If you’re a first-time visitor to Dallas, you may feel slightly overwhelmed by the sheer variety of attractions and activities on offer. From museums and galleries to parks and zoos, there’s certainly no shortage of options to keep you entertained. The only problem you might have is squeezing them all into just one trip. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 very best things to do in Dallas for first-timer- whether you’re traveling alone or with the family in tow, you’re guaranteed to find plenty to keep you amused from this little lot.
20. Half Price Books
If you’ve left your reading material at home, worry not. As the country’s largest chain of new and used bookstores, Half Price Books is the kind of place you can spend hours browsing the aisles and never get bored. With its motto of “We buy and sell anything printed or recorded except yesterday’s newspaper”, you’ll find everything from the latest comics to first editions, classic mysteries to contemporary romances. With a friendly, knowledgeable staff to help guide your purchasing decisions, be prepared to spend big – even if you only came in to browse, you’re almost guaranteed to leave with at least one bag’s worth.
19. JFK Assassination Walking Tour + Oswald Rooming House
For an unforgettable experience that takes in some of Dallas’ most significant landmarks, sign up to the JFK Assassination Walking Tour. The guided tour aims to bring the story of JFK’s assignation to life… something it succeeds in thanks to its knowledgeable guides and fascinating delve into the history and sights associated with the fateful event. Expect to take in the John F. Kennedy Memorial, Dealey Plaza, the grassy knoll, the Oswald Rooming House Museums (where Lee Harvey Oswald lived at the time of the murder), and the Texas Theatre in this engaging, thought-provoking experience.
18. The Dallas World Aquarium
Located in the West End Historic District, the Dallas World Aquarium is the kind of engaging experience that will delight the whole family. Featuring a remarkable array of animals, exhibits, and interactive activities, it’s the kind of place that informs as it entertains. While all of the exhibits are worthwhile, the manatees at the Large Freshwater River Exhibit and the sharks at the Cenote Exhibit are particularly delightful.
17. The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
You don’t have to be a fan of George W Bush to enjoy the excellent George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, although it certainly can’t help. The 14,000 sq ft gallery offers an incredible insight into the life and career of the 43rd president of the United States- as well as a glimpse into the events that informed his presidency and legacy, including the financial crisis, education reform, 9/11, and the war on terror. With a stunningly intricate replica of the White House, tableware from the real thing, and even some gowns donated from the first lady, it’s an engaging, intriguing insight into one of the US’s most controversial leaders.
16. Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park
For thrills and spills, you’ll find it hard to beat the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park. Jam-packed with the kind of death-defying rides that will make you regret that second serving of breakfast, it’s a must for anyone who finds most amusement parks too tame to bother with. Established in 1992 with the mission of becoming the most extreme theme park in the world, it’s met its goal and then some. Test your mettle on the terrifying Nothin’ but Net free-fall attraction, or even try a bungee jump… if your nerves are up to the challenge, this is the kind of experience you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.
15. Frontiers of Flight Museum
As the home of the world's finest aviation collections, Frontiers of Flight Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the history of space flight. With such exhibits as the Apollo 7 Command Module; a World War I Sopwith Pup biplane replica; artifacts from the German airship Hindenburg and other airships; and over 200 World War II aircraft models, you could spend hours browsing and still want to come back for more. The museum does occasionally close for private events, so be sure to check the website before your visit to avoid disappointment.
14. Old Red Museum
Set in one of Dallas’ most beautiful and historic buildings, the Old Red Museum is as fine a showcase of the rich history and culture of the city as you could wish for. According to its website, Old Red Museum was founded with the mission to “inspire and educate people with the rich cultural, economic, political and social history of the Dallas County area, showcasing the many cultures that together have formed the Dallas of today,” and in that, it’s most certainly succeeded.
13. Katy Trail
For those who don’t mind a hike, the Katy Trail is an unmissable experience. Stretching all the way from Highland Park to Downton Dallas, it’s the perfect opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind and engage with a bit of nature. Whether you walk it, bike it, or find some friendly horse and ride it, it’s a great way to spend a morning indulging in some healthy activity- although if entertainment, rather than health, is your main priority, don’t miss stopping off for a cold one at the legendary Ice House restaurant and bar.
12. Bishop Arts District
If you leave Dallas without at least one visit to the iconic Bishop Arts district, you’ll never forgive yourself. With a huge array of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries to its name, it makes a great destination for the whole family. Spend the morning browsing the artisanal crafts before grabbing some local cuisine at one of the charming bistros. Round off the day with a whistle-stop tour of the antiques at Mantique’s … you may be fit to drop by the end of it, but it’s a day out you’ll not want to miss.
