Austin is the capital of Texas and offers something for everyone. Its location along the border of Hill Country makes it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who love biking, hiking, and water activities. The area features dozens of lakes and streams along with parks that make relaxation a breeze.
The city is renowned for world-class cuisine and its live music scene which focuses heavily on country and bluegrass. For added adrenaline, there is a Formula One track just south of the city limits. Austin has so much to offer both locals and tourists alike. Plus, there are some great getaway opportunities just outside the city limits. Check out this handy guide to some of the best things to do in Austin.
The 27 Best Things to Do In Austin
Austin, Texas has no shortage of things to do. Whether you’re in town for the weekend or living here and want to find new ways to explore the city, there’s always something new and exciting to check out. From jazz shows at the Continental Club and catching the high-speed action of Formula 1 at the Circuit of the Americas to dining on the best BBQ around at Franklin Barbecue, there’s something for everyone here. Here are some of our favorite must-see attractions and the best things to do in Austin.
1. Barton Springs Pool
Austin gets intensely hot in the summers. Cool off with a plunge in Barton Springs Pool. The swimming hole is fed by a natural aquifer and is a stunning turquoise blue color. The water stays around 68 degrees year-round making it a great place to for a refreshing dip or an invigorating awakening in the winter months. The Barton Creek greenbelt also offers multiple outdoor activities including biking and hiking trails. The pool is closed on Thursday to allow for cleaning and is fed by a natural aquifer. Stop by the educational exhibit to learn more about the history and biology of the natural spring swimming hole.
2. Hike Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is the perfect place to take in views of Austin from above. The peak sits at 785 feet and is the second tallest peak in the area after Mt. Larson. Mount Bonnell is the largest peak in the Austin City Limits since Mt. Larson is located in West Lake Hills. It’s a great sunset spot and the picnic area makes it ideal for lounging with friends or enjoying a special date. The hike is pretty easy, consisting of around 100 steps up a well-maintained staircase.
3. Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a freshwater lake spanning 416 acres. The lake serves an important role in Austin as a flood control reservoir. It’s also near and dear to locals hearts as a place to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Plus, it’ incredibly popular with hikers and bikers who can take a walking or biking tour of the city’s main attractions along a stunning boardwalk. Grab a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe from one of the rental spots and enjoy the glimmering waters on a sunny day. You can also watch the University of Texas at Austin rowing team practice on the water. Check out the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail that runs close to 15 miles and takes you through most of the sights near the Colorado River and downtown Austin.
4. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Flower Center is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of the area’s native plants. The center is a key element of First Lady Johnson’s environmental activism. Originally a wildflower garden, the center has evolved into a research center with a focus on sustainability and conservation. Take a stroll through the sprawling gardens and learn more about Austin’s native plants.
5. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Zilker Park is home to dozens of Austin attractions ranging from botanical gardens and a large greenbelt to the Barton Springs Pool. The park spans 351 acres — plenty of space to take in a picnic or play ball with your furry friend. Check out the 10.1 mile Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail for an active adventure or rent a kayak and get out of Lady Bird Lake. The park also holds special events from special lighting ceremonies to science and theater center events.
6. Zilker Botanical Garden
The Zilker Botanical Garden features a vast array of gardens with water features and natural animal habitats. Check out the Japanese gardens for sweetly trickling streams and ponds packed with koi. For something more adventurous, head over to the Hartman Prehistoric Garden to view recreations of dinosaur habitats from millions of years ago.
7. Umlauf Sculpture Garden
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden is another amenity of Zilker Park. The area features more than 200 sculptures from world famous artist Charles Umlauf. The art is constantly moved and rearranged each year, allowing enthusiasts to enjoy the art from different vantage points.
8. Groove to Live Music
Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. You’ll find everything from major events such as SXSW to local bands. Live music venues can be found all across the city from the eastside to Franklin and beyond. For a great venue in downtown Austin, check out Mohawk. They feature live music from names you’ll recognize to up-and-coming artists every day from 8 pm to 2 am. Don’t miss Austin City Limits (ACL) Live at the Moody Theater! Austin is also home to large music festivals like the famous South by Southwest (SXSW).
9. Take In the Sights From a Duck Boat
Duck boats are a classic southern tradition and a great way to get in some sightseeing. Austin Duck Adventures is a reputable company that takes tourists on a cruise from the Austin visitor center in the downtown area to Lake Austin. You’ll float along Congress Avenue and get a glimpse of the Texas State Capitol building.
10. Float the River
Nothing says summer quite like packing up some floaties, beverages, and snacks for a cruise down the river with your friends. You’ll join local Austinites and tourists alike for a sun-drenched and refreshing adventure. You can head out to the river yourself or hop on a guided tour like the ones from Texas State Tubes. If you go on your own, get there early or be prepared for a long wait for parking.
11. Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
Arching gracefully over Austin Lake, the Congress Bridge is where 1.5 million bats call home. The area is known as the largest urban bat colony in North America. The Mexican free-tail bats can be seen in the early evening between mid-March and early November.
Head out on a hot, dry night for the best chance at catching columns of bats taking flight. The best vantage points are from boats on the water. You can take a kayak tour or one of the larger boat tours. Make sure to book your visit to the Congress Ave Bridge early during the summer months as tickets sell out — even on weekdays.
12. Bullock Texas State History Museum
Ready to dive into some history and culture? Check out the Bullock Museum. The museum includes artwork, exhibitions, and feature films depicting the role of the Lone Star State throughout history. Each month brings a signature event from spooky science exhibits to a celebration of World Refugee Day.
13. Blanton Museum of Art
This museum is just a short stroll from the Bullock Museum so you can easily check out both in one day. The Museum features a collection of more than 18,000 pieces. You’ll find everything from ancient Greek arts, Native American arts, and Latin American arts to abstract paintings. There are also dozens of traveling art exhibitions that enable you to see works from other collections.
14. LBJ Presidential Library
The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library is located on the grounds of the University of Texas. The library houses more than 45 million pages and hundreds of hours of recordings from the former president’s career. The building was designed by Gordon Bunschaft and features 10 glorious stories. The Great Hall itself is four stories high and features a complete glass wall exhibiting the archives. In addition to historical texts, the library houses more than 54,000 items highlighting Texas history that were donated by the Johnson’s.
15. Lake Austin Spa and Resort
This resort is located just outside the city of Austin and is dedicated to wellness experiences. Your stay begins with a 30-minute ride down the river from downtown Austin. After your relaxing transportation, you’ll be greeted by inviting accommodations, exquisite cuisine, and wellness activities. Explore the Hill Country Texans adore with paddle boarding and hiking excursions.
16. Alamo Drafthouse
The Alamo Drafthouse is a local theater that puts a classic Austin spin on going to the movies. Catch a film and enjoy award-winning cuisine delivered right to your movie theater seat. You’ll savor a multi-course menu and can liven things up with a craft beer or specialty cocktail. The theater has over 30 beers on tap plus more options in bottles.
17. Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve offers walking and biking opportunities to unwind and enjoy nature. A stroll through this park includes views of the historic cottages as well as peacocks that roam the grounds. You can also see more than 30 gardens that have been planted and maintained entirely by volunteers in the community.
18. Rainey Street
Rainey Street is a delightful neighborhood that has recently been turned into a foodie’s dream. The area was rezoned in 2004 from a residential neighborhood to a business district. The early builders used the existing architecture to create storefronts that feature an inviting porch and backyard area. The result is dozens of establishments that serve up tasty treats with a southern hospitality vibe.
In this area, you’ll find Austin favorites such as Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden as well as Bungalow and the Parlor Room. Check out artisan cocktails at Half Step or enjoy the sunshine on the large patio at Augustine. Definitely start the day with Austin’s famous breakfast tacos and don’t miss the brisket!
19. Nightlife on Dirty 6th Street
Dirty Sixth Street is a raucous adventure people either love or love to hate. The street is a famous thoroughfare that is one of the driving factors behind Austin’s legendary live music scene. The nightlife options stretch all the way to North Lamar Boulevard. You’ll find dozens of bars serving up $1 shots and plenty of drunken idiots.
However, hidden among all the debauchery, you’ll find exquisite places that make your night one to remember. Some of our favorite places in the Driskill Hotel bar, the Parish, Midnight Cowboy, and Maggie Mae’s. For a good time and great music, check out Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar.
