Austin is almost like visiting a different state within Texas. The university city is more liberal, more artsy, and well, more fun. While you can certainly spend your entire visit hitting up the bars, enjoying the live music, and perusing the art galleries, you would really be missing out on some truly Texan gems. Most people head to Austin for a dose of the nightlife, but the city is filled with great sites of Texas culture that any self-respecting traveler should make the time to check out. These are my top five picks for Texas culture in Austin.

The Broken Spoke

Broken Spoke

Image by Andy via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

Let’s be honest. Although I have tried my luck at line dancing once or twice, the talent is very much lacking. The Texas dance hall is something of an institution, a place where people in the community can come together on a Friday night, decked in their best boots and Stetsons, and go nuts. The Broken Spoke is an original, and one of the last of its kind in the state. Opened in 1964, the hall has seen country music legends such as Willie Nelson and George Strait entertain the crowds. Today you can still join in on the festivities (or perhaps a lesson or two) before diving in to their famous chicken fried steak.

The Texas State Capitol

texas state capitol

Image by Stuart Seeger via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

The Texas State Capitol is much more in my comfort zone. I still remember my first visit, looking around at the names of the state’s forefathers, incredibly giddy in history geekiness. It was built in 1882, and at 308 feet it is one of the highest capitol buildings in America. I highly recommend taking a tour; the State Preservation Board offers free self-guided tours that can be downloaded from its website.

Millett Opera House

millett Opera house

Image by April via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

Built in 1878, the Millett Opera House is located in downtown Austin and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Once one of the largest performance spaces in Texas, the balcony seating and hand-painted ceiling still retain their original features today. It is a popular venue for weddings and events, and is home to the distinguished Austin Club.

Texas State Cemetery

texas state cemetery

Image by ccarlstead via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

I can’t seem to recommend places to see in any city without pulling in a cemetery. I find them incredibly fascinating, a kind of museum to the past. The Texas State Cemetery is no exception, and totally worth a walk around. Home to graves from the Civil War, American Revolutionary War, and scores of prominent politicians, the stringent guidelines for burial at the cemetery guarantee that every headstone tells a story.

St. David’s Church

St. David's Church

Image by Jims_photos via Flickr under Creative Commons License.

St. David’s Church is one of Austin’s oldest buildings, built only nine years after the city was founded. Also on the National Register of Historic Places, this church is worth a visit simply for its stunning and unique exterior. Located in downtown Austin, it is an easy and worthwhile stop on a walk around the city. Visitors can take a self-guided tour around the church.

Cover image by Scazon via Flickr under Creative Commons License.