11. Highland Park Village
Glitzy, glamorous Highland Park Village may leave a dent in your bank account, but you’re unlikely to regret it too much. As one of Texas’s most high-end malls, you’ll find everything from Hermes scarfs to Christian Louboutin shoes, Chanel handbags to Versace frocks. If you can’t quite stretch to any of the designer items, it’s still worth the trip for the great range of restaurants and cafés on offer… as well as the opportunity to watch the elite of Dallas do their thang.
10. Dallas Cattle Drive Sculptures at Pioneer Plaza
If you’re traveling with the kids in tow, treat them to a visit to the extraordinary Dallas Cattle Drive Sculptures at Pioneer Plaza. With its range of life-sized sculptures of cowboys, large longhorn cattle and trail drivers, the park makes a great place to while away a few hours, and even grownups will be intrigued by just quite how lifelike these historical figures have been made to look. On a sunny day, the park makes a great place for a picnic, so be sure to pack some cold drinks and snacks before you head off.
9. White Rock Lake Park
For a taste of nature in an urban setting, White Rock Lake Park is unbeatable. With picnic areas, wetlands, a dog park, and 9.33 miles of hiking and bike trails, it’s the perfect place to relax, unwind, and escape the noise and crowds of the city. There’s even a lake to enjoy a spot of fishing or boating, and a museum and cultural center for those who like a bit of history with their nature.
8. American Airlines Center
The huge, multipurpose arena that is American Airlines Center is Dallas’ premier venue for sports and entertainment. As well as being home to the Dallas Stars of the NHL and the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, it regularly plays host to some of the biggest music stars, performers, and entertainment productions in the world. Obviously, the lineup of events changes regularly, so be sure to check out the website so you can plan your visit accordingly.
7. The Texas Theatre
As the site of Lee Oswald’s hideout and arrest for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, The Texas Theatre is one of Dallas’ most historically significant landmarks. These days, it’s also the perfect spot to enjoy a movie in luxuriously vintage surrounds. For those so inclined, there’s even a vintage Pac Man to enjoy in the foyer.
6. Adventure Landing
Adults and kids alike will find much to enjoy at Adventure Landing, an amusement park offering a dizzying array of fun activities and attractions. With miniature golf, go-karts, laser tag, batting cages, bumper boats and more besides, the whole family is guaranteed a fun-packed day. With clean bathrooms and plenty of food options, it’s the kind of place you can spend the entire day and still want to come back the next.
5. Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Whether your 5 or 50, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at the captivating Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The dinosaur artifacts and fossils are unquestionably the star of the show and will keep would-be paleontologists entertained for hours. The mineral and gemstone exhibit is a wonder, while the plethora of interactive activities is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The opportunity to see archaeologists working at the on-site lab, meanwhile, is one not to miss.
4. Klyde Warren Park
For those looking to escape the city heat and chill in some beautiful grounds, the lovely Klyde Park is one of the best places for it. Offering a mixture of “passive” places to relax, and “active” places to engage in some fun activities, the park has enough on offer to keep the whole family entertained for hours. As well as the usual trees, flowers, and grass, there’s jogging trails, a children's playground, an expansive lawn, a restaurant, a performance pavilion, a fountain plaza, a games area, an urban dog park, a botanical garden, and even a reading room.
3. The Sixth Floor Museum/Texas School Book Depository
With enlarged police photographs, news footage, and audio tools, The Sixth Floor Museum/Texas School Book Depository offers a fascinating insight into the assignation of John F Kennedy and the series of events that led up to the fateful day. With a vintage feel to the exhibit space (much of which appears unchanged since the 1960s), there’s a fascinating range of artifacts in the collection, including a sniper’s perch, the FBI model used by the Warren Commission, the original teletype machine that first transmitted news of the president’s death to the world, and Oswald’s wedding ring. Given the subject matter, it may not be the most fun museum in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most engaging.
2. Dallas Museum of Art
With free admission every day (not to mention the status of being one of the 10 largest art museums in the country) the Dallas Museum of Art makes a great destination for anyone with even the vaguest interest in art. Its collection of over 22,000 works spans 5000 years of history, offering visitors the rare chance to trace the evolution of art through the centuries. Unless time is a constraint, aim to spend at least 6 hours or so wandering the exhibits – anything less would be an injustice.
1. Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
Covering a 66-acre area, the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is one of the city’s gems. The stunning variety of colors will take your breath away, while the multiple inner “gardens within a garden” will keep you busy for hours. The award-winning ornamental garden is a hymn to sustainably grown fresh greens, and even offers visitors the chance to same the produce and take part in cooking demos. Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden, meanwhile, is a masterpiece; if you’ve ever struggled to get your kids to switch of their technology and engage with nature, this is guaranteed to do the job for you.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn