Best Free Things to Do in New Orleans
This post covers what there is to do in New Orleans for free (and almost free) and is updated for 2018. Whether you enjoy good music, food, unique culture, history or architecture, there is plenty to see and do that free or almost free. Be sure to also check our tours at Free Tours by Foot and our master post on things to do in NOLA.
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. Of course, check out our other sections for even more money saving ideas.
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. Surprisingly or not, you can actually hear a lot of this music for free!
In addition to hearing live street music, you can also enjoy events such as Wednesday at the Square (Mar-May) and Jazz in the Park (Sept-Nov). Alternatively, you can enjoy 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 which 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.
Thankfully, 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, and we also offer a dozen different free self-guided tours in New Orleans that you might find interesting.
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 that 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.
In addition to this location, the Jean Lafitte National Park is also free to visit.
And in case you are wondering, you could spot alligators and other swamp creatures in both places. Each park welcomes guests to explore the grounds and experience all of the wonderful natural beauty for themselves.
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.
There are several historic cemeteries in New Orleans and all but one of them are 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.
For more information, visit our guide to New Orleans Cemeteries.
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. Although many exhibits change every few months, others are available for several decades. As a matter of fact, 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. Even if these are the only displays available when you visit, chances are you’ll have a great time and learn a lot about NOLA at the HNOC. For lovers of American literature, the HNOC also staffs the Tennessee Williams House (Stella!).
The Historic New Orleans Collection is a stop on our French Quarter self-guided tour.
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.
There are a few very nice markets in New Orleans that are free to visit and peruse. Whether you’re just looking for fun or you actually want to buy a few things for dinner, the Crescent City Farmer’s Market is a fantastic place to find fresh food. Check out this video.
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.
If you’re looking for something more than a meal, consider the French Market instead. In addition to food and drink, you’ll also find souvenir shops and craft vendors offering a lot of artistic and eclectic items for sale. For more information, check out our guide to the French Market.
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
It might sound a bit strange, but sometimes it can be fun to just watch all the different people that travel through the city. 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.
In addition to all the free activities and attractions already mentioned in our top 10 section, such as visiting a swamp, a cemetery, a market, a historic neighborhood, or the Historic New Orleans Collection, there are dozens of other attractions and museums you can visit for free (or by donation only).
Whether you want to listen to great music, see wonderful artwork or discover the history of this great city, chances are you’ll find something interesting to do in NOLA.
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 on every day of the week. You can also take advantage of a free audio tour provided by the museum!
Take a stroll through the history of Mardis Gras in New Orleans. 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 obviously aren’t free, you are welcome to visit the Cigar Factory and watch them rolling 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.
If you’re interested in seeing some of the other efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, these houses are definitely worth a visit. With the help of actor Brad Pitt, the Make It Right foundation has set out to build 150 new homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. More than 350 people now live in these buildings, many of which are designed to be very eco-friendly with solar panels and energy-saving architecture. 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 on 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.
If you’re visiting New Orleans with a budget, you might want to consider one of the following options.
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. This is a great way to access several of the attractions on our top 10 list without spending too much on gas.
Arguably the most popular ride is on the St. Charles Line from the French Quarter to the Garden District. No matter what you plan on doing while in NOLA, chances are that you’ll find plenty of uses for this inexpensive transportation.
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.
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
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
- Grand Isle – 75¢ Oysters Monday through Friday
- 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 of this city has 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.
Whether you want to learn how to dance or just have fun with a significant other, this could be an excellent opportunity. 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. As mentioned in our previous sections, visitors with an interest in nature can spend some time in one of the beautiful city parks, ride the streetcars, or take a trip to one of the nearby swamps.
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.
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 are 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. In addition to learning how to swing dance, enjoying live comedy, and eating some delicious oysters, you can also partake in one of the following activities.
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: