New Orleans Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Places to Visit in February
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Courtesy of Sean Pavone/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Free Things To Do in New Orleans

If you have extra time, Garden District is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Things to do in New Orleans
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    #1 in New Orleans
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, Wineries/Breweries, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, Wineries/Breweries, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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.

  • #2
    French Quarter
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    #2 in New Orleans
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #3
    Garden District
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    #3 in New Orleans
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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).

  • #7
    St. Louis Cathedral
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    #7 in New Orleans
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #10
    City Park
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    #10 in New Orleans
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #14
    Chalmette Battlefield & Jean Lafitte National Park
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    #14 in New Orleans
    Monuments and Memorials, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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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