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40+ Awesome Free Things to do in Austin

40+ Awesome Free Things to do in Austin

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Texas is such a vast state filled with diverse country, friendly people, and amazing food.  You will find that the Texas state capitol of Austin, Texas is no exception to this rule. 

Austin is overflowing with free live music, excellent food, and a great art scene.  One of the things I love about this city is that there are so many indoor and outdoor free things to do in Austin that you are sure not to break the budget.

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    Free Things to do in Austin

    Tour the Texas State Capitol Building

    capital building is one of the free things to do in Austin and has some interesting facts about Texas

    Everything is bigger in Texas, including our capital building.  Really! 

    The Texas State Capitol building is the largest state capitol building in the United States.  This is one of the many fun facts about Texas that we love, and one of the reasons we had to include a tour of the capital on our list of the best free things to do in Austin, TX.

    The Texas Capitol has free 30-minute tours Monday-Friday from 8:30 am- 4:30 pm.  Of course, if you prefer to tour the capital at your own pace, you can always choose to take a self-guided tour instead. We really enjoy doing the self-guided tour so we can take all of the pictures we want!

    See Some Art at the Blanton Museum of Art

    Located at the University of Texas at Austin, the Blanton Museum of Art is one of the largest university art museums in the United States.  The Blanton Museum of Art houses a permanent collection containing over 18,000 works of art.

    The best part?  The museum is free to visit on Thursdays.

    Get in the Spirit at the Austin, TX Trail of Lights

    walkway of lights Austin-free things to do in Austin
    Photo Courtesy of Facebook

    If you are visiting Texas during Christmas, then the Austin, TX Trail of Lights should be on your list.  This awesome light display features over a mile of lights for visitors to enjoy. 

    Kids will enjoy the photo ops with Santa and parents will love the free live music and food vendors.

    Enjoy Nature at Zilker Park

    Zilker Park is over 350-acres of outdoor pleasure.  Located just south of downtown Austin, TX, Zilker Park is a great little escape from the city.  You can relax in the grassy areas, enjoy the hike and bike trail, feed the ducks, or just people-watch in this metropolitan park.

    At the center of the park, you will find spring-fed Barton Springs Pool, one of the popular swimming holes for locals and tourists.  Zilker Park also offers great views of the Austin skyline.

    In addition, you can pick up the trail to the Barton Creek Greenbelt near the pool area. The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a gorgeous hike and bike trail in South Austin. Along the trail, you will find Campbell’s Hole, a popular swimming hole, Gus Fruh, another swimming hole, and Twin Falls.

    Zilker Park is also home to Zilker Botanical Garden. While the botanical garden is not free, it does offer some free days, just check their website.

    While there is a fee to get into the springs, you can enjoy the park with all of its amenities free of charge.

    Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum

    Directly across from Zilker Park, you will find Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. This outdoor museum is home to over 160 sculptures from artist Charles Umlauf, who was also a notable professor at The University of Texas at Austin. They offer free admission for children 12 and under and for active military and their families.

    Cool Off in Barton Springs

    greenbelt and river leading to Austin skyline

    Barton Springs is actually where four natural water springs come together forming Barton Creek in Zilker Park.  Like we said above, there is a fee to swim in the pool, but you can access Barton Creek from the park for free. 

    Just be ready for a cold plunge as the creek has a year-round average temperature of 68 degrees.

    I know there are signs posted not to swim there, but there are also signs posted to keep your dog on a leash and clearly, that doesn’t happen.  So, swim at your own risk.

    See the Mexican Free Tailed Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge

    bats migrating-free things to do in Austin

    From spring to fall, Austin becomes home to over 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats, and they all take shelter under the Congress Avenue Bridge.  This phenomenon has taken place since the 1980’s renovation of the Congress Avenue Bridge which crosses over Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, TX.

    Be sure to head down by the lake around sunset to witness the bats take flight for their nightly feeding.  This is an awesome event as the largest urban bat colony in the world takes flight.

    Plan ahead and arrive early though as the Congress Avenue Bridge bat emergence is a popular event and parking is sometimes hard to come by.

    Definitely one of the best free things in Austin!

    Visit the Hope Outdoor Gallery

    Hope Outdoor Gallery is an ever-changing public art project at an old abandoned construction site.  Lovers of street art and graffiti will feel right at home at Hope Outdoor Gallery. 

    The walls are packed with colorful images including graffiti and murals and are free to visit.

    Be sure to snap pictures while you are here because more than likely, the wall will change soon!

    Hike at Lady Bird Lake

    lake with bridge and Austin skyline

    Head to Lady Bird Lake on a gorgeous Texas day and you will find that you aren’t the only one with those plans.  Locals and visitors love being outdoors at Lady Bird Lake.  Lady Bird Lake is a great reservoir on the Colorado River. This section of the Colorado River was dammed up to create the reservoir to help with flood control. What resulted was a wonderful city recreational area.

    In addition to enjoying the hike and bike trail, you can easily watch the bats on their nightly flight from here as well.

    Visit the Peacocks at Mayfield Park

    Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve has to be on your list of things to do in downtown Austin.  This estate was presented to the city of Austin, TX in 1971 and has been a joy for visitors ever since. 

    Mayfield Park includes 2-acres of gardens, trees, and beautiful land. 

    In addition to this great natural area, there are also peacocks that call Mayfield Park home!

    Read Next: Epic Things to do in New Orleans

    Play Giant Chess in Woolridge Park

    Woolridge Park is one of Austin’s original city parks.  The park is home to numerous events throughout the year including concerts and celebrations.  A unique thing to do while visiting the park is to play giant chess. 

    Checkmate!

    Pose in Front of the Greetings from Austin Mural

    romatic getaways in Texas-Austin

    We love the Greeting tour project and you can see us posing in front of several “greetings from..” signs on our Instagram page.  The greetings from Austin mural can be found at 1720 S. 1st street and is one of Austin’s most popular murals.

    Tour Amy’s Ice Cream

    Foodies flock to Texas for our BBQ. And lucky for you, Austin, TX is a great spot for it. So after checking out some of the best bbq in Austin, follow it up with the perfect dessert, ICE CREAM!

    On a hot summer day in Texas, there is nothing better than delicious cold ice cream, well air conditioning might be better, but ice cream is great!  While you visit Austin, TX, take a tour of Amy’s Ice Cream to learn all about how they whip up this delicious treat. 

    Tours are available Monday-Friday and last about 20-30 minutes.

    Check Out a Local’s Farmers Market

    r

    Head out and find a local farmers market while visiting Austin, TX.  You will find that there are several markets to choose from and each offers a great selection of fresh fruits and vegetables to you to choose from. 

    You will also find locally made and sourced products at the farmer’s market as well.

    Tour the Governor’s Mansion

    Being, the Texas state capitol, it only makes sense that the Governor’s Mansion is here. The Governor’s Mansion has housed Texas governors and their families since 1856. 

    Although the home was severely damaged by an arsonist in 2008, the home was restored and brought back to its glory to continue housing the Governor and welcoming guests to tour it.

    Free tours of the mansion are available year-round Wednesday-Friday from 2:00-4:00 pm.  Tours last about 30 and reservations are required at least one week in advance.

    Visit the Austin Fire Museum

    Located in Austin’s Fire Station No. 1, the Austin Fire Museum is housed in a truly historic building in Austin, TX.  The station was built in the 1930s and today serves as home to Austin’s busiest fire station and the fire museum.  The museum is open to the public twice a year or you can contact the fire department to schedule an appointment to view the artifacts housed there.

    Stroll Through Austin’s Oldest Cemetery

    You know that we find cemetery’s fascinating.  I mean, we visited one in ParisIreland, and of course, New Orleans.  Austin’s oldest cemetery is Oakwood Cemetery, located just east of I-35.  Stroll through this beautiful cemetery to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and to experience some of Austin’s history.

    Learn About Texas at the Bullock Texas State History Museum

    History lovers will love a visit to the Bullock Texas State History Museum.  The Bullock Texas State History Museum explores more than 16,000 years of Texas state history.  From the early Americans that once called Texas home to the current day, you can learn all about the story of Texas Texas history here!

    Visit their website for visiting information and to learn about free admission.

    Check Out the View from Mount Bonnell

    Know as the highest point in Austin, Texas Mount Bonnell is a great place to hit the hiking trails. Hike up and see the sweeping views from the top of Mount Bonnell.  Once on the top, Mount Bonnell allows visitors to see Austin, Lake Austin, and the surrounding hill country. I could just sit and look at this view of Lake Austin all day!

    Definitely one of the best free things in Austin!

    Learn About African American History

    Head over to George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center to learn more about African American History, art, and culture.  This historic building has been serving the community since 1926 and offers free admission!

    Texas Military Forces Museum

    Head to the Texas Military Forces Museum to take in all of the awesome military equipment that is on display in this 45,000 square foot museum.  Here you will see uniforms, weapons, aircraft, tanks, and more!

    Catch Some Live Music at Callahan’s General Store

    man playing a guitar-live music is one of the free things to do in Austin

    Not only can you browse all of the unique farm items at Callahan’s General store, but you can also catch some free music here.

    Visit the 9/11 Memorial at the Texas State Cemetery

    You can visit the 9/11 memorial at the Texas State Cemetery to honor all of those who died during the September 11 attacks on the United States.  Included in the design of the memorial are two steel columns from Ground Zero.

    Learn to Dance at a Texas Honky Tonk

    Not only can you come and enjoy a true Texas honky-tonk, but you can also enjoy a free dance lesson at the Broken Spoke in Austin, Texas.  4 days a week (Wednesday-Saturday), guests can take two-step or swing lessons for free.

    Tour the Neil-Cochran House

    While there is normally a charge to visit the Neil-Cochran House, visitors can enjoy the home in the historic district for free on Sundays.  This historic 19th century home has seen quite a bit of history and is an interesting tour.

    Watch the Sunset at the Oasis on Lake Travis

    sunset over lake

    The Oasis on Lake Travis is the perfect place to watch the sunset.  Granted, you will have to pay for food or drink if you choose, but if not, just hang out on the grounds and enjoy the beautiful sunset.

    Take a Historic Walking Tour

    Austin’s Visitor’s Center offers free walking tours to help you to get to know more about Austin, Texas.  Visit their website to check the schedule and learn more.

    Explore the Cathedral of Junk

    Austinites are proud to ‘keep Austin weird’ every day and it probably doesn’t get any weirder to most people than a cathedral made of junk.  Located in the backyard of a suburban area, the cathedral of junk has been made entirely from other people’s unwanted stuff.  This is definitely a unique art and cultural experience.

    Take a Self-Guided Mural Tour

    Austin, Texas is full of awesome murals, including the “greetings from Austin” and the “I Love You So Much” mural.  Doing a self-guided mural tour is a great way to spend the afternoon and one of the fun things to do in Austin, Texas for free.

    I mean, a selfie in front of the “I Love You So Much” mural is a much! Check out the murals in East Austin for sure!

    Catch a Live Music Performance at Unplugged at the Grove

    You can catch some great live music performances with Austin City Limits Radio at the Grove.  For 23 consecutive weeks, they bring you live music that has no cover charge. 

    Dance the Night Away

    Head to Barbarella to dance the night away for free.  Voted the best place to dance in Austin, people come from all around to enjoy the dance party happening at Barbarella.

    Enjoy the Contemporary Art Museum

    While you visit Austin, Texas, be sure to add the Contemporary Art Museum, often referred to as ‘The Cotemporary’, to your list. The Contemporary Art Museum houses numerous works of art ready for you to enjoy.  Visitors can enjoy the Jones Center on Congress Avenue. The Jones Center on Congress Avenue is the museum’s gallery space, for free on Tuesdays, making it a great addition to your list of free Austin attractions.

    Be sure to visit the museum’s Laguna Gloria, a 14-acre campus on Lake Austin that offers an opportunity to view art while being in nature. Laguna Gloria is a unique thing to do in Austin for sure.

    Attend a Festival

    people with hands in the air outside at a festival-one of the free things to do in Austin

    Austin, Texas has festivals year-round, and heading to one is one of the great things to do in Austin.  Austin’s festivals range from the Austin Lobster Festival to the Austin City Limits Music Festival. 

    Austin is famous for its festivals, so be sure that you research well in advance as the city can get very crowded depending on the festival that is in town. In addition to that, not all festivals are free, so be sure to do your research before heading out.

    Take a Studio Tour

    Twice annually, visitors are invited to take a studio tour through either east or west Austin.  Hosted by the non-profit organization, Big Medium, these tours allow the public to meet the local artists of Austin, Texas in their creative spaces. 

    Zilker Hillside Theatre

    Located in Zilker Park in south Austin, across from Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Hillside Theatre has been putting on events, shows, and concerts for years.  Be sure to check out their schedule to see what is playing during your visit to Austin, Texas.

    Window Shop on South Congress

    South Congress is a popular area in Austin for trendy shops.  Don’t worry though, this can still be on your list of the best free things to do while in Austin. 

    You are just going to window shop on South Congress instead of actually shopping and spending money! I mean, there is no harm in looking and checking out all of the cool and unique shops that South Congress Ave has to offer. We love visiting South Congress Ave. and just hanging out.

    Check Out the Light Show at Liz Carpenter Fountain

    Located in Butler Park, this large interactive fountain is not only a great way to cool off while visiting Austin, Texas it also puts on a nightly show for you! 

    During the day you can jump and splash in the water to cool off, and then at night, you can watch the fountain’s colorful light show.

    Feed the Ducks

    feeding the ducks is one of the free things to do in Austin

    Head over to Lady Bird Lake and enjoy their great hiking and biking trails but before you go, don’t forget to grab some bread.  You see, the bread is for you to feed the ducks that you are going to find at Lou Neff Point. 

    Not only do you get to feed the ducks, but this area also has an amazing view.

    Harry Ransom Center

    Located in the University of Texas at Austin, The Harry Ransom Center is an archive and museum that houses a vast collection of literary artifacts. The Harry Ransom Center has a collection of print and digital artifacts include literary manuscripts, rare books (like the Gutenberg Bible, one of only 21 copies), photographs, and works of art. This is a fascinating place to visit if you love literature and literary works.

    Mexic Arte Museum

    The Mexic Arte Museum is a fine art museum in Austin that showcases traditional and contemporary Mexican and Latino art and culture. The Mexic Arte Museum was founded by three Austin artists who loved to share the culture of Mexico with their audience.

    Today, the Mexic Arte Museum hosts tours to educate people of all ages on the beauty and culture of Latin and Mexican culture and art. While there is an admission on most days, if you go on Sunday, you can get in for free!

    Go to a Star Party 

    If you are into astrology and the stars, then will love this suggestion.  The University of Texas hosts star parties where participants are allowed to come and view the stars! 

    Times vary depending on the season, so be sure and check their schedule before going.    

    Take an Educational Walk

    Visit the Austin Visitors Center and pick up one of the many brochures on the educational walks through Austin.  They have everything from art to history to choose from.  While you are there, why not inquire about the free walking tours that they sponsor as well.

    See Tropical Fish

    That’s right, you can see tropical fish for free when you visit Austin’s Aqua-Dome.  If you look really closely behind the hot rod garage and other businesses on Fortview Road, you will see a dome-shaped building that looks as if it has been painted with mud. 

    This is the Aqua-Dome.  Inside you will find rows and rows of tropical fish for your viewing pleasure.  

    Where to Stay in Austin, Texas

    While you’re here, why not check out our post on all of the best places to stay in Austin.  Each Austin, Texas neighborhood has its own vibe, so we have broken down the feel of each for you. 

    We have also included things to do and the best hotels in each area.

    Final Thoughts on Free Things in Austin

    Well, there you have it, our list of things to do for free in Austin.  Austin is truly a great Texas city to visit.  It is so full of life and has such a unique, vibrant culture that you are sure to find something that appeals to you. 

