Texas is the state synonymous with so many of the things which we find most alluring about America – the Wild West, cowboy culture, rodeo, country and western, blues, BBQ food… the list goes on. But how well do we really know this hugely diverse state? The first myth to go is that Texas is flat and dry. In a vast state that stretches 800 miles from top to bottom and nearly as many miles wide, you can bet that a whole number of different topographies and climates are covered. From the white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast to the greenery and waterfalls of Hill Country, the canyons of Big Bend Country to the towering trees of Piney Woods, there is a whole world waiting to be discovered.
Thanks to its brief spell as an independent nation, Texas is imbued with a strong sense of identity and uniqueness unlike in any other state in the US. This manifests itself in a friendly and community-led population, confident cities and assured small towns that are all waiting for a chance to show you why the Lone Star state is the best. If bright lights and city nightlife is what you’re after, Texas has it. There’s an abundance of shiny culture and rich arts in Dallas and Houston, while off-beat Austin offers an unrivalled music scene with an alternative vibe. For history lovers there can be no better destination than pivotal San Antonio, the beautiful riverside city that was once the home of the Comanche Indians and later the legendary fort, the Alamo.
In the west of Texas, the verdant Rio Grande forms a snaking 900 mile natural border with Mexico. The most westerly city, El Paso, perches on the edge of this more mountainous region of the state, where mountains, desert and mesas reign. The Guadalupe National Park offers canoeing on its sparkling rapids, while the stunning Big Bend National Park provides rafting, hiking, biking and horse riding through its dramatic canyons. The neighbouring northern region of the Panhandle boasts huge starry skies and “Texas’ Grand Canyon” in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo. The Panhandle forms the southern tip of the Great Plains which stretch all the way up through the heart of American to Canada. The east of Texas is more like its neighbour Louisiana, characterised by swamps and bayous, with the north of the region home to those steeple-high pine trees.
In the heartland of Texas, its major city centres form the heart and soul of the state. The capitol of Texas, Austin, makes a perfect base for exploring the pretty surrounding countryside of Hill Country. Musicians from Janis Joplin to Willie Nelson called Austin home, and it also houses the monumental Texas State Capitol building. We’d expect no less of Texas – the 300ft tall dome of this building is even taller than the US Capitol in Washington DC. Dallas is the place to visit for thumping nightlife, a sophisticated arts scene, dazzling architecture and the sporting home of the famous Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. Nearby Fort Worth, just 25 miles from Dallas, is very different in flavour and ticks along to a slower pace. This calmer and more down-to-earth centre runs true to its cowboy roots in the Stockyards District, where Wild West culture is alive and kicking.
Things to do
Popular Texas holiday ideas
Top tips for visiting Texas
1. Sundance Square
• Head to the heart of downtown Fort Worth to soak in the history that dates back to infamous outlaws of the Wild West, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
• Sundance Square revels in its cowboy past and restored buildings now line the brick-paved streets that are filled with shops, theatres and restaurants.
• Fort Worth’s opera house, symphony orchestra and ballet are also housed here.
2. Stockyards National Historic District
• This small but engaging 10 block district is where visitors flock to get a taste of the true American West. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, what were once the largest stockyards in the world have been faithfully preserved.
• Cobbled streets, raised wooden sideboards and old-fashioned gas lamp style lighting lend a hand to the authenticity of the area. The complex still houses the original wooden pens and holds daily livestock auctions.
• Cowboy-themed saloons and honky tonk bars offer a taste of what Texas was like a century ago.
3. River Walk San Antonio
• One of the most popular attractions in San Antonio, the two and a half mile long Paseo del Rio is a shady, tree-lined cobbled path that extends from the Municipal Auditorium on the north end to the King William district at the south.
• The horseshoe-shaped, open-air promenade is now both a peaceful oasis and the centre of downtown life. Find bars, cafes, al fresco dining, boutiques and shops along the green promenade.
4. Fun foods
• From restaurants offering 72oz steaks for free if you can eat the lot, to quirky and authentic food trucks, the dining in Texas promises to be two things: big and delicious.
• In West Texas the flavour is barbecue pit. Think barbecued brisket, sirloin steaks, spit-roast chicken and ribs. East is divided into the “home-style” fried catfish and cornbread of Northeast Texas, and the Cajun and Creole-inspired “soul food” of Southeast Texas.
• If you’re looking for authentic Tex Mex, head south. Here you won’t find the burritos of California but you will find mouth-watering tacos and enchiladas.
5. Padre Island National Seashore
• The slender sandbar of Padre Island stretches for more than 110 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, from Corpus Christi in the north to the Mexican border in the south. The central 70 miles have no road access and form one of the wildest stretches of coastline in the country.
• The park protects coastline, dunes, prairies and wind tidal flats that are teeming with wildlife – some of it rare. It is a safe nesting ground for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, as well as hundreds of bird species.
6. Getting around
• Driving in Texas is a must. In such a vast state, the distances between places can be huge and public transport isn’t widespread. All the major cities are served by good airport links, so flying from hub to hub is an option.
• We can help you with car hire if you’d like to drive out to visit the stunning countryside and national parks.
• As you’d expect from a state covering so many different climates, weather varies a lot between the different regions.
• Hot and dry temperatures are common in the northwest and the upper Rio Grande plains.
• The Gulf Coast has cooling sea breezes which help to keep temperatures down.
• Expect very hot and humid temperatures year-round in the interior of Texas, including cities like Houston.