Ten Free Things to do in Austin, Texas!

By Elizabeth Garner and Nicholas Johansen

Everyone says Austin is a great place to live or visit, but what makes it so great? What is there to actually do in Austin? Whether you are the outdoorsy type or more interested in wandering through a museum, or maybe you like the music scene and dancing, Austin has something for everyone. Here is our list of the top 10 things to do while you're in Austin as a visitor or as an Austinite who just wants to be a tourist for a day.

If the outdoors feeds your soul check, out Barton Creek Greenbelt, this beautiful lush greenbelt runs 7.9 miles through Austin with endless sights to see. Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls are a must-see while you hike or bike the many trails that make up the greenbelt. Like to rock climb? Check out the Famous limestone rock called Urban Assault! Maybe it's getting hot out, and you feel like swimming. If that's the case, head over to Barton Springs Pool or Campbell's Hole for a dip in the fresh spring water. 

While this next one is technically part of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, it's substantial enough for me to consider it separately in this case. Zilker Park has so many wonderful things to offer, from the Nature and Science Center, which has excellent opportunities for kids to learn about the local habitat, to the Botanical Gardens, which offers many varieties of beautiful flowers to walk through and enjoy. Test your Disc Golf skills with your friends or chill out in the grass and enjoy a live musical at the Hillside Theater. 

If the glorious outdoors doesn't speak to you, maybe the local museums will. The Bob Bullock Museum boasts three floors dedicated to Texas History, from Texas' earliest first inhabitants to Mexican Independence in 1821, to the work of NASA in Houston. With so many amazing artifacts to read about and view, it's great that you can go at your own pace. Plus, it's FREE to visit on the first Sunday of every month! This museum also includes an epic IMAX theater, where they play some mainstream movies in addition to exciting documentaries. The screen is six stories high and 84 feet wide -- the largest screen in Texas!! Talk about everything being bigger in Texas! 

While exploring Austin, the Harry Ransom Center is a must-see if you want to explore museums. When I visited the Harry Ransom Center in 2016, I was speechless at the sight of the Gutenberg Bible peacefully sitting on display. The Gutenberg Bible is over 500 years old and is one of twenty intact surviving copies from the mid-1450s. The Center also houses the Niépce Heliograph -- the earliest surviving photograph produced in the camera obscura, from 1827. Unlike the digital photos we take today, the Niépce Heliograph is unique as it was made via a chemical reaction of Oil of Lavender on a pewter plate that was left for several days exposed to sunlight (okay, there is more to the process, but I'll leave that to you to investigate while you're there). The plate showed Niépce's courtyard, outbuildings, and trees from his second-floor window. It's incredible to think how far we have come in photography. 

The Blanton Museum of Art at UT Austin is a work of art in itself that matches Austin's vibe. This museum holds various European, contemporary and Latin art. Some of the major painters included in the museum are Sebastiano del Piombo, Jacopo Bassano, and Paolo Veronese. Blanton Museum of Art is one of the largest university art museums in the U.S., with 189,340 square feet devoted to temporary exhibitions, permanent collection galleries, an auditorium, shop, cafe, and MORE. Plus, this museum is FREE on Thursdays! 

After all this outdoor excitement and museum exploration, perhaps you're feeling a bit hungry? Maybe you wanna see what the locals have to offer? If this is the case, you should hit up one of the MANY Farmers Markets scattered throughout the town. The Texas Farmers Market at Mueller, Lone Star Farmers Market, SFC Farmers Market at Sunset Valley, SFC Farmers Market Downtown, & Barton Creek Farmers Market. With so many different markets to choose from, you are bound to find some tasty fresh fruits, veggies, local honey, snacks, and other handmade or homegrown goods; it also means you can give back to the community and support the many small businesses we have here. 

Alright, now we have seen some great sites through the greenbelt, visited some pretty amazing museums with some really cool antiquities and displays. We walked through some farmer's markets for some snacks and goodies. Now let's check out some of Austin's music scenes. We all know and love Austin for its music, and one place in particular really does a fantastic job in preserving and promoting music is Waterloo Records. They have been a long-time hot-spot for music lovers, hosting both local and touring artists for live performances and record release parties on a weekly basis. Stop by around 5 pm to peruse the record selection and catch a live show! Be sure to snag a cup of FREE beer for those over 21 while you jam out to some great music. 

The night is still young; after that, I'm sure you will be feeling lively and ready to dance the night away, and I know the perfect spot! Barbarella is the place to go; with a variety of music options, themed nights, and multiple dance floors, you're sure to have a great time; plus, it doesn't hurt that there is no cover before midnight most weeknights. 

Not a dancer? That's okay. I have an alternative evening activity that will be a hit for the kids and the adults. Head over to the Congress Bridge to watch the colony of Mexican Free-tailed bats take flight each night. Between 7:30-9:30 PM, bats spiral out in a cloud over the water, much to the delight of onlookers. For the best view, find a spot on the Stateman Observation Center, or rent a kayak, paddleboard, canoe, or waterbike to have a view from under the bridge. You can also take a full-on Boat tour!! If your visit to Austin falls during the summer, check out Batfest, the festival devoted to the Congress Bridge Bats, which features live music, vendor booths, and even a bat costume contest. 

To finish off, I have one more unique Austin outdoor experience to share, Mayfield Park at Camp Mabry. Mayfield park was initially purchased as a family retreat by Allison Mayfield, the former Texas Secretary of State and Chairman of the Railroad Commission. It was later gifted to the city of Austin by Mary Mayfield Gutsch, who designed the gardens with her husband Milton when they took possession of the property in 1922. Something extraordinary about the 23-acre property is the free-roaming peacocks, which are the descendants of the original peacocks given to the Gutsch family in 1935. These stunning birds add to the beauty as you walk around the lush landscaping, sit beside one of the turtle ponds under the large oak trees, or take a walk on one of the various winding paths. Mayfield Park has been beautifully maintained, and the fabulous staff works hard every day to keep it just as beautiful as the Mayfield family left it. 

Austin really is a wonderfully exciting place to visit; with so many free activities inside and out, you are bound to find something for everyone. 

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Garner.

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