If you are looking for things to do in Austin, the good news is there are lots of choices. As the Texas State Capitol, Austin embodies all things Texas – promising a jam-packed itinerary. You can learn about Texas history, visit fun attractions, admire Latin American art, and experience an impressive cityscape. As the Live Music Capital of the world, there is no shortage of places to watch live music in the city. This activity was definitely one of our favorite things to do in Austin.
Top Things to Do in Austin
Of course, nature lovers will also find many things to do in Austin. The city sits in the Texas Hill Country, surrounded by hiking trails, wildlife, and State Parks. The Colorado River runs through Austin, too – filling reservoirs like Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake.
But, let’s take a more detailed look at all the best things to do in Austin! Austin provides a fantastic balance of indoor and outdoor activities and you’ll find things to do in Austin spread across the city.
1. Rent a Boat on Lake Austin
A picnic on the water is a romantic way to start or end any day. We’d highly recommend using one of the many boat rentals to hire a motorized boat and explore Lake Austin from the water. Pack a picnic and camera, and you have a luxury, independent private tour.
As one of Austin’s main reservoirs, Lake Austin is an important asset to the city. Because of this, certain areas are privately owned or closed to the public, so you’ll need to pay attention to signs and any restrictions. The best way to enjoy Lake Austin is by boat, as swimming and fishing are limited around many lake areas.
If you don’t want to rent a boat yourself, this guided boat tour on Lake Austin is the perfect alternative.
2. Swim in Lake Travis
Lake Travis is where to head if you’d prefer to go swimming rather than shop for boat rentals.
The reservoir is Austin’s biggest and most impressive sight! The lake’s 271 miles of shoreline also means lots of swimming spots – especially considering that the whole of Lake Travis is open to the public.
Lake Travis’ famous, ultra-blue waters are a result of the limestone rock underneath. It is well-worth packing snorkeling gear if you plan a swim, as the waters are known for their great visibility.
3. Tour the Texas State Capitol Building
The Texas State Capitol is on every Austin city guide for a good reason.
The 19th-century building is the home of the Texan government and is the largest state capitol building in the US. To learn about Texas architecture and politics, visiting the Capitol Building is easily one of the best things to do in Austin.
You can take a free guided tour or visit independently. Guided tours run at staggered, set intervals. But, if you choose a self-guided tour, you’ll be able to tour whenever it suits you.
A great way to visit the Capitol is to bundle it together with a small group tour of Austin. This one allows you to skip the line and is likely to sell out! You can book it here.
4. Texas Memorial Museum
The Texas Memorial Museum carries the lofty title of Austin’s first state museum. To learn about natural and cultural history in Texas, we recommend paying this place a visit.
From fossils to exhibitions of the latest research, the museum covers various topics with temporary, and permanent exhibits. The attraction also has a series of entrance fee discounts, with students receiving considerable price reductions.
The museum is on the University Campus and is an educational, interesting place to spend a couple of hours.
5. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Zilker Park is a 358-acre inner-city green space comprising of Zilker Botanical Garden, Barton Springs Pool, Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and The Great Lawn.
If you want to spend a day entertained in just one place, we’d suggest choosing Zilker Metropolitan Park. The Barton Springs Pool is filled with water from a nearby natural spring and is thermally heated, so perfect for swimming all year round. Nearby, the Zilker Botanical and Sculpture Gardens are good to wander on foot.
While you are in the area make sure to visit the Austin Nature & Science Center which is located right at the edge of the park.
6. Mckinney Falls State Park
Remember those nearby State Parks we mentioned above? Mckinney Falls State Park is Austin’s best.
Choose Mckinney Falls over Zilker Park if you wish to spend a morning on remote trails and close to wildlife. The park’s set in the Hill Country woods, with Onion Creek to swim and fish along. The woodland gives the park a more secluded, quiet feel than Zilker’s open green space.
Choose the Rock Shelter Trail for a short and scenic hike. This route passes Old Baldy, a 500-year-old tree and popular natural tourist attraction to visit in Austin.
If you are a cyclist or hiker who doesn’t mind passing bikes, the Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail is longer and more challenging. Jump in an air-conditioned van and explore all this area has to offer. Book it here!
7. Listen to Live Country Music
Okay, so you went to The Continental but missed the country music night? Don’t worry. There are lots of venues that play live music, and there are always concert ticket sales to snatch up bargain tickets.
The Hole in the Wall, Broken Step and San Jac Saloon are all good pub-style venues to grab a drink and listen to country tunes. While the Moody Theater, Emo’s Austin, and Maggie Mae’s Concert Hall are an ideal larger concert and festival-style venues – book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Listening to country music is one of the most fun things to do in Austin, Texas. So, definitely prioritize taking in a concert or live music bar when visiting.
