Top 12 Things to Do in Austin, Texas

With its famous slogan “Keep Austin Weird,” the Texas capital embraces eccentric local businesses, a passion for music, and outdoor adventure.

Congress Avenue Bridge BatsWatch millions of bats fly out at dusk.
Texas State Capitol Complex TourExplore historic buildings and gardens.
View from Mount BonnellEnjoy panoramic city and nature views.
South Congress AvenueShop and dine in a vibrant district.
Texas State History MuseumDive into Texas history through interactive exhibits.
Barton Creek Greenbelt HikeExplore trails and natural beauty within the city.
Live Music on Sixth StreetExperience Austin’s famous music scene.
Zach Theatre ShowWatch performances at a historic theatre.
Shopping on 2nd StreetBrowse shops in a unique retail area.
Blanton Museum of Art VisitSee a vast art collection at UT Austin.

But Austin also impresses visitors with a blend of culture, cuisine, and nightlife fitting for any cosmopolitan city in the country. When exploring this eclectic destination, make sure to experience these top attractions showcasing what makes the city so delightfully unique.

Go Batty at Congress Avenue Bridge

Name and Location: Congress Avenue Bridge Bats, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Starting in the 1980s, over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats began roosting under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, making for the largest urban bat colony in North America. Their nightly mass exodus to feed attracts crowds awed by the swarming bats as they grace the Texas skies for summer breeding season before migrating to Mexico for winter.

What to Expect: Position yourself along the bridge or riverbanks overlooking the Colorado River around dusk to witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of America’s largest urban bat emergence. As the sun sets, you’ll see endless streams of bats swirling out from under the bridge for around 30 minutes as they embark on their nightly insect hunts. Don’t forget your camera to capture the bat tornado!

Visitor Information: Free self-guided riverbank viewing spots near the bridge available but arrive early in peak season for the best spots. Prime season is May through October. Peak departure times vary based on sunset from around 8 pm to 9 pm. Boats and kayak bat watching tours also available seasonally.

Each summer evening at dusk, crowds congregate on the banks of Lady Bird Lake to witness a stunning emergence of roughly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. The largest urban bat colony in North America, these tiny creatures put on a mesmerizing display as they spiral out in plumes to blanket the sky on their nightly insect hunt. Arrive early to watch bats start peeking out before the full fly-out. Knowledgeable local groups like Bat Conservation International offer tours and background on supporting Austin’s beloved winged residents.

Tour the Texas State Capitol Complex

Name and Location: Texas State Capitol Building, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Completed in 1888, the Texas State Capitol building anchors downtown Austin from Congress Avenue representing state sovereignty for over 130 years across varying architectural styles from Renaissance revival to Beaux Arts classical. Crowned by the iconic Goddess of Liberty, it stands as one of the nation’s tallest capitol buildings, symbolizing Texas pride and perseverance with a towering 304-foot central tower.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the Capitol’s stately halls of towering pink granite, observe the ornate House and Senate chamber galleries or admire soaring vaulted architecture under the Capitol dome. Guided tours provide insightful commentary on Texas politics and history along with fun facts on the building’s quirks like door hinges forged from melted silver dollars. Don’t miss the expansive Capitol grounds either!

Visitor Information: Free guided tours of the interior offered daily starting from 9 am to 4 pm. Allow 1-2 hours to see key areas and rotunda exhibits. Reservations required for groups over 10 people. Extensive visitor parking garage located under the northern plaza. All visitors and bags must clear a security checkpoint at the Capitol entrances.

Symbolizing Austin’s integral role as the Texas capital, the towering 288-foot State Capitol opened in 1888, making it one of the nation’s tallest capitol buildings. Visitors can explore the stately National Historic Landmark on guided tours providing insider views of ornate spaces like the House and Senate chambers, governor’s public reception room, and Capitol extension underground. The surrounding Capitol Visitors Center offers engaging exhibits explaining Texas history, politics, and culture. Outside, Capitol grounds showcase stately monuments plus a miniature train. Tours run frequently every day except major holidays.

See the City from Mount Bonnell

Name and Location: Mount Bonnell, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Towering 775 feet overlooking downtown Austin and the Colorado River basin below, Mount Bonnell’s perch has attracted sightseers since the 1840s to soak up panoramic vistas some dub the city’s best viewpoint. Originally called Signal Hill used by Native tribes like smoke signaling, Judge George Bonnell renamed it later when he purchased the peak in the 1830s – and it’s since become an iconic city landmark.

