10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Dallas
Dallas owes its origin to John Neely Bryan, a farmer who in 1841 built himself a hut on the banks of the Trinity River in northeastern Texas (a replica can be seen in Dealey Plaza). Until after the Civil War, Dallas was overshadowed by its sister city Fort Worth, but after the coming of the railroad in 1873, it grew rapidly. Until WWII, the city's economy depended on grain, cotton, and oil, but post-war, it became home to numerous insurance corporations and banks, making it an important business and financial center - perfect fodder for that most famous of soap operas about power, money, and intrigue: Dallas. These days, the city is noted for its modern and postmodern architecture, as well as Gothic Revival architecture such as the Kirby Building (also of note is Swiss Avenue, home to a stretch of homes featuring architectural styles from Victorian to Neoclassical). Visitors can enjoy art institutions such as the Dallas Museum of Art, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, and the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the city is also home to numerous parks, providing ample opportunity for outdoor activities such as cycling, swimming, tennis, and golf.
See also: Where to Stay in Dallas
1 The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
The presumed murderer of President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, is believed to have fired the fatal shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository at the intersection of Houston and Elm Streets. Forever etched in infamy, this tall brick building is now home to the Sixth Floor Museum, a fascinating attraction devoted to Kennedy's life, work, and tragic death. Permanent exhibits feature detailed accounts of his 1960 presidential campaign, along with his legacy and influence through historical footage, photos, and artifacts. Of related interest is the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial, a massive monument dedicated to the memory of the president that was built in 1970. Another president-related attraction is the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Opened in 2013 on the campus of Southern Methodist University, the museum offers visitors the chance to learn about the Bush family as well as his time as president through interactive galleries. Other highlights include a replica of the Oval Office as well as an adjoining 15-acre park with its native flora and fauna.
Address: 411 Elm Street, Dallas
2 Reunion Tower
While not the tallest building in Dallas, the Reunion Tower is undoubtedly the most distinguished and most recognizable. Completed in 1978 and appearing as a geodesic ball perched atop five cylindrical concrete poles, its 560-foot length is spectacularly lit up at night, emphasizing its unique outline. After renovations in 2011, the Reunion Tower now boasts a revolving restaurant with 360-degree views over Dallas, and the GeO-Deck observation level, home to an informative interactive display providing details about the building and notable landmarks.
Address: 300 Reunion Blvd E, Dallas
3 Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art has been a long-standing institution in the city since it opened in 1903. All told, the museum has a collection of more than 24,000 works from the Americas and around the globe, including everything from ancient artifacts to contemporary art. Highlights are its collection of ancient Mediterranean art from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times; European art from the 16th to 19th centuries, including pieces by Claude Monet; contemporary artists including Jackson Pollock; and a collection of more than 50,000 art-related volumes in its library. Another art exhibit worth catching is the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, housed in a re-creation of the Reves Villa and including Impressionist paintings, antique carpets, Chinese porcelain, and early Renaissance and 17th-century European furniture.
Address: 1717 N Harwood Street, Dallas
4 Dallas World Aquarium
Conveniently located within walking distance of the city's historic downtown core, Dallas World Aquarium is a fun and educational excursion for young and old alike. Housed in some 87,000 gallons of saltwater are a vast array of sea life including bonnet head sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, sea turtles, giant groupers, and rare leafy seadragons, all living in natural reef settings. A fun highlight is the Orinoco Rainforest exhibit, complete with numerous free-flying birds such as toucans, along with tree sloths and aquatic species such as Orinoco crocodiles and poison dart frogs. Hot Tip: Check the feeding schedule before arrival for a chance to see the animals at their most animated, as well as for details of upcoming talks and lectures.
Address: 1801 N. Griffin Street, Dallas
5 The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Just minutes from downtown Dallas, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden sits on 66 acres along the southeast shore of White Rock Lake. The property's world-famous display gardens (14 all told) showcase seasonal flowers, ornamental shrubs, trees, and plant collections, while seasonal outdoor festivals and concerts, art shows, and education programs are also popular. Although conceived in the early 1930s, this splendid tourist attraction didn't become a reality until 1984 when the park was laid out on the grounds of a mansion built in 1939 (guided tours are available). Adding to the fun are the exquisite sculptures and fountains in areas with names like Toad's Corner, Texas Town, and Pecan Grove. Be sure to do a little exploring around White Rock Lake Park, too. Surrounded by 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, it's known for its excellent bird and wildlife spotting, as well as fishing and sailing.
Address: 8525 Garland Road, Dallas
6 Dallas Zoo
The Dallas Zoo is a 106-acre park housing more than 2,000 exotic animals from 406 species in a variety of different habitats. Always popular with families, this fun attraction - just three miles away from the city center - was established in 1888, making it one of the oldest zoos in the US. Focusing on two major regions - ZooNorth and the Wilds of Africa - the zoo includes highlights such as the Giants of the Savanna, the Otter Outpost, the excellent Wildlife Amphitheater with its displays of birds in flight, and the Endangered Tiger Habitat with its forest-like setting. Another attraction kids will love is the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park, a fun theme park with enough bungee jumps and free-falling rides to keep them amused for hours.
