This post covers the very best of things to do in New Orleans, including free, nighttime, as well as family-friendly events and activities.
Disclosure: While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.
TOP 12 EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS
Below is our top 12 list of things to do in New Orleans with links to related content, tours, and additional resources.
Many of the items mentioned below are included for free or at a discount in several tourist attraction discount passes.
1. The French Quarter
For many people, the French Quarter is Bourbon Street.
That's a shame because the Vieux Carré (as it's officially known) is one of the country's oldest historic districts and home to dozens of museums, art galleries, restaurants, bars, and street performers.
There is also a Secrets of the French Quarter tour which includes admission to the Presbytere and a free beignet from Cafe du Monde!
And of course, there is Bourbon Street.
2. Hear the Music of New Orleans
Live music is everywhere in New Orleans. You can find it on the streets, in parks, in bars and restaurants, basically, everywhere.
You can also check the following locations to see what is available during your trip to NOLA:
Let our live music guide help you find and experience one of the world's great music cities
It includes tips on the best jazz brunches, tips on the best areas of the city for music (for example, Frenchman Street).
Music lovers may enjoy our New Orleans Music and Arts Tour, which generally runs on Fridays and Saturdays with other days sprinkled in by season.
3. Visit a Swamp
New Orleans' location in the Mississippi Delta means that it is surrounded by swamp and marshland.
And a unique experience for visitors is the swamp and airboat tours that ply the local rivers in search of wild boars, waterfowl, and of course, alligators.
Most of these swamp tours operate just outside of New Orleans' city limits, 30-45 minutes from the French Quarter.
There is even a preserve that is located within the city limits and is free (see our free things to do section below).
4. It's Mardi Gras All Year
If you can't make it here during Mardi-Gras, you can still experience the carnival season every day of the year.
On top of the list is Mardi Gras World, a working studio where they create and store Mardi Gras floats.
You can also find a lot of historic floats, costumes, and decorations from past Mardi Gras festivals.
There is also the inexpensive Presbytère and its Mardi Gras exhibit.
If you're looking for one outing that covers multiple locations, Take Walks provides a Mardi Gras Tour which includes admission to both Mardi Gras World and a Mardi Gras Museum.
5. Visit the Garden District
Located just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the French Quarter, New Orleans' Garden District is a refreshing change of pace from the aforementioned district.
Stately mansions, beautiful greenery, and great shopping await you in this must-see part of town.
Most people will take the St. Charles Streetcar from the French Quarter to the Garden District.
Also located in the Garden District is Lafayette Cemetery #1. So, why not make it 3 experiences in 1 trip?
Take Walks also provides a Garden District tour which includes admission to a Praline Factory and the Elms Mansion.
We also have a neighborhood guide the area with tips on what to see, shopping, food, and tips on where to stay.
6. See a Musical/Theatrical Performance
New Orleans has a surprisingly vibrant theater scene, and you can usually expect at least one great musical or theatrical production to be available each month – usually more!
One of the most famous and historic locations is the Saenger Theatre, which usually hosts at least a few different shows every month of the year.
Here are a few more locations you may want to check if you're looking for a theatrical performance to enjoy:
This is a great activity for families and most theatrical productions take place at night.
7. Visit a Plantation
Admittedly, this isn't really something to do in the city, but New Orleans is a logical base from which to venture out and discover some of the best-preserved southern plantation estates in the U.S.
You can learn about these creole mansions and the people who lived here by driving out on your own or by taking part in a guided tour from New Orleans.
Just about all are within an hour's drive from the city.
Most offer guided tours of the mansions and grounds, including slave dwellings. You can even stay the night at some of these plantations!
We have reviewed the most popular plantations in New Orleans, including the organized tours that will pick you up from your hotel.
8. Attend a Sporting Event
New Orleans is home to several great professional teams. No matter when you choose to visit, chances are there will be at least a few live games to see!
Whether you love basketball, baseball, football, or another type of sport, NOLA has something for just about every sports fan.
Here are some of the most popular teams in the city:
- New Orleans Saints
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Tulane Green Wave NCAA Football
- Tulane Green Wave NCAA Basketball
For more details about special games like these, make sure to check this list of New Orleans sporting events.
9. Wander around a Cemetery
The city's cemeteries are unique, and with one exception, free.
For most visitors to New Orleans, the city's tradition of above-ground burials sets it apart from most other places in the U.S. and around the world.
And a walk around these "Cities of the Dead" is a fascinating and must-do experience.
We offer daily pay-what-you-like walking tours of two of New Orleans' most famous cemeteries:
- St. Louis Cemetery #1, on the edge of the French Quarter
- Lafayette Cemetery #1 in the Garden District.
St. Louis Cemetery is only accessible on a tour, but you can give yourself a self-guided tour of Lafayette #1.
If you want a more in-depth outing the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is included on the Garden District tour provided by Take Walks.
10. Learn the Truth about Voodoo
Shrouded in mystery and secrecy – and often misrepresented by popular culture and Hollywood depictions – Voodoo has long held reign in New Orleans legends, folklore, and history.
The spirituality has been hidden among the slaves of the 1700s, popularized and commercialized by the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau in the nineteenth century, and still functions as an alternative religion in the modern-day city.
Better yet, why don't you join us on our pay-what-you-like Voodoo Tour, which runs daily?
11. Cruise the Mississippi River
There are many riverboat cruises that ply the Mississippi River. Some have live Dixieland jazz aboard and serve lunch and dinner.
There are also historical cruises (no food), and one even visits a historic battlefield.
For those on a budget, you could take the Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi for just $2, but you'll need to provide your own music.
Currently, there are 2 main vessels to choose from, the Creole Queen and the Steamboat Natchez, both paddlewheels.
Read our post that compares the different riverboat cruise options available to you.
12. Cocktail City
Whether or not New Orleans is the birthplace of the cocktail may be an open debate, but what is not in dispute is the role the cocktail places in the city's life.
New Orleans' history as a melting pot of Native American, French, Spanish, Caribbean and American cultures has provided the ingredients for experimental food and drink.
You just have to try a Sazerac, a Vieux Carré, Pimm’s Cup, or just straight up absinthe. Sumptuous cocktails in classic bars make for a wonderful night (or day) out.
We offer a self-guided tour of these drinks and watering holes so that you can see and taste for yourself, or you can join us and your fellow drinkers on our pay-what-you-wish guided cocktail tour of the French Quarter.
BEST THINGS TO DO FOR FREE IN NEW ORLEANS
Below, we list our top 10 list of free things to do in New Orleans.
Many things mentioned elsewhere on this page, such as visiting a cemetery, are also free or have free options.
For even more ideas, be sure to read our free things to do in New Orleans, which also includes the top free things to do at night, with kids, as well as free attractions and museums.
For even more money-saving ideas, also check out our guide to New Orleans on a budget.
Wander New Orleans' Neighborhoods
New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods just waiting to be discovered.
We mentioned the French Quarter and the Garden District in our top 10 section, but there are so many worthy areas just waiting for your discovery.
We've put together neighborhood guides with self-guided tours to help you explore.
Get a New Orleans History Lesson
The Historic New Orleans Collection should be the first stop for all history buffs.
It has several free exhibits including its Louisiana Galleries, which covers every era of the city.
You could also visit Congo Square to see one of the most historic sites in the city where slaves would gather hundreds of years ago, giving families a chance to connect even if they weren't always able to be together.
Another historic site is none other than Jackson Square, as former president Andrew Jackson once laid the cornerstone of the battle monument.
A few blocks away, you'll find the Old Ursuline Convent, constructed in 1727 -- before the nation was even born!
You can of course learn more about sites like these on one of our free New Orleans walking tours.
Free Swamp Experience
The city has it's own national preserve Bayou Savage as well as City Park (both have alligators) that are free of charge to visit.
Or head out to Jean Lafitte Swamp and the Barataria Preserve.
Read about these free swamp experiences on our swamp tour comparison page under hikes.
Surprisingly or not, you can actually hear a lot of this music for free!
Alternatively, you can enjoy a free Opera performance with Bon Operatit once every month!
Fans of jazz might also want to head out to the Ritz-Carlton Davenport Lounge on weekends for a free performance.
Enjoy One of Many Great Parks
New Orleans is home to several wonderful parks where you can enjoy a number of different activities without paying a dime.
Each location has plenty of interesting things to see and do that are entirely free. Whether you just want to take a walk or you're interested in seeing noteworthy memorials and other artwork, these are great places to visit.
City Park is home to a free Sculpture Garden which is located near the New Orleans Museum of Art, and they also host free events from time to time.
The National Jazz Historical Park hosts free jazz performances at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Fans of music should also know that Louis Armstrong Park is home of the annual Jazz in the Park concert which also doesn't cost a thing.
