The Top 20 Tourist Attractions And Fun Things To Do In Austin, Texas

The locals will tell you to ‘Keep Austin Weird’ as that’s just the way they like it. The city embraces its quirky side but also its history as the State Capitol so there is plenty to see and do when you visit.

The Top 20 Tourist Attractions In Austin, Texas

There is captivating art to enjoy, stunning natural landscapes to see, and some typically Texan experiences.

If you want to see a different side to the Lone Star State yet still enjoy some barbecue, take in some of the top tourist attractions in Austin.

Whether you like culture, long walks in nature, or simply want to try some award-winning barbecue, there is something for everyone in Austin, Texas. In this guide, we will detail 20 of the top tourist attractions to experience in the city. 

Austin History

To take a few steps back in time, there are some notable attractions to visit. Top of the list should be the Texas State Capitol Building, closely followed by Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Next up should be Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum for a great insight into what life was like for the former President.

Austin Culture

To keep Austin weird, there are several cultural sites to sample. These include Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum and Blanton Museum of Art. The latter is great for Latin American Art yet so is the Mexic-Arte Museum. 

Austin’s Nature Sites

Aside from all the history and the culture that the city of Austin has to offer, you can enjoy some nature too. That should mean a trip to Mount Bonnell, McKinney Falls State Park, and Zilker Metropolitan Park.

Barton Springs Pool and Lady Bird Lake are also ideal spots if you fancy a dip in the water as well as some well-deserved shade. Then again, you can always watch the sunset with The Bats From Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.

Austin Shopping

The hipster boutiques and eateries on South Congress Avenue are worth a full day on their own. Specifically, you should head to Allens Boots to grab a souvenir to take home. 

  • Texas State Capitol Building
  • Bullock Texas State History Museum
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum
  • The Museum of the Weird
  • Mount Bonnell
  • McKinney Falls State Park
  • Zilker Metropolitan Park
  • Barton Springs Pool
  • Lady Bird Lake
  • Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum
  • Blanton Museum of Art
  • The Bats From Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
  • South Congress Avenue
  • Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • Franklin Barbecue
  • Allens Boots
  • Sixth Street
  • Mexic-Arte Museum
  • Austin Aquarium

1. Texas State Capitol Building

Address: 1100 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701

Top of your must-see list in Austin should be the Texas State Capitol Building which is one of the city’s most renowned buildings. It’s also one of the most important as it houses the Texan state government and has tours which are open to the public.

The location is also ideal as you can head to it from downtown or simply walk around the building to gawp at the stunning architecture, specifically the locally sourced limestone.

The State Capitol Building was built in 1885 and is one of the tallest of its kind in the United States. That’s mainly down to the huge dome that sits on the top though there are several levels underground too.

As long as the chambers are not in session, you can take a peek inside and there are numerous pieces of artwork including portraits from famous local political figures too. 

2. Bullock Texas State History Museum

Address: 1800 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701

Texas is rich in history and one of the best places to learn about it is at Bullock Texas State History Museum. That includes the 16,000 years of history that the Lone Star State can boast going all the way back to European settlement.

There are various exhibitions and themes to enjoy across three storeys with galleries displaying artifacts and photos with multi-media displays to help those who want to learn.

The museum even has an IMAX movie theater if you fancy seeing something on the big BIG screen. However, with over 500 artifacts, there is plenty to see that will each tell you a little something about the history of Texas.

That’s all thanks to Bob Bullock who was keen to ensure that visitors could learn about Texas, fully and comprehensively. 

3. Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library And Museum

Address: 2313 Red River Street, Austin, TX 78705

Granted, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum is situated on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

However, it stands out alone as being a great place to experience insight into the life of a former president, including their archives.

There are ten storeys in total with plenty of features to sample and scale replica rooms just as they were during Johnson’s presidency.

That includes the office of the First Lady, the Oval Office, even a robot version of the former president himself. 

Exhibitions are held throughout the year so there is always something interesting to enjoy.

That may be a range of photos, historical documents, maybe some artwork and you could learn about the bills that were passed during his presidency. There is so much to see and do that you may want to set aside a full day to take it all in.

4. The Museum Of The Weird

Address: 412 East 6th Street, Austin, TX 78701

For a city with the unofficial motto of ‘Keep Austin Weird’, the Museum of the Weird seems about right. Ideally located on Sixth Street, you can pop into the museum to escape the busy downtown and take your time sampling their curiosities.

That may be a two-headed creature, a wax statue of Frankenstein, or something like that picked from a strange location somewhere on the other side of the planet.

Pick your day to visit though as it is less busy and crowded during the week, and take your time over their self-guided tour. There are several things to see and different paths to take yourself down.

Though it may not take up all afternoon like a trip to one of the many parks in Austin, you can still spend a good couple of hours. That’s just seeing the curiosities that populate the halls, not to mention the professional ‘human oddities’.

5. Mount Bonnell

Address: 3800 Bonnell Drive, Austin, TX 78731

There are plenty of places to catch a spectacular view in Austin, one of those is Mount Bonnell.

If you thought you had seen the Austin skyline in all its glory then try to see it from an elevation of close to 800 feet. This makes it the ideal spot to snap a photo for the ‘Gram or enjoy a stunning sunset just on its own. 

If you need to stretch your legs during the daytime then take the relatively easy hike to the summit and take in that jaw-dropping sight.

Along with the observation points there is a particularly rewarding view of Lake Austin so you should see plenty of people with their cameras out.

6. McKinney Falls State Park

Address: 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway, Austin, TX 78744

For anyone that enjoys the outdoors, a trip to McKinney Falls State Park should be high up on their list when they visit Austin.

This is another attraction that could take up an entire day, even more when you consider the 700 acres and campsites suitable for tents and RVs.

You can thank Thomas F. McKinney for the state park as the land was donated by the gentleman and transformed into this glorious attraction.

You can see remnants of that time by visiting the ruins of his former stone home which is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you are pressed for time, make sure that you take in the splendor of the Upper and Lower McKinney Falls. You could be tempted to go for a swim and many visitors take a leap from rocks that surround the waterfalls.

If you would prefer to remain dry then take a hike, do some fishing, or ride around on a mountain bike. There is a range of trails to enjoy that vary in length of difficulty where you can spot the park’s diverse plant life. 

7. Zilker Metropolitan Park

Address: 2220 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78746

Another popular park in Austin is Zilker Metropolitan Park. As you may be able to tell from the name, this is a little closer to downtown and its 350 acres can claim to be in central Austin.

That’s ideal if you want to spend a few hours on Sixth Street or do a bit of shopping as you can chill in the park and enjoy the Austin skyline from a distance. This is the ideal destination for recreation as there is so much to do while you are surrounded by nature. 

Along with McKinney Falls State Park, this is another place to enjoy a hike or a mountain bike ride. Not only that but sports too as well as the Zilker Botanical Garden, and you could even catch a show at Zilker Hillside Theatre.

Just like Barton Springs Pool (more about that below), you can also enjoy the water if you need a refreshing dip to escape the heat.

During the year, the park also hosts music festivals so you can see the trees while taking in some great music in the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’.

8. Barton Springs Pool

Address: 2201 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78746

When the weather is good, there are few better places in the city of Austin to enjoy the good times than Barton Springs Pool.

That may even be all-year-round as swimming should be in ideal conditions no matter what time of year so you can enjoy a dip with friends and family.

The water in the pool comes partly from Barton Spring which is one of the largest natural springs in the state while the water is still regulated to enjoy in the pool.

That should mean a consistent and pleasurable temperature, cool in summer and warm enough in winter. 

That rectangular pool has a length of 1,000 feet so you should have plenty of room, also considering the potential 18-foot depths.

It’s still safe as there will be lifeguards present and even if you stay away from the pool, you can enjoy some shade under the trees. Perhaps take a picnic to enjoy after a long swim.

9. Lady Bird Lake

Address: Austin, TX 78704

Austin is a great city to enjoy some outdoor recreation and Lady Bird Lake is one of the places to take it in. Sure, there are trails that go around the lake but you are best getting in or on the water.

That may mean a boat rental or you could enjoy some canoeing or kayaking but watch out for the local university’s row teams that use the lake for practice. At any time of the day, or night, you can enjoy a scenic view of downtown Austin. 

If, for whatever reason, you want to avoid the water then try the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-And-Bike Trail which is a full 20km long.

No matter the weather, you are sure to see people and their dogs walking or running while you can also enjoy riding a bike if you have less time.

The lake itself was initially used for flood control as a reservoir from the Colorado River and is named after a former First Lady. Rightly so as Claudia Alta ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson, would regularly make donations to beautify the lake.

10. Umlauf Sculpture Garden And Museum

Address: 605 Azie Morton Road, Austin, TX 78704

Thankfully, Umlauf is not a complicated acronym but the Sculpture Garden and Museum that bears the name of Charles Umlauf.

His sculpture work transcended genres including expressionism, neoclassical realism, and abstraction and they are well worth visiting.

If you are already keen on seeing Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Metropolitan Park then this attraction is only a short walk away.  

As well as the works of Charles Umlauf himself, there are creations from plenty of other performing and visual artists.

Put simply, if you enjoy art and culture then there are few better places to visit in Austin. For an educational experience that takes in nature and art, you simply have to take in Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

11. Blanton Museum Of Art

Address: 200 East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, Austin, TX 78712

For even more culture, take a trip to Blanton Museum of Art which is another part of the University of Texas at Austin campus.

This is not just for the students as visitors can also enjoy the huge art collection that features pieces from America and far beyond.

You may not have time to sample each of their 18,000 artworks on display yet there are exhibitions dedicated to various aspects of art from several locations.

That could be Western American Art, European Art from the Old Masters, or simply Modern and Contemporary Art.

They may be presented as antiques, statues, drawings, or paintings but you may want to consider visiting for their annual performance series.

Having said that, the BMA does have an impressive collection of Latin American art, the most extensive collection in the United States. 

12. The Bats From Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Address: Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704

The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is spectacular pretty much all day. The arch bridge connects downtown to south Austin and extends over Lady Bird Lake so you should be able to see it from a distance.

As such, the design of the bridge makes it an ideal place for bats to nest and houses one of the biggest urban bat colonies anywhere in the world.

However, as the sun sets you can see another type of a show as there are over a million bats that live underneath the bridge who, naturally, come out at night. 

This is another aspect of why the locals want to ‘Keep Austin Weird’ as the sight is something to behold.

The best time of year to visit is summer and there should be a crowd of locals and visitors every night. You could take a vantage point on the bridge to see the bats come up from underneath or get closer with a boat cruise.

There is even a Bat Fest in mid-August which features food, live music, and a bat costume contest.

13. South Congress Avenue

Address: South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX

For the real taste of Austin, head straight to South Congress Avenue. The avenue is so well-renowned, it is even shortened simply to SoCo and is a veritable hub of activity 24/7, all-year-round.

That might be for nightlife, fine dining, entertainment, and even shopping for both the locals and visitors.

To see the trendiest, most vibrant neighborhood in Austin, you only need to head to a few blocks on South Congress Avenue and then take a stroll. 

It is pretty easy to find too as you simply head south of Lady Bird Lake and find where all the cool-looking people are hanging out.

If you want to see the modern version of Texas then head to downtown yet SoCo gives a homespun idea of what Austin traditionally looks like. That can be seen in their shopping boutiques, the hip eateries, music venues, and galleries. 

Aside from the shops and the restaurants, you can take your photo in front of some of Austin’s most famous murals including ‘Love From Austin’, ‘Smile! Even If You Don’t Want To’, and ‘I Will Love With An Open Heart’.

There are plenty of others to find between Nellie and Annie Street, as well as iconic merchants. If you enjoy some thrift shopping, then head straight to Prototype Vintage.

If it’s clothes you are after then try Triple Z Threadz, if it’s a cup of Joe then Jo’s Coffee is the place to visit, and then there is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, and Big Top.

14. Mayfield Park And Nature Preserve

Address: 3505 West 35th Street, Austin, TX 78703

You could spend days leisurely walking around the green parts of Austin.

Add Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve to your list of destinations as the grounds are simply so tranquil. All while taking a stroll and taking in some gorgeous flora that you may not see anywhere else.

You will likely also see a peacock roaming around and you may be treated to their own version of a show. 

If you are heading to Mount Bonnell then this is another stop to add to the itinerary with around 23 acres to enjoy.

The park was established on what was once part of the Mayfield-Gutsch Estate and you can see a relic from that time in the historic cottage. That was built way back in the 1870s and is rightly included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, the grounds have been developed to include ponds, botanical gardens, wooded areas, and streams in a public park that is open to everyone.

15. The University Of Texas At Austin

Address: Austin, TX 78712

While the thought of visiting a university sounds a little academic, you should want to take a guided tour of The University of Texas at Austin.

This is a beautiful major public university and a historical one too having been founded all the way back in 1883. No matter what season or time of year you visit, you can expect the university to be a hub of activity as it houses over 50,000 students.

You can take a guided tour though you are free to walk around the campus on your own. It is pretty big, even by Texan standards, so there are loads of statues and landmark buildings to take in.

Then there are the sports stadiums and iconic clock tower to enjoy. You could even attend a football game at one of those sports stadiums, namely the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium though you could catch a basketball game too.

16. Franklin Barbecue

Address: 900 East 11th Street, Austin, TX 78702

You cannot truly say that you have visited Austin, nay Texas, without sampling some barbecue. There are several places to try some short ribs or pulled pork but you are better off simply heading to Franklin Barbecue.

Texas Monthly claims that Franklin Barbecue serves the best barbecue ‘in the known universe’ and who are we to argue. Their delicious meat can mean a three-hour long queue which runs outside of the doors which is testament to how in-demand it is.

Even their head chef is a local celebrity, and a well loved one at that. Aaron Franklin is behind some of the best-tasting beef ribs, sausages, and more in the entire Lone Star State.

So much so that he has filled a book (Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto [A Cookbook]) with how much he knows about barbecue, which is a lot. 

Instead of simply buying a copy and a few bottles of barbecue sauce, some spice rubs, and a pit to recreate it at home, you can be savvy with Franklin Barbecue.

You will not need to queue for hours, not if you order first from their website. Orders are available a full 42 days in advance and range from a minimum order of 5lb up to a full 25lbs.

If you do want to sit down, be prepared to wait but it is well worth it for the best-tasting brisket, ribs, pulled pork, even Jalapeno cheddar sausage. 

17. Allens Boots

Address: 1522 South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704

Looking for something to take home from your trip to the State Capitol of Texas?

Look no further than Allens Boots which is ideally placed on South Congress Avenue, a tourist attraction in its own right.

This is a family-owned business and more with a knowledgeable staff that will find the right boots for you, even the pair to complement the clothes you are wearing at the time you walk through the door.

This is the place to enjoy the best Texan hospitality and you can hardly miss the huge red boot sign.

There is little wonder that TripAdvisor listed Allens Boots as a ‘Top Shopping Attraction’ as you can literally sample thousands of pairs of boots. As soon as you walk into the door, you should be pleasantly surprised at the luscious smell of leather.

Then take a look at the ‘Wall of Fame’ to see if you can spot your favorite rock star, movie star, or athlete in their own pair of boots.

Of course, you would be a fool to leave without taking home the perfect souvenir in the form of a pair of Allens Boots. 

18. Sixth Street

Address: E 6th Street, Austin, TX

Thanks to its iconic Sixth Street, Austin has been named the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’. Rightly so, this is where Austin springs to life as you will find over 100 bars and music venues.

As the weekend nears into sight, the whole street can be mistaken for a block party where everyone from Austin and beyond is invited.

Granted, the street has been nicknamed the ‘Dirty 6th’ yet there is a great party atmosphere and so many bars and blocks to sample. 

At the weekend, you can expect the pedestrians to own the streets and create their own bouncing atmosphere under the neon lights.

Whatever your taste, you should be able to find a bar that’s just right for you and your group.

That should mean live music, dancing, cheap drinks, and plenty of fun while remaining safe. For the best time of year, head to Sixth Street during South by Southwest Festival in March and you should be able to see the cream of new musical talent.  