What to Expect: Climb the 100+ steps to earn the sweeping panorama reveal from flatiron rock outcroppings. Gaze north towards University of Texas at Austin clocktower, look east across Lake Austin or peer below at the rolling hills carved by the Colorado River for a stunning appreciation of Austin’s epic setting against verdant hills backdropped by endless skies. Bring a picnic!

Visitor Information: The overlook area sits within Mount Bonnell Park and is freely accessible to the public during daylight hours year-round. Be extremely cautious near cliff edges and supervise young children carefully. Parking available at the base trailhead (no facilities on top). Prepare for roughly 30 minutes climbing stairs each way.

For dazzling city vistas, venture to the highest point in Austin at Mount Bonnell. This renowned overlook perched nearly 800 feet above the Colorado River provides panoramic views encompassing downtown, Lake Austin, the Hill Country, and more. To soak in sundown vistas, time your visit for late afternoon. After taking the 102 steps to the top, relax on the lawn or scenic Covert Park green space spreading down the slopes. Feel transported from the urban streets below while gazing over Austin’s picturesque setting from this stunning natural vista.

Explore Vibrant South Congress Avenue

Name and Location: South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Known as SoCo, vibrant South Congress Avenue reflects an eclectic mix of faded bohemian glory and revitalized hip new businesses as weird and wonderful Austin culture persevered along this iconic strip. Despite decay during the mid-1900s urban exodus, loyal visionaries held their ground – helping Travis Heights and South Congress reemerge as a can’t miss creative scene.

What to Expect: Today the South Congress strip bustles with acclaimed eateries, food trucks, boutiques, galleries and dive bars not to mention street performers and people watching. Wander for the iconic “I Love You So Much” art installation, grab drinks at the retro Continental Club or try cowboy boots. SoCo invites idling, shopping and embracing the eclectic personalities that infuse Austin with electric color.

Visitor Information: South Congress area spans roughly from the Colorado River/Lady Bird Lake to Ben White Blvd. Explore by foot, pedicab or ride share for flexibility. Most shops and restaurants are open daily from 11 am to 9 pm. Don’t miss the iconic neon Motel Vegas sign too! Enjoy SoCo’s mix of gritty nostalgia alongside trendy revival strong as ever.

Famed for its iconic “I Love You So Much” mural and retro Austin Motel sign, the SoCo District stretches along lively South Congress Avenue through the Travis Heights neighborhood. Visitors browse the street’s abundant local shops, like classic cowboy boot stores, quirky gift boutiques, food trucks, and the largest Allen’s Boots retail space. The block also claims some of Austin’s most popular brunch spots, taquerias, dessert parlors, food trailers and the famous Continental Club music venue. From people-watching at Jo’s Coffee downtown to admiring colorful Victorian houses nearby, SoCo entices with quintessential “Keep Austin Weird” vibes.

Tour the Texas State History Museum

Name and Location: Bullock Texas State History Museum, Austin, TX

History and Significance: As the state’s official history museum, the Bullock Texas State History Museum opened in 2001 to showcase the proud stories, culture and heritage from ancient Native tribes through Texas Revolution heroes to present day trailblazers across 25,000 years. High-tech exhibits and immersive programming brings pivotal Texas history moments to life along with showcasing iconic artifacts.

What to Expect: Prepare for an engaging stroll from Texas’ untamed wilderness origins and Caddo nation villages to sprawling cattle ranching traditions then oil booms propelling wild economic surges and crashes. Climb aboard the 1936 motorcoach Café High Society and handle Civil War era firearms. Vividly experience interactive state history in entertaining ways for all ages.

Visitor Information: General admission tickets $19 for adults. Open daily 9 am to 5 pm except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Onsite café plus gift shop. Relief nursing room available. Allow 2-3 hours minimum to digest the extensive exhibits and artifact archives spanning 450 years of Texas legends, invention and enduring pride.

As one of the state’s premier historical attractions, the Texas State History Museum transports visitors on an interactive journey through the epic story of the Lone Star State, from early indigenous cultures to Spanish colonization to Revolutionary and Civil War battles to railroad expansion to oil discovery to the Space Race and beyond. Permanent exhibit highlights include ancient Native American tools, a Spanish shipwreck, the Tall Ship Elissa, Juneteenth artifacts, Texas Revolution battle sites, JFK and LBJ-related displays, and a 1950s diner. Revisit moments making Texas the larger-than-life icon it remains today.

