Trip Ideas

11 Of The Absolute Best Things To Do In Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas has always been an interesting place, but Austin has only come into its own in the past decade and is now one of the most popular cities to visit in the US. With its city motto being, “Keep Austin Weird”, how could it not be? From interesting people to beautiful natural areas to incredible nightlife (Not to mention, a lack of a hardcore winter..), Austin has quickly shot up traveler’s bucket lists when they take a trip to the United States. Of course, it wouldn’t be a true trip to the Texas state capital without indulging in some food and drink too. There is something to do during all seasons of the year in this central Texas town, but here are the 11 best things to do in Austin for the next time you take a trip there:

1. Mount Bonnell

 

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If you’ve never seen a Texas Hill Country sunset, then you need to add it to your bucket list because you’ll never see something so stunning in your life. There is no better place to watch the sun go down on another great day in Austin than Mount Bonnell. Located just north of downtown right on the Colorado River, Mount Bonnell, also known as Covert Park to some, is one of Austin’s tallest peaks at 237 Meters/ 775 Feet above sea level. The peak is easy to access with stairs leading right to the top so no need to wear hiking boots. The sunset, in my opinion, is best enjoyed with a few Austin craft brews.

2. Breakfast Tacos At Torchy’s

 

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If you visit Austin, be prepared to eat because it is a major event in the city. (In fact, eating is one of the best things to do in Austin!) To dive right in and get your feet wet in Austin’s culture, be sure to stop by the famous Austin institution that is Torchy’s. A trip to Torchy’s is an absolute necessity and their breakfast tacos are heavenly. I personally recommend ordering all of the breakfast tacos on the menu, but if you have to choose, I’d say go with the Migas and the Ranch Hand tacos. Both have a great spicy kick to them, so if that is something you need to wake up in the morning then you are definitely in the right place. The Ranch Hand includes Beef Fajita meat sprinkled on top, which is to die for. Of course, there is no shame in ordering the regular tacos if you go later in the day, but if you want to be a true Austinite, you have to eat breakfast tacos.

3. Hamilton Pool

 

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Head one hour northwest of Austin into what is known as Texas Hill Country, and you’ll find a natural swimming hole that looks too beautiful to be true. To be honest, the pictures look too good to be true. Don’t worry though, your eyes are not playing any tricks on you because you have arrived at Hamilton Pool. The natural swimming pool is part of over 200 preserved acres of land and was created when a giant erosion took place thousands of years ago. Today, it is now one of the most popular places in the area to escape Austin’s intense summer heat. (The water is cold. It stays around 10 Celsius/ 50 Fahrenheit year round.) In fact, the pool is so popular that it requires prior reservations just to go there. If you know you are heading to Austin and want to take a dip in Hamilton Pool’s refreshing waters, be sure to book well in advance, especially during summer holidays.

4. Barton Springs

 

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If you don’t have access to a car for whatever reason or just want a place to cool off closer to Austin, Barton Springs is the best place to go to beat the heat. Unlike Hamilton Pool, the water is spring fed so the temperature sits around a perfect 20°C / 70°F year round. Barton Springs is located in Austin’s beloved Zilker Park that is home to all things cultural including the famous Austin City Limits music festival held every October in the park. The public swimming area attracts all types of people from families to students to Texas legislators, it is a great place to see what Austin is all about and meet locals. Pack a picnic, a few drinks, and get some friends together because Barton Springs is one of the best things to do in Austin on a sunny afternoon.

5. Texas Two Step At The Broken Spoke

 

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I know what you might be thinking… You might imagine the Texas Two Step to be a bunch of old people with cowboy hats and boots following an instructor in a choreographed dance and yelling, “Yeehaw!” While you are not terribly far off, the Texas Two Step is actually a country dance that is more similar to South America’s Salsa dancing than anything else. It includes its fair share of spins, flips, and dips. Of course, there is the basic two-step that will be your home base if you are a first-time dancer. There is no better place to learn to Texas Two Step in Austin than at the Broken Spoke. While Austin is home to a fairly large rave scene, its country dancing venues (they are known as “Honky-Tonks” in Texas) are quite popular as well. If you are looking to get some dance lessons in before hitting the dance floor, make sure to head to their two-step lessons every night Wednesday through Sunday at 8 PM. Be sure to sign up early though because this class is quite popular and space fills up quickly. The hour lesson will teach you all the basic steps as well as a few advanced moves to potentially impress a certain cowboy or cowgirl. You’ll be well on your way to being a pro country dancer after a full night on the dancefloor.

