Overflowing with creativity and rhythm, the Live Music Capital of the World and the capital of Texas offers a wide variety of music, and events, including many live band shows for free, for the whole family. Here are the best cheap things to do in Austin including some that are completely free!

Downtown Austin

Austin

photo by MommyTravels.net

Wander through the vibrant streets of Downtown Austin, where the atmosphere is charged with live music, art, and a dynamic street life. Window-shop, take in the sights, and enjoy the bustling energy of this central district without spending much money.

Food Trucks

Dive into Austin’s eclectic food scene by exploring its numerous food trucks. From tacos to barbecue, these mobile kitchens offer delicious food at affordable prices. Take a culinary tour around the city and savor the flavors without burning a hole in your pocket.

Mount Bonnell

For panoramic views of Austin and the Colorado River, head to Mount Bonnell. This natural vantage point offers a stunning landscape, and the best part is, there’s no admission fee. It’s an ideal spot for a romantic sunset or a serene self-guided tour.

Cathedral of Junk

Uncover the quirky side of Austin by visiting the Cathedral of Junk. Located in a local’s backyard, this ever-evolving art installation is free to explore and showcases the city’s commitment to creativity and individual expression.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Art lovers can explore the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a haven of contemporary art nestled in the heart of Austin. With free admission during certain times, it’s a peaceful retreat featuring the works of renowned sculptor Charles Umlauf.

Visit the CapitolTexas State Capitol

Right in the heart of the city sits an amazing building that closely resembles the White House. The building you see is the Texas State Capitol. Admission is free. Many people are satisfied by simply entering the first 100 feet or so of the building, which has portraits of Texas’ various past governors, but feel free to explore! The Capitol is filled with interesting plaques, pictures, busts, portraits, and statues. If you walk a little further, you will eventually wind up at the gift shop, which is full of plenty of Texas and Austin-inspired gifts and souvenirs!

After exploring the capitol building, take a walk on the lawn. I would recommend bringing some breadcrumbs, seeds, or other squirrel-friendly foods because the Capitol squirrels are friendly! The outside lawn is not only home to several friendly squirrels and pigeons but also has several interesting historically significant statues and monuments. You can look around or just sit down and relax. Kids might enjoy rolling down the light hills with their soft green grass.

 

Central Market

Indulge in the vibrant atmosphere of Central Market, where you can explore the aisles of fresh produce, international delicacies, and unique finds. The lively market is a feast for the senses and a great place to enjoy without spending much money.

Parks and Surrounding Things to Do

Zilker Park Is A Popular Spot

Austin’s crown jewel, Zilker Park, is a sprawling oasis of greenery offering various activities for locals and visitors alike. With free admission, it’s a perfect spot for a picnic, a frisbee game, or just lounging under the shade of ancient oak trees.

Zilker Park is probably Austin’s most famous park. You can enjoy the outdoors by walking, biking, etc. or you can take part in newer events such as geocaching or ultimate disc. Austin has several other parks, too, including the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve (near St. Edward’s University off of Woodward street).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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While at Zilker Park, one very interesting attraction is the Nature and Science Center. This is a free mini-zoo featuring Texas-native animals and plants. In addition to various gall wasps, fish, and birds, the Center also features a bobcat and a retired former-cowdog-coyote. The Nature and Science Center also features collections of various specimens from different plants and animals, such as bones and exoskeletons, and has a “Dino Dig” where kids can unearth replicas of fossils.

Barton Springs PoolBarton Springs in Austin, Texas

Dive into the refreshing waters of Barton Springs Pool, a natural spring-fed pool located in Zilker Park. With a modest admission fee, it’s an affordable way to beat the Texas heat and enjoy a day of relaxation.

Mayfield Park

Discover the beauty of Mayfield Park, where peacocks roam freely around the historic cottage and gardens. With free admission, it’s a peaceful escape and a great place for nature lovers.

Lake Austin

Enjoy the scenic beauty of Lake Austin by taking a stroll along its shores or relaxing in one of the lakeside parks. With no admission fee, it’s a peaceful retreat and a great option for a budget-friendly day outdoors.

Nature Trails at McKinney Falls State Park

Nature enthusiasts can explore the diverse ecosystems of McKinney Falls State Park, just a short drive from Austin. With hiking trails and scenic waterfalls, it’s an ideal spot for a day of outdoor exploration at a minimal admission fee.

MuseumsHarry Ransom Center

Harry Ransom Center

Delve into literary and cultural history by visiting the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus. With free general admission, this center houses rare manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts, providing a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Blanton Museum of Art

Art enthusiasts can explore the Blanton Museum of Art, located on the University of Texas campus. With free admission on Thursdays, the museum houses a diverse and impressive permanent collection, making it a cultural gem in Austin.

Austin Nature & Science CenterAustin Nature & Science Center

Families and science enthusiasts can explore the Austin Nature & Science Center, offering interactive exhibits and educational programs. With free general admission, it’s a perfect way to spend a day learning and having fun.

Festivals

Austin is the host of several fun and entertaining festivals throughout the year.

  • The Pecan Street Festival takes place on 6th street and hosts several vendors and performers.
  • The South by Southwest music and film festival takes place during spring break.

You might be able to catch a free show or two, but even if you can’t, just walking down 6th Street during this time of year will surely bring you some entertainment. A few years ago, I spotted the Naked Cowboy, as well as several ‘aliens’ and ‘astronauts’ (in costume).

The “Thrill the World” event, where hundreds of people dress up as zombies and do Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance, also takes place in the city. In addition to this, you might also enjoy Marley Fest, the Texas Relays, and the Zilker Park Kite Festival.

South Congress

Kendra Scott Cafe on South Congress (1)South Congress Avenue, which starts at the Capitol and leads to South Austin, has several interesting free things to do. Other than Zilker Park, south of Lady Bird Lake you can find plenty of interesting, Austin-specific events.

On the South Congress bridge, between spring and fall, you can watch the bat colony! The South Congress Bat Colony is the largest urban bat colony in the world! After the sun sets, you can watch clouds of bats fly Eastward to catch their ‘dinner’ for the night. The bat bridge is a very popular event, so you should arrive early to get a good spot! The best places to watch are near the lake and standing on top of the bridge.

Live Music Venues in Austin

In addition to the artists mentioned above, try searching for children’s musical events by location. Ruta Maya on South Congress is a favorite with local parents. Every Sunday at 10:30 it presents artists such as The Telephone Company and The Strollers. These shows are always free.

On Wednesday mornings during the summer, Symphony Square Amphitheater is the place to be. Austin Symphony’s Children’s Day Art Park combines clowns, storytellers, crafts, and big-name musicians for an art extravaganza. Entrance fee is 50 cents (yes, cents!) per child, adults are free when accompanying a child.

Getting Around Austin

Those flying or taking the train into Austin should consider using public transportation. The novelty of taking a new bus is fun for children and it allows parents and kids to take in the sights together along the way more fully than if the parents are busy navigating a car.

Visitors staying downtown, can make use of buses that can take them anywhere they might want to go and fares are low compared to most metropolitan areas. Capital Metro’s online Trip Planner allows a passenger to enter departure and destination addresses and then receive a detailed itinerary. In addition, comprehensive bus schedules, which are available at Capital Metro at 4th and Congress, allow you to navigate creatively as you move from one attraction to the next.

Fun Things Just For Parents

In addition to all the family fun, there is the nightlife for which Austin is so justifiably famous. Some hotels offer child care while the grown-ups are out. There are also nanny placement agencies that can provide pre-screened and local mama-approved babysitters.

Best of all, the wildest night on the town will probably not take you more than 5 blocks from your hotel, so if the kids need their parents, if only for a moment, they are never far away, even if it feels that way.

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Cheap things to do in Austin, Texas

Preparations

For those not familiar with Central Texas weather, it is worth taking some time to consult the forecast before packing. The summer heat can be a shock for those who aren’t accustomed; the winter chill may be the last thing you expect so far south.

Thunderstorms are often torrential downpours. Fortunately, if you suddenly realize you need some piece of gear, you will probably find it, children’s sizes included, at REI or Patagonia, both located downtown.

 

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Get Travel Insurance

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can go wrong on any trip. Be prepared for the worst with travel insurance. We use Travelex or Safety Wing (often cheaper).

Book Flights

I use Skyscanner to find flights. I use it so much, I wrote an entire guide to finding cheap flights with Skyscanner!

Book a Place to Stay

I recommend using Expedia.com or Hotels.com for most hotel bookings. I prefer to book directly with Marriott when I stay there because of their excellent military discount.

If you prefer staying in a vacation rental instead, I recommend VRBO. If you are looking for a hostel, I use HostelWorld.

Rent Clothes

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Choose Activities and Tours

To find great activities in any area I use Viator. If we are visiting a city with lots of popular attractions I always check CityPass and GoCard to see if they have discount cards available. Groupon also tends to have a lot of local travel deals.

When I want to book a full-on multi-day tour I use TourRadar. They’ve got fantastic weekly deals. If I am going somewhere in Mexico or the Caribbean I use Apple Vacations.

Rent a Car or Take a Lyft

More often than not Lyft is cheaper than Uber. Use my Lyft link for an $18 credit! For a car rental in any country, I recommend Hertz or Discover Cars.

Save Money on Gas

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