The 12 Best Things To Do In Austin For Free This Year
Austin may be best known for its live-music and lively nightlife, but there’s so much more to the city than this. Austin is filled with green spaces, historic pathways, museums, and science and nature centers – and many have free admission. Check out our list below of '12 Free Things to do in Austin', and you’ll soon find out why Austin is ranked one of the best places to live in the United States!
1. Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt is an ideal spot for wildlife enthusiasts, adventure lovers, and sunbathers. Stretching over 7 miles long with over 12 miles of well-kept trails, there’s more than enough nature for everyone to enjoy. Besides hiking and running, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is also home to many mountain biking trails, rock climbing spots, and swimming holes to cool off mid-activity. There are a few different entrances to the Greenbelt and each have their unique advantages, so it’s best to take a quick look online and decide where you want to explore first.
2. Mayfield Park
Right in the middle of Austin, you’ll find a beautiful and well-presented nature paradise. Mayfield Park is equally a great space to spend your lunch break surrounded by harmony, or an entire afternoon wandering around the 21-acre nature preserve. The guests of honor at Mayfield Park happen to be 2 dozen confident peacocks who now call the park home, and you’ll also likely see turtles, koi, and many birds playing amongst the trees. As you’ll find plenty of tree cover, it’s a great spot to escape the heat on a hot summer day.
3. Congress Bridge Bats
While there are plenty of paid tours to see the impressive 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats in action, it’s also quite easy to watch the amazing colony for free. Congress Bridge is home to the world's largest urban bat colony, and to see them, simply head to the bridge an hour before dusk between April and October and wait for the colony to emerge in waves. As more than 100,000 tourists a year come to the bridge and surrounding area to watch the show, you’ll be in good company and know you’re in the right spot.
4. Harry Ransom Center
Located within the University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center is overflowing with impressive collections of literary, photographs, and works of art. Admission is completely free and their exhibition galleries are open 7 days a week. If you’re an enthusiast of arts and humanities, and even if you just dabble in it from time to time, the Harry Ransom Center is a must-visit. Between the permanent exhibition of the Gutenberg Bible, a large collection of rare comic books, hand-colored tarot cards, a 16th-century globe, and many rotating and guest exhibitions, you may find yourself coming again to experience more.
5. Texas State Capitol
With free parking, free tours, and an easy to find location, visiting the Texas State Capitol should be on everyone’s list – visitors and locals alike. The free tours run every 30 to 45 minutes, 7 days a week. Or, if you’d prefer, you can easily grab a self-guided tour information pamphlet and wander the building on your own. If that’s not reason enough, the Texas State Capitol building also happens to be the largest capitol building in the US and is decorated with stunning brass detail and antique furnishings. Oh, and don’t forget the 22 acres of beautifully kept grounds to explore after your tour.
6. Bremond Block Victorian Homes
Step back in time to the Victorian age as you walk around 11 elegant homes in Bremond Block Historic District. There’s no better way to get a feel for the rich history of Austin in the late 19th century and early 20th century and learn how the high-society lived. The houses are all well-maintained, and while many are now owned by businesses and local organizations, they retain their southern charm with wrap-around porches, high pillars, and ornate brickwork. The houses themselves are all within walking distance of one another, so it’s a well worthwhile visit while you’re in downtown Austin.
7. Zilker Park
One of the most loved green spaces in Austin, Zilker Park is a true nature retreat in the heart of the city. While there are a few teasers to spend money on, it’s just as easy to enjoy many of the park's free features. The lawns are well-kept and perfect for enjoying a picnic, there are plenty of sports fields and playgrounds to keep children entertained, hiking trails to stretch the legs, and to cool off, take a swim at Barton Spring Pool. If you’re lucky, you may even stumble upon one of the many free events held at Zilker Park.
8. Austin Nature & Science Center
Get hands-on with nature and let your senses come alive at Austin Nature & Science Center. Located on the western edge of Zilker Park, it’s easy to find and you can easily pop in for an hour or an entire afternoon. Admission is completely free and both kids and adults will love the range of exhibits which includes indoor and outdoor wildlife areas, a honey bee observation hive, forest trails, a dino pit, and pollinator gardens. Another favorite is the human sundial where you can tell (nearly!) the exact time by using only your shadow and blocks on the ground.
9. Tejano Walking Trail
The Tejano Walking Trail perfectly combines history, nature, and outdoor exercise with its 4.9-mile story-telling trail. The walk takes between 2 to 3 hours to complete and along the way you’ll visit 22 sites that have a deep meaning to East Austin’s locals and residents. As you meander around the streets, many interesting landmarks will grab your attention – from President Johnson's dedicated homes, the nation’s first public housing developments, community murals, and historic churches. As the Tejano Walking Trail was designed and built by community leaders and volunteers, you’ll find a real sense of pride and truth along the trail.
10. Lady Bird Lake
Bursting with activities and exercise bound locals and visitors, Lady Bird Lake is a picturesque and well-known feature of Austin. Whether you mean to or not, you’ll likely stumble upon Lady Bird Lake as you walk around the city, and it’s hard not to fall in love with its back-to-nature feel. If you’re excited to get the running shoes out, the 10-mile circuit around the lake is a great way to start your day. Or, if you’re after a romantic evening, take an evening stroll on the boardwalk and watch the sunset with a beautiful view of the downtown Austin skyline.
11. Mount Bonnell
For those keen to stretch their legs, Mount Bonnell is a great day excursion filled with history and great views. Reaching the top of Mount Bonnell is relatively easy, and as long as you can push yourself up 102-stairs, you’ll be rewarded with fabulous views of Lake Austin and the Austin skyline. At the top, you’ll find a picnic table perfect for a snack break, but do remember your own water and sunscreen as there are no facilities and limited shade at the top. Once you're back down, head out for another stroll along the Colorado River and enjoy the flourishing wildlife.
12. The Austin Aqua-Dome
Technically, the Austin Aqua-Dome is a tropical fish shop, but they’ve embraced their unique store filled with colorful fish and are happy to welcome families and fish lovers in for a look. The building is a giant half-dome and once inside, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an aquarium. Swimming around are exotic fish from Bali, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Vanuatu, along with freshwater fish from around the globe. Plus, as owner Gary has his BS in Zoology from the University of Texas at Austin, he knows how to keep his fish happy and healthy, and has just the right tips to send them home to a good family!
No matter the weather and time of year you find yourself in Austin, the city is packed with wonderful things to do on the cheap. We hope you enjoy the abundance of nature within the city and learn a thing or two about the rich history of Austin. Pack some snacks and get exploring!
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