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Things to Do in Austin Texas: 9 Ways to Explore This Vibrant City

Looking for things to do in Austin but not sure where to begin? Whether you’re a local or just passing through town, this 272-square-mile city in central Texas is teeming with fun activities, plenty of nature areas, and local attractions.

Located along the Colorado River, Austin isn’t just the capital of Texas, it’s also the heart of the Lone Star state in many ways. With a reputation for friendly residents, an all-inclusive vibe, and an incredible music and food scene, you’re sure to have a blast in the ATX.

1. See the Bats of Congress Bridge
austin bats - Things to Do in Austin Texas: 9 Ways to Explore This Vibrant City

No, you’re not going batsh** crazy. Those are real bats fluttering en masse from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. In case you hadn’t heard, Austin is home to North America’s largest urban bat colony and these nocturnal critters put on quite a show every night from early spring to late fall. Locals and tourists alike gather along the bridge over Lady Bird Lake right before sunset to witness this natural phenomenon. Whether you’re on a boat, kayak, or on foot, this spectacle of nature is guaranteed to give you a one-of-a-kind experience.

2. Jump In a Lake … or Swimming Hole

Along with the Colorado river that runs through the city, Austin is brimming with lakes and waterways. There’s Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, Lake Austin in West Austin, and the Lake Travis reservoir. All are great options for sightseeing, cooling off on a hot summer day, or renting a kayak or paddleboard (Live Love Paddle is a good one).

As for public swimming pools, one local favorite you can’t miss is Barton Springs. Located within the massive Zilker Park, the Barton Springs pool is one of the city’s most popular swimming holes. Fed by natural underground springs, Barton Springs has an average year-round temperature of 68-70 degrees, making it a must-stop no matter what season it is. (But definitely in summer.)

3. Find Your Zen

With a city as on-the-go as Austin, you might think it would be difficult to get quiet and zen out. But with so much green space and bike trails, there’s plenty of opportunity to get centered. Make the trek to Mount Bonnell for incredible views of the city below, stroll through the Japanese gardens and waterfalls in the Zilker Botanical Garden, or walk among the peacocks at the Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve.

Explore native plants at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas or let your mind wander at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum where you’ll find a sculpture park featuring the largest collection of work by American sculptor Charles Umlauf. For an even more peaceful Austin nature experience (read: fewer crowds), try visiting these spots on a weekday if you can.

4. Listen to Live Music

austin concert - Things to Do in Austin Texas: 9 Ways to Explore This Vibrant City

One of the top things to do in Austin, Texas is to check out a live show. In fact, it wouldn’t be a trip to Austin if you didn’t catch a show and enjoy some live music. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of music venues for you to do just that. While it’s true that South by Southwest and Austin City Limits helped put Austin on the national (and international) map, you can’t dismiss the local music scene the rest of the year. From dueling piano bars to legendary rock haunts like The Continental Club, the live music and nightlife scene is rock-star all the way.

5. Indulge in the Local Food Scene

There’s no better way to get a (literal) taste of a city than by its food, and Austin is a real food town. Of course, there’s plenty of Tex-Mex but it goes well beyond tacos. (Although Austinites and visitors alike can’t seem to get enough of Torchy’s Tacos and their spicy queso.)

For a high-end twist on Mexican, treat yourself to La Condesa. Feel like mixing and matching cuisines? Head to Fareground, a laidback food hall on Congress Avenue. Craving the best sushi in town (and possibly any other town)? One word: Uchi. (Yes, ya’ll. You can get some of the freshest fish in the United States right in Austin, Texas.)

Oh, and don’t forget the BBQ. Try La Barbecue for a classic experience and the LeRoy and Lewis BBQ food truck for new-school style ‘cue.

6. Grab a Brew (or Two)

All it takes is a few minutes along Sixth Street and you’ll soon realize there’s a whole lot of drinking going in Austin. And why not? In a city known for its long, hot summers, it’s almost mandatory to have a never-ending supply of cool bars and breweries.

Grab a cold one and pucker up at Blue Owl Brewing in East Austin, a dog-friendly neighborhood spot specializing in sour beers. For fancy cocktails and a killer happy hour, Ah Sing Den is a winner. And if you’re in the mood for a fun spot with good drinks and cozy seating, try the Hen House.

7. Snap a Selfie in the City

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The murals of Austin are Insta-famous and for good reason. The “I love you so much” mural at Jo’s Coffee South Congress is arguably the most popular, but there are literally hundreds of ‘gram-worthy murals and street art spots for your selfie-taking self.

There’s the classic “Greetings From Austin” mural on South First, “You’re My Butter Half” at the United Way for Greater Austin building, the pastel rainbow house (aka Cute Nail Studio) in East Austin, and the not-yet-played-out, larger-than-life longhorn mural at Lamar Union Plaza. (Local tip: Stop by Lick Honest Ice Creams after snapping your pic for the creamiest frozen treat — vegan options included.)

8. Explore the City’s History

austin capitol - Things to Do in Austin Texas: 9 Ways to Explore This Vibrant City

Even if you’re not a history buff, seeing the Texas state capitol building up close and personal is definitely worth your time. Take advantage of the free 30-minute tours to walk the historic halls while learning about the iconic structure and its place in Texas history.

Head just a few blocks north of the capitol building and take some time to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum, which is all about the “story of Texas.” Want one more? The LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas campus is both a step back in time and a “springboard to the future” with rotating exhibits and more than 54,000 objects donated by the President and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

9. Go for the Unexpected

Aside from hitting all the “must-see” locations, one of the best things to do in Austin, Texas is to simply give yourself the freedom to simply walk around and see what you can find. Browse through the storied shelves at BookPeople or South Congress Bookstore, or peruse the different vintage and modern boutiques and support local shop owners. Roam along Rainey Street and peep your head into one of the historic craftsman cottages that have been converted into bars and restaurants.

Go play a round of mini golf at Peter Pan, an old-school, cash-only throwback to the “sport” that’s been around since 1948. Check out the iconic Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a good movie, brews, and food all in one spot. Climb a rock (indoors!) at the Austin Bouldering Project and then take a yoga class because why not? Or grab some friends and head to the Escape Game in the middle of downtown Austin for a group activity that’s surprisingly fun.

Whatever You Decide, It’s All Good

Whether it’s your first visit to ATX or you’re a longtime Austinite, the bottom line is that there are so many things to do in Austin Texas,  you’ll never run out of places to discover and explore.

Author
Erika Marty

Erika is an avid traveler who has been to more than 60 countries where she finds food, activities, and hidden locales for touring like a local. When she’s not writing, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and planning her next adventure.

Learn more about Erika

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