Bleisure travel is a rising trend in the meetings and events biz. With its increasing popularity, Austin, Texas—with 300 days of annual sunshine and nonstop service from more than 70 destinations—is an ideal destination choice for planners looking to incorporate post-meeting sightseeing and leisure activities into the event agenda.

For planners on a budget, however, taking care of business while giving their attendees options to explore a city can be difficult.

Luckily, there are a whole host of free things to do in Austin. Even better, they are easy for groups to access.

“One thing we promote about our city is its walkability,” said Linda Atkins, vice president of services at Visit Austin. “Many free activities are at the doorstep of the Austin Convention Center and hotels.”

Touring the Texas State Capitol, catching a free summer concert at Zilker Park and watching the largest urban bat colony fly under the Congress Avenue Bridge are just a few uniquely Austin items to add to the itinerary.

All six of these free post-meeting activities planners can arrange for groups will satisfy curious meeting attendees while keeping things affordable in the Austin area.

1. Tour the Texas State Capitol

Tours at the Capitol building are available every day of the week. For no charge, planners can call ahead to arrange tours of the building for groups of 10 or more. Groups can learn about Texas history, the state legislature and facts about the building’s construction and architecture.

The Capitol building offers specialty subject tours during certain times of the week, too, like the Women of Texas History tour and the Heroes of the Texas Revolution tour.

Texas State Capitol Building Exterior, Credit: Texas State Capitol Building
Texas State Capitol Building Exterior, Credit: Texas State Capitol Building

Don’t miss an opportunity to view the building from the outside—the Texas State Capitol, built in the late 1880s, is 14 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

2. Explore Texas State History at the Bullock Museum

Just three blocks north of the Texas Capitol sits the Bullock Museum, a three-floor showpiece filled with exhibits and historical artifacts that celebrate and explore the history and culture of Texas. Every Sunday, admission to the museum is free, which is ideal for groups meeting in Austin through the weekend. Though not free other days of the week, there is a discount for groups of 20 or more that schedule a tour in advance.

Bullock Texas State History Museum Exterior, Credit: Bullock Texas State History Museum
Bullock Texas State History Museum Exterior, Credit: Bullock Texas State History Museum

3. Hike to Mount Bonnell

For active attendees looking for a bit of exercise and rewarding vistas of the Austin area, the short hike to Mount Bonnell—one of the highest points in Austin—is a popular trek for visitors.

Less than a mile to the top in Covert Park, this point provides Instagram-worthy views of the city, Lake Austin and the surrounding hills.

View From Top of Mount Bonnell, Credit: Austin Parks and Recreation Department
View From Top of Mount Bonnell, Credit: Austin Parks and Recreation Department

One of the oldest tourist attractions in the area, people have been hiking to Mount Bonnell since the 1850s. It’s a Texas Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. Watch the Congress Avenue Bridge Bat Show

The largest urban bat population in North America puts on an impressive free show every evening from April to October under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Up to 1.5 million bats emerge from under the bridge, who use the crevices underneath to roost.

Congress Avenue Bridge Bat Show, Credit: Visit Austin
Congress Avenue Bridge Bat Show, Credit: Visit Austin

Free for anyone to watch, Austin’s bat show is one of the weirdest tourist attractions in the area but also one of the most popular.

“The bat show is one of our biggest attractions in town,” Atkins said. “People line the bridge, the trails along the lake, and some groups even rent boats to watch the bats fly.”

5. Catch a Concert at Zilker Park

Zilker Park, a 360-acre park in downtown Austin, hosts a free day-end concert series called Blues on the Green each summer. Groups of any size can bring lawn chairs and blankets to listen to homegrown music for no cost once a month on a select Thursday evening.

Fitting for groups looking to experience some entertainment in the Live Music Capital of the World, this concert series is the largest free concert series offered in the city.

Shows start at 8 p.m., but get there early to get a good spot.

6. Practice Yoga or See a Movie at Republic Square

Less than a mile down the street from the Austin Convention Center in the heart of downtown is local favorite Republic Square. This public space hosts all sorts of free events.

  • Free summer yoga classes are available to all on Tuesday evenings.
  • Free movie showings and live music performances are commonplace.
  • A Farmers’ Market is held in the square every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Yoga Session at Republic State Park, Credit: Downtown Austin Alliance
Yoga Session at Republic State Park, Credit: Downtown Austin Alliance

Planners take note: Republic Square is also available for rental as an event space, with flexible layout options for groups of 50 to 3,500.

Event-Related Openings and Announcements in Austin

Fairmont Austin opened in 2018. Connected to the Austin Convention Center and housing nearly 140,000 square feet of meeting space, the towering luxury hotel is a convenient option for groups meeting in downtown Austin.

Some Fairmont Austin function room highlights include the Congressional Ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Austin’s skyline and room for up to 2,400 guests, and Palm Park, which can accommodate up to 650 guests and has a built-in performance platform and prefunction space that opens to the 7th floor terrace.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is adding a nine-gate expansion to its Barbara Jordan terminal and multiple nonstop international flight routes.

This follows news of a record 15.8 million passengers traveling through the airport in 2018, resulting in 13.9 percent growth from 2017.

[Related Content: All Facets of the Texas Group Markets Are in Expansion Mode]

The spring 2018 expansion of AT&T Hotel and Conference Center at University of Texas at Austin grew its space by over 35,000 square feet.

The facility now offers 85,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The new spaces include the 15,000-square-foot Zlotnik Family Ballroom and 5,000 square feet of prefunction space.

Opening this summer, Hotel Zaza adds 159 more luxury guest rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space to downtown Austin.

The property will also feature the 7th Floor Lounge featuring live music and cocktails, the lobby-level restaurant Perfect Strangers and a full-service spa and pool with views of the city.

Austin Marriott Downtown is scheduled to open in July 2020 across the street from the Austin Convention Center. The new property will have 60,000 square feet of its own meeting space plus over 600 guest rooms, three bars, a rooftop pool and locally inspired restaurants.

In late 2020, Kalahari Resorts is expected to open its newest property in Round Rock, just outside of Austin. The 1.5 million-square-foot resort will feature a 200,000-square-foot convention center onsite.

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