New Orleans is famous for its humidity and business conventions, with a profligate underbelly. But the Louisiana city is so much more than that.
The city has firmly placed itself on the world map thanks to its jazz music, the world-famous Mardi Gras, and a culinary cuisine that puts New York and Las Vegas to shame.
But perhaps what makes New Orleans unique is its unmistakable laid-back vibe that led to the city being christened ‘The Big Easy.’
There is so much to see and do in New Orleans, with different neighborhoods to explore and a vibrant nightlife to enjoy.
Here are 15 best New Orleans tours you should include in your itinerary when you decide to visit The Crescent City.
1. Take a Tour of New Orleans City by Minibus
If this is your first time in New Orleans, it is only fitting that you spend a little time orienting yourself with the city itself.
An air-conditioned minibus will pick you up from your hotel or apartment (provided it’s within the city) and take you on a three-hour sightseeing experience that covers the main highlights of the city.
A licensed guide will walk you through the history of New Orleans as you tour important historical landmarks that include the St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, and The Cabildo – what was once the seat of the Spanish colonial city hall.
It would be remiss to visit New Orleans and not learn about Hurricane Katrina. Discover the spot the devastating hurricane broke the levee, see the impact left behind and how the residents are still picking up their lives.
Other notable areas of interest during the tour include the residence of Ann Rice – the Gothic fiction writer – the century-old homes along Esplanade Avenue, and the city’s above-ground reusable tombs.
What’s more, this tour will give you an overview of the French Quarter, which you can pay a visit later at your own leisure.
2. Go on a Jazz Cruise aboard the SS Natchez
Experience the Mississippi in style aboard the Sternwheeler Steamboat Natchez, proudly considered the only authentic steamboat in New Orleans.
The two-hour tour offers a unique view of the city from the river, with a narration of the site.
Sample an optional lunch of Creole gastronomy as you take in the panoramic views of New Orleans. Or opt for the dinner cruise, which features a buffet-style banquet and a live jazz band.
A unique visit to the excellently preserved engine room presents a chance to see the workings of century-old steam engines up close.
Special cruises are offered on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Easter, the festive season, and other holidays.
3. Book a Garden District Tour
The Garden District is the archetypal representation of the image many out-of-towners have of the Deep South. It is here that wealthy slave owners such as John Burnside lived, and you will get a glimpse of where the sugar and cotton plantations once stood.
It is an affluent residential area dotted with centuries-old trees, lush gardens, and beautiful, neo-classical mansions – including the imposing three-story Carroll Crawford House. Indeed, this hasn’t gone unnoticed by Hollywood types, several of whom call this place home.
Not surprisingly, most visitors to the Garden District come for the houses and to revel in the serene surrounds. But the history-steeped area also invites you to walk around and enjoy boutiques and scattered coffee shops.
It is an eye-opening experience, sure to linger long in the memory.
4. Visit the National World War II Museum
A visit to a city as deeply soaked in history as New Orleans is not complete without visiting a museum (or two).
History lovers will appreciate a stop at the National WWII Museum, which hosts exciting exhibits and documentary snippets detailing how the war was fought in Europe and the Pacific.
There are three sections at the museum, one dedicated to the war in Europe, another to the war in the Pacific, and the third houses aircraft used during WWII.
There is a 4D theater that shows a film produced and directed by Tom Hanks titled ‘Beyond All Boundaries.’ It is an immersive experience that brings the stories to life in a full-on sensory fashion.
The museum also provides oral histories that involve assigning visitors the profile of a soldier involved in the war to make it easier to follow that particular soldier’s progression as the war heated up.
The Stage Door Canteen at the complex showcases entertainment from the 1940’s, including dinner shows and matinees.
5. Marvel at the St. Louis Cathedral
The St. Louis Cathedral is one of the primary landmarks of New Orleans.
Nestled towards the north side of Jackson Square in the French Quarter, it was constructed in the 18th century (1794 to be exact), where two churches once stood.
History buffs will recognize it as the oldest cathedral in the United States in terms of continued use, while some Catholic faithful might recall the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987.
The St. Louis Cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of French architecture in the U.S., so make it a point of at least marveling at the stunning French façade, even if you don’t set foot inside.
6. Embark on a Total Food, Cocktail and Jazz Tour
This tour scratches beneath the surface to expose the soul of this world-famous city, revealing the magnetic draw that lures gastronomes and jazz lovers to New Orleans each year.
The 9.5-hour tour starts on the banks of the Mississippi River, where you visit the ports that served as the gateway to new influences, cultures, and ingredients streaming into the USA.
A saunter around the scenic Louis Armstrong Park will take you right to the doorstep of where jazz all started.
The Total Day Tour also takes you through the French Market for a taste of New Orleans’ classic dishes, before weaving you through the world of the local cocktail culture. A coffee break in between gives you the chance to browse through the various souvenirs on offer.
This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the unique and historic bars in the city that hosted everyone from famous writers to pirates and military generals.
Wind up the day at the nightly art market as you immerse yourself in the works of the city’s best artists, ranging from local photography to handmade sculptures.
