Austin is a city that’s known for its amazing barbecue dinners and for its live music scene. Visitors to the city will enjoy the friendly, creative atmosphere as well as all the history of this admittedly unique and vibrant city. When you’re looking for the best places to visit in Austin, the only problem you’ll have is finding enough time to do it all.
Austin isn’t a city that’s on everyone’s bucket list, so you might not know what to do when you’re visiting there. In fact, when you travel to Austin, you’ll be surprised at how much there is to see and do and will probably have trouble choosing between them. To help with that, we’ve created this list of the best things to do, see, and eat for every taste and preference. So, all you have to do is show up and enjoy yourself!
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The Best Places to Stay in Austin
Austin has a range of accommodation options available at every price point. To help make this decision easier when you travel to the city, we’ve put together this list of the best options at every price point.
Best Hostel in Austin: The Firehouse Hostel
Some of the best places to stay in Austin are in hostels. They’re social and they give you the chance to stay close to the action at a fraction of the price of a hotel. The Firehouse Hostel is a prime example of these benefits. It’s located right in the city center, which means you’ll have easy access to all the most interesting neighborhoods in Austin. This hostel is the largest in Texas, and has newly renovated, comfortable rooms within walking distance of historic 6th Street.View on HostelWorld
Best Budget Hotel in Austin: Peers Hotel
If you want access to all the most interesting neighborhoods in Austin during your stay, then the Peers Hotel may be right for you. This budget hotel offers comfortable rooms with Wi-Fi, a fridge, and a coffee maker, all within a short trip from the city center. So, when you’re trying to decide where to stay in Austin to keep your wallet and your wandering spirit happy, this hotel offers everything you could possibly want on a budget.View on Booking.com View on HotelsCombined
Best Luxury Hotel in Austin: Fairmont Austin Gold Experience
Located in the city center, this luxurious hotel is one of the best places to stay in Austin if you have a little extra money to spend. It contains a spa, state of the art meeting facilities, a bar, and a swimming pool. The contemporary rooms include all the little luxuries you want from a five-star hotel, with premium linens, bathroom amenities, and all the technologies you could want for your stay. This all makes it the easy choice when you’re deciding where to stay in Austin.View on Booking.com View on HotelsCombined
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Austin:
- Explore the exhibits dedicated to African-America history and culture at the George Washington Carver Museum.
- Sink your teeth into out-of-this-world dishes at Franklin Barbecue.
- Visit the Historic Victory Grill, one of the few remaining juke joints in Austin.
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Austin!
#1 – Pangea Lounge
A must visit place to visit in Austin on the weekend!
• One of the best places to eat in Austin.
• Austin is home to countless food truck lots where you’ll find the tastiest, cheapest, and most varied snacks around.
• Located on East Sixth Street.
Why it’s so awesome: Austin loves its food trucks and it isn’t hard to understand why. At no other place can you find such an intoxicating combination of different types of foods all at rock bottom prices. This is one of the best food truck locations in the city, and there are also other lots close by in case you want to eat some more!
What to do there: What’s awesome about food trucks is the fact that they change constantly. So, make sure you wander around first and see what catches your eye. Otherwise, try cheesesteaks at Way South Philly, Bua Loy Thai Cuisine’s delicious dishes, or the amazing Indian food at Masala Medley. And if you go on a weekend, there will be live music and artisan booths as well, so you can wander and work off all that food!
#2 – Sixth Street
• Discover why Austin is famous for its live music in this area.
• Sixth Street was the hub of the city’s music scene in the 1970s and a recent restoration has saved the area from its grungy reputation and made it popular once more.
Why it’s so awesome: Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World and you must be a part of that when you explore Austin. The best way to do that is by visiting this area. It was recently renovated to save it from its grungy beginnings and has been the center of Austin’s live music scene for decades.
What to do there: There are countless live music joints for you to explore this area. This includes famous options like Esther’s Follies, The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and Pete’s Duelling Piano Bar. But there’s more for you to do in this area too. It’s packed with restaurants, bars, and shops, so take the time to explore and become a part of this lively scene.
