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20 Best Things to Do in New Orleans, LA

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New Orleans, also known as the Crescent City, is a fantastic holiday destination. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a weeklong vacation, this electric city has plenty of attractions to keep you busy. The jazz-filled streets offer an array of lively bars for party lovers, and the French Quarter boasts a treasure trove of historical buildings, fascinating stories, and excellent food. It’s safe to say the hardest thing about visiting New Orleans is narrowing down which attractions to visit during your time in the city! Well, that’s where we here at Road Affair come in. We have narrowed down all the top attractions to create this list of the best things to do in New Orleans. This way, you can build your perfect New Orleans itinerary without the worry that you’ve missed an outstanding attraction or tour.

Insider Tip: You can save up to 55% on entrance tickets and tours for several of the below-mentioned attractions by purchasing a New Orleans Go City All-Inclusive Pass. The tourist pass allows you unlimited access to over 25 attractions and tours, all for one low price. 

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, New Orleans
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Bar Hop on Bourbon Street

A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famed New Orleans party street, Bourbon Street! Bourbon Street is lined with plenty of fabulous bars, clubs, and restaurants, so if you’re looking for a night out in New Orleans, it doesn’t get much better than Bourbon. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is especially unique, as it has been serving up beers and bourbons since the 1700s! 

Not only can you hit up karaoke bars, saloons with mechanical bulls, and jazz clubs, but you can also find some quirky stores on Bourbon, like the famous Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo. This witchcraft and voodoo store offers plenty of spiritual oddities. If your curiosity about the future gets the best of you, then you can book an appointment with the on-site psychic for a tarot card reading. It’s best to tour Bourbon Street during the day and at night, as both times have a completely different feel! 

Pubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter, downtown New Orleans
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Take a Tour of the French Quarter

The French Quarter is easily the most popular place to stay and play in New Orleans. What sets this neighborhood apart from the others is its rich history. It is the only surviving and intact French and Spanish colonial settlement in the country, and those roots show in the architecture of the neighborhood. But it’s not only influenced by the Spanish and French heritage, as West African culture also played a huge role in shaping the area as we know it today. 

The best way to explore all the hidden gems of the French Quarter is with a guided tour. There are several types of tours you can opt for in the French Quarter, but the best one depends on what your interests are.

If you’re looking to learn a little bit about the history and the food in New Orleans, then you can’t go wrong with this guided food tour with a local. Not only will you get to sample delicious tidbits, like gumbo and pralines, but you’ll also learn about the cultural history of the French Quarter and how it all came together to shape the famous Cajun foods that we love. 

Another excellent option for those who enjoy the mystic and unknown is this voodoo, ghosts, and vampires tour of the French Quarter. Your guide will lead you through the narrow streets to learn all about the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and the legends of ghosts, witches, and vampires in the area. You’ll also stop by some attractions that inspired the stories told on American Horror Story

This drunk history walking tour is also a hoot and a half, as you’ll get to tour the streets of the French Quarter on a hybrid pub crawl. Seeing as drinking in the streets is legal, you’ll pop into historic bars for takeaway drinks, then sip, learn, and stroll your way through the streets! 

Cafe Du Monde, world famous for it s coffee and chicory blend cafe au liats and fresh beignets, is a landmark at the top of most visitors lists when visiting New Orleans
© Lawrence Weslowski Jr | Dreamstime.com

Try a Beignet at Café Du Monde French Market

Whether you’re a foodie or not, you should make time during your holiday in New Orleans to stop by and sample the famous beignets at the Café Du Monde at French Market. These fluffy, sugar-dusted pastries are worth all the rave and pair perfectly with a cup of coffee, making it an excellent New Orleans attraction. There are two lines at Cafe Du Monde, and usually, they take a while to wait in. But don’t let the lines discourage you! The best way to get beignets at Cafe Du Monde is by getting takeaway beignets. This way, you avoid the longer line of those waiting for a table. To avoid the long lines altogether, consider visiting the cafe during off-peak hours between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. It’s worth noting that you can only pay by cash and that the original cafe location is open 24 hours, seven days a week, except for Christmas. 

Mardi Gras World Eclectic Collection in New Orleans
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Check Out Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras is a crazy event that takes place in New Orleans, and if you want to learn what all the fuss is about, then you need to visit Mardi Gras World. Located along the Mississippi River, this large 300,000-square-foot warehouse is where you’ll find all the floats being prepared for the upcoming Mardi Gras celebrations. There are 500 floats built every year in this studio, along with props and costumes, and you’ll get to walk behind the scenes of all the magic with a tour. You’ll also get to enjoy a slice of King cake at the beginning of the tour while the tour guide plays a 15-minute video on the history of Mardi Gras. This is a great family-friendly attraction in New Orleans! 

Humongous fighter plane in hanger of historic National WWII Museum, New Orleans
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Visit the National WWII Museum

Another must-see in New Orleans is the National WWII Museum. This is the official national museum approved by Congress to showcase what the American experience was like during the Second World War. There are five pavilions with exhibits to explore, along with a 4D movie narrated by Tom Hanks, a period dinner theater, restored fighter jets, and guided tours. You could easily spend a day roaming the exhibits and learning more about America’s involvement in WWII from a guided tour. 

Beautiful Saint Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana.
© Meinzahn | Dreamstime.com

Snap a Picture at Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

In the heart of the French Quarter sits the beautiful gardens and grounds of Jackson Square, named after the seventh US president, Major General Andrew Jackson, for his heroic actions during the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Behind the square, St. Louis Cathedral offers a stunning backdrop to snap a group picture in the city’s most historic district. You’ll also find several artists with their artworks on display on the fence surrounding the square, along with horse-drawn carriages available for hire. 

Jackson Square is a great place to enjoy a takeaway beignet from Café Du Monde, as the famous café is located just across the street. You could also opt to enjoy a drink or beignet on one of the benches between the church and the park, as you’ll get a great view of musicians and entertainers who put on a show. This entertainment area is also where you’ll find plenty of psychics offering a reading! 

Photo of Elegant dancer in moulin rouge style on the scene
© Yuliya Yesina | Dreamstime.com

Catch a Burlesque Show 

A burlesque show might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New Orleans, but we promise you this city knows how to can-can! New Orleans offers plenty of authentic burlesque shows with their own Crescent City twist on them. The burlesque scene took off in the city during the beginning of the 20th century as New Orleans’ music and sinful reputation created the perfect environment for the show’s success. Today, you can catch the Burlesque Ballroom show by one of the city’s top performers, Trixie Minx, every Friday at the Royal Sonesta.

Maison Bourbon, a classic New Orleans Jazz club in the French Quarter
© James Kirkikis | Dreamstime.com

Listen to Jazz Music at Fritzel’s European Jazz Club or Preservation Hall 

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz music, so why not enjoy a concert at one of the city’s top jazz clubs? Preservation Hall is easily the most popular jazz club to visit in New Orleans. This former art studio has a history of inspiring and creating a space for classic New Orleans jazz to thrive. You will need to purchase tickets on their official website to ensure you can get in. Another great live music bar is Fritzel’s European Jazz Club, which is the city’s oldest-running jazz bar. This lively venue offers jazz music 365 days a year, and you can drop in pretty much anytime to catch a live show! 

Road covered by southern oaks in Georgia plantation
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Take a Day Trip to Oak Alley Plantation

If you’re looking to go sightseeing in New Orleans, you can’t skip out on a tour of Oak Alley Plantation. This stunning Southern mansion was once a sugar plantation that housed roughly around 120 enslaved men, women, and children. Today, you can walk down the picturesque oak-lined path that leads to this massive Greek-revival mansion. Enjoy self-guided tours of the ‘Big House,’ the former slave homes, the blacksmith shop, and the Stewart family gravesite while exploring this once 1200-acre estate. At the end of your tour, you can enjoy a bourbon and a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant. 

Oak Alley Plantation is located roughly an hour’s drive from New Orleans. If you’re visiting New Orleans without a car, then consider booking this half-day tour of Oak Alley Plantation. Another excellent option is this full-day swamp and plantation tour, which will take you to Oak Alley Plantation and then on a guided airboat tour of Louisiana’s bayous to see alligators, turtles, and much more! 

