Tours By Land or By Lake: 7 Delightful Ways to Sightsee in Austin
Whether you wish to view the city with fresh eyes or take out-of-town guests to see the sights, here are some great ways to play tourist in Austin
How well do you really know Austin? Whether you are new to Austin or born with burnt orange blood and baptized in the brisk waters of Barton Springs Pool, we’ve uncovered super fun and informative Austin tours that are bound to teach even seasoned locals something new.
You may think you know Austin, and you likely are an expert of your little corner of our fair city. However, there is always more to see, do, and learn about in Austin. Each of these seven tour companies offer something that stands out, making them perfect for visiting guests as well as planning a fun day or night out with your Austin crew. These local tour companies are all you need to entertain your family or friends when they are in town.
All of these companies pride themselves on tour guides who know their Austin culture and history and are good storytellers. Any of these tours would be great for throwing an unforgettable event for a special occasion or planning a not-your-average company outing. They are all likely to sell out once Austin hits that good weather, so plan to book ahead.
Here are our top picks to view our city with fresh eyes and even learn some cool Austin trivia as you go.
This tour company has become one of Austin’s most well-known and well-loved tour groups with the biggest variety of unique, fun tours of Austin. Austin Detours gives tours that highlight breakfast tacos, live music, street art, and wine, beer, or distilleries and more. Their mode of transportation are cushy Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans, and they have won oodles of accolades, from 5-star client reviews to “Best of” awards. They are a solid choice!
Here are their Top 3 most popular Austin tours, as described by Chief Experience Officer, Elizabeth Alderson:
- The Real Austin Tour – this is a 2 hour city tour that takes you to all the best spots in Austin! It includes a tour of the Capitol and a food truck treat. It includes great stories and tips of where to go, even for a local!
- The Austin Live Music Crawl – Experience the live music capital with a pro. Austin Detours takes to three shows in one night to experience different styles of music and areas of town. Enjoy having a designated driver and meeting new friends!
- Half-day Wine, or Brewery/Distillery Tour – Takes you out to the hill country and stops at three wineries/breweries/distilleries. Best way to get to the Hill Country with friends and have everything arranged for you!
Austin Double Decker Bus Tours
Maybe you’ve ridden one in New York City, London, Hollywood, or Cape Town. Now you can take an Austin tour on these easily recognizable, bright red, double decker buses, a bona-fide classic way to tour a city. Austin’s Double Decker Bus Tours give you two-ways to see the center of the city, including downtown, the Capitol area, and the University of Texas area.
While the top deck is ideal for taking photos of the city and for the ‘gram, you can also choose to sit in the comfort of the air-conditioned lower level. Options are good. They also provide water and sunscreen.
- Hop On, Hop Off – With this option, you can ride the bus all day, getting out at any or all of the six bus stops and explore the city on your own, then get back on the bus when you are ready to continue your tour.
- Single Loop Sightseeing Tour – This tour hits the highlights in about 1.5 hours.
Your Biker Gang E-bike Adventures
Even those who think they are above tours have to admit that an adventure sounds exciting. This tour simply looks cool, too. The helmets! The goggles! The bandanas! Costumes, AKA protective gear, always make things more fun. Tripadvisor has recognized these e-bike tours as a 2023 Travelers’ Choice award winner for Tours and Activities for six years in a row.
This e-bike tour is a novel way to see the city, up close and personal. While the electric part of the bike makes the hilly terrain more navigable than by pedaling alone, this tour is only recommended for those who are comfortable riding a bicycle. These e-bikes can be operated by those 13 and older, as long as they can ride a bike. Parents can have a child age 7-12 ride as their passenger for free.
Their most popular tour is the Austin Biker Gang Adventure, offered either in the morning or at sunset. A spokesperson from Your Biker Gang explains how the tours vary depending on the season, the weather, and the tour guide:
“Our route is dynamic, just like Austin, and does vary slightly depending on the day and time of year so it’s always fresh and exciting! Our tours always show a wide range of the history, culture, and art that makes this city the best in Texas. All of our routes cover a bit of downtown and the surrounding areas to give a great overview of the city so even locals have a blast riding with us!”
