There’s no doubt about it: Austin Texas is one of America's most popular travel destinations right now. It’s a city brimming with music, fitness, art, history, and FOOD. No matter how many times you’ve visited Austin, there’s something new to discover in every neighborhood. However, Austin has been growing rapidly in the past few years, and it can definitely be an expensive city to visit. But…this city has tons of great things to see and do, even for folks who are visiting Austin on a budget.
Tourists planning a vacation to Austin might be surprised by the city's many affordable tourist spots, activities, and restaurants. Here are 20 ways you can have fun in Austin without blowing your budget.
What is the Best Month to Go to Austin Texas?
For starters, when are you planning to visit Austin? If we’re talking about temps, the weather is most favorable from September through November, so these are the best months to visit Austin. Fall is the peak travel season in Austin. The daytime highs are usually in the 70s and 80s (compared to the 105-108 highs in July and August.) The next best months to visit Austin are March-May, but keep in mind that you might get hit with some random cold fronts and/or rainy days. Also, if you love the scorching summer temps then you can definitely find fun things to do in Austin in the summer (like visit some fun swimming holes!). The temperature ranges from the mid to 90s to 100s with lots of humidity during the summer months.
Is Austin Worth Visiting?
Short answer: yes.
Austin, TX is renowned for its stunning sunny days and clear skies. We have 205 parks, 14 natural preserves, and more than 50 miles of trails good for hiking and biking. You’re going to love ATX. There are also plenty of rivers and lakes available for kayaking and swimming.
Aside from that, Austin is home to the University of Texas at Austin (hook ‘em!), some of the best restaurants in the country, lots of local food trucks, and free museums and art exhibits. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the great outdoors activities, warm weather, mouthwatering BBQ, delicious tacos and margaritas, and craft beer, then you’re going to love Austin!
20 Budget-Friendly Things To Do In Austin
Austin is a very cool city and, despite the soaring real estate prices, there are lots of cheap things to do in Austin. Here’s our travel guide of 20 tips for visiting Austin on a budget:
1. Take Advantage Of Free Days At Local Austin Attractions
Lots of popular Austin attractions offer free hours/days, if you know where to look. For instance, you can swim at Barton Springs Pool for free if you get there before 8 am. You can arrive as early as 5 am, and yep - lots of people are swimming there! Mostly lap swimmers.
2. Dine At 4 P.M.
Austin has some of the best restaurants in the country, offering a wide variety of cuisines like Tex-Mex, Italian, New American, and Interior Mexican cuisine. Most of their happy hours start around 4 pm, so if you can dine a few hours early, you can cut the cost of your restaurant meal in half. Make sure to dine at Salty Sow: they have delicious food and crazy good cocktails for very affordable prices. Be sure to check out this map of all the best happy hours in Austin.
3. Also, Visit Restaurants During The Weekdays
Going to Franklin Barbecue (known for serving the best barbecue in Texas) on weekdays can save you from long and almost 2 hour waiting in lines. The Saturday morning line is insane. And we all know that time is money, so consider this a tip for visiting Austin on a (time) budget.
4. Visit The Amazing Austin Parks
Austin has so many great public parks, and they’re all free to visit! Zilker Park is central to the city and it’s a great place to hang out, kick a soccer ball around, or enjoy a picnic. You can attend the annual ABC Zilker Kite Festival, held every spring at Zilker Park, and it’s totally free to attend and participate in.
Another park worth visiting? Covert Park at Mount Bonnell. Climb to the highest point (102 stone steps) for one of the most amazing sunset views in Austin.
5. Bring Food From Home
Ok, don’t do this for ALL your meals (you’ll definitely want to enjoy the local Austin restaurant scene), but if you want to save some money on dining, you can bring your own food to some public parks like Zilker Park. Enjoy the sunset there with your family while eating your homemade picnic.
6. Explore The City On Foot Or By Bike
Explore the city on foot or by bike to save money on ride shares and gas. South Congress Ave is completely pedestrian-friendly, and it’s home to some of the coolest street art, best restaurants, and tons of shopping. You can also explore most of downtown Austin by foot and bicycle for more art galleries, clothing stores in the Second Street District, food trucks, and iconic murals.
Does Austin have a bike share program? Yes! MetroBike offers 77 stations around Austin where you can rent, ride, and return your bikes for a really low cost.
