All the best things to do in Austin, Texas, from nature to museums to historic buildings to amazing food and more.
With its unofficial motto, Keep Austin Weird, the Texas state capital is a conglomerate of personalities.
The joy of discovering Austin is peeling back each layer, uncovering unique neighborhoods that go against the grain.
It’s a progressive city, dare I say, even liberal, yet still feels like classic Texas.
Here in Austin, the world stops on Saturdays for kickoff. Spur-heeled cowboy boots hit the pavement in the evenings and honky-tonk tunes flow out of many of the 250+ live music venues.
But to the contrary, South Congress flips the script with vintage wear, colorful murals, and third-wave coffee.
Food trucks gather in local parks slinging eats from the four corners of the globe, while the scents of traditional BBQ catch the nose.
READ MORE: Check out our latest guide on how spend the perfect 3 days in Austin itinerary!
Between the contrasts and wonderful weirdness, is a city focused on protecting its urban nature.
So much so that your time seeking out what is there to do in Austin will be evenly split between music, food, and the hot Texas sun.
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to Do in Austin
- 1) Lady Bird Lake
- 2) The Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge
- 3) Barton Springs Pool
- 4) Downtown Austin
- 5) Summit Mt. Bonnell
- 6) Zilker Metropolitan Park
- 7) The Texas State Capitol
- 8) University of Texas
- 9) Museum of Weird
- 10) South Congress
- 11) The Cathedral of Junk
- 12) Live Music
- 13) Try BBQ
- 14) The Dirty Sixth
- 15) McKinney Falls State Park
- 16) Austin City Limits Music Festival
- 17) Rainey Street Historic District
- 18) The Food Trucks
- 19) Texas Hill Country
- 20) Laguna Gloria
- 21) Lake Travis
- Where to Stay in Austin, TX
The Best Things to Do in Austin
In a city with its hands in so many buckets, travelers will quickly find themselves with a packed itinerary. Our Austin city guide will help you whittle it down to nothing but the best.
Let’s dive into our list of the best things to do in Austin, Texas.
The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.
1) Lady Bird Lake
In Austin, nature and lifestyle are intertwined. The best example of this is Lady Bird Lake, which connects to the surging Colorado River.
The lake provides some of the best things to do in Austin, including a stroll along the scenic boardwalk or a paddling experience out on the water.
Enveloping the lake is the hike and bike trail that runs for 10.2 miles. Best done on a bike, you can slowly make your way around the lake riding by a handful of green spaces, including Zilker Park while enjoying gorgeous downtown views.
From Zilker Park and at the Rowing Dock, you can rent SUPs and kayaks to explore the river and lake.
Float along at your own pace, enjoy the Austin skyline and the lush urban parks that line the water.
2) The Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge
For a city lauded for being the live music capital of the U.S., the most memorable evening in town may be watching Austin’s resident bats.
That’s right, the Texas capital is home to the largest urban bat colony on earth.
Throughout the day, around 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats chill under the Congress Avenue Bridge, waiting patiently for the sun to go down.
The bridge which connects all the things to do in downtown Austin to the hip South Congress offers beautiful views of the Colorado River by day, but come nightfall it’s one of the best places to go in Austin.
As the sun touches the horizon, the bats depart the bridge, flying in unison in front of the blazing orange sky.
There are so many that they’re often still going 45 minutes later. Brave souls can watch from the bridge, but why not enjoy a sunset paddle on the river instead?
3) Barton Springs Pool
It’s the music, the culture of Austin weird, and the pleasant year-round weather that makes Austin, Texas such a popular destination.
You can take advantage of the last trait at Barton Springs Pool. In the summer, temps soar into the 90s and you can relax and cool off with a dip into the refreshing springs.
You’ll find the Barton Springs Pool within Zilker Park and the natural pool keeps a welcoming 70-degree temperature all year long.
So even in the winter when the mercury drops to a relatively chilly 60 degrees, the pool remains one of the best things to do in Austin.
The pool closes once a week for cleaning. Visitors should check the schedule ahead of time to ensure they arrive on the right day.
- Address: 2201 William Barton Dr
- Hours: 5am – 10pm daily
- Entry fee: $9 for adults, $5 for kids and seniors
4) Downtown Austin
Long before its ascension to the music capital, Austin was simply Austin. Along with South Congress, you can best get to know the city by exploring downtown.
By day, you’ll find the sun beaming down on the many sparkling skyscrapers, its busy streets teeming with activity.
Downtown is where you’ll find the state capitol building, Austin Visitor Center, the Museum of Weird, and the Mexic-Arte Museum. The latter showcasing contemporary Mexican art.
On Saturday, the downtown farmers’ market draws in the crowd, before they all float towards Cesar Chavez St. to enjoy the waterfront views.
See the best of downtown and much of Austin on this e-bike tour.
5) Summit Mt. Bonnell
Those visiting Austin can find the best views in town at the summit of Mt. Bonnell. The city has several urban hiking trails that are worth your time, but none bring you to the highest point in Austin.
The rather diminutive peak of 775 feet is still enough to place you above everything else, rewarding each hiker who dares climb up over 100 stairs.
The most common time to complete the hike is at sunset. In the minutes leading up to golden hour, travelers and locals alike gather at the trailhead and embark on the steady climb.
From the peak, the sunset coats the downtown skyscrapers and the light bounces along the glistening Colorado River.
For a more private experience, come here at sunrise for a similarly brilliant show. Hangover be damned.
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6) Zilker Metropolitan Park
Austin balances culture with nature to perfection and one of the best things to do in Austin is to explore Zilker Park.
The vast and varied landscapes of the park leave much to be discovered. Walking trails snake over hills draped in wildflowers before descending to trickling brooks where cute bridges cross to the other side.
Link up to more hiking and biking trails or make your way to one of the several lakes and explore on a SUP.
After exploring the scenic park, walk into the Zilker Botanical Garden. Suspend your belief as you wander along the Woodland Faerie Trail, where you’ll walk by tiny villages laden with gnomes.
- Address: 2207 Lou Neff Road
- Hours: 5am – 10pm daily
- Cost: Free
7) The Texas State Capitol
In the heart of downtown Austin, the Texas State Capitol Building stands like a proud parent.
The captivating building was completed in the late 19th century and has lost none of her elegance. Today, it’s home to the Governor’s office plus Texas’s legislature chambers.
The capitol building remains at the forefront of public life, however, it’s the structure’s unique architecture that has seen it become so beloved.
A registered National Historical Landmark, the Texas State Capitol is one of the tallest in the United States.
The addition of an opulent dome and soaring spire has given it an enormous height of over 300 feet.
You can join a guided tour of the building for free every day, aside from holidays. Or simply wander on your own.
Plus, with some street food in hand, the surrounding grounds are perfect for a midday picnic.
- Address: 1100 Congress Ave
- Hours: 7am – 8pm (opens at 9am on weekends)
8) University of Texas
On a Saturday in the fall, there may be no better place to be in Austin. The University of Texas packs out with Longhorn fans and their rival counterparts.
The stadium, which holds over 100,000 people, sells out, and the surrounding grounds spill over with tailgaters taking in the atmosphere as much as the game.
But the amazing campus, home to over 50,000 students, has more to offer than just football.
The paths that meander through the beautiful Texas campus provide you with the chance to learn about Texas history along the way.
It’s here you’ll find the Texas Memorial Museum, the Natural Science Center, and the Blanton Museum of Art.
9) Museum of Weird
Of all the fun things to do in Austin, the Museum of Weird is the strangest. The unique, arresting, and downright confusing exhibits within the Museum of Weird will stop you in your tracks.
From the moment you enter, the crazed walls splashed with bright yellow and old school placards will have you blinking and rubbing your eyes as you try to adjust to the wacky sights in earnest.
Continue onto uncovered contorted skulls, questionable antiques, and uncommon objects that you just know psychics used.
Taboo is standard at the Museum of Weird, so you should expect the unexpected, making it one of those experiences that you must try at least once.
- Address: 412 E 6th St
- Hours: 10am – 7pm daily
- Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for kids under age 8
- Website: https://www.museumoftheweird.com
10) South Congress
The growth of Austin, Texas, is best seen among the diversity of personalities and subcultures strewn throughout the city, from North Austin, to Central Austin, and eventually the iconic SoCo.
South Congress perhaps best represents Austin residents’ embracement of all things weird and wonderful.
Austin’s eclectic vibe can be seen along the busy South Congress Avenue and the surrounding streets, including South Lamar Boulevard.
