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Dallas Arboretum
Photograph: Courtesy DCVB Dallas Arboretum

The best attractions in Dallas to put on your bucket list

Experience the best attractions in Dallas, from rodeo shows to sculpture gardens and historic trolley rides

By Ana Astri-O'Reilly and Krista Diamond
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If you think Dallas is all about football and TV oil families, think again. You’ll find a lot to see and do in the Big D, from beautiful botanical gardens and world-class art museums to historic neighborhoods and epic restaurants. You can visit the place that changed the course of 20th century history, see the city from the clouds, and see real cowboys in action at the rodeo. This hot list covers a lot of ground and these attractions in Dallas will help you make the most of your visit. And if you're loving it, feel free to extend your trip and spend the night at one of the best hotels in Dallas

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Dallas

Best attractions in Dallas

1. Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture

Music West End

Note: This museum is temporarily closed.

The Old Red Museum tells the story of Dallas from prehistoric times to modern day including artifacts used by the first settlers. The Trading Center gallery shows the transformation of a sleepy town into a thriving regional trade center while the Big “D” Gallery show how Dallas became a nationally relevant city. Make sure to stop by the World Crossroads gallery to see Dallas’ many contributions to pop culture, like J.R. Ewing’s Stetson hat(!), and national history items like the handcuffs used on Lee Harvey Oswald.

Photograph: Courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum

2. The Sixth Floor Museum

Attractions West End

Every school kid knows what happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963—and the majority of Americans (60 percent) still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of President Kennedy was part of a bigger conspiracy. If you’re one of them, you’re in the right place. The infamous Texas School Book Depository is now The Sixth Floor Museum, a world-class center dedicated to telling the story from every angle. Poke through 40,000 artifacts and stand at the exact window Oswald fired from, then head to the grassy knoll below to make up your own mind over the “second shooter.” Afterwards, board the JFK & Dealey Plaza bus tour to explore your theories first-hand, taking in key sites including the Texas Theatre, the art-deco cinema where Oswald was finally apprehended.

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3. Dallas World Aquarium

Attractions Zoo and aquariums West End Historic District

Even though Dallas is miles away from the sea, you can still see interesting marine life from all over the world at the Dallas Aquarium. The exhibits are divided by region and include birds and reptiles. The aquarium is also involved in several conservation projects to protect endangered species like the Orinoco crocodile. Don’t miss the feedings and talks throughout the day. The aquarium occupies two warehouses built in the 1920s in a similar style to other Historic West End buildings.

You can also check out an aquarium in Grapevine.

4. Dallas Museum of Art

Art City Center District

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is the cultural epicenter of the city. The permanent collections encompass the art of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe, as well as contemporary art and design. The museum offers tours, gallery talks, workshops and lectures with renowned artists. Take a break at the  museum café. Don’t miss out on special events like murder mystery games and kids' nights.

Go on a Dallas Arts District scavenger hunt.

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Dallas Arboretum
Photograph: Courtesy DCVB

5. Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Things to do Little Forest Hills

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city? Head to the Arboretum. This urban oasis provides plenty of breathing space in a natural setting. Take a stroll around the different gardens, each with a different style. Take a moment for reflection in the beautiful Women’s Garden and enjoy the fantastic views of White Rock Lake below. The best times to visit the Arboretum are in the fall, when the leaves turn all kinds of shades of russets, reds, yellows, and ochres; and the spring, when the Dallas Blooms Festival is in full swing with its vibrant colors.

6. Nasher Sculpture Center

Art Sculpture Greater Dallas

The best feature of the Nasher is the gorgeous garden, which provides a perfect setting for the sculptures by renowned international artists. Even though it’s in the heart of the city, the garden offers much needed peace and quiet. The lovely café opens up to the garden. The permanent collection includes the biggest names in modern and contemporary art from Alberto Giacometti to Barbara Hepworth. The luminous and expansive building was designed by architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2003. The museum evolved from the personal collection of Raymond and Patsy Nasher, avid collectors and a prominent business family of Dallas.

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7. Perot Museum Of Nature and Science

Museums History West End Historic District

Let your inner child marvel at the interactive games and activities; look a T-Rex or the megafauna of the Ice Age in the eye; climb on an earthquake simulator or use brainwaves to move an object (a light one, though, like a ping pong ball.) The Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened in 2012 and it captures the spirit of scientific knowledge. The fantastic building is an ode to science; it’s sustainable, energy efficient and the landscaping reflects a cross-section of the different landscapes of Texas. Take a minute to enjoy the views of Dallas from the windows on level four.

Save on Dallas attractions.

8. Reunion Tower

Things to do West End

Would you like to see Dallas and beyond from above? The best place to enjoy panoramic views of the city is from the GeO-Deck, an observation platform located in the Reunion Tower of the Regency Hyatt Dallas. The GeO-Deck is 470 feet high. Look for special sky-high activities like sunrise yoga and painting with a view of the city.

Book top attractions in Dallas with a CityPASS.

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9. Dallas Farmers Market

Shopping Markets and fairs Farmers Market District

At less than one mile, the Dallas Farmers Market is a bracing walk away from Downtown, the ideal distance to work up an appetite. The Market, as the food hall is called, is a big shed that houses restaurants, along with artisanal and specialty food vendors. Expect communal seating areas for all except Mudhen, the stand-alone, farm-to-table restaurant. You’ll find it hard to choose one place to eat, with options including tacos, macarons, Neapolitan-style pizza and more. From Ruibal’s nursery, you can see the downtown skyline framing the potted plants and flowers.

Do a Dallas foodie tour.

10. Mesquite Championship Rodeo

Sports and fitness Stadiums Sherwood Forest

If you want to witness the true grit and skill of the Texan cowboy, head to Mesquite Championship Rodeo at Mesquite Arena. This facility, a 15-minute drive east of downtown, holds different events throughout the year, but July, August and September are the busiest rodeo seasons. It is exhilarating to watch each event, from team roping to steer wrestling and calf roping. Experience the speed and grace of the horses and the cowboys' skills with ropes and lassos; feel the sheer power of bucking broncs and bulls. (And, yes, you will feel for those poor clowns!)

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11. House of Blues

Restaurants West End Historic District

The House of Blues is one of the many concert venues in the city that gave Stevie Ray Vaughan to the world. It's not all about music though. There's also a bar and restaurant for pre-concert dinner and drinks. Remember to make a reservation. Catch free live music weekly, with show styles ranging from country and western to pop, jazz and electronic. One Sunday morning a month, local traditional and contemporary Gospel singers treat you to a wonderful show while you enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet. It's a truly uplifting experience.

12. McKinney Avenue Trolley

Things to do State Thomas

If you are into historic means of transport, you’ll adore the McKinney Avenue Trolley. Streetcars were abandoned in 1956, but the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority non-profit has operated restored vintage streetcars since the 1980s. Rosie, the Green Dragon, Matilda, Petunia and Betty will happily take you from Uptown to the Dallas Arts District free of charge. They only ask for a small donation toward their maintenance. Look for the round maroon and white sign. As the trolley approaches, wave your hand out and the motorman will stop so you can hop on board. When you’re ready to hop off, just ring the bell.

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13. Dallas Arts District

Attractions Greater Dallas

The Dallas Arts District is the city's hub for performing and visual arts. The Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art are within yards of each other. Take a stroll along Flora Street and you’ll pass by the striking Meyerson Symphony Center, home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the fabulous Winspear Opera House, the Wyly Theater and the undulating lines of the Moody Performance Hall. Keep an eye out for the public art along the way, especially the majestic Pegasus outside the Booker T. Washington High School and the KPMG Plaza at Hall Arts.

Learn about the JFK assassination on a Dallas tour.

Photograph: Courtesy Historic Downtown McKinney

14. Historic Downtown McKinney

Things to do

McKinney is a beautiful historic commercial downtown located 37 miles north of Dallas. It’s a great place to spend a few hours away from the big city. Buildings from the late 1800s surround the main square and the historic courthouse, which is now the McKinney Performing Arts Center. Independent boutiques, antiques dealers, coffee shops and restaurants line the leafy streets. Nearby, the historic village of Chestnut Square comprises six historic homes, the replica of a one-room school, a chapel and a store that together bring local heritage and history to life. 

Tour Southfork Ranch and more on a full-day tour.

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15. Historic Downtown Grapevine

Things to do

The lovingly preserved area of Historic Downtown Grapevine takes you back to the days of the first settlers and the railway boom of the late 1800s. Walk along Main Street and you’ll come across a cabin made with hand-hewn logs from the 1840s. Inside, the cabin is furnished as it would have been back then; it's a fascinating way to see what pioneer life was like in the 1800s. Farther down Main Street, you can visit the perfectly maintained Historic Grapevine Railroad station and trains. Grapevine is known for the wine tasting rooms and wineries, art galleries, the Art Deco Palace movie theater, independent boutiques and stores.

16. Pioneer Plaza

Attractions Parks and gardens Downtown

Pioneer Plaza is undoubtedly one of Dallas’s most recognizable landmarks. The bronze sculptures recreate a herd of longhorn steers driven by three cowboys though a flowing stream, man-made cliffs and native plants. The sculptures commemorate the cattle drives along the trails that took them from South Texas to the railheads in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Pioneer Plaza is the biggest open space in downtown Dallas and draws many visitors. If you want to take pictures or have a quiet stroll among the sculptures, you may want to avoid the weekends when parents bring their children and quinceañeras do photoshoots.

Book a Dallas tour and see Founders Plaza, Deep Ellum, and more.

