34 Best Things to Do in Austin — Free, Outdoors, With Kids, For Couples, At Night, On a Budget, Day Trips in 2023
Austin is a friendly city located in Central Texas. As the state capital, there is a lot to see and do here. It’s known for its excellent live music scene, exciting nightlife, and delicious Tex-Mex and barbecue eats. The city has made many best lists, including #1 for WalletHub’s Best State Capital to Live In (2020) and #1 for the US News’ Best Places to Live in the United States (2019). If you’re planning a getaway here, now is the time to begin working on your trip itinerary. Let the following inspiration guide you. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Austin:
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Best Free Things to Do in Austin
Austin has a good variety of attractions and activities that cost nothing. This means you can still have fun and explore the city even if your vacation budget is limited:
1. Listen to a Live Show at Waterloo Records
Austin is known for its live music scene, but many shows come with a cover price. If you want to check out a live performance but don’t want to spend a lot of money, you’ll want to go to Waterloo Records. This record store schedules several free shows each month.
2. Visit the Blanton Museum of Art
If you like museums and appreciate art, you’re going to love that the Blanton Museum of Art offers free admission on Thursdays. This makes for a fun and exciting activity that won’t require you to take out your wallet. Located at the University of Texas at Austin, this is one of the largest university art museums in the country. Currently, timed tickets are required, so be sure to plan this activity in advance.
3. Swim for Free at Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool is a popular attraction for locals and tourists. This outdoor pool is filled with water from nearby natural springs. The pool is three acres in size, and it’s a great place to relax and have fun. Throughout the day, an entry fee is required, and the pool has lifeguards. But if you visit early mornings when it’s not guarded, there is no fee from 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM. Additionally, when visiting from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM, there is no entry fee while guarded. While in the area, you may consider Groupon’s electric bike tour from Barton Springs.
4. Hang Out at One of Austin’s Many Farmers’ Markets
Austin has many farmer’s markets throughout its city. While technically, you’ll need to spend money if you want to buy something, it’s free to enter all of the markets. If you’re looking to take a relaxed stroll and want to see what local artists, farmers, and small business owners have for sale, a trip to an Austin farmer’s market is a good plan.
For those who love to spend time outdoors, Austin is a perfect destination choice. You can be active, take part in new adventures, and spend time soaking up the scenery while doing the following:
5. Experience Lady Bird Lake
A trip to Austin wouldn’t be complete without spending some time at Lady Bird Lake. This river-like reservoir is a top-rated attraction during the hot summer months. You can canoe, kayak, water bike, and paddleboard. If you prefer to admire the water from afar, you can walk or run along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk. You can also take a 1.5-hour Lady Bird Lake bike tour.
6. Go Ziplining
If you’re looking to take part in some adrenaline-fueled adventures while in Austin, you may want to book a ziplining tour. When you book with Lake Travis Zipline Adventures, you’ll get a 3-hour ziplining experience as well as day access to their private lakefront property. Consider using Groupon for a discounted 3-hour zipline adventure.
7. See What Zilker Park Has to Offer
Zilker Park is a park located in south Austin. It’s considered by many to be the city’s best park. It offers 351 acres to explore and adventure. You’ll never run out of things to do here. Some ideas of activities that you can do include the following: take a picnic, rent a kayak, swim at Barton Springs Pool, play disc golf, go on a hike, and visit the Austin Nature and Science Center.
8. Take a Cruise
If you want to explore Lady Bird Lake, there’s no better way than to take a cruise. Tours are available throughout the day and evening, and Capital Cruises and the Lone Star Riverboat are cruise companies to consider. Evening bat watch cruises are notable here, so that’s one unique experience that you may want to book. If you do not want to cruise, as we mentioned previously, you can also take a 1.5-hour Lady Bird Lake bike tour.
Things to Do with Kids
If you’re planning to travel to Austin as a family, your kids will have a great time, too.
9. Take a Land and Water Cruise with Austin Duck Adventures
An Austin Duck Adventures tour is the perfect family-friendly activity to do. This 75-minute sightseeing tour features some of Austin’s best attractions. You’ll hop aboard a vehicle that is ready to explore both land and water and will enjoy a gilded tour throughout the city. Another sightseeing option is discovering Austin on a guided bike tour.
10. See the Many Creatures at the Austin Zoo
Kids will love a visit to the Austin Zoo, especially if they’re animal lovers. There are over 300 animals from over 100 species. In addition to regular exhibits and events, the zoo also hosts unique up-close animal encounters for an additional fee. Book your Austin Zoo tickets in advance.
11. Explore the Thinkery Museum
Austin’s children’s museum is known as The Thinkery. This museum features hands-on activities that are perfect for young learners. All children will have fun, but the ideal visitor age is 2 to 10. If your children are especially curious and like to learn, this is a good place to check out while in Austin.
12. Take a Trip to the Austin Aquarium
Another great family-friendly activity is a trip to the Austin Aquarium. Check out the many reptiles, birds, and marine animals here. In addition to the regular exhibits, there are unique animal encounters and special events to enjoy. Kids (and teens) of all ages will have fun here. You can book Austin aquarium tickets in advance. Another option is Tiqets’ discounted Austin Aquarium and Austin Zoo dual offer.
Museums, History, and Art
Austin has many great museums, and you can explore art and history here. These are our favorite attractions for tourists who appreciate history, art and those who are life-long learners:
13. Tour the Texas Capitol Visitors Center
Located in the restored General Land Office Building, the Texas Capitol Visitors Center is the oldest state office building in Texas. This is a great place to stop to plan your Austin adventure. There are guides and brochures available here and a gift shop. But it’s also worth a visit to learn about the history of Austin and check out the building’s incredible architecture.
14. Learn About History at The Bullock Texas State History Museum
If you’re looking to soak up as much Texas history as possible, you’ll want to make a stop at The Bullock Texas State History Museum. Located a few blocks from the Texas State Capitol, you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the origins and history of the state.
15. Explore Art at Mexic-Arte Museum
A trip to the Mexic-Arte Museum is a must if you’re interested in art. You’ll find traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American artwork. There are regular exhibits and special programs and events to enjoy. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, admission is free.
16. Check out the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum is a museum and outdoor garden space that focuses on the art created by Charles Umlauf. If you like art and sculptures, it’s well worth a visit to take a stroll through the museum and garden.
17. Get Your History Fix at the LBJ Presidential Library
Another place full of history is the LBJ Presidential Library. This museum and library focuses on the efforts of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Here you can explore exhibits and check out special events as you learn about his legacy and the legislation he helped pass. You may also consider tickets for the Texas Hill Country and LBJ Ranch Experience.
Things to Do As a Couple
If you’re headed to Texas as a couple, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of activities for the two of you to take part in:
18. See a Movie at a Drive-In
Austin has a few drive-in movie theater options. A drive-in movie night makes for a perfect couples activity. Some drive-in movie theater options include Doc’s Drive in Theater, The Ultimate Drive-In, and Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In. If a drive-in theater isn’t your thing, you can also relax at a discounted movie at a traditional movie theater.
19. Book a Food or Drink Tour
Austin is home to a lot of great breweries, wineries, and distilleries, as well as eateries. If you both like to drink and like trying new foods, booking a guided tour is a great idea. You can taste delicious drinks, try some of Austin’s best dishes, and get educated at the same time. Some options include an Austin secret food tour, biker gang ride and food truck park, and a half-day craft beer and brewery tour. Other favorites include the Infamous Brewing Company and the Brew Bus Austin brewery tour.
20. Check Out Austin’s College Sports Teams
If you’re both sports fans, you’re going to want to see some games while visiting. For football fans, the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Longhorns hold their games at the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. Another great option is to see a soccer game while visiting the city. Austin FC plays its games at Q2 Stadium in North Austin.
21. Pack a Picnic and Take in the Views at Mount Bonnell
Located in Covert Park, Mount Bonnell is the highest point in Texas, and you’ll climb up about 100 steps to get there. It’s the place to go for an amazing view of Austin’s skyline and Lake Austin. Pack up a picnic and make a romantic evening of it with your partner.
22. Plan a Game Night at Pinballz
A visit to The Original Pinballz Arcade makes for the perfect game night date. This arcade became a reality when the owner’s personal arcade game collection got out of hand. You can now play a variety of classic arcade games as well as some more modern games. There are multiple Pinballz locations, but the original is the most iconic. Groupon regularly has discounted Pinballz offers for many locations in Austin.
Things to Do at Night
Austin has a great nightlife, and there’s no shortage of things to do. These are some of our favorite activities to do at night:
23. Explore Austin’s Best Bars
Austin has a great nightlife scene, and there are plenty of bars that are worth a visit. You can easily bar hop around Rainey Street and Downtown Austin. But there are great bars all over the city. Patio bars are a big thing here. Here are some places to check out: Nickel City, DrinkWell, Whistler’s, Spider House Patio Bar & Cafe, The Roosevelt Room, Lucille, and Kitty Cohen’s.
24. Take Part in a Walking Ghost Tour
If you like all things spooky and also enjoy taking part in tours when you travel, booking a walking ghost tour while in Austin is a great idea. You’ll hear creepy stories as you explore Austin in the dark. You can book these kinds of tours through Ghost City Tours Austin and Walking Tours of Austin.
25. See a Comedy Performance at Esther’s Follies
If you’re looking to laugh, visit Esther’s Follies to see a performance. The shows here consist of political satire, comedy sketches, magic, and musical performances.
26. Spend the Evening Strolling Sixth Street
Sixth Street is a great place to be in the evening. Thursday through Sunday evenings, this area is closed off to through traffic and becomes a vibrant hangout spot. If you want to go dancing, listen to live music, and drink, this is a good place to do it.
Things to Do on a Budget
Visiting Austin with limited funds? These are the best budget-friendly things to do in Austin:
27. Explore the City by Bike
If you like to be active and want to see a lot of Austin, you may want to rent a bike. You can explore on wheels and do so in an affordable way. Stop by Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop and rent a bike for the day for as little as $30 per day. You can get your exercise in and have fun! An e-bike adventure is another option.
28. Go Kayaking at Lady Bird Lake
We mentioned Lady Bird Lake earlier in this article, but we thought it would be worth mentioning an affordable activity that you can do here. Head to the Rowing Dock to rent a kayak. On weekdays, single kayak rentals are $15 per hour or $35 for the day.
29. Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Located at the University of Texas at Austin, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a gorgeous botanical garden. The garden is on 284 acres of land, and you’ll find 900 species of native texas plants. If you’re looking for low-cost fun, the entry price is $12 for adults.
30. Play a Game of Bowling
Another fun and affordable activity that you can do in Austin is go bowling. Non-students can play a game at Union Underground for as little as $3 per game and $2 per shoe rental. If you’re looking to have some fun in between activities or attractions, this is a great idea.
Nearby “Day Trips” Outside of Austin
Looking to escape the city for a few hours or a couple of days? There are several options for day trips and long weekends outside of Austin. Here are some ideas:
31. Take a Trip to San Antonio
If you’ve never been to San Antonio, you’ll be glad to know that it’s very close to Austin. Only about an hour and a half drive away, San Antonio is home to the famous Alamo and the impressive River Walk—a walkway surrounding the San Antonio River that is full of shops and restaurants. You can easily spend a whole day here or plan for a couple of nights.
32. Have Fun at Pedernales Falls State Park
Located an hour away from Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park is a state park full of fun. You can hike, go swimming, go camping, and check out the waterfalls. It’s the perfect place to escape the city for a few hours while spending time outdoors.
33. Spend the Afternoon in Georgetown
Less than an hour north of Austin, you’ll find Georgetown. This historic town is picture-perfect, and it’s a perfect place to stroll. This area has a lot of cool bars, restaurants, and shops. Georgetown has earned recognition as the “Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas.” After visiting, it’s easy to see why.
34. Plan a Getaway to German Town Fredericksburg
Another fantastic day trip idea is to visit Fredericksburg. Less than two hours from Austin, you can plan to explore for a day or stay for a couple of days to see more. This small city was the second German town in Texas. Founded in 1846, you can easily see the German influence in the architecture, attractions, and food.
No matter what you choose to do while visiting Austin, you’ll create memories. As you begin to plan out the details of your trip, consider adding some of the above attractions and activities to your itinerary so that you have a great trip.
You can find adventure all year round in Austin, but the best months to visit are September through November and March through May. During these months, the temperatures are cooler and more comfortable, especially for tourists who aren’t used to Texas weather.
Austin is home to many wonderful neighborhoods. Where you stay will depend on what you want to be near and what kind of trip you plan to have. Some excellent areas to stay include the Red River Cultural District, South Congress, East Austin, and Downtown.
Austin has a public bus system (Capital Metro Bus System) and a light rail system (MetroRail). The light rail system only has nine stations. You can use services like Lyft and Uber while in Austin. If you prefer to drive, rental cars are also available.
Austin isn’t known as a very walkable city, but it has several walkable areas. These areas include Downtown, West University, Holly District, Old West Austin, and East Central Austin. Austin is known to be a very bikeable city.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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