What to Do in New Orleans
This post covers the very best of things to do in New Orleans, including a top 10 list, things to do for free, at night, with kids as well as by month or season. Just click the links to jump to any particular section. Of course, at the top of any list is Free Tours by Foot.
Below is our top 10 list of things to do in New Orleans with links to related content, tours, and additional resources. Many of these items could easily fit in our free, night and family-friendly sections in this post, and be sure to read these sections for more ideas related to those topics. We also provide links to posts that are solely based on these topics, so the ideas don’t end with this page.
Many of the items mentioned below are also part of tourist discount passes in New Orleans. You can also get some more things to do ideas from these passes.
1 – 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, located on the edge of the French Quarter and 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.
2 – The French Quarter – More than Bourbon Street
For many people, the French Quarter is Bourbon Street. That’s a shame because the Vieux Carré is one of the country’s oldest historic districts and home to dozens of museums, art galleries, restaurants, bars and street performers. Start your visit to the Quarter in the beautiful Jackson Square with its equally splendid St. Louis Cathedral and follow our self-guided tour of things to do in the neighborhood. And of course, there is Bourbon Street.
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 to this city 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).
Read our comparison post on the swamp tours of New Orleans. There are also free ways for you to enjoy the wetlands, as well as night tours, which we cover in the next sections.
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 are also several museums or exhibits that are dedicated to some aspects of Mardi Gras and are free, including the Mardi Gras Museum at Armands Restaurant and the House of Dance and Feathers. There is also the inexpensive Presbytère and its Mardi Gras exhibit.
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 and get two New Orleans’ experiences in one. Also located in the Garden District is Lafayette Cemetery #1. So, why not make it 3 experiences in 1?
We offer multiple guided tours daily of the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery #1 as well as a GPS-enabled audio tour. We also have a neighborhood guide the area with tips on what to see, shopping, food and tips on where to stay.
6 – 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. We produced our live music guide to help you find and experience one of the world’s great music cities, including tips on the best jazz brunches, tips on the best areas of the city for music (for example, Frenchman Street) as well as advise on choosing great venues, like the venerable Preservation Hall.
And as you might have expected, we have a guided tour for music lovers as well called New Orleans Music and Arts Tour, which generally runs on Fridays and Saturdays with other days sprinkled in by season.
7 – Visit a Plantation
OK. 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 sleep over at some.
We have reviewed the most popular plantations in the New Orleans, including the organized tours that will pick you up from your hotel.
8 – 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. Consider visiting the Voodoo Museum, a small, folksy make-shift museum in the French Quarter, or Marie Laveau’s tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1 (only accessible by a guided tour of the cemetery).
Better yet, why don’t you join us on our pay-what-you-like Voodoo Tour, which runs daily from Thursdays through Sundays.
9 – Cruise the Mississippi River
There are many riverboat cruises that ply the Mississippi River. Some have live dixie 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. Currently, there are 2 main vessels to choose from, the Creole Queen and the Steamboat Natchez, both paddlewheels. However, there are plans to add two new boats, including the mammoth 3000 passengers Louis Armstrong, which is slated to be a floating jazz club and dinner venue.
Read our post that compares the different riverboat cruise options available to you.
10 – 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.
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.
- 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.
- Free Music – 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!
- Enjoy One of Many Great Parks – City Park is the central attraction, but don’t miss out on Louis Armstrong Park, National Jazz Historical Park, and Audubon Park.
- Markets – 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.
- People Watch – New Orleans attracts characters and people who want to have fun and they are all interesting. Just hang out at Jackson Square or walk Royal and Bourbon Streets in the French Quarter or Frenchman Street in the Marigny and you won’t find a lack of interesting people to watch and enjoy.
- 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 the Power Pass – The Power Pass is a tourist discount card. While this isn’t a free card, if you plan out your time well, you will end up visiting many attractions that have ticket prices for free. We analyze the pass to help you decide if it’s 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.
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.
- Professional Sports – 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. All are great for families.
- 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 – POST IS COMING.
- 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, and if you have the New Orleans Pass, entry is free.
- Visit Music Box Village – Music is everywhere in New Orleans and we’ve already mentioned it in 2 previous section (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. Read about these free options on our swamp tour comparison page.
- 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.
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.
Below is a list of top things to do at night in New Orleans. This is just a short list and 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.
- Preservation Hall – 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 show times 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.
- Ghost Tours – 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.
- 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.
- Burlesque Shows – Like the Crescent City herself, the New Orleans Burlesque scene ranges from classic to the truly outrageous. 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 times a month at the All Ways Lounge and Theatre. Burlesque tickets will cost, on average, $10 – $20 per person.
- Saenger Theater – 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!
- Restaurants – 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. Commander’s Palace in the Garden District and Cafe Degas in Faubourg St. John are just two examples of what you’ll find if you’re willing to venture out.
- 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!
- Casinos – Place your bets any night of the week on the gaming tables of New Orleans. The main attraction is Harrahs Casino, but you can also visit 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.
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.
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.