12 Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas - Travel Realist (2024)

This realistic List of Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas helps you visit the sights free of charge.

The Capital of Texas is a popular destination year round. A handful of sights in Austin, Texas charge admission fees. But both visitors and locals should not overlook free attractions in the city.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Texas Capitol
  • 2. Mayfield Park
  • 3. Elisabet Ney Museum
  • 5. Mount Bonnell
  • 6. Austin Murals
  • 7. UT Austin
  • 8. The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria
  • 9. Bat Viewing at Congress Bridge
  • 10. Barton Creek Greenbelt
  • 11. Bull Creek Greenbelt
  • 12. Pennybacker Bridge
  • Takeaways: Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas

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    There are a lot of reasons to prefer free-to-visit sights to the ones that charge admission. More often than not, they have to do with a perceived value of an attraction more than anything else.

    You might have come to Austin to enjoy a big event, like SXSW, ACL, MotoGP, or Formula 1. In this case, you have already paid hundreds if not thousands for the event tickets, place to stay, and transport.

    If you are an Austinite, you might not want to pay for the sights that you could see for free. You could use the savings to plan a trip to other, even more exciting destinations.

    This List of Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas covers places that do not charge admission and parking fees. Not all sights are free every day, so pay attention to the opening hours and days of the week.

    1. Texas Capitol

    The Texas State Capitol is the best free thing to do in Austin, Texas. The largest capitol building in the United States, is 15 ft (4.5 m) taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

    You do not need a reservation to visit the Texas Capitol. Just come to this 1885 landmark whenever it is open. You could explore the grounds and the building at your own pace. Expect a security check.

    You should see the Rotunda, Texas Senate Chamber, and Texas House Chamber. The Capitol Extension gives you a chance to get a meal and buy a souvenir. You could also see the Open Air Rotunda.

    Parking could not be easier when visiting the Texas Capitol. Park at the spacious Capitol Visitors Parking Garage. The first two hours are free year round. Just pay attention to the garage’s opening hours.

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    2. Mayfield Park

    Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve is the second best free thing to do in Austin, Texas. Just like the Texas Capitol, this park is open year round. There are no parking or admission fees.

    Mayfield Park offers its visitors an incredible value. There is a wooden cottage that dates back to the 1870s. Six ponds are home to koi fish, turtles, snakes, water lilies, and other plants.

    Volunteers maintain a community flower garden that is in bloom nearly every month. There is a mile (1.6 km) of hiking trails. But peafowls that roam the grounds steal the show in Mayfield Park.

    You could see these majestic birds on oak trees, cottage roof, and near the ponds. A small parking lot and an off-limits cottage are just small wrinkles in an otherwise perfect park.

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    3. Elisabet Ney Museum

    The Elisabet Ney Museum is the third best free thing to do in Austin, Texas. It is a combination of an art and house museum in trendy Hyde Park neighborhood of the city.

    Formosa, a four-story limestone building, dates back to 1892. It is a perfect exhibition space. You will see busts and full body statues in the halls. The information boards explain Ney’s sculpting techniques.

    You should take the cedar staircase to the second floor. Exquisite furniture pieces await you in this exhibition room. Afterwards, take a tiny spiral staircase to the Tower if you are not claustrophobic.

    Short admission hours are the only downside of visiting the Elisabet Ney Museum. You should make a stop in this museum if you are in the vicinity on any afternoon.

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    4. Butler Hike & Bike Trail

    The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail is another free thing to visit in Austin, Texas. This 10-mi (16-km) path connects the main sights along Lady Bird Lake.

    Zilker Park and Barton Springs, Austin Central Library and Congress Bridge are all on this hiking trail. You could hike a few sections or go for a full loop around the lake.

    Make sure to experience the Boardwalk. Going above the lake surface with great skyline views is a nice workout for beginner hikers. Just bring a hat, sunscreen, and water to make this walk more enjoyable.

    Parking is a downside of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail. You could park for free in Zilker Park on the weekdays. Butler Park has free parking after 6 p.m. Lakeshore Blvd’s parking is free around the clock.

