Spellbinding eclectic, distinctive, vibrant, and visceral. Those are just a few adjectives you could use to describe the Louisianan city of New Orleans.
Offering a unique ambiance and array of world-class attractions, this unique travel destination is like a dessert wine – rich and moreish, with a depth of flavor that’s hard to resist. Small wonder it attracts 18.5 million visitors each year. People come for its rich history, food, culture, and welcoming atmosphere; for its jazzy spirit and tropical climate, among a slew of other things to do in New Orleans.
Ultimately, if you’re heading to The Big Easy soon, then you’re in for a treat. But first, you have to decide what to do there! For some top itinerary ideas, check out this list of 24 awesome things to do in New Orleans.
1. Explore The French Quarter
Famed for its narrow streets, lively atmosphere, and historic architecture, the French Quarter (also known as the Vieux Carré and nicknamed the “Crown Jewel of New Orleans”) is one of the oldest and most popular parts of the city.
A colorful neighborhood, it was founded by the French (hence the name) way back in 1718. There are plenty of modern attractions to keep you entertained these days, including the beloved French Market, Jackson Square, and endless bars and restaurants.
Spend an afternoon strolling around the town, soaking in the atmosphere, and enjoying the quirky sights and old-world buildings. If you’re looking for affordable things to do in New Orleans, add this to your list… It’s free!
2. Jackson Square
In the heart of the French Quarter, you’ll find Jackson Square – a storied public park named after Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the US and hero of the Battle of New Orleans. As one of the city’s most iconic (and free!) sights, this place is a hive of activity at all times and a perfect place to people-watch.
With its fascinating background, old buildings, and very own open-air artist colony, visiting the square is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in New Orleans. Consider doing a guided city tour – almost all of which will stop here – to gain a deeper understanding of its history and significance.
3. See Some Live Music on Bourbon Street
You can’t come to New Orleans and not see some live music! Trust us, the music scene here is loud and vibrant, with many great venues that put on regular shows.
The options are endless, but Bourbon Street (located in the French Quarter) is a particular hotbed of musical delights, with the Jazz Playhouse, Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub, Famous Door, Musical Legends Park, and Maison Bourbon all at your disposal.
So what are you waiting for?! Lace up your dancing shoes, grab yourself a cocktail, and party the night away at any or all of these magical music venues.
Make sure you book something right after making your flight and hotel arrangements. These shows are some of the most popular things to do in New Orleans and do sell out!
4. Explore the Swamplands
Thankfully, not all of New Orleans’s tours involve dark legends and terrifying tales! So if you prefer greenery to ghosts, you can hop on a high-speed airboat and zip around the city’s stunning swamplands instead.
Fun for the whole family, these swamp tours offer a special way to explore the unique marshy landscape surrounding the Crescent City. Alongside the lush flora here, expect to see a range of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, wild pigs, otters, and Great Blue Herons.
5. Garden District
Less than 3 miles away from the French Quarter, the Garden District is known for its well-preserved properties and peaceful atmosphere. When people stroll through these areas, they enjoy the beautiful architecture and green scenery.
6. Explore the New Orleans City Park
City Park is a vast place that’s home to everything from museums (e.g., NOMA) and sports facilities (including entire golf courses) to small amusement parks and botanical gardens. You can hike and bike here until your heart’s content, go fishing or boating on one of the lagoons, or bask in its beautiful scenery.
Ultimately, there’s no shortage of reasons to visit! But if you’re looking for fun and budget-friendly things to do in New Orleans, then a trip to City Park is a must.
7. Take a New Orleans Cooking Class
Another prominent New Orleans allure is its rich gastronomic heritage. A haven for foodies, it blends Creole, Cajun, and other cultural influences into its cuisine, resulting in a wide range of finger-licking fare. From fine dining to uber casual joints, there’s something for every foodie.
Among the culinary delights that you’ll find on menus here, don’t miss the infamous New Orleans gumbo and delectable beignets covered in powdered sugar. Po-boys, jambalaya, New Orleans King Cakes, and Crawfish etouffee are a few other dishes to enjoy. Oh, and the fresh seafood’s always to die for too!
8. Go on a Jazz Cruise of the Mississippi
No list of things to do in New Orleans is complete without going on a jazz cruise on the Mississippi River! We love this activity because it combines two of the city’s biggest attractions: its wonderful waterways and toe-tapping jazz music.
Another by-product of its distinct cultural heritage, jazz, and New Orleans go hand in hand. And, trust us, there’s no better way to experience it than when you’re drifting sedately down the Mississippi – sipping champagne, eating delicious food, and learning about the region’s history as you go.
9. Walk or Cycle Along the Mississippi
Good news: a jazz cruise isn’t the only way to experience the Mississippi! If you don’t fancy getting onto the water, then walking or cycling alongside it can be just as fun – especially when you’re on a budget.
The short but sweet French Quarter River Walk takes you 1.3 miles along the Mississippi, showcasing several famous New Orleans landmarks and providing lovely views of the area. As a bonus for time-strapped visitors looking to kill two birds with one stone, this trail also goes past Jackson Park.
10. Visit the National WWII Museum
Would you be interested in more historical things to do in New Orleans? Then, visit the National WWII Museum. Dedicated to preserving the history of World War 2 and honoring those who served in it, you’ll discover why the war was fought and how it was won – seeing an extensive collection of artifacts, photos, and documents related to it as you go.
Don’t worry if this topic doesn’t interest you, though. The Big Easy offers other top-notch museums to explore, including The Cabildo, The New Orleans Jazz Museum, and the 1850 House.
11. Visit the Audubon Zoo
Audubon Zoo is another fun family thing to do in New Orleans. Get ready for daily feeding shows, hands-on animal encounters, and other entertainment that’s become one of the city’s must-do activities.
Head to historic Uptown New Orleans to visit. Once there, you’ll find different exhibits that showcase everything from lions, tigers, orangutans, and elephants to endangered birds, such as the Whooping Crane. Monkey Hill, the Audubon Aviary, and the Louisiana Swamp are a few particular exhibits you won’t want to miss!
12. Go on a Plantation Tour
The plantations in the Big Easy are dark and sad but a real part of America’s history. Going on a tour of one reveals how the city’s wealthiest families once lived while shedding light on the dire conditions in which enslaved people were forced to work and live. It is not for everyone, but it is one of the most historical things to do in New Orleans.
In terms of practicalities, many of these grand antebellum properties are located about an hour from the French Quarter – making for a close-by-day trip. There are many to see, but of particular note are the Whitney, Oak Alley, and Laura Plantations.
13. Ride Steamboat Natchez
Do you like to tour the city? How about having a tour on the Steamboat Natchez? You can pick your tour options: a dinner jazz cruise, a harbor jazz cruise, a Sunday jazz brunch, and other special events.
The tour usually lasts around 2 hours, and you can enjoy many events on the steamboat besides the tour: concerts, a gift shop, meals, and a bar. Many visitors talked about their wonderful adventure on the steamboat, saying how fun and unique it was. Seeing the city on the Mississippi River is one of the best things to do in New Orleans.
14. Go Wild at Mardi Gras
French for “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras is a beloved New Orleans tradition that stretches way back to medieval Europe and the Christian season of Lent. Marking the end of Carnival season, these days, the event’s renowned for its wild and fantastic atmosphere – and the sense of community it creates.
Visit the Crescent City during Mardi Gras, and you’ll see streets filled with happy people wearing colorful costumes and masks, all dancing to the sound of brass bands and other notable musicians. There are parades, performers, elaborate floats to gawp at, parties and balls to attend, and a general sense of celebration that’s a joy to behold (not to mention being part of!).
15. Mardi Gras World
You can always go to the Mardi Gras World if you aren’t in town for the festival. It is known to be the most famous place to see the behind-the-scenes of the floats and costumes used during the celebration.
This is different from your typical museum but a warehouse workshop where you get to see the floats being processed and completed. Many visitors enjoy seeing how hard artists work to create these masterpieces for the party.
Before your tour, you get to try on some incredible costumes and eat a delicious king cake after the tour.
16. Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)
NOMA is a world-renowned art museum located in sprawling City Park. With over 40,000 permanent works on show, ranging from Ancient Egyptian artifacts to contemporary pieces, and a range of temporary exhibitions, it’s an amazing space for visitors who love artistic pursuits.
On the art note, keep your eyes peeled for the three remaining Banksy murals scattered around the city. The mysterious artist visited New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina and created around 15 pieces in his time there – most of which have since disappeared.
17. Pharmacy Museum
Louis Dufilho Jr was the first American licensed pharmacist who opened his place in 1823. You’ll find various medical instruments and paraphernalia in this New Orleans museum.
This location has been said to be haunted by the spirits of the dead patients since they were experimented on by the evil Dr. Joseph Dupas, so it’s become a must-stop for ghost hunters.
18. The Escape Game
How about going to The Escape Game if you are with a group? You’ll be in a room full of complex uses where you have to solve for under an hour to escape the room.
There are many rooms with themes like “The Heist,” “Mysterious Market,” and Prison Break.” It is a thrilling experience that you don’t want to miss. This entertaining activity is for both kids and adults and is one of the varied things to do in New Orleans.
19. Go on A Guided City Ghost Tour
With hundreds of years of tumultuous history behind it, New Orleans isn’t short of scary ghost stories. Many people claim it’s the most haunted city in the United States! Thanks to the countless ghost tours here, you can get up close and personal to the city’s scarier side.
From the LaLaurie Mansion and St. Louis Cemetery to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, your guide will lead you (and whoever you can convince to come along) around some of New Orleans’s most notorious haunted hotspots.
20. Cemetery Tour
New Orleans has many spooky cemetery places to visit. The number one oldest in New Orleans is the St. Louis Cemetery, a block from the French Quarter. Here, many famous historical figures like the voodoo queen Marie Laveau are laid to rest.
If you want a tour, you must sign up. It has been closed to the public since 2015 to prevent vandalism. You’ll be amazed to hear how bodies used to be buried below the ground and how flooding can cause the dead bodies to reemerge.
21. Ride a Historic Streetcar
Riding on streetcars is a relaxing and convenient way to see many places in New Orleans. The best part is that it is extremely affordable since it costs around $1.25 for a one-way ride. There are four lines: St. Charles, Canal Street, Riverfront, Yolanda/UPT. Each line takes you to different areas, so make sure you know which line to take.
22. Take a Gondola Ride
If you are looking for a fun activity to do with your spouse or mate, the Gondola ride is the way to go. It is one of the most romantic and best things to do in New Orleans.
You can enjoy the beautiful scenery and romantic music along the way. It is a 50-minute ride through the lagoon of City Park. If you’re planning to propose during this trip, it’s one of the best spots in town!
23. Explore Music Box Village
You should visit the Music Box Village if you are a music lover. It is a whimsical sculpture garden designed by many builders and artists. It is known to please many visitors with many interactive activities. If you are lucky, there might be concerts which you can enjoy.
24. You Can’t Forget Cafe Du Monde
You must go to this world’s famous coffee shop when you are in New Orleans. Cafe du Monde has been known for serving its best crispy beignets and delicious cafes au lait since 1862.
Most visitors have this in their must-visit list, especially if they are first-time visitors. You don’t want to miss it. It’s one of the most iconic things to do in New Orleans so squeeze it in!
Which One of These Things to Do in New Orleans Will You Try?
Travelers flock to New Orleans yearly to experience its unique and pulsating atmosphere. If you plan to do the same, then we hope the ideas in this article have revealed some of the Big Easy’s very best sights and attractions.
Whether you’re going for one day or one month with your family or with a group, keeping these things to do in New Orleans in mind should ensure you have an unforgettable trip that leaves you desperate to come back for more.