7. Party on Bourbon Street
Get ready to enjoy an epic night in New Orleans as you party and mingle with other revelers on the most famous street in the French Quarter.
Go on a three-hour pub crawl of the legendary street’s bars and clubs, which includes free admission and drink specials at all the venues.
The tour covers four venues, where you get to spend 45 minutes at each before hopping to the next – all within close proximity of each other. Because it’s the South, why not jump on the rodeo along the way?
Once you are done covering all four, you can settle on your favorite and hit it up with other party animals from the world over.
8. Hang out at Jackson Square
Based in the heart of the French Quarter is Jackson Square. This historic park is the main square within the French Quarter and has been one of the most prominent structures here since the 18th century.
Today, it is still one of the most recognizable buildings in New Orleans; the front is a favorite hangout spot for local artists, where they congregate to sketch, draw and paint as they also market their work.
This is a must-stop for art enthusiasts – not just to see art, but also to buy souvenirs to take home with them, including personal portraits or caricatures.
If you are interested in viewing Southern art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is your best bet.
9. Visit Haunted Houses and Grace the Cities of the Dead
If you are curious to explore the darker side of things, New Orleans is not short of attractions on that front.
The city has long been associated with all things voodoo, so if you are wondering what might pique your interest, this is definitely worth a look. There are multiple locations of unsolved murder scenes and documented reports of ghosts and vampires wandering the streets of the French Quarter.
Take a tour of Lafayette or the St. Louis Cemetery No 1 to check out the Creole burial sites which are above ground. The cemetery also houses the crypt of Marie Laveau, whom many consider to be the Queen of Voodoo.
Cap off your tour by visiting haunted houses around the city (the Mistress of Death’s Lalaurie Mansion is a must) and if paranormal activity gets your juices flowing, take some time to examine some rumored incidences along the way.
10. Experience Mardi Gras Year-round
Mardi Gras is the most famous event in New Orleans. Celebrations are held over a fortnight, culminating on Shrove Tuesday – the day preceding Ash Wednesday.
While Mardi Gras happens only once a year, you can relieve the experience at Mardi Gras World.
The warehouse where floats for the event’s parade are made is located here. You can view costumes of past events as well as an array of artifacts that provide a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes during the annual festival.
Tours are offered every day of the week and are available every hour.
If you find yourself in New Orleans around spring, pop in and enjoy the BUKU Music & Art Project, a two-day arts and music festival hosted at Mardi Gras World.
11. Visit another Museum at The Cabildo
The Cabildo was erected in the year 1795 to serve as the residence of the Spanish governor.
Situated adjacent to the St. Louis Cathedral, today it is noted for not just its historic status, but also for housing the Louisiana State Museum and its amazing collection.
The museum is a national treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Most of the collection revolves around the history of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana in general, more so the multiple ethnic groups that make up the population today.
12. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
The Audubon Aquarium is located in the city’s downtown – just a few minutes’ walk from the French Quarter – and is definitely a must-visit.
It houses marine species found across the Americas – North, Central, and South – with diverse exhibits highlighting everything from local fish from the Mississippi River to marine life from the Gulf of Mexico – sea turtles, stingrays, sharks and more.
Of striking interest is the Great Maya Reef, which can be observed from a tunnel stretching 30 feet along. It is designed to resemble a sunken ancient city of Maya, with fish floating between the ruins.
There is also the Amazon Rainforest, offering a splendid view of exotic fish, colorful birds, and even snakes from the South American jungle.
13. New Orleans Audubon Zoo
The city has a beautiful zoo which is home to a diverse collection of both domestic and exotic creatures.
Among the many residents of the zoo, you will find alligators, leopards, jaguars, lemurs, giraffes, rhinos, elephants and orangutans.
The New Orleans Audubon Zoo is nestled in the uptown section of New Orleans, albeit some distance from the French Quarter. If you want a reason to venture further from the city, this ought to be a fun escape.
14. Ride a Bike around New Orleans
Biking happens to be one of the best ways you can experience New Orleans, given the city is carved up into distinct areas.
The roads have been faulted for being a little bumpy, but nothing too serious to keep you from enjoying the best outdoor activities the city has to offer.
The RideThisBike full-service bicycle shop has a selection of tours available and is conveniently located within the accessible French Quarter. Try the two-hour bike rental for an overview of different sections of the city.
15. Join a Demo cooking Class
New Orleans is famed for its great culinary scene, which is considered to be one of the best in the US. It therefore goes without saying that eating your way around the city is one of the best things you can do in The Big Easy.
But you can take things a step further.
Join the New Orleans School of Cooking to learn the basics of Louisiana cooking. Based in the French Quarter, the culinary school – which opened in 1980 – offers hands-on demonstration classes at very economical prices.
You can choose between the three-hour morning or afternoon class, each of which accommodates up to 10 people and runs Monday through Saturday, with a single session on Sundays.
After the cooking, students enjoy a meal, complete with drinks, wine, and beer.
Now, that’s one fantastic way to wrap up a tour of New Orleans.