7. Visit During Off-Peak Season
If you want to save some money on your hotel or Airbnb, visit Austin during the off-season (from December to February). That season actually has some really cool things to do, like the beautiful lights in the Austin Trail of Lights event every December at Zilker Park, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an Austin tradition for holiday music and shopping, and the New Year's Day polar bear plunge at Barton Springs.
8. Spend The Day Hiking & Biking
Most areas in Austin have access to hiking trails, extending from north to south and from east to west. Some of the most famous hiking trails in the city are Mayfield Nature Preserve, Barton Creek Greenbelt, River Place Nature Trail, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, and Mount Bonnell.
Of these, one of the best and most convenient is Lady Bird Lake. As you spend the day hiking or biking along Lady Bird Lake's 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, you can soak in the breathtaking views of the Austin skyline. It’s truly an Austin gem.
9. Eat Breakfast Tacos At Food Trucks
Go on a breakfast taco crawl and check out a few food trucks! They’re cheap, delicious, and one of the most iconic Austin foods. You should definitely check out Pueblo Viejo, El Primo, One Taco, and Veracruz All Natural!
10. Explore The State Capitol
Explore the Texas State Capitol and get a detailed history lesson on Texas from one of the expert tour guides while enjoying one of the most magnificent architectural designs of the Capitol—all without paying a dime! Capitol tours are completely free and last about 30 minutes.
11. Free Days At Austin Museums
The Bullock Texas State History Museum is one of the best museums in Austin, and on the first Sunday of every month from noon to 5 pm they offer free admission. Blanton Museum of Art is a perfect spot for art lovers, and on Thursdays, it’s free of charge. For a complete list of all of the free days at Austin museums, we made a guide for you here.
12. Cool Down At An Austin Swimming Hole
Barton Springs Pool is conveniently located just south of downtown Austin, and if you want to swim in the middle of the day for free (because we already covered that admission before 8 am is free, but that’s reeeaaally early..), swim at the north side of the pool. It’s always packed with families, kids, and dogs enjoying the water! You can also go hiking at the Barton Creek Greenbelt and jump in the water at Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls. And if you have a SUP or kayak, you can go enjoy Lady Bird Lake for free! (If you don’t your own boat, there are plenty of rental stations around the lake.)
13. Go To Austin’s Free/Cheap Festivals
Sure, you can (and should!) attend Austin City Limits or SXSW in Austin. And you might even be able to find some free events associated with these festivals, too! (However, keep in mind that October and March are two of the most expensive months to visit Austin.
But if you want to go to a free festival in Austin, check out Pecan Street Fest. It has free admission and offers a lot of live bands, a fun ambiance, and lots of craft booths and food for purchase.
Another fun, cheap festival in Austin is the Hot Sauce Fest, which just costs about $5-15 (depending on when you purchase your ticket.) You can sample tons of the best hot sauce from around Austin.
14. Free Music In Austin
Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, so there are a lot of music venues and performances across the city. However, you typically have to purchase tickets to listen to bands at the larger venues.
However, Free Week in Austin is an annual event in the Red River district. Hundreds of top performers play for free, and tens of thousands of people attend.
15. Cheap Shopping In Austin
Head to North Loop for some really cool vintage/thrift stores where you can find unique items at a lower cost point. Be sure to check out Blue Velvet, Ermine Vintage, and Breakaway Records.
16. Free Walking Tour In Austin
Tipster offers free tours from Austin locals every weekend from September - May! You don’t have to reserve them or pay admission….just tip whatever you feel like you can tip.
17. Go Out For Cheap Drinks
There are so many great happy hour spots in Austin like Irene’s, Clark’s Oyster Bar, and La Condesa. There are too many to list here, so check out our epic list of Austin Happy Hours, which includes a map and detailed info like which days of the week the happy hour occurs.
18. See The Austin Bats
If you want to witness millions of magnificent Mexican free-tailed bats, go and visit South Congress Avenue Bridge before or during sunset from late March to early September. They all emerge to do their late-night feeding, and this is a completely free thing to do in Austin.
19. Go To Mayfield Park To See The Peacocks
Bring a picnic or simply stroll through the gardens in west Austin's Mayfield Park and Preserve while observing the beautiful peacocks. There’s a short walking trail that’s suitable for little kids.
20. Go To An Austin Playground
If you’re visiting Austin with kids, you have to check out some of our amazing playgrounds. First on your list should be the park at Waterloo Greenway. There’s a really cool cement slide and a beautiful wooden climbing structure, and this new park is just a few blocks from the state Capitol so you get a beautiful view.