Are you traveling to Austin? Awesome!
Austin is the state capital of Texas. The city is located on the banks of the Colorado region, adjacent to the Texas Hill Country. Austin is famous for many things: its amazing live music scene, swimming holes, and delicious cuisine.
And of course, the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ slogan!
Austin is also home to the University of Texas and several tech campuses like Apple, Amazon, Google, Adobe, and Oracle. It is often nicknamed ‘Silicon Hills’ because of the presence of these giants.
Because of the university and the tech sector, you will find a young population and vibrant nightlife in Austin. You can listen to country music, blues, and rock or visit a comedy club. There are also many clubs and pubs in the city and events like Halloween, New Year’s Eve, St Patrick’s Day are celebrated with great parties.
Austin’s location also makes it popular with outdoor explorers. The city has many parks and lakes – these are popular for hiking, biking, swimming, and even boating.
Where to stay in Austin
Austin is pretty unique. Its different neighborhoods have different identities. Rainey Street is generally raucous and best if avoided for families. However, if you are in the city to celebrate a birthday or just party with your friends, then definitely stay here!
Families can stay in Downtown Austin or in East Austin to stay closer to the attractions and walk everywhere. South Congress is another vibrant neighborhood that has good hotels and is safe and family-friendly.
Best Things to do in Austin
Greetings from Austin, Texas! We’ve been to the city several times – even have friends and family staying there – and have lots of recommendations on things to do in Austin for all types of travelers.
Whether you are visiting the city with kids or are on a romantic getaway to the capital city, take a look at our favorite places, attractions, and activities in the city. These are definitely worth crossing off your bucket list the next time you visit Austin.
Funky Austin is definitely one of the best cities to visit in Texas. Here is our list of favorite things to do in Austin:
Watch the bats fly at Congress Avenue Bridge
Easily the #1 tourist activity in Austin! Few people know that the city is home to the largest migratory Mexican free-tailed bat colony in the world. This is also the biggest urban bat colony ever. The Mexican free-tailed bats spend winter in Mexico and summer in Austin.
From March to October, nearly one and a half million bats emerge at dusk from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. They usually start to emerge about 20 minutes before sunset and fly eastward toward Lady Bird Lake.
The walkway on the east side of the Congress Avenue Bridge offers the best vantage point for watching the bats. You can also watch from the hillside under the bridge. Watching the bats emerge from under the bridge is a memorable experience. The fluttering bats darken the sky and seem to block all light when they emerge and are amazing to see.
Also Read: Best Places to see Bats in Texas
Take a tour of the Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is a striking building and one of the must-see attractions when visiting Austin. The Capitol building is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The Capitol is both a patriotic and picturesque site and we recommend it for every Texan.
It is built from red granite which comes from Granite Mountain near Marble Falls in the Texas Hill Country. Built-in Italian Renaissance Revival style of architecture, the building is famous for its iconic dome.
Visitors can tour the capitol building and learn about the rich architecture, history, and stories of Texas from friendly knowledgeable guides. The free tours generally last about a half-hour. The tours take visitors up four flights of marble stairs to the beautiful dome.
The Capitol grounds are beautifully landscaped and spread over an area of 22 acres. There are over 17 amazing sculptures and monuments on the premises. The Capitol is open to the public every day except for major holidays.
You can also stop at the Visitor Center and gift shop or dine at the Capitol Grill after your tour. The Visitor Center has plenty of excellent exhibits. We recommend keeping aside an hour to an hour and a half to see the Capitol building.
Related: 40 Best Places to Visit in Texas
Explore Rainey Street Historic District by day
Rainey Street Historic District is a street of historic homes in downtown Austin. Most of the historic homes have now been renovated into bars, restaurants, and cafes. We recommend exploring the street on foot during the day.
Have brunch at Banger’s Sausage House and order a draft beer from their vast menu. You can also have Mexican, French, Italian, American, and many other cuisines here. On weekends, you will find drinks and cocktail specials throughout the street. Rainey Street also has many food trucks.
Visit the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and look at the educational exhibits dedicated to Latino Culture. Walk the Tejano trail through Austin’s historically Hispanic neighborhoods and understand how these first neighborhoods shaped the city’s identity.
Party on Rainey Street at night
Rainey Street by day and by night are poles apart. At nighttime, this is the city’s premier entertainment district! Here you will find amazing nightlife and live music. Local bands play here every week.
During SXSW, you will find celebs performing and just enjoying themselves on Rainey Street. We have visited Rainey Street on Halloween and it is just amazing! The same is true for New Years’ Eve, during Spring Break, St Patrick’s Day, Pride Day, or at any major party.
For a nighttime treat after all the partying and drinking, stop at Little Lucy’s Mini Donuts.
