Top 7 Places to Explore in Galveston Before Heading Out (or Coming Back) From Your Cruise

Whether it's Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian, or one of the many other cruises ported from the Galveston shoreline, you will find excitement and intrigue when you extend your visit to Galveston.

Set on the sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico is an idyllic Texas island appreciated by many who venture to its breezy borders. Galveston, Texas is the first stop and drop-off point for a myriad of cruise lines taking passengers on their spring vacations. Ensure your experience is the most eventful trip of your life as you head out or return from your cruise vacation.

1. Natural Wonders and Interactive Experiences at Moody Gardens

Visitors curious to peer deeper into aquatic wildlife and natural wonders will have an immersive experience at Moody Gardens. This top-rated, multi-faceted entertainment venue features a world-class aquarium: The Aquarium Pyramid, a living rainforest: The Rainforest Pyramid, and an interactive museum: The Discovery Pyramid. Adventure seekers can even test their skills and get their hearts racing at the Ropes Course and the Zip Line.

Moody Gardens

From flowing jellyfish and tuxedo-clad penguins to stealthy sharks and thousands of tropical fish, guests here can observe the world swimming just below the surface. Each ocean exhibit highlights different marine sanctuaries and different aspects of our relationship to the seas.

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Moody Gardens

Wander through a tree-top canopy oasis mimicking the rare and untouchable rainforests of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Take in nearly 2,000 species of exotic plants, birds and endangered animals ranging from Komodo Dragons and Cotton-top Tamarins to Giant Amazon River Otters and Saki Monkeys – many roaming freely.

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Moody Gardens

Learners of all ages will find educational, seasonally rotating exhibitions such as wave science and robotics within the walls of the Discovery Pyramid. Each attraction at Moody Gardens is catered to the expansion of minds and to the awakening of senses for those willing to plunge into this exhilarating and multi-sensory entertainment center.

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2. Explore Historic Downtown Galveston

A couple of hours to kill before heading out? Shop for a special souvenir to remember your unforgettable trip, a new bathing suit to flaunt for the occasion, grab a speakeasy-style cocktail, and take in the island’s historic sites. Historic Downtown Galveston provides a charming array of shops, boutiques, art galleries, and attractions to satisfy your senses.

Only one block from the Port of Galveston, you’ll have plenty of time to peruse the medley of fine gifts and kitschy goods, to enjoy a delicious meal, and to feast your eyes on the remarkable historic architecture and Victorian artistry of this Texas island town.

Map showing the proximity of Historic Downtown Galveston to the cruise terminals.

In the late 1880s, Galveston was the third richest city in the U.S. in proportion to its population and reputed as “The Wall Street of the South.” Southern antiqued buildings adorned with traditional Victorian embellishments, arching façade entranceways, and fortified iron-fronts heighten your experience as you stroll along The Strand, Historic Downtown Galveston’s main shopping district.

Be sure to stop by the Postoffice District: Historic Downtown Galveston’s arts and entertainment area, and West Market (WeMa): Downtown Galveston’s eclectic local spot with plenty of evening entertainment.

3. Indulge in the Freshest Seafood in Texas

You can’t go wrong with any of Galveston Island's numerous seafood restaurants. There’s nothing like an afternoon catch to amplify your tastebuds, taking taste to the next level of deliciousness. Remarkable waterfront views, salty sea air, and boat-to-plate dining solidify the full island experience.

Galveston local outdoor restaurant favorites like Katie’s Seafood House have a fresh fish market directly next door to the restaurant to ensure total quality perfection. The Fisherman’s Wharf serves seafood fresh seafood, plus hearty steaks, salads, burgers and savory chicken. This cruise passenger favorite sits on the edge of the sea at Pier 21, ideally nestled directly next to the Port of Galveston.

Family dining outdoors on waterfront at Fisherman's Wharf in Galveston TX

It's not all Shrimp Rockefeller, Gulf Snapper, and Texas Blue Crab Cakes either. If you prefer classic American fares like pizzas, burgers, and fries, Galveston has many different dining hot spots for those who prefer turf over the surf.

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4. Enjoy the Thrills of Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

For kids and kids at heart, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier offers action-packed fun and exciting entertainment! Thrilling rides like the Iron Shark steel roller coaster, the first Euro-Fighter coaster in Texas, will get your adrenaline pumping. Take a spin on the Texas Star Flyer, a soaring swing ride lifting you 98-feet in the air with stunning aerial views of the Gulf of Mexico.