Hike the Barton Creek Greenbelt

Name and Location: Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Set across 7.8 miles of protected Hill Country landscape from Zilker Park beneath towering limestone bluffs, Barton Creek Greenbelt preserves a beloved slice of Texas canyon wilderness forged by the flowing waters of Barton Creek for countless generations to enjoy moments of escape along countless trails weaving through oak and juniper woodlands glittering with quartz along the creekside oasis landscape first beloved by indigenous inhabitants like the Tonkawa and Comanche tribes.

What to Expect: Lace up your hiking shoes to wander through the trails immersed in nature without leaving the heart of the city. Rock hop across the creek, loop through densely wooded patches under canopy shade and traverse skinny ledges through the enchanting spaces where water, weather and limestone collided over eons to create the terrain found within the greenbelt today.

Visitor Information: The park is freely open from 5 am to 10 pm daily with multiple access points. Leashed dogs allowed in most areas. Be prepared with proper footwear for varied trails spanning easy to challenging along with water and sun protection to fully enjoy the park’s bountiful beauty during your outdoor escape.

The beloved Barton Creek Greenbelt offers outdoor escape in the heart of Austin with nearly 8 miles of recreational trails following sparkling Barton Creek through the landscape. Hikers, bikers and dogs alike flock here to enjoy nature amid the city. The peaceful paths wind past limestone bluffs, swimming holes, waterfalls and more. If seeking less crowds, go early morning or on a weekday. While inside city limits, the area’s rolling hills dotted with trees feel transportive. For an easy Greenbelt hike under 1.5 miles round-trip, access the trailhead behind the Barton Springs Pool to enjoy dramatic views of downstream “Twin Falls.”

Catch Live Music on Sixth Street

Name and Location: Austin’s Legendary 6th Street, Austin, TX

History and Significance: As Austin’s entertainment district located just steps east of the State Capitol, 6th Street’s rustic warehouses and colorful Victorian-era storefronts have endured waves of musical history since German and Mexican immigrants first inhabited what’s now called the Live Music Capital of the World. Blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan to Willie Nelson helped launch the scene that continues to showcase talented musicians nightly across every genre imaginable.

What to Expect: Prepare for an explosion of sounds and neon marquees along this famed musical mecca. Hop between storied venues like Esther’s Follies comedy theatre, dive bars boasting free live music and vibrant clubs blasting DJ beats into the night. Fuel up on street food fare as you walk between sets soaking up Austin’s dazzling array of music talent that builds on 6th Street’s legacy as ground zero stamping the beat of Austin’s eclectic heart.

Visitor Information: Historic 6th Street runs parallel between IH-35 and Congress Ave bridges. Most bars open from 4 pm into the late hours with venues staggered up and down the strip. Parking garages bookend both ends otherwise rideshare or taxi recommended, especially at night, to safely enjoy the full experience.

No trip to the epicenter of Texas music would be complete without experiencing Austin’s famed Sixth Street entertainment district. Known as the place “where sound meets soul,” Sixth Street’s legendary music scene stretches across genres from rock, blues and jazz to funk, soul, country and more. Visitors can find free shows almost any night of the week at iconic venues like Esther’s Follies comedy theatre, The Driskill historic hotel bar, Parish Underground dance club and the Eleanor music hall spotlighting Americana artists. Don’t forget staple stops like the ever-lively Buddy’s Place karaoke joint either!

See a Show at Zach Theatre

Name and Location: Zach Theatre, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Housed within a historic former playhousetransformed through extensive renovations, Zach Theatre has entertained Austin audiences through intimate live productions since first founded in 1932. Initially created as an Austin Civic Theatre Guild project during the Great Depression era, ZACH prevailed by rallying community support, cementing its place as Austin’s bedrock professional theatre company for pushing creative boundaries across varied works.

What to Expect: Expect top-tier shows and musicals like award-winning original productions, emotionally captivating dramas or annual holiday favorites hosted at their theaters and outdoor amphitheater against the idyllic Texas Hill Country backdrop. The artistic teams breathe passion into timeless stories told through intimate live performing arts showcasing their dedication to fearless creative spirit backed by robust community engagement.

Visitor Information: Performances hosted year-round across multiple venues. Schedule and tickets available online in advance, prices $25-$125. Parking garage onsite or metered street parking where available. Prepare to experience Zach Theatre’s legacy of artistic excellence as the longest continuously running theatre company in the state.

