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Best New Orleans Attractions and Sightseeing

And Places to Visit for 1st Timers

Updated: May 9, 2024

This post lists our picks for the top New Orleans attractions that first-time visitors should plan to see.

As a local walking tour guide, I wrote this guide in the hopes that my experiences and expertise can help you plan your itineraries.

Free Tours By Foot leads dozens of walking tours each week showing hundreds of visitors the charms and mysteries of this beautiful city.

If you are looking for content written by enormous media companies using AI and favored by Google, then you've come to the wrong place.

No tour goes by without requests for recommendations for things to do after the tour is over.

And, in the video below, Andrew, a tour guide with us, Free Tours by Foot, gives you a sample 1-day New Orleans itinerary.

We also answer many questions about things to do in New Orleans from members of our New Orleans Travel Tips Facebook group.

We've incorporated some of the comments and suggestions shared in this group here in this post.


1. Explore the Architecture of the French Quarter

Perhaps the most popular destination for both tourists and locals alike, the French Quarter offers an authentic NOLA experience, day or night.

This neighborhood is filled with historic sites, fantastic restaurants, a lively bar scene, and lots of street musicians.

Check out Andrew in this video about the creole cottages, shotgun homes, and townhouses of the French Quarter.

Check out our list of 25 essential sights in the French Quarter

We offer a guided tour of the French Quarter and our ghostfood, and cocktail tours take place in the French Quarter as well.

When visiting the area, be sure to check out the French Market, detailed just below.


2. Shop or Browse at the French Market

The French Market is six blocks of restaurants, candy shops, and a flea market.

Our post on visiting the French Market has suggestions for the best places to shop, eat, and drink in and around the market.

And, in this video, tour guides Andrew and Kayla discuss the highlights of the French Market.

The French Market is a stop on our guided tour of the French Quarter as well as our audio tour and our self-guided tour, so let us show you around!


3. Visit Jackson Square

Right by the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the U.S.A., and steps away from the Mississippi River, this historic New Orleans landmark is a must-see.

There is so much to see and do around Jackson Square, such as visiting the museums in the Cabildo, where the Louisiana Purchase was signed, and the Presbytere.

We created a self-guided tour that will lead you to the best sights. And you could let Andrew show you around in this virtual walk.

Across the street from Jackson Square is the famous Cafe du Monde. Here you can try some of the best beignets in town.

Jackson Square is covered on our daily, pay-what-you-like tours of the French Quarter.

For more information, see our complete post on Jackson Square.


4. Ride the St. Charles Line Streetcar

The absolute best way to see the sites is to take a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar, the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world.

Traveling between the Garden District and the French Quarter, this streetcar line features old-fashioned brass fittings, wooden benches, and exposed ceiling light bulbs.

In this video, Andrew demonstrates how to ride the New Orleans streetcars with tips on choosing the right ticket, seeing the best sights, and understanding the streetcar’s history

You will feel like you are taking a 'ride' back in time!

There are two other streetcar lines you can ride to get around the city.

Streetcars are a great way to travel around NOLA as they have stops at many of the popular attractions you are likely to visit. 

Our Guide to New Orleans Streetcars has information on the streetcar lines, where to board, ticket options, and destinations along each of the lines.


5. Take a Ride on the Steamboat Natchez

The Steamboat Natchez is the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River.

Offering dinner jazz and daytime jazz cruises daily, the Natchez is one of the best ways to spend a night out in NOLA.

The steamboat offers steam engine room visitation, calliope, live jazz, and optional Creole food and local beverages.

Read more about New Orleans riverboat tours, paddleboat tours, and cruises available here.


6. Go to the Audubon Zoo

The Audubon Zoo is a perfect place to become acquainted with some of the local wildlife, just check out the award-winning Louisiana Swamp exhibit!

In addition to the widely known animals, the zoo is home to some unique animals such as their white tiger and albino alligators. 

For those traveling with children, there are feedings, petting zoos, and animal presentations. 

Our family-friendly guide to New Orleans for more ideas for things to do with kids.

To see some amazing aquatic life, be sure to visit the Audubon Aquarium.

Or, admire nature at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium

You might want to combine a visit with a ride on the Algiers Ferry (read just below).


7. Explore City Park

City Park has been a public space for New Orleans residents and visitors since 1854.

Most of its better-known attractions cluster near the southern corner of the rectangle – the part closest to the French Quarter.

The park preserves a sense of South Louisiana’s natural state, conveniently located in the middle of the city.

And you can visit a Café du Monde here.

For more details to convince you to visit, read our blog post on City Park.

And on your way to City Park, stop by the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.


8. Carousel Gardens Amusement Park

Carousel Gardens Amusement Park in New Orleans is a fun place with rides like the Ladybug Roller Coaster and a big Ferris wheel.

Families go there to have fun together and make happy memories. During Christmas, they have a special event called Celebration in the Oaks.

The park has been around for a long time and has a cool old carousel.

It's in located within the City Park and you can go there to play and have picnics too.

It is a great spot to spend a fun day with friends and family.


9. New Orleans Botanical Garden

The New Orleans Botanical Garden is a beautiful place in City Park where you will find lots of different plants and flowers.

It's like a big garden with pathways to explore and enjoy nature. You can visit the garden to relax and take pictures of the pretty flowers.

In the park, you can find special sections like the Japanese Garden with cool designs and the Rose Garden with lots of colorful roses.

Families love to come here for picnics and to play in the open spaces. It also hosts events like plant sales and art exhibits sometimes.


10. City Putt (mini golf in City Park)

City Putt in City Park New Orleans is a fun mini-golf place with two courses to play.

It's great for families and friends who want to have a good time together.

Each course has cool themes like New Orleans landmarks and Louisiana history. People love the colorful decorations and fun challenges at each hole.

It's a neat way to spend a sunny day outdoors and enjoy some friendly competition.

The park is well-kept and has lots of shady spots to relax between games.

You can bring snacks or buy drinks at the concession stand.


11. Tour the New Orleans Cemeteries

New Orleans is one of the few places in the world whose cemeteries are a major tourist attraction.  

The two most popular cemeteries are St. Louis Cemetery #1 and Lafayette Cemetery #1.

You can join us on our guided tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 or take our GPS-enabled audio tour anytime the cemetery is open.  Why not do both?

For more information and background, check out our guide to New Orleans cemeteries.


12. Visit the Historic Voodoo Museum

The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is possibly the most interesting, small museum in the country.

Here you will find all the mysteries, secrets, history, and folklore of rituals, zombies, gris-gris, Voodoo Queens, like Marie Laveau, and more.

In this video, Robi, a tour guide and Voodoo priest, discusses the religion in New Orleans and how it's been misrepresented by popular culture.

Learn how to visit this unique museum from our detailed post here

If learning about Voodoo history and culture in New Orleans, be sure to take our Voodoo Tour.

Alternatively, you can also learn more just by visiting some of the best Voodoo Shops in NOLA!


13. Explore Bourbon Street

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Bourbon Street.

Located in the heart of the French Quarter, this street extends 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue.

There are quite a few French Quarter festivals that happen during the year, most famously the annual Mardi Gras celebration.

Bourbon Street is known for its drinking scene and local open-container laws in the French Quarter allow patrons to drink alcoholic beverages in the street!

But, it's much more than that, something Andrew explains in this video.

New Orleans itself is known for its creative cocktails. Find out more from our New Orleans Cocktails and Drinking Guide.

You might like to join us on our pay-what-you-wish French Quarter cocktail tours!

Let us take you to the bars with the best versions of the city's most popular cocktails.


14. Board the Algiers Ferry and Visit Algiers

For one of the most stunning views of the New Orleans skyline, take the $2 ferry from the French Quarter on Canal Street, next to the Audubon Aquarium.

The ferry will travel along the river's natural crescent to Algiers Point, over on the West Bank.

It is an interesting neighborhood so if you decide to see more of it, take along our self-guided tour.


15. Enjoy the Bayous and Swamps of Southern Louisiana

One of the most popular activities is to take a swamp tour on a swamp or airboat. We have a whole post dedicated to swamp tours.

However, one must not leave the city to experience a swamp or bayous.

You could take a canoe ride on Bayou St. John or visit City Park, which has its own mini swamp where you can see alligators in the wild.

And for a free option just outside of the city, visit the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.


16. Lose Yourself in the National WWII Museum

The National World War 2 Museum is a venue in which visitors can experience virtually the challenges faced by the nations who fought in the war.

Immersive and interactive exhibits recreate the world of those who lived through WWII, whether they fought overseas or remained on the Home Front.

Read our post on visiting the museum and how to get cheaper tickets.


17. Take in the Live Music of Frenchman Street

Frenchmen Street lies east of the French Quarter and runs parallel to the promenade Elysian Fields Ave.

It stretches all the way north from the university campus in the Gentilly neighborhood to the Mississippi in the south.

The trendy area that you want to explore at night is located in the Faubourg Marigny/Bywater neighborhood.

This is the part of the street with all the bars, restaurants, or jazz clubs.

Learn more by reading our post on things to do on Frenchman Street.


18. Experience Carnival Anytime at Mardi Gras World

Kern Studios has been developing floats and other decorations for Mardi Gras since 1932.

Over the years, their incredible work became so popular that several people began to request private tours of the studio.

New Orleans Souvenirs

During a walking tour here, your guide will explain the history of both Mardi Gras and Kern Studios.

Afterward, you'll get a look at their "float den," the location where artists work year-round to create memorable floats and other decors.

Learn more about tickets and deals to Mardi Gras World here.


19. Hear New Orleans Jazz at the Legendary Preservation Hall

Preservation Hall is small. This keeps the scene intimate, just like it was at the beginning of New Orleans jazz.

There are only 100 admissions for each set, but that doesn't reserve you a seat.

We have a post that explains how to get tickets to Preservation Hall. Enjoy.

And if you want to learn more about Dixieland Jazz and other forms of music, be sure to visit the New Orleans Jazz Museum.


20. Taste Cajun and Creole Food

This post is an introduction to 13 New Orleans foods that you must try, and they are gumbo, po-boys, jambalaya, red beans, and rice, étouffée, muffulettas, oysters, turtle soup, beignets, chicory coffee, bananas foster, pralines and king cakes.

We include an explanation of the differences between Creole and Cajun cooking as well as the city's famous cocktails.


21. Take a Hurricane Katrina Tour

Many people who visit New Orleans are interested in visiting areas that were affected by Hurricane Katrina, which stormed through in 2005 and seeing the revitalization that has taken place since.

This post covers Hurricane Katrina tours, both guided and self-guided.  


22. Crescent City Park

Bywater follows the Mississippi River just east of Faubourg Marigny.

Crescent Park, a relatively new park, and Studio Be are located there.

This place is unquestionably worth visiting if you're curious about New Orleans' history.

Last but not least, you should check out our pay-what-you-like walking tours of New Orleans!


23. Pharmacy Museum

The Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans is a cool place where you can learn about old medicines and how pharmacies used to be.

You will find yourself stepping back in time to see what healthcare was like in the past.

The museum has lots of interesting things to look at, like old bottles, medical tools, and even a historic pharmacy setup.

Visitors can explore different rooms and learn about the history of medicine in New Orleans.

It's a unique and educational experience for kids and adults alike. You can also buy souvenirs like postcards and books in the gift shop.


24. Backstreet Cultural Museum

The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans is a special place where you can learn about the city's vibrant culture and traditions.

It's filled with colorful costumes, photographs, and artifacts that showcase the history of African American Mardi Gras and jazz funerals.

You will find beautiful handmade suits and masks worn during celebrations.

The museum also has displays about second line parades, which are a big part of New Orleans culture.

You can learn about the music, dance, and art that make these events so lively.


25. The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection is a special place where you can discover the history and culture of New Orleans.

You can find lots of old things like maps, paintings, and documents that tell stories about the city's past.

You can see how people used to live and work in New Orleans long ago.

The museum also has exhibits about important events in the city's history, like Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina.

It's a great place to learn about the rich heritage of New Orleans.


26. Rock n Bowl

Rock 'n' Bowl is a fun place where you can go bowling and listen to live music at the same time.

It's like a regular bowling alley but you will get a cool vibe with great music.

People love coming here to hang out with friends and enjoy the lively atmosphere.

The bowling lanes are well-maintained, and there are plenty of balls to choose from.

The live bands play all sorts of music, from blues to rock, making it a great place for dancing too.

You can grab drinks and snacks at the bar while you bowl or watch the band.


27. Congo Square

Congo Square in New Orleans is a historic gathering place with deep cultural significance.

It's located within Louis Armstrong Park and has a rich history dating back to the 18th century.

People from different backgrounds used to come here to dance, sing, and celebrate their traditions.

It was a rare space where enslaved Africans could freely express themselves through music and dance.

Today, Congo Square continues to honor its legacy with events like jazz festivals and drum circles.

You can feel the vibrant energy of the past while exploring its open-air pavilion and lush surroundings.


28. Armstrong Park

Armstrong Park in New Orleans is a peaceful oasis you can relax and enjoy nature in the heart of the city.

The park features lush gardens, walking paths, and picturesque ponds.

You can explore statues and monuments honoring African American culture and history.

One of the park's highlights is Congo Square, a historic site where enslaved Africans once gathered to play music and dance.

Armstrong Park also hosts events like jazz concerts and cultural festivals throughout the year.

It's a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, offering a blend of recreation, history, and artistic expression.


29. Davenport Lounge at Ritz-Carlton

Davenport Lounge at Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is a classy spot known for its live jazz music and elegant atmosphere.

It's a perfect place to unwind and enjoy top-notch cocktails while listening to talented musicians perform.

The lounge exudes sophistication with its stylish decor and comfortable seating arrangements.

You can savor delicious small bites and sip on expertly crafted drinks served by friendly staff.

The ambiance is warm and inviting, making it an ideal destination for a romantic evening or a night out with friends.


30. Harrah's Casino

Harrah's Casino in New Orleans is a popular destination for those seeking excitement and entertainment.

Situated in the heart of downtown, it offers a wide array of gaming options, including slot machines, table games, and poker rooms.

Apart from gambling, you can enjoy dining experiences at various restaurants, vibrant nightlife at its bars and lounges, and upscale bowling at Fulton Alley adjacent to the casino.

The casino also hosts special events and promotions, adding up your excitement.


31. Riverwalk Outlets

Riverwalk Outlets in New Orleans is a premier shopping destination located along the Mississippi River.

It boasts a wide range of stores, from designer boutiques to popular brands, offering something for every shopper.

You can explore the scenic riverfront location while browsing through clothing, accessories, electronics, and live music.

You can refuel yourself at the food court or dine at one of the onsite restaurants offering delicious cuisine options.

Apart from all this place offers, you can find people attending yoga classes, providing a serene retreat amidst the shopping hustle.

Participants can enjoy rejuvenating sessions with picturesque views of the Mississippi River.


32. Saenger Theater

Saenger Theater in New Orleans is a historic landmark renowned for its stunning architecture and world-class performances.

Situated in the heart of the city's entertainment district, it hosts a diverse array of shows, including Broadway productions, concerts, and ballet performances.

The theater's fancy inside makes you feel like they're in a fancy old-timey place full of style and beauty.

With its grand chandeliers, ornate ceilings, and plush seating, it offers a truly immersive theater experience.

The stage comes alive with mesmerizing performances by top artists and talented ensembles, captivating audiences of all ages.


Tips From Locals and Travelers

Anytime you're sharing an opinion (such as which activities in New Orleans are the best), there's always a chance that you've got some unforeseen biases factoring into your decisions.

Thankfully, I have a method to account for this issue: The New Orleans Travel Tips group on Facebook!

This is an official Free Tours By Foot group, and there are tens of thousands of members who frequently share their own thoughts and opinions about fun attractions in NOLA.

what to do for free in new orleans

This group consists of locals, like our tour guides, expats, regular visitors to New Orleans, as well as newbies.

Here are a few of the more interesting comments we found when asking about the best attractions to see in the city:

Here's a spot we definitely forgot to mention. The Backstreet Cultural Museum is one of the most understated attractions in the city, and it also shows you a side of New Orlean's history that you won't always see in other popular locations.

Some travelers also swear by the hop on hop off bus tour, and it's not hard to see why, because the streetcars aren't quite as easy to use for many newcomers.

Ultimately, everyone is going to be at least a little divided when it comes to the subject of their favorite attractions. That said, here is a pretty good rundown of the most common locations recommended by both locals and visitors from out of town.

As you can see, many of these activities are already listed in our post. I won't lie, it's very reassuring to see that so many people agree with me!

For more helpful suggestions, make sure to check our New Orleans Travel Tips group on Facebook and leave your own comments or questions.


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About The Author

Sarah Hester

Sarah first moved to New Orleans in 2001 to work for the American Red Cross of Southeast Louisiana. While working in the communities of New Orleans she fell in love with the unique culture of the Big Easy; it's food, music, architecture, wildlife, and most of all history. Read More... Sarah began her career with FTBF, first as a guide, then as an owner/operator. She believes every day is a good day if she gets to impart her love of her beloved New Orleans with Free Tours By Foot guests. She especially likes to convert new Who Dat Saints Fans!
Updated: May 9th, 2024
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