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    5. Mount Bonnell

    Mount Bonnell is among top free things to do in Austin, Texas. This small park has amazing views of Lake Austin and West Lake Hills. You could even get a glimpse of the Pennybacker Bridge.

    Get ready for an uphill hike to the viewpoint. The staircase is steep but fairly short. You could catch your breath while enjoying amazing views. This is probably the most scenic viewpoint in the city.

    Mount Bonnell is next door to Mayfield Park and The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria. Together they form a free cluster in Austin’s Tarrytown neighborhood.

    Parking could get sparse at Mount Bonnell if you visit the park on a weekend afternoon. Pay attention to incoming traffic on Mount Bonnell Road, too. You have to back up directly into the street.

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    6. Austin Murals

    The Capital of Texas is an artistic city with lots of museums, sculpture gardens, and outdoor exhibits. It is hardly a surprise that murals are among the best free things to do in Austin, Texas.

    You should see at least a few murals on your Austin itinerary. The Austin Sign, I love you so much, and You’re My Butter Half are amazing examples of street art.

    A few of these murals, like Austintatious near UT Austin campus, go back as far as 50 years ago. You could see living history while enjoying this art form.

    Parking is a hit-and-miss at these murals. You could usually find street parking nearby. But you might have to pay for it on the weekdays. Sunday is the only sure bet to pay nothing to see the murals.

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    7. UT Austin

    The University of Texas at Austin is a must-visit destination in the Capital of Texas. Like Harvard University and University of Chicago, touring UT Austin is a great free thing to do in the city.

    The UT Tower and Littlefield Fountain are the symbols of the university. You could also explore the Petal Stage and Austin by Ellsworth Kelly from the outside. Yet, not everything on campus is free.

    You have to pay to visit the top of the Tower and Blanton Museum of Art. DRK Memorial Stadium, Moody Center, and Gregory Gym sell tickets for games. The LBJ Presidential Library also charges admission.

    Parking is another consideration when visiting UT Austin. On-campus garages charge parking fees 24/7. But you could park for free along Guadalupe Street or San Jacinto Boulevard on Sundays.

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    8. The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria

    The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria is another free thing thing to do in Austin, Texas. This museum’s presence on the list is not without caveats. Yet, they have little to do with the park’s beauty.

    The open-air sculpture garden is a must-visit for art lovers in the Austin area. Contemporary art installations near Mayfield Park, another amazing free park to visit, are a sight to see and reflect upon.

    But, before you hop in your car or rental and visit Laguna Gloria, you should learn about its admission policy. The museum charges $10 per adult on most days. Yet, there is one notable exception.

    Thursday is the day with free admission. On the bright side, Laguna Gloria is open for 6 hours longer than usual on this day. You could also join a free guided tour if you visit the museum at 7:30 p.m.

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    9. Bat Viewing at Congress Bridge

    As a city built on the Colorado River, Austin is no stranger to bridges. Still, the Congress Bridge deserves a special spot among the best free things to do in Austin, Texas.

    You could get an amazing view of the Texas State Capitol from this bridge. But Downtown skyline panorama is only part of the attraction. Go to this bridge around sunset between March and October.

    A colony of bats flies out nearly every day then. The bats form a cloud for a surreal experience. Skip the parking lot near Statesman Bat Observation Center. You will pay $18 for a couple of hours.

    Street parking is less than $5 for the same time. A few meters are not enforced past 6 p.m. either. You could park at Auditorium Shores for free if you are ok walking and completing the visit in 2 hours.

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    10. Barton Creek Greenbelt

    Barton Creek Greenbelt is a large park and wilderness area in South Central Austin. It remains one of the best free things to do in Austin, Texas. Both locals and visitors come to Barton Creek to enjoy nature.

    The Greenbelt starts from the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, Zilker Park, and Barton Springs Pool. It continues along the creek. You will go underneath two highway bridges like in Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio.

    Get ready to see the Bluffs, Seismic Wall, Twin Falls, Sculpture Falls, and Hill of Life. A few of this areas are nice swimming holes in the summer. You do not need to pay a dime to swim in these pools.