Delighting Austin audiences for over 85 years, the acclaimed Zach Theatre offers premier regional theater in its unique venue housed inside a converted 1920s-era playhouse. As Central Texas’ oldest continuously operating theater company, Zach produces a diverse lineup of comedies, dramas and musicals on two stages including family-friendly shows and provocative contemporary works. Popular annual special events include the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” and summertime “Zilker Summer Musical” extravaganza outdoors in Zilker Hillside Theater. Zach also runs education programs supporting emerging actors and playwrights to carry on Austin’s vibrant theater tradition.

Shop On 2nd Street

Name and Location: 2nd Street District, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Paralleling hip South Congress, vibrant 2nd Street links picturesque downtown Austin towards Lady Bird Lake with blocks of bustling restaurants, shops and nightlife anchoring charming historic Victorian-era storefront buildings awash in quirky murals, public art and bold architectural preservation. Once decaying, today 2nd Street shines as a walkable creative district revealing Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit blending the old and new.

What to Expect: Wander through inviting art galleries like CAMIBAart or Salvage Vanguard filled with dazzling works then unwind with craft brews at Austin Beerworks taproom. Try boutique shopping at Arrow Goods Co, smell the fresh blooms at Lark & Twig florist or indulge handmade sweet and savory Greek delights at Oakleaf Bakery & Deli. Prepare to discover Austin’s maker spirit thriving.

Visitor Information: Free street parking off Trinity or San Antonio streets otherwise ride share recommended for bar hopping. Most shops open from 11 am to 8 pm while restaurants and bars extend to late night around 10 pm or later.

Known as the world’s largest rare book collection outside the Library of Congress, the Harry Ransom Center displays a fraction of its literary treasures through fascinating exhibits and programs. Bibliophiles admire iconic manuscripts like a Gutenberg Bible, the first photograph, original poems from Anne Sexton, costumes like Robert De Niro’s “Taxi Driver” attire, and works spanning 5,000 years. Guests can request to view rare Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe items in the reading room. Talks, film screenings and other public events celebrate the Center’s archives ranging from David O. Selznick’s “Gone with the Wind” to Gloria Swanson’s papers.

Visit the Blanton Museum of Art

Name and Location: Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX

History and Significance: Established in 1963 as the University of Texas at Austin’s art museum, the Blanton Museum of Art has since amassed over 21,000 works spanning European paintings, contemporary installations, modern Latin American art and more within its light-filled galleries found just steps east of the Texas State Capitol. As Austin’s premier visual arts institution, it provides cultural enrichment through art appreciation and meaningful learning opportunities.

What to Expect: Explore the galleries showcasing artistic mastery across varied cultures from ancient to contemporary works in rotating exhibits like masterpieces from Caravaggio or thought-provoking works addressing society by provocative modern artists. Interactive installations, public programs like sketching in the galleries or external outdoor art also encourage engagement with creative works that illuminate, intrigue and inspire.

Visitor Information: General admission $12 for adults. Open Tuesdays-Sundays 10am-5pm with extended hours on Thursdays/Fridays. The museum offers free admission on Thursdays 3-8pm plus second Sundays monthly. Garage parking onsite, fee applies. Allow 1-2 hours per visit.

As the largest university art museum in the country, UT Austin’s esteemed Blanton Museum holds over 18,000 works spanning European painting and sculpture, modern and contemporary American and Latin American artworks, displays surveying Austin cultural heritage and more. Must-see pieces include a giant Picasso sculpture crowning the stairwell and the sweeping mural “The Age of Enlightenment” ringwrapping the interior rotunda. Intriguing visiting exhibits have covered pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein plus retrospectives on Latino and Latin American creative voices. Public talks, artist conversations, films and family-friendly opportunities give more ways to engage with the acclaimed collection.

Marvel at the Bats Under Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

From March through early fall, one of Austin’s most mesmerizing daily occurrences happens downtown as approximately 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk to blanket the sky on their nightly hunt for insects. Arrive before sunset for prime views of these tiny flying mammals – the largest urban bat colony in North America – as they begin peeking out from crevices before ultimately spiraling into columns dotting the horizon, to the delight of spectators crowded along the lake shoreline below.


From bats to blues music to hiking trails to book archives, Austin earns its reputation for creative expression, cultural diversity and outdoor adventure unique among Texas cities. When visiting the state capital known globally as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” make sure to include these top-rated experiences embracing Austin’s blend of artistic spirit, storied history and connection to the natural landscape.

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