#3 – The Bullock Museum
A fascinating educational place to visit in Austin
• A great place for the kids and for adults.
• Texas has a varied and colorful history, and this is the best place to learn about it.
Why it’s so awesome: The history of Texas includes interesting events like the Kennedy assassination and the Alamo. Learning about how these pivotal events shaped the state is vital if you want a deeper, richer experience when you’re visiting Austin. This museum contains over 4 centuries of that history, complete with lots of artifacts and interactive displays. That means you’ll walk away understanding just a little more about how the culture around you came to be.
What to do there: There’s a lot to see at this museum, so take your time and make sure you take your kids with you too. They’ll love the interactive displays. To get the most you’re your visit, make sure you check out the renovated shipwreck, the Bush family display, and the space exhibits.
#4 – Zilker Metropolitan Park
• This is a 351-acre park conveniently located just across the river from downtown Austin.
• Several of the city’s most popular attractions are in this area, which is why it’s so popular amongst locals and tourists alike.
Why it’s so awesome: Putting a huge park in the middle of a busy city is always an amazing thing to do. It gives locals and tourists a chance to enjoy a touch of nature, exercise, and generally get away from the busyness of the city. The Zilker Metropolitan Park is one of the best city parks you’ll ever see. Several of the city’s top attractions are located there and it also includes athletic fields, swimming holes, and open spaces where you can walk or just sit down with a picnic.
What to do there: If you’re looking for a place to exercise, swim, or have a picnic, you’ll definitely find the space in this park. You can take part in a range of activities like canoeing, digging for fossils at the Austin Nature and Science Center’s Dino Pit, exploring the art at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum, or smelling the flowers in the Botanical Garden. This venue also holds popular events throughout the year, so make sure you check out what’s on while you’re visiting Austin.
#5 – Barton Springs Pool
• A great place to cool off in the middle of the city.
• This pool is often referred to as the soul of Austin and was once believed to have spiritual healing powers.
Why it’s so awesome: Located in Zilker Park, this is one of the most famous places in Austin. Native American settlers once believed the springs had healing powers and the area is still held in high esteem among the locals. It’s also the perfect place to get away from the stifling heat of summer. The pool is fed by underground springs, which is why it stays cool even on the hottest day. You can expect the temperature to hover between 68 and 70 degrees no matter how hot it is under the sun.
What to do there: If you need a cooling dip, this is where to come. The grounds feature bathhouses for your convenience and once you’ve cooled off, you can explore the educational exhibit about the history of the springs.
#6 – Franklin Barbecue
• One of the best places to eat in Austin!
• If you’re a meat lover, you’ll be in heaven in this restaurant.
Why it’s so awesome: Franklin Barbecue is absolutely iconic in Austin and in Texas as a whole. It’s a favorite amongst locals and tourists and waits can last up to four hours. The restaurant began in a BBQ trailer but quickly outgrew these humble beginnings. The founder, Aaron Franklin, was the James Beard Award winner and his mastery of all things barbecue is amazing.
What to do there: If you enjoy eating all things meat, then you’ll be spoiled for choice at this restaurant. The brisket is a perennial favorite, seasoned and smoked to perfection, but you can try almost every offering and get smoky goodness.
#7 – The Highball
Cool place to see in Austin with friends!
• One of Austin’s best karaoke bars.
• You’ll need to book in advance if you want to stop by, it’s usually packed.
Why it’s so awesome: If you’re looking for a fun night out with friends, then you’ll have the night of your life at this bar. It holds recurring theme nights at the main bar and also has themed rooms that range in size and price. It’s the perfect place for a night out or a party and most of Austin would agree!
What to do there: When you’re planning a night out with friends, call ahead and see if you can get one of the themed rooms or just be a part of what’s going on in the main bar. The Highball offers a range of packages that include personal servers that will bring food and snacks to your room. So, no matter what type of night you’re looking for, this bar should be a part of the fun.
