In addition to holding the title of Texas's state capital, Austin has fully evolved from a hippie university town to a booming, hip metropolis. While much of the action is focused in up-and-coming neighborhoods like South Congress, downtown Austin offers a wealth of amusing possibilities, too. Whether you're a fan of Texas state history and 19th-century architecture, live music, or traditional Texas barbecue, there's plenty to do here. And while ATX's city center is easy to navigate on foot, pedicabs and ride-sharing services are also readily available for short trips.
Venture on The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail
Those looking to get some exercise while seeing a mix of lovely natural and urban spots will enjoy the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. This popular path passes by Lady Bird Lake, a 416-acre (168-hectare) reservoir, as well as Austin neighborhoods, buildings, and cultural attractions. One option is to start your journey at the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, with views of downtown Austin and the Colorado River. The popular 10-mile (16-kilometer) trail is named after the city's former mayor and his wife.
Take a Double Decker Bus Tour
Whether you are traveling alone or with a group, one fun way to see the city without having to drive is on an open-air ride with Double Decker Austin. Learn about the city and its history from friendly tour guides as you cruise along. Easily hop on and off the bus to get a closer view of an attraction such as The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum or the Texas State Capitol. The red buses depart from the Austin Visitor Center and Museum of the Weird on Fridays and Saturdays (closed major holidays).
Get Spooked at Museum of the Weird
If you'd like an entertaining and possibly creepy type of day in Austin, head to Museum of the Weird on Sixth Avenue, which emulates dime museums made popular by people like Barnum & Bailey Circus founder P.T. Barnum. Check out bizarre artifacts such as shrunken heads, fossils, and wax figures of classic movie monsters. There is even a famous carnival exhibit displaying a frozen caveman in a block of ice that toured the country from the 1960s through the 1980s. The admission price includes a visit to the Lucky Lizard Curios & Gifts shop.
Admire the Texas State Capitol
The pink-granite building is the centerpiece of downtown Austin, perched on a hill at 12th Street and Congress Avenue.
Free guided tours are held daily, starting in the South Foyer, but 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.
If you're hungry, there are some restaurants nearby serving up everything from Indian food to sandwiches and chili.
Barhop in the Warehouse District
Sometimes referred to as “Sixth Street for grown-ups,” the Warehouse District is centered around West Fourth and Lavaca Streets.
If you’re interested in dancing to ’80s and ’90s cover bands, head to Cedar Street Courtyard, a hybrid space of two bars with an outdoor courtyard in the middle. For a little less dancing and more drinking, try Midnight Cowboy.
The Fourth Street area is also home to several gay bars, including Oilcan Harry’s, which has been around since 1990.
People-watch on Sixth Street
The Sixth Street entertainment district—especially the businesses between Interstate 35 and South Congress Avenue—is a popular stop for first-time visitors. This bustling area is packed full of bars of every shape and size, including famous outposts like Maggie Mae's, where you will find many bars and floors, along with three stages. Whether you’re interested in listening to live music, dancing, or drinking, it’s hard to go wrong.
Plus, the people-watching is free. The area is generally very secure, but if you plan to stick around until 2 a.m., keep an eye out for your safety.
Catch a Show at the Paramount
The historic Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue hosts red-carpet movie premieres, plays, live music, ballets, and stand-up comedy. Built in 1915, the roughly 3,000-seat venue still has many of the initial Art Nouveau stylistic touches and was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. One of Austin's oldest theaters, the Paramount displays an elaborately ornate ceiling and the original stage curtain.
Chow Down at Stubb's Bar-B-Q
Located on the eastern edge of downtown, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q 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. Vegetarians can dine on some sides such as potato salad and coleslaw. To enjoy music and food together, show up on Sunday for the gospel brunch at the amphitheater stage.
Listen to Some Live Music at the Moody Theater
Home of the long-running Austin City Limits Live series, which airs on PBS, the Moody Theater is also the site of big-name concerts. Everyone from Peter Frampton to Beach House to Lyle Lovett has played on this stage.
Even though there are 2,750 seats, the three-level theater is remarkably intimate. Plus, with multiple bars, you'll almost never have to wait in line for a drink.
Explore Austin's Culinary Scene on Rainey Street
What started as a few old houses turned into bars has grown into a full-blown entertainment district on the southeastern edge of downtown.
Rainey Street is primarily a place to drink. There's even a bar made of metal shipping containers. However, an increasing number of gourmet restaurants have opened up, earning the stretch the title of Restaurant Row. Standouts include Emmer & Rye, named one of Bon Appétit magazine's Best New Restaurants in 2016, and Geraldine's, where Southern-inspired fare takes on a distinctly Austin accent.
Raise a Toast at the Historic Driskill Bar
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, a beautifully elegant locale on the second floor of the historic 1886 Driskill Hotel.
Though it’s located within steps of the madness on Sixth Street, the Texas-style 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. The bar is open Thursdays through Saturdays.
Watch an Indie Film at Alamo Drafthouse
The Alamo Drafthouse is a unique movie theater that got its start in ATX and evolved into various locations in the city and many across the U.S. If you're in downtown Austin, that outpost is in a funky vintage theater. While it’s slightly smaller than most Alamo theaters, you can expect all the same fun stuff: goofy quote-alongs, quirky theme nights, and food and drinks delivered to your chair. Choose the balcony seats for the best view.
Observe Austin's Famous Bats by a Bridge
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.
Watch Now: Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Austin's Bat Bridge
Immerse Yourself in Texas History
The three-story Bullock Texas State History Museum tells the story of Texas from prehistoric times up until the present.
Using interactive displays, audio recordings, dioramas, and short films, the museum explains how three major industries—ranching, cotton, and oil—played key roles in the state’s evolution.
For a more immersive experience, you can also enjoy an IMAX movie at the museum's Bullock IMAX or Texas Spirit Theater. Both historical films and major motion pictures are featured.