Exploring the vibrant streets and rich cultural tapestry of a city teeming with life, history, and an endless array of activities can transform any trip into an unforgettable adventure. Whether it’s the soulful strains of jazz that call to you, the tantalizing promise of culinary delights, or the allure of historic sites, finding the best things to do in a city famed for its unique blend of cultures is key to experiencing its true essence. This guide dives deep into the heart of New Orleans, offering a curated list of must-see attractions and hidden gems that promise to enrich your visit.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: The French Quarter

Explore the French Quarter

The French Quarter stands as a testament to New Orleans’ historical depth and cultural richness. Walking its streets, visitors are enveloped in a blend of French, Spanish, Creole, and American architecture, each building telling a story of the city’s past. The area is alive with street performers, local artists, and the aroma of Creole cuisine wafting through the air. Notable stops include the iconic St. Louis Cathedral and the bustling French Market, a historic market offering local produce, crafts, and souvenirs. The French Quarter’s charm is undeniable, making it a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the soul of New Orleans.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Jazz

Jazz Music in New Orleans

Jazz, the heart and soul of New Orleans, offers a musical journey through the city’s vibrant history. The Preservation Hall, a venerable institution dedicated to preserving the jazz tradition, hosts nightly performances by some of the genre’s most talented musicians. For those visiting in spring, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival showcases a dazzling array of music, food, and culture. According to Smithsonian Magazine, this festival not only celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans but also serves as a vital platform for international acts.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Restaurants

New Orleans Culinary Tour

New Orleans’ culinary scene is a delectable fusion creating a world famous uniquely gastronomic landscape. New Orleans’ cuisine draws heavily from Creole, Cajun, and soul food traditions. Over time, immigration introduced notable influences from Italian and Sicilian cuisines. Additionally, seafood is a prominent feature in the city’s many culinary favorites.

Culinary tours offer a taste of local specialties like gumbo, jambalaya, po-boys, muffulettas, pralines and beignets, providing insight into the city’s rich cultural tapestry. The famous Café du Monde, known for its beignets and café au lait, is a testament to the city’s French heritage and a must-visit for food enthusiasts. Commander’s Palace is a celebrated New Orleans landmark, renowned for its sophisticated Creole dishes and elegant jazz brunch.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: The Garden District

Garden District Walk

The Garden District epitomizes Southern charm, with its antebellum mansions, lush gardens, and historic cemeteries. A guided tour reveals the stories behind the majestic homes and their famous inhabitants, offering a glimpse into the city’s opulent past. The area’s serene beauty contrasts with the bustling French Quarter, providing a peaceful retreat amidst the city’s lively atmosphere.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Street Cars

Ride the Streetcars

New Orleans’ historic streetcars are not just a mode of transportation but a journey through the city’s scenic neighborhoods. Streetcars offer a convenient and economical way to explore the city. With four distinct lines, all originating downtown, you can travel through the French Quarter and beyond, uncovering numerous attractions along the way. The St. Charles Avenue line, in particular, offers picturesque views of the Garden District’s mansions and ancient oaks. Riding the streetcars is an affordable way to explore the city, allowing visitors to hop on and off at various attractions.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: National World War II Museum

Visit the National WWII Museum

Recognized as one of the top museums in the United States, the National WWII Museum provides an immersive look into the American experience during the war. Its extensive exhibits and artifacts offer a profound understanding of the global impact of WWII. The museum’s interactive displays and personal stories bring history to life, making it an essential visit for history buffs.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans; Swamp Tours

Swamp Tours Near New Orleans

Just outside the city, Louisiana’s swamps and bayous offer an adventure into the wild. Swamp tours provide a close-up view of the region’s unique ecosystem, including alligators, egrets, and other wildlife. These tours highlight the importance of conservation while offering a thrilling experience in the heart of Louisiana’s natural beauty.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: The Warehouse District

Art in the Warehouse District

The Warehouse District, once a hub for trade and commerce, now thrives as a center for art and culture. Galleries and museums, such as the Contemporary Arts Center and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, showcase works by local and international artists. This area reflects New Orleans’ evolving identity, blending its historical roots with a modern artistic expression.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Mardi Gras

Festivals Throughout the Year

New Orleans’ calendar is packed with festivals celebrating everything from music and food to art and culture. Mardi Gras, the city’s most famous festival, transforms the streets into a vibrant spectacle of parades, costumes, and revelry. Other festivals, like the French Quarter Festival and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, highlight the city’s diverse cultural landscape and its residents’ love for celebration.