Quick Note – Staying Safe in Austin
Most of Austin is safe for travelers as long as you exercise some general caution. Most of the areas you visit as a tourist will be quite safe, but don’t get drunk or wander around alone at night. And as usual, keep your belongings close to you in case of pickpockets.
There are two other dangers you have to look out for when you’re visiting Austin. The first is the heat. Austin is very hot and dry and it’s important that you stay hydrated during your trip, so bring your refillable water bottle with you. Otherwise, you could end up flat on your back throughout your holiday. The other danger is a cactus known as the prickly pear cactus. This cactus is found everywhere, and you should never try to touch it, even gently. The spikes can easily become embedded in your skin and get infected. So, if you want to avoid a visit to the hospital, stay away.
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
#8 – Waterloo Records
• One of the most popular attractions in Austin for old music and music fans.
• You can’t visit Austin without indulging in its famous music scene.
Why it’s so awesome: Austin is famous for its music scene and this has led to the growth of record stores throughout the city. Waterloo Records is one of the best and you can find anything at this venue from the latest music to rare classics. It’s also absolutely huge, so if you’re a music lover then you’ll enjoy getting lost in its shelves.
What to do there: If you’ve been looking for an old record, you’ll probably be able to find it at this record store. You can also learn more about Austin’s famous music scene and the most popular musicians in the state by doing some browsing around the store. And if you want a surprise, have a rummage through the dollar bins and see what you come up with! The shop also holds regular performances in store, so make sure you find out what’s on while you’re in the city.
#9 – The State Capitol
One of the most incredible free places to go to in Austin
• One of the most important landmarks in Austin.
• It can get crowded, so make sure you arrive early if you want to explore without a lot of company.
Why it’s so awesome: Some visitors claim that this is the most impressive state legislative building they’ve ever seen. It was first opened in 1888 but has been recently renovated to ensure that the building and statues last as long as possible. It includes a 218-foot rotunda, a replica of the statue of liberty, the Hall of Representatives, and the governor’s receiving room.
What to do there: You don’t have to pay an entrance fee to explore the capitol building, which makes it the perfect cheap way to learn more about Austin. It does get crowded, so make sure you arrive early so you can get the full experience and take lots of photos without tourists in the way!
#10 – Mount Bonnell
A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Austin
• The best place to visit in Austin for amazing views of the entire city!
• Mount Bonnell is a Texas Historic Landmark and is lists in the National Register of Historic Places.
Why it’s so awesome: You’ll be able to enjoy amazing views of the city from Mount Bonnell. It’s located in historic Covert Park and is the highest point at 775-feet high. It’s also located along the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River and has been one of the most popular points of interest in Austin for centuries.
What to do there: If you manage to visit on a clear day, you’ll be treated to sweeping, unobstructed views of the city. You’ll have to climb over 100 stairs to get to the top, so you’ll need to be reasonably fit, but it’s worth the climb. The overlook is surrounded by a forested area which makes the whole experience even better than you might expect.
#11 – Blanton Museum of Art
• If you’re an art lover, then this museum must be a part of your Austin itinerary.
• This is one of the largest university art museums in the country and holds more than 18,000 pieces.
Why it’s so awesome: This museum includes 18,000 pieces of artwork from Renaissance and Latin American art to works by masters such as Rubens and Poussin. It’s located on the University of Texas at Austin campus and is one of the best places to visit in Austin if you enjoy a bit of culture.
What to do there: This is a small museum, but there’s a lot to see so you’ll need a couple of hours to explore. It’s also the perfect place to go when you need to cool off in the air conditioning and has such a wide range of exhibits that everyone will find something they love.
#12 – SoCo District
A great place to visit in Austin at night
• If you’re looking for something to do at night, you’ll definitely find it in this district.
• This area is a vital part of the weirder side of Austin’s culture, and most of what you’ll find here will definitely be conversation starters.
Why it’s so awesome: Austin has its rebellious side too and this area is the center of that quirky culture. The shops lining South Congress Avenue, the main street, specialize in boutique or retro clothing that’s meant to make you stand out. There are also several amazing eateries, restaurants, and bars in the area for you to explore.
