This post covers things to do in New Orleans in September, updated for 2021, and including a top 10 list as well as things you can enjoy at night, for free, or with the family.
This post is about things to do in August in New Orleans, including free, nighttime, as well as family-friendly events and activities. It is updated for 2021.
Let’s get started!
- Top 10
- Free Things to Do
- Nighttime Activities
- Family-Friendly Activities
- Other Things to Do in NOLA
- How’s the Weather?
TOP 10 EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO
This section will focus on the top 10 things to do in August in New Orleans.
For tips on the most popular activities in New Orleans, check out our posts on:
Many of these items are already included for free with the purchase of a tourist attraction discount pass.
It has been over a decade since Hurricane Katrina first touched ground in New Orleans, but the impact of this catastrophic event can still be felt throughout several neighborhoods in the city.
If you’re visiting in late August, you may want to consider honoring the victims of this tragedy, by visiting the Hurricane Katrina Memorial.
Alternatively, you could also head to the Presbytère to see their exhibit about the disaster.
We also have a two-part video tour you can take if the weather is bad. The first part is listed right above, so all you have to do is click play!
Although there aren’t a lot of concerts scheduled this month, there are at least two notable artists performing in New Orleans this August.
Find more great things to do in the evening in our nighttime activities section below!
If you’re in need of a good laugh, head down to the Mahalia Jackson Theater on August 27th to see George Lopez live!
This is a rare opportunity to see one of the most famous comedians in the world performing stand-up, and tickets are selling out fast, so you might want to pick them up soon!
Although this is currently the only major show at a theater in August, there might be a few other shows popping up as the month approaches.
Check this list of theatrical events in New Orleans to see what’s happening during your visit.
The New Orleans Saints have been one of the best national football teams for several years, and they begin their pre-season in August.
Tickets are as low as $8, so fans won’t even have to spend much to watch their favorite team play at the Superdome!
Football games are fun for the whole family to enjoy! And we have even more kid-friendly activities listed below.
Throughout the month of August, both locals and visitors from out of town can enjoy some pretty nice discounts at popular restaurants in New Orleans.
During this event, you’ll find over 30 restaurants serving up low-priced prix-fixe meals for lunch, dinner, and brunch.
Read our post on COOLinary for all the details on participating restaurants, prices, and more!
If you love food (who doesn’t!) consider taking our pay-what-you-wish New Orleans Food Tour to sample NOLA cuisine and learn about the city’s culinary traditions.
6. Attend Satchmo Summer Fest
The music and life of Louis Armstrong have meant a lot to New Orleans. Every year, they hold a music festival in his honor.
Satchmo Summer Fest is free for kids, but adults will be required to pay a small fee (typically around $5) for admission.
7. Go Out For Dirty Linen Night
On the second Saturday of August, the art galleries and antique shops on Royal Street hold an alternative event to White Linen Night.
Visitors are welcome to stop by and enjoy the artwork on display.
There may also be live musicians on hand, and some shops have been known to offer free dirty martinis and dirty rice.
NOTE: Although it has not yet been scheduled, there are plans in place to bring back Dirty Linen Night in August of 2021.
8. See a Free Museum
Many of the fantastic New Orleans museums are available for free on specific (or every) day of the month!
The Historic New Orleans Collection is always free to go in and see the permanent exhibits at the Royal Street and Chartres Street locations.
And if you’ve seen the HBO series Treme, you’ll want to see the House of Dance and Feathers, a museum dedicated to the artwork and culture of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians, Skull & Bones Gangs, and Baby Dolls.
We provide a list below in the next section.
9. Take a Sightseeing Tour
August is sunny and quite warm, so it is a great time to get out and see the sights in New Orleans. We offer many daily, pay-what-you-like walking tours.
If you are not a fan of the heat, an air-conditioned hop-on-hop-off bus tour is the perfect alternative.
If you’d rather do your sightseeing when it cools off at night, try our ghost tours that depart at 5:00 pm or later.
This would also be a great time to get out on the water for dinner and experience a view of the city from a riverboat dinner cruise.
10.Get a New Orleans City Pass
To go on all the tours and see all the museums, attractions, and plantations you can, using a New Orleans City Pass could save you time and money with fast-track or skip-the-line access and bundled discounts.
- National WWII Museum
- Creole Queen Cruise
- Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour
- Audubon Zoo
- Audubon Aquarium
- Mardi Gras World
FREE THINGS TO DO
This section will focus primarily on things you can do for free in New Orleans during August.
Other sections of this post also list free things to do, so be sure to read this post in its entirety.
For even more free activities, check out our Free Things to Do in New Orleans post.
Enjoy a Free Swamp Experience
However, there are a few free options and two of them are in the city. The first is City Park. The northern half of the park was designed to look like New Orleans without human development.
The other one is Bayou Sauvage, just 25 minutes from the French Quarter, which is free and where you can enjoy activities such as hunting, fishing, photography, and wildlife viewing.
In addition to the fact that August is Museum Month in New Orleans, there are also several museums in the city that you can visit for free either on certain days of the month or every day of the week.
- The Historic New Orleans Collection
- Free exhibits every day
- New Orleans Museum of Art
- Free for LA residents every Wednesday
- National WW2 Museum
- Free for Veterans every day
- Arnaud’s Mardi Gras Museum
- Free every day
- NOMA Sculpture Garden
- Free every day
- Madame John’s Legacy
- Free every day
See the Hurricane Katrina Restoration Efforts
In the years since Hurricane Katrina touched ground in New Orleans, efforts have been made to help restore the city to its former glory.
One example of this can be seen in the Make It Right campaign which began with the help of Brad Pitt.
The idea was to build hundreds of new and sustainable homes in the area, and architects have successfully done just that. These houses have very unique designs that you can see for free!
Another attempt at rebuilding came in the form of Musician’s Village, a neighborhood designed for displaced musicians and families who needed affordable housing in the area.
The development of this area included a community center known as the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music (video).
If either of these activities is of interest, you may also want to consider a Hurricane Katrina tour.
We also cover this area in part two of our Hurricane Katrina video tour.
Take a Stroll Through Palace Market
If you’re in the mood to see some modern artwork but you don’t want to go to a museum, consider a trip to the Palace Market instead.
The collection on display rotates frequently.
Visitors who want to learn more about the Palace Market and Frenchmen Street should consider taking our pay-what-you-like tour of Frenchmen Street and the Marigny.
Foundation Free Fridays at Tipitina
This music venue and nonprofit foundation has been popular since the 1970s and is still entertaining people every week!
On Fridays during the summer (through August 31!) patrons who are 21+ can get into the concerts for free.
Doors are at 9:00 pm and the music starts at 10:00 pm.
The events are free, but they might request a donation to help them support New Orleans’s music community through various educational and instrument donation programs.
For even more free activities, check out our Free Things to Do in New Orleans post.
THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT
In this section, we will give you a few ideas for fun things to do at night over the month of August in New Orleans.
Don’t forget to check our other sections for ideas such as going to a Saints game or grabbing a bite during COOLinary Restaurant Month.
Check out our full post on things to do at night any time of the year and/or check out our video below.
Take a Spooky Ghost Tour
New Orleans has a long and (at times) spooky history filled with tales of murder and the supernatural.
Many of the locations tied to these stories are still around today, allowing visitors to see where creepy events once took place.
We offer a pay-what-you-want ghost tour in the French Quarter which provides a lot of detail about Pirates Alley and the Hotel Monteleone.
This could be a great activity for families with older children and it’s also very affordable!
See the Swamps After Dark
For a few months every year, some of the swamp tour companies in New Orleans will offer excursions after the sun goes down.
This is an excellent and unique opportunity to see what the wildlife of Louisiana does at night.
Tour guides will use spotlights to reveal what life is like in the swamp after dark.
Boats leave at around 7:30 pm and come back at 10 pm, giving you plenty of time to experience a side of the bayou that few will ever get to see!
Check our swamp tours post for more information.
Enjoy Live Music in the French Quarter
There are a lot of great places to hear live music in New Orleans after dark. In addition to some free performances in local venues, you may experience music simply by wandering around the city.
If this sounds like a great idea, make sure to check our post about live music in New Orleans for a comprehensive list of locations you might want to visit.
TIP: Keep an eye on this live music schedule to find performances happening during your visit to New Orleans.
Attend the Events of Southern Decadence
This fun and unique celebration of the LGBTQ community is sure to draw in large crowds over the course of Labor Day weekend.
Starting on August 30th and running through September 3rd, this special event has been referred to as “Gay Mardi Gras.”
You’ll find a variety of concerts, parties, contests, and parades taking place during the Southern Decadence events.
Click here for full schedule details and parade routes.
NOTE: This event has been pushed forward to September 2nd in 2021.
Whitney White Linen Night
On the first Saturday of August, New Orleans residents don their best white linens and descend upon Julia Street in the Arts District.
During this special event, visitors are invited to hop from one gallery to the next and perhaps even support local artists by purchasing some of their work.
Although the block party is free to attend, you can also buy a food & drink ticket for $10. There are also after parties and a cool down lounge which will cost extra.
If you’re looking for other activities in the area to combine with this event, check our Audubon Aquarium post for more ideas.
Check out our full post on things to do at night any time of the year and/or check out our video below.
This section will include a variety of family-friendly attractions and events in New Orleans throughout the month of August.
If you’re looking for additional activities, check our full post of family-friendly things to do in New Orleans.
Take the Kids to Cool Zoo
The Audubon Zoo is a great place for families to visit, but during the summer their Cool Zoo water park is undoubtedly the more popular destination.
Kids can have fun in an alligator water slide called the Gator Run which will take them past some of the animals at the zoo.
There are many additional attractions here including a spider-monkey soaker and spitting water snakes.
If you need to cool off and have some fun, this is an excellent activity for the whole family.
Make sure to read our post about the Audubon Zoo for more information.
The Rock’n’Bowl in New Orleans is the perfect place to go when it is too hot to stay out in the afternoon sun.
It costs $24 per hour, per lane to bowl with $1 shoe rental, which is a good deal for the whole family!
Cool Down With a Snowball
There are a lot of wonderful snowball shops all over New Orleans offering a delicious way to cool off during the summer.
In addition to classic flavors, you’ll also find some pretty interesting local favorites ranging from Cajun Red Hot to Creamy Tootsie Roll.
Check this list of the best snowball stands in the city.
If you’re looking for additional activities, check our full post of family-friendly things to do in New Orleans.
This post is about the weather in New Orleans in September, including chances for hurricanes and tropical storms.
September starts a cooling trend that brings drier and more comfortable weather as the month progresses, making it a great time to visit.
Let’s take a look!
This post has the information you need to make the most COOLinary in New Orleans, including dates, participating restaurants, and prices.
This annual event normally takes place during the entire month of August but in 2021 it takes place from July 14th until September 5th. Read more »
This post will cover the National World War II Museum, including details about how to get tickets, discounts on admission, how to get here, when to come, and exhibits included. Read more »
This post is a review of the best New Orleans swamp tours available to you, including airboat tours, canoe, and kayak trips as well as nighttime and free options.
Let’s get started! Read more »
This post covers free things to do in New Orleans and includes, nighttime, family-friendly, as well as cheap options.
TOP 10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS
There are quite a few free and affordable things to do in this city, but some are more interesting than others.
Taking this into account, we’ve decided to provide a list of our ten fun activities for both locals and visitors.
1. Hear the Music of New Orleans
As you can probably imagine, the city of New Orleans has a rich history of jazz and blues music.
Although these are undoubtedly two of the most popular genres in NOLA, this city actually attracts a wide variety of musicians and artists from around the world.
The best part is you can actually hear a lot of this music for free!
Alternatively, you can enjoy a free drum circle on Sundays on Congo Square in Louie Armstrong Park or a free Opera performance from Bon Operatit once every month!
If these activities don’t strike your fancy, we have a post providing a variety of tips on hearing live music in and around New Orleans.
We also offer a free tour that explores the musical and artistic history of the city.
2. Take a Trip to the Garden District
There are a lot of wonderful neighborhoods in and around New Orleans, but few are as beautiful and historic as the Garden District.
Once known as the American sector, as it developed after the U.S. took control of the city in the early 19th century, it boasts the city’s most spectacular residential architecture.
It is entirely free to walk around this area and see all of the incredible houses for yourself.
Be sure to use our guide to the Garden District, which contains a self-guided tour, to make the most of your time there.
Getting to the Garden District is often a good excuse to ride New Orleans’ famed streetcars.
Alternatively, you can always enjoy our pay-what-you-want professionally guided tour of this neighborhood.
We also offer a dozen different free self-guided tours in New Orleans that you might find interesting.
3. Discover the Swamps
Although most of the swamps in this area aren’t actually in New Orleans, it’s definitely worth a short drive to reach them.
The one located in the city is Bayou Sauvage, just 25 minutes from the French Quarter, which is free and where you can enjoy activities such as hunting, fishing, photography, and wildlife viewing.
And in case you are wondering, you could spot alligators and other swamp creatures in all 3 places.
If you are looking more for an organized tour with a boat cruise through a swamp, then take a look at our review of swamp tours available in and around New Orleans.
4. Visit a Cemetery
There are several historic cemeteries in New Orleans and all but one of them is entirely free to visit. But just 4 or 5 get much attention from visitors.
Unfortunately, the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans no longer allows visitors to enter the St. Louis Cemetery #1, the most famous cemetery, without an organized tour.
The good news is that we provide daily pay-what-you-want walking tours of 2 of the city’s most popular cemeteries:
For more information, visit our guide to New Orleans Cemeteries.
5. Stop by the Historic New Orleans Collection
If you’re a fan of art and history, the Historic New Orleans Collection is a must. Throughout the year, this museum offers certain exhibitions for free.
Their Louisiana History Galleries are permanent fixtures, and they have been described by some as “the best introduction to the city that a visitor can get.”
While some of these galleries include artwork and artifacts that predate colonial history, others explore the events of Hurricane Katrina.
6. Stroll through a Park
As you might imagine, there are several public parks in New Orleans that you can visit for free.
The grandest of them all is City Park, which you could easily spend a day in and still not see it all.
If you’re near the Treme neighborhood, you might want to take a walk through Louis Armstrong Park.
Named after the legendary musician by the same name, this location includes sculptures, duck ponds, and the historic Congo Square – a meeting place for slaves in the 1800s.
It is also a stop on our Voodoo Tour.
Fans of Armstrong and his music should also consider visiting the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, where you can take an 11-stop tour of jazz history sites.
Alternatively, you can also check out Audubon Park and see some of the most beautiful oak trees in NOLA.
This is also the site of Audubon Zoo, which provides a lot of fun and family-friendly activities for guests of all ages.
7. Discover the Local Markets
There are a few very nice markets in New Orleans that are free to visit and peruse.
Over 50 different vendors provide services on 4 different days in 4 different locations, including the French Market in the French Quarter, ensuring a wide variety of different tasty treats.
8. Go Window Shopping
There are a lot of wonderful shopping districts in New Orleans that are perfect for window shopping.
Even if you don’t want to spend any money, chances are you’ll find a lot of interesting stores to visit on Magazine Street.
Located just a few blocks from the Mississippi River, this road is filled with several different businesses including antique shops, clothing stores, art galleries, and more.
Alternatively, you can also check out Royal Street to see the historic architecture on display while looking at all of the different shopping locations.
You’ll find another excellent window shopping opportunity at Louisiana Loom Works, where you might just catch them while they’re weaving a rug.
9) People Watching
New Orleans is known for its eclectic and interesting neighborhoods, and you can expect to see quite a few fascinating people either walking around or perhaps even performing on the street.
Whether you want to see people showing off their talents or hear some excellent music, we recommend visiting the following locations:
- Royal Street
- Frenchmen Street
- Bourbon Street
- Jackson Square
- French Quarter
10) Get a Power Pass
Although the pass itself isn’t free, some of the activities available with the Power Pass could be free if you use it effectively.
If you get this attraction pass and use it to take a bus tour, visit the Zoo and see the Aquarium, the service will already have paid for itself
After that point, every activity you take part in is entirely free.
You could take this opportunity to discover the history of Oak Alley Plantation or experience Mardis Gras World.
Whatever you choose to do, there are quite a few fun and family-friendly attractions included with this city pass.
- Free Yoga on Saturday mornings at the French Market at 10 am. A Jazz pianist is on hand to perform live music while you exercise.
- Join a Second Line.
In addition to all the free activities and attractions already mentioned in our top 10 section, there are dozens of other attractions and museums you can visit for free (or by donation only).
We list our other favorites below.
This historic location is free to visit throughout the week.
During the winter months, this church also offers free concerts and other activities.
In addition to the parks we mentioned in our Top 10 list, you can also enjoy this public square.
Not only is this location historic, but it is also the site of a spring concert series called Wednesday at the Square which takes place every year.
You’ll find the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
There are over 60 pieces of art to enjoy and admission is free every day of the week.
You can also take advantage of a free audio tour provided by the museum!
Located at Arnaud’s Restaurant, the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum includes more than two dozen historic costumes and other memorabilia.
Visitors are free to explore this museum during restaurant hours.
If you enjoy watching horse races, a visit to the Fair Grounds might be in order.
General admission is free on most days, and you are welcome to watch from the Grandstand.
Even when admission isn’t free, tickets are still reasonably priced at between $5-$10 per person.
This location is a must for history buffs and those with an interest in architecture.
Madame John’s Legacy is an 18th-century building complex and an excellent example of the French Colonial style.
Admission is free for all visitors and they are open most days of the week.
Although their products aren’t free, you are welcome to visit the Cigar Factory and watch them roll cigars.
In addition, this business also houses a museum featuring incredible relics from the 19th century.
Visitors are welcome to see the museum and learn more about the business at their leisure.
This museum features cultural artifacts related to the Mardis Gras Indians and other similar subjects.
Director Ronald W. Lewis welcomes visitors to experience a side of Mardis Gras history that brings the community together.
Although they do accept donations, general admission is entirely free.
It is also a stop on our self-guided Hurricane Katrina Tour.
This neighborhood was designed and constructed as a response to Hurricane Katrina.
The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music serves as a gathering place for the community which provides a plethora of entertainment and activities for visitors.
Needless to say, you’re welcome to walk around and see the beautiful new houses in this area.
Tickets for events at the Ellis Marsalis Center are typically very affordable, so you might also want to see what they have to offer.
It is also a stop on our self-guided Hurricane Katrina Tour.
In addition to the Sculpture Garden, Louisiana residents are also welcome to visit this incredible museum for free every Wednesday.
This is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the most beautiful artwork in New Orleans.
Although there are quite a few interesting attractions you can visit for free in this city, you might be surprised to find out how much more you can experience with just a little pocket change.
These services make it easier to get around town in style and have fun without spending too much money.
Ride the Street Car
The streetcars in New Orleans drive right through the heart of the city, and they are very affordable.
Unlimited use for the entire day will cost only $3, while one-way rides are $1.25.
For more information, check out our post about the New Orlean Streetcars.
Much like the streetcar, this ferry is also very affordable. It only costs $2 to ride each way, allowing travelers to easily cross the river without breaking the bank.
The Algiers Ferry runs 7 days a week with extended service hours on the weekends.
In addition to being a useful means of transportation, this is also a great way to see NOLA from the water.
You will also depart the boat in Algiers, a quaint and historic neighborhood just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter.
If you want to see New Orleans without the tourists, explore this neighborhood for free.
If you’re looking for more fun on the Mississippi River, you might also want to consider one of the many riverboat cruises available in New Orleans.
Although a cruise will be more expensive, there are some services for as little as $28 per person. For more information, check out our New Orleans Riverboat Cruise section.
Free Comedy Show
New Orleans might be better known for its Jazz music, but there are quite a few hilarious comedians in this city as well.
As a matter of fact, stand-up comedy is big enough in NOLA that several establishments offer free comedy nights throughout the year.
Although you’re welcome to come and enjoy the laughs for free, there may be a cover charge at certain locations and drinks will not be on the house.
- Siberia Lounge – Every Monday
- The Howlin’ Wolf – Every Tuesday and Thursday
- Allways Lounge & Theatre – Every Thursday
- The House of Blues – Every Wednesday
- Hi-Ho Lounge – Every Sunday
- Carrollton Station – Every Wednesday
- Buffa’s Bar – Every Wednesday
Free and Cheap Oysters
New Orleans is a fantastic place to find delicious oysters. Some restaurants even offer oyster happy hours, and others even give them away for free!
Every Friday night, Le Bon Temps Roule serves free raw oysters starting at 7 pm and continuing until they run out.
If you can’t make it out on Friday, the following restaurants serve oysters for less than $1 at various times throughout the week.
Check each menu for more information about their oyster deals.
- Basin Seafood – 50¢ Oysters Every Monday
- Red Fish Grill – 50¢ Oysters Monday through Thursday
- Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar – 50¢ Oysters Every Weekday
- Trenasse – 75¢ Oysters Every Day
- Luke – 75¢ Oysters Every Day
- Kenton’s – 75¢ Oysters Every Day
- Elysian Seafood – 75¢ Oysters Every Day
Over the past decade, New Orleans has slowly been developing a swing dancing scene.
The musical history and style of this city have made it the perfect backdrop for professional swing dancers to both perform their routines and teach locals how they do it.
Every Sunday at 8 pm, the NOLA Jitterbugs provide a free drop-in class at the Allways Lounge.
Alternatively, you can also join them earlier in the day on Sunday for a Jitterbug Jazz Brunch at the Maison.
Although the food and drinks are not free, there is no cover charge for either event.
If you’re looking for something fun and family-friendly in NOLA, there are quite a few awesome activities available.
Be sure to read our master post on visiting NOLA with kids.
Artists both young and old might also enjoy a trip through the Sculpture Garden or the Historic New Orleans Collection.
Music lovers will undoubtedly enjoy the chance to hear live Jazz both on the street and in special venues.
If none of these ideas seem like a hit, the following options could make for excellent alternatives.
Stroll Along the Moonwalk
Although they call it the Moonwalk, this brick promenade running along the Mississippi River is easily accessible both day and night.
During the day, artists often line the sidewalk and perform either music or various routines for the passers-by.
In addition to the opportunity for a show, the Moonwalk also offers excellent views of both the river and the city.
This walk will take you right to the ferry, which you can then use to cross the river for a very low price.
Take a Self-Guided Tour
The best way to take a tour with your family is by taking control of the entire experience.
A self-guided tour allows you to take breaks when necessary and skip or add locations depending on the interests of your clan.
Thankfully, we offer a number of free self-guided tours of New Orleans which you can use to provide a fun and educational experience for your family.
Many of these and more are available in an audio tour format.
Take the Kids to Storyland
If you’re looking for a fun attraction that your kids will enjoy, Storyland is an absolute must.
Located in City Park, this location includes dozens of displays featuring classic fairy tale figures.
The best part about Storyland is that it’s absolutely free for kids under 36″ in height.
Adults and anyone taller will have to pay $4, but that’s a very affordable price to pay for such an interesting activity.
As if that weren’t good enough, paying customers are also granted admission to the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park for free!
City Park itself is a great place to bring your kids for free activities.
There is a lot of fun and free events you can enjoy after dark in New Orleans.
As a matter of fact, we’ve already covered a lot of these opportunities in the sections above.
Be sure to read our master post on things to do at night in NOLA.
This is one of the most interesting locations on Frenchmen Street. Known colloquially as the Art Garage, this market welcomes artists who wish to sell their work.
They also host several events and art shows at various times throughout the years. Needless to say, it’s free to visit and look around!
Join the Cats of Jackson Square
It might sound odd, but Jackson Square is known for more than just festivals and parades.
When the sun goes down, the cats come out and take over this public space.
Since the square never officially closes, you are free to come and spend some time with these cats whenever you wish.
Although these felines are technically wild, reports indicate that they are pretty calm and docile around most people.
Animal lovers will definitely want to consider this fun and interesting activity!
Find out what else you can see at Jackson Square.
Dance Down Frenchmen Street
In addition to the live music you’ll hear while walking up and down this street, there are also several clubs in the area that don’t require a cover charge.
Although drinks and food won’t be free, you are welcome to walk up and down Frenchmen Street and visit each of these locations at your leisure.
Even if you want to get refreshments at some point, chances are that you won’t break the budget while dancing around New Orleans.
Be sure to read our guide on live music on Frenchmen Street, which includes several free options.
Take a Ghost Tour
New Orleans is rich with around 300 years of history, so it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that several people report rather spooky experiences in the area.
Anyone interested in learning more about the creepy and sometimes disturbing tales of this city should consider taking one of our pay-what-you-want ghost tours.
Although we do recommend giving your tour guide a tip, it is not required to enjoy this outing.
Depending on when you visit NOLA, there may be several free events related to holidays and celebrations.
As a matter of fact, there are so many seasonal activities available in New Orleans that we decided to provide information about them in separate posts.
If you want to learn more about free attractions leading up to Mardis Gras and Christmas, click one of the links below for additional information.
- Mardis Gras in New Orleans
- French Quarter Festival
Other posts you might be interested in:
- Master post on things to do in New Orleans.
- Check out our list of self-guided tours of New Orleans.
- Save money with a NOLA tourist discount pass.
This post covers some of the most notable tourist traps in New Orleans, how to avoid them, and how to use them to your advantage. Let’s get started!
1. Bourbon Street
First, and most obvious, is Bourbon Street. People who live in New Orleans typically don’t spend much time on Bourbon Street, unless we work there.
And we kind of love to see who can hate Bourbon Street the loudest. Visitors are a different story. If you walk down the street at night, it’s clear that a lot of people are getting exactly what they hoped for.
But, if you squint a little you can also spot the people who would rather be somewhere else, and unfortunately, our city’s reputation sometimes doesn’t make it clear that there is a lot else.
So, when it comes to Bourbon Street, it’s just best to know what you’re getting, which is very large, very strong very sweet drinks, classic rock cover bands, and a lot of fellow visitors, who are eager to mingle.
Plus, maybe the thing people come to us hungry for, which is a change of pace, whatever the consequences might be in the morning.
Drinking that much can help folks feel like they’ve gotten away from the rules they’re used to. The thing is though, Bourbon Street isn’t the only place you’re allowed to drink a lot or even to drink outside.
You can do that pretty much anywhere in town. In fact, the French Quarter is the most, not the least, restrictive place around alcohol in the city.
There is a regulation just for this one neighborhood that says you’re not allowed to carry glass outdoors, whereas in the rest of the city you can.
So, if you visit Bourbon and you’re not feeling it, you can head a block away to Royal Street and meander through art galleries and antique shops.
You can walk on Frenchmen Street and find more distinctive local music. You can walk through the French Market and go souvenir shopping, or lots and lots else, all with a drink in your hand if you prefer — just know you have options.
2. Souvenir Shops
Speaking of souvenirs, they’re our second thing to watch out for. The French Quarter is full of souvenir shops, sometimes three shops on one block selling the same t-shirts and shot glasses and figurines.
And those places can be useful if you’re looking to buy something for a bunch of people really fast, or if you spent the evening on Bourbon Street and you need a new t-shirt for some reason.
However, the stuff they sell generally is mass-produced a long way from here, and most of those shops are owned by one single family.
If you like the idea of going home with something locally crafted or patronizing a small business, you’re best off looking a little harder.
The license that they get from the city requires them to sell original art made by the person doing the selling, so that is as far from mass production as you can get.
And some big-name artists have gotten their starts on these fences, so you might even be investing in something that will appreciate in value over time.
We’ve also got art markets on Frenchman Street and periodically in other parts of the city where you can find similar stuff.
At the very end of the French Market is a flea market that runs for a couple of blocks, and while a lot of what is sold there is mass-produced, it’s benefiting small independent sellers, and local crafters are there among the crowd too.
If you do a little bit of looking and if you want to take home something with a real local story to it, then you can always pay a visit to one of the local voodoo shops, although you may be surprised to learn what they’re really all about.
Take our voodoo tour for more on that subject.
Street artists and small vendors can be a lot of fun to meet, and one of the great joys of New Orleans for some visitors is being able to talk to strangers, something that’s very much part of the culture here.
But, there are people here too who are eager to take advantage of those open hearts, so our next item is con artists.
Con-artistry in New Orleans most often takes the form of somebody chatting you up, complimenting your shoes, and then saying that they bet they can tell you where you got those shoes at. The correct answer is that they’re on your feet in New Orleans.
The joke and the conversation get you off your guard long enough for them to then kneel down and start polishing your shoes, air quotes because they do this no matter what kind of shoes you’re wearing and they aren’t using shoe polish.
The point is to then pressure you for money. And more often than not I see people paying them just to be left alone, and people make enough money doing this that this whole con has been going on pretty much unchanged for at least 50 years.
I’m not gonna suggest that there’s any redeeming value here and I’d particularly hate for these guys to leave people thinking that everyone in New Orleans is out to get them.
Again, talking to strangers is a thing we do, and a lot of my favorite French Quarter stories have started that way, so coming here with extreme stranger danger is not the solution.
You’ve just got to exercise a little vigilance, and maybe if your shoes are nice enough to attract compliments from strangers, think about changing into something more comfortable.
There are too many cracks in the sidewalk and mysterious puddles in the French Quarter for it to be worth it.
My fellow Americans, please think twice about driving a car in New Orleans.
Lots of our visitors drive in from nearby, so sometimes there’s no alternative. But if you can help it, doing without a car can save you time and money.
New Orleans is a city from the 1700s. Most of the roads are just wide enough for a lane of street parking and a single one-way lane of traffic, and in the French Quarter that one lane is full of pedestrians.
Also, the streets are in terrible condition. So, if you love your car, don’t subject its poor suspension to all of our potholes. Give it a vacation too and leave it at home.
If you do go without your car then as far as transport costs you’re looking at around $30 for a cab ride from the airport for 2 people, $10-$15 for cab rides around town, maybe $30 a day for a bike rental, $1.25 a ride for our streetcar and bus system, and lots of beautiful walks for free.
Whereas if you have a car and you’re staying in or near the French Quarter, you’re looking at $20+ just to park it overnight, plus all the parking costs along the way.
Lots of people make their private fortunes off of owning parking spots in New Orleans and the city itself makes a not-insignificant portion of its budget off of parking tickets.
And our street parking can be pretty confusing. Seriously, we have street signs all over town that say “No Parking – Parade” and you’re just supposed to know whether a parade is happening that day or not.
Maybe the idea was to hang a year-long calendar on each one, but the budget ran out, but hey keep paying French Quarter parking tickets and we’ll be able to add that in no time.
Parades also deserve a minute of our attention. New Orleans is famous for Mardi Gras and there’s a lot of fun to be had if you come here that time of year.
But, just like with Bourbon Street the reality and the expectation can look pretty different from one another.
A lot of our visitors come here thinking Mardi Gras is one day full of parades down Bourbon Street, and it’s true that on Mardi Gras you can find huge parties on Bourbon Street with people wearing costumes and throwing beads.
The thing is that is any day on Bourbon Street. The difference is that on Mardi Gras the crowd is waiting for a parade that’s never going to come.
Most parades never enter the French Quarter. Also, most of them are family-friendly, and most of them don’t happen on Mardi Gras Day. We have dozens of parades over several weeks leading up to the big day.
Sometimes, visitors come here looking for the Mardi Gras experience and find out that they’ve missed out on some of the best parts by just doing the one day.
And other people travel here looking to avoid the Mardi Gras crowds and accidentally find themselves right in the thick of the parade season.
So, if you’re looking to be here in February or March, it’s best to do some research about the parade schedule well before you travel.
You should also know that most Mardi Gras events are free to attend, driving during parade season is even more impossible than usual, restrooms are extremely hard to find, the crowds can be so large that your cell phone won’t work, and basic services shut down on Mardi Gras Day.
If that sounds overwhelming, there are plenty of other holidays where we throw a more modest parade schedule, like St. Patrick’s Day – only six parades for that one.
If you do end up missing Mardi Gras, make sure to check out Mardi Gras World to see some of the best floats that are used in the parades.
Besides parades, partying, and people-watching, another thing we’re famous for is our food. New Orleans has more restaurants per capita than any city in the country.
We could devote entire videos to picking out good ones — and we have. Check out our video on a few of the most important foods to try while you’re here.
But a lot of French Quarter restaurants aren’t serving what folks in Louisiana would recognize and enjoy as local food.
For example, there’s an incredible restaurant in the Treme near the French Quarter called Willie Mae’s Scotch House, which serves objectively the best-fried chicken in the universe.
But, there’s only one location and it takes some traveling to get there, whereas all over the French Quarter, there are locations of Willy’s Chicken Shack.
The name is just similar enough to confuse even some foodies, but the two are unrelated. This one is a chain owned by the same family that owns all the t-shirt shops. And sometimes that’s what you need.
Maybe you’ve got picky kids, maybe you just had all the food with French names that you can handle for a while, or you’re a few drinks in on Bourbon and you just need a burger NOW.
But, if you’re looking to have good, satisfying adventures with your meals, it pays to prepare.
Speaking of which, here are a few resources you can use to find some of the best food in New Orleans:
- Best Po-Boys in New Orleans
- Best Beignets in New Orleans
- The Difference Between Cajun and Creole
- New Orleans Food Tours
7. Visitor Information Centers
With all these different things requiring research, it can be really comforting to think that there are people whose job is to give good advice to visitors, and those folks are our next point.
Across the French Quarter, you’ll find little kiosks and shops offering visitor information, and lots of the hotels in the area offer concierge services too.
There’s no doubt these people have some very helpful knowledge and they may be able to save you time by booking dinner reservations, tours, show tickets, and all that stuff.
But, visitor information centers are mostly owned by tour companies who, of course, have an interest in selling their own services, and most hotel concierges make the bulk of their living through commissions.
In other words, what these professionals are offering is a combination of their own expert knowledge and what they’ve been paid to offer.
You may be getting their best recommendation from among the services that give them a cut, but you’ll rarely find them referring people to, say, pay-what-you-will walking tours.
So, while it’s well worth consulting them, it’s also worth coming to them with a clear idea of what you want and tipping them so that you, and not the company offering the service, are the customer.
8. Swamp Tours/Outdoor Adventures
These can be a lot of fun, and if you feel like splurging, they can be more than worth the cost of attending. But, if you’re on a budget trip, you have free and low-cost alternatives.
If you’ve got a car and you want to see some nature yourself, the Barataria Preserve is a free national park that preserves 26,000 acres of wetlands a short drive across the river from the French Quarter.
And if you don’t have a car, City Park, just a streetcar ride away from the French Quarter, contains nature preserve areas called Scout Island and Couturie Forest.
If you’d like to get some river scenery, there’s a ferry that runs across the river from the French Quarter to Algiers Point and back for $2 round trip per person.
9. Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours
We’re starting to get into our specialty territory as a tour company here, and while we’re a walking tour company, there are a lot of ways to explore, each with their own precautions worth taking, for one hop on hop off buses.
Those can be great for folks with mobility limitations or if you just want to get a bird’s eye view of town when you first arrive.
But, the quick impression they’re able to offer isn’t necessarily the most interesting or the most representative stuff. Remember what I said about New Orleans having tiny streets?
If they’re hard to drive a regular car through, you can imagine a double-decker bus doesn’t stand a chance.
So, they’re only able to go along the edges of historic neighborhoods, and while they do offer short walking tours in some of the areas where they have stops, they generally give a pretty basic impression.
