Set in the heart of Texas’s wild west, Houston and Austin are two of America’s most quintessentially ‘southern’ cities. They’re known for their incredible southern hospitality, wholesome barbeque-style food, and, of course, musical talents, which make the state of Texas an important location for anyone after a taste of real America.
Houston is famous for its welcoming atmosphere, role in America’s space exploration journey, and affordable cost of living. With a burgeoning energy industry and the resulting spike in the quality of living, Houston is quickly becoming one of the best places to live in Texas!
Austin is the capital city of Texas, most well known for being the live music capital of the world. It’s also home to incredible attractions, world-class museums, and a high quality of living.
Both cities are southern gems with many similarities, yet they are also totally unique, with their own personalities. In this article, I’m going to look at the perks and quirks of both Houston vs Austin.
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Houston vs Austin
Houston and Austin are two of Texas’s most loved cities, with incredible cultural, historic, and outdoor attractions to satisfy all types of travelers.
- Houston extends around 671 square miles of land, including about 31 square miles of water by Jersey Village and Kingswood. It is the ninth-most expansive city in the USA.
- Most well-known for its southern culture with livestock shows and rodeos, its low cost of living and high quality of life, and science museums, including the Houston Space Center.
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William. P. Hobby Airport (HOU) is Houston’s two main airports. The city is also connected to national interstate highways 45, 69, and 10. Amtrak trains service Houston.
- Local public transport is effective and runs extensive routes across the city. Ride and Park services are available for those driving personal vehicles. Rideshare apps and taxis are also popular, although traffic can be heavy.
- Most accommodation is urban in Houston, with all the major hotel groups operating properties downtown. There are many self-catering apartments in high-rise condos and a few hostels for budget travelers. If you venture into the suburbs, you can stay in a cozy guesthouse or family-run bed and breakfast.
- Austin is the eleventh most populous city in the USA and has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country since 2010. The city comprises over 305 square miles.
- Famous for being the Live Music Capital of the World, its incredible museums and bustling cultural scene, warm weather, and thriving economy.
- Flying into Austin-Bergstrom International, Austin Municipal Airport, and Austin Airport is the quickest way to travel to the city. The national highway 35 runs through the city, and Amtrak trains service Austin.
- Austin is best explored by foot. However, you can get around using the bus and rail. Rideshare apps and taxis are available. Driving is also popular, and parking is available downtown.
- Accommodation is typically found downtown or in the suburbs. Hotel chains and boutique hotels are available in the city, while bed and breakfasts and guesthouses are more common in the suburbs. Airbnb’s and self-catering rentals can be found downtown.
Is Houston or Austin Better
There’s no easy way to choose whether Houston or Austin is better than the other. That being said, if any of these factors relate to you, hopefully, you’ll be able to decide which is best for your particular vacation needs:
For Things to Do
Each city boasts its own array of activities and adventures to suit different types of travelers and vacations.
Young and social travelers prefer visiting Austin, which has a hip and happening atmosphere and college town scene. Whether you choose a nightclub or a house party, there is always something happening in Austin.
Older party-goers will also appreciate Austin more than Houston. While both cities have an incredible southern music scene, Austin holds the title of the top live music capital in the world, with a live gig or concert happening any given day of the week. Austin is also known for its outdoor music festivals.
Austin is the place to go if you’re looking for an eclectic food scene that blends southern comfort with international cuisine. While Houston is also packed with incredible eateries and restaurants, the scenery and views found in Austin take its dining scene up a notch.
Houston tends to offer more of a family-friendly atmosphere, packed with activities to enjoy with young kids. It’s also one of the more affordable major cities in the USA, making it a budget-friendly destination for families. Spend a day at NASA and other science and technology attractions for a blend of education and fun for the whole family.
On that note, science and technology fans will prefer Houston vs Austin for its incredible museums and space center. It’s also a hotspot for art museums and hosts a bunch of cultural and art festivals throughout the year.
Austin is by far the better option for outdoor lovers who can partake in outdoor activities year-round. There are plenty of hiking trails, cycling routes, waterways, and parks surrounding the city. Check out the Inner Space Caverns, Barton Creek Greenbelt, and Lady Bird Lake for paddleboarding, cave searching, and bike trails.
