Best Things to Do in Downtown Austin: 12 Austin, TX Activities

by Jen
Best Things to Do in Downtown Austin
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Are you searching for things to do in Downtown Austin? Here are some of the coolest and most unique Austin Downtown sights and activities that you should know about.

Are you planning a trip to the heart of Texas? Here are some of the most exciting, scenic, and unique things to do in Downtown Austin. These sights, events, and attractions are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.

Known for its vibrant music scene and delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, Austin is the capital of Texas and boasts a rich cultural and historical legacy. However, what makes the “Live Music Capital of the World” an essential addition to any Texas road trip itinerary is its affinity for adventure. There are countless activities for thrill-seeking visitors to participate in.

From the bustling Sixth Street to the serene Lady Bird Lake, from the iconic State Capitol to the quirky Museum of the Weird, there is no shortage of things to do and places to visit in Downtown Austin. There really is something for everyone. That, of course, makes it even more important for you to know which places are best suited to your interests. To help, I’ve compiled a list of some of my personal favorite Downtown Austin attractions. Check it out!

With a wealth of stunning architecture and a thriving arts scene, there are countless Downtown Austin attractions that will appeal to culture lovers. Here’s everything you need to know about the best things to do in Austin Downtown.

The top places to visit in Downtown Austin right now
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Best Things to Do in Downtown Austin, TX: 12 Cool Downtown Austin Activities

Are you ready to explore the most unique things to do in downtown Austin? As mentioned earlier, there’s a plethora of exciting places in downtown Austin that all travelers will love. Keep reading to find where to go in downtown Austin, Texas.

Are you looking for some raucous fun and live music? Or would you prefer a calm, peaceful, and secluded getaway in a beautiful park? Whatever you’re planning, Downtown Austin can accommodate your needs. Here are all the best things to do in Downtown Austin that you should know about.

1. Embark on an Unforgettable Land and Lake Tour with Austin Duck Adventure

Looking for unique places in Downtown Austin, Texas to kick off your adventure? Look no further than the Austin Duck Adventure. This isn’t your typical city tour. The Austin Duck Adventure offers a unique twist that sets it apart from the rest.

The tour takes you around Downtown Austin in a Hydra-Terra, a fully amphibious vehicle. This vehicle can navigate both land and water, offering a unique perspective of the city. The adventure begins on East 4th Street by the Austin Visitors Center. From there, you’ll ride past all of Downtown’s major sights, soaking in the vibrant city life and stunning architecture.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the tour is when the vehicle splashes into Lake Austin. As you float out onto the waters, you’ll get a breathtaking view of the city skyline from a vantage point like no other.

The tour lasts for just over an hour, making it a perfect activity for those looking to explore the city in a short time. The tour guide provides a narration of the city’s highlights, enriching the experience with interesting facts and stories.

The Austin Duck Adventure is an incredible experience that combines city exploration with a water adventure. It’s a fun, unique, and unforgettable way to get to know Downtown Austin.

Embark on a distinctive Downtown Austin adventure with Austin Duck Adventure—a city tour with a unique twist.
Embark on a distinctive Downtown Austin adventure with Austin Duck Adventure—a city tour with a unique twist.

2. Witness Austin’s Spectacular Sunset Show at Congress Avenue Bridge Bats

When considering what to do in Downtown Austin, witnessing the natural spectacle of the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats is a must. This isn’t just any ordinary bridge – it’s home to the largest urban bat colony in North America.

Every evening from March to October, just as the sun begins to set, an estimated 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the bridge. This breathtaking sight is one of the most unique and unforgettable experiences you can have in Downtown Austin.

As the sky darkens, the bats begin their nightly flight, creating a black cloud against the twilight sky. This spectacle attracts tourists and locals alike, who gather on the bridge, in boats on the lake, or on the shores of Lady Bird Lake to witness this natural wonder.

The Congress Avenue Bridge Bats are an integral part of Austin’s identity and ecosystem. They consume large amounts of insects each night, contributing to pest control in the city.

For those looking for a truly unique experience, make sure to add watching the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats to your list of Downtown Austin things to do. It’s a sight you won’t soon forget!

Congress Avenue Bridge Bats is one of the best things to do in Downtown Austin.
Don’t miss the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats—a must-see natural spectacle featuring North America’s largest urban bat colony.

3. Explore Austin’s Creative Nightlife at Upstairs Circus

When it comes to unique Downtown Austin places to visit, Upstairs Circus stands out. This isn’t your typical bar. Upstairs Circus is a place where you can unleash your creativity while enjoying a drink. It’s a bar and a DIY workshop all rolled into one, offering a unique twist to your usual night out.

Located in the 2nd Street District, Upstairs Circus gives you the chance to create your own personal souvenir while sipping on a circus-themed cocktail. From leatherwork to jewelry making, there’s a wide range of projects you can choose from.

Upstairs Circus provides a location where you can socialize, create, and have fun. It’s a testament to Austin’s vibrant and creative spirit, making it one of the best places to go in Downtown Austin, TX for an unforgettable night out.

In addition to the crafting, Upstairs Circus offers a full bar with a variety of drinks to choose from. If you’re a fan of craft beers, fine wines, or creative cocktails, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget to sample the circus-themed cocktails that add an extra touch of fun to the experience.

If you’re looking for a night out that’s a little different from the norm, Upstairs Circus is the place to be. It’s a place where you can let your creativity flow, meet new people, and have a great time. It’s one of the coolest Downtown Austin activities you shouldn’t miss.

Upstairs Circus: Beyond the ordinary bar, it's a creative drink-and-DIY experience, offering a unique Downtown Austin night out
Upstairs Circus: Beyond the ordinary bar, it’s a creative drink-and-DIY experience, offering a unique Downtown Austin night out

4. Unwind at Lady Bird Lake

Perhaps the most tranquil place to visit in the city, Lady Bird Lake, named after former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, is a reservoir on the Colorado River that serves as a natural oasis in the heart of Downtown Austin. This tranquil body of water is surrounded by the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, a 10-mile loop that’s a favorite among runners, cyclists, and walkers.

The lake itself is a hub for water activities. Paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing are popular pastimes here, with several rental shops available for those who need equipment. The calm waters of the lake make it an ideal spot for beginners and experienced paddlers alike.

For birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, the lake is a haven for local wildlife, including a large population of waterfowl. The serene environment, combined with the backdrop of the Austin skyline, creates a picturesque setting that’s perfect for a leisurely day out.

Lady Bird Lake is a testament to the city’s commitment to preserving its natural spaces, making it one of the best places to go in Downtown Austin, TX. Whether you’re looking to engage in outdoor activities or simply want to relax and enjoy the scenery, Lady Bird Lake has something for everyone.

Tranquil Lady Bird Lake: Downtown Austin oasis with the scenic Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, ideal for outdoor enthusiasts.
Tranquil Lady Bird Lake: Downtown Austin oasis with the scenic Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, ideal for outdoor enthusiasts.

5. Experience the Best of Downtown Austin with Double Decker Austin

One of the coolest (and most convenient) Downtown Austin things to do is to hop on a Double Decker Austin bus. This service offers a fun and easy way to explore the city at your own pace. With various stops at key attractions, it’s like having your personal tour guide and transportation all in one.

The double-decker bus takes you around Downtown Austin, passing by all the major sights. From the iconic State Capitol to the bustling Sixth Street, you’ll get to see it all. The best part? You can hop on and off at any stop, giving you the freedom to explore the places that interest you the most.

Each bus has a live guide who provides interesting facts and stories about the city. So, you’re not just seeing the sights; you’re learning about Austin’s rich history and culture, too.

Double Decker Austin is a flexible and enjoyable way to discover the city. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local looking to delve deeper into the city’s history, it’s one of the best places to go in Downtown Austin, TX for a comprehensive city tour.

Hop on a Double Decker bus
Hop on a Double Decker Austin bus: Explore Downtown Austin at your pace, with attraction stops like a personal tour guide and transportation in one.

6. Unleash Your Adventurous Side with Congress Avenue Kayaks

Searching for the coolest Downtown Austin activities? Paddling with Congress Avenue Kayaks should be on your itinerary. Located at the Waller Creek Boathouse on Trinity Street, this place offers you the opportunity to navigate the Colorado River and enjoy the city’s skyline from a different perspective.

Rent a kayak for an hour or half a day, depending on your preference. You can choose a single, double, or triple kayak, making it a perfect activity whether you’re solo, with a partner, or with a group. Paddle under bridges, spot murals, or head out onto the open waters of Lady Bird Lake. It’s an excellent way to spend some time outdoors and see the city from a new angle.

During bat season at Congress Avenue Bridge, Congress Avenue Kayaks also offers guided sunset kayak tours. Imagine floating on the river, watching the sunset, and seeing the dusk bat flight. It’s a unique and unforgettable experience that you can only have in Downtown Austin.

So, if you’re wondering where to visit in Downtown Austin for a mix of adventure and nature, make sure to include Congress Avenue Kayaks in your itinerary.

Congress Avenue Kayaks at Waller Creek Boathouse offers river paddling with skyline views.
Congress Avenue Kayaks at Waller Creek Boathouse offers river paddling with skyline views.

7. Immerse Yourself in the Past at Bullock Texas State History Museum

History enthusiasts will find the Bullock Texas State History Museum a treasure trove of knowledge. Situated just a short walk from the iconic Texas Capitol, this museum offers an in-depth exploration of Texas history and its people. It’s truly one of the top things to do in Downtown Austin, hands down.

The museum is home to three floors of exhibitions, each dedicated to a different era of Texas history. From the tales of the state’s earliest inhabitants to the Space Race and beyond, the museum covers a broad spectrum of topics. It’s a place where visitors can learn about the events and individuals that have shaped Texas into the state we know today.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum also features temporary exhibits, a theater, and an IMAX cinema, adding to its appeal. So, for those interested in art, culture, or history, this museum has something to offer.

For those compiling a list of unique places in Downtown Austin, Texas to learn and explore, the Bullock Texas State History Museum is a must-add.

Bullock Texas State History Museum is one of the best things to do in Downtown Austin.
Bullock Texas State History Museum: Near the Capitol, a history enthusiast’s treasure, exploring Texas history and its people.

8. Savor the Flavors at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q

Stubb’s Bar-B-Q is a must-visit for foodies and music lovers alike. Located on the eastern edge of downtown, this venue is renowned for its mouthwatering barbecue and live music performances. It’s one of the best places in Downtown Austin to enjoy a meal while soaking up the city’s vibrant music scene.

Stubb’s Bar-B-Q is famous for its slow-cooked brisket, which is smoked to perfection over Texas post oak. The menu also features other Texas barbecue staples like sausage, chicken, and ribs, all served with a side of Stubb’s legendary barbecue sauce.

Stubb’s is more than just a barbecue joint. It’s also one of the best concert venues in town. High-profile national acts often perform on the outdoor stage, which can accommodate as many as 2,000 fans. There’s also a smaller stage indoors for more intimate performances.

For a taste of the city’s culinary and music scenes, adding Stubb’s Bar-B-Q to your list of places in Downtown Austin to visit is a decision you won’t regret.

Stubb's Bar-B-Q is essential for foodies and music enthusiasts, offering mouthwatering barbecue and live performances.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q is essential for foodies and music enthusiasts, offering mouthwatering barbecue and live performances.

9. Step into the Bizarre at the Museum of the Weird

Hands down, this attraction is one of the coolest in the city. For those seeking unique Downtown Austin places to visit, the Museum of the Weird is a must. This quirky museum, located on 6th Street, started as a gift shop but has since evolved into a fascinating collection of oddities and curiosities.

From a mummified mermaid and a furry trout to a frozen ice-age man, the museum showcases a range of strange artifacts that will pique your curiosity. It’s a place where the macabre, the curious, and the undeniably odd come together.

The Museum of the Weird also hosts daily live circus sideshow performances. If you’re not faint-hearted, you can watch performers hang hooks from their eyes or poke nails up their noses. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly an experience you won’t forget!

For those who enjoy the unusual and the extraordinary, the Museum of the Weird is one of the coolest things to do in Downtown Austin, TX. Don’t forget to visit on your next trip to Texas!

