New Orleans is a vibrant city and a melting pot of different cultures with plenty of fun things to do. Strong European, Caribbean, and African influences have uniquely shaped the city. So whether you come for Mardi Gras, the Jazz Festival, or a sightseeing trip, visiting New Orleans will surely be memorable.
This post is all about the top things to do in New Orleans for you to have an enjoyable stay:
Take a Stroll in City Park
This 1,300-acre New Orleans City park has impressive oak trees between 750-900 years old. It’s somewhat of a New Orleans version of Central Park in New York.
The park is the city’s oasis and playground encompassing the New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans Botanical Garden, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park.
Stroll along the lagoons and lush greenery, have a picnic, or ride the classic wooden carousel with the kids.
My boys loved the LadyBug roller coaster and did lap after lap together. I have to admit, I quite enjoyed the ride too!
The options for fun things to do in the City park are countless, and you can easily spend an entire day here. Luckily you can take beignet breaks at Cafe du Monde and enjoy those sugary treats for a little pick me up.
Step Back in Time at the National World War II Museum
The National World War II Museum does a fantastic job of bringing history back to life and engaging visitors, especially if you register with soldier tags to follow a soldier’s path in the war.
Even if you’re not into history, you’ll find this museum to be a fun interactive experience. The exhibits combine everything from news reports and interactive personal stories to some of the era’s vehicles and weapons. The museum even has a 4D theater, a restored Boeing B-17, and an impressive collection of artifacts documenting specific war events.
You can also enjoy a three-course dinner and afterward enjoy the Expressions of America show. It’s an outdoor sound and light show that brings history to life like never before. The nighttime experience combines special effects with music, art, and personal reflections from the 1940s.
This spring and summer, the Museum is hosting monthly Family Night Out editions of Expressions of America featuring discounted ticket prices, outdoor games and activities before the show, access to the Museum’s Walt Disney Studios and World War II special exhibit, kid-friendly food options, and more.
It’s a must-see tourist attraction in New Orleans city.
I would suggest devoting an entire day to this museum; there is just so much to see and learn. Better yet, book your accommodations at the Higgins Hotel directly across the street.
Snap Funky Photos at JAMNOLA
JAMNOLA stands for Joy, Art & Music. The three things that New Orleans has always been famous for and what makes this city special. So if you’re looking for the authentic New Orleans experience, JAMNOLA should be on your list.
JAMNOLA, a cultural funhouse, takes all ages on a topsy-turvy stroll through the cultural gems that make the city so special. 17 exhibits celebrating the iconic art, music, food, and theatrics of New Orleans through the eyes of 30+ local artists and creative partners.
This colorful and interactive museum is a great spot to take funky photos and find even more appreciation for local cultural gems. The space showcases the artworks of local NOLA artists, musicians, and performers. It’s a fun indoor activity.
Uncover Spooky History on a New Orleans Ghost Tour
Explore the city’s dark history on a ghost tour. Some of the tales are so creepy that only adults should attend.
You’ll get to hear everything from true-crime stories and voodoo legends to paranormal activities in haunted houses.
Many ghost tours start at St. Louis Cemetery no 1, where voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried. Some people claim that her energy can still be felt.
See Alligators on a Guided Swamp Tour
If you’re spending more days in New Orleans, you should consider venturing out on an airboat swamp tour.
You’ll get a chance to explore the wetlands surrounding New Orleans and see alligators, turtles, snakes, and other wildlife in their natural habitat.
It can get pretty humid and hot in the summer, so remember to bring insect repellent and a hat.
Find Banksy’s Artworks Scattered Through the City
Banksy is a pseudonym for an anonymous British street artist whose artwork has gained worldwide recognition. Some of his pieces sell for millions of dollars at auctions. Known for his stencil-style graffiti, Banksy’s works often contain social and political undertone and are characterized by dark humor and satire.
His art can be found everywhere, from major cities like London and New York to remote villages in the West Bank. He also left his mark in New Orleans.
His original graffiti are scattered throughout the city. For example, Umbrella Girl is located on St. Claude Avenue at Kerlerec Street. The piece was created to raise awareness of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
Installed in the lobby of the International House is one of Banksy’s largest and most important murals, “The Looters.” A dedicated room next to the piece itself explores and interprets the creation, context, and remarkable rescue of the work. The 10×10 foot, 1600-pound structure has been salvaged and restored to its original state.
Sean Cummings, a native New Orleanian who created the hotel, devoted years to rescuing the mural from the side of a Bywater building that was just days from being demolished. The elusive artist painted “The Looters” during his time in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
So next time you’re in New Orleans, go hunting for Banksy’s paintings.
Enjoy Live Jazz Music on Frenchmen Street
Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere as you eat, drink and listen to jazz on Frenchmen Street. The street is lined with music clubs, restaurants, shops, and bars.
Spotted Cat is a cozy jazz bar where jazz bands perform daily from 2 pm until 2 am. At night Frenchmen Street is filled with eccentric street artists, but it’s also worth visiting during the daytime.
Wander around the Faubourg Marigny by walking up Decatur St and onto Frenchmen St. It’s a historic neighborhood with restored Creole cottages and charming guest houses.
There are also many interesting shops, such as Louisiana Music Factory with vintage records, CDs, and DVDs, or Island of Salvation Botanica, selling voodoo supplies.
Hop on a Carriage Ride in the French Quarter
Jackson Square in the French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans.
Mule-drawn carriage tours, artists selling their crafts, quirky street performers, and musicians. You can find all this and more in Jackson Square, with the historic St. Louis Cathedral as a backdrop.
A private carriage ride is a pleasant way to explore this historic district while you learn more about the city’s history from knowledgeable guides.
But you can also simply walk around and browse various secondhand and boutique shops and visit the Cabildo Museum or New Orleans Jazz Museum. If you would like to do an organized tour, there are some fabulous walking tours available.
Royal and Chartres Streets in the French Quarter have many local craft shops. Check out jewelry makers like long-standing Mignon Faget or the hip Porter Lyons.
Shop Local Souvenirs on Magazine Street
Spend an afternoon browsing the city’s best collection of vintage, art, clothing, and furniture stores on Magazine Street in the famous Garden District.
It’s a great place to shop for cool local souvenirs, costumes for festivals, or books. You’ll also find art galleries and many restaurants here, serving everything from po’boys to French crepes and sushi rolls.
Magazine Street stretches from the CBD to the Uptown area.
Try Square Donuts at Café du Monde
One of the best things to do in New Orleans is savor a plate of beignets, french-style square donuts.
They taste the best when hot, covered in powdered sugar, and paired with coffee. The authentic place to try them is at Café du Monde.
Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. You shouldn’t miss it, especially if you have a sweet tooth.
I prefer the beignets with chocolate sauce at Rosie’s on the Roof, located at the Higgins Hotel across the street from the National WWII Museum. My kids agree; they are the best in the city!
Go Bar Hopping on Bourbon Street
You can’t go to New Orleans without experiencing the buzzing nightlife of Bourbon Street, packed with bars that suit every style.
Start your bar hopping at the Old Absinthe House with an intoxicating historic atmosphere, serving unique absinthe cocktails, or at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the city’s oldest bar.
After that, hit the elegant Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. And you can end the night in Fritzel’s, the city’s oldest jazz club.
Discover New Orleans’ Oldest Cemeteries
Discover the spooky side of New Orleans and learn about the city’s fascinating above-ground burial practices.
Visiting St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is only possible with a licensed guide, so I recommend taking a cemetery tour.
The cemeteries are full of intricate sculptures and decorated tombs of various shapes and sizes. They were once used to showcase a family’s status and wealth.
The above-ground tombs were built in the 19th century. The guides will explain all the details as to why the graves were built above ground.
If you prefer to explore independently, head to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which has been in continual use since 1833. It’s one of the most beautiful graveyards in New Orleans.
Marvel at the Architecture in the Garden District
Just a 20-minute streetcar ride from the French Quarter, you can enjoy a pleasant walk through the Garden District with some of the most stunning historic mansions in the city.
Once you enter the Garden District, the entire St. Charles Ave is shaded by a tunnel of large oak trees.
Stroll through streets and admire the architecture of historic mansions, such as the Gothic Revival Briggs-Staub House and Greek-columned Robinson House.
Renowned architects built the houses during New Orleans’s most prosperous era. The Garden District is also home to Magazine Street and Lafayette Cemetery.
To top it off, you’ll find awesome breweries in the converted warehouses of Tchoupitoulas Street.
Visit Art Galleries in the Warehouse District
Warehouse District is the center of New Orleans’ contemporary art scene. The street is full of trendy art galleries, specialty shops, and modern apartment buildings.
You’ll find most of the galleries on Julia Street. The district is home to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Contemporary Arts Center, Gallery 600 Julia, and Arthur Roger.
While you’re at it, you can also swing by the National WWII Museum, located in the same area.
Take a Ride in the St. Charles Streetcar
Taking a ride in the green streetcar is one of the most iconic things to do in New Orleans. The streetcar passes by some picturesque luxurious villas and university campuses. Relax in one of the antique wooden seats and take in the scenery.
Streetcar service on St. Charles Avenue runs 24 hours a day and connects with the Central Business District, also known as CBD. You can take this line and get dropped off close to Audobon Park and Zoo.
Watch the Sunset by the River in Audubon Park
With its 100-year-old oaks, Lush Audubon Park is great for a stroll, jogging, or cycling. Audubon Park is also home to Audubon Zoo, with exotic animals, including rare ones such as white tigers and white alligators.
Behind the zoo is the Fly, Audubon Park’s waterfront section, where you can sit on the grass and chill out.
Fly is the best spot in New Orleans to watch the sunset and river boats. Locals love to hang out here, especially on the weekends.
Attend Carnival Parades During Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, also known as ‘Fat Tuesday,’ is the most famous carnival in the US. It’s celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday every year.
New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade is an extravagant event with music, costumes, and colorful floats. The city turns into a big party with countless parades and other festivities.
The best way to participate in the carnival is to join one of the numerous parades on weekends starting from January and running until Mardi Gras day. The popular treat authentic to Mardi Gras is a King Cake with many variations.
Around Mardi Gras, the city gets jam-packed with tourists, so plan ahead, as finding accommodation can be a challenge.
If you’re in New Orleans outside the Mardi Gras season, visiting Mardi Gras World is the second-best thing. The building features giant floats and props used in Mardi Gras parades, as well as interactive exhibits that explain the history of this holiday.
Explore Occult Shops
New Orleans has a strong voodoo culture that was brought in by Haitian settlers and later popularised by the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.
Voodoo shops in the French Quarter function not only as shops but also museums and temples. You can purchase talismans, dolls, candles, herbal tinctures, and fragrances.
Check out the Voodoo Bone Lady shop on Royal Street, the Island of Salvation Botanica in Faubourg Marigny, and others.
Besides voodoo, you’ll also find many stores related to witchcraft, tarot cards, fortune-telling, and vampires.
Get a Taste of NOLA Culture at French Market
The French Market is a pleasant spot to shop for local souvenirs, fresh produce, and crafts. Plus, you can grab some mouth-watering street food.
The market is located in the Lower French Quarter and has a long history. It started as a trading post for Native Americans and later for French and Spanish colonials.
Popular spots here are Café du Mond, Flea Market, and Farmer’s Market pavilion.
The local’s favorite staple is creole tomato. They love these tomatoes so much here that they celebrate Creole Tomato Festival every year in the second week of June.
Eat a Local’s Favorite Po’Boy Sandwich
No visit to New Orleans would be complete without sampling a legendary Po’Boy sandwich.
A po’boy is a classic Louisiana-style sandwich that consists of a French baguette filled with various types of meat, such as fried shrimp, oyster, or roast beef. It’s typically served with lettuce, pickles, and mayonnaise.
The po’boy sandwich originated in the 1920s when restaurant owners in New Orleans started offering free sandwiches to striking streetcar workers to show their support.
Since then, the po’boy has become an iconic dish in New Orleans and other Southern states. It usually comes with french fries. Local’s favorite places to get Po’boy are Parkway Bakery and Domilise’s.
I loved the Po’boy Sandwiches at Napolean House in the French Quarter. It is a family-friendly restaurant, originally intended as a residence for Napolean Bonaparte. The food is fantastic, and the atmosphere is authentic New Orleans.
