If you’ve been combing through the best things to do in Austin, you’ve probably been bombarded by all of the exciting possibilities. After all, Austin is the heart & soul of Texas, with luscious parks, historical museums, and live music around every corner. A great addition to a cross-country U.S. road trip or as a standalone weekend getaway, Austin is truly a world-class destination that deserves a spot on every American travel bucket list.
Austin boasts a vibrant arts scene, from buzzing blues clubs to upscale contemporary galleries to eccentric art installations like the Cathedral of Junk. Whether you’re looking to peruse the works of local talent by day or get your boogie on by night, Texas’s capital city has got you covered.
Trying to figure out what to do in Austin? Follow along with this guide to the best places to visit in Austin, TX, chalked full of top attractions, hidden gems, and endless inspiration for building a wanderlust-inducing itinerary.
Must-see places to visit in Austin, TX
Zilker Botanical Garden
Amongst the top tourist attractions in Austin is the Zilker Botanical Garden—and for good reason! Throughout the 28-acre park, located along the banks of the Colorado River within Zilker Park, you’ll journey through a series of themed gardens. Highlights at Zilker Botanical Garden include a Japanese garden, a rose garden, a cactus garden, and specially curated fields with plants meant to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Need a little pick-me-up while you’re walking the rows of beautiful blooms? Make a pit stop for a drink at the “Pretty Cute Coffee” truck. The coffee truck serves up an array of dairy-free lattes, cold brews, teas, and lemonades inspired by the flora surrounding them.
One of the highlights of the menu is “blue matcha,” derived from the blue butterfly pea flower. You’ll also find lots of local ingredients featured, such as acai, agave, prickly pear, and hibiscus. Yum!
Perhaps the most prominent Austin point of interest is the Texas Capitol. Even if you’re stuck to just one day in Austin, no trip to Texas’s capital city would be complete without checking out this magnificent government building.
The Texas Capitol building serves as an office for the Governor and Legislature of Texas. Centrally located downtown at 1100 Congress Ave, it’s one of the most exquisite landmarks in Austin.
Besides being the largest capitol building in the United States, the property is also breathtakingly ornate, featuring a stunning Italian Renaissance Revival architecture style with marble walls, brass detailing, and 17 surrounding monuments. If you’d like to explore the interior of the capitol building and learn about the state’s history and government, you can hop onto one of the guided walking tours or self-guided tours seven days a week.
And that’s not all the Texas Capitol grounds have to offer. Be sure to spend time exploring the fun rotating exhibits lining the halls of the visitors center and tackling your food cravings at the Capitol Grill, an infamous flapjack joint onsite.
Be transported under the sea with a fun-filled trip to the Austin Aquarium. This local highlight provides the chance to interact with some of your favorite aquatic animals and even a few land-dwellers in their rainforest enclosure. It’s actually one of only two places in the United States where you’re able to pet and play with ring-tailed lemurs.
If you’re traveling with little ones, be sure to look into all the thrilling experiences you can add to your Austin Aquarium visit, such as feeding a resident octopus. The kids will go absolutely wild for the live underwater mermaid performances. They can even snap a selfie with them after the show for bragging rights back at school!
That said, the Austin Aquarium is not just fun for the kiddos. The endless exhibits—featuring mighty sharks and jays, majestic jellies, and colorful reefs—is sure to enchant you and your comrades of any age.
Lady Bird Lake
Previously known as Town Lake, Lady Bird Lake is an Austin hotspot that’s become the pinnacle of outdoor recreation in the city. The original purpose of the lake—technically a reservoir on the Colorado River—was to help with water flow and protect against flooding. But thanks to the beautification efforts of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (earning her a spot as the lake’s namesake), Lady Bird Lake is now a favorite hangout of Austin locals and tourists alike.
If simply sitting along the shoreline and taking in the views is a little too low-key for your tastes, not to worry: There are plenty of activities around Lady Bird Lake to keep you on the go.
One of the most popular is a trek or a bike tour along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. You can also rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard and go for a paddle or board a river cruise for a romantic sunset dinner and optimal Austin sightseeing.
Though the official name of this Austin landmark is Covert Park, the locals affectionately renamed it Mount Bonnell after a local soldier and Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Republic of Texas. And it’s seldom been referred to as anything else since.
Mount Bonnell offers tourists sweeping views of the Austin city skyline from its summit and an unparalleled glimpse of the turquoise waters of Lake Austin. To reach the summit of Mount Bonnell, you’ll need to make your way up the 100-step historic staircase. It’s no small feat, but the consensus of everyone who visits is that it is beyond worth the strain.
Not only does the lookout offer a unique vantage point for taking in the skyline, but the park itself is quite impressive. You’ll find several local tree species along your hike. You may even encounter an armadillo or two!
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If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, sunrise tends to be the quietest time of day to visit, and the journey is equally as rewarding as it is at sunset. Many locals also recommend doing the hike at dusk for some stellar stargazing at the summit.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Zilker Botanical Gardens, a visit to Zilker Park is an obvious addition to any Austin itinerary. In fact, it would be worth making the trip more than once if you have the time. With over 350 acres to explore, you’ll be guaranteed a unique experience every time!
Year-round, the lawns of Zilker Park are home to several popular events, including frequent evening concerts and festivals like the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Trail of Lights, and Blues on the Green. If you’re visiting at the beginning of March, among the best times of the year to visit Austin, try to attend the kite festival for a fun outing for kids and adults alike.
Even if there are no major activities happening during your holiday, you can always find people picnicking on the grass and playing sports like disc golf or volleyball, enjoying the scenery.
Since Zilker Metropolitan Park is centrally located just across the river from Downtown Austin, it’s easy to access via public transit.
To experience even more of Austin’s natural beauty firsthand, carve out time for a hiking or cycling adventure along the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail. With its more central location, the Zilker Park trailhead is naturally one of the busiest along the path. Nonetheless, it’ll give you access to the over 12 miles of hiking and biking trails along the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
Barton Springs Pool
Another Zilker Park gem is the Barton Springs Pool, which earns a spot on nearly every list of the coolest places to see in Austin. This multi-acre natural pool is fed by underground springs and is the cherished swimming hole of many city locals.
It’s nearly always sunny in Austin, and the springs maintain a temperature of approximately 70 degrees year-round. Need to cool off? Dive in and splash around: It’s the perfect place to take a refreshing dip, no matter the season!
Barton Springs has made headlines several times throughout history. Most famously, a band of topless sunbathers who frequented the park gained the attention of the media in the 1970s. It’s also known as the place where actor Robert Redford learned to swim.
During your visit, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Barton Springs Salamander. This resident endangered species has allowed the park to be dubbed a protected habitat.
Blanton Museum of Art
If you consider yourself a creative soul, then a trip to the Blanton Museum of Art is an absolute must. One of the biggest attractions is a striking stone building with stained glass windows gifted to the art museum in 2015 by Ellsworth Kelly titled “Austin.” Located on the University of Texas campus, the building is a somewhat minimalist spectacle and is considered the artist’s greatest legacy.
The permanent collection at the Blanton Museum of Art is comprised of the works of famous European contemporary period artists and numerous modern artists from America and Latin America. The art museum also hosts a selection of rotating galleries.
After checking out the collections at the gallery, save time to explore the rest of the University of Texas campus. Around the property, you’ll find a handful of superb Austin museums that are among the city’s most popular destinations for art lovers and natural history buffs. Admire rare art at the Harry Ransom Center, reaffirm your love for paleontology at the Texas Natural Science Center, or filter through fossils at the Texas Memorial Museum (temporarily closed).
McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park is undeniably one of the most popular places to go in Austin for a little dose of outdoor adventure. The biggest attraction at this park is the cascading waterfalls. They’re a postcard-perfect backdrop for a picnic. One of the most popular state parks in Texas, McKinney Falls State Park is also a fantastic spot for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, and swimming.
McKinney Falls State Park is well known as a prominent geocaching location. If this is a favorite pastime of yours back home, or you’re interested in giving a new outdoors hobby a go, be sure to bring a trinket or two to leave behind.
Bullock Texas State History Museum
Named after a previous Lieutenant Governor, the Bullock Texas State History Museum opened its doors to the public in 2001—and now it’s waiting to open its doors to you on your Austin adventure!
In the museum’s permanent collection, you’ll get an inside look at the history of the local area and how Texas has become the state it is today. You’ll also find rotating exhibitions offering insight into living in Texas today.
Complete your experience with a trip to the onsite IMAX. It screens Texan-themed documentaries, of course, in the Texas Spirit Theatre. Or indulge in a little mainstream cinema: The museum also has a few IMAX screens offering a unique viewing of all the latest blockbuster releases.
Congress Avenue Bridge
Crossing over Lady Bird Lake, the Congress Avenue Bridge is a beautiful scenic landmark in downtown Austin. But that’s not even the most interesting thing about this iconic bridge.
After a 1980 renovation, the Congress Avenue Bridge became home to a massive urban bat colony, Mexican Free-tailed Bats, to be exact. Though the population increases over the summer each year, it’s estimated that by the end of the season, you can observe up to 1.5 million bats who fly out from their “Cave” around nightfall each day.
So, what’s the best way to observe this incredible phenomenon? Well, many folks will line up directly on the Congress Bridge to feel as though they are a part of their ascent.
Want a different vantage point? You can also watch them take flight from the Statesman Bat Observation Center, directly across from their home. Especially if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you can even sign up for a bat tour on a boat and watch from Lady Bird Lake below for a different perspective.
The urban bat colony has become such a beloved part of Austin city culture that every year, there’s a “bat fest” complete with a costume contest, crafty vendors, live music, and libations.
Cathedral of Junk
The Cathedral of Junk is an absolute must-see and is one of the most unique points of interest in Austin. Built originally as the personal backyard clubhouse of the owner, this multi-story cathedral is constructed entirely out of junkyard finds, hence the masterpiece’s name.
Imagine climbing a spiral staircase through rooms of jingling wind chimes, dusty bicycle tires, peeling street signs, old CDs, and even a few toilets.
