Many people are surprised to learn that the Capital of Texas is Austin, (not Houston or Dallas). It’s an inland city that borders “hill country” and is home to the University of Texas (UT). Austin is known for its BBQ, live music, and culture (this is where the unofficial slogan of “Keep Austin Weird” comes in). If you only have a limited time to visit this city, here are 9 of the top things to do in Austin, Texas.
First things first- you’re probably going to want to rent a car. Austin is a smaller city that is vehicle oriented and unfortunately doesn’t have great public transportation. The core of downtown is walkable depending on where you are staying, but if you’re wanting to see and do most things on this list, you’ll want to rent a car. Rideshare is always an option, but that tends to add up quickly. I’d also like to note that Austin is a city that has electric scooters and bike rentals.
The public transit system that services downtown and the greater metro region is called Capital Metro. Single rides cost about $1.25, and tickets are available online, in stores, and on the CapMetro app. Austin also has two rapid buses that service north and south Austin, routes 801 and 803 respectively, called MetroRapid. Buses typically stop running around midnight, but the app and website can provide up-to-date information.
Where to stay
I would definitely recommend staying downtown Austin to be close to everything. I stayed in an Airbnb near the UT campus, which was extremely affordable, drivable, and friendly.
- Eat at Black’s BBQ
3110 Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX 78705
Austin is known for having great BBQ so it should be no surprise that there are numerous places to get it. One of the most popular places is Franklin’s- but the line to wait can easily exceed 3 hours. That’s why I’m recommending Black’s BBQ, especially if you’re in a time crunch. (If you have the time, they open at 11 am, and people usually start lining up around 7 am). The Black family has been serving barbecue for over three generations, and it shows! I ordered the most popular meat on the menu, brisket, which was so soft and tender! They have several sides that all pair fantastically with meats, and barbecue sauce that makes everything even better. To top it off, they serve dessert so don’t forget to save room for some cobbler!
- Enjoy live music and bars on 6th Street
6th street is sometimes referred to as the Bourbon Street of Austin because this is the entertainment district of the City. Located downtown, this is where the bars, live music, and shenanigans happen. During the late-night hours, it is a pedestrian-only street mostly populated with college students.
- Visit the capital building
1100 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701
The Capitol Building is open from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm and closed major holidays. Admission to the building is free, which includes a 30-minute guided tour. Walking around the outside of the building provides an opportunity to see the beauty of the Italian Renaissance Revival architecture, similar to that of the nation’s capital in Washington D.C.
- Visit the Austin Mural
1720 South 1st Street, Austin, TX 78704
At the corner of South 1st and Annie Streets, sits a small shop with an art gallery by Todd Sanders. On the outside of the building is the famous “Greetings from Austin” postcard mural. This is a really easy and quick thing to see and get a picture by. While you’re there you can check out the full art gallery inside, or visit the coffee shop next door. This is definitely a picture worthy of social media. For more murals and graffiti art, stop by the Graffiti Park at Castle Hill downtown.
- Visit the food trucks
Along with BBQ, Austin is known for its large number of food trucks. They are all over the city and offer cuisine of all kinds. I think a helpful article to check out is Thrillist’s Guide to Austin’s Food Truck Parks.
- Watch the bats fly
Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704
Austin has the largest urban bat colony in North America. Each spring, Mexican free-tailed bats migrate from central Mexico to the southwestern United States, including Texas to live. The bats stay underneath the Congress Avenue bridge over the Colorado River. Every night (during the summer while they live in Texas) at dusk, the bats emerge from the bridge, fill the sky and will eat around 10,000 pounds of insects. Hundreds of people gather to watch, and there are even tours. Since bats are kind of small and fly pretty high, you probably won’t get the best social media pictures so I would only do this if you are genuinely interested in watching and experiencing this.
- Shop on South Congress
Check out the eclectic retail shops and boutiques along South Congress Avenue. Most of these shops are local, small businesses that I always enjoy visiting and love supporting. The local charm of artists, crafters, candy stores, retro hotels, and cafes will be in full effect here.
- Visit the natural pools
Austin has a lot of outdoor activities to offer. That includes natural springs and swimming holes like Barton Springs Pool and Hamilton pool reserve. While the weather wasn’t the best when I visited, Koko reviews 7 of the best to visit.
- Watch the sunset at Mount Bonnell
3800 Mount Bonnell Drive, Austin, TX 78704
Walk to the top of the Mount Bonnell hill and watch the sunset behind the Austin skyline. Covert Park at Mount Bonnell Trail includes a lot of steps to the top of a hill with a great view of the city. If you are a fully-able person, climbing these stairs takes ~10 minutes, so I personally wouldn’t consider this a hike that will take too much time out of your day. This is a free activity so you can’t beat that!
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Austin is a cute and fun city to visit and let your weird out. Did I miss something? Let me know what other activities you think should be on the list!