense, renting a car is always a better and less expensive option. A metro system is also available, but keeping track of the schedule and the routes can be more than a little confusing. Again, we would recommend renting a car and hitting the streets yourself. With the exception of a few areas, you'll find that navigating the city is relatively simple, even if its your first visit. Traffic jams slow things down a bit during peak times, but they usually aren't intolerable. City-wide travel during off-peak times is typically quick and efficient.

A. Conner