What to do there: If you’re looking for some unusual fashions, then warm up your credit card and spend an afternoon in this area. Whatever you buy, it will definitely end up being a conversation starter and a great reminder of your trip. But once the sun goes down, stick around and try some of the amazing eateries. Most of the restaurants have outdoor patios, so grab a chair, people watch, and then find a place to have a drink with some live music. One of the best Austin vacation ideas you’ll have is to spend an evening at The Continental Club, an iconic venue with live country music.
#13 – Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake
A beautiful outdoor place to visit in Austin
• Walking, hiking or biking along this trail is an Austin must do.
• This ten-mile trail is popular amongst locals and tourists.
Why it’s so awesome: This is one of the most popular outdoor places in the city and it’s also the perfect place for you to work off all that barbecue! It’s a 10-mile trail that encompasses the lake and is almost always busy with runners, cyclists and walkers. But it’s also a famously peaceful place, where you can collect your thoughts in the quiet beauty of being outdoors.
What to do there: If you like to exercise, even when you travel, then this is the perfect place to do it. You’ll be in good company and be able to enjoy your workout in a famously beautiful spot. The trail also passes by lots of places to eat, so feel free to stop off for a meal in the middle of your wanderings. And make sure you stop at the boardwalk to take in the downtown views as well.
#14 – Mexic-Art Museum
• A small museum that packs a big punch in terms of how well it highlights local artists.
Why it’s so awesome: Located on Congress Avenue, this museum works to support the conservation of Mexican and Latin American art and culture. Its collection includes photographs and artifacts from the past as well as contemporary pieces from local artists. The museum also holds some amazing theatrical and musical performances year-round.
What to do there: Check out what’s on at this museum while you’re in the city and make sure you show up to anything that looks interesting. After you’ve explored the museum, make sure you stop at the gift shop. It sells works by local artists that would make unique souvenirs of your trip to Austin.
#15 – Museum of the Weird
One of the more unique places to visit in Austin!
• A quirky little museum that’s one of the most unusual things to do in Austin.
• This museum is what’s known as a dime museum, in which you can never be sure what’s real and what’s not!
Why it’s so awesome: Dime museums were created to contrast with more serious museums and originally catered to clientele with less money. Traditionally, they offered exhibits that were a little more dubious and challenged attendees to decide what was real and what wasn’t. Over the years, many of these museums have closed down, which is why you absolutely must experience this museum before it disappears too. Created by entrepreneur Steve Busti, the museum is at the back of his store and features many of the same kind of exhibits you would have seen in older version dime museums.
What to do there: This museum is filled to the brim with oddities. Make sure you check out the cyclops pig, the hand of glory, a two-headed chicken, shrunken heads, and the feejee mermaid. There’s also a wax museum on site, as well as the Minnesota Iceman, a figure that’s been the source of mystery for decades. Also, don’t miss the life sideshow performance afterwards, and remember to tip the performers!
#16 – Congress Bridge
• This seemingly normal bridge is home to the largest bat colony in North America.
• If you’re squeamish about bats, make sure you stand well out of range!
Why it’s so awesome: It’s fairly rare to see wild animals within a big city, much less a huge colony of them. The bat colony that lives on the Congress Avenue Bridge includes about 1.5 million Brazilian free-tail bats. Every night the bats swarm out from under the bridge in search of food, and this is a sight that you shouldn’t miss. It’s one of the most spectacular and unusual things to do in Austin.
What to do there: The best time to see the bat colony is on hot, dry nights in August, when the bats fly out together. Just make sure that you aren’t standing in their flight path. There are several points you can watch from without the worry of getting a bat tangled in your hair. So, to find the best viewing spot, head to the information kiosk on the north bank of the river, just east of the bridge, for more detailed information.
#17 – Casa Neverlandia
• An eccentric house that merges the life experiences of a very unusual man.
• Make sure you email for tickets before you arrive in the city as this is someone’s residence and you can’t just show up and expect to be allowed in.
