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Top Destinations for 2016: Texas

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Forget what you think you know about Texas: the Lone Star State might be home to numerous ranches and a good few cowboys (and yes, cattle are still driven throughout the streets of Fort Worth on a twice daily basis) - but whilst its traditions are very much alive, there’s a youthful, forward-thinking aura in the southern air.

Take Houston, for example.  The state’s most populous city and most famous for its Space Center, Houston has an average age of 33, has recently been named the coolest city in the USA by the New York Times, and has a theatre district second only to the Big Apple itself.

Those plaudits are difficult to argue with.

This understated yet very real charm extends to the rest of the state, too - from the Instagram-ready, cosmopolitan hub of Dallas to the laid back charms of traditional Fort Worth to the Mexican-influenced San Antonio, via state capital and live music hub Austin.

Texas’s cities are much more affordable, both in terms of hotels and nightlife, than most others in the US, and the state has a warm climate to boot - making it an ideal destination at any time of the year.

Of course, no visit to Texas is complete without remembering its old charms – so make sure you pay the cowboys a visit whilst you’re there. They’ll be waiting for you with a typically warm Texan welcome.

Where to go

Texas is often the third destination for travellers to the USA – a wing-stretching option for when the East and West coasts have been sufficiently explored.

We think it deserves to be a higher priority, though – because it’s so disarmingly unique, but also because it’s probably more cost-effective than you’d imagined. Three international hubs make it cheaper to visit than many other US states, and daily flights between London and Houston mean it’s more accessible than you might expect, too.

For complete contrast to aforementioned largest city Houston, head north to Fort Worth. Once an important trading post for cowboys, it’s developed into a vibrant a modern city that has lost none of its old-world charm. Visit the (newly renovated, as of 2015) National Cowgirl Museum, experience the twice daily cattle drive, breathe in years of tradition with year-round rodeos at Fort Worth Stockyards (you can also take a walking tour with a cowboy), and get in step with free line-dancing lessons at Bill Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest Honky Tonk.

If you’re looking some something a bit more modern, Fort Worth can also offer you free outdoor concerts at Rockin' The River, and a lively entertainment scene that stretches three miles between the Sundance Square, Stockyards National Historic District, West 7th, Near Southside and the Fort Worth Cultural District neighbourhoods. It’s also an easy city to navigate, with 100 bike share stations and numerous bike lanes and trails.

Only a few miles from Fort Worth is Dallas, where neighbourhoods packed with street art, restaurants and live music are complimented by breweries and local delicacies in the famous Emporium Pies. A “City of Opportunity” for employment and creativity and one of the most diverse in the state in terms of regions and experiences, there’s more to modern day Dallas than back-stabbing and shoulder pads.

Right in the centre of the state, San Antonio is a Mexican-influenced city with a 15-mile long Riverwalk (visit at Christmas to see it lit up in all its glory), that is known for being home to the best Tex Mex cuisine in the world. San Antonio is gearing up to celebrate its 300th birthday in 2018 – which, by US standards, makes it a pretty older timer in the city stakes. It also has a vibrant arts scene, with top museums, studios, galleries and public art – including more than 50 murals on the city’s Westside.

Finally, make sure you don’t overlook Austin – the Texan capital is home to South by Southwest (SxSW) festival, a weeklong annual celebration of independent film, music and media, set against the backdrop of one of the USA’s most vibrantly musical cities.

What to do

Be wowed by a real Texan rodeo

Houston plays host to this most traditional of southern spectacles for the first three weeks of March every year, whilst Fort Worth can proudly say that it hosts the only year-round rodeo in the world at Fort Worth Stockyards. Better remember to pack your cowboy boots.

Soak up Americana at a real drive-in movie theatre

Fort Worth’s only drive-in movie theatre, the Coyote Vintage, has room for 500 vehicles at each screening. Park up by the water on Panther Island, grab some popcorn from the concession stand, and bask in the limitless American-ness of it all. In winter, when it’s too cold to lounge in the open air with your soft-top down, the space transforms into the Panther Island Ice rink.

Remember the Alamo

San Antonio’s most famous draw is the Alamo, the UNESCO World Heritage site that celebrates the 180th anniversary of its eponymous battle in 2016. Numerous cultural and historic events will be marking the anniversary, so if you want to educate yourself with an important slice of Spanish-American history, this is the time.

Experience the “live music capital of the world”

That’ll be state capital Austin, which sits between Dallas and San Antonio and has been given its moniker partly down to its two large festivals: SxSW and Austin City Limits. Famous across the world, SxSW brings together luminaries from the worlds of technology, music and film, and it regarded as one of the world’s leading cultural festivals. Austin City Limits, taking place across three consecutive weekends in September and October, is a music festival that pulls in some of the world’s biggest acts – including, in 2015, the Foo Fighters, Disclosure, The Strokes, Alt-J and The Weeknd. The 2016 line-up will be announced soon. 

Meander on San Antonio’s newly expanded Riverwalk

San Antonio recently completed a $358.3 million project to lengthen its Riverwalk from three to a whopping 15 miles. Museum Reach connects downtown with the museums, cultural districts and the historic Pearl Brewery to the north, whilst Mission Reach - the largest ecosystem restoration in an urban area - joins the original Riverwalk to four of the city’s UNESCO-listed Spanish colonial missions in south San Antonio. You can also take in the natural beauty of the river yourself on hike and bike trails.

Taste the southern flavours

Barbecue and Tex Mex reign supreme in Texas, with styles varying across different regions and several world famous restaurants leading the way. San Antonio is your destination of choice for all things Tex Mex, whilst the best of Texas’s 2,000+ barbecue joints are found – according to Texas Monthly – in Austin (Franklin Barbecue), Dallas (Pecan Lodge) and Lexington (Snow’s BB.)

It’s Austin that you should head for if you want to taste the state (and therefore the world’s) best smoking, according to the magazine – John Mueller Meat Co., La Barbecue, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue and Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew, all found in the capital, dominate their top ten.

Play at being a cowboy on a working ranch

It’s the truest Texas experience that there is, so get your lasso at the ready and stay at one of the state’s many working cattle ranches. Horse-riding, archery, hiking, jeep tours... not to mention the miles of open plains stretching out around you. It’s a holiday like no other.

Visit Big Bend Country

2016 is the centenary of the US National Parks Service – so what better time to leave the cities behind and get lost in the country’s awe-inspiring natural landscape?

Luckily, Texas has landscape in spades. We’d recommend Big Bend National Park - named after the bend in the Rio Grande, the park covers a large swathe of west Texas, crossing the border into Mexico and laying claim over 800,000+ acres of river canyons, deserts and mountains. Go for the wildlife, go for the hiking, go for the scenery, where “night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone.” Go to ride along the canyons like an old-world cowboy or to take in mysterious Marfa Lights. Go for whatever reason you like – just go.

Fancy indulging your sense of wanderlust further? Check out our full list of top travel destinations for 2016 here.

 

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