15 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas
Austin Texas the music capital of the south, home of artists, delicious BBQ, Music Festivals, vagrants, and those who have a passion for beer and all things weird. Should you find yourself in this eclectic capital of the world. Austin is a place you can be yourself, your weirdness is celebrated, and (in general) people are kind and just want to live life in joy.
I lived in Texas for 2 years and traveled to Austin A LOT, and loved every single visit because of how much variety there is, there is always something fun going on, and if nothing else is - well nature fills in the gaps with bat shows, beautiful hikes, waterfalls and more.
In this article I will take you through things you can do in Austin, both unique things to do and the things not so unique but characteristically such a part of the culture of Austin, you really can't miss it. I last updated this article April 2022 to make sure the most up to date information was available to you for planning your visit to Austin.
1- The Bats At Congress Bridge
After living in Dallas for two years, and having made several trips to Austin....I had never heard of the 'Bats of Austin'. So this is why I'm including this on my list of Unique things, because if I didn't know about it, maybe someone else wouldn't have known about it. The story of the Bats is that somewhere south of Austin the natural caves that these bats lived in was destroyed. This caused a mass migration of these bats to somewhere safe, naturally, they picked Congress bridge.....because where else would creatures of the night feel more comfortable than a bridge associated with politics.
If you get a chance to, wander down to Congress bridge around the time the sun goes down you will be greeted by a swarm of 1.5 million bats exiting the bellows of Congress bridge. These bats exit from beneath the bridge all at one time, giving those on the bat viewing platform below quite the show. Once they exit, they swarm in a circle until most of the bats have exited the bridge then as one bat cloud swarm their way up and down the Colorado River eating around 1000 mosquitos each. It is very difficult to get a clear picture of this swarm when they emerge, due to it being so dark. Another way to see these blind fuzzy creatures is by participating in our next Unique thing to do in Austin Texas The Bike Tour.
2- Eat BBQ
Everyone is going to argue about where the best place to eat BBQ is, and each one will vary based on both the taste of the food and the time you have to wait in line. BBQ in Texas is a religion to be honest, it is something you DO NOT mess with and when the local teams are playing you can legitimately smell all the BBQ cookouts happening.
While I wouldn't call myself a connoisseur I will suggest a few I found delicious.
- Kerlin BBQ for their BBQ Kolaches (just trust me on this one)
- Cooper's Old Time Pit BBQ
- Stiles Switch BBQ
- Terry Black's BBQ
- Franklins BBQ
You can also find food trucks, taco trucks, and tex-mex all throughout Austin - Texas has some of the BEST food you will ever taste. My friends RAVE about Torchy's Tacos all the time, in fact my friend from Boston flies out specifically to get Torchy's whenever he can, lol.
3- Take A Bike Tour
I was so nervous to go on this bike tour, my internal dialogue went something like this, "Your over-weight, you have a bad back, what if you have to pee? They are going to leave you and charge you more for how slow you are. It is too hot and you won't enjoy it. Remember how you almost passed out the last time you got overheated?".
This is what the mind does my friends, it tries to limit me in an effort to protect me from any additional pain. What my job is, is to create a mantra to be able to push through that protective barrier (reasonably) and allow myself to take the risk to enjoy something I otherwise would have limited myself from experiencing.
Yes, the bike ride was hot, I was sweating like a blacksmith wearing wool on a summer day, BUT as soon as you start riding you get the wind in your face and it's really not as bad. Austin is relatively flat with minimal hills, so it is the perfect place to do your first bike tour. You will see Congress Bridge, several statues of important figures of Austin, The Capital Building, Wildlife, beautiful skylines, Hope Gallery and so much more.
I took Barton Springs Bike Tour (Austin, in a Nutshell, is the Tour I did) and the guys were so incredibly helpful, they can pick you up and drop you off at your hotel/Airbnb etc.. They do have water, but if you are planning on going during the summer, make sure you eat first and hydrate well as it is a 2.5-hour bike ride (comparatively you get more bang for your buck by going with these guys).
4 - Visit Hamilton Pool
This place does get crowded during the hot summer months here. Visiting in the off season when the water is a bit colder may be better for you if you want to avoid the crowds. It is about a 45 minute drive outside of Austin, but the color of the water, waterfall, and just chilled out vibe of the place is something to not miss if you want to get out of the city.
Unfortunately you cannot swim here anymore because of falling rocks and hazards behind the waterfall from falling rocks. They are currently assessing it and it does require a reservation in order to hike the trail so make sure to check out the Travis County Park Page to do this.
To get in, it costs about $8 for adults and no charge for children. Please keep in mind it is about a 1.8 mile moderate hike out and back and takes about 43 minutes to hike it so if you are going in the summer take enough water, wear a hat, and sunscreen.
5 - Visit the Cathedral of Junk
Vince Hannemann started this in 1989 and has three stories of junk he has sculpted into a magnificent cathedral where light plays on those who visit. There is a reason the slogan for Austin is 'Keep Austin Weird' to allow people like Vince to express themselves in Unique ways. The cathedral is open, but because it is in his backyard you have to call and make an appointment to visit 512-299-7413, and they do ask for a $5 donation to help with upkeep and keeping things safe so make sure to bring some cash.
I can't mention Austin without mentioning the cultural aspects that helped create this unique city. The Hispanic Culture is still alive and well in Austin and throughout much of Texas.
Here you will be able to see cultural art pieces by the Mexo-American Community, participate in activities like Dia De Los Muertos. They also are host to teen development programs, creative arts programs and offer a variety of ways to connect with the local community.
So maybe try something a little different in your travels and utilize your time to volunteer and connect with the cultural community of Austin.
7- Hike Mount Bonnell
This is as much of a Mountain as you can get when visiting the flatlands of Texas, Mount Bonell. It was a tad difficult to find, and the stairs are a lot steeper than you would think, but the views are well worth it.
There is plenty of shade on the way up, and some covered picnic areas once you get to the top. So get in that workout gear, run up and down the steps a few times and then sit down with your classic BBQ taco picnic with a wonderful view of the Colorado River.
Fun Fact: Mount Bonnell was the site of many of the May Pole events in the 1850's.
This is something I didn't get to experience while in Austin, but really wish I had the time to do so. SUP or Stand Up PaddleBoarding on the Colorado River is a MUST during a Summer visit.
You get to rent this board, get your suntan on, and see incredible views of the Austin Skyline, turtles, and all the wildlife surrounding the Colorado River. They also have tubing, but I personally like to be able to maneuver myself around.
9 - Go Shopping on South Congress
The most classic thing to do while in Texas, as cliche as it is, is to go shopping for cowboy/cowgirl boots. While most people in Austin and Dallas don't usually wear boots in their day to day - you will find them worn a lot in most other areas of Texas. The most classic place to find an absolutely insane amount of boots is Allen's Boots - the fresh scent of leather will surely make you bring out your wallet (plus the boots are super cute).
No matter where you go in the city, you cannot miss the iconic Capital Building. It is an odd Pink color from the Red Granite from the nearby Granite Mountain. The contents of this mountain are what is known as 'Texas Pink', a certain compound within this Granite gives it the characteristic pink hue. It was originally going to be built out of Limestone, but due to the Iron within the Limestone and potentially causing instability after the Iron were to break down over time -- the owners of the Granite Mountain donated the contents of the area to this $3 million dollar project.
It took nearly 15,700 train cars worth of granite to complete the project, it is estimated that 188,158 cubic feet of granite was used. The building is truly a spectacle that many come to see, but many people miss the tour inside the building.
Go inside, there are choirs on the weekends and holidays that come to sing. Attend a session of debate like the townsfolk used to & see if you can spot the lightbulbs that spell out T-E-X-A-S. Dress up like Pioneers and take fun photos with your friends. Wander through the 22 acres surrounding this building and catch the Capitol from all sides.