Why it’s so awesome: This whimsical house was created by one James Talbot, a well-traveled man who used his architectural knowledge to create his home. He lived all over the world, and elements of the places that meant to the most to him can be seen in his wonderfully bizarre house.
What to do there: There’s a lot to see in this house, but just remember that it is still occupied. You’ll need to book a tour ahead of time to get in, but it’s definitely worth the trouble. Once you’re in, make sure you see the many DIY features that were added to the house. This includes the Rumford fireplace, an Indonesian style A-frame ping pong room, a city lookout reached via an Indiana Jones bridge, and an intercom system that uses PVC piping and no technology.
#18 – Rainey Street Food Trucks
• This lot contains some of the best food trucks in Austin.
• Make sure you take your appetite along with you and be prepared to eat things you’ve never tried before!
Why it’s so awesome: Some of the food trucks in this lot are the best in the city. You’ll find foods cooked to perfection along with a convivial atmosphere that will convince you that your hometown needs food trucks too!
What to do there: There are lots of different foods, so just show up and see what smells the best! If you can’t make up your mind, try Ms P’s Electric Cock, which makes perfect chicken, White Girl Asian Food, Little Lucy’s Donuts, Taco Baby, or Tommy Want Wingy’s delicious chilli lime wings.
#19 – East Riverside Food Trucks
• Another lot that includes some really delicious food options.
• If you enjoy Mexican food, you’ll love some of the food trucks at this location.
Why it’s so awesome: Located near the South Shore residences in Austin, you can get the best Mexican food of your life off the back of a truck. At this food lot, you can enjoy asada, quesadillas, burritos, churros, al pastor, and more, all of them fresh and so delicious you’ll wish your stomach could hold more.
What to do there: Make sure you’re hungry and try everything that smells good. Some of the best places to try are Callejeros, Rosita’s Al Pastor, and Cow Bells’. Also, make sure that you try Churro Co.’s Campfire Churro made with graham cracker sugar, whipped cream, and Mexican chocolate sauce. Sounds incredibly sweet, and it is, but it’s also worth the extra workout you’ll have to do.
#20 – BookPeople
A nice quiet place to see in Austin
• The ideal place to take in more of the quirky vibe in Austin while enjoying a good book.
• This is the largest bookstore in Texas, so you’re bound to find something great to read.
Why it’s so awesome: BookPeople has three floors of quirky décor, a café, and lots of books. It also includes a kids’ area with a mini amphitheater where story time is held every Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday morning. So, whether you’re traveling alone or with the family, there’s lots to do, which is why this is one of the most popular hotspots in Austin.
What to do there: Take a couple of hours, grab a good book, and set up in the café to read. The décor is determinedly quirky at this shop, which makes it the perfect place to wander around and explore as well. And if you have kids, bring them along to the story hours. They also have puppet shows on the weekends, which are sure to send your kids home with huge smiles!
#21 – The Alamo Drafthouse
• A winning combination of great food and the latest movie blockbusters.
• Seeing a movie at the Drafthouse is truly an Austin must do.
Why it’s so awesome: Originally created in 1997, the Drafthouse has since moved to 6th Street and holds pride of place. It’s a popular spot for locals and tourists to sit and watch a movie while enjoying a meal at the same time.
What to do there: You should obviously see one of the latest movies and have a meal at the Drafthouse, but you should also check out any special events they have on. In September the owners hold Fantastic Fest, for example. This is a showcase of horror, fantasy and sci-fi movies that draws in big crowds. So, if you’re a fan of more unusual movies, find out what’s on while you’re in the city and grab a seat.
#22 – Veracruz All Natural
A must-see for foodies!
• The best place to visit in Austin for tacos if you’re concerned about food poisoning or mystery meat at food trucks.
• Even the locals love this restaurant, so you know the tacos will be good.
Why it’s so awesome: This was once only a food trailer but it’s now a restaurant in North Austin with the best tacos you can find. And you don’t have to worry about mystery meat because the trailer and the restaurant are clean and fresh enough to dispel these kinds of worries.