Play classic carnival games for your chance to win prizes, and explore souvenir shops for a memorable token to take home. If you love water parks, be sure to head over to Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston for rides, slides and a splash-tastic good time!

5. 32 Miles of Beaches with Breathtaking Sunrises and Sunsets

Galveston Island features 32 miles of sandy shoreline complete with glowing sunrises and vibrant sunsets. Gentle waves ebb and flow onto the Gulf of Mexico coastline as you bury your toes into the sand underneath a shaded umbrella. Only the soothing sights and sounds of ocean waters, sea birds, and families at play surround you.

Sip on a cocktail and walk along the boardwalk at East Beach. Drop a fishing line and grab your binoculars for birdwatching at Galveston Island State Park. Build a sandcastle, play a game of giant Jenga, and try your hand at cornhole at Stewart Beach with family and friends. Each Galveston beach offers visitors a unique experience with plenty of time to unwind, breathe in the fresh sea air, and swim in the stunning Gulf of Mexico ocean waves.

6. Explore Galveston’s Culturally Diverse History

Galveston’s rich history and culturally diverse background continue to live on through the island’s architecture, art murals, and celebrations. Galveston was second to Ellis Island as an immigration port, serving as a passage into the new world and freedom from persecution faced by the many immigrants venturing to the Americas. As a port to the United States, its terrain was the stepping stone to a new life for foreigners.

Galveston History

Like most territories in the U.S., Galveston was not immune to the atrocities of slavery, but unlike many U.S. territories, Galveston preserves the remembrance of freedom from slavery with Juneteenth, marking the oldest known celebration for this life-changing event in our nation’s history. Take a self-guided African American history tour to learn about the many African American contributions, accomplishments, and historically black institutions on the island.

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Visitors can take The Freedom Walk to learn about five historic sites and their importance to Juneteenth and stop by the towering “Absolute Equality” mural in Downtown Galveston for an artistic representation of African American history in Galveston.

Historic Tours

While in Galveston, tour The 1892 Bishop’s Palace. It is deemed by architectural historians as “one of the most noteworthy Victorian homes in the United States.” Visitors can take a self-guided tour inside, or gaze in awe of its courtly exterior featuring splendid turrets and ornate cladding.

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Historic Tours

Another excellent example of Victorian architecture on the island for history buffs to tour is the 1895 Moody Mansion. A Galveston historic landmark, this was originally home to one of the wealthiest families in the 1950s and still contains preserved memorabilia from its original owners.

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7. Peruse Art and History Museums

Get to know the creative side of our community through Galveston's vibrant arts and culture scene. Galveston's rich history and culture comes alive in our museums, eclectic art galleries, and exciting performing arts establishment.

Galveston Museums

The Bryan Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Southwestern artifacts with both seasonal temporary exhibitions and permanent exhibitions such as the Texas Frontier, Spanish Colonial Era, and Texas Masters. There are about 70,000 items held within the Bryan Museum showcasing ancient Native American, American West, and Texas artwork.

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Galveston Museums

For locomotive lovers, the Galveston Railroad Museum houses an impressive collection of exhibitions including model train layouts, and actual Santa Fe Warbonnets, locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars from as far back as the late 1800s.

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Other honorable mentions include the Ocean Star Drilling Rig Museum, the only one of its kind open to the public, Ship to Shore Immigration Experience, the "And Still We Rise... Galveston's Juneteenth Story" experience, Galveston Naval Museum, and the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa. Each one offers visitors a historical account and educational learning experience about Galveston’s riveting past and its contribution to Texas history.

Explore Galveston, Texas before setting sail or on your return home from one of the many cruise lines docked on the island. Stay for a few extra nights in one of the many affordable hotels offering parking and convenient transfers to and from the cruise terminal. If you are flying in for your cruise, Galveston is only 40 miles from Houston Hobby Airport for travelers interested in visiting Texas’ little slice of heaven on the Gulf Coast.

Insider Tip: Save Up To 40% on Island Attractions

With the Galveston Island Pass, you can select four or more participating attractions and save 40% off the retail price. Passes are valid 30 days after purchase.

If you haven’t been to Galveston lately, now is the perfect time to experience some of the island's unique attractions – at a price you can't refuse. The Galveston Island Pass is your key to adventure and savings while exploring the numerous attractions that make Galveston so special.

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Visit Galveston is the official destination marketing organization for Galveston Island, Texas.