These are just a few examples, but there are quite a few fun things to do in NOLA's parks.
New Orleans attracts characters and people who want to have fun and they are all interesting.
Discover the Post-Katrina Rebirth
If you have access to a car or bike, then consider taking our free, self-guided Hurricane Katrina Rebirth Tour.
Visit some of the hard-hit locations in New Orleans and see for yourself the inspirational and interesting regeneration taking place with things such as Musicians Village or Brad Pitt's Make It Right Homes.
Consider a Tourist Attraction Discount Pass
New Orleans offers several tourist attraction discount cards, with which you can save up to 50% on attractions and tours when you bundle them together.
They can also save you time with their skip-the-line privileges.
While these cards are no free, if you plan out your time well, you will end up visiting many attractions that have ticket prices for free.
We analyze the passes to help you decide if any are a good fit for you.
For even more ideas, be sure to read our free things to do in New Orleans, which also includes the top free things to do at night, with kids, as well as free attractions and museums.
TOP THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS
Here too is the top 10 list from our master post on family-friendly things to do in New Orleans, where you can find dozens of more kid-focused activities.
Of course, many of the things in our top 10, free things to do and night activities sections of this post are great for kids and their parents.
We elaborate on a few previously mentioned items to go deeper into why a particular entry is a great choice for some families.
Head to City Park
As mentioned above, New Orleans parks are great free attractions, but City Park is particularly family-friendly.
Young kids will love Storyland and Carousel Gardens and most families won't be able to resist mini-golf and Gondola rides.
Tip: mini-golf stays open at night. All are very affordable as well. Plus, in the northern half of City Park are wetlands with alligators and turtles.
New Orleans is no mega-city, but its population is large enough to support an NFL team (the Saints) and an NBA team (the Pelicans) alongside a minor league baseball team (the Baby Cakes).
Additionally, you can watch the University of Tulane and many big sporting events come to town, including the annual Sugar Bowl and occasionally the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Take a Riverboat Cruise on the Mississippi
There are many riverboat cruises that will get your kids excited.
Some have live Dixie Jazz aboard and serve lunch and dinner. There are also historical cruises, and one visits a historic battlefield.
For those on a budget, you could take the Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi for just $2.
Spend Half a Day at Audubon Zoo and Aquarium
See exotic animals, glimpse into the unique habitat of the delta area, and watch the animals feed (including alligators), all at the Audubon Zoo.
You can save money by purchasing a ticket that also includes the Audubon Aquarium. Both are great for kids.
And entry to both attractions is free with the purchases of either major tourist passes. We analyze the pass to help you decide if it's a good fit for you.
Visit Music Box Village
Music is everywhere in New Orleans and we've already mentioned it in 2 previous sections (both of which apply to families).
However, Music Box Village is particularly great for families. This experimental art installation and performance space will keep your kids (and you) entertained and happy.
Just take a look at this video.
Take a Swamp Tour
In the previous section, we referenced swamps where you could hike for free. Free is always good for families, right?
However, a swamp tour can be an exciting and memorable experience, especially because you get an experienced swamp boat captain who knows how to get those gators to come out.
Cajun Food and Music at Mulates
If your family is interested in some Cajun food and music, consider a trip to Mulates.
This restaurant offers live music from 7 pm to 10 pm every night along with authentic Cajun cuisine. Enjoy some delicious food while listening to some fantastic tunes.
And check out our list of the top 13 foods to try in the Big Easy.
Be sure to visit our post on family-friendly things to do in New Orleans, where you can find dozens of more kid-focused activities.
Mardi Gras World
In addition to the free Mardi Gras museums and exhibits mentioned in the previous section, the best choice for families is Mardi Gras World.
On their tour, you will be given beads, eat King Cake, try on costumes, tour the Carnival float factory and listen to great music, all without any drunk people.
Families rate it 4 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor. They offer a free shuttle from the French Quarter.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT
Below is a list of top things to do at night in New Orleans.
Many of the things mentioned in the previous sections are also good activities at night, such as people watching, riverboat dinner cruises, attending a sporting event to putt-putt golf in City Park.
Be sure to read our full post on nighttime activities in NOLA.
Serving as a music venue, a touring band, and a non-profit organization, Preservation Hall is dedicated to preserving one of New Orleans’s unique music contributions - Jazz.
Established in 1961 and located at 726 St. Peter, in the heart of the French Quarter, Preservation Hall offers multiple showtimes per night, seven days a week.
General admission tickets are $15-$20 at the door, or you can reserve tickets with “Big Shot” seating for $35-$50.
Ghosts tours are arguably the most popular tours in New Orleans.
We offer our pay-what-you-wish 5-star ghost tour 2x every night, but there are also voodoo and vampire tours, ghost hunts and ghost pub crawls. There is something for everyone's tastes.
Read our post which compares all the spooky night tour options.
The Escape Game in New Orleans has a variety of games - from an art heist, prison break to special ops mission. These popular activities are like real-life puzzles - with curves and unexpected realizations.
Fun for the family or a date night, The Escape Game has great reviews - nearly 2,000 5 star reviews! Don't worry if you can't figure out how to escape - you get a discount to try again next time.
Night Swamp Tours
From May - October, it is possible to take a night tour of the Honey Island Swamp. Cajun Encounters offers a night swamp tour every day of the week with the option of a hotel pick-up in New Orleans.
Like the Crescent City herself, the New Orleans Burlesque scene ranges from classic to the truly outrageous. Burlesque tickets will cost, on average, $10 - $20 per person.
Lucky Pierre’s Flim Flam Variety Hour on Sundays and Wednesdays is a 1920’s vaudeville-style show featuring comedy, magic, and burlesque.
Bustout Burlesque takes the Main Stage at House of Blues monthly with their 1950’s style show, including a comic emcee and a live jazz band.
No taboo is off-limits to Bella Blue and her team of burlesque babes. They break all the rules a couple of times a month at the All Ways Lounge and Theatre.
The Saenger Theater features the Broadway in New Orleans series, as well as dance, music, and comedy performances.
The interior of the theatre features Greek and Roman statuary, decorative columns and molding, and arched entryways. A trip to the Saenger is a night of theater you’ll never forget!
New Orleans is well known for its unique cuisine, and now more than ever serves as a mecca for those who are serious about dining out.
Whether your tastes are for the freshest seafood, authentic French cuisine, Cajun, Creole, or a fusion of flavors, there is a dinner spot sure to tantalize your taste buds.
If an unforgettable dining experience is what you’re looking for, consider venturing out of the French Quarter and into one of New Orleans’s popular residential neighborhoods.
Be sure to read our post on the top 13 foods to try in New Orleans.
Rock N Bowl
Listen to music, dance and…bowl? Yep! New Orleanians take live music wherever they can get it, even at the bowling alley.
Rock N Bowl is a unique New Orleans establishment serving up a combination of activity and entertainment.
Take a break from bowling a few frames with a couple spins around the dance floor. Wednesday night is for live Swing and Thursday nights belong to Zydeco. Weekend nights you’ll find mostly rock music up on the stage.
Whatever night you choose, you won’t find a bowling experience like this anywhere else!
Place your bets any night of the week on the gaming tables of New Orleans.
The main attraction is the Harrahs Casino, but you can also visit the Carnival Club Casino or head to the Fairgrounds Racetrack, where you will also find slot machines.
Visit Palace Market
Located on the east side of Esplanade Avenue, just steps away from the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street is a favorite among New Orleans locals.
The Palace Market is a weekly nighttime art market. Open every night (except for Saturday), this open-air market hosts a variety of unique, local and regional artists.
Purchase original art, jewelry, and crafts, and meet the artisans who make them.
THINGS TO DO BY MONTH AND SEASON
In addition to our master posts for family and nighttime activities, we also produce posts that are specific to a month or a season.
In these posts, we generally list options that take place, start, or end during that month or season.
- January - (weather)
- February- (weather)
- March- (weather)
- April- (weather)
- May- (weather)
- June- (weather)
- July- (weather)
- August- (weather)
- September- (weather)
- October- (weather)
- November- (weather)
- December- (weather)
THINGS TO DO BY NEIGHBORHOOD
Don't make the same mistake that most visitors do when visiting New Orleans and confine yourself to just the French Quarter.
Don't get us wrong, you could easily spend days in the Quarter taking tours, visiting the various shops and museums, and enjoying great music in her bars, but then you would be missing out on so much.
New Orleans offers the visitor some legendary neighborhoods, and we have put together some posts that are a combination of things to do and self-guided tours to help you plan your discovery.
- French Quarter
- Garden District
- Faubourg Marigny
- Frenchmen Street
- Esplanade and Bayou St. Johns
- Algiers Point