48 hours in Austin

Only have 48 hours in Austin? Here are the best attractions, BBQ spots and local bars to make the most of your visit.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Earl McGehee

It's hard to get a good feel for a city when you only have a long weekend to spare, but there's plenty for visitors to discover with just 48 hours in Austin. Even better: The Texas capital is small enough that seeing many of Austin's top attractions during that time is entirely possible (and centrally located). From hitting up the best Austin museums and live music venues (we are, after all, the "Live Music Capital of the World") to devouring the best tacos in Austin, our guide covers all of the worthwhile things to see, eat and do on your visit. And yes, BBQ is involved. Welcome to our city!

Here's how to spend 48 hours in Austin

Friday evening

Besides "Live Music Capital of the World," Austin retains the nickname of "Bat City." And with good reason, too—the Congress Avenue Bridge is the world’s largest urban bat colony with a whopping 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats living underneath it. During early evenings from March to October, you can post up along the railing to watch them emerge for their evening meal. If you're visiting during the off-season, it's still worth it to head to the bridge for a sunset stroll as the Austin skyline turns from yellow to orange to purple. 

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Downtown

Friday late night

Stop by the Roosevelt Room for Austin's most expertly crafted drinks. A giant chalkboard above the bar takes imbibers on a history of cocktails, with drinks categorized by era from Early Years (pre-1880) to Modern Classics (2000s-present). Exceptional customer service is one of the hallmarks of this bar, and an evening spent here can happily turn into an educational lesson on noteworthy spirits. Need a late-night snack? Nearby Frank serves artisan sausages—and the rest of their full menu—until 2am.

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Warehouse District
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Saturday morning

Let's be real: You came (at least partially) for the breakfast tacos, and we're not going to deny you of our city's official dish. To get a taste of what everyone's talking about, head to Veracruz All Natural (there are multiple locations) for the revered migas tacos, along with some local favorites like cochinita pibil and chicken mole enchiladas. The Radio Coffee & Beer location also gives you the chance to enjoy fantastic coffee on a spacious patio—a scene that perfectly encapsulates the Austin vibe.

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North Shoal Creek

Saturday midday

There's no better way to experience Austin's natural beauty than with a trip down the Colorado River, which runs right through Central Austin. Rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard from Rowing Dock—or any of the other Lady Bird Lake outfitters that can be found along the river. Just don't forget to load up on sunscreen. 

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Rollingwood
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Saturday afternoon

Most of Austin's art museums are located downtown, so you can hit up a few in one afternoon. Start at the Blanton Museum of Art, which houses one of the largest permanent collections of art in Central Texas—including its newest crown jewel, Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin." Then check out the Contemporary Austin's Jones Center, who's downtown branch includes Jim Hodges' "With Liberty and Justice For All (A Work in Progress)." Finally, learn about the city's connection to Mexican, Latino and Latin American art and culture, both historical and contemporary, at the Mexic-Arte Museum.

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Universit of Texas

Saturday evening

Via 313 has long been a local favorite in Austin, specializing in hearty Detroit-style pizza. Their newest location is a neighborhood-friendly restaurant on the east side—do it right and get The Detroiter, which has smoked pepperoni tucked under the cheese and natural casing pepperoni on top. If you're looking for a thinner crust (but why?), opt for the bar-style pies (we're a fan of the Jack White clam pie). Then head next door to Whisler's for an old-fashioned—arguably the city's best—on the outdoor patio.

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East Cesar Chavez
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Saturday late night

Just over a decade in, the Mohawk, located at the northern end of the Red River District, has become one of the most reputable places for musicians to perform. Hit up a show there, then venue-crawl your way through the district, which has a rich history in Austin's punk scene (though it now caters to music of all genres). Stop by Cheer Up Charlie's (an LGBTQ hot spot), Beerland and Empire Control Room before ending at Barbarella (trust us—you won't want to go anywhere except for your bed after Barbs). 

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Red River District

Sunday morning

For a slice of natural paradise within the city, begin your final day in Austin by exploring the Barton Creek Greenbelt (lovingly referred to by locals as the Greenbelt) and its 7.25 miles of dense forest, limestone cliffs, shallow swimming holes and hike-and-bike trails. Whether you hit up the super-popular Campbell’s Hole, the gushing Sculpture Falls or the relatively secret Lost Creek site, there's beauty around every corner. Bring a swimsuit in case you decide to take a dip in one of the swimming holes—most notably, the popular Barton Springs Pool, located at the eastern end of the Greenbelt.

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Zilker
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Sunday midday

If Franklin Barbecue was your driving factor for visiting Austin, by all means, wait in line for hours. But if you only have a short time in the city, we recommend the equally mouth-watering La Barbecue, which often sports shorter lines and has a killer sides game (along with excellent brisket, pork ribs and sausage). At this east side trailer, surrounded by a few simple picnic tables with some enormous old trees for shade, it’s the chipotle coleslaw—zestier than most with a kick to match the house-made chipotle sausage—and fresh black bean salad that raise the total-package bar a cut above. 

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East Cesar Chavez

Sunday afternoon

Before you skip town, head to the South Congress neighborhood for some retail therapy and souvenir shopping. Allens Boots has been selling premium leather footwear to tourists and locals alike since 1977—you'll be hit with the smell of leather as soon as you walk through the door. At South Congress Books, you'll find a selection of well-worn vintage books and posters, then wander the aisles at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, the pièce de résistance in the Austin costume scene. Finish your trip on a sweet note: a scoop of ice cream from local favorite Amy's Ice Creams.

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South River City
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