Austin has always been home to musicians, hippies, weirdos, and now, me. Having grown rapidly in the last few years as a tech hub, Austin is a city full of start-ups, entrepreneurs, musicians, cowboys, beer lovers, and fitness buffs. It’s a cross-section of all those who wander.
In this city, you’ll find line dancing next to an organic food market next to a classic steak house. The beer and food truck scene grows every day (some of the best BBQ and tacos in the country are here) and you can’t kick a stone without coming across some incredible music.
Plus, there is easy access to a ton of outdoor activities so you can work off all that food and beer.
No one ever leaves Austin disappointed. Whether you’re a foodie or a music fan or a nature lover, Austin has something to keep you entertained!
This travel guide to Austin can help you plan an affordable trip to the place I call home when I’m not traveling.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Austin
1. Check out the music
2. Jump into Barton Springs
3. Visit Bullock Texas State History Museum
4. See the LBJ Presidential Library
5. See the Cathedral of Junk
Other Things to See and Do in Austin
1. Visit the Museum of the Weird
This museum is a typical penny arcade featuring weird oddities like a two-headed chicken, a “fish man,” a mummy, and even a sideshow. It’s one of those “step right up and see some weird shit” kind of places. It’s small and takes only 20 minutes to wander through, but it’s weird, Austin-like, and sort of fun. Admission is $12 USD.
2. Take a walking tour
The best way to orient yourself on arrival is with a walking tour. You learn some history and find out where the major sites are, all while connecting with a local guide who can answer your questions. I think free walking tours are a wonderful first activity in any city. I recommend Free Walking Tours Austin. For paid tours, go with Walking Tours of Austin. They do some entertaining in-depth tours, including a ghost tour for $20 USD. Just make sure to tip your guide!
3. Visit a Whole Foods
Whole Foods, the nationwide chain now owned by Amazon, started in Austin; its flagship store is located here. This particular store features a wine bar, smoothie bar, beer locker, roof terrace, giant salad bars, and seemingly endless supplies of vegetables, food, and in-store restaurants.
4. Watch the bats
From mid-March until November, the Congress Avenue Bridge downtown is home to 1.5 million bats. Visit the waterfront at dusk to watch these beauties head out for their nightly foraging. Don’t take the boat tours because the bats fly over the river and, well, there’s a lot of poop that comes down as they fly off. You don’t want to get hit. Get there early to secure a good spot as a lot of people show up!
5. Hang out in Zilker Park
Zilker Park is in the heart of South Austin. The park offers many different types of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, jogging, picnicking, and more. Barton Springs (see above) is here as well. Don’t forget to visit the statue park, filled with over 200 of the famous sculptor Charles Umlauf’s sculptures and artworks. They’re moved around every season so visitors can regularly experience the art in a new way. Kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards (SUP) can be rented for $18 USD per hour from Zilker Boats.
6. Eat some BBQ
If you like BBQ, you’ve come to the right city! Austin has some incredible offerings when it comes to barbeque, including La Barbecue and Franklin Barbecue. While it’s not uncommon to wait hours at either establishment, I can assure you the food is worth it! Get there early to avoid the worst of the waiting.
7. Hang out on Lady Bird Lake
This lake is actually a reservoir on the Colorado River. Located in downtown Austin, it’s a great place for rowing or kayaking as no motorboats are allowed on the water. There are trails around the lake for hiking and cycling, too. If a relaxing place to escape the city and popular with locals. Kayak rentals cost around $15 USD per hour (or $35 USD per day) while SUP rentals are $20 USD per hour (or $45 USD per day) from Rowing Dock.
8. Swim in Deep Eddy
This man-made pool is fed from a nearby well with non-chlorinated water. It’s the oldest swimming pool in Texas (it was originally built in 1915) and is open all year round (its hours of operation are shortened during the winter, though). In the summer, they show family movies here, projected onto an inflatable screen. Admission is free.
9. Take a craft beer tour
Austin is home to a growing number of craft beer breweries, most of which offer tours of their facilities (with samples, of course!). If you find a local beer you like, be sure to check out their brewery. There are also companies like Twisted Texas Tour that organize tours of multiple breweries via their Brew Bus. Tours last a few hours and cost $69 USD per person.
10. Try an escape room
Austin is home to a few great escape rooms, which are a fun way to spend an afternoon. The Escape Game Austin is one of the top-rated companies in the country and offers some really neat challenges including an amazing prison break room). If you’ve never tried an escape room, this is the place! Admission is $33 USD per person.
11. Go two-stepping
Two-stepping (often called ‘the Texas two-step’) is a country dance that can be found all over the city. The White Horse is the most famous spot for it, though The Broken Spoke and the Little Longhorn Saloon are also popular venues to try it out as well. Check their websites for an up-to-date event schedule to find out when they are hosting two-stepping.
12. Experience First Thursday
The South Congress Hotel hosts a huge event on the first Thursday of every month. There is live music and an all-night happy hour. Local vendors also set up nearby selling art, clothing, and other items and many nearby bars and stores also run discounts too. Don’t miss this if you’re in town — it’s one of my favorite monthly events!
13. Get weird on Rainey Street
This nightlife area is filled with old houses that have been recently converted into bars. Originally the “hipster” part of the city, it’s now mainstream and teems with people on the weekend. Personally, I avoid coming here on weekends: it’s too crowded and there are too many bachelor/ette parties. I find the scene a little too wild for me — though you may not!
14. Grab a cocktail
While beer and cheap drinks reign supreme in Austin, there is a growing cocktail bar scene in the city. If you’re looking for the perfect cocktail, try Firehouse Lounge, Floppy Disk Repair Shop, Midnight Cowboy, Garage, or Whisler’s.
15. Take a food tour
If you’re a foodie like me, a food tour is the best way to get a delicious overview of everything Austin has to offer. Austin Eats Food Tours has lots of exciting options, with everything from a food truck tour to a cocktail tour to a BBQ and brunch tour. Prices start at $79 USD and most tours last 3-3.5 hours.
16. Tour the State Capitol
The Texas Capitol has free 30-minute tours from Monday to Friday. You get a chance to walk the historic halls of the biggest state capitol building in the country while admiring its ornate architecture, right down to the brass door hinges and elegant chandeliers. Guides provide an in-depth history lesson about the inner workings of the building before moving on to the 22-acre grounds, which features 17 monuments, gardens, and beautifully landscaped lawns. The onsite Visitor’s Center also regularly has artistic exhibits that dig deeper into Texas history.
17. Walk the Greenbelt
The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a 7-mile (11km) stretch of hiking and biking paths. Beginning at Zilker Park, the Greenbelt also offers places to swim, rock climb, and lounge the day away. It’s one of the things to do in Austin and, when the weather is nice, you’ll find it teeming with locals. We love it there. Definitely don’t miss it! Just make sure to bring water (there are no water fountains here) and to take your trash out when you leave (there are no restrooms or garbage receptacles either).
For more information on other cities in the United States, check out these guides:
Austin Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There is currently only one hostel in Austin. A bed in a 4-6-bed dorm costs $36-42 USD per night. Private rooms with a shared bathroom cost $115 USD per night while rooms with an ensuite bathroom are $140 USD. Free Wi-Fi is standard and there’s a kitchen for cooking your own food as well.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels near the city center start at $90 USD. Expect basic amenities like TV, AC, and a coffee/tea maker.
There are lots of Airbnb options in Austin. A private room costs around $75 USD per night while an entire home/apartment averages about $150 USD.
Food – Austin is home to an incredible food scene. BBQ joints, food trucks, Mexican restaurants, organic food, a growing Asian food scene, steaks – you can find everything here!
You can breakfast tacos for between $3-5, pizza slices are around $4 USD, and bowls of pho for about $10 USD. Most food trucks and lunch spots are around $10 USD for a meal.
You can eat a mid-range restaurant for $15-20 USD per main course, including seafood, sandwiches, and vegetarian dishes. Dinner for two with drinks usually averages around $50 USD.
Prices just go straight up from there, with prix-fixe menus at high-end restaurants costing upwards of $100 USD! But you can find main courses at many high-end restaurants for about $40 USD each, including steaks and pasta dishes. Glasses of wine are about $10 USD (but can be much higher).
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around $8 USD for a combo meal.
Beer is $5 USD while a latte/cappuccino is around $4. Cocktails range from $8-10 depending on how nice the places are. There are plenty of happy hours around town too.
If you plan on cooking your own meals, expect to spend $45-60 USD per week on basic staples like rice, pasta, veggies, and some meat.
Since I live in the city, I have an extensive list of places to eat and drink. Just go to this article for a list of my favorite places to eat in Austin!
Backpacking Austin Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Austin, expect to spend $65 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, public transportation, cooking all your meals, cutting back on your drinking, and doing some cheap activities like visiting Barton Springs, seeing the bats, and going two-stepping. You can lower this substantially by Couchsurfing.
A mid-range budget of $145 USD covers staying in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eating out for all of your meals at cheap food trucks, taking the occasional taxi to get around, having a couple of drinks, and doing some paid activities, like museum visits or renting a kayak.
On a “luxury” budget of $320 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, rent a car to get around, and do more paid activities, including museum visits and craft beer tours. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Austin Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Austin is one of the more affordable US cities, but if you don’t watch your budget, things can quickly add up, especially if you’re a foodie or drink a lot. That said, there are still plenty of ways to save here, thanks to lots of drink specials and outdoor activities! Here are some ways to save money in Austin:
- Cook your own meals – While Austin offers a lot of great eats, eating out for every meal is expensive. If you have access to a kitchen, be sure to cook some of your own meals. Buying groceries is much cheaper than going out for every meal.
- Take the bus to the airport – While a taxi/Uber may be faster, taking public transportation to the airport is a fraction of the price. If you’re on a budget and have the time, take the bus. A single-fare only costs $1.25 USD.
- Drink on 6th street – If you’re going out for drinks, stick to 6th street. It offers the cheapest drinks in town, with a ton of happy hours and drink speicals. A few great places to drink like Maggie Mae’s, The Blind Pig, and Shakespeare’s. This area is packed with lots of young people and can get crazy on the weekends but, if you want cheap drinks, this is the place.
- Skip the cabs – Austin is a bit spread out, which means walking can be time-consuming. If you’re on a budget, avoid the cabs and rent a bike. Not only is this a great way to see the city but you get some exercise too!
- Take a free tour of the Capitol building – This is a really neat building to explore, and the tours are quite informative. If you’re a history buff or want to learn more about Texas, don’t miss this!
- Take a free walking tour – The best way to orient yourself to the city is with a walking tour. You learn some history, find out where the major sites are, and connect with a local expert who can answer all your questions. Just make sure to tip your guide!
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is pretty popular here. If you don’t mind sleeping on a couch or floor, this is a great way to save some money and meet locals.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings.
- Do lots of outdoor activities – There are tons of free outdoor activities in Austin that can easily fill up your weekend here.
- Do the free Barton Springs – The city run part of Barton Springs may be nice but it’s also $9. If you use the area outside the official “Barong Springs”, you can enjoy the same water – for free. (Plus bring your own drinks!) You’ll see lots of people on the stretch of the creek from the spring’s source to Lady Bird Lake.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – Austin gets hot (especially in the summer). Avoid wasting money on single-use plastic and bring a reusable bottle. You’ll save money and the environment! LifeStraw is my go-to brand.
Where to Stay in Austin
Most hostels in Austin closed after the COVID-19 pandemic so there are not a lot of budget-friendly options left. Here is my suggested place to stay:
How to Get Around Austin
Public Transportation – The bus is one of the most popular ways to get around Austin. A single ride costs $1.25 USD, while a day pass is $2.50 USD. A week pass is only $11.25 USD.
There is a MetroRail train service as well but it’s designed to bring daily commuters from the outskirts of Austin into the city center and not really practical. A single ride is $3.50 USD, and a day pass is $7 USD.
Bicycle – The city offers bike-sharing, known as Austin BCycle. Bike stations are scattered all over the city. It costs $1 USD to unlock them and then $0.23 USD per minute after that. You can also get a day pass for $12.99 USD which covers unlimited 60-minute trips (you have to pay $4 USD per each 30-minute interval after that or dock the bike at the station to restart the trip time). You can download the app and pay for everything from there.
Scooter – Uber has an electric scooter program known as JUMP. All you have to do is use the Uber app to locate a bike or scooter and then reserve it. Lime, Bird, and Spin also offer similar services. It’s usually about $1 USD to unlock and then $0.15 USD per minute after that.
