Top 13 Things to Do in Downtown Austin

From Bar Hopping to Shoe Shopping

From sophisticated theater to silly sing-alongs, downtown Austin offers a wealth of amusing possibilities. The city center is easy to navigate on foot, but pedicabs and ride-sharing services are also readily available for short trips.

  • 01 of 13

    The Texas State Capitol

    Capitol Building, Austin, Texas, America
    ••• joe daniel price/Getty Images

    The pink-granite building is the centerpiece of downtown Austin, perched on a hill at 10th and Congress. Views of the building are actually protected by state law. Free guided tours are held daily, starting in the south foyer. Brochures are also available on the first floor for self-guided tours. The Texas Legislature meets every two years, so you’ll have to check the schedule if you want to see an actual session in progress. The building itself is very impressive, though. There’s even a four-story extension that’s entirely underground. If you're hungry, there's an almost-hidden yet very affordable cafeteria downstairs.

  • 02 of 13

    The Warehouse District

    Alama draft house
    ••• Paul Hudson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Sometimes referred to as “6th Street for grown-ups,” the Warehouse District is centered around 4th and Lavaca Street. If you’re interested in dancing to ’80s and ’90s cover bands, head to Cedar Street Courtyard. It’s basically two bars with an outdoor courtyard in the middle. For a little less dancing and more drinking, try Fado Irish Pub. The 4th Street area is also home to several gay bars, including Oilcan Harry’s. At 4th and Colorado, Truluck’s serves up steaks and seafood in an upscale atmosphere.

  • 03 of 13

    2nd Street Shopping District

    Austin 2nd street
    ••• Courtesy of 2ND Street District

    The epicenter of the 2nd Street shopping area is at the corner of 2nd and Lavaca. Austin Java anchors that corner, and it’s also an excellent spot to sip a hot beverage, eat a light meal and make your shopping plan. If it’s sexy attire you’re after (for any size), pay a visit to the friendly staff at Teddies for Bettys. Regulars point out that the staff does a good job of guiding you without asking a bunch of personal questions. The frilly lingerie is a bit on the expensive side, but you deserve a splurge every now and then. Another must-see is Toy Joy, which sells everything from stuffed animals to whimsical gag gifts.

  • 04 of 13

    6th Street

    6th Street in Austin.
    ••• Jon Hicks/Getty Images

    The 6th Street entertainment district is a popular stop for first-time visitors. It’s a bustling area full of bars of every shape and size. Whether you’re interested in listening to live music, dancing or drinking, it’s hard to go wrong on 6th Street. Plus, the people watching is free! The area is generally very safe, but if you plan to stick around until 2 a.m., take a look at our Tips for Staying Safe on 6th Street.

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  • 05 of 13

    The Paramount Theatre

    ••• Paul Bardagjy/The Paramount Theatre

    The historic Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue hosts red-carpet movie premieres, plays, live music, ballets and stand-up comedy. Opened in 1915, the 3,000-seat venue still has many of the original Art Nouveau stylistic touches, including an elaborately ornate ceiling. It even still has its original curtain.

  • 06 of 13

    Stubb's Bar-B-Q

    Stubb's BBQ Austin
    ••• Nan Palmero / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Located on the eastern edge of downtown, Stubb’s is one of the best concert venues in town as well as an excellent barbecue joint. High-profile national acts usually play on the outdoor stage, which sometimes hosts as many as 2,000 fans. There’s also a smaller stage indoors. If you’re just here to eat, make sure you try the slow-cooked brisket and pulled pork. For music and food together, show up on Sunday for the gospel brunch. 

  • 07 of 13

    ACL Live at the Moody Theater

    KLRU-TV presents The Shins for ACL Live
    ••• Andy Sheppard / Contributor/Getty Images

    Home of the long-running Austin City Limits PBS series, the Moody Theater is also the site of big-name concerts. Even though there are 2,750 seats, each one is within 75 feet of the stage. With 12 bars, you rarely have to wait in line for a drink. And there are plenty of bathrooms too. 

  • 08 of 13

    Rainey Street

    Rainey Street Austin
    ••• mrlaugh / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    What started as a few old houses transformed into bars has grown into a full-blown entertainment district on the southeastern edge of downtown. Perhaps the oddest venue, Container Bar is made out of recycled shipping containers stacked on top of each other. While it's still primarily a place to drink, an increasing number of gourmet restaurants, such as NoVa, are opening up on Rainey Street.

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  • 09 of 13

    The Driskill Bar

    Driskill Austin
    ••• Courtesy of Driskill Hotel

    Whether you’re interested in meeting high-tech entrepreneurs or cattle barons, people from every corner of the spectrum show up at the Driskill Bar. It’s a beautiful bar on the second floor of the historic Driskill Hotel. Though it’s located within steps of the madness on 6th Street, the bar is fairly low-key. Sit at one of the chairs around the piano to enjoy the performance and an occasional sing-along. During SXSW and the Austin Film Festival, this is one of the best places to spot celebrities.  

  • 10 of 13

    Alamo Drafthouse - The Ritz

    Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
    ••• Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

    The Alamo’s downtown outpost is in a funky vintage theater. It’s slightly smaller than most Alamo theaters, but otherwise, it’s got all the same fun stuff: goofy quote-alongs, quirky theme nights and food and drinks delivered to your chair. The movies are a mix of old and new. Choose the balcony seats for the best view.

  • 11 of 13

    The Congress Avenue Bat Bridge

    Silhouette of tourists on Congress Ave bridge at sunset.
    ••• Leigh Righton/Getty Images

    Austin's most famous flying mammals make an appearance nightly from March to October. Over 1.5 million bats fly out of the bridge just before sundown. The best vantage point is the walkway on the east side of the bridge, but you can also bring a blanket and enjoy the show from the hillside below the bridge. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also rent a canoe or kayak and watch the bats from the water.

  • 12 of 13

    The Downtown Farmers Market

    austin farmers market
    ••• Lars Plougmann / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    On Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Republic Square Park at 498 West 4th Street is transformed into a lively farmers market. Whether you're in the market for fresh fruit, artisanal cheese, pickles, kimchi or other locally made specialty foods, you'll find just about anything you can imagine at the farmers market, plus live music and a festive vibe. 

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  • 13 of 13
    PubCrawler of Austin
    ••• Courtesy of PubCrawler

    Pubcrawler of Austin provides a whole new way of touring downtown. Instead of just walking from bar to bar, you ride on a human-powered contraption that is itself a mobile bar. There are four two-hour routes to choose from with a variety of stops along the way. If drinking is your top priority, then the Market District tour should meet your needs. It travels along 5th and 6th Streets, which are both packed with drinking establishments. For a touch of history, you can tour the area around the Texas State Capitol building. The Warehouse District tour offers a selection of mellower bars and pubs, and the Barton Springs tour provides a glimpse of Austin’s natural beauty.