Unique things to do in Downtown Austin

by Paul Joseph  |  Updated February 11, 2022

Whatever your tastes, there’s sure to be something to keep you entertained in downtown Austin, including a bunch of activities and attractions that are unique to the district.

A sculpture of the Lone Star, an iconic Texas symbol, outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum (Photo: Robert Gray via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Don’t be fooled by downtown Austin’s laid-back vibe – the city’s central business district on the north bank of the Colorado River rarely slows down for long. By day, sharp-suited business folk amble between its capitol building, condominium complexes and swish banks. But when the laptops are shut and office doors locked, a fresh energy envelopes the area thanks to the numerous bars, clubs and music venues dotted mainly along 6th street. It all amounts to a place brimming with unique things to see and do – and here’s the best of the bunch.

Immerse yourself in the rich history of Texas

From its role in the Civil War to its Wild West culture, Texas has a long and fascinating history. The Bullock Texas State History Museum invites visitors to connect with the state’s captivating past through three floors of exhibitions and displays of original historical items and artefacts. As well as its thoughtfully curated exhibits,  the museum is also home to an IMAX cinema, a 4D special effects theatre, a café, and a well-stocked store packed full of souvenirs and great gift ideas.

1800 Congress Avenue / Weds-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon-Tues

Embark on a sightseeing bike tour

There’s nothing quite like exploring a city with the wind in your hair. This two-hour guided bike tour will see you navigate some of the famous spots around Austin’s downtown and the riverfront on two wheels. Along the way you’ll see both famous landmarks and lesser-known attractions, with multiple stops for photo opportunities and a chance to catch your breath. Your experienced and knowledgeable guide will be leading the way the whole  time, while regaling you with fascinating tales and facts about the city’s history.

Book at GetYourGuide

Bikers cycle along a bridge with downtown Austin in the background (Photo: Book at GetYourGuide.com)

Take a look around a historic state capitol

A remarkable example of late 19th-century Renaissance Revival architecture, the Texas Capitol is widely considered one of America’s most distinguished state capitol buildings. Perched on one of Austin’s highest points, the Capitol anchors the northern periphery of the city’s downtown district and commands a sweeping view towards the Colorado River from its southern façade. Public tours of the Capitol and its grounds are available daily, featuring information about the edifice itself, as well as Texan history and the state legislature.

1100 Congress Avenue / Mon-Fri 7am-8pm Sat-Sun 9am-8pm

An exterior shot of the historic Texas Capitol (Photo: Heather Cowper via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Attend a fun-packed music festival

Not for nothing is Austin known as the Live Music Capital of the World. Home to hundreds of music venues, each year the city also hosts one of Texas’s most acclaimed music festivals. A massive multi-genre event held over two separate weekends in the vast green expanse of downtown Austin’s Zilker Park, Austin City Limits features a diverse line-up of acts across some eight stages. There’s plenty to do between sets too, including  a mini-fest for kids and a food court with offerings from some of the surrounding area’s favourite restaurants.

Zilker Park 

Packed crowds at the Austin City Limits festival (Lars Plougmann via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Join a guided foodie tour

Austin has a diverse foodie landscape and this guided food tour gives you the chance to delve deep into its culinary scene. Over the course of around three hours you’ll explore the city’s downtown district, stopping off to sample numerous local delicacies and dishes, from BBQ brisket to banana leaf-wrapped tamales. Between tastings you’ll pass by many of Austin’s most distinctive sights and attractions, including the 8-foot bronze Willie Nelson Statue, and the protected historic buildings of Congress Avenue.

Book at Viator

A delectable-looking Austin dish (Photo: Book at Viator.com)

Discover world-class contemporary art

Creative expression runs throughout the streets of Austin, and extends into a number of eminent indoor arts institutions too. Among the very best is The Contemporary Austin, featuring contemporary art work from artists across the globe with rotating exhibitions. The facility also serves as a community space with workshops, seminars, and art schools. What’s more, as well as its downtown venue, the museum also comprises the Laguna Gloria sculpture park which can be found in the northern parameters of the city.

700 Congress Avenue / Thurs 12pm- 9pm Fri-Sun 12pm-6pm Closed Mon-Weds

A view of The Contemporary Austin art museum (Photo: Will Buckner via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Admire downtown by night from a river kayak

An evening guided kayak tour is one of the most unique ways to see downtown – and also gives you the chance to witness one of the most magical sights that the district has to offer. On warm nights, a swarm of more than a million Mexican free-tailed bats fly out of the Congress Avenue Bridge, with crowds of onlookers gathered on the bridge to see the spectacle. By watching from the river, you can avoid this busy riverbank and instead catch the action from your front-row seat on the water. The tour price includes a professional guide and a paddle lesson before you embark.

Book at Viator

Catch a captivating vaudeville show

For a unique entertainment experience in Austin, the modern-day Esther’s Follies vaudeville theatre is hard to beat. The venue has been entertaining audiences for over four decades with its diverse performances spanning everything from political satire and comedy sketches to Vegas-style magic and musical numbers. One of the most original aspects of the theatre is that the windows on its back-wall face out to the perpetually busy 6th Street, allowing performers to improvise with – and invariably poke fun at – those gathered outside.

525 East 6th Street / Thurs 8pm-9.30pm Fri-Sat 8pm-11.30pm Closed Sun-Wed

A sign outside Esther’s Follies theatre (Photo: aaron_anderer via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)