Address: 650 S R L Thornton Fwy, Dallas
7 Frontiers of Flight and the Cavanaugh Flight Museum
Visitors to Dallas have the good fortune to be able to visit not just one but two excellent museums dedicated to aircraft and flying. The Frontiers of Flight Museum - a branch of the Smithsonian - houses numerous aerospace and flight-related items, including aviation history artifacts and vehicles in addition to fascinating displays about space exploration and in particular, the role of Dallas in the country's space program. Highlights of a visit include a chance to see the Apollo 7 Command Module; vintage aircraft from WWI; and rare artifacts from the Hindenburg, a German Zeppelin airship. The other museum is the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, just north of Dallas. Located in a massive hangar, the museum displays a large collection of aircraft dating back to WWI, as well as related artifacts and artwork.
Address: 6911 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas
8 The Nasher Sculpture Center
Opened in 2003, the Nasher Sculpture Center houses a first-rate collection of modern and contemporary sculpture. On a two-and-a-half-acre site in the heart of the Dallas Arts District, this architecturally pleasing facility features rotating exhibits from the gallery's permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibits from other locations and private collections. Of particular note are the facility's program of concerts, lectures, and tours. Another gallery worth visiting is the nearby Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, a museum dedicated to the arts and cultures of China, Japan, India, and Southeast Asia. Finally, one of the largest sculptures in the city can be seen in Pioneer Plaza, a downtown public park. Commemorating a famous 19th-century cattle drive, this huge sculpture - the largest in the world - includes 70 larger-than-life bronze steers and three trail riders careening through a flowing stream.
Address: 2001 Flora Street, Dallas
9 The Meadows Museum
Since its founding in 1962, the Meadows Museum has grown into one of the most comprehensive Spanish art collections in the world outside of Spain. Often referred to as the "Prado on the Prairie" after the famous museum in Madrid, this fine museum includes a number of masterpieces by renowned Spanish artists such as El Greco, Goya, and Picasso, along with numerous Renaissance altarpieces, Baroque canvases, Impressionist landscapes, and sculptures by Rodin and Moore. Many local artists are also featured, including pieces by Frank Reaugh and Alexandre Hogue.
Address: 5900 Bishop Blvd, Dallas
10 African American Museum
Founded in 1974, the African American Museum has a variety of displays of African American artistic, cultural, and historical materials. Full of references to traditional African motifs and cultural icons, the museum's collection includes numerous pieces of artwork, along with a library and historical archive. Educational and entertainment programs are also hosted in the on-site theater. Another important attraction is the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance with its moving displays - such as an actual boxcar used to transport Jews during WWII - and memorials including the names of family members lost to survivors who had settled in Dallas.
Address: 3536 Grand Avenue, Dallas
Day Trips from Dallas
Soap Opera Superstar: Southfork Ranch
If you were around in the 1980s and owned a television set, read newspapers, or worked in an office, there's little chance you'd have escaped the wave of interest that swept the world when Dallas hit the small screen. Now that you know who shot JR, you can visit the location where the series was set: Southfork Ranch. About 25 miles north of Dallas, the ranch welcomes visitors for guided tours of the mansion. Afterwards you can enjoy an authentic Texan chuck wagon dinner on the grounds.
Address: 3700 Hogge Drive, Parker
All Steamed Up: The Museum of the American Railroad
Texas was famous for its big railway engines, and the Museum of the American Railroad is the place to see them. Home to one of the oldest (and largest) collections of passenger cars, rolling stock, and railway-related artifacts in the country, the museum features the largest steam, diesel, and electric locomotives ever used, and all just 29 miles north of Dallas in the town of Frisco.
Address: 455 Page Street, Frisco
Wichita Falls and Kell House
Another fun excursion is Wichita Falls. Although some two hours drive northwest of Dallas, it's worth it for those who enjoy a little culture as the town boasts a symphony orchestra, a ballet company, many professional theatrical performances, numerous fine museums, art galleries, and festivals. For history buffs, historic Kell House Museum alone is worth the drive. Built in 1909 for Frank Kell and his family, the museum is a testament to the history of Wichita Falls and showcases original pieces from the Kell family as visitors step back in time through the beautiful red oak and beveled glass door into a receiving room decorated in Victorian style. If from Wichita Falls you continue your journey northwards, be sure to add Lake Meredith to your list of stops along the way. Here, you'll find the Lake Meredith Aquatic and Wildlife Museum with its interesting displays relating to the Texas Panhandle and its flora and fauna.
Address: 900 Bluff St, Wichita Falls
Where to Stay in Dallas for Sightseeing
Downtown Dallas is the place to stay for exploring the sights, and this is where many first-time visitors choose to find accommodation. Just north of here is the popular Uptown district, another good location with restaurants and entertainment options. Below is a list of highly-rated hotels in or near these areas:
- Luxury Hotels: In a great location, close to the Arts District and within walking distance of several museums and other attractions, is the Omni Dallas Hotel, with a terrace pool overlooking downtown. To experience the elegance and grandeur of the early 20th century, the historic Adolphus Hotel, first opened in 1912, is the perfect place to stay. In the Uptown district, the Hotel ZaZa is a charming boutique hotel with beautifully decorated themed rooms and a quaint pool area set in lush surroundings.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Homewood Suites by Hilton in downtown is an all-suites hotel in a good location near the Arts District, Convention Center, and numerous restaurants and shops. In the former Magnolia Petroleum Company Building, built in 1922, the historic Magnolia Hotel offers modern extended-stay suites and guestrooms and is conveniently located downtown. Another good mid-range option is the Hotel Indigo, in a National Historic Landmark building, which was formerly the Dallas Opera House.
- Budget Hotels: Budget options in downtown Dallas are limited, but good deals are available just outside the city center. In Uptown is the reasonably priced La Quinta Inn Dallas. A fair distance outside the city center but offering good value are the Days Inn Market Center and the Candlewood Suites.