From diverse musical offerings to larger-than-life state buildings, Austin is rich in cultural heritage and offers outdoor adventure to match. Here’s our roundup of must-dos that’ll keep you coming back for more.Less
Arguably Austin’s top attraction, the Texas State Capitol is one of the few state capitol buildings larger than the US Capitol in Washington DC. Opened in 1888, the building is steeped in uniquely Texan history. Today, its grounds can be explored by Segway or soaked up on a sightseeing bus tour, while the interior exhibits can be browsed on a self-guided stroll or free visitor tour.
From the trendy 2nd Street District to laid-back South Congress, Austin’s neighborhoods offer something for every type of first-time visitor. Take a walk Downtown to see some of the city’s most famous landmarks, or widen your perspective on a tour that passes through Zilker and Barton Hills, best known for their cute cottages, cultural venues, and outdoor spaces.
Franklin’s may be one of Austin’s most popular barbecue spots, but there are plenty more options if you can’t face the long lines. Terry Black’s Barbecue boasts fast-moving lines and good food, while The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que offers a more rustic experience, just a 20-minute drive out of town—some tours offer round-trip transfer so you can really indulge. If you’re still not sure, take advantage of barbecue tours that include multiple stops and tastings.
Austin isn’t all barbecue. The city’s melting pot of cultures is reflected in its varied cuisine, with hot spots like Canje serving Dominican food and Italian-inspired Birdie’s drawing foodies from near and far. Food tours are a great way to familiarize yourself with the city’s many flavors, especially when short on time.
Nicknamed "Town Lake" by locals, Lady Bird Lake lies right in the center of Austin in Zilker Metropolitan Park. It’s a popular spot for all sorts of outdoor activities, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and biking. It can get busy in the summer, but it’s big enough to find a peaceful spot to enjoy the skyline views and greenery all around.
Wherever you go in Austin, you’re bound to find live music. Bands play late in breweries and bars across the city, particularly around the vibrant 6th Street district, while historic venues such as the Mohawk or Stubbs can be ticked off easily in one swoop on a live music tour.
A summertime phenomenon sees swarms of wild bats fly out every evening from the South Congress bridge, to the delight of both locals and tourists. Enjoy a close encounter with the weird wildlife on a Segway trip or bike tour, or get a front-row view of the spectacle onboard a kayak on an evening river paddle.
This outdoor pool right in the middle of the city is fed by spring water, so stays temperate year-round. Join locals for an energizing wintertime lap, or cool off in the summer with a refreshing dip or kayak trip. If you’d rather take it easy, the rolling greenery around the springs is ideal for sunbathing, people-watching, or reading.
Austin is home to plenty of fan-favorite galleries, including the vast Blanton Museum of Art (which has free admission on Tuesdays); The Contemporary Austin, a must if you’re into all things contemporary art; and Mexic-Arte, a Warehouse District staple home to Mexican and Latin American works. However, you shouldn’t sleep on Austin’s weirder offerings, including (aptly) the Museum of the Weird.
Texas Hill Country is well-known for its wine, with vineyards like Fall Creek dotted all over the scenic landscape. Whether you’re a wine lover or outdoor enthusiast, a day trip into Austin’s cedar-lined and goat-filled surroundings is a great way to see more of the Lone Star State.