What to do there: The breakfast taco is absolutely legend at this place and actually have a cult following. The tortilla includes egg, tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo, and cheese, and after one bite you’ll want more. The menu is so good, that there are now outposts at North Burnet, Round Rock, and Radio Coffee, so no matter where you’re staying, you’ll be able to get hold of one of their tacos.
#23 – The Broken Spoke
• If you really want to learn more about Texas culture, then you need to learn how to two-step to country music at the Broken Spoke.
• This dance hall is uniquely Texan, and you probably won’t find anything like it out of the state.
Why it’s so awesome: The Broken Spoke is an iconic dance hall that still manages to hold onto its country charm despite its popularity. It’s one of the most popular places to eat in Austin and offers dance classes as well so you can really immerse yourself in the local culture.
What to do there: The Broken Spoke offers dance lessons at 8pm most nights so you can learn the basics of two-stepping. And afterwards, grab a bottle of beer and one of their famous and famously huge chicken-fried steaks to replace all the calories you burned and then some.
#24 – Rainey Street
A great place to visit in Austin if you are alone/traveling solo
• The best place to go if you’re looking for a fun night out.
• Austin’s reputation for weirdness is highlighted by this eccentric bar street.
Why it’s so awesome: Rainey Street might look like a typical suburban street, but it’s far from that. The wooden-style ranch homes in this area actually hide recently renovated, disheveled bars that boast swinging lamps, creaky floorboards, and the best and strongest cocktails in town.
What to do there: Show up at night or on weekend mornings for a night out with friends or a boozy breakfast the morning after. Try Banger’s for a liter of Champagne with a splash of orange juice to start out your morning. And then, if you’re still standing, head over to Half Step, Blackheart, or Craft Pride to continue your boozy day.
#25 – The Thinkery
Awesome place to visit in Austin with kids!
• The absolute best place to take the kids for hours of fun.
• No matter what your kids are interested in, they’ll love spending time at this museum.
Why it’s so awesome: If you’re looking for hours of fun and distraction for the kids, then this is the place to take them. The Thinkery will allow your kids to learn about the world and to do scientific and physical experiments that will keep them enthralled. There’s also a great outdoor area for pure play that includes a space-age playground.
What to do there: Let your kids guide the way at the Thinkery. But make sure they check out the Animation Station, the Spark Shop, learn how to draw with light in the Light Lab, and explore the playground outside. And when they get tired, direct them towards the Story Nook where they can settle in with one of the huge collections of picture or storybooks.
#26 – Austin Nature and Science Center
A very cool place in Austin to go for a day
• The best place for you and the kids to learn about the natural world.
• When you finish with the center, head out into the famous Zilker Park to discover more things to do.
Why it’s so awesome: If you or the kids want to learn more about the natural world, then you can do it at the Austin Nature and Science Center. It’s located in the western corner of the Zilker Park and the activities are both fascinating and designed for people of all ages. The goal of the center is to encourage awareness and appreciation of the natural world, and they have programs relating to all areas of nature.
What to do there: Check out what’s on at the center while you’re in the city for a great half or full day of learning and fun. You can learn about anything you’re interested in, including biology, astronomy, and palaeontology. So, let your interests, or your kids’ interests, guide you.
Get insured for your trip to Austin!
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Final Thoughts on the Coolest Places to Visit in Austin
Vibrant is a lively and fascinating city that will teach you more about the very different cultures that exist within the US. If you love music, barbecue, and warm weather, you’ll have a blast in this city and probably return home with a tan and with a renewed interest in music. And if you plan your trip according to this list of the best places to visit in Austin, you’ll have lots of great memories of your trip as well as a new appreciation for the Lonestar state!
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Writer and Editor, Ana Pereira is a California native, inspired by Earth exploration and introspection. Recently, she spent several months exploring Africa and South Asia. She spends most of her “down-time” out in the wilderness, climbing, hiking, and beyond, and is feverishly passionate about travel and health.