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Places to Visit in New Orleans for 1st Timers

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This post lists our picks for the 10 top New Orleans attractions that first-time visitors should plan to see.

There are many more points of interest in the Big Easy, the most interesting city in America, but these activities and sights are a great place to start.


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 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 Frech 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.

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.

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.

New Orleans Walking Tours

4. 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.


5. 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.

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!


6. 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.

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.


7. 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.


8. 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!

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.


9. Go to the Audubon Zoo

The Audubon Zoo is a perfect place to become acquainted with some of the local wildlife, just check put 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).


10. 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.


11. 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.


12. 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 it's 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.


13. 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 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 discount tickets.


14. 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.


15. 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 discounts to Mardi Gras World here.


16. 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.


17. 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.


18. 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.  

19. 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!


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About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: January 23rd, 2023
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