With great food and nightlife, a developing art scene, world-class sports facilities and well-known music events such as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, Austin is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in the United States.
Plus, you don’t need a huge budget to get the most out of this great Texas city in the heart of a small town. Austin’s large student body helps to focus on inexpensive enjoyment, and there is a lot to do for free – from high culture to light outdoor adventures.
Whether you’re drawn to Austin’s culture, food, or music scene, here are the best free enjoyment in the Texas capital.
1. Take a tour of the Texas State Capitol
Built of local pink Granite in 1888, the magnificent Texas State Capitol Building adds seriousness to the saying “There are more and more in Texas”. In the region, it is the largest Capitol in the country, and the 16-foot-tall Statue of the Goddess of Freedom that crowns its dome makes the Texas Capitol 23 feet taller than the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Free guided tours of this Texas Institution are held every day of the week, and in the office on the ground floor you can borrow brochures with a self-guided tour of the building and the Capitol. Be sure to look up to admire the interior decoration of the dome with its impressive gallery of whispers.
2. look at the swarms of bats on the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Up to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats have settled under the Congress Avenue Bridge in North America’s largest urban bat colony. In Austin, it is a tradition to sit at dusk on the grassy shores of Lady Bird Lake and watch the bats fly away under a bridge. The best time to watch is August, when the warm evenings after the heat wave take a break in the afternoon.
Planning tip: The international bat protection organization has volunteers in Austin and organizes special bat-watching programs during the high bat season from April to November.
3. Discover literary classics at the Harry Ransom Center
There are many interesting places to explore on the University of Texas Campus, but the Harry Ransom Center is definitely worth a visit for bibliophiles and history buffs. The library houses one of the five complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the country, as well as three copies of Shakespeare’s first folio.
Other attractions include the personal libraries of authors Evelyn Vault and Ezra Pound, one of Jack Kerouac’s original travel diaries and one of the first 23 preserved issues of Alice in Wonderland. Admission is free, including to the excellent seasonal exhibitions of the center.
Planning tip: While you are studying at the University of Texas, you should invest in a guided tour (on weekends only) of the famous ut Tower, which is 307 feet high in the middle of campus and has a clock over 12 feet in diameter.
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4. Make a pilgrimage to the moonlit towers
At the beginning of the 20th century, moonlight towers were installed in cities around the world – huge lighthouses mounted on steel frames – to provide light to several neighborhoods at once. Austin is currently the last city in the world to house these unusual lighting elements, with 17 of the original 31 towers still standing.
For movie buffs, the towers are a great place to make a pilgrimage to Matthew McConaughey. He made his acting debut in 1993 in Richard Linklater’s film “stunned and confused”, McConaughey announced a “party in the Moon Tower” on his eventful last night of high school.
5. Enjoy an outdoor city vacation in the Barton Creek Green Area.
Austin is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts with many public green spaces. Located a short drive from downtown, Greenbelt Barton Creek is a popular vacation destination for locals. Named after William Barton, who settled in the area shortly after Texas became a republic in 1836, the Barton Creek Green Belt extends more than seven miles from Zilker Park. With a variety of access points, the forests and limestone streams are perfect for walking, cycling and swimming, depending on the water level.
Planning Tip: Numerous hiking trails and swimming sites line The Barton Creek green Space and offer a popular vacation destination outside the city on hot summer days. Visit Austin has a helpful blog post that outlines the most important places you can visit.
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6. Discover the collection at the Blanton Art Museum
The Blanton Art Museum at the University of Texas has one of the best collections of university art in the United States. The permanent collection includes more than 19,000 works in a variety of styles, and every Thursday the museum opens its doors for free. Visit the collection, which includes interesting works of art from Latin America and the American West, as well as works from Europe.
6. Connect to the Austin music scene within the Austin city limits.
Self-proclaimed “Live music capital of the world,” Austin is full of music venues, ranging from open arenas like the Circuit of the Americas to darling little dive bars. Austin’s reputation for live music was based on an Austin City Limits live music television program, originally broadcast by the University of Texas. In 2011, the show moved downtown to the Moody Theatre, a 2,700-seat venue with an iconic Willy Nelson Statue in front of The entrance.
The venue has welcomed everyone from Belle and Sebastian to ZZ Top, and music lovers can get free admission to live music recordings by registering on the theater’s website. The winning cards are distributed a few days before check-in and there are no bad places in the lobby. The show also resulted in a huge Austin City Limits Festival in October, but unfortunately tickets are not free.
Planning tip: For more information on upcoming Austin concerts, check out the Austin Chronicle events pages and visit Austin. Summer brings many free concerts in closed and open spaces throughout the city.
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Learn more about Black Inventors at the George Washington Carver Museum
On June 19, 1865, the slaves of Texas were finally freed after a proclamation of liberation, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the executive order. This day is now celebrated as June 19, and the exhibits of the small free George Washington Carver Museum tell its story.
The museum also houses personal items belonging to the Black botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, and its children’s gallery features children with great black inventors. Other exhibits tell stories of famous black families in Austin, while two changing art galleries host exhibits on black talent, from photographer Jamel Shabazza to legendary musician George Clinton.
8. climb Mount Bonnell to admire The horizon
One of the best viewpoints in Austin is also one of the oldest tourist attractions, offering panoramic views from the installation of the stairs at the top in the 1830s. Mount Bonnell, perched 775 feet above the Colorado River, is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic with views of the rooftops to the east and the arches of the Pennybecker Bridge to the west.
Planning tip: The hike to Bonnell Mountain includes 102 steps, but it’s a slight climb, and many visitors come here early to watch the sunrise from the top. Free parking is available at the trailhead. For more tips, check out the Visit Austin website.
9.take a walk around Lady Bird Lake.
The Anne and Roy Butler Hiking and biking Trail, one of the city’s top outdoor attractions, forms a 10-mile loop along the Colorado River in the heart of the city. Take a shorter loop along the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge to take great photos of the Austin skyline, or join the summer crowd on the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the bats come at dusk. The trail is one of the oldest and longest urban trails in the state, with a board that bridges the gap between Interstate 35 to the east and the Mopac Expressway to the west.
Planning tip: Before you head to the Anne and Roy Butler bike and pedestrian path, download a free map from the Austin Government website. To get around the route by bike, organize inexpensive trips with the Metrobike bike sharing system.
10. relax with a book in the roof garden of the central library
Austin is head over heels in love with our new central library, a wonderful civic structure on the shores of Lake Flato, which is much more than just a library. This is a public place for all of Austin, located in a great location on Cesar Chavez Street, near Austin City Hall and opposite Lady Bird Lake.
The library itself is incredible. While libraries have to rename themselves high-tech learning centers, the Central library in Austin is doing a tremendous job. Of course I knew I was going to the library, but it didn’t look like a library. It was more than just a library. The six-story building has an open design, which is not much different from the central indypl branch, and, of course, there are shelves with books here, but most libraries do not have digital janitors who can greet you at the entrance. The library is full of this kind of technology and includes several stations where visitors can use laptops and tablets for two hours, including Chromebooks, iPads and MacBook Airs.