Best Things to do in Austin, Texas

The 15 Best Things to Do in Austin, Texas

As the one-of-a-kind capital city of Texas, Austin’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” Between the city’s quirky landmarks, progressive art scene, and unique museums, they do just that! Often referred to as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin hosts renowned music festivals and shows, but it’s also a fun city to explore thanks to the abundance of natural beauty, dive bars, shopping venues, and fabulous restaurants.

One major draw to the area is The University of Texas, the second-largest university in the state with a presidential library, large sporting arenas, and multiple museums on campus. Culturally speaking, Austin is also a modern-day boomtown with big tech companies and small startups alike flocking to the city, expanding on its already historical significance. There’s also a Formula One race track and a bridge designated specifically for bat watching!

If you’re looking for great food, don’t miss Austin’s famous barbecue and Tex-Mex restaurants. You won’t go hungry here! Home to top-notch hotels and accommodation, there are also some incredible places to stay in the city.

With so many things to see and do in Austin, it’s tough to know where to begin. So I’ve put together this list of the very best things to do in Austin for you. Stick to this fun and exciting Austin bucket list, and you’ll have a great time exploring this unique part of the Lone Star State!

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1. Explore Green Spaces at Zilker Park

Unique Things to do in Austin, Texas: Zilker Park

Natural beauty abounds at Zilker Park, a 361-acre space in the heart of the city. One of my favorite outdoor areas to explore in Austin, you can ride a miniature train through the lakefront park, play a round of disc golf, or simply relax under shady oak trees with a picnic lunch.

Take a quick dip in Barton Springs Pool, a natural, spring-fed swimming hole that’s open to the public and a perfect 68 degrees year-round. Then, explore the Barton Creek Greenbelt, which starts at the pool and winds around through areas known as the Flats, Twin Falls, and Sculpture Falls with waterfalls, rock climbing, and more. 

Enjoy a stroll through Zilker Botanical Gardens to see an abundance of native plants and foliage blooming. Head to the park’s on-site nature center, Austin Science and Nature Center, to dig in the “Dino Pit” for faux fossils!

At Zilker Park, you can also catch annual live music events like Blues on the Green and the Austin City Limits Festival. Plus, each spring, see the sky fill with colorful kites during the Austin Kite Festival.

2. Hike To the Top of Mount Bonnell

Must do things in Austin, Texas: Fun Things to do in Austin, Texas: Hike to the Top of Mount Bonnell

Outdoor lovers will find the view from the top of the city’s highest point, Mount Bonnell, just breathtaking! Gaze out over the top of the hill overlooking picturesque Lake Austin for 360-degree views of the entire city and surrounding area.

Officially called “Covert Park,” the entrance to the limestone staircase is located in a small residential neighborhood with free parking for hikers. Stairs with handrails have been installed along the trail to guide hikers through the steepest areas. Plus, the 102 steps are relatively easy to ascend, even for the most novice of hikers. 

Though the 775-foot trek sounds long, the entire hike is actually only about a third of a mile long, putting you a whopping 775 feet above sea level on top of the limestone-specked hill. 

Hike later in the day to catch a gorgeous sunset and snap a few breathtaking photos of the Hill Country landscape. From the top, you can view the famous arches of the Pennybacker Bridge and a portion of the Colorado River. 

3. Tour The Texas State Capitol Building

Best Things to do in Austin, Texas: Texas State Capitol Building

For history buffs, I always recommend a guided tour of the Texas State Capitol building to learn all about the interworkings of the Texas government. Hear snippets of rich Texas history while you take in the stunning architecture of the Capitol dome, spiral staircases, senate chamber skylight, and more.

Tours depart every 20 to 30 minutes, but you can also take a self-guided tour to explore the various halls and rooms within the building. See where the Texas Supreme Court takes place, explore the Governor’s public reception area, peek inside the Secretary of State’s office, and take a look at the Legislative Reference Library. 

Take a look at some of the notable artifacts and paintings on display in the Capitol’s artifacts, documents, and artwork galleries. Also located inside of the Capitol is the Texas Agricultural Museum, where you can browse displays filled with products grown in the state and information about the history of agriculture in Texas.

Stand on the star in the direct center of the building’s rotunda and whisper something while looking directly up at the star on the top of the ceiling above you. It’s so much fun to hear whatever you whisper echoed back to you!

