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Capital of Texas, the city of Austin lies almost in the centre of the state, a big city with a small-town feel, young population, casual lifestyle and a big reputation for live music shows. Home of the University of Texas campus, Austin life is closely entwined with the energy and enthusiasm of its students.
Young people are drawn here by the array of concerts that are held frequently around the shores of Town Lake. Most famous of these events is the annual South by Southwest music festival-conference held every March. Visitors wanting to tune in to Austin's live musical repertoire, which spans everything from blues to country to reggae, simply have to drift down the famous Sixth Street strip of pubs and clubs any night of the week.
Austin's laidback attitude lends itself to the great outdoors, and the city has miles of hiking and biking trails linking parks, preserves and greenbelts adding to the ambience of its leafy streets. On top of this, the city has been a state capital since 1838 and makes sure not to ignore its history, such as that captured in the grand Texas State Capitol, the Bullock Museum and the Austin History Center.
Austin's impressive pink granite capitol building is rivalled only by that of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Constructed in 1882, it stands proudly in sweeping grounds encircled by its original wrought-iron fence topped with gold Lone Stars. Its grand design is Renaissance Revival, proving an excellent example of late 19th century public architecture. Events and exhibits are regularly hosted, while its 9 hectare (22 acres) grounds contain monuments to causes including the heroes of the Alamo, volunteer firefighters and Vietnam veterans.
The 140-hectare (347-acre) Zilker Park is Austin's most popular public recreational area, dominated by its ancient spring-fed natural swimming pool known as Barton Springs, which Native Americans believed to have healing properties. There's also a botanical garden which features dinosaur tracks, a nature preserve, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, canoes and biking and walking trails; there are sports facilities aplenty and amusements for children like the Zilker Zephyr miniature train and paddleboat rides. The Zilker Hillside Theatre hosts musical concerts throughout the year, and the park also hosts the Austin Nature and Science Center where exhibits and workshops run throughout the year. The Zilker Park's annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony is a popular event, boasting a tree that stands 155 feet (47m) holding some 3,000 lights.
Texas hill country is renowned for its glorious spring blooms, with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center dedicated to the study and preservation of its native plants. Visitors enjoy 72 hectares (178 acres) of wildflowers in display gardens, with free lectures, guided tours and an array of different trails and inspiring displays. There are areas for the kids to play while the center regularly hosts artwork and photography exhibitions inspired by nature, especially wildfowers. The classic Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum is the perfect opportunity for visitors to learn more about Texan trees, with a particular focus on Texas oak.
The opulent plantation-style mansion home to the Texas State governor is one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating from 1856. Although it is still lived in when the governor is in town, the mansion is open to the public for limited hours each day and many historical artefacts are on display, including portraits of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, and a collection of mementoes from each administration. The mansion has been recently renovated, guided tours are available, which offer interesting anecdotes about previous governors.
A major stop on national art circuit tours, the Blanton Museum of Art is found at the University of Texas in Austin. Highlights include the Suida-Manning Collection featuring 250 works by the Old Masters, as well as James A. Michener's collection of 20th-century American Art. There's also a sizable assemblage of Latin American Art, alongside rotating temporary exhibitions covering anything from the avant-garde to the abstract. These changing exhibits often contain themes that focus on aspects of American history and scenery depicted in art, as well as current artist showcases.
One of the more unusual tourist attractions in Austin, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge every night from roosts beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. The largest urban colony in the world, the bats take up residence under the bridge in mid-March each year and return to Mexico in early November, with 1.5 million creatures living under the bridge at the height of season. Their mass emergence generally takes place at dusk and is viewed by hundreds of people gathered around the bridge or at the Statesman's Bat Observation Center on the southeast side of Town Lake.
Rising from the desert in western Texas, the rugged Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the ancestral home of the Apache nations. The wilderness is now occupied by hundreds of plant, animal and bird species, with large amounts of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Visitors can traverse more than 80 miles (129km) of trails on foot, horseback or 4x4. McKittrick Canyon in the northeast corner is regarded as the most beautiful spot in Texas, where oaks and maples make a colourful display in fall. There is a Junior Ranger program for kids, as well as camping for small or large groups.
Austin has a humid subtropical climate with hot and long summers and mild winters. At the height of summer (June to August), temperatures average between 72°F (22°C) and 97°F (36°C). In winter (December to February), the temperatures stay well above freezing, averaging between 41°F (5°C) and 65°F (18°C). Humidity is at its highest between May and September, and rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, with an average of seven rainy days per month.
The largest of the many live music events in Austin, the annual South by Southwest festival takes place at more than 50 venues around the city and draws performers from around the world. The festival programme includes 1,000 performances spread over a six-day period. In recent years, SXSW has expanded to encompass film and multimedia, both of which now form separate extravaganzas to make South by Southwest a massive celebration of entertainment and media. Over the years, the festival has led to the discovery of many musicians, such as John Mayer, The White Stripes and Bon Iver.
One of the biggest carnivals staged outside Brazil, the colourful Carnaval Brasiliero is undoubtedly Austin's biggest and wildest party. Started in 1975 by homesick Brazil students, it now attracts crowds of more than 5,000 partygoers to warm up the cold winter night with dances, sambas and marches. Live Brazilians bands provide the soundtrack and dress up is encouraged, with face and body paint proving particularly popular.
The Austin Food and Wine Festival sees the best chefs in the United States descend upon Austin to indulge and educate a hungry public. Cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and cocktail seminars are ongoing, while the tasting pavilion is a surefire hit providing space to over 80 exhibitors. Cookbook signings are common, while live music throughout the festival keeps visitors entertained. The festival is a 21-and-over event, which means that small children and babies can't attend along with their parents.
Rated as one of the largest music festivals in the United States, the three-day Austin City Limits event grew as an offshoot from the popular television series of the same name. The Festival draws young and old to a series of stages where over a hundred bands give ongoing performances on eight stages over the course of three days, drawing more than 70,000 people every day. The music played at the festival covers a broad spectrum, from indie, country and jazz, to pop, electronic and everything in between. The park hosting the festival is Austin's Zilker Park, itself a famous landmark of the city.
The excellent public transport system in Austin provides cheap public buses and vans that cover all neighbourhoods, including downtown and the university campus, for a flat fare. Transfers between buses are free and valid for three hours. Single fares start from $1.25.
Taxis are available from hotel taxi stands during the day and by phone at night. Pedicabs can also be found on the streets in the entertainment districts like East and West 6th Street, and the Warehouse District. Multiple local ride-hailing services are available along with larger companies like Uber and Lyft.
Driving in Austin can be very confusing, with a lack of clear east-west routes through the city centre and the fact that locals tend to refer to highways by unofficial names. The city centre can become congested at rush hour.
There is no shortage of things to see and do in Austin. The city centre is easily explored on foot and has a good concentration of attractions and museums around the magnificent Texas State Capitol building. These include the Austin History Center, City Hall, the Austin Children's Museum, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, the MEXIC-ARTE Museum and the O. Henry Museum.
The University of Texas contains a number of attractions, including the Blanton Museum of Art, the Texas Natural Science Center and the President Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum. West Austin is home to pleasant outdoor spaces and natural attractions in the famous Zilker Park, which includes Zilker Botanical Gardens and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. Zilker Park is a must-see in Austin and a pleasant place for a picnic on one of the city's many sunny days.
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