Austin is a destination that definitely deserves a spot at the top of your bucket list. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking to get out in nature or a history buff looking for a cultural experience, the capital of the Lone Star State has something for everyone.
So let’s take a look at everything that should be on your list to do on your next trip to Austin!
Explore Zilker Park
Zilker Metropolitan Park is the city’s most-visited public park. Located just south of downtown Austin and spanning 358 acres, this park offers something for everyone to enjoy.
The park itself features trails for walking and biking, picnic areas, playgrounds, sports fields, and disc golf courses for visitors to enjoy in addition to attractions like Barton Springs Pool, the Botanical Gardens, and the Austin Nature & Science Center.
The park also hosts several major events throughout the year including the world-famous Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Trail of Lights at Christmas time.
Admission to the park is free; however, different attractions within the park may charge a fee. So whether you’re looking for a place to relax or an outdoor activity to keep you busy, Zilker Park will not disappoint!
Take a Dip in Barton Springs Pool
If you’re in Zilker Park when the weather is nice and hot outside, going for a swim in Barton Springs Pool is a must! The pool is filled with water that comes entirely from natural underground springs, giving it crystal-clear water that stays at a cool 68 degrees year-round.
The area was once a spiritual oasis for indigenous communities who harnessed the power of its healing waters. In the late 1920s, a man-made concrete structure was built to turn it into a swimming pool.
Visitors can take a dip in the crisp, cool waters or sunbathe on the grassy slopes surrounding the pool. There is even a diving board that’s always a hit among swimmers.
While visiting, remember that the area is also a protected habitat for the endangered Barton Springs Salamander, so be sure to be mindful of the wildlife.
The pool is open daily all year round, and you can choose between a daily or season pass. In case you happen to visit during the summer season, the pool also hosts movie nights on occasion.
Get Hands-On at the Austin Nature & Science Center
The Austin Nature & Science Center in Zilker Park is a place for hands-on nature exploration and educational activities that make it an ideal spot for families with young kids.
Kids can explore the Naturalist Workshop, which features interactive displays about local wildlife, plants, and ecosystems. They can also participate in special programs like nature walks, bird watching, and animal tracking.
The center also hosts events throughout the year and even offers science summer camps for the little ones. With its wide range of activities and educational opportunities, the Nature & Science Center is an ideal spot for those looking for a fun and educational experience in Austin.
Stroll through the Botanical Gardens
If you love a good stroll through a botanical garden, you’ll love the gardens in Zilker Park.
It has an impressive collection of native and cultivated plant species and features unique themed gardens such as the Taniguchi Japanese Garden, the Riparian Streambed, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and the Mabel Davis Rose Garden.
Guests can take a guided tour of the gardens or explore independently. The gardens are open throughout the year and also host activities for all ages.
Visit the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum is a unique destination that is a must-see for any art enthusiast visiting Austin. The museum is located near the Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park and features over 270 sculptures by Charles Umlauf. The six-acre garden has 59 of his works on permanent display, as well as rotating temporary exhibitions from other artists.
Open-air events held among the sculptures include concerts, workshops, and yoga classes. If you’d like to learn more about the artwork on display, guided tours are also available.
Get Out on Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a reservoir on the Colorado River situated right in the heart of downtown Austin. With its beautiful scenery and abundance of activities, it’s no wonder this attraction is so popular among both locals and tourists!
It is a popular spot for kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing. Rental services are available for those without their own equipment, making it easy to get out on the water even if you are just in town visiting.
The lake is calm and slow-moving so even beginners can get in on the fun. Not only will you get to experience the beauty of the lake and its surrounding areas, but you’ll also enjoy amazing views of the city skyline from a different perspective.
The lake is also home to many species of wildlife including turtles, fish, birds, and other animals, and picnic spots are scattered around the lake’s edge making it a perfect spot to relax and catch a quick break from touring.
Cruise around Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail
The Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail is a 10-mile trail that winds around Lady Bird Lake and connects downtown Austin with Zilker Park and other nearby attractions. There are plenty of points of entry throughout so you can pick it up from wherever you are.
It is a popular place for runners, cyclists, and sightseers who come to take a stroll. It is very well maintained and has plenty of amenities such as benches, restrooms, water fountains, and bike racks.
The trail is also home to many events throughout the year including running races and cycling events. It’s a great place for visitors to explore while getting some exercise at the same time!
Check Out the Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge
On the north end of Lady Bird Lake, there’s a 14-foot wide steel and concrete bridge that crosses over the water. Most bridges are popular tourist destinations because of their architecture or picturesque views, but the Congress Avenue Bridge is a popular site for a different reason.
The bridge is home to one of the largest urban bat colonies in the world. Every evening from late spring to early fall, just as the sun goes down, hundreds of thousands of tiny black bats emerge from under the bridge and fly out into the night sky, making up a massive formation that can reach up to two miles high.
You can enjoy the spectacle from many different places including the sidewalk right underneath the bridge, the designated Statesman Bat Observation Center, or even on a boat on Lady Bird Lake.
This unique experience draws tourists from all over the world and is something you won’t want to miss while visiting Austin.
Enjoy the Live Music
As the “Live Music Capital of the World,” a title that Austin wears proudly, the city is home to some of the best live music venues in the country. From the time you step foot in the airport, you will be greeted with live music around almost every corner. You can find a wide variety of musical genres from country singer-songwriters to blues, rock, hip-hop, and jazz.
If you’re not in town during one of the city’s famous music festivals, like the Austin City Limits Music Festival or South by Southwest, there are plenty of venues throughout the city that offer live performances.
The Red River Cultural District is at the core of Austin’s live music scene. You can catch live bands performing in a dive bar, on a rooftop deck, on an outdoor stage, or whatever your vibe is.
For those looking to explore the city’s musical roots with a side of Texas brisket, you can head to the world-famous Stubb’s which has seen performances from many music legends over the years.
Explore Another One of Austin’s Vibrant Neighborhoods
The Red River Cultural District may be well known for its history of live music, but Austin also has so many more great neighborhoods to offer. From the bustling downtown area to Rainey Street and beyond, each neighborhood has its own unique character and charm.
Sixth Street, close to the Red River Cultural District, is always buzzing with live music and nightlife. Visitors can listen to a variety of musical genres in the venues throughout this area.
During the day, Sixth Street is a great place to pick up your “Keep Austin Weird” souvenirs or grab a bite to eat.
Rainey Street is a unique district that offers a calmer alternative to the hustle and bustle of Sixth Street.
The bars on Rainey Street are located in old homes, giving the area a unique atmosphere. On Sundays, Bangers is a go-to local favorite for pitchers of drinks and live music.
South Congress Avenue
South Congress is known for its eclectic mix of native-to-Austin restaurants, live music bars, and local boutique shops. You’ll also find an array of vibrant street art in the area.
It’s here you can take a picture next to the infamous “I Love You So Much” sign painted on one side of the popular Jo’s Coffee.
You can also steal a great view of the Capitol building from South Congress Avenue so have your camera out and ready when crossing the street.
Tour the Historical State Capitol
The Texas Capitol is an impressive architectural treasure. It is the largest domed state capitol building in the country — second only to the capitol building in Washington DC in total size — and is worth a visit if you are in Austin.
Visitors can stroll through its park along the tree-lined path or go inside to walk through its historical halls and admire the elegant chandeliers.
There are free 30-minute tours available Monday through Friday which give visitors an excellent opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of Austin and the state of Texas.
The nearby Texas Governor’s Mansion is also available to tour. This historic mansion offers insight into how governors have lived throughout history, as well as an opportunity to view some beautiful artwork.
Walk, Hike, or Bike around the Greenbelt
Getting back into the nature surrounding the city, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a 12-mile stretch of green space that runs through south Austin featuring scenic trails that are perfect for walking, hiking, biking, and even rock climbing.
With multiple access points, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the rocky trails, vertical cliffs, lush greenery, and crystal swimming holes. The trails are kept in excellent condition and provide stunning views of the nearby hills and valleys. Before you head to Austin, check out the interactive Trails Map which allows you to take a virtual tour of the area.
Twin Falls is one of the more popular spots to visit along the Greenbelt. It’s a 3.7-mile round-trip hike that is pretty flat throughout the hike so it’s perfect for the entire family. It features two cascading waterfalls that are perfect for swimming and relaxing.
Explore McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park is another excellent nature retreat for those visiting Austin. Located in the southeastern corner of the city, this park offers visitors a variety of activities like hiking and swimming, and since it offers overnight camping too, it’s the perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
You can also enjoy fishing from the shores of Onion or Williamson Creeks, and ,since it is within a Texas state park, there’s no need for a state fishing license.
You can hike along the park’s 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail to encounter the falls that give the park its name.
Take in the View from Mount Bonnell
Standing at 775 feet above sea level, Mount Bonnell, also known as Covert Park, is the highest point in the city.
