Austin, Texas is well known for its vibrant music scene, tasty barbecue, and friendly folks. But it also has tons of fun and free things to see and do! As a budget-conscious traveler, you’ll love exploring all that this captivating city has to offer.
Here are some of my top picks for free things to do in Austin.
Explore The Outdoors
One of the best free things to do in Austin is to enjoy the beautiful outdoor spaces. Start your day with a refreshing walk, jog, or bike ride around Lady Bird Lake. Located in the heart of downtown, this scenic body of water is surrounded by hike and bike trails.
After working up an appetite exploring Lady Bird Lake, head over to Zilker Park. This huge green space is home to hiking trails, picnic areas, a botanical garden, and the famous Barton Springs Pool. Take a dip to cool off or lay out a blanket and enjoy a picnic lunch under the shade of towering oak trees.
Don’t miss the chance to see the Congress Avenue Bridge bats. Every evening from March to November, over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the bridge in search of food. Watching these tiny winged critters take flight in the dusk sky is an amazing sight. The best viewing spots are from the bridge or riverside near the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
Check Out Iconic Landmarks
In addition to beautiful parks and natural scenery, there are many free and fun things to do in Austin. Start downtown at the Texas State Capitol building. This stately 1888 structure stands 308 feet tall and is open to visitors. Go inside to see the ornate rooms and appreciate the expansive views from the observation deck.
Next, snap a selfie in front of the famous “I Love You So Much” mural on South Congress Avenue. This vibrantly painted wall is an Instagram-worthy backdrop. Then, take a stroll down the street to do some window shopping at the eclectic shops and boutiques.
End your landmark tour with a drive up Mount Bonnell. At 775 feet above sea level, this scenic overlook is the highest point in Austin. From the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of downtown and Lake Austin. The short hike to the summit makes for a nice break from the city sights below.
Catch Local Music
With its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World, catching outstanding local music is one of the top things to do in Austin. Luckily, there are plenty of spots where you can listen to talented musicians without spending a dime.
Head to Sixth Street downtown any night of the week. This famous entertainment district has bars and clubs with free live music spilling onto the streets. For a more low-key scene, visit the Continental Club on South Congress or C-Boy’s Heart & Soul on South Lamar Blvd to see upcoming bands.
For diverse music throughout the day, stop by the Austin Public Library. Their Sound Garden series features free concerts from local jazz, blues, hip hop, and rock artists outside the Central Library. Also, check their events calendar for other free musical performances at library branches across the city.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for live music at local farmer’s markets on weekends too. You’re bound to stumble upon guitarists, singers, and more entertaining shoppers as they browse fruit stands and local wares.
Austin is home to many fascinating museums covering history, culture, science, and the arts. Even better, several offer free general admission or donation-based entry.
Start with the Bullock Texas State History Museum downtown. Spanning three floors, interactive exhibits detail the state’s history from early indigenous settlers to the present day.
Just down the road, immerse yourself in contemporary art from around the world at the Blanton Museum of Art. General admission is just $9 for adults.
For intriguing science displays, visit the Thinkery in North Austin. This hands-on children’s museum has engaging exhibits on STEAM topics that are fun for all ages. Don’t miss the underwater robot sculptures outside by the entrance.
If you’re visiting Austin on the first Thursday of the month, take advantage of free admission at the Austin Nature & Science Center, Elisabet Ney Museum, Laguna Gloria, and more as part of the city-wide First Thursday Fun.
Tour the Capitol Building
Situated prominently in downtown Austin, the Texas State Capitol building is one of the free things to do in Austin. The stately red granite and limestone structure stands 308 feet tall, making it the largest state capitol in the United States.
Inside, the ornate rooms feature Italian marble flooring, grand staircases, brass door hinges, exotic wood accents, and more. Look up in the rotunda to take in the cascading star design in the dome ceiling. Don’t miss the grandiose doors that lead into the House and Senate chambers.
After passing through the interior, head outside to appreciate the immense grounds surrounding the capitol. Lush gardens, statues, fountains, and monuments add to the iconic architecture.
Climb 89 steps to reach the south deck overlook on the dome’s roof. Here, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic 360-degree panorama of downtown Austin and the hill country beyond.
Visiting this landmark showcases fascinating Texas history and culture. Guided tours are available daily, but you can also opt to freely walk around yourself. With so much to take in for free, adding the capitol to your Austin itinerary is a must.