Austin: seven reasons to visit

By Caitlin M. Ryan, Austin-based writer.

Photography by Getty Images

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July 2018

Often described as a big city with a small-town heart, visitors to Austin can expect a warm welcome, districts buzzing with character and plenty of culture, says Austinite Caitlin M. Ryan.

Hot sounds

When you’re officially known as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’, the bar is set high. You can catch scores of talented bands any day of the week here – even at the airport. Local, lauded honky-tonk bands such as Mike and the Moonpies entertain at The White Horse, or for a litany of indie rock try hip haunts Mohawk and Emo’s. Also, always pop your name into the digital draw to try and win tickets to live tapings of the Austin City Limits TV show – it has featured the likes of the late, great Johnny Cash and Etta James, plus current big-hitters Radiohead.

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A frenzy of festivals

Beyond the dive bars, black box theatres and music halls is a roster of now-iconic music festivals. In March, the world’s creative elite congregates for SXSW, a heady fusion of talks and performance spanning film, music and digital innovation. While Austin City Limits Festival, usually held in leafy Zilker Park across the first two weekends in October, is always a magnet for international heavyweight talent.

  • Catch some waves at NLand Surf Park.

    Surf ‘n’ turf

    More than simply surfing, Nland also hosts artisan markets, yoga and wellness classes and live DJs.

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Great sports

Petrolheads must visit the state-of-the-art Circuit of The Americas track for adrenaline-fuelled competitions such as MotoGP and the United States Grand Prix. For a true Austin experience, join the crowds at a sporting event hosted at the University of Texas. The most buzzy atmosphere is found during the autumn football season.

Foodie heaven

Tex-Mex is a must, and Matt’s El Rancho is one of the best joints to try it. But Austin’s culinary scene is about more than just tamales and tacos. Uchi serves top-notch sushi – don’t forget to ask the chef for their special recommendations. And for the best meat this side of the Mississippi, join the snaking lines outside Franklin’s Barbecue. Tasting carts at Emmer & Rye are stacked high with gourmet bites, crafted from the best seasonal and local produce. Cap it off with a something sweet at mod bistro Launderette overseen by acclaimed pastry chef Laura Sawicki.

  • Dine on delicious dishes such as labneh at Launderette.

    Laundry day

    Stop by Launderette for lunch, dinner or brunch, where you’ll find delights such as Asparagus Benny – an English muffin, poached eggs, crispy pancetta, truffle hollandaise.£623 pp

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  • Grab a drink and enjoy the sounds from the stage in Mohawk.

    Sweet, sweet music

    The bar hosts a daily happy hour from 17.000 until 20.00 with 100 local craft beers and small-batch spirits.

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  • Rest your head at the Fairmont Austin.

The great outdoors

There’s nothing Austinites love more than hiking, biking, and rowing their way across the city. Zilker Park is the best patch for throwing down a picnic blanket and tossing a Frisbee with friends. Take a dip in Barton Springs, a refreshing spring-fed pool in the centre of the city or catch some gnarly waves (albeit artificial ones) at NLand Surf Park. Work off all that Tex-Mex with a jog around peaceful Lady Bird Lake. On summer nights at sunset you’ll find crowds at the Congress Avenue Bridge, all gathered to watch the largest urban bat colony in North America take flight. Seeing some 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats spiral into the sky is quite something.

Bed down in style

Music lovers won’t find a cooler spot to snooze than the W Hotel in downtown’s 2nd Street District. It not only adjoins Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, but also draws a cool crowd to its vinyl-packed records room. At 1.4 million square feet, the shiny new Fairmont Austin is the largest hotel in the city and the largest Fairmont in the world.

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  • Soak in the sounds at Austin City Limits © Roger Ho.

    Texan tunes

    Celebrating a wide variety of music, Austin City Limits has hosted the likes of Radiohead, The XX, Al Green, Pearl Jam, and Norah Jones.

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Find your style

The crowds here dress snappily, no matter what the season – locals are known for their bold sartorial statements and love of vintage threads. Find old-school Levi’s, leather vests, quirky boots and prairie dresses at Feather’s Boutique and Prototype Vintage Design. Over on the east side at Charm School Vintage rifle through rails of colourful, eclectic garb from the 1890s to the 1990s.

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