    Check Out Some of These Great Austin, Texas Tours

    Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

    Book Your Flight:

    We love using CheapOAir, Kayak, and Kiwi to search for the best prices on flights. We love using these search engines because they search the web for airlines all over the world to ensure you get the best deal! In addition to flights, you can also find great hotel prices on Kayak and Kiwi.

    Book Your Vacation Package:

    If you want to book an entire vacation package, then we suggest using Expedia. We love how easy Expedia is to use and we always find good deals on entire vacation packages on their site.

    Another great site for vacation packages is BookVIP. BookVIP offers super cheap vacation packages to incredible destinations. You are sure to save money using their site!

    For full guided vacations including hotels, some meals, transportation, and guides, then we book with Trafalgar. Trafalgar is a trusted tour company that will meet all of your needs while ensuring that you have a great experience.

    Trip.com allows you to book flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, airport transfers, tours, and more all on one site. Owned by the parent company that also owns Skyscanner, this is a trusted resource for travel booking and a great “one-stop-shop.”

    Book Your Accommodations:

    We always begin our search by checking out the honest review on hotels at TripAdvisor. This allows us to narrow our search for specific properties once we are ready to book. Of course, you can also book directly on the TripAdvisor site as well!

    There are several accommodation sites that we like to use. One of our favorites is Booking.com because it gives you a wide variety of hotels and guesthouses at a good price.

    Another “go-to” hotel booking site for us is Hotels.com. We love their loyalty program that allows you to earn free nights, and their “secret prices” for members are fabulous deals!

    HotelsCombined is another cool site. They allow you to compare all of the top travel sites with one search to ensure you are finding the best deal out there. Kayak works in this way as well.

    If you are looking for a luxurious all-inclusive vacation, then consider checking out the Sandals/Beaches properties. Sandals properties are for couples only and Beaches are for families. We have visited Sandals in the past and absolutely love the attention to detail and the service they provide.

    Tour Companies We Trust:

    We love taking guided tours when visiting new places. Our go-to tour companies are Viator.com and Get Your Guide. Both of these companies have been in business for years and provide excellent customer service. You can trust booking tours from their sites for sure!

    For a guided city tour, check out City Sightseeing and BigBus Tours. These bus tours are so much fun and easy to hop on and hop off at top attractions in cities around the world.

    CityPass is a great way to save money when visiting large cities. CityPass allows you to get free admission to major attractions once you buy their pass. The savings add up quickly with this pass, often saving 50% with combined admissions.

    Another great pass to save money in larger cities is the Sightseeing Pass. This pass allows you to save valuable time and money by combining admissions to major attractions. They also have a handy app that keeps everything you need at your fingertips.

    Looking to Save Time and Money?

    Check out our resource page for all of our favorite vendors. These companies help us to save time and money on our travels!

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    Michelle Snell founder of That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel

    About The Author

    Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blogs, That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel.  Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region.  She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.

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    MagicandBliss

    Sunday 6th of December 2020

    Great list of things to do. Never been to Austin but looks like a fun place. Thanks for sharing!

    Michelle

    Saturday 5th of December 2020

    Great list! I would go just to see the Trail of Lights alone. It reminds me of the Nabana no Sato tunnel of lights in Japan, but closer to home!

    Lina

    Saturday 5th of December 2020

    I have a friend who lives in Austin whom I want to visit soon! This post will be super handy when I finally make it there :)

    Lisa

    Saturday 5th of December 2020

    This is such a fun list of free things to do in Austin - but the one that caught my eye is the learning the honky tonky dance! that is so fun, i'd love to do that!

    thattexascouple

    Saturday 5th of December 2020

    Oh yes! Country dancing in Texas is so popular and fun!

    Megan

    Saturday 5th of December 2020

    Oh wow, what a giant, great list! I haven't been to Austin, but it sounds like a lot of fun and should be added to my list!

    thattexascouple

    Saturday 5th of December 2020

    Thank you so much for checking it out!