8. Tour Austin City Limits
http://it acltv.comAustin City Limits is the longest-running music production on TV. To be able to watch a taping, regular folks are put into a lottery system but you can book tours of the venue. From Monday to Saturday, 90-minute tours are offered of the live venue to see behind the scenes including the awesome photography from acts that have been performing here since 1974.
Austin City Limits Festival
The annual Austin City Limits Festival is one of the best outdoor festivals in the country that hosts 130 artists attracting a quarter million patrons each year at Zilker Park. If you want to attend this festival, visit their website to buy tickets.
9. Catch Live Music at The Continental Club
People call Austin the live music capital of Texas, and The Continental Club is known as one of the biggest clubs in Austin, Texas.
The club has been hosting live music since 1955 – playing everything from blues and country, to rock, and swing. To pay a visit, head to South Congress in South Austin. Enter the club under the vintage neon lights, pull up a stool, grab a drink, and enjoy the best of Texan music culture.
10. Austin Zoo
Austin Zoo is a non-profit organization that promotes wildlife conservation and rescues native and exotic animals. The zoo has over three hundred animals, including endangered species like tigers, ring-tailed lemurs, and spider monkeys.
You can learn about the importance of conservation efforts, the history of the zoo, and meet animals up close. Make sure to catch the train around the park and visit the petting area to meet some of the friendly domestic animals.
11. Tour the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
The LBJ Library and Museum is another attraction located on the Austin campus.
The attraction is dedicated to Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th US President. Visitors receive an in-depth introduction to Johnson’s life and the entirety of his presidency. You’ll access exhibitions on events in his presidency, like the Vietnam War, hear voice recordings of Johnson discussing important matters, and learn plenty of personal details about the previous president. If you are interested in politics or presidential history, we’d recommend a visit.
12. LBJ Ranch
However, we found touring the LBJ Ranch just outside of Austin to be very interesting. While a tour of the Texas White House is temporarily closed due to structural concerns, you can still take a driving tour of the ranch.
This was the childhood home of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and during his time in office, he spent 20% of his time working from here. The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site is a super cool tour through the ranch to see the cattle that are descendants of LBJs livestock. Book it here!
13. Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park is a 21-acre reservation site with walking trails frequented by more roaming peacocks than other people. If you want a quiet day in the city’s West, visiting the park is one of the best things to do in Austin.
The park is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, so it is a good attraction for all visitors to Austin, Texas. And, if you’d like to combine Austin’s nature with history, you’ll appreciate the historic cottage in the park center.
14. Eat at Franklin Barbecue
When in Texas, try the cuisine at Franklin Barbecue. Barbecue grilled meats have long been the iconic Austin food, and Franklin Barbecue is the most popular venue to try this local specialty.
At Franklin Barbecue, you can order brisket, ribs, pulled pork, turkey, and sausage variations by the pound – perfect for large groups and families. Alternatively, order a sandwich packed with grilled meat of your choice or a sweet dessert pie.
Franklin Barbecue is located in East Austin and is a favorite spot amongst Austin residents.
15. The Contemporary Austin, Laguna Gloria
The Laguna Gloria is Austin’s only dedicated contemporary art gallery. Art enthusiasts should place the gallery high on their list of things to do in Austin, as the venue offers a fantastic range of exhibitions and artists.
From the Betty and Marcus Sculpture Park to temporary trending exhibitions, it is easy to spend half a day visiting the Laguna Gloria. While primarily featuring contemporary sculptures, you will find a range of art forms to analyze and appreciate.
16. Visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum
How familiar are you with the story of Texas? To experience a living history museum, the Bullock Texas State History Museum is one of the greatest things to do in Austin.
The museum has a cinema, a mixture of temporary and permanent exhibitions, and artifacts. So, whether you learn visually, kinetically, or through auditory information, there will be plenty of opportunities to soak up Texas’ living history.
You can learn about Texan social history – from the original inhabitants to the first European colonizers and the recent battles for equality.
17. See the Largest Urban Bat Colony
This addition to our list of things to do in Austin might sound strange, but it is a massively impressive phenomenon.
The largest urban bat colony is in Downtown Austin – right under the South Congress Avenue Bridge. Every evening, over 1.5 million bats emerge from their daytime perches under the South Congress Bridge and take to the sky in a dramatic spectacle. Animal-lover or not, the urban bat colony is something you should prioritize witnessing in Austin.
For a different perspective on the bats try this kayaking tour which takes you right underneath the bridge.
18. Desert Door Distillery
Have you ever tried Texas sotol? Sotol is an alcoholic spirit and is thought to be the first-ever alcoholic beverage drunk by humans. Sotol has been drunk for over 800 years now, but the Desert Door Distillery is the only distillery in the United States.
You can visit for a tasting experience on Thursdays to Sundays. The distillery is a forty-minute drive outside of Austin, located in the suburb of Driftwood. However, it is well worth making the drive for a visit or organizing a transfer.
19. Visit Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is another reservoir for your itinerary! While swimming is prohibited, the lake has many other outdoor activities that you should try.
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail is the famous loop around Lady Bird Lake. The ten-mile trail circles the entire lake perimeter, with mixed terrain of boardwalk and pavement.
You can grab a coffee and enjoy taking in the beautiful scenery that is sandwiched between the cityscape and lake. Or, for runners and cyclists, you can use the circuit to keep accountable and fit while on holiday.
Lady Bird Lake also runs under South Congress Bridge, so book a boat tour if you want a unique way to watch the bat colony emerge.
20. Spend Midday in Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez is a lively neighborhood, full of action and hospitality. To experience the suburb on a time limit, we’d recommend spending midday on Cesar Chavez Street, which links downtown and east Austin.
Don’t know where to start? Begin with a visit to Women & Their Work, a non-profit art gallery, then buy tacos to go from Granny’s Tacos – you can relax and eat your lunch in the Pan American Neighborhood Park.
21. Visit the Secret Beach
Everyone loves a secret, right? Although keeping them is evidently much harder as the Secret Beach is not-so-secret anymore.
Along the river in East Austin, you’ll find a sand beach where locals sunbathe and swim in the river. If you want a quiet beach experience in central Texas, the Secret Beach is your best bet.
You can use Google Maps to easily access the beach through Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park.
22. Take a Bike Tour of Austin
We highly recommend sightseeing in Austin, but who said you couldn’t do it on two wheels?
Many companies run bike tours around Austin, giving you information on the city and fun exercise at the same time. Many people find cycling easier than walking a city too, and it might be a quicker way to sightsee if you only have a short visit planned.
You can enquire at the Austin Visitor Center or book tours online like this one on an Electric Bike through Get Your Guide.
23. Have a Game of Mini Golf
Sometimes a bit of lighthearted fun is bliss. Mini golf is a fun family activity, challenge with friends, or as a date.
Austin has a surprising amount of golf venues, but we recommend Peter Pan Mini Golf. This course has been operating since 1946 yet keeps adding innovative new ideas. Nutmeg a life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex, hit the ball through a giant Converse shoe, and aim straight into an orca’s mouth – the Peter Pan course is as whacky as they come.
A game at Peter Pan is one of the most entertaining things to do in Austin; weird and wonderful, it is bound to get a giggle or two.
24. Go Wine Tasting at the Austin Winery
Enjoy tasting new wines? Or just want an indulgent, interesting activity for your itinerary? Wine tasting at the Austin Winery is a brilliant thing to do when staying in Austin, Texas.
You don’t need a reservation to visit the Austin Winery, and the venue runs tasting sessions four days a week. The tasting menu allows you to sample a generous number of different wines, with the option to purchase additional snacks like cheeseboards and olives.
If wine tasting is your thing then this Wine Shuttle might be right up your alley.
25. Visit the Museum of the Weird, Austin
Austin’s slogan is Keep Austin Weird and The Museum of the Weird caters to that weird, eclectic, and strangely intriguing thing that makes Austin special.
The attraction self-proclaims to be ‘America’s Strangest Attraction’. From shrunken heads to bigfoot memorabilia, the museum is an entertaining spot to visit while in Austin. There is also a gift shop next door, just in case you get inspired to bring any oddities home!
The attraction is open from 10 am until 7 pm every day, so it is a good attraction to visit last minute.
26. See the Austin Murals
Austin has many, many beautiful murals. In fact, the city has so many that mural tours have become a legitimate thing to do.
You can purchase a tour online, visit the visitor center for advice, or set out to find the best murals independently.
If you boldly choose the latter option, these are the murals that you should prioritize: Greetings From Austin, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Tau Ceti, and the Austin Texas Mural.
27. Visit the Austin Aquarium
Bad weather? No problem. The Austin Aquarium is a safe option – regardless of whether it is too hot, rainy, or cold.
The aquarium is small but has lots of hands-on encounters and animals to spot. You can meet octopuses, stingrays, sharks, turtles, and lots of tropical fish. There are also mammals to meet like sloths and lemurs.
Those traveling with children should note that the Aquarium has resident mermaids! Young children will be mesmerized by coming face-to-face with a ‘real life’ mermaid, and the actresses perform routines and interact with visitors while in tanks.
28. Take a Dip in Hamilton Pool
Hamilton Pool is one of the most interesting swimming spots in Austin.
The pool sits under a 50ft waterfall, where Hamilton Creek plummets over the cliff edge above. Hamilton Pool was formed when an underground river collapsed, and now visitors climb down to reach the pool level.
Hamilton Pool is an hour’s drive from Austin and is not accessible via public transport. However, if you don’t have a car, it is worth stopping by the Austin Visitor Center to enquire about any available tours.
29. Drop by the Cathedral of Junk
You’ve likely seen a lot of cathedrals in your time. A cathedral made from junk? Probably not.
The Cathedral of Junk is constructed from over sixty tons of unwanted items – including furniture, tennis rackets, tires, and even classroom skeletons.
The cathedral is an incredibly eccentric art sculpture and is privately owned. To visit, book an appointment (512-299-7413), as the sculpture is in the owner’s backyard.
A Quick Look at Austin…
To help you arrive prepared in Austin, it is a good idea to understand how the city is laid out. This way, you can plan an itinerary that makes sense geographically and logistically! So, let’s take a look at the best areas within the city limits.
Downtown Austin is cool. The district embodies contemporary Austin, with live music venues, hip shops, and many cultural attractions. Downtown Austin is fast-paced and best suited to those who want a busy atmosphere.
Key streets to remember are Rainey Street and Sixth Street. Rainey Street is where to eat, with rows of bungalows converted to hospitality venues. Sixth Street is a nightlife hotspot, with bars, speakeasies, and rooftop parties galore.
Central Austin has a sociable atmosphere thanks to being home to the University of Texas campus.
The area has an everything-you-need layout, typical of student areas and city centers. As a tourist, you can visit various museums on campus, watch live music, or just enjoy the popular restaurants and cafes.
If you like to be in the city center and just hop on the metro from most attractions, the Central region is for you.
In contrast, South Austin feels more suburban. You’ll meet more Austin residents here, as the area is residential rather than aimed at students or tourists.
The best street to visit is South Congress Avenue, while South Lamar is a neighborhood worth stopping by.
South Congress Avenue is where you’ll find a famous Austin mural – a cursive message in red reading ‘I love you so much’. It is also the place to go for shopping needs, and if you want to purchase a pair of cowboy boots, Allen’s Boots is the spot.
South Lamar is a budget-friendly and very safe area in Austin, Texas. If you are looking for a reasonably priced meal or a piece of art, make sure to visit the neighborhood of South Lamar.
Those that find downtown Austin trendy but not quite quirky enough should head to east Austin.
The area is under rapid gentrification and development – meaning it still has that exciting, fresh-faced appeal. East Austin is widely known for its street art, eateries promoting sustainable living, and green space.
You could be lazing by Lady Bird Lake by morning, taking a street art tour by afternoon, and dining in trendy areas like Cesar Chavez by night.
Now that you’ve started to build an itinerary of things to do in Austin, these are some extra things for you to consider.
How to Get to Austin, Texas?
Getting to Austin is easy, and the city is well-connected by roads and flight paths.
The quickest way to get to Austin is to fly into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which connects Austin with both the rest of the US and the rest of the world.
Getting Around Austin
Austin has excellent public transportation within the city limits. When traveling between neighborhoods and attractions, you can use the buses or light rail system without relying on a car.
However, when visiting attractions outside the city limits, be prepared for limited or non-existent public transport.
If you have remote places you want to visit in the Texas Hill Country, we recommend renting a car or booking a tour.
When is the Best Time to Visit Austin?
When judging based on temperature, March to May and September to October are the best months to visit Austin. You can expect warm weather without having to contend with mugginess and humidity.
However, these months are the peak seasons for visiting Austin. If you want to save some money, consider booking for the shoulder seasons – especially February and November, when the temperatures are still relatively cool.
Where to Stay in Austin?
- BudgetHostels are great for budgets, so book into the Firehouse Hostel if you are comfortable in a dormitory room.The hostel is located in the middle of Downtown Austin – perfect for easy access to city attractions.
- Mid-Range Sentral East Austin 1610 is a great mid-range accommodation choice. You have luxuries like a fitness center and a trendy location but will also save money by having full use of a kitchen.
- LuxuryReserve a room at the Fairmont Austin Gold Experience for luxury in Austin. A Five-star hotel with a 7th-floor terrace pool and five different on-site restaurants, the Fairmont is sure to tick all your boxes.
Austin is an amazing introduction to Texas. The city can keep you entertained for a weekend or a week, all year round.
Of course, don’t just stop in Austin! Head North to join Route 66, East to the coast, or West for desert State Parks – Texas is a state that demands exploring.
Plan Your Next Trip to Texas With These Resources