Outside of the downtown area, it’s clear that South Congress’ rise to popularity was driven by the community.
Today, alongside the Dirty Sixth, it’s the place to hang out. You can spend the day wandering down the local streets, discovering endless boutiques and vintage stores among art galleries and random murals.
At night, live music provides the heartbeat of SoCo, with the tunes of the six string guitars at the Continental Club, leading the way.
11) The Cathedral of Junk
After the Museum of Weird, it’s time to experience another side of Austin’s multifaceted personality.
The Cathedral of Junk is a backyard art gallery where anything and everything has been used to create what is a glorious church of art.
Forget contemporary pieces and detailed portraits, the Cathedral of Junk uses old engines, discarded toys, store mannequins, and too many random things to list.
Since it opened in the 1980s, the junk continues to pile up. But it seems the junkier this cathedral gets, the more amazing it becomes.
Now there are hidden passageways that lead to even more junk where old TVs and kitchen utensils hang out, revelling in their comfortable retirement.
12) Live Music
After your flight to contemporary Austin, you’ll be ready and raring to go. But what you may not expect is to find live music at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport.
It’s all a sign of what’s to come, with the city’s grand live music scene worthy of multiple articles.
Much like Nashville, it’s hard to go wrong when it comes to seeking tunes here. Austin is a mecca for performers who ply their trade in restaurants and bars along with storied live music venues.
Wherever you go, from SoCo and Sixth Street to Rainey Street, live music spills onto the streets where cowboy boots roam the pavement after a little Texas Two Step.
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13) Try BBQ
Indulging in the local cuisine is one of the most delicious things to do in Austin. The town is essentially split between Tex-Mex and mouthwatering BBQ.
BBQ is as much a part of life in Austin as music festivals and football. The local smoked meat is known around the country, having won its fair share of prizes.
Some of the best BBQ to try in Austin include the Interstellar BBQ, Franklins, Stiles Switch, and AYCE at Salt Lick.
But like anything good thing, it only comes to those who wait. You can expect lines, so arrive before opening if you can.
14) The Dirty Sixth
Cutting east to west through downtown Austin, Sixth Street is one of the most happening parts of the city come nighttime.
This is especially true for East Sixth Street, which is affectionately known as the Dirty Sixth.
Travelers looking for Austin activities after dark won’t be disappointed by the thoroughfare’s rows of waterholes, pumping live music venues, and the smells of Tex-Mex pouring out of a local food truck.
The best times to visit are from Thursday to the early hours of Sunday morning. This rowdy period is best marked by the street closing to traffic, leaving a party haven for pedestrians. Did someone say bar crawl?
Bars to keep an eye out for along the way include the beloved Esther Follies, Flamingo Cantina, and Maggie Mars.
15) McKinney Falls State Park
Austin has no shortage of outdoor activities within minutes of the downtown core. But the landscapes that envelope the city should excite nature lovers, with one of those being the McKinney Falls State Park.
As the name suggests, the state park is home to a gorgeous waterfall. One that provides a lovely alternative to the springs in Zilker Metropolitan Park.
McKinney Falls is a short 10-mile drive southeast of Austin but feels more like 2 hours, such is the change of pace.
Onion Creek meanders through the park, with carved limestone cliffs providing both a lower and upper falls for you to enjoy.
After a refreshing dip, walk along the Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail to find historic ruins among the forest.
16) Austin City Limits Music Festival
Austin City Limits celebrates the city’s standing in the live music scene. The annual event draws crowds from all over the country, creating one of the most popular Austin attractions.
Spread across two weekends, attendees are blessed with amazing national and international musicians, plus a collection of local artists.
The days start early at 10am, warming the crowds up and awakening them from the post-party stupor. The tunes continue until 10pm, but the fun flows into the early hours, with nightclubs, random movie night screenings and other underground parties kicking on.
Across the many stages, you’ll hear a range of genres from rock and country, to electronic and hip hop. It’s safe to say it’s one of the top things to see in Austin.
Check the website for this year’s lineup and tickets!
17) Rainey Street Historic District
It wasn’t long ago that Rainey Street was a series of bungalows and old southern ranch homes.
While most cities revitalize abandoned warehouse districts, Austin loves to do its own thing.
The historic district has refurbished these old homes, transforming them into chic bars, laid back pubs, delectable eateries and, of course, a place of live music for anyone searching for unique places to visit in Austin.
Although a part of downtown Austin, the Rainey Street Historic District exists on its own terms
By day you can wander the captivating street toward the river and local parks. But by night the district’s quirkiness shines bright and you’re never far from a cold pint, let alone the sounds of boots hitting the dance floor.
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18) The Food Trucks
Wandering around Austin, you’ll find food trucks seemingly around every corner. Serving treats from a vast range of international cuisines, it’s quite possible to eat your way around the world in Austin, Texas.
Not only are food trucks the perfect way to save on the restaurant bill, they will save you plenty of time wondering what to eat.
If your traveling crew can’t decide on one place to go, simply find one of the many parks, such as the Buzz Mill or Arbor Food Park, which offer a whole host of options.
Buzz Mill has everything from Philly cheesesteaks, burgers, dim sum, and BBQ. Not to mention a calendar packed with comedy and concerts.
Arbor Food Park is dog friendly and comes with mouthwatering tacos, gyros, and pizza.
19) Texas Hill Country
Surrounding Austin, the Texas Hill Country is where you’ll find rolling plains of wildflowers among distilleries, breweries, and vineyards.
Dotted throughout are charming and historic towns that wear the tales of the Old West and the American expansion.
One of the best towns to visit is Fredericksburg. It was founded in the 1840s and harbors all the traits of a German village, albeit in sunny Texas.
You’ll find a number of vineyards, including the elegant William Chris Vineyard where tunes float through the air. Explore Fredericksburg on this guided tour.
Another option is Driftwood, home to the Desert Door Distillery, rated as one of the best small batch spirits producers in the country. Come for the drinks and stay for the art, classes, and music.
20) Laguna Gloria
Built in the early 20th century, Laguna Gloria is a classic Italianate villa. Few homes have caught the hearts and minds of Austinites quite like this exquisite piece of architecture.
Within, you’ll find contemporary art at its affluent gallery alongside the interesting museum.
But perhaps the best part of any visit is exploring the beautiful grounds. Laguna Gloria is based on a 14-acre plot on the banks of Lake Austin.
The lush gardens feature a sculpture park which is the focal point of the complex’s Museum Without Walls.
Combine your visit with the nearby Mayfield Park and cottage. Together, they both showcase Austin’s regal side. The cottage is on the National Register of Historic Places and complements the ornate grounds where peacocks roam and water lilies float across the dainty ponds.
- Address: 3809 W 35th St
- Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 9am – 3pm (close at 9pm on Thursdays)
- Entry fee: $10 adults, $5 seniors and students (FREE all day on Thursdays)
21) Lake Travis
Another popular day trip from Austin is Lake Travis. So much so that some prefer to see Austin from its base on the water.
Forty minutes stand between either destination, with the trek being another example of Austin’s beautiful countryside.
While the lakes and swim holes near downtown can help tame the sun in the heart of summer, sometimes it’s just as good to get away.
The man-made lake is over 60 miles long, big enough to create an entire community that makes use of the lake’s wonderful mix of boating, fishing, and relaxing.
Your day on the lake starts and ends at Briarcliff Marina. Come here for all your boat rental needs, including pontoon boats, that will have you exploring the length of Lake Travis with ease.
Further along the lake is Pace Bend Park, where you can dive off the cliff into the fresh water. You’ll also find swim coves, hiking trails and 20 campsites for a night by the lake and under the stars.
Where to Stay in Austin, TX
Now that you know what to do in Austin, it’s time to look at accommodation. Here are three top choices to suit every budget.
Best Hostel in Austin: Firehouse Hostel
In the heart of downtown, the Firehouse Hostel has everything you need within walking distance, including Sixth Street.
Within the city’s oldest fire station, the hostel comes with dorms and private rooms, along with an onsite bar, perfect for socializing.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Austin: East Austin Hotel
On Sixth Street, the East Austin Hotel offers all the modern comforts without the hefty price tag.
Guests will have well-appointed rooms with cable TV, an outdoor swimming pool, and an onsite restaurant.
Best Luxury Hotel in Austin: Hotel Saint Cecilia
Hotel Saint Cecilia is nothing short of five-star luxury with pool views from each of the opulent bungalows.
Guests can enjoy the pool, and make use of the free bikes along with the daily a la carte breakfast.
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