6. University Of Texas

 

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The heart of Austin is the University of Texas. With over 50,000 students, the campus is quite large and spread out, but is worth taking a walk around the area. It’s also perhaps one of the best things to do in Austin for foreigners in order to see what a university looks like in the US. Be sure to walk by the Tower on the main campus and if you have time, the Texas Memorial Museum is more than worth the visit to learn more about the state’s incredible biological and geological diversity.

7. Castle Hill Graffiti Park

 

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Unless you are not on Instagram or live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of or seen Austin’s Castle Hill Graffiti Park. This quintessential cool Austin spot is walking distance from downtown and has exploded in popularity with visitors in the last few years. In my opinion, you cannot come to Austin and not visit the graffiti park because it represents the best that Austin has to offer. The park also offers a safe, legal space for artists to test out new designs or tags. If you are lucky, you can watch an artist at work during your visit and maybe he or she will let you join in on the fun. Another bonus about the graffiti park is that it has great views of downtown Austin and the state capitol building, which is just down the street and looms over the city. Unfortunately, as of January 2018, the graffiti park will be demolished to make way for a new condominium project. Have no fear though, plans are already in the works to relocate the graffiti park to a new location in 2019. It has not been announced where the new graffiti park will be, but many hope that it stays within walking distance to downtown so both locals and visitors can enjoy easy access to the site.

8. Texas State Capitol

 

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Speaking of the capitol building, did you know that Austin is in fact the capital of Texas? Even though Texas is known as being quite conservative, it’s pretty ironic that Austin is its capital despite having a very liberal reputation. However, one can still get a feel for what Texas is all about by taking a trip to the Texas State Capitol Building. I highly recommend taking a guided tour of the building and learning more about Texas’ fascinating history. The best part about the guided tour is that it is completely free, which is always a nice bonus for any traveler. The building is actually the third to serve as the main building since the second one was destroyed in a fire in 1881. Of course, the building is the largest capitol building of any US state and you’ll know exactly where you are since the word Texas occupies pretty much every inch of the building. You’ll learn more about how Texas has been governed by 6 different nations (Spain, France, Mexico, USA, Confederate USA, and the Republic Of Texas) and how they acquired their independent, fiercely proud spirit. In other words, this is one of the best things to do in Austin to discover what the state of Texas is all about.

9. Stand In Line For Franklin’s Barbecue

 

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Franklin’s Barbecue is consistently voted some of the best in the country and it has its home right in downtown Austin. The barbecue joint is only open for lunch, which means the line starts forming as early as 7AM for those that are dedicated to getting their hands on some delicious barbecue. That’s why joining the die-hards in line is an experience in itself. You’ll meet people from all over the US and world who come to line up for Franklin’s famous barbecued creations. Before you do get your chance to place an order, it’s important to have a plan and execute it. Personally, I’d recommend going with friends and getting a pound of ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, and a bourbon banana pie for dessert. Of course, wash all of this food down with a Lone Star beer. I think you’ll get your official Texas badge of honor after eating this order.

10. South By SouthWest (SXSW)

 

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South By SouthWest (SXSW) festival is such a big deal that not only might it be one of the best things to do in Austin, but it might as well have its own local holiday to boot. The festival takes place every second week in March. What originally started as a small event for all things music, tech, and culture in 1987 soon grew to a massive, internationally recognized festival. The first festival had 700 music performers, 2018 had over 2,000 music acts put on a show. The pure scale of the event is overwhelming and it is truly impossible to see and do everything that you want to do. Much like Franklin’s, it’s important to come in with a plan and follow it. The festival features some of the world’s best speakers, musicians, and minds all together in Austin. Now, almost every brand realizes the marketing potential of such an event and many hold free, secret concerts or events to build buzz about their products. While the festival has gone commercial and away from its indie roots, it is still worth checking out if you are in town in March. Be sure to book somewhere to stay months in advance because hotel rooms and other accommodations sell out quickly.

11. Watch The Bats Fly From Congress Bridge

 

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This activity is certainly one of the most unique and best things to do in Austin (it’s probably one of the coolest as well). From March to October at dusk, 1.5 million bats fly away from their daytime hangouts to fly off into the night. Oddly enough, the best time to see the bat show is approximately 20 minutes before the sun sets. There are quite a few ways to see the bats emerge from under the bridge, but the best way, in my opinion, is to rent a kayak and see it from the river. The backdrop of the sunset and a million bats flying everywhere make for quite an incredible picture.

So, here was our 11 best things to do in Austin! Have any other recommendations? Comment below!

Suggested next reading: Why Texas Needs To Be On Your Travel Bucket List

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