Located in Texas, Austin has always been home to musicians, hippies, weirdos, and now, me. Having grown rapidly in the last five years as a tech hub, this 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.
And, as the city’s population has boomed, visiting Austin is something everyone is talking about these days. It’s a hugely popular destination with domestic and international travelers, thanks in part to growing flight to Europe!
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 and you can throw a stone without finding wonderful music. No one ever walks away disappointed.
This travel guide to Austin can help you plan an affordable and wonderful 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 the 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.
2. Sample hot sauce at Taste of Joy
This hot sauce shop serves hundreds of different kinds of hot sauces, and they offer free tastings for many of them. If you want to go crazy, try all the sauces on the shelves aptly shaped like a coffin. They are for serious spicy addicts only!
3. Visit a Whole Foods
Whole Foods, the nationwide chain, started in Austin, and the flagship store is located here in the city. 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. It’s a food heaven.
4. Watch the bats
From mid-March until November, the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is home to 1.5 million flying 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 pop that comes down as they fly off. You don’t want to get hit.
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, and anything else you can do in a park. Barton Springs (see above) is here as well. Don’t forget to visit the statue park, filled with over 200 of Charles Umlauf’s sculptures and artworks. They’re moved around every season so that visitors can experience the art differently!
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 Barbeque and Franklins. While it’s not uncommon to wait hours, 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.
8. See a movie at the Ritz
This was the first movie theater in Austin to be built for talking films (it opened in 1929!). Located on 6th Street, it’s a great place to catch a movie. There is an attached comedy club and music hall, too.
9. 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 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.
10. 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 ATXcursions that organize tours of multiple breweries. If you take a tour organized by a third party, expect to pay around $70 per person.
11. 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 rooms in the country and offers some really neat challenges. If you’ve never tried an escape room, this is the place! Admission is usually around $25-30 per person.
12. Go two-stepping
Country dancing can be found all over the city, with the White Horse being the most famous spot. If you go on Wednesday, they even give free two-step lessons! The Broken Spoke is another popular place to dance, too.
13. 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. Don’t miss this if you’re in town — it’s one of my favorite monthly events!
14. 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 hate coming here on the 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!).
15. Grab a cocktail
Beer and cheap drinks reign supreme in Austin; however, 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 Whistler’s.
16. Take a walking tour
A great way to orient yourself to the city is with a walking tour. You’ll learn some history, find out where the major sites are, and explore all those winding canals. 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.
16. Take a food tour
If you’re a foodie, 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 brunch tour to a happy hour tour. Prices start at about $85.
17. Tour the State Capitol
The Texas Capitol has free 30-minute tours from Monday to Friday. You’ll get a chance to walk the historic halls of the biggest capitol building in the country while admiring its ornate architecture, right down to the brass door hinges and elegant chandeliers. Your guide will give you an in-depth history lesson about the inner workings of the building before moving on to the 22-acre grounds, featuring 17 monuments, gardens, and beautifully landscaped lawns. The onsite Visitor’s Center also regularly has artistic exhibits that dig deeper into Texas history.
Austin Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, a bed in a four-six bed room will cost from about $45. For a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay around $30. During the off-season, a bed in a room with eight beds or more will cost from about $35 each night, while smaller rooms will cost about $30.
A basic double private room with a shared bathroom costs from $70 per night during peak season. Prices are about $65 in the off-season.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room near the city center start at about $110 in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from $90.
There are lots of Airbnb options in Austin. A shared room (like a bed in a dorm) averages about $35 per night, while a private room is about $64 per night. A full apartment averages about $190 per night.
Food – Austin is home to an incredible food scene — from BBQ joints to food trucks to healthy, organic outlets to (of course) Mexican restaurants. I wrote a whole guide to where to eat in Austin! You can find pizza slices for $4, or a burger combo for $6. You can find bowls of pho and other Vietnamese food for about $8, and kebabs, full breakfasts, and waffle sandwiches for less than $10.
You can eat a mid-range restaurant for $15-20 per the main course, including seafood, sandwiches, and vegetarian dishes. Dinner for two with drinks usually averages around $40-50.
Prices just go straight up from there, with prix-fixe menus at high-end restaurants costing upwards to $100! But you can find main courses at many high-end restaurants for about $40 each, including steaks and pasta dishes. Glasses of wine are about $9 (but can be much higher).
Backpacking Austin Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Austin, expect to spend about $58 per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, unlimited public transportation, cheap eats, cooking some of your meals, and about one attraction per day.
A mid-range budget of about $125 will cover staying in a private hostel room, eating out for all of your meals, a few attractions per day, public transportation or Ryde rides, and about one museum or attraction a day.
On a luxury budget of about $354 USD or more per day, you can get a four-star hotel, any meal you want, drinks, tours, unlimited public transit, and a few Uber rides.
If you come in the low season, you’ll pay about 25% less for accommodations. But overall, Austin is more affordable than other big American cities.
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’ll spend more, some days you’ll 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. As more people come here, prices for everything are going up. That said, there are still some great deals to be found here! 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 can get expensive. If you have access to a kitchen, be sure to cook some of your own meals. Buying groceries will be much cheaper than going out for every meal. HEB is the cheapest place for groceries in the city.
- Take the bus to the airport – While a taxi may be faster, taking public transportation to the airport will be 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.
- Drink on 6th street – If you’re going out for drinks, stick to 6th street. Here you’ll find the cheapest drinks in town and a few great places to drink like Maggie Mae’s, The Blind Pig, Shakespeare’s. The bars here have $1 drink and shot deals all the time. This place is packed with lots of young people and can get crazy on the weekends but, if you want cheap drinks, this place is it.
- Skip the cabs, rent a bike – Austin is a bit spread out, which means walking can be rather time-consuming. I’ve 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’ll 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. Guides are available seven days a week, though you can also take a self-guided tour (Get a tour with a guide, though — it’s much more interesting!).
- Take a free tour – A great way to orient yourself to the city is with a walking tour. You’ll learn some history, find out where the major sites are, and explore all those winding canals. I recommend Free Walking Tours Austin –but don’t forget to tip your guide!
- Like steak? Got to Vince Young’s – Between 5-7pm, Vince Young’s steakhouse has a great happy hour bar menu that includes a $10 steak frites. It’s the best steak deal in town!
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is pretty popular here, so you’ll want to find a couchsurfing host in advance. 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. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15).
Where To Stay in Austin
There are just a few hostels in Austin, but they’re all comfortable and highly rated. Here are my recommended places to stay in Austin:
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, while a day pass is $2.50. A full week pass is only $11.25.
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, and a day pass is $7. A week pass is $27.50.
Bicycle – The city also offers bike-sharing, known as Austin B-cycle. Bike stations are scattered all over the city–it costs $1 to unlock them, and then $0.23 per minute after that. You can also get day passes for $12.99, which covers unlimited 60-minute trips (but you’ll have to pay $4 per each 30-minute interval after that). You can download the app and pay for everything from there.
Scooter – Uber now 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 Lyft also offer similar services, with competitive prices. It’s about $1 to unlock and then $0.15 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 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, and then it’s $2.40 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 even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15).
When to Go to Austin
Austin is a great place to visit year-round! Weather-wise, from September to November and then March to May, have the nicest temperatures averaging between 70-80°F (21-27°C) daily. The summers can be unbearably hot in Austin for some, with temperatures soaring to the high 90s°F (high 30s°C) each day. The high humidity forces a lot of people inside, so if you’re not used to the heat, avoid June through August.
Winter (December to February) is also an excellent time to visit, as temperatures are mild and dry. Austin is never too crowded with tourists, except when major festivals are in town — like SXSW (March) and Austin City Limits (October). Book well in advance for these festivals, but prepare for inflated prices!
How to Stay Safe in Austin
Austin is a pretty safe city. There’s no where you’d go as a tourist that would be really bad. Violent attacks tend to be confined to certain areas (especially where drug and gang violence are a problem). Avoid the areas around Rundberg Lane in North Austin, especially alone after dark.
But petty crime, like theft, is the only real threat here (especially around touristy spots), and it’s pretty rare. Watch out around 6th street late at night.
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.
Also, if you’re not used to that glaring Texan sun, stay hydrated and cool whenever possible. Be sure to pack sunscreen too.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect 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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- 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.
- Priceline – I like this website because it allows you to bid on hotels and save a lot more money than by booking directly. When used in conjunction with the bidding site Better Bidding, you can substantially lower the cost of your hotels — by as much as 60%.
- 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’ll 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
- 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 classic 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 his character, 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
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 belong. 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 really 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’s 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: