Now that it's become one of America's hottest cities, you might not think it's possible to visit Austin on a budget. But despite welcoming new hordes of hipsters, tech gurus, entrepreneurs, and holistic hippies daily, you can still plan a killer trip to Texas' capital without breaking the bank.
From the best urban parks and free live music to delicious cheap eats and free museum days, here are our top tips for visiting Austin on a budget.
Austin on a budget: Know before you go
Austin is an outdoor-loving city
Austin's love for the outdoors means that there are plenty of free and budget-friendly ways to enjoy the city. Whether you're paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake, hiking through Zilker Park, or rock climbing at the Barton Creek Greenbelt, you can enjoy Austin's most popular activities without spending a dime.
Traffic is a nightmare
It won't be long before you hear Austin locals complaining about the city's notoriously horrific traffic. Between the influx of new residents and lack of effective public transportation (though Cap Metro's bus system does help a bit), traffic is, unfortunately, a way of life here. If you're on a budget, be sure to account for Uber/Lyft/Taxi costs or stay in an area near the places you want to see.
The Live Music Capital of the World
It may be a self-given nickname but that doesn't make it any less true. Austin is a city filled with live music, much of it free. Be sure to seek out places without a cover charge or any outdoor music festivals, especially during the summer months.
Free and cheap things to do in Austin
Enjoy Austin's favorite greenspace at Zilker Park
Zilker Park is Austin’s favorite place to get outside. Within the sprawling park’s 350+ acres, you can have a picnic, walk the trails, enjoy a picnic with a view of the Austin skyline, and so much more. Inside Zilker Park, you’ll also find the Zilker Botanical Garden and the famous Barton Springs Pool.
Barton Springs Pool
Located within Zilker Park, Barton Springs Pool is Austin’s best place to sunbathe and swim, particularly during the summer months. The pool is fed by a natural spring that keeps it at a refreshing 68º year-round. Entrance to the pool is $5 for adult residents, $9 for non-resident adults.
Explore Austin's weird side at the Cathedral of Junk
Situated in the backyard of a small suburban house in South Austin, the Cathedral of Junk is a testament to Austin’s love for all things eclectic and “weird”. The multi-story, multi-room cathedral is comprised entirely of other people’s junk, making it all the more impressive. Because it’s located in artist Vince Hannemann’s yard, you need to call ahead to make an appointment.
Enjoy free admission at the Mexic-Arte Museum
Austin's Mexic-Arte museum showcases contemporary Mexican and Latino art and culture. Every Sunday, the museum offers free admission and free tours at select times. Before heading inside, be sure to snap a couple of shots of the incredible murals outside the museum.
Experience Austin's famous live music scene
Nashville isn’t America’s only live-music-loving city. In fact, Austin holds the unofficial title of Live Music Capital of the World and it certainly wears the crown proudly. The city is rife with incredible places to enjoy live music, from the famous Continental Club to the classic Broken Spoke honky tonk and dance hall.
Watch the sunset from Mount Bonnell
At 775 feet, Mount Bonnell is considered to be both Austin’s highest point and best view. Take the 102 stairs up to the top, where you can enjoy a sunset picnic and take in the phenomenal view of the city and Lake Austin.
Go bat watching at Congress Ave Bridge
Every evening, locals and tourists alike form crowds on Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge in hopes of seeing North America’s largest urban bat population take flight. As the sun sets, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Mexican free-tailed bats pour out from under the bridge and take flight into the night.
Take a tour of the Texas State Capitol
The stunning Texas State Capitol is an architectural marvel and one of the most iconic landmarks in Austin. Visitors can either sign up for a free guided tour of the capital every 30-45 minutes or embark on their own self-guided tour.
Seek out Austin’s most popular murals and street art
Over the years, Austin’s colorful characters have made the city an equally colorful place if you know where to look. Go on your own self-guided tour of Austin’s best murals and most instagrammable spots.
Free Thursdays at Blanton Museum of Art
Located on the University of Texas’ beautiful campus, the Blanton Museum of Art is one of the nation’s largest university art museums. Every Thursday, guests can enjoy free admission to the museum.
Where to stay on a budget in Austin
HK Austin is situated in an elegant Victorian mansion dating back to 1892. But don’t let the wrap-around porches and gated backyard fool you. This part hostel, part coworking/coliving space (hello digital nomads!) is one of Austin’s hippest stays.
Situated in the city’s oldest standing fire station, Firehouse Hostel is an eclectic spot that is quintessentially Austin. Conveniently located in buzzing Downtown Austin, the hostel is just steps away from nightlife and entertainment. Though you won’t need to go far, as the hostel is connected to the popular Firehouse Lounge, known for its meticulously crafted cocktails.
Decorated in a charming, sleek industrial design, Native Hostel describes itself as a “kinetic collision of music, arts, warm beds, culinary delights, and spirits.” And while that may seem like a mouthful, stay here and you’ll realize they’re spot on. The welcoming vibe, artistic nature, and excellent hospitality make Native one of Austin’s coolest places to stay.
Cheap flights to Austin
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to Austin. On average, our members spent $59 on their tickets to Austin and saved over $154 per ticket. Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that Dollar Flight Club members have received in the past.
Newark (EWR) to Austin (AUS)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $47
Average Price: $110
San Francisco (SFO) to Austin (AUS)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $74
Average Price: $139
Atlanta (ATL) to Austin (ATL)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $39
Average Price: $95
Best cheap eats in Austin
Austin's best food trucks
Food trucks are a big part of Austin’s incredible food scene. They’re also a great option for delicious food on a budget. Some of Austin’s most delicious mobile eateries that you need to try are Veracruz All Natural (multiple locations), East Side King (multiple locations), and pretty much anything at The Picnic, Austin’s original food truck park.
If you’re in the mood for a budget-friendly classic burger and frozen custard with a side of classic American nostalgia, Sandy’s Hamburger’s is the spot. Prices at this humble burger shack and drive-thru have remained low over the years, even as their popularity has grown.
Jo’s Coffee Congress
The South Congress location of this Austin institution is a great place whether you’re looking for cheap eats or you just need to get your caffeine buzz. Jo’s Coffee is a great spot any time, but your best bet is to come in the morning and enjoy their delicious breakfast tacos with your morning brew.
Juan in a Million
When you’re looking for breakfast on a budget, the massive portions at Juan in a Million will fill you up but won’t empty your wallet. At just $6.50, locals and tourists come from all over to enjoy the Don Juan El Taco Grande, a secret combination of potato, egg, bacon, and cheese in a deliciously hot tortilla.
Start planning your trip to Austin
If you love the outdoors, don't mind grabbing your lunch from a food truck, and can't resist live music, Austin is a great place to visit on a budget. So when you're ready to finally experience the capital of the Lone Star State, be sure to save this budget travel guide, and sign up to receive cheap flight deals today!
BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.