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50 Affordable or Free Things to Do in Austin

50 Affordable or Free Things to Do in Austin

Experience the best of Austin—without putting a serious dent in your wallet—with our suggestions for 50 free and cheap things to do while you’re here. Stretch your travel dollars with everything from affordable food truck eats and outdoor adventures to free live music and fun tours.

Texas State Capito, South Facade
Texas State Capitol. Courtesy of the Texas State Preservation Board.

1. GO ON A HISTORIC TOUR

Get out there and experience Austin history. Take a free, self-guided historic walking tour from Preservation Austin and explore the stately Capitol building on Congress Avenue, iconic music venues, noteworthy African American historic sites and more. Head to the Austin Visitor Center and sign up for one of the guided Downtown Walking Tours of landmarks and local heroes. Join Six Square Historic Tours and experience one of Austin’s fascinating Black cultural districts. Or delve into Austin’s African American history on wheels with Black History Bike Ride.

2. RENT A BIKE

Zip around town and do some sightseeing on your own with a bike rental from Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. Bikes start at $30 for full day rentals. Or look for one of the 50+ MetroBike bike-share stations throughout downtown Austin and rent a BCycle 24 hours a day.

3. VISIT ZILKER PARK

Stop and smell the roses at Zilker Park, a 360-acre oasis in the heart of the city that’s home to the blooming Zilker Botanical Garden (reserve tickets online in advance) and Barton Springs Pool (advance reservations required).

4. PLAY A ROUND OF DISC GOLF

Enjoy a round of disc golf in scenic settings like the Zilker Disc Golf Course in Zilker Park, the Roy G. Guerrero Disc Golf Course in East Austin, and the Mary Moore Searight Disc Golf Course in South Austin.

5. EXPLORE THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY

Drive out to the Hill Country for spectacular hikes, state parks and picnic spots. Spend the day at picture perfect parks like Emma Long Metropolitan Park (online reservations required for visits Fridays through Sundays), Reimers Ranch Park (daily use fee payable in cash only), Lockhart State Park (online reservations recommended) and more.

Band performs on outdoor stage at Far Out Lounge in Austin TexasFar Out Lounge & Stage. Credit Roger Ho.

6. HEAR LIVE MUSIC OUTDOORS

Several of Austin’s most popular music venues feature live shows outdoors, including rock and alternative at Mohawk Austin, dance at Cheer Up Charlies and all genres at the Far Out Lounge.

7. SEE THE CATHEDRAL OF JUNK

Explore the multilevel part-tree fort, part-modern sculpture Cathedral of Junk, a dense tangle of jungle-like foliage intertwined with an estimated 60 tons of unusual items and tchotchkes (call ahead for availability).

8. VISIT THE UMLAUF SCULPTURE GARDEN

Walk the leafy trails that lead to outdoor artworks by Charles Umlauf at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum. Spend a few hours exploring the picturesque Sculpture Garden and indoor gallery.

9. TOUR AUSTIN CITY LIMITS LIVE

For the ultimate Austin music tour, visit Austin City Limits (ACL) Live at The Moody Theater and get a behind-the-scenes look at the place where America’s longest-running television music series is taped. Masks and a brief wellness check are required.

10. BIKE THE HIKE-AND-BIKE TRAIL

Rent a bicycle from Barton Springs Bike Rental and bike the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail that skirts the glittering waters of Lady Bird Lake. Insider tip: snap a selfie with the statue of Austin music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan stationed along the route.

Quarter Pounder and Fries from the Mighty Cone.

11. SAMPLE FOOD TRUCKS AT THE PICNIC

A food truck stop is a must. Post up at The Picnic, offering plenty of picnic tables and a variety of food trucks, including Coat & Thai and The Mighty Cone. Order takeout or dine-in on the covered patio.

12. HIKE MOUNT BONNELL

Take a hike up the stone steps to Mount Bonnell and get a panoramic view of the Austin area. This Lake Austin landmark has been a popular tourist destination since the 1850s.

13. EXPLORE THE GREENBELT

Hike or bike along the Barton Creek Greenbelt to reach Gus Fruh, a swimming hole known for its famed Urban Assault limestone rock wall that’s a favorite of climbers. Explore further to discover the hidden Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls areas.

14. DISCOVER THE TEJANO WALKING TRAIL

Take off on the Tejano Walking Trail, a self-guided tour of more than 20 culturally significant Hispanic sites in the East Cesar Chavez and Holly neighborhoods.

15. SEE THE NEILL-COCHRAN HOUSE MUSEUM

Visit the Neill-Cochran House Museum and take a self guided tour through Austin history. The museum showcases the city’s cultural, economic and architectural transformation from 1855 to present day.

People in Rowing Dock kayaks at the bat bridge at sundown in Austin texasBat Watching from Rowing Dock Kayaks. Credit Jeff Campbell.

16. SEE AUSTIN’S FAMOUS BATS

Head over to the Congress Avenue Bridge to witness a staggering 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats fly into the sky from beneath the bridge nightly from spring through fall.

17. WATCH A MOVIE AT THE DRIVE-IN

Motor over to the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In to catch an indie film or cult classic at Austin’s popular drive-in movie theater. This mini version of a traditional drive-in typically features two films per night.

18. GO DANCING AT THE BROKEN SPOKE

Do some two-stepping at Broken Spoke, an old-fashioned honky-tonk known for its chicken-fried steak and free dinner show, with live bands Tuesday through Saturday evenings.

19. SWIM IN A SPRING-FED POOL

Take a dip in one of Austin’s most popular spring-fed swimming holes, located in the heart of the city. Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park maintains a refreshing temperature of 68 degrees year round, and has plenty of grassy areas for people watching (advance reservations are required).

20. TAKE THE KIDS TO MUELLER LAKE PARK

Grab a healthy snack and listen to live music at the Texas Farmers Market on Sunday mornings, then explore Mueller Lake Park. The park features a food truck park, paved walking trails and a large playground that kids just can’t resist.

People with pizza and beers at ABGB Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company in Austin TexasABGB. Credit Jody Horton.

21. SIP A PINT ON A PATIO

Enjoy a craft beer and hand-made pizza on the spacious patio at the ABGBLast Stand Brewing’s outdoor beer garden is open for you to enjoy more than 10 house-brewed beers on tap. Or catch the all-day happy hour in the outdoor beer garden at Jester King Brewery on Wednesday and Thursday, when pizzas are $2 off. On Fridays from 3-6 p.m., all cocktails at the Jester King’s Pasture Bar are $5.

22. SHOP SOUTH CONGRESS

Take a shopping stroll along South Congress, known for its funky stores and chic boutiques. Check out the kicks at Allens Boots, affordable jewelry by local artists at Parts & Labour, and beautiful vintage wares at Feathers Boutique Vintage.

23. DIVE INTO DEEP EDDY POOL

The huge Deep Eddy Pool is the state’s oldest pool. Sunbathe on the grassy hill overlooking Lady Bird Lake in scenic West Austin, then stop by neighboring Pool Burger for burgers and tiki drinks after your swim.

24. EXPLORE THE WHOLE FOODS FLAGSHIP

Be sure to stop at the original flagship Whole Foods Market, where you’ll find four restaurants, a beer and wine bar, a food truck, and live rooftop tunes and events.

25. HAPPY HOUR AT THE LITTLE LONGHORN

The Little Longhorn Saloon is the center of Austin’s honky-tonk country music scene, and there’s never a cover charge. It’s also known for its six-days-a-week happy hour, with $2.50 Lone Star beers.

Family of four with two young daughters hold hands and smile at camera in front of postcard mural that reads Greetings from Austin TexasGreetings from Austin Mural. Credit Monet Hambrick.

26. GO ON A MURAL TOUR

Take a self-guided tour of Austin’s iconic murals, including “Greetings from Austin” at South First and Annie Streets; “Hi, How Are You” at Guadalupe and 21st Streets; and the “I love you so much” mural painted on the wall of Jo’s Coffee on South Congress. Create your own itinerary with the help of our Austin’s Best Murals blog.

27. SEE A LIVE SHOW AT GÜERO’S

On Wednesday evenings, order a cold margarita and find a seat in the Oak Garden at Güero’s Taco Bar to see musicians performing as part of Sun Radio’s Texas Radio Live series.

28. ENJOY AN OUTDOOR PERFORMANCE

Enjoy a free shows in a beautiful outdoor setting. The annual Zilker Summer Musical offers live theater from July through August on an outdoor stage under the stars at the Zilker Hillside Theatre.

29. SEARCH FOR VINTAGE TREASURES IN NORTH LOOP

North Loop stores Room Service Vintage and Blue Velvet Vintage Clothing are fantastic vintage finds. Room Service has bigger items and kitsch, while Blue Velvet stocks mostly clothing and accessories. Stop into Monkies Vintage & Thrift for retro tees and western wear.

30. VISIT MEXIC-ARTE MUSEUM

The Mexic-Arte Museum houses an evolving collection of traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino and Latin American art and culture in downtown Austin. Explore the galleries and be sure to check out the exterior mural along Fifth Street.

Kayaking through the Barton Creek Greenbelt

31. PADDLE LADY BIRD LAKE

Get on the water at Lady Bird Lake, where you can rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes from Rowing Dock, Austin Kayak ToursZilker Park Boat Rentals and more.

32. EXPLORE ST. EDWARD’S PARK

Experience a lush hidden escape within the city limits at the quiet, 80-acre St. Edward’s Park, with lots of easy trails and a swimming hole with an old-fashioned rope swing.