19. Mexic-Arte Museum

Address: 419 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701

While Blanton Museum of Art has an impressive collection of Latin American art, the Mexic-Arte Museum focuses on Latin American art and Mexican art.

Though San Antonio is a bigger draw for border relations, Austin is still home to a relatively large Mexican community. To sample their Latin culture, the museum showcases the work of native Latin artists and local ones too.

There are permanent and temporary exhibitions to house works from famous Mexican artists and those that are starting to make their mark.

That could be in sculptures, paintings, and other artworks or examples of Mexican Fine Art.

To learn more about Mexican heritage, there are few better places to see it come to life. You could even learn crafts with the rest of the family.

20. Austin Aquarium

Address: 13530 US-183 #101, Austin, TX 78750

Yes, a lot of cities do have their own aquarium yet Austin Aquarium features more than merely marine life. You can expect to see animals from tropical regions, the desert, and, of course, the ocean.

If you have kids, this is a great place to spend an afternoon and marvel at the giant squid, a ring-tailed or red-ruff lemurs, sloths, stingrays, and sharks. 

Not only can you enjoy the viewing experience but you can buy tickets for some rare experiences.

That may be feeding a shark, holding a snake or entering into the bunny cage. All of it is safe and especially kid-friendly and you can even get close to the animals and marine life. 

Final Thoughts

If you are planning a trip to Austin, Texas then you may want to make an itinerary just to make sure you visit all the sites that you want to.

Some are only open on certain days yet, unless there is a festival or an event, you should be able to visit the parks.

You would be advised to make some time simply to enjoy some good weather, ideally to take a picnic to somewhere like Zilker Metropolitan Park, Mount Bonnell, or McKinney Falls State Park.

Also, you would be advised to make some room in your luggage for a pair of boots from Allens Boots.

Plan ahead, as you may have to wait for hours in a queue for some delicious barbecue meat at Franklin Barbecue. Instead, you can simply put in an order and pick it up when you arrive at the designated time.

If you have kids, ensure that you visit the sites where they may learn something to take away with them. That might be about the natural world from the Austin Aquarium or some culture. 

You can be spoiled for choice when it comes to art as you can visit Mexic-Arte Museum, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, and Blanton Museum of Art. Each site deserves a few hours on their own merits.

Aside from the shopping sites and the natural sites, you can learn some real history and culture when you visit Austin.

That could be from putting yourself in the shoes of a former president at Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum.

It could be from learning about legislation at The State Capitol Building or Texan history at Bullock Texas State History Museum. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When Is The Best Time To Visit Austin, Texas?

There are great times to visit a lot of American cities, take Christmas in New York City for one great example. March is likely the best time to visit Austin as the spring weather is pleasant but should not be overbearingly hot.

You can still spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying a hike in places like Mount Bonnell or McKinney Falls State Park. Walking around Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Metropolitan Park should be fun at that time of year too.

One of the highlights for Austin, as a city, is South by Southwest Festival which is also held in March.

The music festival is renowned for being the stage for many up and coming musical acts including bands that are looking to get signed or overseas artists looking to make a mark.

The city opens its doors and pretty much every bar on Sixth Street becomes a music venue. Granted, Sixth Street is party central most of the time anyway but it is seriously impressive during South by Southwest Festival. 

What Family-Friendly Activities And Attractions Are There For Families In Austin?

If you have kids then there are plenty of activities and attractions that are designed for families. From Austin Aquarium to getting close to nature in the sunshine at McKinney Falls State Park, Mount Bonnell, and Lady Bird Lake.

You could also pay a visit to Austin Nature & Science Center, especially if you choose to go to Zilker Metropolitan Park. There is also Austin Zoo, Thinkery for science adventures, and the Museum of Ice Cream at The Domain. 

There is the largest bookstore in Texas in the form of BookPeople, Peter Pan Mini Golf, and Mount Playmore. Finally, Mayfield Park and Preserve for a picnic amidst the gardens or ZACH Theatre if you have kids who are interested in being creative.

Alex Kallen
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