The cradle of jazz music, New Orleans is a little out of step with the United States when it comes to dining, architecture and just day-to-day living.
It’s a city of Creole cottages, palatial townhouses, elegant iron balconies and shaded courtyards.
Out of the French Quarter vintage streetcars rattle past rows of southern live oaks that have been growing for hundreds of years.
New Orleans is that rare place where you can order a cocktail to-go, and turn a corner and be swept along in a street parade.
The joie de vivre is impossible to resist and shines through in sublime food like jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, po’ boys and crawfish boils.
A lot of the city is below the waterline and New Orleans’ darkest hour was broadcast to the world during Hurricane Katrina, but this irrepressible, charmingly dissolute city was soon on its feet once more.
Let’s explore the best things to do in New Orleans, Louisiana:
1. French Quarter
Rakish, bohemian and bouncy, the French Quarter (Vieux Carré) is the grand dame, and springs to mind when many people think New Orleans.
All the hallmarks are here, like the carnage of Bourbon Street, Creole cottages, wrought-iron balconies, laid-back cafes, pastel facades, gaslights, jazz clubs, flowery courtyards, to-go cups, antique stores and restaurants that have been around for a century or more.
You won’t even need to search for entertainment; it will find you in the French Quarter.
There’s fabulous live music outside, on Royal Street’s daytime pedestrian zone and on the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen Street in the evening, and you never know when a Second Line parade will show up.
Decatur Street by the levee and French Market is for yet more jazz, people-watching and souvenir shopping, while you may be out late enough to see a new day dawn on the Mississippi riverfront over the tracks.
Available tour: French Quarter: Food History & Tasting Tour
2. Garden District
New Orleans at its most refined, the Garden District was developed for rich Americans who didn’t want to live in the French Quarter with the Creoles.
From the mid-1830s they built themselves theatrical Italianate and Greek Revival mansions, often painted bright white and sporting two tiers of galleries.
Bougainvillea creeps up many of the facades, while the front gardens are planted with jasmine, banana trees and magnolia, and the sidewalks are in the shade of venerable southern live oaks.
Go on foot to gawp at the antebellum mansions, like the Goldsmith-Godchaux House, at 1122 Jackson Ave, The Manse at 2328 Coliseum Street, Colonel Short’s Villa at 1448 Fourth Street and the Brevard-Rice House at 1239 First Street.
The internationally renowned Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave) is a Creole restaurant dating back to 1893 and housed in a fine turreted building with blue and white awnings.
Recommended tour: Garden District Tour
3. Jackson Square
Once a military parade ground at the very centre of the city Jackson Square was first laid out in 1720s in the style of Place des Vosges in Paris.
After the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 the plaza was renamed in honour of the victorious General Andrew Jackson who would become the seventh president of the United States between 1829 and 1837. At the very centre of formal gardens is the equestrian statue for Jackson by sculptor Clark Mills and unveiled in 1856. Jackson Square is set just in from the Mississippi riverbank and in a solemn row on the western frontage stand the Cabildo (former city hall), St.
Louis Cathedral and the former courthouse, the Presbytère.
In grand townhouses on the square’s margins are restaurants, galleries and shops, while the square is swarmed by artists selling their wares and producing portraits in a few minutes flat.
If there’s a TV show or movie set in New Orleans, you can bet that Jackson Square will make an appearance.
At the east corner is the 24-hour Café du Monde, a NOLA mainstay.
4. Mardi Gras
After twelfth night on January 6 New Orleans is officially in Mardi Gras season.
Until Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), usually some time in February, the city is a blur of parades by enormous floats that have been months in the making.
The revelry and bead-throwing intensifies until the five days before Mardi Gras day when the population of New Orleans more than doubles in preparation for the “Greatest Free Show on Earth”, an explosion of creativity.
The parades are the work of social clubs (krewes) and tend to follow a set route each year, with floats that range from satirical to raunchy to just plain silly.
