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Cool Things To Do In Austin, Texas, On A Budget

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

The city of Austin has been growing in recent years due to its rise in residents. That means it's also getting more and more expensive. For tourists looking save some money when visiting, this can be a problem. However, there are some ways you can make your adventure in Austin, Texas, cheaper, and one of the biggest ones is by choosing to do its free or almost free activities.

They're more exciting and unique than you might think, too!


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Enjoy the sunrise at Mount Bonnell.

Get up before dawn and drive to Mount Bonnell. Although it's not really a mountain, it is one of the highest points of elevation in Austin.

You'll make your way through a neighborhood before reaching the free parking spaces located at the bottom of some stairs. These stairs (it's not a hard or long climb) will lead you to a covered pavilion of sorts, and if you go to the left, you'll find a platform with a table in the middle of it, which is the best place to view the sunrise. You can also see the cityscape and Austin lake below.

Remember to arrive 20-30 minutes before sunrise to catch the blue hour. This will also help you get the best viewing spot as you'll get ahead of the late-goers.

Tip: If you can do this activity on a weekday, I suggest you do it! There will be fewer people, which means you'll be able to see the sunrise better and have a more serene experience.

Tour the Texas Capitol.

In case you don't know, Austin is the capital of Texas. It's also the largest state capital building. And it's pink (or locally known as "Texas Sunset Red").

Like most capitals, you can walk the grounds to see the memorials and statues as well as look at the inside, but this one is a little more special because you can also go on a free guided tour. (Just be sure to check the schedule to make sure you're on time.) On the tour, you'll learn about the history of the state, some of the artwork, how Texas conducts its government and more.

However, if you don't have time to go on a guided tour, you can still check out the capital building since it's open to the public and there are some informational pamphlets at the front. There's still a lot to learn when on a self-guided tour, you just might miss some of the hidden gems like the fact that some of the lights spell out the word "Texas."

Tip: To save money on parking, head to the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage. (You should be able to pull it up easily on Apple Maps.) You can park there for free for two hours, which is all you'll need to see the capital building and its grounds.

See the peacocks at Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve.

Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve is free to visit and a very cool experience. Why? You get to hang out with peacocks ... and lots of them! (I think I counted at least 13, but I believe there were more than that.) There are males and females, so you'll get to see the colorful and muted shades of this bird.

Not only do you get to watch the peacocks, but you're actually going to be inside their little habitat, which includes a historic cottage (all the peacocks were hanging out on it when I was there), koi fish ponds, palm trees, gardens and greenspace. It's a beautiful little paradise!

Just a Note: If you'd like to extend your time in Mayfield Park, bring walking shoes and water and you can enjoy the trails.

Learn about the life and artwork of Elisabet Ney.

Upon your arrival at the Elisabet Ney Museum, a free historical site, you might feel like you've stepped into a hidden portal to a tiny hamlet from the Middle Ages, partially because of the castle-like structure and partially because of the grassy area surrounding it. The castle is actually the museum, which was the home and studio of Elisabet Ney, a German sculptor who moved to Austin in the late 1800s.

You can read about her on some of the plaques outside and inside, where you'll also be able to view some of her work and walk about the house. She created sculptures of Shakespearean scenes and famous leaders, among other people. While you can see much of her artwork in this museum, there is more at the United States Capitol, Smithsonian American Art Museum and in Germany.

Tip: Be sure to grab the Word document packet at the front desk. It tells you all about the art you're viewing and about Elisabet Ney, making the museum more worth your time.

Swim in a 70-degree, spring-fed pool.

Located in Zilker Park, Barton Springs Pool is a three-acre pool that's fed by underground springs. It stays about 70 degrees all year round and is home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.

It's a hot spot for locals and visitors alike. (I saw people doing laps in this pool even in February on a cold day.) However, you can only get in free from November to the middle of March. During spring break and through October, you'll have to pay.

Just a Note: If you decide to swim during the free months and easily get cold, you might consider wearing a wetsuit.

Take your photo in front of the "Greetings From Austin" mural.

More and more cities have a "Greetings From" mural, and every single one of them is unique! This is a great spot to snap a photo with your travel crew to commemorate your trip. Click here to see where it's located.

Just a Note: Park just past the mural, and be careful when taking the photo, as it's next to a pretty busy street.

Spend the afternoon at Jester King.

Jester King is a craft brewery, kitchen, farm and event space, so there are a variety of activities available for your afternoon. But let's start with the free things. You can: listen to live bluegrass music every Saturday in the pole barn; view farm animals (goats, rabbits, etc.); walk a nature trail; and join in on other activities on select dates (corn hole tournament, bouncy house, etc.).

If you don't mind paying a little extra, you can also do these things: go inside the goat pen; take a tour of the brewery at select times (it's cheap!); and purchase some beer or lunch. I really enjoyed my customized pizza — it had spicy honey on it and was delicious!

Just a Note: Jester King does have bathrooms on-site.

Hike the trails near Austin.

You have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to the hiking trails near Austin. Some are free and others might cost you a little. For example, Sculpture Falls is free because you can apparently find parking on the street where the trail begins. This route is a hike but also has a swimming hole. There are other hikes in that area, too.

We opted to hike at McKinney Falls State Park on our most recent visit to Austin, but it does cost $6 per person (12 years old and younger get in free) to get into the park. It has some really easy trails along with small waterfalls and a historic homestead.

Do some research beforehand to decide which trails and parks are best for your travel crew. AllTrails is a great place to see your options all in one place.

Tip: Many of the outdoorsy areas in or near Austin have opportunities to get into the water, so I suggest wearing clothes that can get wet.

Watch more than a million bats fly at sunset.

Congress Avenue Bridge was renovated in 1980 to attract Mexican free-tailed bats. Now, around sunset, these bats fly into the sky to begin taking care of Austin's bug population. The city's website boasts that there could be more than a million of these winged creatures under the bridge at a given time.

However, visitors must understand that the bats don't fly out every night. (For example, when I was most recently there, the bats hadn't flown out for a few days.) The best time to view this sight is from March to April and July to August. You can see the bats during any of the other months as well, but it's more hit-and-miss.

If you want to learn more about where you should park, the best place to watch the bats, when you should get there, etc., head to this link for a guide.

Tip: If you walk underneath the bridge, check out the educational signs about the bats near the parking lot. Scan the QR code that's included, too, and you'll be able to see if the bats have been sighted lately and at what time they were seen.

There are several other unique and free things to do in Austin, which I was not able to make it to on my most recent trip (for example, the Cathedral of Junk), but I'll continue adding to this list after future visits.


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