Austin is the capital of Texas, America’s eleventh largest city, seat of barbecue and live music, and a spectacular destination for those in search of an incredible fun-filled getaway. But what should you do in Austin? What should you expect when you come here to central Texas? We hope this guide will help!
Note: please click on the links throughout this guide to read our past content on Austin.
Austin Bergstrom International Airport is your gateway, with direct flights from both coasts. However, the airport does not host a hub of a single airline, so schedules can be limited. The best bets are American and Southwest, although all US-based airlines fly in from hub cities. There is also a British Airways flight from London, which seems an odd route.
The airport is made up of two terminals, though most flights go in and out of the larger and more modern north terminal. Upon arrival, you’ll likely notice live music being played in the terminal. This is not an accident, and will be a major theme of your trip.
If you aren’t being picked up or renting a car, be prepared for a long walk to the taxi stand, across from which is the Uber/Lyft pickup area. It is across the street, up a level, and across the parking structure. So it’s probably a better idea to wait until you are close before submitting your pickup request via app. Transportation downtown should run between $20 and $30 pre-tip, and take 20-40 minutes depending on Austin’s notoriously bad traffic.
Austin Bergstrom International Airport is easy to navigate, airy, and altogether pleasant!
Public transportation is not really in existence here, so you’ll either need a car or to deal with arranging ride-shares or cabs. Austin was a fairly small city until not too long ago, and is built around a single major highway, Interstate 35. As the city has grown, the grid system here has been overwhelmed, and traffic can be heinous, especially when trying to cross the extremes of the city. Fortunately, most things you’ll want to do are within a fairly small radius of the main areas downtown, both just north and south of the Colorado River along Congress Ave.
Where to Stay
Stay downtown. I can’t stress that enough. While there are numerous Airbnb options throughout the city, being within walking distance of some of the amazing food and entertainment venues in Austin’s downtown core is a big boon, especially for those who choose not to rent a car. On my most recent trip, I stayed at the Embassy Suites on Congress Avenue, but there are representative properties of virtually all major chains, crossing the spectrum from casual and family-friendly to ultra-luxurious, with price-points to match. Austin is not a cheap city, but it also will have affordable options (other than during South by Southwest or Austin City Limits).
This is Congress Ave, looking north to downtown. Stay along here.
What to Do
Unlike many of my chosen destinations, Austin isn’t the place to visit for museums and other such cultural spots. To be sure, there is a stunning state capital building and a state history museum, but if you journey to Austin, it is likely for one reason: fun!
Many of the things I’d suggest planning a trip around are in the next section (what to eat) so let’s talk about pure activities here. First off, Austin is home to more live music venues per capita than any other city in the country, which is why it has earned the nickname “The Live Music Capital of the World.” It can be found everywhere, from bars to street corners to dedicated music halls. My two favorites are both on South Congress Avenue: The Continental Club and C-Boys Heart and Soul. Check the calendar, see who is playing, and make sure to hit up one of these places to see an incredible (generally local) act. (Note: for more on the Austin music scene, check out The Royal Tour: Austin with Tomar Williams of Tomar and the FCs, one of the city’s hottest acts.)
Beyond music, Austin is – perhaps shockingly – home to a significant number of water activities. I say shocking because central Texas isn’t really where you’d expect these things. But you can kayak or standup paddle board on Lady Bird Lake, swim at Barton Springs, or float down a lazy river in an inner tube with a couple thousand of your new closest friends just outside of town in San Marcos.
Back in town, check out Rainey Street or 6th Street for bars galore, heating up when the sun goes down. Or watch more than a million bats fly out from under the Congress Ave bridge at dusk during the summer months. Or explore the vibrant art scene of East Austin and its many galleries.
If all this isn’t enough to make an amazing long weekend in Austin sound incredible, San Antonio is only a couple hours away by car, easy enough for a long day trip or convenient overnight to see the Alamo, Mexican Market and more!
Finally, there are the aforementioned South by Southwest and Austin City Limits festivals. I have not personally been, but they are supposed to take all that is amazing about the city and up it tenfold. If you get a chance, make it happen to see one of these. I will!
The Continental Club. Amazing venue!
Where to Eat
Let’s get this out of the way now: Austin is one of the best food destinations in the United States. Seriously, everything is good, and a simple search for lines will show you the best outliers on a walk through the city. That said, here are a few of my personal favorites.
Franklin BBQ. It is legendary, home of the best Texas-style BBQ (smoked meats) in existence. You will need to wait in line for a LONG time. This trip, I lined up at 5:50am, and we were served around noon (it opens at 11am). Those who arrived after about 7am didn’t get to experience all of the meats Aaron Franklin and his team prepare, and those who arrived after roughly 8am didn’t get food at all. Is it worth it? Oh yes, and I have been three times now, waiting more than 5 hours each time. Bring a snack and a bottle of water, make friends with those around you, and enjoy the experience. (Everything is good, but the brisket is paradigm-altering.)
If this sounds too insane for you, I also really enjoyed Cooper’s. A half pound of brisket makes a perfect sandwich (just order a bun also), and grab a side of their jalapeño bacon mac and cheese.
For those in search of casual eats, try Torchy’s Tacos. They are not authentic, but insanely good, as the line out the door will show. Likewise for Amy’s, a local ice cream chain.
There are more good restaurants than can easily be listed here, so here are a few more: Hopdoddy for burgers, Lucky Robot for sushi, and Geraldine’s for great shared plates and interesting cocktails. You could come here for a month and never have a bad meal.
This is twelve pounds of meat at Franklin BBQ. Everything was incredible!
Other Useful Information
Not only is Austin notorious for bad traffic, it is also known for bad drivers. Be careful!
The city’s famous slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” A vibrant art and music scene, and a distinctly un-Texan vibe keeps this grounded in actuality today.
Austin is the largest city in the US to not host a professional team from one of the four major American sports leagues (baseball, basketball, football, and ice hockey). The University of Texas provides most of the local sports action.
There is – in theory – no smoking anywhere in public within the city, although private bars will often allow it on their outside patio areas. Alcohol is also not sold in Austin grocery stores on Sundays before noon, and hard alcohol not on Sundays at all.
A view along Lady Bird Lake.
If you are looking for a fun getaway, great food, wonderful music, and awesome people, Austin just might be the place for you. Whether for a long weekend or as the centerpiece of a longer trip, Texas’ capital is easily one of the most vibrant and wonderful cities I’ve visited, and I can’t recommend it enough!
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