4. See the University of Texas at Austin

Cool Things to do in Austin, Texas: University of Texas at Austin

Filled with historic statues, interesting architecture, and multiple museum spaces, there’s so much to explore on the University of Texas campus. The campus is always a bustling area, but no more so than on game day! Plan to tailgate and catch a football game at Darrell K Royal Stadium and then see the UT Tower light up bright orange when the team wins big.

Head to the Texas Memorial Museum to see exhibits focused on the natural history and paleontology of the state, check out the Henry Ransom Center archives specializing in literary and cultural artifacts of the arts and humanities, or simply enjoy a stroll through the campus’ 40-acre property.

See more than 18,000 unique works of art spanning various genres and eras, from the early Renaissance paintings to contemporary prints at the Blanton Museum of Art, one of the country’s largest university art museums.

History buffs will want to stop in the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to learn all about the 36th President, while nature lovers can enjoy a stroll through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to see native Texas flora and fauna. 

When you’ve finished exploring, head to the main street directly across campus. The bustling Guadalupe Street is known to locals as simply “The Drag.” Shop at the UT store, University Co-op, peruse a number of retail shops and don’t miss the opportunity to grab some ice cream at Amy’s or sip on a hot coffee at Spider House. 

5. Snap A Selfie with Artistic Street Art Murals

Austin, Texas Bucket List: Street Art Murals

One of the coolest things to do in Austin is to sightsee by way of the giant street art murals around town! Many of the city’s neighborhoods boast fantastic works of street art plastered on the sides of buildings, creating the ideal backdrop for fun selfies and photographs. 

From the Historic 6th Street Mural that boasts the famed “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan to the iconic “I Love You So Much” on the side of Jo’s Coffee on South Congress Avenue, there are a number of places to snap a photo throughout the city. Check out the “Greetings From Austin” postcard mural on 1st Street, or see the largest mural in the city honoring the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment on the side of The LINE hotel. 

Look for “Big Chiller Blues” on 5th Street, a blue tile wall by artist Ann Adams that makes a splashy gradient, or the Technicolor “Tau Ceti” mural with a rainbow of multi-dimensional color at Brazos and Second streets. Music lovers shouldn’t miss the tribute to Texas artists Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson on East Seventh Street or the “Willie For President” mural on South Congress.

If you’re looking for a way to see a bunch of outdoor artwork without driving all over the city, head to HOPE Outdoor Gallery. This trendy spot is an outdoor graffiti park near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where you can glimpse large, colorful murals and plenty of graffiti art in one spot.

6. Watch The Bats Emerge from Under the South Congress Bridge

Austin, Texas Things to do: Watch the Bats Emerge from Under the South Congress Bridge

Seeing approximately 1.5 million bats fly out from underneath The South Congress Bridge is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Austin. For about an hour each night from May through October, the winged nocturnal animals appear right as the sun sets and put on a fantastic show for visitors! 

I think the best spot to see this incredible sight is from on top of the bridge itself, where tourists and locals alike line the edges to see hundreds of Mexican free-tailed bats as they swirl through the sky. To beat the crowds, grab a lawn chair to set up on the side of the lake or enjoy a stroll from one end of the bridge to the other as the bats take flight.

You can also catch the view of the bats from a kayak or paddleboard on Lady Bird Lake if you rent one to take out on the water. Because the bats migrate during the winter, this is definitely a seasonal activity, but the bridge itself is still fun to stroll across when it’s not bat season.  

Attend Bat Fest in August during peak bat migrating season to view the largest swaths of bats. You can also enjoy entertainment, food, drinks, and more across the bridge in celebration of the city’s unofficial mascots! 

7. Learn To Do the Texas Two-Step at a Honky-Tonk

Cool Things to do in Austin, Texas: Two Step at a Honky-Tonk

The city of Austin may be known for its eclectic style and keeping it weird, but there’s no denying that the town’s country roots run deep. If you’re new in town, head to one of Austin’s historic honky-tonks to learn how to do the Texas two-step. 

Dance the night away at one of the city’s oldest dance halls, Broken Spoke, where you’ll hear traditional country music from live bands that have graced the same stage for decades. The Spoke is also one of the best places in town to eat a great Southern meal – don’t miss their chicken fried steak!

Take free dance lessons at The White Horse on the East Side, where you can learn how to two-step on the weekends, but also how to swing dance on Wednesdays or do the Cajun slide on Tuesdays. If you’re not up for a dance, try your hand at a game of pool or enjoy a drink on the patio. Another way to “two-step” here is to order one from the bar: a Lone Star beer and a shot of T.W. Samuels.

8. Shop at The Domain

Unique Things to do in Austin, Texas: Museum of Ice Cream
Images courtesy of Museum of Ice Cream

Head to The Domain, Austin’s premier outdoor mall, to shop at upscale retailers like Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany & Co. The impressive shopping venue is located in North Austin and is home to some of the most exclusive brands like Tesla, Gucci, and Lucchese Bootmakers, but also boasts a myriad of mall staple stores like Banana Republic, Express, and Dillard’s. 

There are several free children’s play areas on-site if you’re traveling with kids who need a break from all the shopping. Catch a flick on the big screen at IPIC or check out The Domain’s event calendar for fun things to do while you’re in the area. 

Immerse yourself in the internationally acclaimed photo destination experience at the Museum of Ice Cream, where you can snap impressive photos in candy-colored rooms with ice cream-inspired props. For dinner, enjoy a steak at Fleming’s, then sip on a glass of vino at CRÚ, and taste delectable treats at Sweet Paris Creperie & Cafe for dessert. 

9. Shop, Drink, & Dine Along South Congress Street

What to do in Austin, Texas: Shop, Drink, & Dine Along South Congress Street

One of the most fun places to visit while in Austin is South Congress Street. Also known as the SoCo District, this cultural hotspot is home to boutique shops with vintage clothing, retro record stores, plenty of live music, and so much culture to experience. 

Stay at the eclectic Hotel San Jose or the South Congress Hotel, where you’ll be within walking distance from bars, restaurants, shops, and clubs on South Congress. Explore a bevy of interesting gifts and clothing at The Gypsy Wagon, marvel at wall-to-wall Halloween costumes at Lucy in Disguise, and then get outfitted with an authentic pair of cowboy boots at Allens Boots

Eat something delicious morning, noon, and night on South Congress. Start your day with a stack of hotcakes at Cafe No Se or breakfast burritos at Jo’s Hot Coffee Good Food, followed by oysters for lunch or dinner at Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. For a late-night snack, grab some pizza at Home Slice Pizza from their order-by-the slice window that faces the street. 

Head to the famed Continental Club, a bluesy concert venue known for launching the careers of musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Visit on “First Thursdays” to experience special offers at SoCo’s bars, live music around every corner, and an energetic, street-wide block party!

10. Wait In Line to Eat at Franklin Barbecue

Best Things to do in Austin, Texas: Franklin Barbecue

The Texas culinary scene is nothing without barbecue, and barbecue in Texas doesn’t get any better than Franklin Barbecue! Though standing in line for hours to enter a restaurant seems like it wouldn’t be all that fun, waiting in line at this barbecue joint is actually one of the top things to do in Austin.

Waiting in line for barbecue at Franklin’s will make you feel more like you’re at a tailgate party than waiting in line to eat at a restaurant. Bon Appetit calls Franklin Barbecue a “cultural phenomenon.” Plus, reviewers from all corners of the web say it’s well worth the wait, and even locals are willing to get up before the sun to snag a spot in line. 

Get there early to get a taste of award-winning brisket, beef ribs, pulled pork, and more. Franklin’s opens for lunch at 11 am, but patrons start lining up several hours before, forming a line that snakes around the block.  

The party-like atmosphere is fun, even under the blazing Texas sun. Just make sure you’re dressed for the season since you’ll be out in the elements for several hours. Bring some lawn chairs, pack a cooler full of ice-cold Lone Star beer, and blast some Willie Nelson through a portable speaker to really experience the hours-long wait like a true Texan! 

11. Take a Dinner Cruise on Lady Bird Lake

Austin, Texas Bucket List: Dinner Cruise on Lady Bird Lake

While kayaking and paddleboarding are a mainstay at this sprawling city lake and joggers flock here to enjoy the many trails that surround it, a boat cruise on Lady Bird Lake is one of the best things to do in Austin. 

The lake itself is formed by a stretch of the Colorado River that has been dammed off to create a reservoir. The recreational hot spot is a popular place for boating. Rent a pontoon boat or canoe to cruise the waterway during the day and see the Austin skyline light up at night.

Snag a spot on a Lone Star Riverboat tour to take a charter boat ride around the lake on an environmentally-friendly electric cruiser while your captain points out Austin landmarks. There are also specific boat tours available if you want to watch the bats fly out from underneath the South Congress Bridge during the summer!

Book with Capital Cruises to enjoy either a catered lunch or dinner from the Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Hotel aboard an easy-to-handle electric boat that you can rent to drive yourself across the lake to watch the sun set.