A good place to park yourself on the big day is St. Charles Avenue, when you can watch the parades roll by on their way into the French Quarter (Zulu and Rex are the big ones). Dress in purple, green and gold, go with the flow, join a marching krewe and feast on oysters and king cake.
5. Frenchmen Street
When people talk about Frenchmen Street they normally mean the three-block stretch through Faubourg Marigny that has ascended the throne as the best place for live music in New Orleans.
Traced by charming Creole cottages and hopping into the early hours, Frenchmen Street became a local cultural zone after Bourbon Street became a tourist honeypot in the 1980s.
The Maison, d.b.a., the Blue Nile, the Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor are just a few of the venues here, interspersed with bars, restaurants, coffee shops and enticing stores.
Jazz and blues are the bedrock, but you’ll hear a whole gamut of styles on Frenchmen Street, to match New Orleans’ kaleidoscopic makeup.
What might surprise you is that some spots like the Maison and 30/90 allow children until 22:00 for a family night on the town.
6. City Park
The sixth-largest urban park in America is on swampland that was drained by French colonists in the early 19th century.
At the time this space was known as “Dueling Oaks”, where men would come to settle disputes away from the city.
The park was landscape in the 1850s and holds the world’s largest collection of mature oaks, with some specimens more than 600 years old.
In true Louisiana style these are dripping with Spanish moss and afford lots of shade for jogging, cycling and picnics.
Within the park’s boundaries is the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, based around a gorgeous vintage carousel.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden has a handsome conservatory showing off tropical rainforest species, desert plants, prehistoric plants, mountain species and orchids, while there’s a miniature train on a two-mile track and a Boat House by the lake where you can rent bikes and pedal boats.
City Putt is a 36-hole putting attraction for families, while seasoned golfers can play a round at one of Bayou Oaks’ two courses.
Included in: New Orleans Luxury Bus Tour
7. Audubon Zoo
In the park of the same name on the river side of Magazine Street, Audubon Zoo escaped the worst of Katrina as it rests on high ground.
The humid climate in New Orleans allows Audubon Zoo to create lush and realistic environments like the award-winning Louisiana Swamp with leucistic alligators and the Jaguar Jungle.
Many children’s favourites are here, like Asian elephants, orangutans, lions (returned in May 2019), a Malayan tiger, western lowland gorillas, giraffes and rhinos.
In the summer the Cool Zoo splash park opens for kids, with a “Gator Run” lazy river, so pack swimming gear for little ones, while the Swamp Train takes a scenic tour of the zoo grounds.
The zoo is one of a few attractions in honour of the distinguished naturalist John James Audubon, who lived in New Orleans from 1821. Not on this list is the wonderful Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium with more than 50 exhibits at Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter.
Get a discounted advance ticket: Audubon Zoo Advance Ticket
8. French Market
Up there with the United States’ great shopping and dining experiences, the French Market is in long iron-framed halls designed in the late-19th century by Joseph Abeilard, one of America’s first African American architects.
As a place of commerce, this location goes back centuries to a Native American trading post by the Mississippi.
The market runs for five blocks from Jackson Square and the famed Café du Monde to a flea market at the end of Esplanade Avenue.
In this space there’s produce, specialty food stalls, stands with freshly made food and lots of arts and crafts, all soundtracked by live jazz.
If you’re peckish the Farmers’ Market Pavilion has options for all meals of the day, and vendors hawking crêpes, shrimp, oysters, crawfish pies and gourmet salads.
As well as Café du Monde, which we’ll come to later, there’s a cluster of full-blown eateries around the market, like Corner Oyster House Bar & Grill, which does oysters every which way, and Market Café for New Orleans classics like gumbo and po’ boys.
Finally, the Dutch Alley pedestrian plaza has a performance tent, quirky statues and the visitor center for the New Orleans Jazz National Park.
Recommended tour: French Quarter Walking and Storytelling Tour
9. Royal Street
Parallel to Bourbon Street as it cuts through the French Quarter, Royal Street is a quieter, maybe more genteel sibling.
Along 13 blocks there’s a postcard-worthy scene of Creole townhouses with decorative wrought-iron balconies.