The famous Hurricane cocktail at Pat OBriens Bar in the New Orleans French Quarter
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Sip on the Original Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s

New Orleans has several famous cocktails that you’ll find on Bourbon Street. But any establishment other than Pat O’Briens that claims they are the home of the hurricane is lying! 

During the Second World War, whisky was hard to come by, so the folks at Pat O’Brien’s got creative. At the time, there was a massive surplus of rum coming in from the Caribbean countries, and to keep up with demand, bar owners had to purchase several cases of rum for every case of whisky or bourbon. It was out of this that the hurricane was born as a concoction of red passion fruit, rum, and lemon juice served in a tall glass said to resemble a ‘hurricane lamp.’ 

Today, a trip to Bourbon Street wouldn’t be complete without trying this sweet and satisfying cocktail! You can opt to get a hurricane to go or step inside to explore the large bar and courtyard with its famed flaming fountain. 

Try a Delicious Bowl of Gumbo at Oceana’s Restaurant

While in the Crescent City, you should take advantage of all the delectable Cajun food, and first up on that list is some good ole fashioned gumbo! In case you haven’t heard of gumbo, this Creole meal is the state’s official dish. It is a hearty stew made of flavored stock, bell peppers, celery, onions, and some sort of meat (either shellfish, chicken, or sausage). Now, this dish isn’t to be confused with jambalaya, which is another popular Southern dish. The main difference between the two is that gumbo has a more soupy consistency, and the rice within the dish is cooked separately from the stew. 

There are several places where you can try gumbo in the city, but one of the best places to visit in New Orleans to sample Cajun food is Oceana’s Restaurant. Not only can you try a hot bowl of gumbo, but this Louisiana restaurant also serves up po’boys, crab cakes, Creole-inspired seafood pasta, and much more! 

The Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans
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Visit the Presbytère Museum

Located in the heart of the French Quarter across from Jackson Square, the Louisiana State Museum, Presbytère, is a treasure trove of fascinating history. Here, there are two permanent exhibitions on celebration and resilience within the city. The first exhibit will walk you through the colorful history of New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations, from its Middle Ages roots to its famed floats and music. The second exhibition speaks to the survival and tragedy surrounding Hurricane Katrina, which blasted New Orleans in 2005, flooding 80% of the city. You’ll learn all about how the poorly engineered levee system in the city, which resulted in hundreds of deaths in one of the worst tragedies in the United States. 

Grave site at the Saint Louis Cemetery No 1. in New Orleans
travelview / shutterstock.com

Check Out Unique Burial Grounds at St. Louis Cemetery #1 and Lafayette Cemetery #1  

The cemeteries of New Orleans are quite unique on their own and have only been made more popular by TV shows and movies. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is easily the most popular of all the cemeteries as it’s where several notable locals are buried, such as the Voodoo Queen herself (Marie Laveau), 18th-century architect Barthelemy Lafon, and the city’s first African American mayor Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial. 

One of the quirkiest tombs in the cemetery is the pyramid-shaped tomb of actor Nicholas Cage. Now you might be thinking, “Hold up, isn’t Nicholas Cage still alive?” while yes he is, which is what makes this nine-foot-tall tomb even more intriguing. Not only did Cage secure a spot in the famous cemetery, but he erected his tomb and engraved it with the Latin words “Omnia ab uno” and nothing else. The phrase roughly translates into “all for one,” which leaves this writer wondering if Cage is looking to make an after-life appearance in a reboot of National Treasure 4. It’s quite an ominous move to make! 

While St. Louis Cemetery #1 is where several local celebrities are buried, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is made famous by the movies and TV shows filmed there. Shows and movies like the Vampire Diaries, The Originals, NCIS: New Orleans, and Dracula, all feature scenes in the cemetery, and even the New Kids on the Block shot their “The Right Stuff” video here. This is the oldest cemetery in the city, and it’s located in the beautiful Garden District, so consider taking a guided walking tour of the Garden District to see the large Gothic and Greek Revival homes owned by celebrities and, of course, the cemetery. 

The steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River
Sean Pavone / shutterstock.com

Take a Boat Cruise Down the Mississippi River

Another excellent, fun thing to do in New Orleans is to make like Huckleberry Finn and Jim and explore the Mississippi River! One of the most popular ways to explore the river isn’t by raft, though, but instead on the Steamboat Natchez. You can choose between a two-hour evening tour or a two-hour day tour on the Mississippi River, as both offer live jazz music and include live narration from the captain. Drinks and food are also available on board! 

The Parthanon in New Orleans City Park
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Go For a Stroll in New Orleans City Park

If you’re on the hunt for free things to do in New Orleans, then make your way over to New Orleans City Park. This stunning 1300-acre greenspace has plenty of activities for the young and young at heart. You can take a stroll through the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden or the New Orleans Botanical Garden, fish off Maconi Fishing Pier, or enjoy a beignet at Café Du Monde City Park location. There are also bikes and kayaks available for rent, an 18-hole golf course, and a mini putt course. This is an excellent place to bring children as well as the park is home to the Louisiana Children’s Museum, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, and Storyland. It’s easy to spend an entire day here with so many fabulous New Orleans tourist attractions in one spot. 

Tourist on a boat for swamp tour in New Orleans Louisiana
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Take A Swamp Tour by Boat

Louisiana is known for its swamps and bayous, so why not hop on an airboat and tour the waterways for alligators? There are several boat tours to consider, and you can even group a boat tour with a visit to Oak Alley Plantation or Destrehan Plantation. If you want to spend a few hours exploring nearby swamps and moss-draped trees, then this four-hour swamp boat tour is for you. Your guide will share loads of information on how Cajuns lived in the swamplands and information on the wildlife in the area, making this a great activity in New Orleans for the whole family! 

Louis Armstrong park located in the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans
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Check Out Louis Armstrong Park in Tremé

Another excellent park to go for a stroll in is Louis Armstrong Park in the Tremé district. The waterways throughout the park offer plenty of places to set up a picnic or bird watch, plus there are several large statues and gorgeous live oak trees to admire. The park is also home to Congo Square, which was the meeting place for former slaves and free people of color during the 19th century. The local African American community would host musical events, markets, and religious ceremonies in this square, and you can still find several events taking place here today! 

Street cars in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
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Take a Ride on the Historic Streetcar, St. Charles Line

If you’re wondering what to do in New Orleans that is unique, then hop on board one of the city’s charming streetcars for a tour! This old-fashioned way of transit offers a relaxing and memorable way to see the city. One of the more popular routes to take is the St. Charles tram, which is the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar line. Jump on board the vintage dark green tram and enjoy a cruise from the end of the French Quarter to the Garden District or further! You can purchase tickets for the tram on board, but make sure you have the exact change. If you want to pay by card or purchase a tram pass, then download the official transit app, Le Pass

Learn About Jazz Legends at the New Orleans Jazz Museum

As we said, New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz music, so it only makes sense that this is where you can learn all about the jazz legends that shaped the genre here, like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Ray Charles. There are several exhibits on display showcasing the evolution of jazz music. You’ll also get to see Louis Armstrong’s trumpet on display! This is a great family-friendly tourist attraction in New Orleans, and you can easily spend a few hours inside. 

Kids watching penguin at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans, LA, USA
Photo: Courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute (© Rusty Costanza / Digital Roux Photography)

Spend an Afternoon With the Sharks at Audubon Aquarium

Another excellent family-friendly attraction is the Audubon Aquarium, which has been highly rated as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. Inside, you can explore the 400,000-gallon tank by strolling through the glass walk-through tunnel surrounded by sharks! The aquarium is home to over 3600 animals, including rare creatures like white alligators and the African penguin. 

Now that you’re locked and loaded with all the best things to do in New Orleans, all you have to do is curate your perfect itinerary! If you’re looking to book a holiday home while in the city, then check out our list of the best Airbnbs in New Orleans. We hope you have a memorable trip to the Crescent City (provided Bourbon Street doesn’t take its toll on your memory)!

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