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 August 21, 2019
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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.
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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. Noel Minturn, a concierge at the Windsor Court Hotel for 25 years, said the swamp tours are a truly unique aspect of the city. "There are a number of companies that go out on either airboats or flatboats out into the swamps and you learn all about the ecology, the wildlife [and] how people live out there," Minturn said.
A mix of saltwater and freshwater, the bayous are home to crawfish, shrimp, snakes, alligators and crocodiles. Multiple tour companies offer different kinds of boat tours of the Louisiana swamps; several combine a swamp tour with a stop at a local plantation. The following are some of the most popular New Orleans swamp tours:
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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." 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."
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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.