For Budget Travelers
In a national survey, Austin was labeled as the most expensive city in Texas. Of course, it’s all relative, and the city is still much more affordable to travel to than other cities of its size. However, this means that Houston is a cheaper city for budget travelers.
The average hotel for a couple in Houston costs around $85, while the same will cost you $90 in Austin. You could find a cheap hostel or guest house for as low as $20 in Houston or around $25 in Austin.
Houston and Austin have decent public transport systems with buses and trains. A bus ride costs $1.25 in both Houston and Austin. Renting a car is ideal and can cost between $50 and $70 daily. The cost of a taxi ride in both cities is significantly more expensive, and if you rely on this mode of transport, you can expect to pay upwards of $38 per day in Houston and Austin.
A meal at an inexpensive restaurant in Houston will cost around $16, while a more expensive restaurant could set you back around $37. In Austin, an affordable meal costs $18, while a more classy restaurant costs $40 per head.
A domestic beer costs the same in Houston and Austin, at around $6 from a neighborhood pub. If you purchase from a grocery store, you could pay as little as $3.50 for one bottle of brand-name beer. Expensive restaurants will charge more.
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Where to Stay in Houston: Wanderstay Houston Hostel
Wanderstay Houston Hostel is one of the city’s most affordable and classy hostels. It is located on Chartres Street in central Houston and has cozy and clean communal facilities for guests to enjoy. The hostel offers private rooms, private female dorm rooms, and mixed dormitories.
If you’re planning a trip to the south with your romantic partner, Austin has to come out on top as the more romantic city when comparing Houston and Austin. However, some factors make Houston an excellent destination for a romantic trip too.
Austin is the better option for adventurous types. Couples who enjoy spending time outdoors will have plenty to do, from strolling the gorgeous city parks like the Zilker Metropolitan Park to exploring the McKinney Falls State Park and Barton Creek Greenbelt. There are swimming holes, bike tracks, hiking trails, and more in these recreational hubs.
Houston comes out on top for science and technology fans, and couples with an urge to learn about America’s space race journey will be enthralled by the incredible museums in the city.
Foodies will enjoy both cities, no doubt, but might prefer Austin for its incredible multicultural food scene mixed with southern charm. While both cities offer incredible restaurants and eateries for all tastes, Austin’s restaurants tend to have better views, set overlooking the river and parks.
If you’re visiting for a pampering experience, Houston has more to offer in terms of luxurious hotels. Choose from all the leading chain brands, or pick a boutique hotel with a stunning spa and leisure center.
Where to Stay in Austin: Four Seasons Hotel Austin
Set in the heart of Downtown Austin, The Four Seasons Hotel Austin is a gorgeous place to stay if you have the budget for a luxurious romantic trip. It features views of the city and Lady Bird Lake, with rooms decorated using warm contemporary interiors.
For Getting Around
Getting around Houston is pretty simple, with many public transport options connecting the main parts of the city. The city’s local transport network is called METRO, which operates a light rail system and bus routes between downtown and the Houston suburbs.
The city has thousands of cabs in its fleet, which are easy to hail and can transport you from door-to-door wherever you may please. Cabs are obviously more expensive than public transport, and they are also more affected by traffic jams. However, you won’t need to worry about parking or bus schedules.
The Wave is a service that shuttles people around Houston’s nightlife centers, including Downtown, Uptown, Rice Village, and Washington Avenue. They have designated pick-up zones and are a great safe way to get around on a night out.
Austin is best explored by bus or rail, which is also the most affordable way to travel across the city. Capital Metro runs the city’s transport, connecting Austin’s suburbs to downtown in a short time.
Carpooling, van-pooling, and using ride-share apps are also super common. Traffic is less intense in Austin vs Houston, which makes the cab options a good call.
Renting a car is advised for longer trips in both Houston and Austin. The cities have great road networks, and parking is abundant and affordable compared with other big cities. Houston and Austin are also connected with other major cities via national highways, which makes day-tripping and road-tripping in Texas possible.
For a Weekend Trip
Although the city is bigger, Houston is a great place to visit for a short weekend trip. While you certainly won’t get to see all the ins and outs of the city, three days is enough time to explore the city center and the top museums and get a good feel for the city atmosphere and local life.
Houston is also a more accessible city to navigate quickly and easily. For a weekend trip, take advantage of public transport to get around the city. When you need to travel far, cabs are an excellent option for door-to-door transfers, but there is no need to rent a car for a short visit to the city.
Kick off your weekend exploring downtown Houston with soul food at The Breakfast Klub before enjoying some sunshine at Buffalo Bayou Park. Watch the sunset over the city skyline from Sabine Street Bridge before heading out to a vibrant bar for a live music gig.
You can’t visit Houston without a visit to the Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, which is a great way to learn about space exploration and America’s space race. Here, you can walk into the world’s only replica space shuttle mounted onto a space carrier aircraft.
You might even fit in a ride on the Kemah Wheel, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, and scrounge through vintage western treasures in the trendy Montrose neighborhood. Pick and choose what interests you most and plan out a day-by-day itinerary for your weekend in Houston.
For a Week-Long Trip
For a week-long trip, there is more to do in Austin over Houston to keep you busy all week. A week still isn’t an exceptionally long time to get to know a major city, so I recommend spending more time in a smaller place to get to grips with the ins and outs of life in Austin. On top of this, there are tons of day trips to take around the city, as well as adventurous parks and greenbelts to explore on the fringes of Austin.
During any week-long trip, I always recommend spending a few days relaxing and soaking up the feel of a city in between busier days exploring the culture, art, and fine cuisine.
Austin is no exception and provides the perfect backdrop for a culture-packed, party-filled vacation interspersed with outdoor adventures and opportunities for relaxation.
Spend your first few days exploring downtown Austin, walking around the Texas Capitol, visiting the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and doing some city shopping. There are plenty of restaurants and hole-in-the-walls to suit every budget and taste in the city.
For a relaxing day, the Zilker Metropolitan Park is a sprawling oasis of grassy lawns, manicured gardens, and water features. The Barton Springs Pools are another excellent place for a day in the sun in Austin, where you can rinse away your troubles in the warm water.
Taking a day trip to the barbeque capital of America is a great option. Lockhart is just a 70-mile round trip from Austin and is home to some of the best southern food establishments.
Visiting Houston and Austin
If you have the time and budget to visit both Houston and Austin, I highly recommend doing so. Heck, why not throw in Dallas and complete the Texan triangle?
While similar in some respects, Houston and Austin have entirely unique atmospheres and vibes, offering experiences and attractions suitable for different types of travelers. The best way to experience the diversity of Texas is to visit more than one city!
Conveniently, Houston and Austin are just a 160-mile distance from one another. The best, cheapest, and most efficient way to travel between the cities is to drive alone on Interstate 10 and State Highway 71. The drive is quick and painless, with lots of places to stop for a photo op or a meal. It will take around two and a half hours to get from Houston to Austin and vice versa without traffic.
If you don’t have access to a private vehicle, the next best option is to take a bus, which takes around three hours and ten minutes and can cost as little as $15. The bus runs from downtown to downtown and departs every few hours.
Amtrak trains run between the cities. However, the schedule is limited and runs only twice a day.
FAQs About Houston vs Austin
Southern charm and hospitality, an incredible food scene, and live music on every street corner. These are the things that make Texas one of the premier destinations in the country and what makes Houston and Austin seem similar.
But don’t be fooled; while the south can be merged into a blurry idealized image, each city here is entirely unique from one other. With different attractions, outdoor adventures, diverse populations, and unique cultural experiences, Houston and Austin offer something for every type of traveler.
Houston is known for its bustling nightlife, busy downtown, and multicultural art and culture scene. Of course, its booming energy and space industry draws the attention of many young entrepreneurs and students from across the globe.
Austin feels much more like a small town than a city, with a laid-back vibe and a relaxing atmosphere. It’s safe, clean, affordable, and offers a high standard of living for its fast-growing population. The city is ideal for families, couples, and solo travelers.
While choosing between Houston and Austin can be tricky, I have no doubt each city will outdo your expectations.
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