    Yet, Barton Creek Greenbelt is not without problems. And a need to carry a towel to the pools is the least of them. Car break-ins are common at all Greenbelt parking lots. Do not leave any valuables in the car.

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    11. Bull Creek Greenbelt

    Bull Creek Greenbelt is a free park to visit in Austin, Texas. Unlike its better known neighbor to the south, it is not a continuous park along the creek. Instead, there are a few parks with patches of private land.

    You could choose between hiking in Bull Creek District Park, Bull Creek Preserve, and St. Edward’s Park. A few of these parks are great places to see blooming bluebonnets in the spring.

    Native and extinct birds are another common sight in Bull Creek Greenbelt. Once the temperatures become too hot for hiking, you could go for a wade in its swimming holes.

    Car break-ins are a problem at Bull Creek Greenbelt, too. St. Edward’s Park and Bull Creek Preserve parking are notorious for broken windows. Nearby construction on TX-360 highway is also a downside.

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    12. Pennybacker Bridge

    The Pennybacker Bridge, or 360 Bridge, is a symbol of the Capital of Texas. But, unlike the Golden Gate Bridge or the George Washington Bridge, it is free to explore. Every Austin itinerary should cover it.

    The bridge connects two shores of Lake Austin on the Colorado River. It is part of Capital of Texas Highway TX-360 Loop. The highway’s number gave the bridge its colloquial name.

    No tolls are charged to cross the Pennybacker Bridge. This fact should put it higher on the list of the best things to do in Austin, Texas, shouldn’t it? The answer is not so simple in case of the 360 Bridge.

    Nearby cliffs offer great views of this arch bridge. But the trail to the viewpoint is steep and lacks maintenance. On top of it, plenty of No Parking on ROW signs put you at risk of a parking ticket.

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    Takeaways: Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas

    Austin, Texas had a solid number of free things to do on a trip. Nearly every visitor could find a free attraction in the city that appeals to their heart.

    You could visit architectural landmarks at the Texas Capitol, UT Austin, and Pennybacker Bridge. Enjoy the views on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail and from Mount Bonnell.

    See art exhibits in the Elisabet Ney Museum, Laguna Gloria, and on the streets. Reconnect with nature in Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelts. Or see wildlife in Mayfield Park and from the Congress Bridge.

    Not everyone is lucky enough to be in Austin on Austin Museum Day in September. It is one day a year when local museums offer free admission. The number of free things triples on Austin Museum Day.

    Take a look at this Video List of Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas. And visit theYouTube channelfor the latest videos.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are the best free things to do in Austin, Texas?

    You could explore a handful of things in Austin, Texas for free. Here are the best free things to experience in the Capital of Texas:
    1. Admire the Texas State Capitol building and grounds.
    2. Observe peafowls in Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve.
    3. Study the sculptures in the Elisabet Ney Museum.
    4. Take a hike on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
    5. Enjoy Lake Austin views from Mount Bonnell.
    6. See a couple of iconic murals.
    7. Visit UT Tower, Littlefield Fountain, and Petal Stage on UT Austin campus on Sunday.
    8. Admire art installations in the Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria on Thursday.
    9. View bats fly out from the Congress Avenue Bridge between March and October.
    10. Go for a hike or a swim in Barton Creek Greenbelt.
    11. Reconnect with nature in Bull Creek Greenbelt.
    12. Drive on the Pennybacker Bridge.

    What Austin sights are free year round?

    A few sights in Austin, Texas do not charge admission or parking fees year round. Here is their list:
    1. Texas Capitol
    2. Mayfield Park and Preserve
    3. Elisabet Ney Museum
    4. Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail
    5. Mount Bonnell
    6. Austin Murals
    7. Bat viewing at the Congress Avenue Bridge
    8. Barton Creek Greenbelt
    9. Bull Creek Greenbelt
    12. Pennybacker Bridge

    What Austin sights are only free one day a week?

    A couple of sights in the Capital of Texas are free only on select days:
    1. The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria – Thursday
    2. The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center – Thursday
    3. UT Austin campus – Sunday (free street parking)

    How to visit Austin area museums for free?

    Wait until Austin Museum Day on the penultimate Sunday of September.

    Safe realist travels!

    12 Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas - Travel Realist (2024)


    What is the most fun street in Austin Texas? ›

    Austin's infamous Sixth Street has a well-earned reputation. Rollicking bars and trendy nightclubs rub elbows with secret speakeasies and iconic live music venues on this historic thoroughfare.

    Where can I stroll in Austin? ›

    Best Walking Trails in Austin
    • Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls Via Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail. Easy• 4.5(4384) ...
    • Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. Easy• 4.7(4433) ...
    • River Place Canyon Trail. Moderate• 4.7(4855) ...
    • Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail. ...
    • Homestead Trail. ...
    • Three Falls Hike. ...
    • Onion Creek and Homestead Trail Loop. ...
    • St.

    Can you explore Austin without a car? ›

    If you'll be centrally located downtown between the Convention Center and the University of Texas at Austin, you should be able to walk or bike. Capital Metro Transit provides bus routes that cover the city, as well as a MetroRapid bus that serves the downtown area.

    Does Austin have good outdoor activities? ›

    From paddling and water biking to sunset bat cruises on Lady Bird Lake, Austin offers an abundance of outdoor activities. Find kayak, paddle board and boat rentals and cruises.

    What is Dirty 6th Street Austin? ›

    Old 6th Street, sometimes fondly known as Dirty 6th, is the original entertainment section of the street including those venues between Congress Avenue (to the west) and I-35 (to the East). Patrons spill out after a show at the legendary Esther's Follies on 6th Street Austin, TX.

    What is the cool part of Austin? ›

    Downtown Austin has become the mecca of cool and comfort where highrise residential buildings stand as well as home to outstanding local restaurants and bustling bars are. Some of the well-known entertainment districts in the area are 6th Street, Rainey Street, Seaholm District, and Warehouse District.

    What is the cheapest way to get around Austin, Texas? ›

    Public Transportation

    CapMetro – Austin's multimodal public transit system – is the easiest way to explore Downtown and the greater Austin area on the cheap. Single bus rides start at $1.25 (transfers not included), while day passes run as little as $2.50.

    Can I sleep in my car in Austin? ›

    In Texas, there is no statewide law prohibiting living or sleeping in your vehicle.

    What is the most walkable part of Austin? ›

    East Austin is well-known for its pedestrian-friendly streets and impressive Walk Score of 84, making it one of the best walkable neighborhoods in all of Austin.

    What is the best area to go out in Austin Texas? ›

    Live Music & Nightlife in Austin
    • South Congress. South Congress Avenue occupies a hilly and tree-filled part of Austin just south of the Colorado River. ...
    • East Austin. ...
    • West Sixth Street. ...
    • Rainey Street. ...
    • Red River. ...
    • Sixth Street. ...
    • Warehouse District.

    What is the nice side of Austin? ›

    East Austin undoubtedly leads the way as one of the liveliest areas in the city. People from all over Texas trek to East Austin to visit the famous Franklin's Barbecue on East 11th Street.

    What street is the party street in Austin Texas? ›

    Sixth Street is distinctly Austin. With its colorful and bustling array of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, it's a sure bet for experiencing local characters and the vibrancy of the city.

    Why is Rainey Street popular? ›

    Austin Rainey Street is an iconic destination that is well recognized not just by the locals but visitors from other cities too. It is a place that offers a perfect combination of dining, arts, nightlife and live music, making it a preferred destination for many who are looking for a vibrant and happening place to be.

    Is there a main street in Austin? ›

    From then until now, the city's main street has been traversed by people, horses, cable cars, railroads, bicycles, and automobiles. Throughout its 180-year history, Congress Avenue has been the place where Austinites come together for celebrations, vigils, parades, and protests.

    Is Rainey Street fun? ›

    Today, Rainey is a popular night-out destination for locals, tourists, and so many bachelor and bachelorette parties (as well as the source of some controversy). For a relaxed evening, visit Lustre Pearl, a Rainey Street original.


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