Standard rentals last for two hours and can be booked for groups of 2 to 8 passengers. Larger groups can choose a captained vessel with buffet-style meals, and special holiday meal cruises are also offered periodically to the public.

12. Explore The Bullock Texas State History Museum

What to do in Austin, Texas: Bullock Texas State History Museum

Texans love to celebrate their history, and there are multiple places to do just that in the capital city – but none are quite as robust as The Bullock Texas State History Museum. With three floors full of exhibits and plenty to see and do, it’s one of the coolest spots to visit in Austin! 

Discover the stories of Texas through a showcase of more than 700 artifacts in the Texas History Galleries, which is filled with relics from some of Texas’ earliest inhabitants and statues of notable Texans displayed alongside their personal effects. Marvel at a World War II airplane suspended overhead on the third floor while you learn about Texas’ influence on the cultural and agricultural revolutions of the 20th century.

Head to the Austin City Limits Theater installation to learn all about the innovative PBS series, the longest-running music program in TV history. Catch a flick on the first IMAX screen to make its way into the city, with showings of new, hit movies alongside documentary films about nature, space, and history screening daily. 

Visit the museum on a Tuesday to hear a special presentation about various aspects of the state’s rich history of music, art, and culture on Texas History Tuesdays. Check out the museum’s event calendar to see what’s on tap during your visit and read up on any rotating exhibits that might be on display.

13. Attend SXSW

Fun Things to do in Austin, Texas: Attend SXSW

One of the most unique things to do in Austin, the South By Southwest conference and festival is an Austin bucket list activity worth building an entire trip around. Abbreviated to SXSW, and known simply as “South By,” the multi-day event draws massive crowds to the city each spring. 

Part conference, part music festival, the event centers around conference sessions and networking events for musicians, artists, and other creatives, film screenings, musical showcases, exhibitions, awards ceremonies, various art competitions, and much more. If you aren’t in the industry, the festival portion of SXSW is open to the public and features some of the biggest names in music, film, and comedy all in one spot. 

Attend all three iterations of the festival – film, music, and comedy – or pick and choose which set fits your fancy. See and hear from emerging artists during the festival or skim through the stage schedule to find your favorites, and be sure to set aside time to make your way to their performance or showing. 

14. See A World-Class Race at Circuit of the Americas

What to do in Austin, Texas: Circuit of the Americas

One of the top attractions in the Austin area is the Circuit of the Americas racetrack. The track hosts the Formula One United States Grand Prix and the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas, both of which draw huge crowds to the area, as well as multiple special events throughout the year.

If you feel the need for speed, take a spin on a go-kart around a smaller track on the property that’s adjacent to the Formula One track. For even more thrills, sail across the track on a zip line to see the entire space from a bird’s-eye-view seat!

Yet another fun attraction at the track is the COTALAND children’s amusement park, where you’ll find kiddie rides to enjoy, including a carousel, mini-coaster, and a train. At the on-site Germania Insurance Amphitheater stage, see musical performances by superstars like Taylor Swift, Jack Johnson, and Chance the Rapper!

15. Hear Live Music on 6th Street

Cool Things to do in Austin, Texas: Live Music on 6th Street

Another can’t-miss spot in Austin is 6th Street. Hear up-and-coming artists sing in bluesy dive bars and let street performers keep you entertained as you stroll down the historic street.  

The area has been a mainstay of the city’s music scene since the 1970s, thanks in large part to the efforts of the National Register of Historic Places to preserve the area. At night, the street closes to motor vehicle traffic, which makes it feel a lot like Bourbon Street in New Orleans! 

The Red River Entertainment district is the part of 6th Street best known to have live music flooding out of every open door you pass. You can also catch a live comedy performance at Esther’s Follies or The Hideout Theatre. Then, head to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar to hear piano artists battle for the mic. 

You can absolutely sip on a cocktail at one of 6th Street’s many dive bars, but if you’re looking for something a little more upscale, head to East 6th Street, where you’ll find trendier bars like Whisler’s with craft cocktails and an upscale mezcal bar on its top floor.

There you have it—the 15 best things to do in Austin. What’s your favorite thing to do in Austin? Drop us a note and let us know!

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About the Author

  • Val Wheatley

    Val spent the majority of her life living in Portland, Oregon, but also spent several years living in Oahu and Asheville, North Carolina. She has explored much of the USA, having taken an extended road trip that took her from Portland to the Florida Keys and back again. She spent 6 months checking out some amazing US National Parks and camping under the stars.

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