Or enjoy nightlife at Sixth Street
If you are looking for an alternative to Rainey Street, check out Sixth Street: Austin’s other nightlife hub! This is one of the most iconic streets in Austin. See the local bands play at The Parish or at Maggie Mae’s.
There are many other things to do on Sixth Street besides the nightlife, drinking, and dancing. The Historic Driskill Hotel is located there. This hotel has the reputation of being haunted and yet, makes a great date night! We especially love the cowboy style decor here.
The Wild West themed Buffalo Billiard bar is perfect to play pool, darts, or spend an evening with friends.
Attend a concert at South by Southwest
South by Southwest or SXSW is Austin’s premier visual arts and music festival. This is one of the best times to visit the city as a host of events take place in different locations.
While the music and concerts are what’s talked most about, the festival also focuses on films and movies. That is something for everyone at the festival.
It is an incredible and amazing experience with a vibrant atmosphere. You can see celebrities on the streets and listen to live performances by your favorite bands. Lively parties are held throughout the city. We recommend getting the tickets early If you are planning to attend the festival.
See a Formula One race in Austin
South of the city of Austin, you will find Formula One Circuit of the Americas Raceway. It has hosted the United States Grand Prix and is a must-visit if you are a race car enthusiast.
Besides Formula One, many other races are held here including the IndyCar Classic, Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas, and Nascar.
The Circuit of the Americas is not just a racing but also an entertainment destination. The amphitheater is a popular outdoor concert venue. You can find many famous bands performing here.
The entire family can also go-kart at the racetrack. This is especially popular with the kids. You can also see the entire circuit on a guided shuttle tour which stops at all the attractions.
Enjoy the beauty of the Zilker Botanical Gardens
Located in the center of Zilker Park, Zilker Botanical Garden is one of the prettiest sites in Austin. Spread over an area of 26 acres, the garden has a varied topography.
The park is an oasis for nature lovers and very beautiful on a hot summer day. Inside the garden, you will find many individual themed gardens such as rose gardens, cacti and succulents gardens, herb gardens, and Japanese gardens.
The Japanese Garden has many zen features including streams, waterfalls, and Koi ponds. Zilker Botanic Gardens are open to the public year-round and receive thousands of visitors each year.
Walkthrough a dinosaur habitat
A special attraction of the Zilker Botanical Garden is the Hartman Prehistoric Garden. The garden has an interesting history. Over 100 dinosaur fossils were discovered here.
The area surrounding the tracks was recreated as it would have been in the times of the dinosaurs: you will find giant ferns, conifers, and palms. The garden also has a lifelike sculpture of Ornithomimus, one of the dinosaurs who made the tracks.
However, you won’t find any dinosaur tracks as they were reburied to prevent deterioration. Kids love walking through the garden and imagining life in the era of the prehistoric beasts.
Take a dip in Barton Springs Pool
The beautiful Zilker Park is home to one of the best attractions in Austin, Barton Springs Pool. This is an amazing place to spend time with friends and family on a nice sunny day. This large pool is fed by underground natural springs and hence is always around 68 to 70 degrees warm.
Swimming in the pool is a year round activity and quite popular with locals and visitors alike. The crystal clear water always looks spectacular. You can also spot colorful fish and shellfish in the pools.
You have to pay an entry fee to use the Barton Springs Pool but it is definitely worth it. Lifeguards are present on duty and swimming in Barton Springs pool is safe.
Understand the history of the Lone Star State at the Bullock Museum
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, located a few blocks north of the capitol building, is a fascinating place to visit. Here you will find several exhibits dedicated to Texas history.
The galleries have over four centuries of texts, photographs, and artifacts. They tell the story of the indigenous people of Texas and European colonization to the current impact of ranching and oil & gas on the economy of Texas.
The abundance of artifacts, as well as interactive exhibits, also make it a favorite with kids. You can learn more about the Republic of Texas, the Bush family, NASA space exploration, and many more facets.
Also Read: 10 Best German Towns near Austin, Texas
Visit the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
LBJ Presidential Library in Austin is located close to the state capitol building. It is on the grounds of the University of Texas at Austin and is the Presidential Library for the 36th President of the US, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The museum does an amazing job of displaying the accomplishments of the President. Here you can see a vast collection of original historic documents and artifacts. You can also see the presidential limousine and learn about the life of Lady Bird Johnson.
At the top floor is a replica of the Oval Office as it was during President Johnson’s times. This is one of the best parts of the museum. We recommend keeping aside at least 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours to see the museum and make sure that you visit the top floor.
Take a stroll around Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a large reservoir in the center of the city. It is the #1 destination for outdoor lovers. We especially love the Lady Bird Lake hiking and biking trail. You will spot runners, joggers, bikers, and families out for a leisurely stroll.
We especially love taking the kids out on the boardwalk for an afternoon of fun. The boardwalk trail is 7250 feet long and has nice views of the city. You can often spot turtles and a variety of birds from the boardwalk. You can also rent a boat, paddleboard, kayak, or canoe on the water.
Hike up to Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell, located in Covert Park, is the highest point in Austin. It is 775 feet high and has just stunning views of the area. From here you can see panoramic vistas of the city skyline, Lake Austin, and the Colorado River.
Hiking up to Mount Bonnell is one of the most popular things to do in Austin. The hike is 0.3 miles but has an elevation gain of 200 feet. It takes about 30 minutes round trip and is of moderate difficulty. Once you reach the top you can explore the summit and have a picnic at one of the picnic tables on top.
This is also a very popular spot for seeing the sunset. We definitely recommend visiting Mount Bonnell if you are looking for free fun in the city.
See the peacocks at Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park, located close to Mount Bonnell, is a historic 23-acre estate. The park is a lush natural paradise and is most famous for its free roaming wild peacocks. The peacocks look the best after spring showers when they show off their beautiful feathers.
On a stroll through the park you can see the beautifully landscaped gardens, charming stone walls, and koi ponds. The historic cottage which served as the residence of owner Mary Mayfield Gutsch is also located on the grounds. The park is free to the public.
Have fun at the Austin Nature and Science Center
This science museum located near zilker Park has a variety of hands-on exhibits, nature and recreation activities, education programs, and cool exhibits for kids of all ages. The best part is that it has free admission and is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the city.
The indoor science center has a variety of exhibits that kids can touch. The center also has a large outdoor dinosaur dig where kids can try being a paleontologist and look for dinosaur bones.
The center also has a small zoo with a trail in the woods. Kids can see rescued animals like bobcats, owls, and turtles here. The Creek area is also popular and the center is a great free thing to do in Austin with kids.
See the animals at the Austin Zoo
The Austin Zoo is a favorite with the kids. This private zoo does an excellent job at animal conservation. All the animals here are rescued. You can not only see the animals but also read their stories.
The zoo has a variety of animal species including big cats, monkeys, bears, tortoises, zebras, parrots, and more. There is a reptile exhibit which has a variety of snakes. The highlight of our visit is the free roaming peacocks. They are just beautiful to see.
Visitors can ride the zoo train for an additional fee. The zoo also has a petting section where kids can feed goats, sheep, deer, alpacas, and llamas. This is definitely a fun way to spend time with the kids in Austin.
See the city with Austin Duck Adventures
These are by far one of Austin’s most popular tours. Visitors can sit in the amphibious vehicles and see downtown Austin as well as cruise the beautiful Lake Austin.
The tour includes knowledgeable guides that share fun facts and stories about the city’s history, popular attractions, and landmarks. The most fun part of the tour is when the amphibious vehicles step off land, pack in their wheels, and float on the lake.
Kids and families especially enjoy duck tours. The tours are 75 minutes long and you will see all the important sites such as Historic Sixth Street, the Governor’s Mansion, the State Capitol Building, and Bullock History Museum.
Ride the Austin steam train
The Auston Steam Train is a must for train lovers of all ages. Kids especially love riding the real vintage passenger steam train and its restored cars. While the steam engine is being restored, visitors can ride a vintage electric engine currently.
The train depot is located in Cedar Park and it operates multiple themed train rides throughout the year. Most famous is the North Pole Flyer which operates during the holiday season and takes kids to see Santa Claus.
See the West Cave Preserve Waterfall
When it comes to the best waterfalls in Texas, a surprising number of them are located close to Austin. Our favorite is the West Cave Preserve waterfall in Round Mountain, Texas.
Located in southwest Travis County, about 45 minutes from Austin city center, is one of the city’s top outdoor attractions. It makes you forget that you are in the Lone Star State and seems to belong in a tropical paradise like Hawaii.
Here you can follow a short hike in the dense forest of old cypress trees and lush, leafy ferns. The trail goes down a narrow canyon, follows the creek bed, and ends at a natural cave. Inside the cave, you will find a lovely 40 foot waterfall that cascades down into the emerald green swimming hole.
The trail is 0.7 miles long and is of moderate difficulty. It is kid friendly and just beautiful. It is definitely one of the top hidden things to do in Austin and highly recommended.
See the Texas bluebonnets in the Hill Country
Austin makes the perfect base to go on a Texas bluebonnet road trip around the Hill Country.
Several small town such as Llano, Marble Falls, Burnet are located close to Austin.
Read our post on Best Places to See Bluebonnets in Texas to plan this trip.
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