Walking Tours of Austin
For those of you who prefer to heel-toe it around the city, really taking it all in, slowly and mindfully, Walking Tours of Austin is the way to go. The tour guides are well-versed in Austin history and share Austin gems like hidden pubs and exclusive access to a haunted speakeasy. They encourage people to bring something cold to drink and some sun protection like a hat or umbrella for shade to stay as cool as possible.
This tour company guides tour groups around Austin on foot and offers a choice of five unique walking tours, including a Ghost Walk and Murder Walk that are perfect for the upcoming spooky season!
- Morning Walk Austin – departs from Jo’s Coffee Shop on 10 AM, 1.5 hours
- Pub Walk Austin – 6 pm, 3 hours, adults only
- Ghost Walk Austin – 8 pm, 1.5 hours
- Murder Walk Austin – 8 pm, 2 hours, ages 13+
- Downtown Austin Private Walk – 2.5 hours
Morning Walk Austin, Ghost Walk Austin, and Murder Walk Austin all make stops in the air-conditioned Driskill Hotel which allow time for guests to cool off. The Murder Walk also allows guests an opportunity to grab a drink at the Driskill Bar. The Pub Walk stops at five different hidden pubs on its walking route, so guests get to grab a drink to cool off. The Downtown Private Walk takes guests along the shaded trails of Lady Bird Lake and exits on Rainey Street, where guests are given time to grab a bite from a food truck or a drink.
Austin Duck Tours
Y’all, this is wild! You may have seen this oddly shaped, open-air vehicle toodling down the street and wondered what in the world it was all about. Then suddenly, like the eponymous duck in its name, head down a boat ramp and “splash” — drive right into the lake! It’s pretty cool to see, and even more fun to experience.
The Austin Duck Adventures boats drive along for the first part of the tour, and then head into Lake Austin for the second part. This tour shows you scenes of central Austin from land and by lake. They offer several tour times a day in peak season, starting out from the Austin Visitor’s Center.
Lone Star Sunset Bat Tours
Austin boasts North America’s largest urban bat colony, and we love our bats! These sunset bat cruises are the best way to see our famous, 1.5 million or so Mexican free-tailed bats come out from under the South Congress Bridge as they head toward Bastrop in their nightly hunt for sustenance. The bats are usually here from early March through late October or so.
While some people prefer to partake in the ritual of standing along South Congress Bridge to see the bats from above, the Lone Star Sunset Bat Tours offer so much more. The bat boat tour guides share their wealth of knowledge about our beneficial bat friends while leisurely moving along Lady Bird Lake to get to the bats. The sunset bat tour lasts about an hour on a large, open-air pontoon boat, and your guide will point out buildings of interest and, of course, the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue along Auditorium Shores.
The bat boat sets out near Vic Mathias Shores about 30 minutes before sunset (specific times depend on the time of year). Boarding starts 45 minutes before launch time and stops 15 minutes prior to takeoff. They don’t wait around for late guests, as seeing the bats is a time-sensitive affair. Guests can bring their own drinks (no glass bottles, though). The company also has weekend sightseeing tours during the day and a Friday night moonlight tour.
Lake Austin Calm
This is a bonus, DIY way to see a peaceful and beautiful part of the city on your own. Lake Austin Calm recently launched on the bottom deck at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters on Lake Austin. They offer paddleboards for rent by the hour and will point out the best places to go in the area. This part of Lake Austin has deeper waters and is lined by trees and private homes.
While this side of the lake is where people take their boats and jet-skis to wake-surf and water-ski, Lake Austin Calm is in the no-wake zone, and they require renters to stay inside this safer, calmer side of the lake. It’s a DIY operation for now, but they are planning to have guided tours in the future. Lake Austin Calm provides required life jackets to everyone who rents from them, and you can also rent a dry bag, waterproof phone case, or small Yeti cooler that will fit on the paddleboard. Paddlers can park in the Mozart’s parking lot for free.
This is not the activity for the hordes of party party people who want to meet up and do what party party people do on Lady Bird Lake. This is for a low-key, super chill, and quiet paddle, where one can feel a sense of “old Austin” and appreciate the beauty it still holds.
Happy touring, y’all!