See if you can find the 17 monuments on the grounds and learn even more about what shaped Austin into the weird and proud city it is today. There is so much symbolism in the building, the hinges, and even in the tiles within the building that spending an hour or two here is well worth the time.
11 - Take a Ghost Tour
The first time I took a ghost tour was in Edinburgh Scotland. The only reason I went, was because it was the only thing to do besides drinking at 9pm on the Royal Mile. Ever since then I have come to appreciate just how much the backstory behind streets, bars, buildings, and areas have helped shape them into what they are today.
Now whenever possible, I try to fit in a Ghost Tour, just because it brings a unique flavor to my trips and history that not many know of. I also think it is important to see that not all cities are frills, fun, and perfect shots. Every person has a story, I think the same thing can be said of each city.
If you haven't read my post about the Ghost Tour in Austin, be sure to head there and learn just how wild the west really was.
12 - Go Bar Hopping on 6th Street (Psst go during A Festival)
Austin is the music capital of the World (according to them anyway), gotta love that Texas Pride. There are so many Festivals in Austin that it is hard to keep track of them. This is a fantastic way of connecting to the locals and maybe even make a friend to be able to do a house swap in the future.
No matter what festival you choose it is sure to be BIG, BOLD and all out fun. While I was there I was able to attend the Pecan Festival. The infamous 6th street was lined with local vendors, music, and fun for all ages. Once the sun goes down, it turns into a more adult-friendly area as the local bars start to open up and the guzzling games begin.
Thursday through Saturday they even shut down 6th street completely in order for patrons to roam the streets safely without worrying about traffic.
13 - Go On A Street Art tour
Take a tour of the Hope Gallery, an apartment complex went wrong, then turned into a gallery of art that has been a hallmark for Austin. There are all sorts of characters that congregate here and even a local artist that will teach you how to graffiti!
Get in on the action and create your own work of art while feeling like a rebel. If you are lucky, you will spot the man in the castle above the Hope Gallery who owns this spot. Allegedly he is not a very kind fellow (according to locals) and is quite adamant about his feelings regarding this area. Apparently, he is selling the area off and the Hope Gallery will no longer exist. This is a sore spot for the locals as it is such an iconic spot. There are talks of moving the walls into another area, but only time will tell if that will happen. So be sure to stop by this area and take a few photos, it might be the last chance you get.
14 - Take a Photo Tour
Austin is one of the few cities that donates money for street art to be produced throughout the city. Only the locals are going to know the best spots, so I highly suggest taking a photo tour. There are plenty of bright colorful walls, murals, funky statues on balconies, and even colorful stonework at crosswalks. Get out and exercise that creative eye, and maybe even learn a thing or two about how to capture great street photography.
15 - Barton Springs Swimming Hole
Our Bike tour took us past Barton Springs Pool where there were loads of people swimming, and for good reason. The water is a spring-fed pool that stays a cool 68 F (20C), so if you are warm before getting in, make sure to ease in slowly - or you may feel a bit of a shock from the change in temperatures.
There are plenty of places around Barton Springs to set your things, and don't be surprised to find a few characters there. The calculated about 800,000 people visit this area every year, so it gives you an idea of how popular it is for locals and for visitors.
In general there were everyone from families to sunbathing pups enjoying the water. It is open daily from 5am-10pm but I would personally only go during the day as some areas of Austin can get a bit dodgy after dark. There is also a fee to get in ($9), so make sure to bring some cash with you.
Austin....Keep it Weird
You can walk down any street in Austin and your sure to find something to do, see, or experience. Austin is weird and takes pride in keeping it that way through art donations, cultural celebrations and holding unique festivals for just about every subject you could imagine. No matter what you decide to do, I'm sure you're going to have a fantastic time deep in the heart of Texas.
Welcome to Culture Trekking!
My name is Janiel, a leader in the travel industry with over 20+ years of experience with international travel. I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodors Travel, Atlas Obscura, Metro.co.uk, Trip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok. To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here.