Dallas-Fort Worth, USA travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

The two Texan cities only 40 minutes apart make for a memorable visit to the Lone Star State, writes Lee Tulloch.

1. DALLAS FORT WORTH AIRPORT

Ever since Qantas started flying non-stop to the dual Texan cities in 2011, savvy Australians have been using this efficient airport as a hub to connect with Qantas partner American Airlines and travel to destinations throughout North and South America and Mexico. It's one of the busiest airports in the world but it's so well organised, even changing from international to domestic flights is seamless via a fast skytrain. The rail express to either downtown Fort Worth or Dallas (the airport is equidistance) is only $2.50. The cities are only  40 minutes apart and can be combined for a fun stopover – there's enough to keep you occupied for at least two or three days. 

2. THE GEO-DECK AT REUNION TOWER, DALLAS

First things first – a 360-degree  view of Dallas from the observation deck atop this  170-metre-tall tower helps set the scene as you survey the suburban sprawl of almost 8 million people.  The tower was built in 1978 and based on the geodesic domes designs of futurist Buckminster Fuller. It reopened in October 2013 after a renovation with a Wolfgang Puck restaurant perched on top. At night it dazzles with a light show seen from miles away. For tickets visit reuniontower.com

3. THE MANSION

It's hard work getting your moves co-ordinated, but the friendly locals don't mind.

Mention you're staying at "the mansion" and everyone will know where you mean. Rosewood's Mansion on Turtle Creek (it's on a creek – no turtles in sight) is Dallas' most venerable hotel, occupying the 1920s mansion of a cotton baron, later the headquarters of an oil company. Still in family hands, the mansion was converted to a hotel in 1980 and it retains the charm of an era when famous guests such as Tennessee Williams would linger over cocktails on the terrace, with its large rooms, opulent furnishings and pretty courtyard pool. Worth visiting the bar or joining locals for a healthy breakfast if you're not sleeping here. rosewoodhotels.com/en/mansion-on-turtle-creek-dallas

4. THE GRASSY KNOLL

JFK assassination conspiracy theorists have plenty of food for thought in downtown Dallas. The "grassy knoll" where a second shooter theoretically took his shot is more like a concrete knoll these days but two white crosses on the road allow visitors to examine the trajectory of shots, one of which came from Lee Harvey Oswald's position in a sixth-floor window of the old Texas School Book Depository, now a fascinating interactive museum known as the Sixth Floor Museum. Tourists risk their lives every day on busy Elm Street taking selfies on the assassination spot. Architect Philip Johnson's austere memorial to John F Kennedy can be visited on nearby Main Street. jfk.org (Explore via Street View below)

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5. NEIMAN MARCUS

America's most famous luxury department store opened in Dallas in 1907. A fire destroyed the building and a new store took its place in 1914 on the corner of Main and Ervay. This building still stands as the company's flagship store. Neiman Marcus is most famous for its innovative Christmas catalogues, which were first printed in 1926. Each year since, the extravagance of gifts on offer have upped the ante, from an $18,700 mini submarine in 1963 to $1.5 million His and Hers dancing fountains in 2011. The Holy Grail for fashionistas and those who love elegant old stores. .neimanmarcus.com

6. WILD BILLS

This legendary western outfitter has sold cowboy hats, boots and gear from the old brick building on North Market Street, Dallas, for 40 years. Customers include John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Larry Hagman. "Wild Bill" himself is a bit of a smoothy, who'll greet you with oversized Texan cheer and pin a sheriff's badge on you if you don't dodge quickly enough. Experts can fit you for a cowboy hat or colourful boots and the cavernous shop also sells plaid shirts, buckskin jackets and plenty of gear suitable for line dancing. Boots and hats are pricey but there's always an inexpensive  pair of diamante cowboy boot earrings or a Texas longhorn belt buckle to take home. wildbillswestern.com

