Best Things To Do in New Orleans
Nightlife and rolling good times are the main attractions, with Bourbon Street's plentiful live-music clubs of nearly every style. Tours of the French Quarter or the Garden District will easily fill the day of those who love to stroll, while Chalmette Battlefield and The National WWII Museum pack in the amateur historians. For a unique glimpse of the Crescent City's culture, explore one of the famous cemeteries, sign up for a plantation tour or pay a visit to the Backstreet Cultural Museum. When it comes time for souvenir shopping, check out the antiques stores along Magazine Street in the Garden District.
Updated February 27, 2020
- #1View all PhotosfreeFrenchmen Street#1 in New Orleans2.1 miles to city center2.1 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, Wineries/Breweries, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you want an authentic New Orleans experience more removed from the touristy areas of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, head to the lively Frenchmen Street. A popular spot for locals, Frenchmen Street is a four-block stretch of live music, bars, restaurants, night clubs and art galleries. Here, not only will you find fewer crowds (albeit not by much), but you'll also encounter cheaper eats and drinks, and better music – it's kind of like Bourbon Street's hipper, trendier cousin. If you don't consider yourself a night owl, the Palace Market (open daily 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.) is a shopping haven where locals sell homemade art and jewelry.
Recent visitors agreed that a trip to New Orleans isn't complete without stopping by Frenchmen Street. Some even suggest skipping the more crowded and touristy Bourbon Street and instead meandering along Frenchmen Street where you'll find live music, specifically jazz, and great bars. Travelers and locals alike love The Spotted Cat, Three Muses and d.b.a thanks to their extensive beverage selections, fun atmospheres and, of course, talented musicians. "Frenchmen Street is what Bourbon Street used to be ... it's about four blocks of more laid-back, old-style jazz clubs. Nothing fancy to them, very local with great music. A much more laid-back area to stroll from bar to bar and listen to music," said Isabelle Van Bockel, a concierge at the JW Marriott New Orleans for 10 years.
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If you want to experience New Orleans properly, it's best to begin your tour here. Recent visitors said the neighborhood is lively, with lots to do and see and offers a one-of-a-kind experience. The neighborhood, also known as Vieux Carré, is the heart and soul of this city, and it's also a National Historic Landmark. As the site of the original New Orleans colony (established by the French in 1718), the French Quarter has held on to its heritage, complete with street names that are still listed in French. Wander the narrow cobblestone streets to find such attractions as Jackson Square, Faulkner House Books and the Cabildo. While you're strolling, pay attention to the neighborhood's architecture: balconies are designed with baroque ironwork and hanging plants, while leafy courtyards are filled with bubbling fountains. The scene is definitely charming, but it can also be expensive if you choose to stay at any of the French Quarter's hotels.
Undoubtedly, the French Quarter's main draw is Bourbon Street – New Orleans' infamous party hub. You'll find this street laden with performers and fortune tellers as well as rowdy bars. Although a trip to New Orleans isn't really complete without strolling down Bourbon Street, keep in mind that rowdy evenings on Bourbon are best appreciated by adult travelers. If you're tempted to hang your hat on Bourbon Street, don't. While it's fun to be at the center of the action, there's really no escaping the late-night noise.
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Take a walking tour of the Garden District (located a little less than 3 miles southwest of the French Quarter) for a peek at some of the city's most beautiful homes. Like its name suggests, this historic residential neighborhood is laden with trees, ivy, and yes, gardens. Visitors rave about the beautiful houses and architecture. Some even preferred the Garden District over Bourbon Street, citing the peaceful atmosphere and well-preserved properties as a much-needed break from the city's crowded tourist spots.
If you need to refuel after meandering the neighborhood's leafy streets, head to the intersection of Prytania Street and Washington Avenue. This area features shops, cafes and the famous Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Directly across from the cemetery is where you'll find Commander's Palace Restaurant – one of the city's most well-regarded and refined restaurants (and also one of the busiest).
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You don't have to be a history buff to enjoy The National WWII Musuem, according to recent travelers. Having opened June 6, 2000 (the 56th anniversary of D-Day), the museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts and educational films documenting all aspects of the war, from D-Day to the war in the Pacific to the Holocaust. The brainchild of Stephen Ambrose – a best-selling author and consultant on the film "Saving Private Ryan" – the museum also features oral recantations of civilians' and soldiers' experiences throughout the early 1940s. The museum offers a unique educational experience, though recent travelers cautioned that some of the displays may be too disturbing for children. Past visitors said you can't leave without watching the "Beyond All Boundaries" 4-D movie, narrated by the film's executive producer, Tom Hanks.
Located on Magazine Street in the Warehouse District, the National World War II museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission costs $27 for adults and $17.50 for students and children ages 5 to 12. World War II veterans receive free admission. Keep in mind, entry to the Victory Theater and certain exhibits costs extra. The museum recommends setting aside at least three hours to see all of the exhibits, though recent visitors said you'll need much more than that to fully appreciate all of the texts, artifacts and testimonials on display here. If you don't have the chance to see everything in one day, you can return the next day with your ticket and only pay an additional $6. If you choose to drive, you'll find a paid parking lot on Magazine Street, across from the theater. There are also several paid parking lots scattered throughout the neighborhood. If you prefer to take the bus, you can hop on the No. 11, 100 or 114, which all stop at Magazine and Poeyfarre streets (in front of the museum). To learn more, visit the museum's website.
- #5View all Photos#5 in New Orleans30.9 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND30.9 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Stretching from Houston to Mobile, Alabama, the Bayou Country played a crucial role in the development of the United States in terms of communication and transportation. In fact, there would be no New Orleans without the bayous, so you owe it to yourself to take a swamp tour.
A mix of saltwater and freshwater, the bayous are home to crawfish, shrimp, deer and alligators, which are often the main attraction for visitors. Travelers generally enjoy their tours, no matter which company they choose, but do warn that going in the winter could mean fewer wildlife sightings.
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Some of New Orleans' must-see attractions are its cemeteries. Many of the tombs found in these "cities of the dead" are above ground to protect them from rising water levels, and they're embellished with ornate designs inspired by French and Spanish architecture. Though the city's older cemeteries are admittedly dilapidated, with crumbled tombs and patchy grass, the decaying grounds add to the ghostly atmosphere (which is why many of the city's top ghost tours make stops in them).
The St. Louis Cemeteries are some of the most popular, despite being located in somewhat edgier parts of town (just south of the Tremé neighborhood). St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) is the final resting place of some of New Orleans' more unique characters, including Bernard de Marigny – former president of the Louisiana Senate and notorious playboy – and Marie Laveau, the Big Easy's very own "Voodoo queen." Many of the city's top cemetery tours stop in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 shelters the graves of local musicians like Ernie K-Doe and Danny Barker, plus it's the burial site of the notorious pirate, Dominique You. Movie buffs will recognize the eerie walls of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (situated south of Central City) from films like "Interview with a Vampire" and "Double Jeopardy." (Note: Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is currently closed for restoration. It is anticipated to reopen in spring 2020.)
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Flanking Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, the Cabildo was originally constructed in 1799 (when New Orleans was under Spanish rule), as the seat of the Spanish government. Later on, it was here that the Louisiana Purchase took place and after that, this Spanish-style building served as city hall and the Supreme Court. Today, the Cabildo is home to a three-floor branch of the Louisiana State Museum, which recounts Louisiana history with the help of Native American objects, Colonial-era paintings, and even Napoleon Bonaparte's death mask. Visitors can also see the room where the Louisiana Purchase was finalized. If you're interested in more recent history, you'll find that at the Cabildo, too. An entire floor is devoted to Hurricane Katrina – the 2005 storm that left New Orleans and surrounding regions devastated. Within the exhibit you'll find multimedia displays and artifacts collected during the cleanup of both Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
When you're not admiring the many artifacts displayed here, take a minute to marvel at the building's architecture. Recent travelers said the Cabildo's design is worth seeing, even if you're not interested in the history within. And while you're here, consider stopping by the St. Louis Cathedral, located next door on Chartres Street. The bus routes servicing the area include the No. 5 and 55. The Cabildo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission costs $6 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and is free for children 12 and younger. For more information, visit the official website.
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As the centerpiece of the French Quarter, St. Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans' most recognizable landmarks. The oldest cathedral in North America, St. Louis Cathedral was originally built in the early 1700s. The structure standing today is actually the third cathedral built on this spot, since the first two were destroyed. Religious services are still held here, as well as numerous cultural events, including free concerts. Even if you're not interested in attending a service, past visitors urge you to take a peek inside, describing it as "beautiful inside and out."
After touring the cathedral and the Old Ursuline Convent (the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley), consider strolling through St. Anthony's Garden to see the impressive statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The garden also has a memorial to 30 French ship crew members who lost their lives to yellow fever in 1857.
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Since opening in 1911, the New Orleans Museum of Art (known simply as "NOMA") has assembled more than 40,000 works of art – an impressive compilation considering the museum opened with only nine pieces. NOMA's vast collection ranges from early Asian works to European masterpieces from the 16th to 20th centuries. While here, be sure to stroll through the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden – located adjacent to the museum in City Park. Among the park's Spanish-moss covered live oaks, you'll find 64 sculptures designed by artists from around the world.
