Wondering if you need a car when you visit Austin? Ok, hi! Sure! I’ll answer that. As a local Austin resident and someone who is constantly hopping around ATX to eat and explore, I have a feel for the best places to stay and how you should plan to get around.
Do you need a car when you visit Austin?
For starters, you’ll need a way to get from the airport to your overnight accommodations.
The distance from the Austin Bergstrom International Airport to downtown Austin is 16 miles, or about $20-30.
If you don’t want to rideshare, there’s a CapMetro bus ride that goes from the airport (here's a link with info) to Lavaca/10th St in downtown Austin for $1.25. It will take a bit longer than catching a Lyft, but it’s a solid option.
So no, you don’t need to rent a car in Austin to get to/from the airport.
Do you need a car to get around Austin while you're visiting?
While you’re in Austin, you can mostly walk everywhere.
Downtown, SOCO, and east downtown are very walkable neighborhoods (hence the cost $$$$ of real estate in those areas.)
So if you’re staying there you don’t need a car. Of course, it depends on where you’re staying….
These are the 5 most popular neighborhoods to stay in when you visit Austin. If you’re getting a hotel in a popular tourist area like SOCO, Rainey, or Downtown, you can plan on walking almost everywhere. Those regions have great restaurants, bars, coffee shops, concert venues, shopping, pools, and more.
(You might end up catching a few ride shares to visit select concert venues or restaurants, of course. But you can pretty much walk everywhere.)
So no, you don’t need to rent a car during your weekend stay.
Do you need a car to live in Austin?
Yes. Full stop. I've never met someone who lives in Austin and doesn't own a car.
Short answer: do you need a car when you visit Austin?
No. If you enjoy walking and you plan to catch 3 or 4 ride shares for the long distances (like to/from the airport), you can enjoy a great trip to Austin with no car.
If you want to stay in Austin for a long trip and do ALL of the things, like visit Mount Bonnell (pretty far west) and eat tons of barbecue (located all over the city) and go visit some amazing Dripping Springs breweries, AND you have an easy place to park your car (like if you’re staying at an airbnb in a neighborhood), renting a car is a good idea.
And if you live in Austin, you need a car.
One more thing to note: if you’re coming from a city that has great public transportation, like NYC, Chicago, or a European city with an amazing underground system, you’ll be sorely disappointed with Austin’s public transit.
Project Connect is underway and will introduce a new light rail, an underground subway, and an improved bus system …but that’s going to take several years.
For now, we have buses that can get you around. Here’s the a map of the bus system, if you’d like to see. There’s also a MetroRail, but it’s pretty small right now. You’d have to specifically plan your trip and airbnb right by it in order to utilize it because it doesn’t go to most parts of the city.
Ride shares are abundant in Austin, so catching a Lyft or Uber is typically no big deal.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re visiting during one of the big events in Austin, like SXSW (March) or Austin City Limits (October), ride share rates are going to be much higher than average.
Hope that’s helpful! I’m an Austin local and I love sharing helpful tidbits to make your trip to Austin easier. Here are a few more posts to help you out: