Visiting Austin doesn’t have to break the bank. There are dozens of free and cheap things to do in Austin whether you’re a foodie, art hound, or nature lover. Austin prides itself on being different from other cities and each attraction offers a unique spin on the classic sightseeing activities. Discover free and cheap things to do in Austin right here and unearth everything from funky country bars to urban bat colonies.
The Top Free & Cheap Things to Do In Austin
1. Watch Bats Soar at the Congress Avenue Bridge
Austin is home to one of the most unique sightseeing opportunities in the United States. The Congress Ave Bridge is home to more than 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats — the largest urban bat colony in North America.
The bats take flight each evening around dusk in search of food. The spectacle can be viewed from the P6 lounge at the Line Hotel, on the bridge itself, or from boats and kayaks on the Colorado River. The exact timing can vary, but it’s a good idea to head to the Congress Bridge 30 minutes before the sun sets on the horizon.
2. Groove to Some Live Music
Austin isn’t called the “live music capital of the world” for nothing. The city is bursting with live music venues that feature up and coming talent as well as world-famous names. There’s something for everyone in the Austin music scene with hole-in-the-wall dive bars and huge events like South By Southwest (SXSW).
One of the must-see spots is the Broken Spoke — a place that has delivered surprise concerts and visits from music and country legends like Garth Brooks and Clint Eastwood. You can also head to Little Longhorn Saloon for a honky-tonk country evening or take a tour of Austin’s music offerings with ACL Live at the Moody Theater. You can also catch free performances at Waterloo Records.
3. Take a Swim in Lady Bird Lake or Lake Austin
Lady Bird Lake is a great place to take a swim. If you have your own paddleboard or kayak, you can also get out on the lake for free. There are also kayak and paddleboard rentals along the shoreline for affordable prices. The warm Austin climate and refreshing water can be enjoyed all year long.
4. Picnic At Mount Bonnell
Pack a bag with your favorite salami, cheese, wine or other snacks and head up to the top of Mount Bonnell to catch the sunset from the best spot in the city. The hike is a short jaunt up 106 steps and treats you to views of the Austin city limits from a height of 775 feet. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Texas spiny lizards or armadillos as you head up.
5. Visit the LBJ Presidential Library on the University of Texas Campus
Austin is home to the presidential library of President Lyndon B Johnson. The library features stunning floor to ceiling windows and is home to more than 40,000 personal artifacts and items donated directly by the Johnson family. Exhibits include the president’s limousine, the Social Justice Gallery, and a Civil Rights wing.
6. Plunge into Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool is a swimming hole fed by a natural aquifer located in the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The swimming pool is the perfect spot to cool of if you visit during the hottest months. The water is a cool 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit year round and is a great spot to hang out with friends and enjoy a touch of nature in the big city. The pool is closed on Thursdays for cleaning, so plan accordingly.
7. Hike and Bike Zilker Park
Zilker Park spans more than 350 acres and offers free recreational activities from volleyball to swimming, biking, and hiking as well as the Zilker Botanical Garden. The Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail is 10.1 miles long and the perfect place to start exploring the park. Zilker is also home to a variety of events from kite competitions to holiday light spectaculars. For a little culture, head over to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in the park. Best of all, the park is conveniently located in downtown Austin so you can pop in when you need a breath of fresh air and a respite from hectic city life.
8. Walk Among the Flora at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is part of the environmental legacy of the former first lady. The center strives to cultivate flora that is local to North America and the Texas region. Today, the center offers educational classes that help people understand the value of native plants and how to take care of them.
9. Take A Tour of the Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is a heritage site offering visitors a chance to further understand the workings of the state legislature as well as glimpse the history of the building. Tours include access to the original Senate desks as well as significant spaces such as the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers, the Supreme Courtroom, the rotunda, and the Governor’s Public reception area. Don’t miss some of the hidden gems including the Blue Oculi, the treasurer’s office vault, and the dome walkways.
10. Bullock Texas State History Museum
Take a trip through Texas history and discover the role this region played throughout American history at the Bullock Museum. The museum features three floors and an on-site IMAX theater to help people understand and discover the history of the lone Star state. The museum features an easy to understand layout with the bottom floor featuring exhibits on the land and early settlers. Second-floor exhibits focus on the creation of Texas while the top floor emphasizes modern Texas history.
11. Take A Trip to Texas Hill Country
ATX is conveniently located near the border of Hill Country. This region is replete with historic towns and options to soak in nature. Hill Country is home to a famous Lavender Festival and is also a great place to go for wellness spas.
12. Blanton Museum of Art
The Blanton Museum of Art is located at the University of Texas at Austin and is the main art museum in Austin. The museum features more than 18,000 works of art from Greek Pottery to abstract paintings. The museum also hosts numerous travelling exhibitions so there’s always something new to see within its hallowed walls.
13. Chow Down at One of the City’s Famous Food Trucks
Austinites love their food trucks and their devotion to keeping things weird means that you’ll find every flavor under the sun at one of these establishments. Whether you’re looking for Japanese dishes, Lone Star BBQ, or tasty breakfast tacos, you’re sure to find it at a food truck. Some local favorites include Veracruz All Natural, Picnic, and Kebabalicious.
14. Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park is a beautiful green space that is most well-known for its vibrant flock of peacocks. The park used to be the summer retreat of former Texas Secretary of State Mr. Mayfield. Today, the park features ponds, volunteer gardens, and historic walking trails.
15. Catch A Movie at the Alamo Drafthouse
The Alamo Drafthouse takes movie watching to a whole new level. The theater serves up craft beers and real meals during each showing and hosts fun events that make each visit a new experience. Stop in for one of their interactive movie parties and don’t miss the chef-inspired menus paired with each film.
16. Play Peter Pan Mini Golf
This mini golf isn’t just for the kids. You’re encouraged to bring along your own alcoholic beverages and play a few rounds with your friends. If you visit in the summer months, it’s best to go in the late evening hours once the sun has set since it’s an outdoor course.
17. Check Out Modern Art at The Contemporary Austin
A ticket to The Contemporary features admission to the brick-and-mortar museum at the Jones Center as well as access to the 14-acre outdoor sculpture park. Wander through pieces by Ai Weiwei and Terry Allen or opt for a guided tour through the museum’s offerings to get a deeper understanding of the artists’ mindset and creations.
18. Shop on South Congress Avenue
This area is popularly known as SOCO and is one of the best places to go shopping. The streets are lined with adorable boutiques and funky establishments. You’ll find everything from local prints at Parts & Labor to international treasures from Tesoros Trading Company.
19. Snap A Photo In Front of the City’s Vibrant Murals
The city of Austin features hundreds of murals that are perfect for your next Instagram photo. Whether you’re on the east side or west side of Austin, you’re sure to find murals that add a lively and bright atmosphere. Some of the most famous murals include the “I love you so much” mural in front of Jo’s Coffee, the “Greetings from Austin” on South first street, and the “Hi, how are you?” bullfrog on Guadalupe Street.
20. Go Crazy With Nightlife
Austin offers numerous nightlife hotspots, but none are more famous than dirty 6th Street. The term refers to the raucous and belligerent partying along a section of East 6th Street. There are several dive bars serving up $1 shots and libations that are perfect for a bachelor party atmosphere. If you’re looking for something lively, but slightly less debaucherous, check out Rainey Street for more upscale bars that still know how to have fun.