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17. Bishop Arts District

Shopping Bishop Arts District

In the 1920s, the South Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff was a bustling commercial area with warehouses and stores. Nowadays, after experiencing a revival, it’s one of Dallas’s trendiest areas. New boutiques, bars, restaurants and smokehouses occupy those old warehouses, which lend the area a lot of character. Some old-timers survive for now, though. Colorful murals—some artistic, some depicting the past and present of Oak Cliff—add a feeling of vitality to the area. For a complete experience, take the free Dallas Streetcar outside Union Station in downtown Dallas to the Bishop Arts stop. The Texas Theater (where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested) is a short walk away.

18. Deep Ellum

Things to do Deep Ellum

Deep Ellum was established in 1873 as one of the city’s first commercial districts for African-Americans. Much of its early history is associated with trade and industry. The former warehouses have been converted into apartments, stores, bars and restaurants. Deep Ellum became famous for its music, from the jazz and blues of the 1920s to today’s booming music scene. The visual arts are another of Deep Ellum’s distinctive features, with its distinctive murals and sculptures. The Traveling Man, a series of three sculptures in stainless steel ranging from 8 to 38 feet tall, has come to represent the spirit of Deep Ellum.

See Deep Ellum on this tour.

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AT&T Stadium
Photograph: Courtesy DCVB

19. AT&T Stadium

Attractions

AT&T Stadium is the state-of-the-art home of the Dallas Cowboys (although it’s owned by the city of Arlington). The facility was completed in 2009 and its most salient feature is the retractable roof. With 80,000 seats, it’s the fourth largest NFL stadium in the nation. Works of modern art, installations and murals adorn the stadium's six levels, which make for an art gallery inside of the magnificent sports venue. There are four types of tours: VIP tours, self-guided tours (only when there’s field availability), educational tours and art tours. The best part? You can go out on the field and pretend to be an NFL star.

Southfork Ranch
Photograph: Courtesy DCVB

20. Southfork Ranch

Attractions Historic buildings and sites

At Southfork Ranch, you can visit the home of one of TV’s richest and most complicated families, the Ewings. The property was a family home at the time of filming, but later became a conference center and event venue located less than 30 miles northwest of downtown Dallas. See how the other half lives during the tour, along with memorabilia from the series like Jock Ewing’s 1978 Lincoln Continental or the gun that killed JR. Tours start at 10:15am daily and run every hour. Alternatively, you can ride the trails at the ranch. The five daily rides are subject to weather and safety conditions.

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21. Legacy West

Things to do

Legacy West is the newest upscale lifestyle destination in the Dallas Metroplex. The development features the regional headquarters of some big companies, hotels, luxury retail shopping, restaurants, a food hall and apartments. Retailers include staple designers like Coach and J. Crew, along with eye-candy shops like the Tesla showroom. Dining options range from Shake Shack burgers and Italian food at North Italia and Taverna restaurants to superb steaks at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House and French-inspired food at Toulouse. Meet friends for a drink at the upscale-meets-casual Earl’s Bar & Kitchen. 

22. Dallas Zoo

Things to do Lake Cliff

The Dallas Zoo is the oldest and largest zoo in Texas. The 100-acre park is located 3 miles south of downtown Dallas. The zoo is divided into two areas joined by a tunnel: ZooNorth and the Wilds of Africa. ZooNorth includes the Koala Walkabout with animals from Australia, a tiger enclosure, the flamingo pond and birds from different countries, among many other species. On the other side of the park, the Wilds of Africa brings zoo-goers the giants of the savanna, a gorilla trail and large cats. Inside the zoo, you'll find three restaurants and food stands to fuel your journey through the wild. The zoo draws quite a crowd on weekends, so be sure to visit during the week if you can.

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Photograph: Ana Astri-O'Reilly

23. Klyde Warren Park

Things to do Greater Dallas

Until 2012, the Woodall Rodgers Freeway split Dallas in two. Klyde Warren Park, built over the freeway between Pearl Street and St. Paul, now joins both neighborhoods. This beautiful park is a hub of activity. The property features a lending library with a reading area and board games, a children’s park, equipment for croquet, petanque and badminton, ping pong and foosball tables. There’s all types of events during the week, from dancing lessons and concerts to tai chi and yoga. Looking for a bite to eat? The food trucks are very popular.

24. American Airlines Center

Sports and fitness Stadiums International Center

Note: Tours are temporarily suspended.

The American Airlines Center, located in Victory Park, is the home of NBA force Dallas Mavericks and local hockey team Dallas Stars. Concerts and other entertainment events also take place at the expansive venue throughout the year. If you’re not attending an event, but would like to get the full “American Airlines Center Experience,” you can book a tour that will take you behind the scenes on an interactive and informative venture. The tour includes a visit to the press box, a luxury suite and other facilities. You must reserve the tour in advance with a minimum of one week’s notice. Wouldn’t it be fun to schedule a birthday party tour here?

Explore more of Dallas

Dallas Museum of Art
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Rita I.

13 museums in Dallas everyone should visit

Museums

Dallas is a diverse, sparkling town and a culture fiend’s paradise, packed with tons of cool restaurants, bars and things to do, plus a slew of fun, interesting and must-visit museums. Here are the 13 best museums in Dallas worth exploring.

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