33. GET A BURGER TO GO AT SANDY’S

Taste an Austin tradition at the roadside Sandy’s Hamburgers, open since 1946. Must-orders include the double cheeseburger with fries, frozen custard and frosty root beer.

34. SHOP AN ICONIC RECORD STORE

With a soft spot for Texas musicians, Austin’s iconic Waterloo Records presents free in-store performances by emerging local musicians. Take time to flip through the shop’s extensive selection of vinyl. Check out more music and records stores in Austin.

35. DINE AT A CONVENIENCE STORE

Make like an Austinite and stop in at Quickie Pickie, a neighborhood market and eatery featuring breakfast tacos, locally roasted coffee and 27 taps.

36. PLAN A PICNIC AT AUDITORIUM SHORES

Bring the kids and the dogs for a picnic at Auditorium Shores, along Lady Bird Lake. Fly a kite at the expansive, grassy park or ride a bike to catch a picturesque view of the downtown skyline.

Peacock at Mayfield Park and Preserve in austin texasPeacock at Mayfield Park & Preserve. Courtesy of Austin Parks & Recreation.

37. SEE THE PEACOCKS AT MAYFIELD PARK

Originally an early 1900s summer retreat for the family of prominent Austin politician Allison Mayfield, today Mayfield Park is a beautiful public green space known for its colorful strutting peacocks.

38. TOUR THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION

The elegant Texas Governor’s Mansion was built in 1927 by the state’s first female governess, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, and offers free guided tours.

39. EXPERIENCE A FREE MUSIC FEST

Every January, venues on Red River join in Free Week, a showcase of mostly local music that has every bar packed and every stage rockin’. Besides catching popular acts, you’ll have the chance to sample scrumptious food from local eateries.

40. ENJOY A FREE SYMPHONY

Classical music lovers won’t want to miss Austin Symphony’s Concerts in the Park, held on the lawn at the Long Center. On Sunday evenings during the summer, bring a lawn chair or blanket and kick back under the stars, listening to classical music while soaking in city skyline views.

Vendor at SFC Farmers Market
SFC Farmers Market. Courtesy of the Sustainable Food Center, credit Buff Strickland.

41. SHOP LOCAL AT A FARMERS MARKET

You won’t be able to resist the homemade treats and gourmet snacks at the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown, held Saturdays in the historic Republic Square.

42. TRY TACOS FROM A FOOD TRUCK

Tacos are an inexpensive and delicious dining option for breakfast, lunch or dinner! There are loads of amazing ones to try, including Veracruz All Natural, Pueblo Viejo and El Primo.

43. VISIT THE BULLOCK

Spend a day exploring Austin’s Bullock Texas State History Museum, which features fascinating exhibitions, films at the Bullock IMAX Theatre and Texas Spirit Theater, plus the Museum Store for great Texas-themed gifts to take back home.

44. TAKE THE KIDS TO THINKERY

Kids can paint, climb and make a splash at Thinkery Austin’s interactive children’s museum where little ones have fun while learning.

People dining at the bar at Barley Swine in Austin Texas
Barley Swine. Credit Richard Casteel.

45. OPT FOR AN AFFORDABLE UPSCALE HAPPY HOUR

Austin is packed with top-notch dining happy hour deals. Find some of the most popular deals at Barley SwinePeché and La Condesa.

46. DRINK AT A DIVE

Pair your margarita with sizzling fajitas at El Arroyo (famous for its hilarious sign out front). Or, toast the man in black at the Mean Eyed Cat, a Johnny Cash-themed bar that has a happy hour Monday through Friday.

47. WATCH AN ART HOUSE FLICK

AFS Cinema presents classic, independent and global films on its two big screens. Don’t miss the full bar, with beer on tap, as well as concessions that include snacks from local purveyors like Lick Honest Ice Creams. Or head over to locally owned Violet Crown Cinema to see indie and documentary films shown on four screens.

48. CATCH A CLASSIC FLICK

The Paramount Theatre is a century-old performance venue and movie theater located in the heart of downtown Austin. Originally opened as a vaudeville house, today the eclectic entertainment ranges from music to comedy shows.

Ellsworth Kellys Austin installation at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin.Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin.” Courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin.

49. VISIT AUSTIN’S CULTURAL CAMPUS

The University of Texas at Austin is home to an impressive collection of museums, including the Blanton Museum of Art, the Harry Ransom Center and the LBJ Presidential Library.

50. LISTEN TO LIVE GOSPEL MUSIC AT BRUNCH

Make a reservation for Sunday Gospel Brunch at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, an Austin music institution that serves up lip-smacking barbecue along with some of the best live bands around, all for one reasonable price.

Need more insider advice? Call or stop by the Austin Visitor Center for local tips, and check out the online Gift Shop for unique, local items!

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