Austin's Top Annual Events

The Major Tourist Magnets

Lady Gaga SXSW
Lady Gaga at SXSW. Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Austin has too many events and festivals to count, but there are only a few that attract thousands of out-of-towners. Here are the big ones.

SXSW has grown exponentially since the first event in 1987. Held in March, the festival includes interactive, film and music components. The music festival is the most well-known, drawing bands from around the world at all stages of their careers. Crowd control has become a concern in recent years, particularly after the tragic 2014 accident in which a drunk driver killed four people.

An increasingly star-studded event held in late October, the Austin Film Festival focuses on the craft of screenwriting. Panels with screenwriters and directors throughout the day are followed by screenings downtown at the Paramount and other theaters. The best schmoozing, however, happens late at night at the Driskill Bar. You never know who you might run into on one of the bar’s poufy leather love seats.

Held in October, COTA attracts crowds that are completely different from those drawn by the Austin Film Festival and South by Southwest. Since the races are held all over the world, you almost have to be wealthy to be a devoted fan. And many of the F1 fans do travel to every race, whether it’s in Mexico City or Monaco. Instead of driving to the track in southeast Austin, many of them commute by helicopter from downtown Austin. The 2016 event may receive less financial support from the Texas state government this year, which has led to speculation that it may be canceled.

The early-October event stretches across two three-day weekends. About 70,000 music fans descend on Zilker Park each day to roam among several stages. The festival was inspired by the Austin City Limits TV show, which is now filmed at the ​Moody Theater downtown. The event’s organizers pride themselves on including a mix of up-and-coming bands and established acts.

5. Republic of Texas Biker Rally

The city literally roars during ROT Rally weekend in mid-June. Bikers from all over the country descend on the Travis County Expo Center and downtown Austin. The event at the Expo Center is part trade show and part ongoing party. A parade for bikers is also held along Congress Avenue on the opening night of the rally. Though some of the riders look intimidating, most of them are weekend warriors. However, a shadow was cast over the 2015 event because it occurred soon after a shootout in Waco that involved the police and several rival biker gangs.

Nevertheless, the 2015 rally proceeded without any major incidents.