Tour guides all have different approaches, but in my opinion, New Orleans is different enough (from most other places in the world) that you really need some time to get it or even just to fully appreciate the vibe.
10. Carriage Rides/Cabs
The other entertainment options on wheels are mostly found here in the French Quarter. You got carriage rides and cabs.
Like most of the things I’m mentioning, they can be great in the right context, and one of their selling points is pretty obvious, you get to sit down.
I like to go out of my way to give people what they ask for on my walking tours, but I have never carried anybody – rarely carried anybody.
So, a carriage ride offers a leisurely way to see the French Quarter from behind a mule with a fairly small group.
But with a few exceptions, if you’re looking for in-depth history, it’s harder to find here than on a walking tour.
Since the carriage keeps moving, the driver doesn’t have a lot of time for much other than cliff notes. So in the end, what they’re selling is less of a story than an experience.
Pedicabs, too, mostly just show up in the French Quarter.
Unlike either carriage drivers or walking tour guides, they aren’t required to pass a basic history test to get their license, so they mostly aren’t guardians of the neighborhood’s history.
Their big advantage is that they can usually squeeze between the cars that are driving and the cars that are parked, so if you need to get somewhere fast and it’s rush hour, they actually may be able to deliver you faster than a cab.
We also call them transportainment. They’re generally fun folks to talk to, and sometimes they know a lot about things to do in the French Quarter and beyond.
So, if you’re getting your history somewhere else, say on a youtube channel, but you need a quick hand getting your bearings and you’ve got somewhere to be, maybe you want a breeze in your face, pedicab can be a good fit.
And you’ll want to weigh those benefits because a pedicab often costs more than a cab for the same distance, and you’ll want to ask about those rates because pedicab drivers set them themselves.
11. Free Tours by Foot
Finally, there’s the service that we ourselves offer.
Obviously, I’m a fan, and I think it’s fair to say that out of all the various experiences you have with a local during a stay in New Orleans, a walking tour has some of the greatest potentials for depth.
I’ve gotten to have lengthy conversations with visitors about their plans, and sometimes I get to help them find things to do that are a good fit, but that wasn’t on their radar.
But, it’s still worth being skeptical about New Orleans walking tours, because it’s down to the company and the individual to guide what kind of experience you’ll have.
I’ve already mentioned why relying on the advice of folks who work behind a desk can be misleading, and the same goes for rankings on review websites which can have a similar sales relationship with the companies that they recommend.
And it can be pretty disappointing if you feel like you’ve done your research to then show up to what feels like a cattle call.
So, it’s worth doing some qualitative research in advance, not just seeing where a particular company falls in a ranking, but reading reviews and talking to other travelers and see if it sounds like the right experience and flavor for you.
People come on a tour looking for very different things, and everyone wins if you find someone who’s a match. As you may know, our approach to the tour giving business is the pay-what-you-will model in New Orleans and all the other cities where we operate.
We offer tours for free or for a couple bucks reservation fee, and from there the price is yours to decide based on how you feel about the experience, which gives us a reason to try and outdo expectations every day.
Many of our tour guides actually provide video tours on our Youtube channel, so you can watch them and get a feel for whether or not they’re giving the kind of tour you would want to take.
You can also offer them tips if you enjoyed their video tour!
12. Shot Girls
There’s one last thing you should look out for while you’re walking around the French Quarter, and particularly on Bourbon Street.
At times, you’ll find people colloquially known as “Shot Girls” who are offering shots as you walk down the street. They’ll often do everything they can to get you to take the shot and then demand money for it.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking someone to pay for a drink they were just given, but what you might not realize is that these shots are often times very watered down.
In addition to that, you might also find that they’re asking more for the shot than you would have to pay in one of the nearby bars!
All things told, with so many different places to grab a drink in New Orleans, we recommend avoiding Shot Girls and supporting local establishments instead.
13. Beads Scam
This one comes to us from a viewer who personally experienced the scam firsthand.
If you come to New Orleans during Mardi Gras (or perhaps even at other times of the year), you may find yourself welcomed by people ready and willing to adorn you with plastic beads.
You might think it’s a nice gesture at first, but after putting the beads on you, these people will immediately ask you for some kind of payment for the beads.
They will often ask for far more than the beads are worth, and considering that you can usually get these either for free during Mardi Gras, it’s definitely not worth whatever price they request.
If you do want to get beads, we recommend leaving the city centre and heading to a store outside of the French Quarter to find much better prices on these decorations.
This is another scam you’re more likely to experience on Bourbon Street and similar areas, so be on the lookout while exploring those neighborhoods.
Whatever you decide to do from this point on, we hope these tips and tricks to avoid tourist traps in New Orleans will help you on your next trip to the Crescent City.
This post covers things to do in July in New Orleans.
We’ll start things off with our top 10 attractions/events, but we also have sections devoted to free activities, things to do at night, and family-friendly ideas.
Let’s dive in! Read more »
This map shows the stops on our St Charles Street Car audio tour which you can purchase here.
If you’d like to add this map to your Google Maps app so you can follow along using GPS, just click the square bracket in the upper right hand corner.
Helpful hint: If you want to use Google Maps without using data, you can download the area as an offline map when you’re on WiFi.