Many recent visitors said this museum is a must-see for any art lover, and a great indoor attraction during the city's high heat and humidity. Past travelers commented on the small size of the museum, but others noted that its size allows you to see all of the exhibits in just one visit and say not to miss the sculpture garden.
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City Park offers a lovely respite from the city and is a great place to spend an afternoon, according to recent visitors. Take a nature stroll through the 12-acre New Orleans Botanical Garden (which boasts 2,000 different varieties of plants) or peruse the art hanging in the New Orleans Museum of Art. And while New Orleans isn't generally classified as kid-friendly, City Park has several diversions for your young ones, including Storyland (home to giant storybook and fairy tale characters, and an antique carousel) and the Train Garden. Sprawling across 1,300 acres, the expansive City Park features 26 tennis courts, 12 soccer fields, two football stadiums and an 18-hole golf course. Aside from all of the park's recreational facilities, it's also home to the world's largest grove of mature live oaks, including the Anseman Oak and McDonogh Oak – both believed to be between 600 and 900 years old. Past visitors suggested setting aside plenty of time to enjoy the park as it offers so much to do. Others appreciated that it was off the tourist radar, and thus a quiet place to spend a few hours.
Sitting north of central New Orleans near the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, City Park is open daily from 30 minutes prior to sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset. Entry to the park is free; however, specific attractions charge admission. Free parking is available on-site and the park is also accessible via the Canal Streetcar. Check out City Park's website for more information.
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Families on vacation should make some time to visit the Audubon Nature Institute. This massive facility is home to a zoo, an aquarium, and butterfly garden and insectarium, not to mention the Entergy Giant Screen Theater (included with aquarium admission) and a golf course. Special kid-friendly exhibits feed curious minds while allowing little ones to get up close and personal with their favorite furry (or scaly or slimy) friends. You can also watch daily feedings or sit in on numerous lectures and films about the environment. Don't miss the gigantic sharks, tarpon and rays in the 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit at the aquarium and the newly expanded Jaguar Jungle exhibit in the zoo, where you can not only see jaguars, but bats, tree frogs, poison arrow frogs and much more.
Recent visitors said that the zoo is well-maintained and is a great family outing. Other visitors call the insectarium impressive and informative. Most also recommend getting ticket combo packages.
- #12View all Photos#12 in New Orleans2.4 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.4 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
A massive warehouse facility in the Bywater district of New Orleans, Studio Be is an eye-popping and illuminating display of public art. The creator, Brandan "BMike" Odums, collaborated with more than 40 other artists to create large murals and exhibits that explore activism, resistance and black American history. Most displays use spray paint and graffiti techniques, and the entire project took six months to complete. The expansive facility is 35,000 square feet, and it encompasses four buildings and up to five stories. It is the largest single-site public art exhibition in the American South, and it attracts visitors from all over the globe.
Multiple recent visitors called the art on display "powerful," and almost everyone agreed that the intense art experience was well worth the $10 admission price (various discounts are available). The exhibits are open Wednesday through Saturday from 2 to 8 p.m., and the warehouses are located on Royal Street near a number of other galleries and studios. Check out Studio Be's website if you are interested in learning more about the artist and what's on display.
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Longue Vue House and Gardens is a lush display of Southern elegance and history. The historic estate features a museum and an interactive Discovery Garden, and it also boasts 8 acres of gardens with local plant life. The elaborate four-story house was built in the mid-20th century, and it contains 20 separate rooms, a unique basement and a large collection of English and American antiques. Visitors can take a tour of the entire facility, and enjoy the modern art on display throughout the estate. If you love exploring outdoor gardens and seeing what local plant life is in bloom, you'll appreciate wandering the pathways at this attraction.
Recent visitors used the words "gorgeous," "amazing" and "lovely" to describe the Longue Vue grounds. They also appreciated the history associated with the museum and complimented the knowledgeable tour staff. Admission costs $12 for adults, and tours leave every hour on the hour until closing. The attraction is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and there is a gift shop on-site for those wishing to preserve the memory of this massive and picturesque estate. Longue Vue House and Gardens is a few miles northwest of downtown New Orleans off of Bamboo Road. Check out the Longue Vue House and Gardens website if you're interested in learning more.