7. DALLAS COWBOYS

You'll find the football-playing kind of cowboys at their home ground, the AT&T stadium,  24 kilometres east of Fort Worth at Arlington. Built in 1971, the stadium is the world's largest domed building and hosts regular NFL home games for the Dallas Cowboys and other sporting events and concerts. If NFL is not your thing, the stadium is worth a visit for its art collection. The museum-quality collection can be followed via a free downloadable app. Daily tours of the stadium are worth catching, or take in a game when the Cowboys are home, although we found non-season ticket prices quite expensive. stadium.dallascowboy.com (Explore via Street View below)

8. DALLAS ARTS DISTRICT

Those oil wells have brought a boon to Texas in the impressive philanthropy exhibited throughout the city. Dallas boasts the largest concentrated urban arts district in the US, spanning three city blocks and  eight hectares.  Along with the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art, the district features four landmark buildings designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects -  the Nasher Sculpture Centre (Renzo Piano), the AT&T Performing Arts Centre (Rem Koolhaas), the Morton H Meyerson Symphony Centre (I.M.Pei) and the Winspear Opera House (Foster + Partners.)  There's a range of free activities and public tours. .thedallasartsdistrict.org

9. ICE HOCKEY

More fun than a barrel full of cheerleaders, this popular and fast-moving game can be viewed at the immaculate American Airlines Centre, Victory Avenue, Dallas. The local team is the Dallas Stars, one of the most successful sporting franchises in the city along with basketball team the Mavericks and NFL team the Cowboys. The sport can be violent but the crowd, mostly families, is well behaved. Giant screens over the rink  mean  no cheerleader action is missed during scoring periods. At quarter time there's Human Bowling, where a game participant is tossed at giant inflatable bowling pins. americanairlinescenter.com

10. GEORGE W BUSH LIBRARY

Texas boasts three US Presidents, Lyndon B Johnson, George H W Bush and George W Bush. As is custom, each retiring president gets his own Presidential Library, mostly funded by supporters. The 43rd president's library, which contains his offices and archives, is on the campus of the Southern Methodist University, Dallas. The impressive 2013 building is open to visitors and houses collections of memorabilia from Bush's presidency, including Saddam Hussein's gun and full replica of the Oval Office as well as the reconstructed White House Situation Room, with its original panelling and furniture. There's a 911 memorial but be warned - history is retold through W's eyes. bushcenter.org

11. COWBOYS

Saddle up, because charming Fort Worth is all about the cowboys. Originally settled in 1849 as a fort to protect settlers from Indian attacks, the small city (population 777,000) is home to the oldest stock show and rodeo in the country and the world's only twice-daily cattle drive. The Stockyards district is a step back to the old west, with the wide streets and atmospheric saloons overhung by awnings – and genuine cowboys moseying around. We met a gunslinger who was a fifth-generation descendent of Doc Holliday.  View the Texas Longhorn cattle in the yards, the historic Livestock Exchange Building and the Cowboy Hall of Fame. fortworthherd.com

12. LINE DANCING

It's fun, actually. If you're a beginner, Billy Bob's ("The World's Largest Honky Tonk") in the Stockyards offers free line dancing lessons with  Wendell Nelson, who has been a dance instructor there for  more than 20 years. It's hard work getting your moves co-ordinated, but the friendly locals don't mind. Billy Bob's was originally a cattle barn but now it's a cavern of arcades, casinos, bars and barbecue, offering mechanical bull-riding demonstrations as well as less strenuous activities such as pool and country music concerts. .billybobstexas.com

13. SADDLES AND CHAPS

M.L Leddy's is a Fort Worth saddlery that has been creating custom-made saddles, boots and clothing since 1922. The corner store has an extensive collection of beautiful cowboy boots – one of the pairs on display  costs $13,000. A customised pair takes more than a year and costs upward of $1500. In-store specialists will measure you up for a new pair or repair or shine your old boots. Leddy's also has a fabulous collection of Stetson hats, belt buckles, spurs, saddles and chaps. leddys.com

14. THE RODEO

It's pronounced ro-dee-o not ro-day-o and every Friday and Saturday night the locals gather for an evening of bull riding, calf roping and barrel races at the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth. Built in 1908, the Coliseum was the site of the world's first indoor rodeo. Events are interspersed with clowns and singing from a guest artist and there's an alarming event where little children chase a kicking calf around the arena, vying to be the first to snatch a ribbon off the calf's neck – and win a prize. They make kids tough in Texas. cowtowncoliseum.com (Explore via Street View below)

15. ART FIX

"Cowboys and culture" is the way Fort Worth pitches itself and there's plenty of both. The Fort Worth Cultural District, a few kilometres from downtown, features five significant museums, including the Kimball Art Museum, a modernist icon designed by Louis Kahn in the 1970s, which has a magnificent new pavilion by Renzo Piano. Fort Worth's Museum of Modern Art, by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is one of the world's most gorgeous museums, with a fabulous poolside cafe serving naturally produced seasonal menus. Don't miss the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame down the block. fwculture.com

16. FINE DINING

There's no shortage of barbecue and bacon in Fort Worth. Chef Molly McCook (yes, that's her name) from Ellerbe Fine Foods on hip Magnolia Street provides the alternative – inventive dishes using farm-to-table ingredients, served in an airy conversion of an old gas station. Try crispy cornmeal crusted frogs legs, citrus and sage brined "Airline' Chicken (that's the part with wings) or Blackened Gulf Drum, a kind of local fish. Named to Bon Appetite magazine's list of Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America in 2010. ellerbefinefoods.com

17. OUTLET SHOPPING

You'll need to hire a car to get to the Grand Prairie Premium Outlets on the interstate near Arlington but it's worth it if you're looking for  big discounts  on clothing, shoes, luggage and home wares. The centre has 110 outlet stores, including Brooks Brothers, Bloomingdales and J. Crew. Take your passport and airline ticket – they'll give you the sales tax back on the spot. When we were there, the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet was offering "buy one, get two free" on many items – you can't beat that. premiumoutlets.com

18. SIX FLAGS

Aside from Disneyland, Six Flags is America's most popular theme park chain for families and it all started here in Arlington, Texas, near DFW, in 1961. The name refers to the six flags that governed Texas at different times: Spain, France, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, the US and the Confederate States of the US.  Thrill rides include the Texas Giant Rollercoaster and the world's tallest swing ride, the Texas Skyscreamer.  Smaller children will enjoy Bugs Bunny Boomtown. sixflags.com

19. STAMPEDE 66

Stephan Pyles is the founding father of modern Texan cuisine. A fifth-generation Texan, he started out in his family's truck stop cafe in Big Spring. Since then, he has created 21 restaurants in five cities, including this friendly flagship on McKinney Avenue in downtown Dallas. The food is finger-lickin' delicious, from tasty cornbread, biscuits and puffy pork rinds served with local Shiner beer, to brisket sandwiches, homemade chilli served in a can for fun, and inspired desserts such as butterscotch pudding with salted caramel.  A great place to start if you want to taste the best of local cooking.  stampede66.com

20. TEXAS STATE FAIR

If you love fairs, this one is a doozy and it's worth timing a visit to Dallas to catch it. (In 2015 it will run September 25-October 18.) Big Tex, a rather scary 16-metre-tall statue of a cowboy, has been greeting visitors to the fair since 1952. Apart from livestock exhibitions, an auto show, college football, dozens of free daily concerts, thrilling rides and hundreds of traditional sideshow attractions, this huge fair is your annual opportunity to sample Fletcher's legendary Corny Dogs and other calorific delicacies, including an evil invention called a Funnel Cake, which is a deep-fried sweet batter the size of a dinner plate. Go for it. bigtex.com

The writer travelled as a guest of Qantas, the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

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