Ryde – Ryde has open-air electric vehicles that can carry up to five people around the service area (all of downtown, and just outside of it too). You can call and request a Ryde vehicle, or hail one like a taxi. It’s never more than $5 USD within the service area. The company keeps prices low by covering their vehicles with ads!
Taxis – Taxis are expensive, and you’re much better off getting an Uber or Lyft. The base charge is $2.50 USD, and then it’s $2.40 USD for each mile after that.
Ride-Sharing Uber and Lyft are available in Austin. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers the best savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10 USD) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15 USD).
Car rental – Car rentals are available for around $35 USD per day. You don’t really need one to get around the city, however, if you plan on doing day trips outside the city then a car might be helpful.
When to Go to Austin
Austin is a great place to visit year-round. Weather-wise, September-November and March-May have the nicest temperatures, with daily highs averaging 70-80°F (21-27°C).
The summers can be unbearably hot in Austin, with temperatures soaring to the high 90s°F (high 30s°C) each day. A lot of times the temperature is above 100 F and it’s like being in an oven. Most people leave Austin during this time since it’s so hot. If you do come, expect anything outdoors and near water to be packed with people as they try to cool off.
Winter (December to February) is also an excellent time to visit, as temperatures are mild and dry. Accommodation is a little bit cheaper during the winter as well.
When major festivals like SXSW (March), F1 (October), or Austin City Limits (October) are in town, the city gets jammed packed and prices sky rocket. Book well in advance for these festivals and prepare for inflated prices!
How to Stay Safe in Austin
Austin is a pretty safe city. Violent attacks are rare and tend to be confined to certain areas (usually where drug and gang violence are a problem). Avoid the areas around Rundberg Lane in North Austin, especially if you’re alone after dark.
Petty crime is the only real danger here (especially around touristy spots), and even that is pretty rare. Watch out around 6th street late at night. That’s where most of the problems occur. Only bring the money you need with you when you go to the bar and always keep an eye on your drink.
When out and about, stay hydrated and cool whenever possible. Be sure to pack sunscreen and a hat to avoid getting heatstroke.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Austin. Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Austin Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Austin. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the United States, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Austin Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Austin Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a must-read travel novel. Kerouac’s character’s (who he modeled after himself) frustration, desire to see the world, and adventures resonate with all of us who need a little relief from modern life. The story follows Sal as he leaves New York City and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. He finds thrills, adventure, love, sex, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence. It’s a true American classic.
Tip of the Iceberg, by Mark Adams
In 1899, Edward H. Harriman (a rich railroad magnate) converted a steamship into a luxury cruise for some of America’s best scientists and writers and embarked on a summer voyage around Alaska. Now, author Mark Adams retraces that expedition, traveling over 3,000 miles along the coast of the state. Mark is one of my favorite writers, and this book is very reminiscent of Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Mark brings insight into the people, history, and culture of the state in a way he did with his other book.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belonging. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant
As a big fan of the state of Mississippi, I was keen to read this book. The state is an often-overlooked tourist destination with eccentric but wonderful people; beautiful parks, rivers, and swamps; stunning architecture; and a complex and rich history for history buffs like myself. In this book, English writer Richard Grant and his girlfriend move to rural Pluto, Mississippi, to live a better life, escape the big city, lower their cost of living, and try something new. They learn to hunt, garden, fend off wild animals, handle snakes, and befriend interesting characters along the way.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
The United States of America is more than just 50 states. There are also the non-states of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In this funny, detailed, fact-rich book, Doug Mack explores these territories largely forgotten by the rest of the country, which play a more important role in our country than we realize. I had the pleasure of listening to Doug talk about his book in NYC, and he’s a wealth of knowledge — just like his book! This one of those travel books that expands your mind about the place you don’t really know.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, by William Least Heat-Moon
This is a deep dive into America’s unknown tiny towns scattered across the country map, like New Hope (Tennessee), Remote (Oregon), Why (Arizona), and Whynot (Mississippi). Yes, those are real town names! Heat-Moon’s book is considered a masterpiece in American travel writing and you’ll love his adventures and the incredible people he encounters as he reveals the “real” American experience.
Austin Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on United States travel and continue planning your trip: