Austin is an incredible place and one of America’s true cultural capitals. It’s the place to go for anyone who loves indie music, independent films, comedy, quirky theater, puppet shows, jazz, and dance. Actually, if you love almost any form of culture, Austin is the ideal destination.
It’s an ideal place to build your vacation around a specific festival. Visit during South by Southwest festival and check out established and new music acts from every corner of the globe, organize a fall trip to watch major bands in the Austin City Limits Festival, or head to the Out Bounds Festival to watch leading global comedy performers.
However, you can visit this laid-back bohemian city at any time of year and spend your days enjoying Tex-Mex cuisine, shopping for art and craft souvenirs, or cheering on the Longhorns.
There’s plenty of reasons to head to the Texan capital. From sport and comedy to shopping and music – Austin is one of America’s greatest city break destinations.
Austin is one of the U.S.A.’s live music capitals, hosting the South By Southwest indie festival every March and putting on blistering blues and rock shows every week at bars like the Mohawk, Sahara Lounge, and the White Horse.
The Texas landscape is breath-taking around Austin, and the city is full of natural attractions. Within the city limits, there are the 26 acres of the Zilker Botanical Garden, while it's also easy to reach beautiful spots like the waterfalls at McKinney Falls State Park.
Tex-Mex food includes mouth-watering dishes like grilled steak fajitas, nachos piled with cheese, and scorching chili con carne. Find all these dishes and more at leading restaurants like Trudy’s Texas Star and Habaneros.
Music isn’t the only cultural attraction that Austin has to offer. You’ll also find a cluster of fantastic comedy clubs, including the Hideout Theater, the Velveeta Room, and Capitol City.
Just south of Austin you’ll find the Circuit of the Americas, home to the U.S. Grand Prix, which attracts 240,000 fans every year. Motorcycling fans can also catch the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas.
SXSW (South-by-Southwest) is America’s most famous and largest indie-rock-dance-and comedy festival. It started out as an indie rock event, but now the city-wide festival held in March covers an unbelievable amount of ground. You’ll definitely find something you love in the packed schedule.
The Longhorns are the University of Texas at Austin’s college football team, and they attract a loud, passionate following to the Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. If you visit during the season, the atmosphere at a Longhorns game is a must-have experience.
Comedy is a huge part of Austin’s cultural life, and there’s an enormous amount of venues to visit. However, the best idea is to time your visit to coincide with the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival held in September (around Labor Day weekend). It attracts huge acts and quirky unknowns to historic venues like the Hideout Theater.
One of the area’s lesser known attractions is the Texas Wine Country. The region around Austin has 30 wineries within easy driving distance of the city, and companies like TexasWineTours.com will show you the best of them so you won’t have to worry about designated drivers.
If you want to cool off and experience the outdoor charm of Austin, there’s no better place to head than Barton Springs. Three times as long as a football field, this large urban lake in Zilker Park charges just $3 for a day’s swimming.
Spring is the best time to visit Austin. High summer can be uncomfortably hot, but the weather is just right between March and May. It’s also the cultural season of the year thanks to the massive SXSW music festival and a great time to get outdoors. Fall is almost as attractive, with similarly comfortable temperatures and the Austin City Limits Festival, which attracts big music names like the Cure and the Kings of Leon.
Flying to Austin Bergstrom International Airport is the easiest way for most visitors to get to Austin. It’s a unique place too, with live music events and small local stores represented on the concourse. To get into town, simply catch the MetroAirport bus, which costs $1.75. Taxis from the airport are a convenient alternative, but will cost around $30 to reach downtown Austin.
Austin’s Amtrak station is located at 250 North Lamar Blvd and is linked to Chicago via the Texas Eagle Line, which also stops at major cities like Dallas and St. Louis.
If you are driving to Austin from other parts of the U.S., you will probably approach the city via I-35, which connects the city with Dallas and San Antonio. US-290 links Austin with Houston and destinations to the east.
Greyhound is the major bus operator into Austin and their main stop is just outside Highland Mall. They provide direct connections to all major Texan cities and indirect services to almost anywhere in the U.S.A.
Other bus companies providing services to Austin include:
Shofur – which provides luxury bus connections to regional cities like Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.
Vontane – links Austin with Dallas and Houston.
Megabus – provides budget connections to Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio and from there to more distant U.S. cities.
Most of the best accommodation options in Austin are to be found in the Downtown area, but there are good options in most of the city’s neighborhoods. The W Hotel Austin is the best luxury hotel in the center of town, while mid-range and cheaper Downtown alternatives include the Radisson Hotel and Firehouse Hostel. If you want to stay in a more rustic location, check out the massive Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa near McKinney Falls. If you are staying near the University of Texas, Drifter Jack’s Hostel is a good budget choice.
Downtown – The center of Austin’s business life, Downtown is also full of bars, music venues, and restaurants, not to mention museums like the Austin Museum of Art. Favorite local spots include the Violet Crown Cinema, which has a high-quality schedule of art-house movies and Best Wurst, Austin’s finest bratwurst restaurant.
The Drag – The Drag is one of Austin’s liveliest shopping and dining areas. It’s also close to the University of Texas, where you can check out the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum and the Texas Memorial Museum. Thanks to the large student population, the area is a great place to enjoy a drink, with buzzing bars like Cactus Café and the Hole in the Wall. Arcade UFO is also a chill place to unwind, with a huge selection of video games.
East Austin – East Austin is a diverse, creative part of town, with some of the city’s best dance, music, and theater venues. You’ll find cutting-edge theater at the Vortex, puppet shows at the Salvage Vanguard, and musical events at the Off Center. You’ll also find some superb restaurants like Juan in a Million or the Colombian eatery Casa Colombia.
Municipal bus company Capital Metro links all of the major tourist districts and the center of town. Each bus journey costs $1.25, but a much better option is the $2.50 all-day bus pass (buy on board the vehicle). There are also handy Night Owl buses for late-night journeys, and a less helpful MetroRail network which only serves the northwestern parts of town (fares are $3.50 per journey). Another alternative is to head to bicycle rental outlets like Yellow Bike Project, which can provide a bike for as little as $5 per day.
Taxis in Austin have a meter drop of $2.50, then $0.40 for every sixth of a mile up to the first mile. After that, there’s a charge of $2.40 per mile. The cheapest Uber fares can deliver significant savings, with a basic fare of $1 and $1 per mile after that.
Austin is a pretty easy city to navigate, making car rental an attractive option. Expect to pay around $20 per day. Parking isn’t generally a problem in Downtown Austin, as long as you can find on-street meters, which cost $1 per hour. At busy times, private parking lots may be the only way to go. Expect to pay as much as $6 per hour in these locations. It’s probably more sensible to use lots slightly out of town, which charge $8 per day, and then take the bus into the city.
Austin’s great appeal for shoppers is the wide variety of strange and off-beat boutiques. It’s a bohemian place with a huge community of music fans, so record shops like Waterloo Records or End of an Ear are worth a look. You’ll find unique, vintage toys at Hogwild and plenty of apparel boutiques on South Congress Street, including Blackmail and Parts & Labor. There are also conventional malls, including Barton Creek (with a Macy’s and J.C. Penney) and Prime Outlets San Marcos, where 200 cut-price stores offer a huge selection of bargain clothing.
Austin has a lower cost of living than most other U.S. cities of its size, partly thanks to lower state taxes on groceries. This means that shopping for food and drink is affordable almost everywhere in the city. Major supermarkets include independent stores like Central Markets and chains like Wal-Mart, Safeway and H-E-B.
If you love Tex-Mex food, Austin is crammed with great places to eat. Don’t miss the fajitas rancheras at Habanero Café, the beef fajitas at Pappasito’s, or the shrimp tacos at Matt’s El Rancho. There are also authentic Italian restaurants like La Traviata in Downtown, traditional southern food pubs like Roaring Fork, and Japanese restaurants like Uchi. Street food is another attraction. Fill up on the sausages at Best Wurst or the burgers at Casino el Camino for great food on the move. Expect to pay $15-20 for a medium range meal and anything above $40 in the most up-market restaurants.