The lookout deck and pavilion are a short 100 steps up, making it easy for visitors to climb. It overlooks the Colorado River and provides stunning views of downtown Austin that are well worth the extra effort.
Legend has it that climbing to the top of Mount Bonnell with someone three times means you will get married so many couples make the trek in hopes of a romantic gesture.
It’s also arguably one of the best places in Austin to watch the sunset so timing your hike to catch a sunset from the top is highly recommended. And if you make it to the top at that time, you may as well stay and enjoy the starry night sky because it is also the perfect spot for stargazing at night since it has much less light pollution than most other points in the city.
Walk among the Peacocks at Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve
Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve is a unique gem in Austin. Located on the northwestern side of the city, this park offers visitors a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown and step into an oasis.
The preserve is home to over 200 species of birds, the most popular being the colorful peacock, which you may find roosting on one of the many benches or basking in the sun. You may also find turtles popping up out of the still ponds that are sprinkled with water lilies.
The cottage on the grounds that was built in the 1920s will take you back in time and make you feel like you are part of an oil painting, and it is open to the public for tours.
Discover the Beauty of Nature at the Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a botanical oasis in Austin founded by the former first lady to promote the conservation and appreciation of native Texas plants and landscapes.
The state’s flora is showcased through over 900 species of local plants. Visitors can explore the gardens with a guided tour, get acquainted with conservation initiatives, or just relax and be awe-inspired by the beauty of wildflowers.
The center also hosts special events such as native plant sales, yoga classes, and educational programs for children and adults to learn more about the environment and conservation efforts in Texas.
Get Outside the City Limits
For those who want to explore beyond Austin’s city limits, the surrounding Texas hill country has a lot to offer. It’s known for its rolling hills, lush green landscapes, and stunning views. You don’t have to travel far from the city to see some of the beauty.
Spend the Day at the Hamilton Pool Preserve
Not too far from Austin lies the Hamilton Pool Preserve — a magnificent natural attraction located just 23 miles west. Tourists from all corners of the globe flock to this spot to admire its beauty.
After about a 30-minute hike from the parking lot, you will find the 50-foot waterfall cascading down a limestone outcrop into the emerald green swimming hole below.
The waterfall can go down to more of a trickle in times of drought, but it never runs completely dry and the pool stays filled all year.
Reservations are required to visit and swimming is not always allowed due to the rising bacteria levels of the water but the area also features an abundance of wildlife and nature so it is well worth a visit at any time of the year.
Explore the Wonder of Jacob’s Well
Jacob’s Well is a 140-foot deep pool surrounded by limestone cliffs in Wimberley, Texas, less than an hour away from Austin. The well is fed by an underground spring that produces crystal clear water that stays around 68 degrees year-round.
Swimming is allowed during the summer months by reservation only but visitors can explore the surrounding natural area on foot year-round. From October to April, swimming is closed to the public to allow for aquatic restoration to help preserve the ecosystem of the area.
During those months, guided tours are available of the area to learn more about the history and ecology of the area including the artesian spring that fills Jacob’s Well.
And although the depths of the well have attracted many thrill-seeking free divers and scuba divers, several past fatalities have earned it the title of one of the most dangerous diving spots in Texas, and diving is now restricted to those with a special permit.
Take a Drive Out to Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a remarkable destination located just under two hours northwest of the city. It gets its name from the 425-foot tall pink granite dome rock formation that emerges from the surrounding hill country.
Visitors can explore the area on foot or climb up to the summit of Enchanted Rock for breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding hill country.
It is a designated National Natural Landmark and, since it’s away from all the city lights, it’s another great spot to stargaze.
Slip On Down to the Oasis at Lake Travis
Lake Travis is a beautiful lake located in the Texas hill country and a popular place to take a boat out on the lake in the summertime. If you’re visiting and want to get out on the lake, there are numerous rental companies that offer wakeboarding boats, party barges, and other types of boats so it’s a great option for anyone looking for something active to do.
But perhaps even more famous than the lake itself is the restaurant that sits on top of the hill on Lake Travis’ southeast shore called The Oasis.
The Oasis offers an unbeatable sunset view over the lake. So much so that it has become known as the “Sunset Capital of Texas.” Catching a sunset at The Oasis is an amazing way to round out your trip to Austin and the only way to round out this list of things to do in and around Austin.
Ready to Plan Your Trip to Austin?
If you’re looking for an amazing destination for your next getaway, Austin is worth considering! From its historic roots to the outdoor adventures available nearby, there’s so much to do and see in this city. So take advantage of all that Austin has to offer and you’ll experience one of America’s most amazing cities!