We honestly don’t have enough space in this article to let you know all the amazing things to do in New Orleans. Before we get to the good stuff, here’s a bit of background:
New Orleans is a port city on the Gulf Coast, in the southeastern portion of the United States. New Orleans – commonly known as NOLA by locals to indicate the city and state abbreviations – is the most populous city in Louisiana. The city was damaged extensively in 2005 when it was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Almost 80% was flooded, and the devastation was extensive. In particular, the neighborhoods sitting below the water level, such as the Lower 9th ward, were left almost entirely underwater. New Orleans and its people have made a dramatic recovery, despite a lack of support before and after Katrina made landfall. Today, the city is getting back to the vibrant and unique place it once was, and it’s a truly wonderful place to spend time.
So, let’s head down south and take you on a quick journey to explore all the great things to do in New Orleans on vacation.
Bourbon Street is a thirteen block strip in the historic French Quarter and is a must-see thing to do in New Orleans. Everyone who visits the city takes time to spend there and it’s always bustling with people, live music, and street performers. The area is crammed with bars, stores, and restaurants. There are also quite a few strip clubs, which you can totally avoid if you don’t like that sort of thing. Bourbon is always lively, and a visit to a few of its bars will give you a taste of the city and its friendly natives. The food is excellent, and there’s usually plenty of ice-cold beer and freshly cooked crawfish on the go. One of the best things about Bourbon Street (apart from the cold beer) is the stunning buildings, colorful pastel shades, and wrought-iron balconies on display. There are few things better than enjoying a cold drink on the balcony overlooking the street and watching it all happen below.
We covered the wonders of Bourbon Street above, and the street is located within the French Quarter. However, there’s far more to the neighborhood than just Rue Bourbon. The French Quarter is the oldest area of New Orleans and is a designated National Historic Landmark. The entire neighborhood comprises 85 city blocks, and most of the buildings were constructed in the late 18th and early 19th Century. It’s a beautiful place to take a stroll and exploring the Quarter is one of the best things to do in New Orleans for visitors. There are many famous bars and restaurants in the French Quarter where visitors can get a taste of the city’s history. Highlights include The Gumbo Shop for traditional food, and Central Grocery to test out the original (and best) Italian muffuletta sandwich. Also, did you know that the French Quarter is one of the very few places in the US that you can drink on the street without being arrested? Score!
Jackson Square lies within the French Quarter and is a gorgeous place to take some time out from shopping or walking. The Square is named for Andrew Jackson, and a large statue of him (and his horse) stands in the center. Jackson was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and his statue still stands. This is despite growing calls for it to be removed as Jackson was a known slave trader and committed horrific acts against Native Americans. The Square is the site of the Louisiana Purchase, where the US officially bought the state from France in 1803. It has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere with plenty of space to chill out. There’s often a live jazz band playing, and it’s a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by.
St. Louis Cathedral
The main focal point of Jackson Square is the Disney-esque St Louis Cathedral. It’s an absolutely beautiful basilica and the oldest cathedral in North America, dating back to 1720. The cathedral has three steeples and is the most iconic building it the entire city. It’s a fully operational building, so do be aware that services and other events may be in progress during your visit. There are numerous people buried within the cathedral, as well as beneath it, but the most intriguing is one interred in the graveyard behind. In the cemetery of St Louis Cathedral lie the remains of Marie Laveau. Marie was a local resident and dedicated practitioner of Voodoo, which was brought to the city by African slaves in the 1700s. It’s been said that even after Marie was dead and buried, she was still spotted in the streets of the French Quarter at night.
Lower 9th Ward Living Museum
This museum is one of the best free things to do in New Orleans in the Lower 9th Ward. The museum tells the story of the community since its days as a colony for escaped slaves back in the 1700s. The building is located on Deslonde Street and has a range of fantastic exhibits and oral histories from past and present residents. This allows the people who have made the community what it is, to explain the story of the Lower 9th in their own words.
