Austin might be the capital of Texas & the Live Music Capital of the World, but there’s much more to see in the city other than the state capitol & its music venues. There are urban parks and state parks, hot springs and waterfalls, lakes, museums, & bats to see. Here are the top 10 things to do in Austin:
1. Tour the stunningly beautiful State Capitol
When you’re in Austin, you’re in the capital of the state of Texas, and that means you get to go and see the Texas State Capitol. The building is made of pink granite and towers to a height of 300ft. Also try to get a photograph of the figure of the Goddess of Liberty at the top of the dome.
You can walk around this architectural marvel that dates back to the 1800s. Or you can walk into the building to see its interiors. There’s a 30-minute guided tour that will tell you a lot about the building and its history. If you’d rather see it at your own pace, you could pick up a brochure from the Capitol Visitor Center and do a self-guided tour.
2. Explore Zilker Park
Going to one of the beautiful parks here is one of the best things to do in Austin. Among the parks in the area, the most popular one is Zilker Park just south of the downtown. This urban park spreads over an area of over 350 acres and allows you to enjoy the outdoors playing soccer or just picnicking on its lawns. The park also hosts several activities & events that Austin is known for. Austin City Limits Music Festival, Blues on the Green concerts, & the Trail of Lights are just some of them.
Within the larger Zilker Park are a few other attractions that tourists generally visit. There’s the Zilker Botanical Garden, Umlauf Sculpture Garden, & Barton Springs Pool.
The Botanical Garden has many gardens inside it like a rose garden, succulent garden, herb garden, & even a Japanese garden. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum mainly features the works of sculptor Charles Umlauf. And if you’re visiting around the first Tuesday of the month, you get to attend the garden’s after-dark program where guests get to enjoy the sculptural environs in the evening light and take part in the other activities of the day. And Barton Spring Pool is a public pool that deserves a separate place on this list.
3. Go for a dip in Barton Spring
Barton Spring in Zilker Park is a 3-acre pool that locals & tourists love! What makes it attractive is the fresh water in it and how it feels whatever the temperature might be.
Formed from underground springs, this pool’s water stays at a temperature between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a great place for a dip despite the season.
By this pool, there are bathhouses that you can use and there are lawns where you can sunbathe. While you’re in the area you might also want to look out for a glimpse of the Barton Spring Salamander.
4. Experience Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a reservoir on the Colorado River and can be experienced through a hike or some activities on the water. Visiting this lake is a very popular thing to do in Austin!
Hit the Ann and Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail here and you’ll be on one of the most popular hikes in the city. It’s a 10-mile trail that hikers, runners & bikers enjoy. It gives you good views of Zilker Park and the Austin skyline too. Also, look out of the statue of guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
If you’d like to get onto the water, there are activities like paddleboarding, canoeing, and cruises on the lake. Evening cruises will show you sunsets and some bat activity if you’re here between May & October.
5. Hike up Mount Bonnell
To take the hiking game a notch up, the place to go is Mount Bonnell. Visitors have been going here since the 1850’s. The hike here’s also said to be along an ancient Native American path.
Mount Bonnell is in Covert Park, a few miles northwest of the downtown area. Go here and you get to climb the 100-odd steps to the top of a limestone outcrop which is also known to be the highest spot in the Austin area.
The 775ft. limestone formation stands beside Lake Austin so it also rewards hikers with views of the lake, Colorado River, & the city of Austin. Go in the evening and you’ll be able to watch a sunset from this vantage point.
6. Spend some time at McKinney Falls State Park
Another limestone attraction to visit is McKinney Falls State Park where limestone and water come together making it a great place to enjoy the outdoors. Just a bit over 10 miles’ drive away from Downtown Austin, this 641-acre park is the meeting place of the Onion & Williamson Creeks. If interested in outdoor activities, this is a great thing to do in Austin.
Here you can see the creek fall on limestone rocks in two places namely the Upper & Lower Falls. The upper fall is formed by the falling of the Onion Creek and the Lower Creek sees the waters of both creeks as it’s situated further down the confluence.
You can swim in the pools at this park and go bouldering on the rocks. Other things to do here include hiking (there are around 9 miles of trails here), mountain biking, fishing, & picnicking. For those who’d like to spend the night here, there are a few cabins and a large number of campsites at this park.
7. Walk around the University of Texas
Among other things, Austin is known for being home to the flagship campus of the University of Texas. And the university is also an important landmark in the city. Visitors can visit the university and check out its Blanton Museum of Art & Harry Ransom Center.
Also, don’t forget to take pictures of the University of Texas Tower that stands tall in the campus and is lit up in Orange when the University has something to celebrate.
8. Look through the odd exhibits at the Museum of the Weird
If you’d like to see one of the things that ‘keep Austin weird’ there’s the Museum of the Weird on East 6th Street. Here, towards the back of Lucky Lizard, a store on the street, are a few rooms that put out an exhibition of oddities. It’s quite a unique thing to do in Austin. Some of the exhibits here are real and some fake, but all kind-of bizzare, making you wonder if each of them is authentic or not.
This place was put together by the owner of the store, Steve Busti & his wife. You can expect to see a mummy, a shrunken head, a box that shouldn’t be opened, a dried & pickled human hand, and things of the sort. You might also get to watch an out-of-the-ordinary live performance here at the Museum of the Weird.
9. Witness the bats of Congress Avenue take to the skies
If you’re in the capital of Texas in late Spring, Summer, or Fall, you’re also going to be able to watch the famous residents of Congress Avenue Bridge fly out.
Since 1980, over a million Mexican free-tailed bats have been migrating here. They have set up a seasonal colony under the bridge. This is where they give birth and give their little ones their first few lessons. Come sunset and the adult bats and their young ones begin flying out from the bottom of the bridge and over Lady Bird Lake where they go looking for mosquitoes & other bugs to feed on.
It takes around 45 minutes for all of them to leave the nesting area and fly out so you can settle down on the bridge or in the surrounding areas to witness the spectacle. Or you can opt for a kayak tour or a sunset cruise to see the bats in action.
10. Check out Austin’s Nightlife
Some of the after-dark things to do in Austin happen on Sixth Street when the crowds hit and the street becomes pedestrian-friendly. This is the center of the music scene in the city. Apart from the restaurants & shops that line the street, there are a large number of bars & live-music places, many of them famous for their vibes.
Another place to go to wind down is Rainy Street, a place that locals also seem to prefer. Here also you’ll find many restaurants, many of them in mansions that now house restaurants & bars. You can hang out in the backyards and enjoy some food & drink. You’ll also find some food trucks here. Rainy Street is a great place to bring some company, be it your family, friends, or fur babies.