This impressive mixed-medium sculpture is not just a cool place to visit but also a constant work in progress. The owner, Vince, is known to tinker with its construction day to day, swapping items in and out. Occasionally, he will even accept items from tourists to add to the collection.
Be sure to bring a token from home in case you want to leave your mark on the cathedral!
Texas shares the longest stretch of the U.S. border with Mexico out of any state. As a result, Austin has a vibrant and flourishing Latinx community. The Mexic-Arte Museum presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the rich culture and expertise of Latinx artists. It’s home to rotating exhibitions showcasing contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, and pottery.
The Mexic-Arte Museum frequently hosts exciting live performances, holiday celebrations (including an Annual Day of Dead event), and even culinary tastings. Be sure to check their upcoming calendar prior to your arrival if you’d like to enhance your experience.
South Congress Avenue
Also known as SoCo District, South Congress Avenue is the hippest place to be in Austin. Here, you’ll find the coolest blues clubs, eclectic vintage shops, clothing boutiques, and many of the city’s tastiest restaurants.
The South Congress (SoCo) neighborhood is also home to Austin’s most incredible street art. Be sure to keep an eye out for interesting murals or hire a graffiti walking tour guide to test out the city’s quirky slogan: Keep Austin Weird.
The only way to experience South Congress Avenue at its fullest is just to show up and spend the day exploring. Be sure to come prepared to shop until you drop and eat your heart out!
After exploring South Congress, grab your friends and venture northward into downtown to delve further into Austin’s famed entertainment and music scene. Seek out the city’s tastiest street tacos at the food trucks on Rainey Street before digging into the nightlife scene by crawling the craft breweries, live music venues, and bars along Sixth Street, in the 2nd Street District, or to the east in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood.
Museum of the Weird
The Museum of the Weird is exactly what it sounds like. This popular Austin attraction is a wondrous collection of curiosities and oddball artifacts that will be sure to leave you scratching your head in bewilderment.
Located in the heart of downtown Austin, the Museum of the Weird is the perfect addition to your itinerary on a rare rainy day or as a chance to slip inside and beat the afternoon heat.
Carrying on the legacy of P.T. Barnum, the Museum of the Weird is filled to the brim with creepy exhibits. Sort through an assortment of shrunken heads and the Fiji mermaids, as well as a plethora of paranormal paraphernalia.
If you’re a firm believer in the likes of bigfoot, UFOs, and other mysterious beings, a visit to the Museum of the Weird is an absolute must. Have you heard of the famous “creature in ice”? Well, it calls this strange attraction home these days. Be sure to keep an eye out while wandering the halls!
Mayfield Park and Preserve
Calling all nature lovers! According to local naturalists, Mayfield Park and Preserve is the place to go in Austin. This tried-and-true outdoor destination is made up of historic cottages and gardens flanked by a 21-acre nature reserve. The park is free to explore and provides ample sights to see that will keep you captivated all day long.
Mayfield Park and Preserve is home to a large family of peacocks. They wander freely throughout the grounds, presenting a fabulous opportunity to see these beauties up close.
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For further viewing of the local fauna, you can roam around a series of ponds. They’re frequented by all kinds of local species, including water snakes, turtles, and great blue herons. Or simply take an easy hike through the forest with a pair of binoculars.
The Contemporary Austin, Laguna Gloria
Just barely outside of Austin’s downtown core lies The Contemporary Austin, Laguna Gloria. This gorgeous outdoor sculpture garden is just waiting to help you slow down, get back to nature, and do some laid-back sightseeing.
One of two sites that make up The Contemporary Austin museum, Laguna Gloria showcases global 3D artwork intricately woven through wooded trails and peacefully perched around the lake.
Turn your Laguna Gloria visit into a full-day affair by ordering a grazing board full of delicious cheese and charcuterie from onsite deli Spread & Co. Post up on the lawn for a leisurely picnic.
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No blanket? No problem. Gorgeous Turkish cotton picnic blankets are available for purchase on-site, along with other outdoor goodies, to make your experience more enjoyable. You can even create your own happy hour by adding draught beer or a bottle of wine to your order!
Recommended places to stay in Austin for sightseeing
For first-time visitors, most of the best places to stay in Austin fall within its bustling city center. Many of the city’s top-rated hotels lie within the Downtown core. If you’re okay with staying a little further from the action, South Congress, East Austin, and Central Austin are great choices, too.
Add a little spunk to your trip with a stay at the Moxy Austin – University. Just 0.6 miles from the university, the hotel offers a social vibe centered around its hip bar & shared lounge. When you’re up for a little more action, the hotel is surrounded by cool bars, boutique shops, and vintage stores.
For modern digs in a central location, book yourself a room at the Canopy By Hilton Austin Downtown. Start your day with a buffet breakfast before snagging one of the hotel’s free bike rentals for a spin around the city. After a long day of sightseeing, chill out at the rooftop pool with the twinkling Austin skyline as your backdrop.
Relax in style by booking a night at The Otis Hotel, Autograph Collection. Located just half a mile from the Texas State Capitol, this 5-star hotel douses visitors in elegance with its stunning modern-meets-retro design palette and luxurious amenities. End the day with a dip in the rooftop pool or a romantic cocktail illuminated by the glimmering city lights.