Austin Introduction Walking Tour, Austin

Austin Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Austin

Despite the official status of Texas' capital, Austin never fails to surprise visitors with its unique artsy community and lively atmosphere. The city proudly wears the title of "The Live Music Capital of the World" thanks to the eclectic live-music scene centered around country, blues and rock, established since the 1970s by the likes of Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The European pioneers began to settle the area of present-day Austin during the 1830s. In 1839, after the Texans won their independence from Mexico, the site was chosen to replace Houston as the capital of the Republic of Texas and was incorporated under the name "Waterloo". Shortly afterwards, it was renamed Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas" and the republic's first secretary of state.

A period after the American Civil War saw dramatic population and economic growth in the city. Austin gained further prominence during the 1880s as a center for government, following the construction of the Texas State Capitol in 1888. Leading up to its steps, the iconic Congress Avenue serves as a ceremonial boulevard, lined with numerous businesses and entertainment venues. Many Austinites attribute its enduring popularity to the magnificent and unobstructed view of the Capitol building. Another attraction is the Congress Avenue Bridge, housing the world's largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats – starting in March, up to 1.5 million bats take up residence here, attracting annually more than 100,000 viewers.

After a severe lull in economic growth from the Great Depression, Austin resumed steady development, and in the second half of the 20th century emerged as one of Texas' major metropolitan centers. Nicknamed "Silicon Hills" during the 1990s for a rapid influx of technology and development companies, it also has adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird", stemming from the desire of locals to protect small, unique, and otherwise peculiar businesses and to promote eccentricity and diversity. The city even has its own Museum of the Weird.

Austin boasts a wealth of historic and modern architecture manifested in the likes of the Driskill Hotel, built in 1886, and the Rainey Street Historic District, consisting mostly of bungalow-style homes from the early 20th century. Lovers of literature may also be interested in visiting the O. Henry Museum – the writer's residence in Austin from 1893 to 1895.

For a more detailed acquaintance with some of Austin's most prominent attractions, take this self-guided introductory walk.
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Austin Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Austin Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Austin (See other walking tours in Austin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Texas State Capitol
  • Capitol Visitors Center
  • Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin
  • Lundberg Bakery
  • Norwood Tower
  • Driskill Hotel
  • Museum of the Weird
  • Susanna Dickinson Museum
  • O. Henry Museum
  • Congress Avenue
  • Congress Avenue Bridge /Austin Bats
  • Rainey Street
Texas State Capitol

1) Texas State Capitol (must see)

The Texas State Capitol, located in downtown Austin, is a significant historical and architectural landmark. It serves as the seat of government for the state of Texas, housing the offices and chambers of the Texas Legislature and the Governor of Texas. The Capitol was designed by architect Elijah E. Myers and constructed between 1882 and 1888 under the supervision of civil engineer Reuben Lindsay Walker. In 1970, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1986, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Architecturally, the Capitol is an exemplar of the Italian Renaissance Revival style. It is constructed primarily from limestone sourced from Pecan Point quarries and sandstone from nearby Barton Creek. Remarkably, the Texas State Capitol is 302.64 feet (92.24 meters) tall, making it the sixth-tallest state capitol and one of several taller than the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The Texas State Capitol proudly stands on a hill, providing a picturesque view over downtown Austin. The building has undergone several modifications over the years, incorporating various additions, including a prominent dome that crowns a rotunda. This dome, designed by architect Elijah Ealy Clark, is a notable feature of the Capitol.

The rotunda showcases portraits of all individuals who have held the position of President in the Republic of Texas or served as Governor of the State of Texas. In the southern foyer, you can find sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, which were created by Elisabeth Ney. Interestingly, the rotunda also functions as a whispering gallery.

The Capitol itself is quite spacious, spanning 360,000 square feet (33,000 square meters), which is more extensive than any other state capitol building in the country. It sits on a land area of 2.25 acres and boasts nearly 400 rooms along with over 900 windows.

Strategically positioned, the Texas State Capitol demarcates the State Capitol Mall from downtown Austin. Open to the public, it stands as a testament to the state's history, especially its construction during an economic downturn caused by an agricultural depression. The Capitol's construction was funded through state bonds instead of taxes.
Capitol Visitors Center

2) Capitol Visitors Center

The Capitol Visitors Center sits in the restored General Land Office building which is located in the southeast corner of the State Capitol grounds. Built in 1856-57, it had initially served as the General Land Office until 1918 and, as such, is the oldest state office facility in Texas. The three-story, castle-like structure was designed by Christoph Conrad Stremme, native of Germany, and combined Classical and Medieval elements reflecting architectural trends in his home country.

In the late 1880s, William Sydney Porter, later known as the writer O. Henry, worked here as a draftsman. For three years, he drew county maps for a monthly salary of $100. Porter later used the Land Office Building as a setting for two of his stories, “Bexar Script 2692” and “Georgia's Ruling.”

Over the years, the building underwent series of alterations, including the addition of iron shutters and vaults to aid in the protection of the irreplaceable land records. It received recognition as Texas Historic Landmark in 1962 and became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. By the 1980s, the building had found itself in a state of disrepair. Due to its architectural and historical significance, the State Preservation Board undertook a restoration of the structure returning it to the appearance circa 1890 when the Capitol was constructed.

In 1994, the building opened as the Visitors Center providing exhibits and programs to educate visitors about the history of Texas, the Capitol and the General Land Office. Over two million people have visited here since.

Why You Should Visit:
To learn about the history and the development of the Texas State, as well as the construction and the everyday activities of the State Capitol.

The Center offers free guided, self-guided and specialty tours. Allow about 1.5 hours for this.
Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin

3) Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin (must see)

Saint Mary's serves as the main cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin. Its history dates back to the 1850s, when the Catholic community in Austin constructed a small stone church called Saint Patrick's at the intersection of 9th and Brazos streets. In 1866, the church was renamed Saint Mary's, and the parish decided to build a new church using masonry construction. In 1872, after Austin was designated as the permanent capital of Texas, the parish laid the cornerstone for a new church one block north of the original location.

The parish had already established the foundation in the shape of a basilica and had started erecting the walls, which were 5 feet (1.5 meters) high when architect Nicholas J. Clayton began designing their new church.

In 1948, when the Diocese of Austin was established, this church became the cathedral for the newly formed diocese. During that time, the church underwent renovations, including the removal of many neo-Gothic decorations. The neo-Gothic altars and altar rail were replaced with marble fixtures from the 20th century, and the baldachino was adorned with cactus and bluebonnet motifs, reminiscent of central Texas.

Why You Should Visit:
If you're an architecture buff, this comfortably welcoming and beautiful classic Cathedral boasts a great deal of historic artwork to observe in detail: gorgeous stained glass windows dedicated to saints from old Europe, and woodwork.
And if you're a devoted Catholic, they do Latin Rite masses here, too.

If you attend a Sunday mass, you'll feel like you are at a prayerful and inspiring concert.
Lundberg Bakery

4) Lundberg Bakery

The Lundberg Bakery, also known as the Old Bakery and Emporium, is a historic site located in downtown Austin, which currently functions as a gift shop. This building was completed in the year 1876. During the early days of the bakery's operation, bread was not packaged or wrapped for sale. Instead, customers would wait in line with baskets lined with cloth to carry their freshly purchased bread.

The bakery continued its operation until its owner, Charles Lundberg, a Swedish immigrant, passed away in 1895. Subsequently, the building changed ownership multiple times until it was acquired and renovated by the Austin Heritage Society in 1962. In 1970, the bakery faced a threat of demolition when plans were made to construct a new building for the Texas Department of Transportation. Fortunately, its preservation was ensured when excavations next door revealed the foundations of the previous state capitol building. These foundations were then transformed into a historical plaza, and the bakery was spared.

Constructed primarily from limestone with a brick facade, the building boasts a prominent cast-iron eagle at the apex of its gabled roof, which overlooks Congress Avenue. Notably, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 17, 1969.
Norwood Tower

5) Norwood Tower

The Norwood Tower in Austin is an example of early 20th-century architecture. This 16-story building, constructed with a steel frame and covered in precast concrete panels, was the tallest commercial building in Austin until 1971, second only to the Texas State Capitol and the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. Its Gothic Revival style, popular in Texas during the 1920s, features vertical lines, intricate Gothic details, flamboyant arches, and gargoyles. Inside, the lobby is decorated with golden leaf motifs.

In the 1920s, Ollie Osborn Norwood, a local financier, envisioned this tower as a modern office space for Austin's expanding professional community. It was innovative for its time, offering central air conditioning in every office, a first for Austin, and an integrated parking garage. The garage was completed in 1928, followed by the demolition of a pre-existing house on the site, and the office tower was finished in 1929. The building housed various professionals, including medical, legal, and financial offices, as well as retailers and government agencies. In 1934, the Capital National Bank of Austin began occupying the ground floor and eventually bought the building in 1944, renaming it the "Capital National Bank Building."

During the Segregation Era, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the office of the building's African-American maintenance engineer, Clarence Odie Williams, housed the only downtown public restroom accessible to African Americans.

The bank moved out in 1981, and the building was renamed "Norwood Tower." It underwent significant renovations between 1982 and 1983. In 2006, it was recognized as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. The tower is now owned by the family of former President Lyndon Johnson.
Driskill Hotel

6) Driskill Hotel (must see)

The Driskill Hotel, a historic Romanesque-style building, was finished in 1886 and stands as the oldest continuously operating hotel in Austin. It is renowned as one of the most famous hotels in the state. The visionary behind the Driskill was Colonel Jesse Driskill, a wealthy cattleman who invested a substantial sum of money in creating what he aspired to be the finest hotel in the southern United States, surpassing even those in Saint Louis. The total cost of constructing the hotel amounted to $400,000.

The Driskill Hotel was an imposing structure, spanning nearly half a city block with four stories. It boasted three grand entrances on its southern, eastern, and northern sides, each adorned with intricately carved limestone busts depicting Colonel Driskill and his two sons, Bud and Tobe. The hotel's construction used an impressive six million bricks in conjunction with various limestone accents.

Noteworthy for its time, the Driskill Hotel featured 60 rooms, including a remarkable 12 corner rooms equipped with attached baths—a rarity in hotels across the region during that era. The hotel's design prioritized natural ventilation, aiming to maintain a comfortable temperature within. Its most prominent architectural feature was an open rotunda that spanned from the first to the fourth floor and culminated in a grand domed skylight.

Why You Should Visit:
Iconic landmark of Southern hospitality rich in historic architecture. One of the joys of visiting Austin, TX, outside its music culture, is a chance to stay at the Driskill Hotel. The historic architectural design of the structure and its interiors provide even more fuel for enthusiasm to return to Austin again and again.
Museum of the Weird

7) Museum of the Weird

The Museum of the Weird, located in Austin, is one of the last true dime museums in the country. Officially opened in 2007 by Steve Busti, it is situated on the bustling 6th Street and offers a unique blend of oddities and curiosities.

The museum houses an eclectic collection of exhibits, including the Fiji mermaid, a cyclops pig, the Hand of Glory, real mummies, and life-size wax figures of historic sideshow celebrities, along with classic monsters like Frankenstein. For arachnid enthusiasts, there are live Texas tarantulas on display. Other notable exhibits include shrunken heads, unusual bugs, and a variety of freak animals, each accompanied by informative descriptions.

Delving into the paranormal, the museum explores local haunted places and the lore of the Texas Bigfoot. It also features Sfanthor's Chamber of Horrors, a classic movie monster exhibit with life-sized figures of The Creature, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the iconic King Kong, with whom visitors can take photos.

Furthermore, the museum showcases the mysterious Minnesota Iceman and offers daily live sideshow performances. It is an engaging destination that promises a mix of education and entertainment, making it a great outing for the entire family. Visitors can immerse themselves in a world of the mysterious and unexplained, making the Museum of the Weird a must-visit for those intrigued by the extraordinary and bizarre.

Once you reach the yellow chain they give you a guided tour of the rest of the "really weird" stuff! To finish off your adventure there is a live show at the end of the tour.
Group discounts of 20 individuals or more are available.
There is a gift shop in the front which is absolutely FREE to enter!
Susanna Dickinson Museum

8) Susanna Dickinson Museum

Built in the “rubble-rock” style of architecture, brought to the Texas Hill Country by German immigrants, this 19th century home is a historic landmark and the only remaining residence of Susanna Dickinson who's gone down in history as the "Messenger of the Alamo." Having survived the Battle of the Alamo, she carried the news of its fall to Sam Houston, which ultimately led to Houston's defeat of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto and won independence for the Republic of Texas.

The house was constructed in 1869 by Joseph Hannig, Susanna's husband. In appreciation for her exploit, Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig's home – deeded to the City of Austin in 2003 – was saved, restored and opened as a museum on March 2, 2010, Texas Independence Day.

Inside the museum there are rare Dickinson family artifacts, as well as furniture produced by Hannig. The couple had lived in this house for six years, until 1875, upon which they moved into the part of town known as Hyde Park.

The museum forms part of Brush Square Museums, along with the O. Henry Museum and the Austin Fire Museum. If you are a history buff, you may want to stop by this lovely museum to let yourself showed around the property and recount the vivid stories of the survivors of the Battle of the Alamo.
O. Henry Museum

9) O. Henry Museum

This quaint Victorian cottage, situated in Downtown Austin, holds historical significance as the former residence of the renowned American writer, William Sydney Porter, who is better recognized by his pen name, O. Henry. Constructed in 1886, the cottage embodies the simplified Eastlake Style of architecture. Between 1893 and 1895, Porter and his family resided here before relocating to Houston, where Porter embarked on his full-time writing career at the Houston Post. Despite being primarily associated with his home state of North Carolina, O. Henry set 42 of his stories in Texas.

The cottage remained a rental property until 1930 when plans were made to demolish it to make way for a warehouse. However, in January 1934, a committee representing various women's organizations, including the Colonial Dames, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of 1812, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the Daughters of the Confederacy, proposed to the Austin City Council that if the city accepted the house as a donation from the Austin Rotary Club and agreed to relocate it, these organizations would undertake its restoration and transform it into a "shrine."

The City of Austin oversaw the relocation of the house from its original site at 308 East 4th Street to its current address. Subsequently, in 1934, the house was meticulously restored and opened as a museum. The museum showcases numerous period pieces, including some of the Porter family's furniture and personal items, along with books, manuscripts, and photographs documenting Porter's life in Austin. The house underwent further restoration in 1994–95, including a new roof and the replacement of four brick chimneys that had been lost in 1934.

Recognizing its historical significance, the Porter house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 18, 1973. It is currently known as the O. Henry Museum and serves as the venue for the annual O. Henry Pun-Off, a spoken pun competition held traditionally during the first weekend of May.
Congress Avenue

10) Congress Avenue (must see)

Congress Avenue is a major thoroughfare in Austin. It consists of six lanes lined with trees and stretches from southern outskirts of the city, extending over Lady Bird Lake and ultimately leading to the heart of Downtown, where the Texas State Capitol is situated. Edwin Waller, the inaugural mayor of Austin, played a pivotal role in the avenue's design.

During its early history, Congress Avenue featured a variety of structures, including government buildings, hotels, saloons, retail shops, and restaurants. By the late 1840s, it had evolved into a thriving business hub. In the mid-1870s, advancements such as gaslight illumination and mule-drawn streetcars were introduced, alongside the construction of a new courthouse for Travis County at Eleventh Street. The present-day Texas Capitol, located at the northern end of Congress Avenue, was constructed in 1888, and the original dirt road was paved with bricks in 1910. Streetcar operations continued on the avenue until 1940.

Before the completion of Interstate 35 in the 1960s, Congress Avenue played a crucial role as the main route to access Austin from the south. Notable landmarks like the Austin Motel underscored its significance as a major route for travelers throughout the mid-20th century.

South of Lady Bird Lake, Congress Avenue is known as South Congress, often abbreviated as SoCo, and has gained popularity as a bustling shopping and rental district. It traverses the historic Travis Heights neighborhood, passes by the Texas School for the Deaf, and leads to Saint Edward's University as it extends southward out of the city.

Recognizing its architectural and historical importance, Congress Avenue from Cesar Chavez Street (formerly First Street) to the Capitol was designated as a National Historic Place in 1979. The Texas Capitol at the northern end of Congress creates a visually striking focal point, and this view is safeguarded by state and local regulations known as the Capitol View Corridors, enacted in 1983, which prohibit the obstruction of the view by tall buildings.

Why You Should Visit:
A must-stroll for visitors and a popular hangout for locals. South Congress oozes homespun character and boasts the story of Austin’s yesteryear in its boutiques, eateries, galleries and music venues.
Congress Avenue Bridge /Austin Bats

11) Congress Avenue Bridge /Austin Bats (must see)

The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, previously known as the Congress Avenue Bridge, is situated over Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Prior to the completion of the Longhorn Dam in 1960, this bridge spanned the Colorado River, which is now impounded as Lady Bird Lake. It had been named the Congress Avenue Bridge since its initial construction in the late 19th century until November 16, 2006, when the Austin City Council decided to rename it in honor of Ann W. Richards. She served as the 45th Governor of Texas and was a long-time resident of Austin.

This bridge is made of concrete and features three southbound and three northbound vehicle lanes, with sidewalks on both sides. The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is renowned for housing the world's largest urban bat colony, consisting of Mexican free-tailed bats. These bats live beneath the road deck in gaps between the concrete components. They are migratory, spending their summers in Austin and their winters in Mexico.

Every evening at dusk, the bats emerge from beneath the bridge and fly across Lady Bird Lake, primarily to the east, in search of food. This spectacle attracts up to 100,000 tourists annually. Visitors can observe the bats from the bridge itself, from the riverbanks, and even from boats. Interestingly, the Austin Ice Bats, a minor-league hockey team, took its name from the bridge's famous bat colony. Additionally, the song "Bats" by Kimya Dawson and rapper Aesop Rock was inspired by the immense number of bats residing under this bridge.
Rainey Street

12) Rainey Street (must see)

The Rainey Street Historic District is a collection of old houses, mostly built in the bungalow style, located close to Lady Bird Lake and Interstate 35 in the southeast part of Downtown. While there are officially 21 buildings recognized as part of this historic district, the section of Rainey Street between River and Driskill Streets actually has 31 buildings constructed before 1934, which gives the neighborhood a historical vibe compared to other parts of the city.

Back in 1884, the Rainey Street neighborhood was established by Jesse Driskill, a wealthy cattle owner, and Frank Rainey. They divided up 16 acres of land between the Colorado River and Water Street (now Cesar Chavez Blvd). In the beginning, the neighborhood was mainly inhabited by middle-class white craftsmen. However, as the 1920s rolled around, more working-class families and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds started moving in. Unfortunately, a flood in 1935 wiped out many of the original homes in the area. Furthermore, when Interstate 35 was built, it effectively cut off Rainey Street from the rest of Austin's residential areas. By 1978, a report indicated that over half of the buildings on Rainey Street were in bad shape. To prevent high-density commercial and residential development, the neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Fast forward to the early 2010s, and this once quiet and hidden residential street has transformed into a popular nightlife hub. Most of the old bungalows in the area have been refurbished and turned into bars and restaurants, many of which have spacious porches and outdoor areas for customers.

Why You Should Visit:
Austin's diverse culture is not just contained in a museum but sprinkled throughout the entire city.
This residential-turned-commercial row offers a good chance to appreciate the city's lively scene manifested in the wealth of upscale bars, eateries and food trucks galore.
Staying true to Austin's roots, this strip of bars often features live, local bands.

Walking Tours in Austin, Texas

Create Your Own Walk in Austin

Create Your Own Walk in Austin

Creating your own self-guided walk in Austin is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Congress Avenue Walking Tour

Congress Avenue Walking Tour

Congress Avenue is the main street in Austin, Texas, and historically its first one. Since the city's establishment in the first half of the 19th century, it has evolved and today bears the mark of Austin’s economic and cultural development. Stretching approximately 1.5 miles, this iconic thoroughfare is a must-visit for tourists.

At the northern end of the avenue stands the majestic...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Austin Street Art Walk

Austin Street Art Walk

Austin, Texas may be famed as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but its street art is just as vibrant, funky, and diverse as its plentiful music venues. Indeed, Texas’s capital is practically peppered with dozens of murals, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

Among the artworks gracing the city's walls there are some truly iconic pieces that illustrate the kinky side of...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Northwest downtown Austin boasts an impressive collection of historic residences of notable styles, ranging from classic Victorian to Georgian to Greek Revival. Carefully preserved and restored, these constructions – from nationally listed historic sites to the significant local elements of the built environment – form a major part of Austin’s cultural heritage and indelible chapter of its...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles