Discover 18 International Treasures That Are Houston’s Sister Cities

Written by Katie Melynn Wood
Updated: September 27, 2023
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Houston, Texas is a fun, vibrant city with a lot of energy and Texan pride. It is also a sister city to not just one but 19 other amazing cities! As part of the Sister Cities International organization, the non-profit that oversees the program globally, the local Houston government approved the designation of these cities. The program began in 1956 to promote global citizenship and focus on relationships between residents of cities around the world. Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that this would help foster a sense of community even between people who lived in completely different parts of the world and potentially reduce international tension and conflicts in the future.

The sister city program includes organized cultural exchanges and delegations as well as local festivals and events highlighting the culture of the sister city. Some were suggested due to strong ties between business interests and industries. Others developed as many Houston residents had family connections to these areas. Houston has been establishing sister city relationships with other cities around the world since 1961.

Houston, Texas, USA downtown park and skyline at twilight.

Houston, Texas, USA has 19 sister cities.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

#1 Taipei, Taiwan — Sister City since 1961

This first sister city of Houston was designated in 1961, just five years after the program began nationwide. Raymond Hoo, the Consul General of the Republic of China in Houston at the time, suggested Taipei as a sister city and the relationship began. Cultural festivals and visits back and forth cemented the bond.

The Friendship Pavilion in Houston’s Hermann Park was given to the city by Taipei to commemorate their friendship. It was originally given in 1978 and went through an extensive restoration in 1995. Today, you can visit the open pavilion that showcases traditional Taiwanese style and design. As the first of Houston’s sister cities, Taipei has a long history of exchange of ideas, business interests, and friendship with the Texas city.

Taipei 101 Tower at Sunset from Elephant Mountain

This view of the Taipei city skyline is from Xiangshan

Elephant

Mountain.

©Chris Bucanac/ via Getty Images

#2 Huelva, Spain — Sister City since 1969

Located in Southern Spain, Huelva is an important city in the Andalusian region. Like Houston, it is a coastal city that is on a major body of water in the region. Houston is located near the Gulf of Mexico. Galveston Bay and Trinity Bay separate it from the larger body of the Gulf. Huelva is on the Gulf of Cadiz. It is removed from that Gulf by two rivers, the Rio Tinto and Rio Odiel.

The two cities share similar cultures that embrace their coastal locations while still having plenty of inland places to explore. Both Huelva and Houston have protected harbors that make them good for international shipping. Many companies do business in both Houston and Huelva, especially those that utilize maritime shipping channels.

Beautiful San Pedro church and square in the city of Huelva at dusk.

Huelva, Spain is on the Gulf of Cadiz in the Andalusian region of Spain.

©Lux Blue/ via Getty Images

#3 Chiba, Japan — Sister City since 1972

The third city to receive Sister City status with Houston was Chiba, Japan. Like Houston, it has a large port that is very influential on its economy and industry. Through the years, the two cities participated in many exchange programs. For the youngest residents, little league games helped them develop teamwork and camaraderie. High school and college students participated in exchange programs. The University of Houston and Chiba University completed studies and exchanges together.

Chiba is known as being a center for international culture and diversity within Japan. So it was no surprise that the city was the perfect one to foster this relationship with Houston. When Houston delegates attended a 1972 Japan External Trade Organization in Japan, they worked with the Japan Municipal League to find a city that would be interested in partnering. The Sister City relationship between the two port cities was born.

Landscape of Chiba city in Japan

Chiba, Japan is a business-oriented sister city of Houston.

©show999/ via Getty Images

#4 Nice, France — Sister City since 1973

Just one year later, Houston and Nice became sister cities. The French expat community in Houston is very active. Festivals, restaurants, and cultural experiences bring the culture of Nice to Houston residents. When a 2016 terror attack killed 84 in Nice, Houstonians offered their support. Many residents of the city had friends and family in various parts of France. They were able to reach out and show their solidarity, as well as keep track of how the terror attack impacted France going forward.

Cote d'Azur France. Beautiful panoramic aerial view city of Nice, France. Luxury resort of French riviera

Nice, France is home to many luxurious resorts.

©Marina Datsenko/Shutterstock.com

#5 Baku, Azerbaijan — Sister City since 1976

The link between Houston and Baku was forged in the 1970s when the two cities were major oil production sites in the world. At the time, a well-known professional within the oil industry, Douwe de Vries, represented Houston in the new relationship. Douwe and his wife Robbie visited Baku as well as hosted international delegates in their Houston home. They exchanged gifts representing each of the cities, such as a painting of Texas bluebells iconic in Houston.

Today, the spirit of the two sister cities is shown in an International Festival in Houston, where traditional Azerbaijan dances and food are included. There is also a soccer tournament with teams from both cities represented in Houston.

Old and modern architecture in Baku city, Azerbaijan

Baku city, Azerbaijan, has historical mosques and the walls of the Palace of Shirvanshahs in the Old Town alongside modern Flower Towers skyscrapers.

©Xantana/ via Getty Images

#6 Grampian Region, Aberdeen, Scotland — Sister City since 1979

This relationship was forged in 1979. 40 delegates from Houston went to this part of Scotland when the charter was signed to support it and learn more about the new sister city. When Stephen F. Austin established the first American settlement in Texas in 1821, which was part of Mexico at the time, many of the families who were with him were Scottish. The ties between Scotland and Texas have been strong for many years, making the establishment of these sister cities a great step. In addition to sharing culture through festivals and celebrations, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Houston Baptist University have an exchange program for nursing students.

Path to Ben Nevis the highest mountain in the UK

Path to the Ben Nevis summit, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, is in the Grampian Region of Scotland.

©josefkubes/ via Getty Images

#7 Perth, Australia — Sister City since 1984

Strong ties between Houston and Perth actually began in the Sunda Strait, which connects the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean. During World War II, the USS Houston and HMAS Perth fought in a naval battle with Japanese forces to keep them from moving closer to Australia. Although both ships were lost, the relationship between the two cities lives on. The sister city bond honors this connection even more than 50 years later.

When John Glenn, a NASA astronaut who lived and trained in Houston, orbited in 1962 and again in 1998, Perth turned on as many lights as possible in the city as he went by so that he could see it. From his vantage point in orbit, Glenn could pick out Perth among the many cities he saw below. Since then, the Australian-American Chamber of Commerce has hosted special events to celebrate the bond between Houston and Perth.

Perth, Australia

The USS Houston and HMAS Perth fought in a naval battle to prevent Japanese forces from moving closer to Australia.

©iStock.com/Richy_B

#8 Shenzhen, China — Sister City since 1986

The ties between Shenzhen and Houston rely on the air. This large city in China is also a hub of air transportation, like Houston. It also has a large international port. The similarities between industries in Houston and Shenzhen make it a natural pick for a sister city. In the 1980s, when the two became official, Shenzhen was focusing on international growth. The city also hosts many international events with a particular focus on the tech industry, as well as infrastructure.

Shenzhen City Center City Scenery Skyline

Shenzhen is a tech hub in China.

©bingfengwu/ via Getty Images

#9 Guayaquil, Ecuador — Sister City since 1987

The second largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil is a great international partner with Houston. The two became sister cities in 1987. Guayaquil is located on the Guayas River near the Gulf of Guayaquil, similar geography to Houston. In its long history, Guayaquil was attacked by pirates, held for ransom by the English, and used as a major port for international maritime shipping.

Guayaquil, Ecuador

Santa Ana Hill Church sits amid colorful colonial housing in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

©SL_Photography/ via Getty Images

#10 Istanbul, Turkey — Sister City since 1988

Istanbul may be most famous for being the location of the Hagia Sophia but it is also a sister city of Houston. It has a long history and was established by the Greeks as Byzantium and later renamed Constantinople before officially becoming Istanbul in 1930. Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and is influential in the country’s culture as well as international relations. It has been an international hub in Turkey since 330 CE when it became the capital of Constantine.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia is a sister city of Houston located in Istanbul.

©LALS STOCK/Shutterstock.com

#11 Stavanger, Norway — Sister City since 1988

There were already strong ties between businesses and industries in Stavanger and Houston. When creating a bond between the two as sister cities was suggested in the 1980s, it didn’t take long for people to become very enthusiastic about the idea. Nearby Galveston wanted to participate as well as the Houston-Galveston/Stavanger relationship was created.

One of the signature projects of the non-profit organization that maintains the sister city status has been cultural exchanges between residents. “Stavanger Days in Texas” and “Texas Days in Stavanger” allow students to visit the other city and learn more about their music, sports, and pastimes. According to the Houston–Galveston/Stavanger Sister City Society, over 1800 youth have participated, as well as additional teachers, families, and community members.

Stavanger at night

Stavanger is a port city in Norway.

©nightman1965/ via Getty Images

#12 Leipzig, Germany — Sister City since 1992

This relationship was established after the fall of the Berlin Wall as Germany opened up to the West. Dr. Stefan Roehrbein, a young student at the time, suggested Leipzig as a possible sister city for Houston. He was from Leipzig and wanted to showcase its culture. The city also had a lot of similarities to Houston, including a strong presence in academia, the arts, and global partnerships. The partnership was approved and fostered through the years.

The organization received recognition as the winner of the 2010 Arts & Culture Award for Population over 500,001 from Sister Cities International. The award specifically applauded the fellowship shown by the Houston-Leipzig Sister City Association sponsoring the Peace Window in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, an accompanying Peace Cantata, and a presentation of rare books in Houston. These were given to celebrate the University of Leipzig’s 600-year commemoration.

Skyline of Leipzig

Leipzig has a young student to thank for its sister city bond with Houston.

©Jakob Fischer/ via Getty Images

#13 Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – Sister City since 2001

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE. As a city focused on advancing progress, it is one of the world leaders when it comes to things like industry, space exploration, medicine, and the arts. It still maintains its traditions and has a rich history. Houston and Abu Dhabi have strong business ties, with many corporations and businesses maintaining offices in both cities.

View of Abu Dhabi Skyline at sunset, United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, has strong business ties with Houston.

©prochasson frederic/Shutterstock.com

#14 Luanda, Angola — Sister City since 2003

Another port city, Luanda is on the southern coast of Africa and the capital of Angola. It is also its largest city, with roughly 8.8 million residents. There are a lot of ties between the two, especially in the oil industry. Both Luanda and Houston are major international ports that also have oil processing and production facilities. They became the sister city of Houston in 2003, just one year after the conclusion of a civil war in Angola. Following the war, Angola sought to establish strong international relationships to promote stability.

Luanda City Seaside from Sky

Luanda is located on the coast of Angola.

©claudio gomes/ via Getty Images

#15 Tampico, Mexico — Sister City since 2003

This city in Mexico is also a port. Like Houston, it is close to the Gulf of Mexico, connected to this major body of water by the Panuco River. It was also the site of the first oil drilling in Mexico in 1901. Oil production ended by the end of the 1920s but maritime shipping remained. Today, Tampico handles metal, lumber, and other agricultural shipments. In 2023, Houston donated over $200,000 worth of firefighting equipment to Tampico as part of the sister-city relationship. Both cities have enthusiastic sports fan bases.

Carpenter's Lagoon in Tampico, Tamaulipas

The Tampico Ferris Wheel is a familiar sight next to Carpintero Lagoon in Tampico.

©Alex Borderline/ via Getty Images

#16 Karachi, Pakistan — Sister City since 2009

Relief efforts in response to recent flooding in Karachi allowed Houstonians to support their sister city residents during emergencies. Donations of hygiene items, food, water, and other supplies were sent to Pakistan to help residents who had lost these basic necessities. Events to showcase the culture of Pakistan in Houston have also included an annual Iftar during Ramadan, a dinner at the end of the fasting day. Past Iftars have welcomed the mayor as well as international delegates. They were even held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karachi, Pakistan

Karachi, Pakistan, has been a sister city of Houston since 2009.

©ibrar.kunri/Shutterstock.com

#17 Basrah, Iraq — Sister City since 2015

Partner cities since 2012, Basrah and Houston decided to continue fostering community and camaraderie as sister cities in 2015. Basrah and Houston are both strong cities within energy production, specifically oil. They are also both port cities. Basrah is the major port in Iraq. The business ties between the two, as well as the increased cooperation that flourished as sister cities, was a major factor in establishing this relationship.

Sunset on the river Tigris with Cranes

Like its sister city Houston, Basrah is a hub for international maritime shipping.

©Nina Assam/ via Getty Images

#18 Ulsan Metropolitan City, Republic of Korea — Sister City since 2021

The newest sister city with Houston is Ulsan Metropolitan City in the Republic of Korea. The two cities formed this relationship in 2021. A formal signing, attended by Mayor Song Cheol-ho from Ulsan and Mayor Sylvester Turner from Houston was met with much applause. Energy production, medicine, and education were listed as common interests between the two. Both also play a role in the future of biotechnology and information technology.

Aerial shot of cityscape and a beautiful river at sunset in Ulsan, South Korea

The Taehwagang River runs through Ulsan, South Korea.

©Wirestock/ via Getty Images

Summary of Houston’s Sister Cities

Sister CityYear Relationship Established
Taipei, Taiwan1961
Huelva, Spain1969
Chiba, Japan1972
Nice, France1973
Baku, Azerbaijan1976
Grampian Region, Aberdeen, Scotland1979
Perth, Australia1984
Shenzhen, China1986
Guayaquil, Ecuador1987
Istanbul, Turkey1988
Stavanger, Norway1988
Leipzig, Germany1992
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates2001
Luanda, Angola2003
Tampico, Mexico2003
Karachi, Pakistan2009
Basrah, Iraq2015
Ulsan Metropolitan City, Republic of Korea2021

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/LUNAMARINA


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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