- #14View all Photos#14 in New Orleans4.7 miles to city center4.7 miles to city centerMonuments and Memorials, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Chalmette Battlefield – the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans – is just 6 miles east of New Orleans along the Mississippi River. As many history buffs know, this battle never should have taken place. The War of 1812 ended two weeks before British and American troops stormed the field, but word had not yet reached Congress, the British general or Andrew Jackson – commander of the American troops. Today, Chalmette Battlefield displays historical markers that help visitors trace the history of the Battle of New Orleans. You can also pay your respects to those that fell at the national cemetery, which can be found on the grounds.
After you've had your fill of history, head to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Although the park is located several miles southwest of the battlefield, both sites are operated and maintained by the National Park Service. You can explore the numerous swamps and bayous, and you might catch a glimpse of an alligator or two. The park also hosts numerous cultural events throughout the year.
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The only steamboat in New Orleans, Steamboat Natchez launched in 1975 and is a traditional sternwheel steamboat that takes visitors on a tour of the Mississippi River. The tours aim to cultivate an atmosphere that transports guests to another era, with the captain shouting through a hand-held megaphone and old-time music lingering in the air. Steamboat Natchez offers a few tour options, including a dinner jazz cruise, a harbor jazz cruise, a Sunday jazz brunch cruise and select special event cruises. The tours last about two hours and include a concert, a narration of historical facts and an optional meal, and a gift shop and bar are also available on board. Indoor and outdoor seating on the boat is available.
Many travelers raved about their adventure on the steamboat, saying it was a unique and entertaining way to see the city and the river, and that the staff members were friendly. Passengers say you must be sure to take a tour of the engine room. However, a few warned that the music was loud during boarding and that the tour tends to attract an older crowd.
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Located in the the historic and buzzing French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum showcases the unique heritage of medicine and pharmaceuticals. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, exhibits a mid-19th-century apothecary shop. It also has numerous antiques from this instrumental era in healthcare on display. Plus, the museum celebrates Louis J. Dufilho Jr. of Louisiana, who was America's first licensed pharmacist. Recent travelers called their experiences at this attraction informative and interesting, and they especially recommended the (adult-themed) guided tour.
Admission to this museum costs $5, and the guided tours (available at 1 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday) are included with your ticket. The museum is typically open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but be sure to check out the attraction's website for updated hours (the museum occasionally closes early for private events). The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is open year-round and is located on Chartres Street.
- #17View all Photos#17 in New Orleans2 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
One of the best places to get a feel for the city's unique identity is at the Backstreet Cultural Museum. This off-the-beaten-path attraction was established by local photographer and history buff, Sylvester Francis. Visit his museum to view an eclectic collection of costumes, memorabilia, photographs, films and other artifacts related to African American culture. Fans of HBO's "Treme" may also recognize the museum from its brief cameo in the series.
Tours of the hodgepodge collection are often given by Francis himself, which many recent travelers found to be the highlight of the museum visit, who say he is a wealth of knowledge. While the facilities aren't as polished as other museums in the city (the site is family-run, so don't expect a gift shop or cafe), the no-frills presentation is what continues to draw visitors.
- #18View all Photos#18 in New Orleans0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
When people say that New Orleans isn't the best place to bring kids, they're forgetting about the Louisiana Children's Museum. Yes, Bourbon Street may be too rowdy, but this two-story facility is a playtopia in disguise. The museum features hands-on exhibits that cover everything from body mechanics to architecture. The museum also hosts numerous special events, from near daily story times to holiday-related activities. Many travelers agree that this is a must-do with younger kids, especially on days when everyone needs a break from the heat and humidity. Recent families called it a great place to play with lots of interesting interactive exhibits. The St. Charles Streetcar also stops nearby.
South of the French Quarter in the Warehouse District, the Louisiana Children's Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4:30 p.m. During the summer, you can visit on Mondays and the doors stay open until 5 p.m. Admission is $10 per person; children 12 months and younger enter for free. For more information, check out the Louisiana Children's Museum website.
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Even if you're not in town for the actual festival, don't miss your chance to go behind the scenes of one of America's most renowned (and most raucous) celebrations. Mardi Gras World offers a close-up look at some of the flamboyant floats and costumes used during New Orleans' famous party. One thing to know upfront: This isn't a museum – it's a warehouse workshop where current floats are in the process of being completed and old floats are stored. Take the guided tour through the maze of props or sit in on one of the multimedia presentations to learn more about the festival's history. According to recent visitors, it's fascinating to see artists hard at work creating the floats. Just make sure to bring your camera: Before the tour, visitors are invited to try on authentic Mardi Gras costumes. After the tour, visitors are treated to a piece of king cake.
Some recent visitors said the museum is a nice surprise and the learned all sorts of things they didn't know about how floats are built. They also appreciated the free shuttle to and from the attraction.
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