The Mardi Gras Indians are a vibrant and integral part of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations, representing a unique cultural phenomenon that blends African, Native American, and Creole traditions. These groups, or “tribes,” are known for their elaborate costumes, or “suits,” which are painstakingly handcrafted with feathers, beads, and sequins in dazzling designs that take an entire year to create. The Mardi Gras Indians parade through the streets of New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day and Super Sunday (the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day), showcasing their stunning suits and engaging in ritualistic dances and chants that date back to the 19th century.

The Mardi Gras Indians add a layer of depth and historical significance to the city’s famous carnival, representing the fusion of cultures that makes New Orleans such a unique and captivating destination. Their presence during Mardi Gras is a testament to the city’s diverse cultural fabric and its ability to celebrate and embrace different traditions. For visitors interested in the cultural aspects of New Orleans, witnessing the Mardi Gras Indians in action is an unforgettable experience that highlights the city’s vibrant and multifaceted identity.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Haunted Tours

Haunted Tours of New Orleans

The city’s storied past and eerie legends make haunted tours a captivating experience for the brave at heart. From the ghostly apparitions of the LaLaurie Mansion to the spirits wandering the cemeteries, these tours explore the darker side of New Orleans’ history. The tales of hauntings and voodoo add a mystical layer to the city’s rich tapestry of stories.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Frenchmen Street

Live Music on Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street is the heartbeat of New Orleans’ live music scene. With venues hosting jazz, blues, and funk bands nightly, the street buzzes with energy and talent. This area offers an authentic musical experience, away from the more tourist-centric Bourbon Street, allowing visitors to mingle with locals and immerse themselves in the city’s musical heritage.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: City Park

City Park Adventures

City Park, one of the oldest and largest urban parks in the country, offers a tranquil escape with its sprawling green spaces, picturesque lagoons, and ancient live oaks. The park is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art and the enchanting Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll, a paddleboat ride, or a visit to the botanical gardens, City Park provides a peaceful respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.

The 13 Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Mississippi Rive Cruise

Mississippi River Cruise

A cruise on the Mississippi River offers a unique perspective of New Orleans, combining scenic views with historical insights. Whether aboard a traditional paddlewheel steamboat or a modern vessel, these cruises highlight the city’s relationship with the river, from its strategic importance to its role in shaping the region’s culture.

Key Takeaways for Exploring New Orleans

New Orleans is a city of endless discovery, where every street, dish, and melody tells a story. From the historic French Quarter to the serene beauty of the Garden District, the city offers a diverse array of experiences that cater to every interest. The rich tapestry of cultures that make up New Orleans is reflected in its music, food, and festivals, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in its vibrant atmosphere. Whether it’s the thrill of a swamp tour, the allure of haunted tales, or the soulful sounds of jazz, New Orleans promises an adventure that’s as unique as the city itself.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the best time to visit New Orleans?
    • Spring (February to May) is ideal, with pleasant weather and several festivals, including Mardi Gras and the Jazz & Heritage Festival.
  2. Is New Orleans safe for tourists?
    • Like any major city, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings. Stick to well-populated areas, especially at night, and consider guided tours for exploring less familiar parts of the city.
  3. Can I experience New Orleans on a budget?
    • Absolutely. Many of the city’s attractions, like the French Quarter and City Park, are free to explore. Streetcar rides are affordable, and there are plenty of budget-friendly dining options.
  4. What should I eat in New Orleans?
    • Don’t miss trying gumbo, jambalaya, po’boys, beignets, and crawfish étouffée to get a taste of the city’s culinary diversity.
  5. Are there family-friendly activities in New Orleans?
    • Yes, families can enjoy City Park, the Audubon Zoo, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum, among other attractions suitable for all ages.

By embracing the spirit of New Orleans through its music, cuisine, history, and natural beauty, visitors can experience the soul of one of America’s most enchanting cities.