Downtown Austin may have been founded on two hundred acres and consisted of no more than fourteen blocks, but two hundred years later things have certainly changed. Downtown Austin, flanked by a wide stretch of the Colorado River, now spans eight boroughs and encompasses an area much larger than the original city plan.
While Downtown is Austin's central business district, it doesn't lack variety. In fact, there are far more exciting and fun things to do there than could ever fit into a single list of the top fifteen things to do in downtown Austin.
Downtown Austin has some of the best nightlife in all of Texas, a thriving dining scene, excellent cultural activities, and some great nautical activities as well. Plan a month's stay because it's impossible to fit all the good stuff in a week.
Let's explore themThe best things to do in Austin:
1. Austin Duck adventures
Take a tour of downtown Austin in a vehicle with a difference. While the Duck looks like a mid-size minibus, it's a Hydra-Terra and fully amphibious, so be ready for a big splash on this tour.
Board the Austin Duck on East 4th Street at the Austin Visitors Center to cruise past all of DT's major attractions while listening to a guide's commentary before gliding out onto the waters of Lake Austin.
Tours last just over an hour and are a fun way to see downtown Austin.
2. Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
It's not often that you get the chance to witness a natural phenomenon in a busy urban setting like downtown Austin, so don't miss this one.
Between April and October, stroll out onto the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset and not only see a stunning Texas sunset, but also see around a million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from their colony and soar into the night sky in a swarm.
It's a truly surreal experience, not unlike a live version of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film.
3. Circus upstairs
Located on West 2nd Street in downtown Austin, Upstairs Circus is a bar where you can create your very own DT souvenir while sipping on a circus-themed specialty cocktail.
Try a Strongman's Punch while beading a wrap bracelet, or a Coco Contortionist while making nail and thread art. Wine bottle cups, concrete coasters, or even a collar for your dog, there are many different types of projects to choose from, suitable for all craft skills, even the beginner.
Check out Upstairs Circus's schedule before heading to downtown Austin, and you'll find you'll arrive just in time for a session of making-n-mimosas.
The Austin Fire Museum on East 5th Street in downtown Austin is dedicated to the history of the city's firefighters from the inauguration of service to the present day.
Housed in DT's working fire station, the museum houses a display of 19th-century uniforms, photographic displays, and a memorabilia collection.
The Austin Fire Museum is run on a volunteer basis and is only open on weekend afternoons.
5. Biplane Austin
Spend the day exploring downtown Austin with the Double Decker Austin open-top hop-on hop-off bus service.
The bus has six downtown pickup and drop-off locations, all located near major attractions. Stay on board for the full hour-and-a-half narrated tour to hear fascinating facts about the neighborhood's history from a qualified guide, or hop off to visit or have lunch, then hop back on when the time comes Bus an hour later passes half later.
6. Congress Avenue Kajaks
Pick up a kayak rental from Congress Avenue Kayaks at the Waller Creek Boathouse on Trinity Street in downtown Austin and paddle upstream to see the DT skyline from the water.
The kayaks can carry one, two or three people and can be booked on an hourly or half-day basis depending on the strength of the upper arm. Navigate the Colorado River, discover murals hidden under bridges, or venture out onto the open waters of Lady Bird Lake. Whichever route you choose, kayaking is a great way to spend time outdoors.
During bat season at the Congress Avenue Bridge, Congress Avenue Kayaks operate 2-hour guided sunset kayak tours where you can see the bat excursion at dusk while floating on the river.
7. Coopers Old Time Pit BBQ
Enjoy traditional Texas dining at Cooper's Old Time Barbecue Pit on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin.
Eclectic-rustic, ranch-style restaurant with horse heads and saddles serves grilled ribs, chops, and brisket with coleslaw, potato salad, or pinto beans.
Save room for dessert because Cooper's makes one mean cobbler. There's a choice of peach, pecan, apple or blackberry, and it's all accompanied by live music on the weekends.
8. Bullock Texas State History Museum
The Bullock Texas State History Museum on North Congress Avenue in downtown Austin is a museum that tells the history of Texas.
The museum has three floors, each individually focused on different aspects of the state's history and offering hands-on exhibits. There are two movie theaters showing multiple film productions throughout the day aimed at recreating the lives and times of Texas residents from the Comanche Indians to the rodeo riders.
The museum houses more than seven hundred artifacts, including fascinating documents showing how Texas was once part of Mexico, antique oil industry equipment, and a NASA mission control console.
Bar owners have taken recycling to a whole new level in Downtown Austin. Walk to Rainey Street and you will find a bar made out of seven old shipping containers.
It may be made out of old metal crates, but there's nothing rusty about this lively pub. The Container Bar is one of the best nightclubs in downtown Austin.
The bar is surprisingly spacious and draws a young crowd to the upstairs terrace for drinks and dancing to music put on by some of the best DJs in town. It's a fun place to spend a night in DT Austin.
10. Austin Scavenger Hunt Adventure
One way to add some excitement to sightseeing in downtown Austin is to take part in a scavenger hunt. All you need to take part in an Austin Scavenger Hunt Adventure is a smartphone. Download the app and start solving the clues.
Follow the path around DT's main attractions, completing one clue at a time while learning interesting historical facts along the way. Hunt alone or with a group of friends, at your own pace or against the clock.
Wear comfortable shoes. The scavenger hunt lasts approximately three hours, not counting stops for drinks or food. Don't forget to make sure the phone is fully charged before you start.
book online:Downtown Austin Adventure: 3-Hour Smartphone Scavenger Hunt
11. Frank C. Erwin Center
When downtown Austin hosts a major event, it's at the Frank C Erwin Center or, to give the arena its full name, the Frank C Erwin Special Events Center.
Major sporting events such as basketball, martial arts competitions and boxing tournaments are all held in the 17,000-seat venue. There were major artist concerts featuring groups and artists such as Kiss, Lady Gaga, U2 and Garth Brooks, as well as bull riding and WWE Live Smackdown events.
The center has an extensive selection of food vendors serving pizza, burgers, nachos and ice cream.
12. Panic Rooms in Austin
Get the adrenaline pumping with a visit to the Austin Panic Rooms on Rio Grande Street in downtown Austin.
With four grand challenges to choose from, the Panic Rooms will test your nerve. Try to make a prison break while handcuffed or take the seat of the President of the USA in the Oval Office. Get caught in a blizzard in a mountain cabin, or escape before the mad scientist turns you into one of his human specimens.
They may sound easy, but you only have one hour to solve the clues and escape. Believe it; They aren't as easy as they seem.
13. Ann & Roy Butler Walking and Cycling Trail
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail is a ten-mile hiking trail, a portion of which passes through downtown Austin.
Join the trail at the Congress Avenue Bridge and take a walk or bike ride west. Downtown Austin is on one side and the Colorado River on the other. Head east and a short hike will bring you to the mile-long boardwalk that stretches across Lady Bird Lake.
Be sure to check out the 36 bronze belted sculptures that adorn the promenade railing. Each is captioned with popular song lyrics written or sung by Texas songwriters and musicians.
14. Museum of the Strange
Not all downtown Austin museums are about history or anything serious, the Museum of the Weird deals with the macabre, the odd, and the undeniably odd.
Located on downtown 6th Street, the museum was originally a gift shop but now houses a collection of strange artifacts, including a mummified mermaid, a furry trout, and a frozen Ice Age man.
There's also a daily live circus sideshow performance, which you'd probably be better off avoiding unless you can handle someone hanging hooks out of their eyes or sticking nails in their noses.
15. Esther's follies
Vaudeville lives on at Esther's Follies on 6th Street in downtown Austin. The intimate theater is the place to be for an entertaining evening of comedic satire, magical illusions and some good ol' song and dance.
The theater, which has been open for over forty years, presents two performances each night, and they're usually packed to the max, so go early to be sure of a seat.
The theater has a full bar and offers food from a taqueria in an outdoor courtyard. Esther's Follies is the epitome of downtown Austin. Varied, full of life and lots of fun. Have fun there.
Where to sleep:Best Hotels in Austin, Texas (TX)
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