Fellow wanderers and travelers, if you are searching for a fun and exciting vacation mixed with live jazz music, Creole cuisine, and pop culture at its best, then New Orleans is the ideal place for you.
Providing numerous options, we are sure that a visit to the city will make your holiday unforgettable!
New Orleans, the third most populous city of the United States, is located along the Mississippi River in the southeastern region of Louisiana. Popularly known as the “Hollywood South” for its significant role in the entertainment industry, New Orleans has hosted shootings for several famous TV series and movies like The Originals.
This Louisiana city promises a mix of culture and tradition along with a musical environment and exuberant nightlife. Stick to the article till the end as we dive in and explore some of the best things to do while visiting New Orleans for the first time.
From experiencing vibrant nightlife or witnessing the iconic Mardi Gras festival to enjoying a relaxing time in City Park and visiting zoos, aquariums, or art galleries; New Orleans has something to offer to each of its visitors.
Therefore, without any further ado, let us hop into our list of exciting things.
1. Stroll through the French Quarter
Your visit to New Orleans is incomplete without visiting the heart of the French city, the French Quarter (called the Vieux Carré in French).
This neighborhood is a sight for sour eyes because of the colorful houses with balconies lined with hanging plants. Out of all, visiting the French Quarter is something you would not want to miss.
Get to know more about the city’s oldest neighborhood by being a part of the walking tour of the French Quarter.
One of the main attractions of the French Quarter is Jackson Square. A popular venue for public events and photo sessions, Jackson Square has retained its original Parisian landscape design and is often filled with visitors who just stroll around the square, watch street performances, or just sit in the shade for a relaxing evening.
Another famous tourist spot of the French Quarter is the French Market. It is located inland from the Mississippi River and just downriver of Jackson Square. The French Market spans six blocks of the French Quarter of New Orleans city and includes a market and a series of commercial buildings.
The oldest of its kind, this open-air market caters to the needs of the local people as well as the tourists.
The French Market is also known for hosting annual festivities like the French Quarter Festival and the French Market Creole Tomato Festival. Do visit this place to shop for the best souvenirs to take back home.
2. Experience the nightlife at Bourbon Street
Rowdy. Noisy. Nocturnal. These are the few words to describe the neon-lit street of New Orleans.
Bourbon Street, named after the House of Bourbon, is notoriously called the infamous party hub of New Orleans and is located in downtown New Orleans. Here, you will find cocktail bars, and a live jazz music scene at every corner of the street. Drinking alcohol on the streets is such a common norm that many bars are just tiny shops selling all types of drinks served in go-cups.
A true embodiment of a party town, Bourbon Street, is the most heavily visited section of the French Quarter. It is also one of the best places to engage your taste buds with traditional French-Creole food. Bourbon Street is also a popular spot for the Mardi Gras parade.
Throbbing with music and people, the night never ends in this part of the Louisiana city. While it’s quiet during the day, Bourbon Street will not disappoint you with its vibrant nightlife.
3. Go on a thrilling Ghost and Cemetery tour
Do you consider yourselves brave enough that even the mention of vampires or anything related to ghosts does not scare you? Well if that’s the case then it is to prove your courage by taking a ghostly tour.
Exploring New Orleans at night could be a little intimidating so hire a local guide or sign up for a ghost and cemetery tour!
The St. Louis Cemetery is the oldest and most popular cemetery located in the city. These cemeteries are also known as the “city of the dead”. It is also the final resting place of many interesting and notable people like the voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
Also, do stop by famous attractions like the LaLaurie Mansion and the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum to add to the ‘ghostly’ experience.
New Orleans city is popular for its celebratory culture and art and music scene but there is also the dark side of the city that some may even call infamous. So don’t miss out on this eerie side of the town and be prepared to be ‘haunted’.
4. Hop on a Streetcar
Exploring Crescent City by its legendary and historic streetcars is something one can boast about as one of the popular things to do.
As the cars glide underneath giant oak trees and pass the antebellum museums, they offer relaxing views and present to you the charms and beauty of New Orleans city. A rider does not just board a streetcar, they are experiencing a piece of movable New Orleans history.
There are three lines operating right now: the St Charles Line, the Canal Street Line, and the Rampart Line. These historic streetcars are the first passenger railroads introduced in the US and one of the oldest continuously operating street railways in the entire world.
As a tourist visiting New Orleans for the first time, the best way to board these cars is by downloading the RTA app. It contains all the information about the timing and stops of these historic vehicles, and you can easily buy the tickets online and not even worry about having the exact changes.
5. Explore St. Louis Cathedral
Located in the French Quarter, next to Jackson Square, St Louis Cathedral is a prominent landmark and the oldest cathedral of New Orleans, Louisiana. Exploring this massive structure with its rich history is one of the best things to do in New Orleans. This Roman Catholic Cathedral is among the tallest attractions of the city.
St Louis Cathedral was built in 1927 in honor of King Louis IX of France. It was rebuilt in the 1850s after getting destroyed during the great fire of 1794.
The structure and architecture of the St Louis Cathedral are mesmerizing. At night, the front of the Cathedral is lit up, illuminating the strong presence of one of the cultural treasures of New Orleans.
The inside architecture is just as beautiful and enchanting. The stained glass windows and the paintings inside the church highlighting the ancient history add to the charisma of St. Louis Cathedral.
An interesting piece of information about this oldest cathedral in North America is that it’s said to be haunted by Pere Antoine, a priest whose body is buried inside the church. Parishioners and visitors have claimed to see his apparition in the early morning, walking in the alley named after him.
Make sure to plan a visit to this local and international architectural icon when exploring New Orleans.
6. Take a Carriage Ride
One of the things while exploring is to take an old-fashioned carriage ride there.
Throughout your stroll, the drivers who act as tour guides, educate you about the years of rich history and culture of the city. The tours showcase the most iconic spots of the town along with bonus in-depth tales and stories.
The tour guides, therefore, are excellent resources that give amazing tips and insights that you need to make your trip more exciting.
To make your visit a memorable one, don’t forget to hop on to these mule-drawn carriages, kick back, and get ready to intimately experience the magic of the city, of New Orleans.
7. Listen to live music
You can’t retell your wonderful trip to the city and recommend some without highlighting the live jazz music concert you attended.
Bar hopping is a must-do while meandering the streets of the Louisiana city. Frenchmen Street offers the best places for live music concerts and cheap food.
For the best experience, visit around the late evening, when the bar scene and live music start picking up and the crowds begin to roll in.
Some of the most popular clubs to find extraordinary jazz music and amazing beverage selections are The Spotted Cat, Three Muses, and Preservation Hall.
A fascinating fact about Preservation Hall, a jazz venue in the French Quarter, is that the building which is now associated with a house band, a record label, and a not-for-profit organization, was bought as an art gallery and live jazz music and was meant as an attraction for visitors and the local people. But subsequently, the music started drawing more attention to Preservation Hall than the art.
Whether it is Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, or Frenchmen Street, you will spot talented musicians singing live jazz music every day in New Orleans.
8. Browse the art displayed
New Orleans is a must-visit for all art lovers, artists, and painters. Street art has become a prominent part of the local landscape of the city and it will be a regret if you don’t browse through them.
New Orleans Museum of Art has an impressive collection of 40,000 artworks. As an art-lover or simply as somebody who appreciates the beauty of art, this museum will be one that will fill you with inspiration.
The museum offers free admission on Wednesday for the residents of Louisiana. It also offers guided tours, teacher workshops, visits to local school and community centers as well as hosts music programs, exhibits, film screenings, and many more.
The Warehouse District in New Orleans city is where most of the art galleries are situated. Also known as the Art District, all the fashionable art galleries here put exhibits where you can visually witness some of the most historic events such as the Black History Civil Rights Movement and Hurricane Katrina. Located in downtown New Orleans, the Warehouse District is also home to popular bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and eclectic boutiques.
This urban neighborhood is a perfect blend of the past and present of New Orleans and must definitely be one of your things on the New Orleans list.
9. Visit a Swamp
Travelers and wildlife lovers, get your camera ready as you would not want to miss one moment of the swamp tour of New Orleans. One is to explore Louisiana’s intricate network of swamps which boasts of unique flora and fauna.
A mix of saltwater and freshwater, these swamps are home to a lot of animals like crawfish, shrimp, white boar, raccoons, cranes, deer, alligators, and much more.
Many companies offer pick-up to and from the hotel to ease transportation and make the swamp tour more accessible.
10. Check out the National WWII Museum
The National WWII Museum is a military museum located in the Central Business district of New Orleans city in the state of Louisiana. Formerly called the National D-day Museum, it is the brainchild of Stephen Ambrose.
The museum mainly concentrates on the United States contribution to Allied countries and the victory in World War II. It contains several exhibits, documentaries, and educational films describing the war.
National WWII Museum is a treasure for history buffs looking to relive the past and visually see the happenings of World War II.
It is best to keep at least 3 hours aside for exploring and scouting the entire museum. However, if you can’t complete your visit in one day, you can return the next day with your ticket and, by paying a small additional fee, continue where you left off.
Therefore, do not forget to put this on your mandatory list as you finalize your plans to visit this city.
11. Ride in Steamboat Natchez
One while visiting the city for the first time is riding in the Steamboat Natchez.
The only steamboat in New Orleans, Steamboat Natchez is a traditional sternwheel steamboat, providing a different experience while viewing the Louisiana city and taking a tour of the Mississippi River.
The two-hour journey can include various options like a dinner jazz cruise, a harbor jazz cruise, a Sunday jazz brunch cruise, or many more.
Also, while onboard, do visit the engine room to see the 100-year-old steam engine. The tour also includes the captain using a hand-held microphone to convey information and live music playing in the background.
The steamboat Natchez departs from the historic French Quarter and sails along the Mississippi River. The experience also includes a live concert, gift shops, and indoor as well as outdoor seating facilities.
12. Walk in the City Park
You can spend a relaxing day away from the crowds of the French Quarter and Jackson Square by walking in the City Park.
City Park is one of the oldest parks in the country and a great tourist attraction of the Big Easy. It offers various distractions and outdoor activities for kids like Carousel Gardens amusement park, Sculpture Garden which offers free entry, and the Children’s Museum.
Children’s Museum, located in the City Park, New Orleans is also one of the popular attractions for kids as it offers various indoor and outdoor activities. The museum offers free admission on the second Sunday of every month for 5 hours between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The Children’s Museum contains interactive activities and exhibits a climbing wall, an art studio, and a mock café.
Visitors in New Orleans can spend a quiet evening by reading about the art hanging in the New Orleans Museum of Art, strolling through the City Park, or enjoying the various outdoor activities within the park.
13. Swing by the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
While exploring New Orleans for the first time, another item to check off your bucket life is to visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.
New Orleans is commonly known for its association with the voodoo queen and with magic. Because of this, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is a popular stop for many ghost tours of the Louisiana city.
Located in the historic French Quarter, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum contains documents and illustrations showcasing the history of medicine during the 19th century. The guided tours of the museum are highly recommended as they are very informative and interesting. The museum also exhibits a mid-19th-century apothecary shop.
Therefore, do remember to put this item while planning your list.
14. Shop at The Royal Street
Though the French Market located in the French Quarter is very popular for shopping in New Orleans, Royal Street has been nicknamed as the ‘shopper’s paradise’ by many visitors and the local people.
It is one of the original streets of the city and is known for its hotels, antique shops, and art galleries. You can listen to live jazz music performed by talented street musicians and shop to your heart’s content.
Royal Street has something for everyone, and though it is just a few blocks away from Bourbon Street, there is a stark contrast between the two. Shopping at Royal Street that you definitely need to check off your bucket list.
Be sure to stop by this neighborhood buzzing with life and discover another reason to fall in love with New Orleans.
15. Take a tour of the Garden District
If you are looking for a peaceful atmosphere in New Orleans, Louisiana, amid all the excitement of the French Quarter, then the Garden District is the perfect place.
Garden District, with its southern charm and beauty, has some of the most beautiful homes in New Orleans. It borders St Charles Avenue to the north, Magazine Street to the south, Toledano Street to the west, and 1st Street to the east.
Gardens, and green parks separate the streets, and there is a cable car line running along St. Charles Avenue. Garden District is known for its uneven streets and also features various restaurants like the Commander’s Palace.
Commander’s Palace is one of the most refined restaurants in New Orleans. It is a notable spot for an elegant jazz brunch and we recommend the finest Creole cuisine, a popular landmark for creating amazing dining memories. Eating at this elegant restaurant is one of the most significant things to do.
Garden District is also on the route of the Mardi Gras parade. You can enjoy an evening stroll under the oak trees-shaded streets and enjoy the view of the diverse mix of different styles of houses ranging from single-story cottages to historic mansions in the charming neighborhood.
16. Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is one of the major festivals of New Orleans. It is usually celebrated for two weeks and is accompanied by many parties and grand parades.
The performers usually dress in colorful clothes and parade all through the town covering the French Quarter, Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, and other areas while local people engage in bead-tossing and eating the famous food of the time- king cake and oysters.
Even if you miss the actual festival, you can visit the Mardi Gras world to experience it first-hand. Mardi Gras World is a warehouse that contains all the floats made during the parades of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
It provides the opportunity for visitors to wear costumes and get their pictures clicked. Mardi Gras World has also appeared in Top Chef and was the site for that season’s kitchen. It takes approximately one to two hours to tour the Mardi Gras World.
17. Café Du Monde
One of the most famed and visited cafes in New Orleans, Café Du Monde is worth the entire wait of standing in long queues.
You must try the fluffy treats served by the café, known as beignets, which are the distinguished French donuts and without which your trip to New Orleans is incomplete. This open-air café is a prominent landmark and tourist destination for visitors of New Orleans.
18. Audubon Zoo
Ranked as one of the Country’s best zoos, Audubon Zoo is a living museum housing some of the rarest animals. Visitors can stroll through a real swamp, visit the animal nursery or take a safari trail. Audubon Zoo also has an air-conditioned restaurant for visitors to take a break and eat before continuing.
19. Audubon Aquarium
Located at the edge of the French Quarter, Audubon Aquarium specializes in the aquatic life of America. It is consistently ranked as one of the top five aquariums in the country. Visitors who are visiting for the first time could check out this aquarium for a good time.
New Orleans is nicknamed ‘The City that Care Forgot,’ referring to the easygoing nature of the city and activities that pulsate with life. At every corner, there is something to see or something to experience.
You can wander the New Orleans City Park and eat the traditional king cake at local cafes, take a walking tour to explore the heart of the French Quarter in a more relaxing way, or visit the Garden District and sit under the oak trees.
Nothing can break this city. Even after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 which nearly destroyed New Orleans, it bounced back stronger than ever.
This colorful, musical, and artistic city promises you a good time and good food, so visit New Orleans and fall in love with living again.
There are so many things to do and so many more places to visit that creating a list can be quite a task.
New Orleans is a place that will continue to surprise you with its mystery and magic. This place has a different aura that will never let your excitement die down.
The ideal time to visit New Orleans depends on what particular things you are planning to check off your travel list. Many of them are available around the year but if you are eyeing specific festivals like Mardi Gras, then you have to plan your trip accordingly.
Ideally, the ideal time to visit New Orleans city is between February and May as the weather is cool and comfortable allowing you to explore and wander through the Louisiana City easily.
You can also visit New Orleans during the off-tourist season ie., between December to January, to enjoy a more relaxing time.