Austin is the state capital of Texas, so there’s LOTS of history here. And whether you need a kid-friendly activity in Austin or you're just here with the adults, Austin museums provide some of the riches and most diverse culture and entertainment in this city.
Although Austin was mostly known as a small (weird…) college town until recently, there are a surprising number of nationally-renowned museums in Austin. The LBJ Library is here on a beautiful 30-acre lot at the University of Texas. The Blanton Museum, with 21,000 works, is one of the largest University art museums in the United States (and has free days! More on that below.) And the adorable Thinkery is perfect for Austin’s youngest museum-goers. There are so many fun options...but what are the best museums in Austin?
Let’s get right to it: we've visited all of these arnd have only rounded up the Austin museums that are worth your time.
Check out the map below, or read on for some of the best museums in Austin. We’ll include a little insider tidbit about each one, as well as a link to their website and address. Be sure to check the website for the most up-to-date information. We’ll also include any free days at these Austin museums or special discounts you might be able to get.
11 Best Museums To Visit In Austin (+ Museum FREE Days!)
1. The Contemporary Austin
Specialty: Contemporary Art Museum
Entrance fee: Adults: $5, seniors & students: $3, below 18 & military: free, essential workers: free
Does The Contemporary Austin have free days? Free admission all day Thursdays
The Contemporary is unique in that it’s spread across two locations. There’s a beautiful 14-acre outdoor sculpture park at Laguna Gloria on Lake Austin, and there’s an indoor location in Downtown Austin at the Jones Center on 700 Congress Ave.
The downtown location is in a 3-story brick building dating back to 1951. The art starts on the outside of the building, with a Daniel Johnston mural covering the southern-facing wall of the building. Inside, you’ll find two floors of exhibition space as well as a rooftop deck that often hosts family events, films, and private events.
Laguna Gloria is absolutely an hidden oasis in Austin. It’s just 5 miles from downtown but feels worlds away! The outdoor sculpture garden sprawls around the property, so you’ll want to wander the grounds slowly and soak it all in. There’s a bench located by the edge of Lake Austin where you can rest in the shade and enjoy a quiet moment. And be sure to stop at Spread & Co, the onsite cafe, for a bite to eat.
2. The Bullock Texas State History Museum
Specialty: Texas History Museum
Entrance fee: Children younger than three: free, children: $9, adults: $13, Sr. citizens: $11 FREE exhibit admission all day during Free First Sundays, held the first Sunday of every month.
Although every school-aged child in Texas has been to the Bullock Texas State History Museum on a field trip, if you’re a visitor or a new Austin transplant you might want to check it out! Austin is now home to Google, Meta, and Apple, but just a few years ago things were very different here. If you want to look WAY back into the past and learn about how Texas became the 28th state of the union, take a trip to this museum in Austin.
Of course, The Bullock is a popular place for school-aged kids, as many exhibits feature live action and storytelling. (Plus there's an IMAX theater in the museum!) But it’s also really interesting for adults.
Btw, this one’s a 2 minute walk from the Blanton Museum. They’re fun to pair together if you want to do a museum day in Austin.
Photo: Bullock Museum
3. Blanton Museum of Art
Specialty: Art Museum
Entrance fee: Adults: $12, seniors (65+): $10, Students with a college or high school ID: $5, kids 12 and below, UT ID holders, and teachers of k-12 with a valid ID: FREE
Does the Blanton Museum have free days? Tuesdays are free admission days.
The Blanton Museum is an art gallery owned by The University of Texas. It was founded in 1963 and contains the largest public collection in Central Texas with over 21,000 pieces in its permanent collection.
The artwork spans thousands of years: you’ll be able to view modern and contemporary art, Latin paintings, and some pieces going back to ancient Greece.. There’s even a 2,715 sq foot building titled: Austin. It’s an iconic piece with colored glass windows that was gifted to The Blanton in 2015 as a part of the permanent collection.
Specialty: Children's Museum
Entrance fee: Age 0-23 months: Free. 24 months and up: $14
Does The Thinkery have free days? Every Sunday from 3-5 pm is free at The Thinkery.
Located in the vibrant community of Mueller, the Thinkery is an AWESOME kid's museum in Austin. When little ones walk up to it, they see a big, red building that grabs their attention even before they walk inside.
Plan on getting messy while you’re there: the exhibits are designed to be hands-on, like playing with bubbles, building light structures, and launching gliders. There’s even a play area for babies.
Plus, there’s an awesome outdoor play area with a 3-story play space, logs to balance on, and streams to splash in. It’s a must-visit Austin museum if you’re here with kids.
5. LBJ Presidential Library
Specialty: US Presidential Library
Entrance fee: Adults: $13, seniors: $9, youth: $4 ; children 12 and below: free.
Does the LBJ Library have free days? No. However, the LBJ Library participates in Museums For All to provide free admission to low-income families. Just show a valid ID along with a SNAP, WIC, or MAP card to get free access for up to 4 people.
If you’re a presidential history buff, you need to check out the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. Located on a 30-acre site at The University of Texas, it’s one of the fifteen Presidential Libraries in the United States.
It’s home to the most important documents and artifacts from LBJ’s time as president, including LBJ’s presidential limo, a recreation of his oval office, and an entire exhibit dedicated to the day President Kennedy was assassinated and President Johnson took over.
Photo: LBJ Library
6. Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
Specialty: Outdoor Sculpture Gallery
Entrance fee: Adult: $7, seniors 60+: $5, students with a valid ID: $3, children 13-17: $1, children under 12, active military, and veterans: FREE.
Does the Umlauf Sculpture Garden have free days? Yes, they offer a free Family Day on the second Sunday of every month.
If you’re at Zilker Park or Barton Springs, be sure to wander a few steps over to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. It’s a beautiful outdoor green space with dozens of bronze statues from 20th-century sculptor and long-time Austin resident Charles Umlauf.
Whether you want a tranquil solo morning, or you’re going to take a guided tour or participate in one of the twice-weekly morning yoga sessions, the Umlauf is a beautiful space in ATX and a gem in the Austin museum scene.
Photo: Umlauf Sculpture Garden
7. Texas Military Forces Museum
Specialty: Texas Military Museum
Entrance fee: Free
This free museum at Camp Mabry shares the history of Texas’ military, including the Texas Army, the Air National Guard, and the Texas State Guard.
It’s easy to live in Austin and forget about the many significant historic battles that have happened in our state, and the Texas Military Forces Museum shows insight into the most important ones. Learn more about the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, The War Between The States, World Wars I and II, and other important events in our state’s history.
8. Elisabet Ney Museum
Specialty: Art Museum
Entrance fee: Free
This little gem is an AMAZING place to stop in for a quick visit. It’s small, so you’ll probably only want to spend about 30 minutes here, but Elizabet Ney’s gallery is a must-visit museum in Austin.
She was a German sculptor who transplanted to Austin in the 1800s. Using money she earned from her commissioned sculptures of Stephen F. Austin and Samuel Houston for the Chicago World’s Fair, she built an incredible art studio in Austin (which was, at the time, a 3-day horse carriage ride from her home.) The museum displays her art, as well as artifacts from her home. There’s even a third-story writing nook she built for her husband, and visitors can climb the stairs and see this intimate space.
9. Mexic-Arte Museum
Specialty: Mexican Art Museum
Entrance fee: Adults $7, students, senior citizens, active military, and veterans: $4, ages 12 and under: free
Does the Mexic-Arte Museum have free days? Yes, they host free family Sundays every week.
The Mexic-Arte Museum is designed to enrich Austin’s culture with a massive showcase of Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art. It’s located in vibrant downtown Austin on Congress Ave.
It dates all the way back to 1984 when it was founded by three artists who wanted to share the culture and history of Mexico with Austinites. Since then, it’s become a staple in the Austin Museum scene and gets 75,000 visitors each year.
10. Harry Ransom Center
Specialty: Art Museum
Entrance fee: Free
Located on the University of Texas Campus, the Harry Ransom Center contains a bunch of rare literary and cultural artifacts from the Americas and Europe. For instance: the Ransom Center is the home to a complete Gutenberg Bible (it’s one of only 21 in the world!) and the world’s first successful photograph, dating back to 1826..
In addition to these buzz-worthy items, the Ransom Center holds more than 36 million literary manuscripts. Visit the Reading and Viewing Room to get public access to rare books and manuscripts, or browse through the permanent and rotating exhibitions, like Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait or the famous Gutenberg Bible.
Photo: Harry Ransom Center
11. Neill-Cochran House Museum
Specialty: Historic Home
Entrance fee: Adults: $12, seniors and students with ID: $6, children under 12: free
Does the Neill-Cochran House Museum have free days? No.
The Neill-Cochran House is one of Austin’s oldest residential properties. It was built in 1854 and has been preserved beautifully. It’s home to the only intact and publicly accessible slave dwelling in Austin. As a result, the museum holds itself responsible to share the ugly history of slave ownership in Austin through the exhibit Reckoning With the Past: The Untold Story of Race in Austin.
The Neill-Cochran House Museum offers events like stories on the lawn, guided tours, and a book club with in-person discussion meetings.