There’s a freedom you begin to feel the closer you get to Austin, Texas.Willie Nelson
If you’re heading to Austin, Texas (AKA ATX) you may be wondering what you can do for free while you’re there. Whether you’re a broke backpacker, a frugal college student, a mom with a big family, or just someone looking to save on your travels; you’ll love these ideas of free things to do in Texas.
Take A Picture At the Murals
There are at least 100 art murals across the city of Austin. You can easily Google “Austin murals” and even just type in the name of the mural into Google Maps to find a specific one. Above is the “My Butter Half” Mural but other popular art walls are the “I Love You So Much” and “Greetings from Austin”.
Be prepared to wait in line on the weekends and for especially popular ones. If you’re like most people, just ask the person in front of you to take a photo of you and your crew. If you have a tripod, bring it.
All of these murals are free but remember that they are usually on the side of a business who may try to entice you to come on in, so you may end up being unable to resist that ice cream bar or coffee.
Enjoy Free Museum Days
If you can plan your outings on a certain day, you will be surprised by how many museums offer free admission.
There are so many opportunities to see museums for free in Austin that it’s worth a whole other article, but here are the top ones that you are worth your time. All normal admission prices are quoted for adults.
- The Contemporary Austin– actually 2 separate museums, the Laguna Gloria displays 14 acres of sculptures while the Jones Center has more general art. Both locations are free every Tuesday and Laguna Gloria is also free from 6-9 PM on Thursdays. Click for hours. Normal admission is $10 per person.
- Blanton Art Museum – free every Thursday but if you park in the Brazos structure nearby it’s $4 once you get your ticket validated in the museum. Otherwise, you’ll have to find street parking. Normally, this museum is $12 per person.
- Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library – this presidential library is quite fascinating and I was surprised to learn how much LBJ actually did. It’s only free on certain holidays, the current list can be seen here. Otherwise, it’s $10 per adult. Parking is free and easy in lot #38.
- The Texas Capitol is always free – see below for more info on this historical landmark.
- The Bullock State History Musem is between the Capitol and the Blanton and is free the first Sunday of every month. Here you will learn about Texas history including the fashion of the past, Texas oil, the Suffrage Movement, how Texas became a state, and more. It also boasts the largest screen in Texas, but the movies they play in IMAX (like Apollo 11) are an extra fee of $9 (see current fees).
- The Texas Military Forces Museum At Camp Mabry is every little boys’ dream – featuring fighter jets, tanks, jeeps, planes, uniforms, weapons, helicopters, and more. You can see items dating back to 1823 in this 45,000 square foot museum. They even do events like Civil War Reenactments.
- The Thinkery – a children’s museum, they offer free admission on Wednesdays from 4-8 PM. They do ask for a suggested donation of $1 per person.
Whatever you like, there’s a free museum for you!
See the Cathedral of Junk
Built by a man named Vince in South Austin, the Cathedral of Junk is exactly what it sounds like. He started putting together this “clubhouse” in 1988 and estimates that it now has 60 tons of junk. He does not charge admission.
It is literally built in his backyard, so you have to make an appointment to come see it. Call Vince at 512-299-7413, the Cathedral can be found at 4422 Lareina Dr., Austin, TX.
The tower is made up of found objects like car bumpers, ladders, cables, bottles, bicycle parks, lawnmower wheels, clocks, and illuminated beer signs.
If you’re intrigued by interesting objects, this is a great stop for you!
Read A Book at the Central Library
“A library?” You scoff. Yep, in Austin even libraries are rad. The Central Library has 200,000 square feet over six floors. This library seats almost 600 people, making it a great place to hang out. There’s also a Cafe/Bar, meeting rooms, a gallery space, and reading porches overlooking Lady Bird Lake.
Head up to the rooftop to see the beautiful garden with its cool solar installation which powers the library. This library is so cool, it was named one of TIME Magazine World’s Greatest Places 2018.
Tour the Capitol Building
Did you know that Austin is the capital of Texas? Here’s what you can learn a ton about Austin history!
The Capitol building itself and the nearby Visitors’ Center are both free to visit. Parking is metered around the Capitol but you may want to just take an Uber or grab a scooter instead since this area is quite busy.
This museum is of course, focused on the history of Austin and Texas in general. Learn more about the Texan leaders, past and present.
See All the Green Spaces in Austin
Austin has beautiful parks, many of which are completely free to visit. Here are a few that are worthy of a stroll and won’t cost you a dime.
- Zilker Park – easily the coolest park in Austin, it’s 351 acres of fun. Entering the park is free but there are activities there you have to pay for. For example, the Barton Springs Pool, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, boat rentals, and Botanical Gardens all have fees. Honestly, this park is pretty cool without paying for anything extra.
- Mayfield Park – smaller than Zilker, Mayfield is known for having a few dozen peacocks wandering around. There’s also a small cottage to check out, but the real attraction here is the peacocks strutting their stuff.
- Barton Creek Greenbelt– It’s not surprising that this is the most popular greenbelt in the city considering it has a lot to offer. Enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, and bird watching here.
- Bull Creek District Park – offering hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and volleyball; Bull Creek is the place to be on a hot summer day.
- Lady Bird Lake – offering 10 miles of trails, Lady Bird Lake is called “Town Lake” by locals. This lake is close to downtown and you can find runners, walkers, boaters, and cyclists here at all hours of the day. Keep in mind that swimming in the lake is not allowed. We recommend hiking from Ann & Roy Butler trailhead near the 7,250-foot boardwalk for amazing views of the city.
This is only a small sampling of the amazing parks around Austin. Check out the other top parks on TripAdvisor.
Find the Famous Austin Bats
You will find bat tours and other bat-centric touristy things but in reality, you can just cruise on over to the Statesman’s Bat Observation Center and see them at sunset. For a guide on how to see the bats, where to go, and more pertinent info, click here.
Note that this is seasonal and the bats generally appear during warmer seasons of Spring and Summer.
Enjoy the Sunset at Pennybacker Bridge
A great spot for sunset photos, you can go on an easy 10-minute hike to get a look at the Pennybacker Bridge as the sun drops. From here you can see Lake Austin, the Bridge, and the Colorado River. There is no cost to do this hike.
Parking is free on the west side of the road immediately north of the bridge. The parking is pull-in with some space to back out/maneuver when you leave. It’s easiest to park when heading south on 360—it’s a major road.
Check Out the Vintage & Antique Shops
Austin is full of hipsters and people who love antiquing. It’s easy and free to browse the many vintage stores and antique shops around ATX. We recommend heading over to Uncommon Objects, you could literally browse for hours through this collection of antique and interesting things.
If you’re in the market for reasonably priced vintage clothes, Stardust Vintage in South Lamar is the spot for you. If you want more, check out this guide to vintage shops. Best of all, the salespeople put no pressure on you to buy anything so it’s fun to just look around.
Now that you know the best free things to do in Austin, start creating your plan! Remember to leave plenty of time for traffic, and to park. Austin is a busy city with nearly a million people and the roads are just not set up for it.
If you’re going outside, be sure to bring water and sunscreen. The Texas sun is no joke!
Did we miss your favorite free activity? Tell us in the comments below!