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The Top 10 Free Things to Do in Austin

Destination(s): Austin

Sometimes the best things in life are free, which is exactly the case for some of Austin's most worthwhile sights. From historical points of interest to outdoor activities, this city has got its bases covered when it comes to free fun. Traipse to the top of Mount Bonnell for an unparalleled panoramic view or head over to the Congress Avenue Bridge for a stunning sunset spectacle of bats taking flight. Whatever your interests, there's bound to be a match in this best-of list of Austin activities. read more about The Top 10 Free Things to Do in Austin

Texas State Capitol

Texas State Capitol

  • 1100 Congress Ave
  • tel:+1 512 463 0063
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78701

The Texas State Legislature meets only once every two years, so if the cavernous building seems oddly deserted, the legislature is probably not in session. Considered one of the nation's most distinguished state buildings, the Texas State Capitol, with its strong red granite facade and Renaissance Revival architectural style, sits regally on a hill overlooking Congress Avenue. Largest of all state capitols and only second in size to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C., the Texas State Capitol anchors the north end of downtown, just four blocks south of the University of Texas at Austin campus. Free tours of the capitol building cover Texas history, fun facts about the 17 monuments on the 22-acre, park-like grounds, and information about the Texas legislature, or take the self-guided tour to explore at your own pace. You'll need to go through a quick security check at the entrance, including having your bags scanned by a metal detector. read more about Texas State Capitol

Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell

  • 3800 Mount Bonnell Road
  • tel:+1 512 499 6700
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78702

Known for its beautiful, unobstructed view of the Austin area since the mid-1800s, Mount Bonnell hosts family photos, sunset picnics and romantic marriage proposals on a regular basis. Visitors park at the base of the hill and work their way up nearly 100 stone steps to the wide open outcropping overlooking the southern side of the city and Lake Austin below. A short gravel trail leads slowly downhill and to the left, offering up quiet spots for personal reflection with a clear view of the massive Pennybacker Bridge. Peer left from Mount Bonnell to find the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas Tower on the University of Texas campus. read more about Mount Bonnell

Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

  • 100 Congress Ave
  • tel:+1 512 478 0098
  • Austin, 78701

Though it may look like your average overpass, Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge houses one of Austin's natural wonders—the world's largest urban bat colony. From March through November, approximately 1.5 million bats consider this simple structure their summer home. The Mexican free-tailed bats take flight nightly at dusk, consuming nearly 20,000 pounds of insects with each evening meal. Just ten blocks south of the Texas State Capitol and a mile north of the popular South Congress Avenue shopping district, this fascinating sight draws thousands of intrigued watchers to both sides of the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, as well as just below on the southeast bank of Lady Bird Lake (previously known as Town Lake.) Parking in the area can be cumbersome, so head down early with plenty of time to get in place for the spectacle. read more about Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

  • 2313 Red River
  • University of Texas
  • tel:+1 512 721 0200
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78705
Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail

Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail

  • S First Street between MoPac Blvd and Pleasant Valley Road
  • tel:+1 512 477 7273
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78701
South Congress Avenue

South Congress Avenue

  • South Congress Avenue
  • (between Riverside and Oltorf)
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78704

Known for its funky style, South Congress Avenue, located about a mile south of the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and with a clear and brilliant view of the Texas State Capitol, draws Austinites and area visitors for its shopping and eating opportunities. Stylish boutiques filled with unique clothing and accessories share South Congress Avenue with fun local eateries and antique stores brimming with undiscovered treasures. The first Thursday of each month brings the aptly titled First Thursday event, where SoCo storefronts remain open later, often serving margaritas or cold beer to a slew of people meandering the street in this open-to-the-public street festival of sorts. People watching is at its prime on South Congress Avenue weekend afternoons when many emerge for a lazy day of window-shopping. read more about South Congress Avenue

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

  • 21st and Guadalupe
  • University of Texas
  • tel:+1 512 471 8944
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78713

Among the buildings on the 40-acre University of Texas campus is the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, a cultural hub for US, British and French literature. Though its development began in 1897 with the gift of a 10,000-volume library from Swedish book collector Swante Palm, the Center got its official start in 1958. To date, the free museum/research center holds 36 million pages of manuscripts, one million rare books, 5 million photographs and 100,000 works of art. Step into the lobby for a look at the historic Gutenberg Bible, as well as the first successful permanent photograph. These permanent displays share space in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center with an array of touring exhibitions. Also a part of the archive: Edgar Allan Poe's writing desk, Jack Kerouac's journal written in preparation for "On the Road," the personal libraries of Ezra Pound and much more. Other nearby museums include the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. read more about Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Zilker Park

Zilker Park

  • 2100 Barton Springs Rd
  • tel:+1 512 477 8672
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78746

Zilker Park, Austin's largest urban green space, takes up 351 acres along the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake with Barton Springs Road intercepting the park midway. Grassy fields harbor soccer matches, volleyball competitions and countless Frisbee tosses regularly while the Zilker Playground on the park's southern end, complete with the pint-sized passenger train deemed the Zilker Zephyr, entices Austin's youngest residents. Within the Zilker Park grounds, visitors will find Barton Springs Pool and the Zilker Botanical Garden, as well as seasonal events including the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the annual Kite Festival and the summer music series, Blues on the Green. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum rests along the park's eastern border. read more about Zilker Park

University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin

  • Inner Campus Drive
  • Bordered by I-35, Guadalupe, MLK Boulevard and 26th Street
  • tel:+1 512 471 3434
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78712
Zilker Botanical Garden

Zilker Botanical Garden

  • 2220 Barton Springs Rd
  • tel:+1 512 477 8672
  • Visit website
  • Austin, 78746

Located in the heart of Austin, the Zilker Botanical Garden provides a beautiful urban retreat amid 30 acres in the middle of Zilker Park. This free and year-round attraction encompasses seven different garden types—everything ranging from roses and herbs to butterfly-attracting plants and succulents. The Hartman Prehistoric Garden recreates the environment that once existed on this land, including casts of dinosaur tracks found in 1992 that have since been reburied for preservation purposes. An authentic Japanese garden and teahouse add to the serenity of the Zilker Botanical Garden, while an in-house gift shop offers both souvenirs and educational information. read more about Zilker Botanical Garden