The Best Things to Do in Austin, Texas’ Most Eclectic City
It’s not for nothing that this city’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”. Recent years have seen a wave of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs move to this famous live music haven, but alongside this growth, there are plenty of locals preserving the city’s unmistakably soulful and, yes, quirky, spirit. International travellers will find getting into town via Dallas airport the easiest route, where you can transfer for a local flight into Austin. But if you have the time a scenic drive will get you there in less than three hours. Here’s everything to know before you go.
The best things to do in Austin
Spend a warm afternoon at Barton Springs, Zilker Park
No Austin to-do list is complete without an afternoon lazing about at Barton Springs in Zilker Park. This expansive public pool, filled with fresh water from a natural spring, is surrounded by trees offering shade to sunbathers and a diving board for swimmers. Music speakers and coolers loaded with food and alcoholic beverages are not permitted at this favoured local hangout, so bring your swimmers, a book, and get ready to soak up the tranquillity.
Immerse yourself in the lively music scene
During the daytime, check out Waterloo Records, an expansive independent record store born of the local music scene boom in the ’80s. Vinyl from every conceivable genre lines the floors and ceilings and there’s a healthy smattering of Texan artists to choose from, too. Come sundown, head over to the historic The Continental Club – nicknamed “the granddaddy of all local venues” – where there’s a live band playing country, rock and blues every night of the week. Grab yourself a cold beer and be sure to get yourself a seat near the stage, in case the likes of U2 or Johnny Depp surprise the crowd with a set.
Hit the dance floor at the Broken Spoke
Self-proclaimed as the last of the true Texan dancehalls, you’ll find teenagers and seniors of all skill levels – and if you’re lucky, Willie Nelson or Dolly Parton – dancing in the middle of the sawdust-covered concrete floor at the Broken Spoke. Get in early for a short Texan two-step dancing lesson if you’re a beginner; and later in the night, make use of the surrounding stools to watch the seasoned professionals do their thing.
Take the scenic route downtown
Austin is a city that is meant to be seen on foot. Spend a Saturday morning walking down South Congress Avenue for boutiques and vintage stores, ending with a sojourn into The SoCo Makers Market, which is overflowing with handmade jewellery, pottery, and even home-brewed ginger beer. Come evening, head down the formerly quiet residential Rainey Street for historic terraces that now house trendy bars, restaurants and clubs. Our recommendation? While on your walk, pick up an indulgent burrito from the Bummer Burrito food truck for dinner.
Where to eat in Austin
The Texan capital is brimming with barbecue establishments, each worth popping into for a bite of that famed Texan speciality. The multi-award-winning Franklin Barbecue, beloved for its mouth-watering brisket, has locals lining up for hours – complete with deck chairs and umbrellas to protect from the harsh sun. Starting as a trailer on the side of the road, the interstate-hugging restaurant has turned Aaron Franklin into one of the most highly-regarded culinary talents in the region, with shipments of his tasty brisket flying across the country. Operating hours begin from 11am, though we’d recommend ordering ahead for pick-up, so as to avoid queues that are famously as long as three hours.
Treat yourself to lunch at The Peacock. Located on the ground floor of Austin Proper Hotel, in Downtown’s Second Street District, the Kelly Wearstler-decorated eatery delights curious diners with its creative menu of North African, Israeli and Lebanese dishes. We recommend sharing a mezze plate piled with the wood-fire-grilled octopus and red snapper crudo dressed with pumpkin vinaigrette, Thai chilli and lime and washing it all down with the mescal and agave-spiked Desert Sunset cocktail.
Where to stay in Austin
Situated between Lady Bird Lake and the edges of Downtown Austin, The Line Hotel was once home to a jazz club that broadcast live to local radio stations in the late 1960s. Five years ago, the 428-room hotel was made over to reflect its mid-century roots and capitalise on its captivating views. Guests will enjoy a rotating door of musicians, tarot readers and sound baths between relaxing with a cocktail on the outdoor sky-high terrace, or eating at French-Italian restaurant Arlo Grey, which is heavily informed by Central Texan ingredients.
Fairmont Austin, a 37-storey, 1000-plus-room hotel, has cemented its reputation for being the most luxurious stay in this part of the world. Wake up to floor-to-ceiling windows, then fill your day by lounging at the indoor spa, or in one of the deckchairs built into the rooftop pool, both offering enviable views of the cityscape below. Those looking for an exclusive experience can check into one of 131 guest rooms and suites that come with a dedicated concierge team and complimentary breakfast, canapés and snacks all day long.