Although traveling can quickly dig into your budget, you can also find free and cheap things to do if you know where to look. When visiting Austin, you’ll see the city has countless activities and areas to explore, with many free attractions to enjoy as well. Read on to discover totally free things to do in Austin during your trip.
1) Texas State Capitol Building
An architectural wonder, the Texas State Capitol is worth touring if you’re fascinated by history, architecture and design, fine art, and politics. Not only does it obviously serve as the state’s seat of government, but it also preserves state and national history. Further, both the exterior and interior of the building and its surrounding grounds are gorgeous. You can self-tour or take an official tour during business hours.
2) Bremond Block Victorian Homes
3) The Contemporary Museums
Contemporary Jones Center
The Contemporary Jones Center on Congress Avenue features contemporary artwork from renowned artists as well as culturally engaging community events. In addition, the building has gone significant renovations and now includes The Moody Rooftop. From outside, you can spot Jim Hodges’ With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress). From the roof, you get a quality view of downtown. Visit the museum on Tuesdays for free admission.
Contemporary Laguna Gloria
Laguna Gloria encompasses a fourteen-acre campus on the shores of Lake Austin. With unique sculpture exhibits and installations throughout the campus as well as cultural events throughout the year, visitors are in a for a treat. Furthermore, visiting the campus is one of the top free things to do in Austin on Tuesdays as well as Thursdays from 6-9 pm.
4) Zilker Park
This 351-acre park near downtown boasts fields and trails perfect for an array of activities. Guests can reserve volleyball courts, play soccer, use the disc golf course, jog, picnic, and much more. During the summer, visitors can also attend Blues on the Green to see renowned and up-and-coming artists play in the park or attend a free summer musical showing by the Zilker Hillside Theatre.
Of course, Zilker is also home to Barton Springs, UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, the Zilker Botanical Garden, the Zephyr Train, Austin City Limits, and much more, but these activities do require funds.
5) George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center
The George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center features permanent exhibits on the historical and cultural materials reflecting the experiences of African Americans living in Austin as well as throughout the nation. Additionally, the museum hosts significant historical pieces on the history and celebration of Juneteenth. Housed in a 36,000 square-foot facility, guests can see four galleries, a permanent exhibit on Austin African-American families, an Artists’ Gallery, a theater, a children’s exhibit, and much more.
6) LBJ Library
Located at the University of Texas at Austin campus, the LBJ Library serves as one of the 14 presidential libraries throughout the nation. Visitors can experience the life, duties, and presidential era of Lyndon B. Johnson. Furthermore, exhibits include a replica of the Oval Office, dozens of LBJ’s historic White House phone conversations, and so much more within the articles and museum collection. Moreover, the library also hosts revolving exhibitions and events, so check the calendar frequently.
7) ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Home of Austin City Limits Live (ACL Live), this 2,750-person capacity live music venue hosts about 100 concerts a year. Produced by KLRU-TV, PBS presents ACL Live as the longest running music series in American television history. Hosting some of the largest, most popular acts, look for giveaway tickets to live performances and special events. One of the top free things to do in Austin, you have to see a performance at this historic theater if possible.
8) Austin Nature & Science Center
Since 1960, the Austin Nature and Science Center has displayed hands-on educational exhibits and activities to make learning about our natural environments fun for all. Located in the Zilker Park Nature Preserve, the center offers indoor and outdoor exhibits and educational programs. One of the prime free things to do in Austin, you and your family will feel enchanted by the center’s exhibits.
9) Tejano Walking Trail
The 4.9-mile Tejano Walking Trail guides visitors through the East César Chávez and Holly neighborhoods east of I-35. Centering on 24 historically Hispanic cultural sites from the post-Civil War period and onward, visitors can experience some of the lesser-known stories of East Austin.
10) Congress Avenue Bridge
One of the key attractions in Austin is to see its population of Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. From late March through early fall, visitors line the bridge and right below it in the park to view hundreds of thousands of bats fly out from under the bridge. The best time to typically see them is sunset, although they can fly out anywhere from 7:45 to 9:45 pm.
Further, note that parking is scarce, so arrive early and park near the bridge or the Austin Statesman. Also, if you can, we recommend biking over via the Butler Hike & Bike Trail or perhaps kayaking down Lady Bird Lake to avoid parking issues. One of the best free things to do in Austin, you’ll quickly see why it’s also called Bat City.
You’ve probably seen the “I Love You So Much”, “You’re My Butter Half”, and “Hi, How Are You” murals depicted in pieces about Austin. I actually used to live a short walking distance from the “You’re My Butter Half” mural, which is quite cute in person. If you want to snag that quintessential Austin mural selfie with any of the city’s murals, follow this guide. You may even discover new murals during your trek.
12) Elisabet Ney Museum
The Elisabet Ney Museum celebrates the life and work of 19th century sculptor and civil rights activist Elisabet Ney. The former studio and home of the artist displays the largest collection of her studio and portrait collection as well as the work of contemporary artists.
13) Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake, or Town Lake, resides right in the heart of the city to provide respite from the urban lifestyle. Guests can enjoy hiking and biking trails, paddle boarding, boating, kayaking, and more. A great way to gain beautiful views, exercise, and sun, don’t miss out on one of the top tourist attractions in Austin.
14) Green Spaces
One of the best free things to do in Austin, checking out any one of Austin’s green spaces will provide respite from the urban landscape and traffic. Consider any of these local parks and creeks:
- St. Edwards Park
- Mount Bonnell
- Barton Creek Greenbelt
- Mayfield Park
- Bull Creek
- Red Bud Isle
- Doug Sahm Hill in Butler Park
- Shoal Creek
- Auditorium Shores
- & Many More
15) Unplugged at The Grove
ACL Radio’s Unplugged at the Grove has featured free live music at the iconic Shady Grove on Barton Springs Road for almost 30 years. Guests can experience top-notch, family-friendly live music at this beloved restaurant and bar for free, although visitors can purchase food and drinks. 2020 dates TBA.
16) Summer Austin Symphony Concerts
Bring blankets, lawn chairs, food, and drinks to Hartman Park on the grounds of the Long Center to experience gorgeous ensemble concerts presented by the Austin Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday evenings during the summer, guests can watch the orchestra perform a range of genres and pieces from jazz and classical to pop selections and film scores. 2020 dates TBA.
17) Mexic-Arte Museum
The Mexic-Arte Museum preserves and presents traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latin, and Latin American art and culture through its exhibits to educate and enrich public discourse. Visitors can take free tours of the museum on Sundays at 2 pm and 3 pm.
18) Harry Ransom Center
Located on UT Austin’s campus downtown, the Ransom Center showcases extensive collections of humanities research and collection pieces. Offering insight into the creative process of renowned writer and artists, the center features nearly 1 million books, more than 42 million manuscripts, 5 million photographs, and 100,000 works of art. Highlights include production materials from Gone with the Wind; the earliest known extant photograph; Robert De Niro’s archive of notes; original works by Frida Kahlo; Albert Einstein’s’s unpublished notes; and so much more.
19) Blanton Museum of Art
Also located on UT’s campus, the Blanton Museum of Art presents nearly 19,000 objects in its permanent collection of artwork. Guests can see modern, contemporary, Ancient, and European art pieces as well as prints, drawings, and William J. Battle’s collection of plaster casts in its permanent collection. With new exhibitions always on the horizon, you’ll also want to check their calendar to see which acclaimed rotating collections are arriving soon. For instance, I was able to see Andy Warhol’s original work during the Warhol: By the Book exhibition a few years ago (incredible).
20) Bullock Texas State History Museum
Consider the official history museum of Texas: The Bullock Texas State History Museum. The museum showcases hundreds of artifacts, culture, innovations, community events, symposiums, and more. Built to celebrate the experiences and memories of Texas people, places, and objects, locals and tourists can truly gain a sense of what composes Texas culture. Also, their IMAX theater frequently shows interesting documentaries and popular current films.
Attend the museum on the first Sunday of each month for free admission.
21) Governor’s Mansion
The Governor’s Mansion has served as the official residence of Texas governors and their families since 1856. The Mansion’s site states, it’s “[the] fourth oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence in the country and the oldest governor’s mansion west of the Mississippi River.” Visitors can take guided tours of this historic home every Wednesday – Friday from 2 pm to 4 pm. Moreover, reservations are required for all tours and must be made at least one week in advance.
22) BookPeople Readings
You can see some of your favorite literary heroes right in downtown Austin. This iconic independent bookstore hosts free readings to see up-and-coming and renowned authors, although some larger events require tickets. You can even get your book signed by the author when you purchase a copy of the event book from the store. Over the years, BookPeople has hosted esteemed guests such as Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, Isabel Allende, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Karr, Judy Blume, and so many more.
23) UT Austin
Visit the University of Austin’s historic campus that dates back to 1883. For instance, you can marvel at the interior of the Architecture and Planning Library, or head to the Texas Union to see the campus’ “living room” for students. Note that you need to reserve a tour to tour the Tower.
24) Waterloo Records Concerts
Lucky for music lovers, Waterloo Records in Downtown Austin offers free live performances in-store. Guests can listen to up-and-coming artists while perusing for records at this beloved Austin establishment.
25) Central Library
The newest addition to the city’s network of libraries, the Central Library resides on 710 W. César Chávez St. The library features six floors with 200,000 total square feet, 14 shared learning rooms, 150 self-check devices, 50 large screens for displaying electronic information, and much more. Moreover, special amenities include a bookstore, cafe, gift shop, and an art gallery.
Find the Best Free Things to Do in Austin
You can vacation on a budget and still have fun. Do you have a favorite free Austin activity? Let us know in the comments.