Old Ursuline Convent Museum
The Old Ursuline Convent has had a long and varied history. It once housed a convent of Nuns, served as an orphanage, and was a school for girls. It’s also the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, dating back to 1745. The museum contains the first census records for the parish, original plans for St Louis Church, and the oldest surviving sacramental records of marriages and baptisms. It’s a historic museum in a beautiful building and visiting the convent, and its manicured gardens is a great thing to do in New Orleans during your vacation.
Tickets required, available from the entrance, $6-$8
New Orleans Museum of Art
NOMA is the city’s oldest art museum and is located in the boundaries of City Park. The permanent collection contains more than 40,000 works of art, including paintings, photography, sculpture, and textiles. There’s a wide range of Asian, French and American art on display, as well as a host of important exhibits from Native American artists. Highlights include works by Picasso, Sargent, and Kandinsky. Andy Warhol’s portrait of Mick Jagger is also on display. The museum grounds are home to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. This is an 11-acre space with some incredible (and enormous!) works of art. Visiting the museum and the grounds is one of the top things to do in New Orleans.
Tickets required for the museum, available at the entrance, $8-$15. Entry to the sculpture garden is free.
Off-beat things to do in New Orleans
So, you like things a little weird, huh? Us too! If you want some odd things to do in New Orleans, how about visiting the Museum of Death? If you like looking at shrunken heads (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?), letters from Milwaukee Cannibal and noted serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the positively worrying paintings produced by a homicidal maniac, John Wayne Gacy, then you’ll have a ball. The museum is NOT for the faint-hearted as some of the exhibits are very graphic. The museum’s aim is to spark up a conversation about death and dying to take away the fear factor, but we were probably more worried about the whole thing after we left. If nothing else, it made us very careful when we crossed the road afterwards. Also, we didn’t speak to strangers for months. Even when they stopped to ask us for directions and seemed really friendly.
FAQs About New Orleans
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and things to do in New Orleans. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all this beautiful Southern city has to offer.
What can you do for free in New Orleans?
Take a walk along Bourbon Street and take in the sights and sounds! There’s always live music or street performers somewhere along the route. It’s free to soak up the atmosphere and is the most vibrant area of the city. It’s definitely one of the best free things to do in New Orleans. Also free in New Orleans is a trip to the wonderful Mercedes-Benz Super-dome. Although you’d need a ticket to attend a New Orleans Saints game, there’s no charge to check out the massive golden stadium and the statues in its grounds. The NFL ground and concert venue is completely unique and is a must-see for visitors to the city.
What can couples do in New Orleans?
Head over to historic Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets to kick start your day together. The Cafe is the place to be seen in the French Quarter, and you can chill out over sweet pastries and caffeine. The Cafe is open-air, so you can also enjoy the weather while you dine. It’s a really fun thing to do in New Orleans for couples.
Is it safe to walk in New Orleans?
Yep, but as with any major city, there are areas that you would avoid late at night or if you’re on your own. Always keep your wits about you, keep your valuables hidden at all times, and take a cab or Uber if you’re out on the town or in an area you are unfamiliar with.
Is it safe to travel alone in New Orleans?
Yes, but you should certainly take the utmost care when traveling alone. If you take a cab, make sure you go straight from point to point, and always do some research about the neighborhoods or places you plan to visit. New Orleans is a major city and, like all big cities, there are crime hotspots and increased risks involved in lone travel. Keep your wits about you and ensure someone back home knows your itinerary and how to get in touch with you at your accommodations.
New Orleans is world-famous for its atmosphere, its live music, and its ability to party. It’s also famous for the annual Mardi Gras parades held in the city. There’s always something going on in New Orleans, and it’s usually loud and lots of fun. From the unique language spoken by locals to the wonderful Creole cuisine, New Orleans has something to appeal to every traveler. Whether you enjoy relaxing with a drink on a sunny balcony on Bourbon Street or sailing down the majestic Mississippi River on an old fashioned steam riverboat, the city won’t disappoint. New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the world and is constantly full of surprises. The city is served by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and a great mix of hotels, B&Bs and apartment rentals is available to suit any budget. We hope we’ve convinced you to head down to the deep south and check out all the amazing things to do in New Orleans!