10 Popular Austin Texas Attractions
Austin Attractions are a rich mix with a wide appeal for both visitor and local alike. From historical landmarks to a nationally recognized entertainment district to an event and festival calendar that's always full, there are always lots of things to do in Austin.
Below is a list of ten popular Austin Texas Attractions for visitors and locals alike.
For more ideas of what to do in Austin, be sure to check out these additional resource pages:
Austin Tourism Guide
Austin Things to Do
Austin Events and Festivals
- Texas State Capitol - The Texas State Capitol building opened to the public in 1888, following six years of construction. The building is the largest state capitol by size and second tallest in the United States. With its impressive Renaissance Revival architecture, red granite exterior, majestic rotunda, and 20+ acres of park-like surrounding grounds, the Capitol Complex has been one of the top Austin Attractions for generations.
Housing both the Texas State Legislature as well as the Governor’s Office, the Capitol Building underwent a major underground expansion in the early 1990s to accommodate the need for additional administrative support without threatening the historical integrity of the building.
Visiting the Capitol is free – as are brochures and maps (in multiple languages) for self-guided tours. Visitor resources are available at the Capitol Visitors Center.
- Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum - Named in honor of the late Bob Bullock, longtime State Comptroller and Lieutenant Governor during the 1990s who was a major supporter of the Texas State History Musuem. It opened in 2001 shortly after Bullock’s death.
The impressive three story building features interactive exhibits with a separate theme for each floor: Land, Identity, and Opportunity. Group and reserved tours are available as well as limited free walk-in tours. The museum has two theaters – the multimedia and special effects Texas Spirit Theater as well as Austin’s only IMAX Theater.
Located just a few blocks north of the Capitol, the museum offers underground parking for a flat $8/day.
- University of Texas at Austin – With enrollment of more than 50,000, UT Austin is like a small city itself. A cultural and historical center as well as an academic one, UT oversees some world class museums, libraries, centers, and performance venues including the Blanton Museum of Art, the LBJ Presidential Library, the Harry Ransom Center, the Bass Concert Hall, and the Frank Erwin Center.
Boasting one of the top athletic programs in the country, the Texas Longhorns are almost always ranked in the Top 20 in football (four national championships), baseball (six national championships), and basketball. The Lady Longhorns basketball team has one national championship.
UT offers various walking and self-guided campus tours as well as an annual open house called Explore UT each spring.
- 6th Street - Austin’s most famous street and a big reason why the city refers to itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” The seven or so blocks west of I-35 are home to numerous clubs, bars, restaurants, and tattoo parlors, drawing large and diverse crowds.
Notable establishments include The Parish, B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, Maggie Mae’s, Pete’s Piano Bar, Esther’s Follies, and the Iron Cactus Restaurant.
Best times to visit 6th Street if you really love large crowds and a festive atmosphere are Halloween, Mardi Gras, and during South by Southwest (SXSW).
- South Congress Avenue - Laid back and bohemian, the South Congress (SoCo) Shopping District takes the stress out of anyone’s day. Known mostly for its retro hipness, the area has revitalized itself considerably in recent years.
Gone are the 24 hour adult movie theater, the trolling prostitutes (especially when the Legislature was in session), and the landmark Austin Motel has been transformed from seedy motel to Austin treasure. With the added polish comes the criticism by some locals that more than just the seediness has been lost.
But much of the quirkiness and laid back charm remain, and if you’ve ever been to a town or place where time stood still, you’ll understand how necessary change can be. So enjoy the old and the new – from Austin musical landmark The Continental Club and the popular First Thursday street side revelry to, yes, even the sight of Starbucks and all those new condos in the area.
- Austin Live Music - It’s not just 6th Street clubs and bars where Austin live music thrives. Two legendary Austin attractions and music venues, Antone's Nightclub and Stubbs BBQ, along with other Austin mainstays such as La Zona Rosa, Emo's, and the Mohawk are all downtown in neighboring areas.
Other Austin favorites include: The Continental Club, the Saxon Pub, and the Broken Spoke in South Austin; the small and intimate singer-songwriter Cactus Cafe as well as the big act touring venue Frank Erwin Center, both on the UT campus; and Threadgill's at both north and south restaurant locations.
- Austin Music Festivals - Austin takes seriously its claims of being the "Live Music Capital of the World." And it isn't just live music in clubs, bars, restaurants, and coffee houses.
It seems that most recurring annual Austin events and festivals aren't complete unless they have a live music component. Even the Austin Marathon features live bands playing along the 26 mile course.
And then there are the major music festivals held each year in Austin, including: South by Southwest (SXSW), the Austin City Limits Festival (ACL Fest), the Austin Reggae Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Texas RockFest, the Pachanga Latino Music Festival, the Urban Music Festival, the Kerrville Folk Festival, the Lone Star State Jam, and the Old Settler's Music Festival.
- Zilker Park - At 350+ acres, it’s not the largest park in Austin, and it may not be the most beautiful, but its proximity to downtown and its numerous and versatile attractions and uses make Zilker Metropolitan Park a local favorite.
Zilker-specific Austin attractions include the beloved Barton Springs Pool, the Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Austin Nature and Science Center, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, and the Beverly Sheffield Hillside Theater offering free outdoor drama and musical performances during the summer.
The park also hosts numerous annual events and festivals including the annual Holiday Trail of Lights and the city’s longest running festival, the Austin Kite Festival.
- Mount Bonnell - Another longstanding Austin Attractions favorite for both locals and tourists and photographers of all persuasions, Mount Bonnell offers some unforgettable views of Lake Austin, the Highway 360 Pennybacker Bridge, and even the Austin skyline.
Access to this city-maintained park is relatively easy and there are two pedestrian choices for the climb – a shorter but steeper stair route from the south or a longer but more gradual rock and dirt path from the north.
Take a camera and, if it’s in the heat of summer, definitely take some water (you won't find any on site).
- Austin Bats - No Austin Attractions list is complete without a mention of our migratory Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. Every evening at dusk from early spring through late fall, one of the largest migratory bat colonies in North America emerge from beneath the underside of the Congress Avenue Bridge to feed on millions of insects and begin their nocturnal day.
And every evening at the same time, tourists and locals line up atop the bridge, congregate on nearby hotel grounds, gather along both shores of Lady Bird Lake, or take to local cruise ships to watch them pour en masse from beneath the bridge and into the sunset reddened sky.
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