Museum of the Weird showcases a quirky collection of oddities and curiosities for a truly unique experience.
Museum of the Weird showcases a quirky collection of oddities and curiosities for a truly unique experience.

10. Experience the Grandeur of the Texas Capitol

For first-time visitors to Austin, a tour of the Texas State Capitol is an absolute must. This iconic landmark has been operational since 1888 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. It’s one of the best places to go in Downtown Austin, TX for history enthusiasts and architecture lovers alike.

The Texas State Capitol is renowned for its stunning Renaissance Revival architecture. The building houses offices and chambers used by top members of the legislature in the state of Texas. As you wander through its grand halls, you’ll get a glimpse of the state’s rich political history and the people who have shaped it.

Art lovers will be particularly drawn to the Capitol’s intricate design details and the craftsmanship evident in its construction. It’s a testament to the state’s past and a symbol of its future.

When compiling your list of things to do in Downtown Austin, Texas, make sure the Texas State Capitol is at the top. Adding the Texas State Capitol to your Downtown Austin things-to-do list is a decision that promises a rich and enlightening journey through Texas history.

Texas State Capitol: Downtown Austin must-see since 1888, history and architecture enthusiasts' delight.
Texas State Capitol: Downtown Austin must-see since 1888, history and architecture enthusiasts’ delight.

11. Enjoy a Movie Night at Alamo Drafthouse

Movie lovers will find the Alamo Drafthouse to be a delightful destination. This unique movie theater, which originated in Austin and has since spread to various locations across the U.S., is located in a charming vintage theater in downtown Austin.

The Alamo Drafthouse offers more than just movies. It’s a full dining experience with food and drinks served right to your seat. The menu is diverse, offering everything from classic popcorn and soda to gourmet pizzas and craft beers. There’s even a selection of themed cocktails and dishes tailored to the films being shown.

The theater also hosts engaging events like quote-along and theme nights, ensuring each visit is a unique experience. These special events, combined with the theater’s delicious food and drink offerings, make for a movie night unlike any other.

And the cherry on top? You can opt for balcony seats for an elevated view of the screen. So, if you’re a film enthusiast or simply looking for an entertaining night out, adding the Alamo Drafthouse to your list of the coolest Downtown Austin activities is a decision you’ll appreciate.

Alamo Drafthouse: Movie lover's delight, unique theater born in Austin, now in a charming downtown vintage theater.
Alamo Drafthouse: Movie lover’s delight, unique theater born in Austin, now in a charming downtown vintage theater.

12. Laugh Out Loud at Esther’s Follies

For a night filled with laughter and magic, Esther’s Follies is the place to be. Located on 6th Street in Downtown Austin, this intimate theater has been entertaining audiences for over forty years with its unique blend of comedic satire, magical illusions, and lively song and dance routines. It’s easy to see why this is among the best Downtown Austin things to do!

Esther’s Follies is a testament to the enduring charm of vaudeville, offering a modern twist on this classic form of entertainment. The performances here are always fresh and engaging, with a strong emphasis on humor and audience interaction.

The theater also has a full bar and offers food from a taqueria in an outside courtyard. This makes it a perfect spot for a fun-filled evening out, whether you’re a local or just visiting.

Adding Esther’s Follies to your list of unique places in Downtown Austin, Texas promises an evening filled with laughter, magic, and the vibrant spirit of Downtown Austin. It’s a venue I recommend to everyone visiting Austin, TX.

Visiting Esther's Follies is one of the best things to do in Downtown Austin.
Esther’s Follies is a comedy and magic hotspot on 6th Street, offering unique performances for over 40 years.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Best Things to Do in Downtown Austin

Looking to expand your knowledge of the best things to do in Downtown Austin? Here are some common questions I get asked a lot about the best activities in Downtown Austin, TX.

The most popular street in Downtown Austin is undoubtedly 6th Street. Known as the city’s entertainment hub, it’s lined with bars, clubs, and music venues that come alive with energy and music every night.

What is downtown Austin known for?

Downtown Austin, Texas, is known for its vibrant music scene, impressive culinary offerings, eclectic arts and culture, and bustling nightlife. Here’s an overview of what makes Downtown Austin unique:

  1. Live Music Capital of the World: Austin has more live music venues per capita than almost any other city in the nation. Downtown, you can find music playing in everything from dedicated music halls to casual bars. The renowned Sixth Street is often at the heart of this scene.
  2. Food Scene: Downtown Austin offers a diverse array of dining options, from food trucks to high-end restaurants. Barbecue and Tex-Mex are particularly prominent.
  3. Tech Hub: Sometimes referred to as the “Silicon Hills,” Austin has a burgeoning tech scene, with many tech companies and startups located downtown.
  4. State Capitol: The Texas State Capitol building is a historic site that stands impressively in Downtown Austin. Its pink granite exterior and significant history make it a must-see landmark.
  5. Nightlife: Whether it’s the famous bars on Sixth Street or the more laid-back vibes of Rainey Street Historic District, Downtown Austin offers a variety of nightlife options.
  6. Outdoor Activities: Lady Bird Lake runs along the southern edge of downtown, offering opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and walking or biking on the surrounding trails.
  7. Cultural Institutions: Downtown is home to several museums, including the Blanton Museum of Art and the Bullock Texas State History Museum, as well as theaters like the Paramount.
  8. Festivals and Events: Austin hosts numerous annual events, including South by Southwest (SXSW), a massive festival celebrating music, film, and interactive media, and Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL).

Downtown Austin represents a blend of Texas tradition and contemporary culture, making it a dynamic and exciting place to visit or live. Whether you’re interested in music, food, history, or outdoor activities, Downtown Austin has something to offer.

What is the best part of Downtown Austin?

The best part of Downtown Austin can vary depending on personal preferences. History buffs shouldn’t miss the Texas State Capitol area, while outdoor enthusiasts can explore the scenic trails and water activities around Lady Bird Lake. Nightlife seekers will find their destinations on 6th Street and Rainey Street.

6th Street: Downtown Austin's lively entertainment hub with bars, clubs, and music venues, buzzing every night.
6th Street: Downtown Austin’s lively entertainment hub with bars, clubs, and music venues, buzzing every night.

Is Austin a walkable city?

Yes, Austin, especially the downtown area, is quite walkable. Many of the city’s attractions, restaurants, and shops are located within walking distance of each other. There are also plenty of pedestrian-friendly trails, like the one around Lady Bird Lake.

Is Downtown Austin worth visiting?

Absolutely! Downtown Austin is the heart of the city. It’s where you’ll find a wealth of attractions, from historic landmarks like the Texas State Capitol to entertainment venues like Esther’s Follies. With its vibrant nightlife, rich history, and diverse culinary scene, Downtown Austin is worth a visit.

Does Austin, Texas have good nightlife?

Yes, Austin is famous for its vibrant nightlife. The city is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and for good reason. On any given night, you can find live performances spanning a variety of genres. From the bars and clubs on 6th Street to the live music venues in the Red River Cultural District, Austin offers a nightlife scene that caters to all tastes.

Concluding the Coolest Things to Do in Downtown Austin

Downtown Austin is a vibrant and dynamic part of the city that offers a diverse range of experiences. Its rich history is evident in its well-preserved architecture and numerous museums, while its arts scene thrives in its galleries, theaters, and live music venues.

The city’s culinary scene is another highlight, with a wide array of dining options that cater to all tastes. From food trucks serving up local favorites to upscale restaurants offering gourmet cuisine, there’s something for everyone.

Outdoor enthusiasts will also find plenty to love about Downtown Austin. With Lady Bird Lake at its doorstep, the city offers a wealth of outdoor activities, from kayaking and paddleboarding to hiking and biking along scenic trails.

And let’s not forget about Austin’s vibrant nightlife. Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” the city is home to numerous bars, clubs, and music venues that offer live performances every night.

If you’re a history lover, a foodie, an outdoor enthusiast, or a music lover, Downtown Austin has something to offer you. With its diverse range of attractions and activities, it’s a city that invites exploration and promises unforgettable experiences. So, get ready to dive in and discover the best things to do in Downtown Austin. You’re in for an adventure that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

The top things to do in Downtown Austin for all types of travelers
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