Exploring the Texas Capitol on a Budget
Accommodation and Getting Around
The only thing that isn’t necessarily bigger in Texas is the cost of public transport. The bus fare from the airport to my hostel was exactly $1.75 (make sure you have exact change- you feed your coins into a machine on the bus, and it won’t give you any change back). As well as being cost effective, buses in Austin are easy to navigate. The only downside is you might meet a few colourful characters- like the woman who knelt down in the middle of a moving bus to pray (loudly) for the souls of everyone travelling that day. But hey, you’ll get a story out of it.
My first destination was the Firehouse hostel. Austin’s only hostel is a converted firehouse with an interesting history. Attached is a bar accessible through a secret panel covered by a book shelf. Which, really, is the way all bars should be accessed. The facilities are clean, and the location is extremely convenient- smack bang in the centre of town, and close to a bus stop. The girls dormitory was cosy, and if you find yourself at a loss for things to do, the staff have placed little posters on the wall with suggested day trips. The posters include distances from the hostel, and bus routes. Seeing them made me regret only being in town for three days.
Like most hostels in America, the Firehouse hostel provides breakfast. Although it wasn’t the best hostel breakfast I’ve ever had, it was definitely above average. There was a good selection of fruit, tea and coffee, toast, bagels, and English muffins. What sealed the deal for me though was the giant jar of Nutella. Yum. I also saved a bit on meals by taking an extra bagel and a piece of fruit with me to have later in the day.
Free Things to do in Austin
The Firehouse hostel is a few blocks away from the State Capitol building, one of Austin’s many free attractions. This was one of my first stops in the city, and it gave me a good idea of Austin’s history. As well as the Capitol building itself there’s a visitors centre/museum. It’s also home to the other thing that isn’t bigger in Texas, which is this replica of the Statue of Liberty.
You can take a self guided tour, provided on one of the informational leaflets inside the Capitol building, or just wander around to your hearts content. I did a little of both.
Austen is a very outdoorsy city. You’ll observe a plethora of dog walkers, joggers, and people kayaking on the river, particularly if you’re there on the weekend. Perhaps this is because the city centre is so close to natural surroundings like the Green Belt, and Barton pool. Luckily for visitors, many of these areas can be accessed for free. On my second day, I went hiking along the Green Belt. Although the terrain was rocky, the hike itself wasn’t overly challenging, and the scenery was lovely.
Worried about getting lost? Don’t be! I walked past families with dogs, was surpassed by those ever-present joggers, and overtook a group of rock climbers. People were friendly- a lot of them said hi, or gave a little wave of acknowledgement, so if worst comes to worst you can easily ask for directions. Weekdays might be a different story however, so make sure your phone’s fully charged.
To end my day outdoors, I headed to the South Congress Bridge to watch North America’s largest urban bat colony take flight. It’s slightly noisy, and a little spooky, but well worth checking out. The bridge is freely accessible to everyone, and the bats can be seen from March to November. If you want a guide on how best to see the bats, there’s a pretty comprehensive one here.
After all that wholesome exercise, you’re going to need some good ol’ southern food. Luckily Austin has plenty of it, particularly barbecue. I don’t think it’s possible to go to Texas without trying some barbecue. I had a beef brisket with mac and cheese, fried okra, and cornbread. Cornbread is a revelation- it’s not very much like bread, nor is it very much like corn. If I had to describe it, I’d say it was like a savoury cake. At any rate, it’s good and you should definitely try some. I only had time to visit one barbecue place- Stubb’s BBQ. The service was good, as was the food, and it was fairly quiet around lunch time. However, I hear some places are so popular that the lines go out the door, so definitely get on yelp and find the place that sounds the best.
After saving all that money during the day, you might want to spend it attending a live show. Live entertainment is rampant in Austin. You’ll be bombarded by flyers for improvised comedy troupes, hear live music spilling out of bars, or listen to your dorm mates brag about how great the music festival they’re in town attending is. On my first night I attended a Welcome to Night Vale live show at the Paramount Theatre, which is a beautifully grand venue. I’d highly recommend seeing a show there, even if it’s just to see the interior of the theatre. If theatre’s not your thing, but music is, you might want to check out this calendar before your trip.
Not attracted to free sightseeing, historical buildings, natural beauty, live entertainment, and amazing food? Then gee, I don’t know what to tell you. Don’t go to Austen, I guess.