14 Free and affordable things to do in Austin


Renowned for its live music and picturesque outdoor scenery, the state capital of Texas is a delight for both the eyes and ears. The locus of activity in the city is its downtown district, which exudes a laid-back atmosphere by day and a buzzing vibe by night, when a myriad of bars, clubs and music venues burst into life. For culture vultures, there’s also a hearty sprinkling of art galleries, while dedicated fashionistas will enjoy perusing the multiple boutiques to be found.

Austin’s 360 Bridge at pictured at sunset (Photo: sbmeaper1 via Flickr / CC0 1.0)

Whatever your tastes, there’s certain to be something to keep you occupied and entertained in Austin for as many days or weeks as you plan to spend here. And there’s also plenty to see and do that won’t break the bank, either. If you’re looking for activities that are either free or affordable, the following list will give you plenty of food for thought.

Blanton Museum of Art

When it comes to cheap indoor activities in Aspen, some of the best value to be found are within the city’s cultural institutions. Among the most popular is the Blanton Museum of Art, which is located on the University of Texas at Austin campus and is free to enter for both students and the general public. The museum boasts an impressive mix of classic and modern art, and there are also regular free events here including yoga sessions. For refreshments, an onsite café is just the ticket.

LOCATION 200 East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard HOURS Tues-Fri 10am-5pm Sat 11am-5pm Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Mon

A modernist sculpture on display at Blanton Museum of Art (Photo: Ed Uthman via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Westin Austin Rooftop Pool

It’s not often you have the chance to access a stunning rooftop swimming pool without having to spend a dime, yet in Austin such an opportunity exists thanks to the luxurious Westin Austin hotel. Here, during designated hours, visitors can scale the property and make use of the pool – the tallest anywhere in the city – while soaking up the expansive panoramic views, perhaps with an indulgent cocktail in hand courtesy of the sumptuous pool bar.

LOCATION 310 East 5th Street HOURS Mon-Weds 12pm-11pm Thurs 12pm-12am Fri-Sat 7pm-12am Sun 1pm-11pm

Downtown Austin tour

If you like the idea of seeing a large chunk of Austin in one fowl swoop, then a neat way of doing just this is by joining an organised city tour. There are a number of tour agencies based in and around the city and one of the most well-regarded is Austin Detours, a family-run company that hosts a diverse mix of themed tours and ‘experiential’ activities for both individuals and groups. All tours are hosted by specialist locals including artists, musicians, foodies, writers and actors, and invite guests to explore the city’s best known landmarks and places of interest, as well as its lesser known attractions.

Austin Detours

Guests pose for a photo during a tour of Downtown Austin (Photo: Austin Detours)

Wizard World

This travelling pop culture expo stops off in Austin in November each year for three action-packed days of comics, sci-fi, movies, gaming and plenty more. Visitors can tour a dedicated artist’s alley, take part in fun-filled costume competitions, and meet acclaimed celebrities from the world of pop culture. Notable names to appear at the festival in recent years include Doctor Who’s David Tennant, Peter Capaldi, and Pearl Mackie, Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Henry Winkler (Happy Days) and Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Go to www.wizardworld.com for more info.

LOCATION Austin Convention Center, 500 East Cesar Chavez Street DATES 8-10 November

A child peruses a display of comics at Wizard World (Photo: Wizard World)

Hope Outdoor Gallery

Also known as the Graffiti Park, the Hope Outdoor Gallery is completely covered in – as the name suggests – eye-catching graffiti. As you approach, you can see the concrete walls and structures that serve as an open-air canvas for Austin’s most talented street artists. If you’re lucky, you may even spot one of them at work with spray paint in hand. The park has a rapid turnaround of artwork, meaning if you go back twice you’re certain to be greeted by new artistic creations.

LOCATION 1101 Baylor Street

The eye-catching open-air artwork of Austin’s Hope Outdoor Gallery (Photo: Daniel McGrotty via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Zilker Park

Austin is blessed with plenty of green public spaces and on sunny days large numbers of city residents and visitors descend on Zilker Metropolitan Park, a 350-acre park in the heart of the city. Here the vast open fields are the perfect place to play sports or enjoy a picnic with friends, while hiking and camping grounds offer something more intrepid for those of a more active and adventurous disposition.

LOCATION 2100 Barton Springs Road HOURS Mon-Sun 5am-10pm

Austin Nature & Science Center

Perched on the edges of Zilker Park, the Austin Nature and Science Center has the bold mission of increasing awareness and appreciation of the natural environment. It does this through a wide range of educational exhibits and workshops that explore the rich diversity of our natural world. Among the highlights are a dedicated dino pit, where kids can dig for dinosaur fossils.