You can discover more local delicacies on a food walking tour of the French Quarter.
Sip a Sazerac Cocktail at Rotating Monteleone Carousel Bar
The Sazerac cocktail is a classic New Orleans-style drink that dates back to the mid-1800s. It is made with rye whiskey, bitters, simple syrup, absinthe, and a twist of lemon. The ingredients are stirred together and served with ice in an old-fashioned glass.
The Monteleone Carousel Bar is one of the hot spots to try a Sazerac. This iconic hotel bar spins and looks like a Carousel. You can sample here some of the best cocktails in town.
If you feel like it, you can even learn how to prepare your own Sazerac cocktail in Sazerac House, a museum dedicated to the history of cocktail culture in New Orleans.
Kayak at Bayou St. John
If you prefer to do something more relaxing, Bayou St. John might be an ideal escape for you. This neighborhood is more laid-back and a great spot for kayaking or picnicking along the river banks.
You can rent kayaks and paddle boards from Bayou Paddlesports. Alternatively, take a guided kayak tour with Kayak-iti-Yat.
The guides will take you on an excellent kayaking adventure through Bajou St. John.
Take a Jazz Cruise in the Historic Steamboat Natchez
The Mississippi River and jazz are two symbols of New Orleans, so why not pair them together?
Steamboat Natchez offers about a two-hour jazz cruise and includes a stop at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
Enjoy the views along the Mississippi River and a meal while listening to some of the best local musicians. You can savor a Creole buffet-style dinner as you cruise around New Orleans.
Venture Out to Oak Alley Plantation
Located about an hour’s drive from New Orleans, Oak Alley Plantation is a fantastic day trip.
The plantation house is surrounded by a line of 28 majestic 200 years old oak trees covered with Spanish moss.
But the highlight is exploring the grounds with oak trees and a garden. There are many photo opportunities along the way.
This plantation feels like stepping back in time. You can view slave quarters and learn about the history of the place from knowledgeable guides.
There is also an on-site restaurant.
To make your trip even more fun, you can combine the oak alley plantation tour with the swamp tour.
Check Out Magic Potions at New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
If you’re looking for unique things to do in New Orleans, look no further than the Pharmacy Museum.
Visiting the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is like stepping back into the 19th-century world of medicine.
The window display alone, with its enormous leech jar and other vintage surgical equipment and tools, is fascinating.
This building was the pharmacy shop and residence of Louis J. Dufilho Jr., America’s first licensed pharmacist, in the 1820s.
Explore plenty of historical artifacts packed inside this museum. Keep an eye on the voodoo section with all the magic potions.
There is also a pretty well-maintained botanical and herbal garden with a postcard-worthy fountain.
Learn About City History at the New Orleans Collection Museum
If you are after free things to do in New Orleans, the Historic New Orleans Collection is a place to go.
This museum hosts both permanent and temporary exhibits in a beautifully restored 19th-century townhouse.
It features a private archive and displays thousands of historic photos, documents, portraits, and books.
Rotating exhibits focus on various aspects of local history. The guided tours are offered several times daily, and a museum shop sells books, prints, and gifts.
It’s a little hidden gem in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Sip Your Way Through a Cocktail Walking Tour
Sazerac is not the only popular cocktail in New Orleans.
The best way to immerse yourself in New Orleans’ liquid culture is on a cocktail walking tour. The expert guides will take you to the cocktail hot spots in the French Quarter.
The tour includes four cocktails and a visit to four bars – luxurious Bourbon “O” Jazz Bar at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, Patrick’s Bar Vin, SoBou, and Peychaud’s Bar in the Maison de Ville Hotel.
You’ll also learn why absinthe drinking was prohibited for decades in the US and Europe and other fascinating stories of cocktail history in New Orleans.
Spend a Magical Evening at a Candlelight Concert
New Orleans provides many unique musical experiences. And attending a candlelight concert in some of the most iconic venues in New Orleans is one of them.
You can listen to live instrumental music playing everything from classical compositions to Adele. One of the most popular candlelight concerts is the live music performance of soundtracks from epic Hollywood movies.
The atmosphere is magical. Plus, the tickets are reasonably priced.
Enjoy a Romantic NOLA Gondola Ride
Speaking of magical things to do in NOLA. If you like Italy, you’ll love the gondola ride. A little piece of Venice in New Orleans.
The gondola takes you through the waters of stunning City Park. It’s a super romantic and relaxing activity.
The Nola Gondola was founded by Robert Dula, a local who shares his passion for gondolas.
The gondola ride lasts about 90 minutes and includes Italian music and an ice bucket if you wish to sip wine or champagne while cruising along.
Create Your Signature Perfume at Tijon
Another unique and fun activity in New Orleans is mixing up your own perfume.
Perfume store Tijon in French Quarter runs terrific workshops. You’ll receive detailed one-on-one instructions and over 300 scented oils to choose from for your signature perfume.
You’ll get to create three perfumes and leave with the one you like the most. On top of that, you’ll get a gift bag of Tijon products worth $45.
Have a Blast at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a legendary Jazz Fest that takes place every year in the last week of April and the first week of May.
The streets and parks come alive with amazing jazz, gospel, blues, funk – you name it! Fantastic food tents also serve local delicacies like po’boy sandwiches, gumbo, and crawfish.
It’s an unforgettable experience and one of the must-do things to do in New Orleans.
You’re sure to find a solid mix of local talent as well as international jazz stars. It’s a great event to get a taste of New Orleans’ culture and heritage.
Admire Graffiti in Studio BE
Studio BE, in an industrial part of the Bywater, is easy to spot thanks to its impressive front exterior with giant artwork of a young African American girl raising her arms up towards the sky.
Artist Brandan “BMike” Odums’s graffiti murals and installations fill this 35,000-square-foot warehouse.
The art here portrays powerful and moving themes of social justice, African American history, racial violence, and other contemporary issues in New Orleans and beyond.
You can also purchase original works and pieces from an on-site shop.
Grab Dinner and a Glass of Wine in Vibrant Bacchanal
Tucked away at the edge of Crescent Park lies Bacchanal, a quaint local hideaway that serves delicious meals. Its lush back patio is ideal for sipping on wine and indulging in a cheese platter, with live music making it all the more special.
If you’re looking for fun evening activities in New Orleans, this could be your go-to spot!
Cool Down with the Summer Treat SnowBall
Try New Orleans’ popular summer treat, called a snowball, also known as sno-ball.
Snowball is made from shaved ice and syrup of your choice. You can also add some toppings if you like. Flavors range from strawberry and blue raspberry to praline pecan.
You can find snowballs in Hansen’s, Williams Plum Street, Pandora’s, or Sal’s.
Go to a Concert or Watch an Outdoor Movie at Broadside
Broadside is an outdoor live music and performance venue. It hosts concerts from both local and national artists, as well as outdoor movie screenings during summer.
The atmosphere here is electric, and all ages are welcome.
Check their website for any upcoming events.
Free Things To Do in New Orleans
- Wander along Woldenberg Riverfront Park
- Window shop on Magazine or Royal Street
- Listen to street artists in French Quarter
- Watch the sunset from Fly Riverfront
- Explore art galleries in Warehouse District
- Take a scenic bike ride down Lafitte Greenway
- Learn about iconic Sazerac Cocktail at Sazerac House
- Take a stroll or participate in a free Zumba class in the City Park
- Visit the Historic New Orleans Collection
- Admire the architecture in Garden District
- Check out French Market
Where To Stay in New Orleans
When visiting New Orleans, you have plenty of accommodation options.
The French Quarter is where most of the action takes place, making it an ideal base for exploring New Orleans.
The Bourbon Orleans Hotel is ideally located in the French Quarter and has an outdoor pool in the courtyard.
If you’re looking for luxury and convenience, NOPSI Hotel is a great choice in the French Quarter.
If you want to stay outside of the French Quarter, Higgins Hotel is located directly across the street from the National WWII Museum and is perfect for families who want a quieter location.
The Pontchartrain Hotel is located in the Garden District, so you can spend your days admiring the beautiful homes and architecture surrounding it.
For a cozy bed and breakfast spot next door to the French Quarter, try Rose Manor Bed & Breakfast.
If you prefer more privacy, Stylish Warehouse Apartments in the trendy Warehouse District is a way to go.
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.