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Austin - Attractions

The infamous University of Texas Tower where Charles Whitman fired at passersby for 99 minutes before being killed by police in August 1966

Capitol Complex

Smack in the middle of downtown, the Capitol Complex is made up of over two dozen state government offices. Like a pink mirage in the city centre's sea of green, the Texas State Capitol (1888) is certainly Austin's most distinctive landmark. Constructed of sunset-coloured Texas limestone, the capitol is topped with a statue of the Goddess of Liberty and (as its proud staffers are only too happy to tell you) ranks as the seventh largest government building in the world. Someone actually went to the trouble to measure the building from the basement floor to the top of the Liberty statue, and at 311ft (93m), it's taller than the national capitol in Washington, DC.

The capitol's rotunda features terrazzo seals of the six nations whose flag has flown over Texas. Inside the building you'll find the standard assortment of the state's top brass, including the chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives and the offices of the governor.

Congress Ave Bridge

What's so special about this downtown bridge? Bats! The bridge's 1980 reconstruction created crevices beneath the bridge that somehow caught the attention of a homeless colony of Mexican free-tail bats. Each year they fly in from central Mexico, arriving in March and departing in early November. In June, each female gives birth to one pup, and every night at dusk, the families take to the skies in search of food. The spectacle of 1.5 million bats flitting forth at once looks a lot like a fast-moving, black, chittering river. It's become an Austin tradition to bring along a six-pack and cheer the bats as they head out to feast on an estimated 30,000lbs (13,500kg) of insects per night.

Bat Conservation International has volunteers on hand and holds programs throughout the bat season. Congress Ave Bridge crosses the Colorado at the southern end of downtown.

East 6th Street

Along with adjoining Congress Ave, this central historical thoroughfare has been the focus of Austin's downtown area for more than 100 years, with many of the buildings holdovers from the late 19th century. When the Texas State Capitol was completed in 1888, Congress Ave stole the spotlight from East 6th St (then known as East Pecan) and the latter went into a lengthy period of decline that left it a virtual skid row by the 1960s. In the late '60s, local entrepreneurs took to restoring the area's aged Victorian and Renaissance Revival structures, and by the mid '70s, East 6th was jumping again as the city's main live-music and entertainment district. Since then, the party's just kept getting bigger, the lights brighter and the string of clubs and bars between Congress and Sabine - in the area known as the Strip - have been the main propellant in Austin's current rise to 'hipster' fame. On weekends, the Strip is cordoned off for pedestrian traffic only and the revelers take to the streets in droves. If you want to experience the Austin you've read about in Rolling Stone, this is the place to go.

University of Texas Museums & Galleries

The LBJ Library on the University of Texas (UT) campus is a highlight of a visit to Austin. Lyndon Baines Johnson - or LBJ, as he was known to just about everybody - was the 36th president of the USA. A menacingly jovial native Texan, LBJ balanced the John F Kennedy campaign ticket with a southern political mainstay and, hours after JFK's assassination, was sworn in as president on board Air Force One. Supported by Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, the museum contains as much propaganda as you'd expect but also offers a candid look at the social and political climate of the era. Look for video clips of head-bashin' cops and dope-smokin' hippies to complement solid exhibitions on the JFK presidency and assassination, the Bay of Pigs, Krushchev, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy, and the Vietnam War. Upstairs, a new exhibit on Mexican Texans details pre-republic Texas life.

Also on campus, the Texas Memorial Museum packs a huge art deco building with displays of Texas' natural and social history. Exhibits focus on geology, paleontology, anthropology and natural history. Don't miss the impressive pterodactyl skeleton.

The Archer M Huntington Gallery at UT is one art museum in two buildings: the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) on the West Campus and the Art Building on the East. The collection focuses on 20th century North American and Latin American art and on drawings from the 15th century on. Major figures represented include Elsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchel, Thomas Hart Benton and Robert Henri. On the first floor of the HRC is the museum's prized Gutenberg bible.

The university is located just north of the capitol complex and is easily accessed by bus No 86/Congress 'Dillo.

Zilker Park

If there's an epicentre to outdoor recreation in Austin, it's Zilker Park, just south of the Colorado River about half a mile west of Congress Ave. The park itself is a pleasant 8 acre (3ha) slot of green, lined with hiking and biking trails and home to a botanical garden, sculpture garden and museum. It's also the city's access point to Barton Springs natural swimming pool, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and the 60 acre (25ha) Zilker Nature Preserve. Inside the park, the Austin Nature Center has exhibitions of native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that have been injured and nursed back to health at the Center. Buses are available from downtown

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