20. Stay At the Driskill Hotel
The Driskill Hotel is the oldest hotel in Austin, Texas. It was constructed in 1886 as the masterpiece of a cattle baron. Today, it’s a luxury hotel offering an exquisite Austin experience. Located on Sixth Street, you can head out on foot to many music venues and stroll the downtown area with ease. The rustic vibe and updated features are blended with Texas hospitality designed to make your visit everything you dreamed of.
21. Watch A Football Game
The Longhorns are part of the heart and soul of Austin. If you’re visiting during football season, make sure to check out a game at the University of Texas. Get to be a part of Texas Tradition by celebrating Bevo — the mascot — singing the Texas Fight song, and throwing up the hook ’em horns. With more Big 12 Conference wins than any other school in history, you’re in for a great experience.
22. Cowboy Up at Broken Spoke
The Broken Spoke is an ATX legend, delivering hundreds of dance-filled nights over the decades. The dance hall has been around since 1946 and has seen guests from Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton and Clint Eastwood. It’s a true American dance hall where you can two-step into the night or catch some of the biggest names in country music live.
23. Free the Nipple at Hippie Hollow
Hippie Hollow is the only nude beach in the Austin area and is located on the shores of Lake Travis. The park is state-run so you’ll need to pay a day use fee. Alcohol is allowed though must be consumed discreetly. Leave the glass bottles and pets at home and make sure to bring along plenty of sunscreen. The beach is only open to people over 18 years of age. Each year, the Hill Country Nudists hold an annual Big Nude Day at Hippie Hollow.
24. I Love You So Much Wall
Discover the perfect Instagram backdrop just outside Jo’s Coffee. The famous “I Love You So Much” mural features a minty green background and delicate pink cursive. Snap a selfie with your favorite latte or an ice cream cone and make all your followers envious of your Austin adventures. There are lots of other murals in town that aim to keep Austin weird, so keep an eye out for those too!
25. Indulge in Local Cuisine
Everything tastes better in Texas. The cuisine in Austin is a delightful blend of American and Mexican flavors with that touch of pizzazz that Austin is famous for. You’ll find beef tongue tacos from food trucks like those from Veracruz and mouthwatering BBQ joints. Don’t forget brunch, where you can find everything from fancy French-inspired meals to Tokyo and Mexican themed brunch options.
26. Stroll South Congress Avenue
South Congress, affectionately known as SoCo is a walkable street where you can enjoy tasty treats from restaurants and bars and satisfy your shopping urge at cute boutiques. The street is also lined with art galleries and music venues to inspire your creative side.
27. Get Natural in the Texas Hill Country
Austin borders the Texas Hill Country where you can find farm-to-table restaurants and wellness spas. Enjoy the breeze blowing through your hair and have a picnic under one of the fragrant cypress trees. Other adventures include boating on glistening lakes and adventuring through limestone canyons. Don’t forget to visit one of the traditional villages such as Braunfels or Fredericksburg. Check out McKinney Falls State Park where you can walk to waterfalls, go bouldering, picnic, and camp in nature.
28. The Cathedral of Junk
Austin is known for its unique tourist spots and the Cathedral of Junk is one of our favorites. Local Vince Hanneman has been building a cathedral of odds and ends since the 80s. You’ll have to call ahead to get a tour of the attraction as it’s in his backyard on private property. If you do get in, you’ll get to walk through corridors and stairways built from random objects like ladders, lawnmower parts, and bike tires.
29. The Thinkery
The Thinkery is the premier children’s museum in Austin. Here, kids are encourage dot use their minds to build, play, and learn through creative activities. Take the kids over to the Train Town exhibit is they’re into locomotives or try out the Innovator’s Workshop to create a new invention. There’s also a Light Lab and Story Nook that are sure to be a hit with both older and younger tots.
Planning to visit Austin, Texas? Good decision! It’s truly one of the best places in the USA. With this list, you’ll have plenty of things to explore whether you’re in town for a weekend or a few weeks. From family-friendly activities to fun things to do on a night out, there’s tons of things to do. For more things to do, swing by the Hamilton Pool Preserve to cool off in crisp, blue waters or head to Allen’s Boots where you can snag a fancy pair of kicks to remember your Austin trip. You can also sign up for a bike tour or walking tour of Austin or check out more of the art scene with a visit to Laguna Gloria and the Mexic-arte Museum.