LOCATION 2389 Stratford Drive DATES Mon-Sat 9am-5pm Sun 12pm-5pm

An inquisitive-looking owl at the Austin Animal Center (Photo: Phil Bruxvoort via Flickr)

Austin Central Library

Bookish types visiting Austin should spare time to visit Austin Central Library, which is not only a superb receptacle for a huge assortment of books, but is also an architectural wonder in its own right. Opened in 2017, replacing the old Faulk Central Library, it’s spread over six floors of books media, and study spaces. On sunny days, visitors can kick back with a book on the rooftop terrace overlooking Lady Bird Lake and there’s also an on-site café and bar serving craft cocktails.

LOCATION 710 West Cesar Chavez Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-9pm Fri-Sat 10am-6pm Sun 12pm-6pm

Austin Ice Cream Festival

One of the city’s most eagerly awaited events – with kids and adults alike, this festival has grown bigger and better down the years and is now more dynamic than ever. There’s a daytime, family-focused event with mouth-watering frozen treats from local and national brand, while other entertainment comes in the shape of contests, live entertainment, local food trucks and plenty more. As the sun comes down, Fiesta Gardens morphes into After Dark at Austin’s Ice Cream Festival, a fashionable party featuring headline music acts, vendors selling frosty treats including boozy frozen drinks, and some of Austin’s most acclaimed food trucks. Daytime tickets are $15.

LOCATION Fiesta Garden along Lady Bird Lake DATES June

Austin Ice Cream Festival

Smiling workers with spoons-in-hand at Austin Ice Cream Festival (Photo: Austin Ice Cream Festival)

Yoga at Cherrywood Coffeehouse

One of the frustrations of travelling is having to put a halt to your exercise regime, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yoga enthusiasts visiting Aspen can head to Cherrywood Coffeehouse, a neighbourhood gem boasting a community-centric atmosphere and which hosts a weekly programme of free yoga classes for all-comers. There’s also regular free music and kids shows, art fairs and open mic nights. Dogs are welcome too – but, sadly, not for yoga.

LOCATION 1400 East 38th 1/2 Street HOURS Mon-Fri 8am-9am

Mexic-Arte Museum

One of Austin’s best cultural venues is also – happily – free to enter on Sundays. Founded in 1984 by artists Sylvia Orozco, Sam Coronad and Pio Pulido, Mexic-Arte Museum is a fine arts museum that attracts some 75,000 visitors per year with its showcasing of contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latino art and culture. A wide range of innovative exhibitions and educational programming are designed to educate, inform and promote dialogue.

LOCATION 1400 East 38th 1/2 Street HOURS Mon-Fri 8am-9am

A colourful exhibit at Mexic-Arte Museum (Photo: smallcurio via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Lady Bird Lake

You don’t need to go far to get away from it all in Austin and one of the most popular spots for some tranquil respite from the city hubbub is Lady Bird Lake. Nestled in downtown Austin, the large and picturesque lake lures visitors with the promise of whiling away the hours in scenic surroundings. Lining the lake are several hiking and biking trails, and you can also rent a paddleboat or kayak and take to the water yourself.

Lady Bird Lake

The scenic environs of Lade Bird Lake (Photo: Marc Majcher via Flick / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Euphoria Festival

Established seven years ago, Euphoria has rapidly grown into a truly unique musical event, serving as a magnet for vast numbers of music lovers from across Texas and far beyond. Once again, the 2019 edition will focus on electronic music, but there’ll also be hip hop, indie, and jam band artists to be enjoyed, along with dazzling art installations, evocative live painting and a wide variety of fun and educational workshops. Following its resounding popularity last year, car camping will once again be available to festival-goers, as well as traditional camping, all on offer for pretty affordable rates.

LOCATION Carson Creek Ranch DATES May

Euphoria Festival

Dazzling lights engulf the audience at Euphoria Festival (Photo: Euphoria Festival)

Barton Springs Pool

Summers in Austin can get blisteringly hot and there’s nowhere better to cool off than at Barton Springs Pool, a recreational outdoor swimming pool which can be found within the aforementioned green expanse of Zilker Park. During the summer months, taking a dip in this three-acre pool is free for all-comers who visit for early morning and late-evening sessions, while for the rest of the year it’s free at all times.

LOCATION 2131 William Barton Drive HOURS Fri-Weds 5am-10pm Thurs 5am-9am & 7pm-10pm

By Paul Joseph