It’s known as the live music capital of the world, with more venues per capita than anywhere else in the US, so it’s little wonder Austin has become a magnet for travellers keen to dust off their cowboy hats and let their hair down.
The Texan city – the Lone Star State’s capital - now rivals Las Vegas as America’s favourite stag and hen party destination, but there’s also plenty on offer for those who prefer a more relaxed trip.
Immerse yourself in a variety of live music like the Abiba Band Saxon
Virgin Atlantic recently launched direct flights from Heathrow to Austin – with a daily service to follow next spring – and invited HELLO! on board the inaugural flight to join Sir Richard Branson and explore the city. Hollywood stars Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Elijah Wood and James Van Der Beek have all made Austin their home, along with podcaster Joe Rogan and cycling champion Lance Armstrong, who owns the Mellow Johnny’s bike shop in the historic warehouse district Downtown. And, with big companies like Google, Facebook and Elon Musk’s Tesla now based in the city, Austin has also become a hub for the cool, young, tech crowd.
Meanwhile, it sets itself apart from other cities with its slogan “Keep Austin Weird” - a commitment to support independent business, rather than let corporate chains dominate. The result is a city full of quirky charm, especially when it comes to its eclectic music scene.
Whether you like blues, jazz, rock or progressive country – the genre that put Austin on the music map in the 1970s, thanks to resident music legend Willie Nelson – there are plenty of gigs, events and festivals to try, including South by Southwest (SXSW), The Urban Music Festival and Austin City Limits – inspired by the TV series of the same name.
Wonder at the breathtaking Austin skyline
Among Austin’s 250 venues, which offer live music every night of the week, are C-Boys for retro blues and soul, Speakeasy in the Warehouse district, with its 1920s style décor and roof terrace, Elephant Room for jazz and the Continental Club, where you can hear anything from rockabilly to country. Meanwhile, no trip to Texas is complete without a spot of line dancing and, if you’re up for some two-step lessons, then look no further than iconic country music venue the Broken Spoke on South Lamar Boulevard, where Terri White, who appeared on Queer Eye, will show you the way.
The epicentre of Austin’s buzzing nightlife is the city’s entertainment district, Dirty 6th Street, a noisy and colourful strip filled with dive bars, restaurants, food trucks and, of course, live music. Here, you will also find The Driskill, Austin’s oldest hotel, which was built in 1868 by cattle baron Colonel Jesse Driskill, who set out to create “the finest hotel south of St Louis”. The bar, with its cowhide rugs and authentic artwork, is certainly worth a visit for a taste of Texan history.
Another attraction on Dirty 6th that’s sure to be a hit with kids who aren’t easily freaked out is the Museum of the Weird, a treasure trove of curios and oddities, including shrunken heads, a 3,000-year old mummy and the “Creature in Ice” – a frozen “ape-man” that was once exhibited in freak-show type carnivals. The city also boasts a zoo, as well as the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
The State Capitol building, which does free tours
If you really want to immerse yourself in local cowboy culture, head to the Lone Star Ranch, a short drive outside the city. Here, you can ride horses, learn cowboy skills like lassoing and try your hand a clay pigeon shooting or tomahawk throwing before enjoying a barbecue and a cold beer. And, if you want to look the part and take home a souvenir, Allen’s Boots on South Congress sells cowboy accessories from footwear to hats.
There are several great ways to explore the city, either by bus, by bike or on a duck tour by road and on Lake Austin. Among the Austin’s highlights are the iconic murals that brighten up walls all around the city, Willie Nelson’s statue on 2nd Street and the distinctive, dome shaped Texas State Capitol building, the seat of the state’s government, which offers free tours.
At dusk, between April and October, head to Congress Avenue Bridge – nicknamed “Bat Bridge” – to watch the nightly spectacle as North America’s largest urban bat population wakes up and takes off from beneath the bridge, forming an eerie dark cloud over Lady Bird Lake as thousands of bats disappear into the night sky for their nocturnal adventures.
Make a splash in the Barton Springs
You certainly won’t go hungry in Austin, with its mix of upscale restaurants and authentic rib shacks. For a traditional Texas BBQ, popular spots include Terry Black’s on Barton Springs Road and Franklin’s on East 11th, where customers queue for hours, along with their camping chairs and cans of beer, to wait for its famous slow-smoked brisket. Another local delicacy is the breakfast taco, featuring combinations of warm tortillas, corn chips, scrambled eggs and avocado, served at places like Granny’s on East 7th and Torchy’s on South Congress.
Austin’s summers are hot and dry but there are plenty of water-based activities to help you keep cool, including kayak and paddle board tours on the lakes and rivers and Barton Springs swimming pool, a three-acre natural spring in the city’s Zilker Park. Meanwhile luxury hotel the Fairmont Austin, where we stayed, has a fabulous rooftop pool – even though sunny afternoons there often involve more sipping frozen margaritas than swimming.
For further information and to book, visit www.virginatlantic.com. Return Economy fares start from £516 per person.
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