Free and fun things to do in Austin

Amy on
austin texas

The weird, wild capital of the Lone Star State is known for a lot of things -- music festivals, startup culture, a laid-back vibe and the best BBQ in America, to name a few -- and it’s quickly becoming a synonym for “cool place to live” in pop culture references far and wide, from its mention in The Office finale as Jim and Pam’s new home to the fact that countless lists include it among the top 10 places in the nation to hang your (cowboy) hat.

So, why all the fuss? If you’ve visited, you probably understand the hipster haven’s allure... and if you haven’t, perhaps its recent selection as thebest city in the US for the “Young, Broke and Single" will convince you of its cheap/chic grandeur. To wit, the Moveline team has compiled a ten-gallon list of free things to do in Austin.

Enjoy the outdoors

“The stars at night / Are big and bright / Deep in the heart of Texas,” just like the songs says... and truth be told, the views are pretty awesome by day as well. Get your heart rate up by climbing the limestone steps up to Covert Park at Mt. Bonnell, the highest publicly-accessible point in the city, for sweeping photo ops and the perfect spot for a little meditation. Spin your wheels or run the pup around the city’s central body of water via the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail (pro tip: it’s referred to as “Town Lake” by the locals).

Catch some rays and play some frisbee golf on the Greenbelt, or cool off by taking a dip in the serene (yet always packed) Barton Springs Pool -- thanks to its $3 entry fee, it’s technically not free, but hey.... it’s pretty darn close. Beautiful city parks are a staple of local living, as are copious amounts of sunscreen; there’s no shortage of opportunities to use both all over town.

Get cultured

An arts mecca, Austin prides itself on the constant availability of creative experiences. No fewer than eight museums offer free admission all the time, while The Blanton waives its entry fee every Thursday and the Austin Children’s Museum hosts community nights on Wednesdays with suggested donations of just $1.

The Austin Symphony invites music lovers to hang out under the stars and enjoy live performances every Sunday evening in the summer, while an endless variety of offbeat fun presents itself all year round in the form of burlesque shows, theatrical productions and events that defy definition; check the Austin Chronicle’s events calendar for up-to-the-minute news on what’s fun and free.

Party, party, party

Austin’s signature event -- as far as its global audience is concerned, anyway -- is most certainlySouth By Southwest, a juggernaut of a festival including the genres of music, film and interactive. Although its badges and wristbands are undeniably pricey, the unofficial SXSW party circuit is as robust as the festival itself. Start canvassing the web a few months early to get on the list for each party that interests you, and once the festival arrives, follow the tweets, texts and Instagrams other events popping up around town with free food, drinks and entertainment. There’s never any shortage of brands (and bands) ready to vie for your loyalty with tacos and beer on the house when the South By machine is in town.

As for the rest of the year, the Live Music Capital of the World is called such for a reason; not a night goes by without a local band (or ten, or twenty) playing somewhere with no cover, just waiting for you to rock out with them.

And of course, if your personal life is more Fraggle Rock than Shiner Bock, the blog “Free Fun in Austin” is a virtual funhouse filled with daily tips on family-friendly things to do without opening your wallet.

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