Plenty are private homes, but on many ground floors are alluring boutiques, galleries, cafes, antiques shops and artist studios.
Where you can, don’t miss the chance to peek inside and get an eyeful of the period decor.
There’s music too, from street buskers, and no shortage of places to eat, at restaurants sequestered in courtyards The three blocks between St. Louis and St. Ann Streets are closed to traffic and become a pedestrian zone every day from 11:00 to 16:00, and there’s no better time to pay a visit and to take in some live music on the street.
One of New Orleans’ fabled landmarks, the Hotel Monteleone (1886), is also on Royal Street, and is famed for the Carousel Bar, the only rotating bar in the city.
10. Second Lines
Convoys of music and dancing, purely for the sake of it, Second Lines are parades that seem to start out of nowhere throughout New Orleans, but especially in Tremé and Central City where the custom began.
You’ll see plenty in the French Quarter too on Sunday afternoons.
Second Lines echo the rituals of a Jazz Funerals, but without a coffin, mourners and cemetery.
Instead they’ll trundle down the street, led by a brass band dressed in their finery, with sashes, hats, bonnets and matching suits (often brightly coloured). And in the wake will be dancers, traditionally twirling parasols as they go.
Many of the dancers will be unattached to the parade and just going with the flow.
You may see a lot of Second Lines celebrating weddings, with the newlyweds leading the “second line”, the group behind the band.
11. Afternoon Food History Tour
You could write volumes about all the delectable food in New Orleans.
The dining culture is so unique and specific to this city that you may feel like you need a guiding hand once you’re here.
The three-hour Afternoon Food History tour is a six-stop culinary journey of discovery around the French quarter, with the chance to taste ten different specialities.
The tour delivers you to both upmarket restaurants and unassuming holes in the wall as you sample boudin (a cajun sausage), luxury pralines, seafood gumbo, beignets, beef brisket and hunger-slaying sandwiches like muffulettas and po’ boys.
On the way you’ll walk about 1.5 miles to keep your appetite keen.
12. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour
The oldest and most storied of New Orleans’ many cemeteries, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is a Roman Catholic burial place a block west of the French Quarter.
It opened in 1789 during the city’s redesign following the Great Fire of 1788. In a city partially below water level, cemeteries need to be above ground using decorative vaults.
At St. Louis No. 1 these are in various states of repair, but all are handsome and crackling with atmosphere.
Some of the more renowned burials are voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (1801-1881), chess champion Paul Morphy (1837-1884) and aristocrat and keen duellist Bernard de Marigny (1785-1868) who gave his name to the New Orleans neighbourhood Faubourg Marigny.
Call it ghoulish to bring up, but a future entombment will be Nicolas Cage who purchased one of the pyramidal tombs in 2010. You can only visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 with a licensed guide, and GetYourGuide.com will hook you up.
13. Café du Monde
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week the original Café du Monde is a coffee stand that opened in 1862 at the upriver end of the French Market.
If you want to play it like a local, you need to order coffee and chicory with a beignet, a kind of square-shaped donut under an avalanche of icing sugar.
The habit of drinking coffee blended with chicory came to New Orleans with the Acadians, originating in France during Napoleon’s “continental blockade” in 1808 when coffee was scarce.
A traditional way to order it is “au lait”, or half and half with hot milk, but the choice is yours.
Since the 1980s Café du Monde has spawned seven more locations, mostly in shopping malls around the New Orleans metropolitan area.
14. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Jazzfest for Short, this world-famous event at the Fair Grounds Race Course packs in more than 500,000 revellers across a week at the end of April and start of May.
Despite the name Jazzfest celebrates the culture of New Orleans and Louisiana in all its diversity, so showcases lots of music styles like blues, gospel, R&B, Cajun, bluegrass, rock, rap, Afro-Caribbean music, country, folk and more besides.
The heritage side of things comes into play with the festival’s hundreds of food booths.
You’ve got beignets, crawfish bread, boiled crawfish, crab cakes, Cajun jambalaya, oyster patties, fried green tomatoes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are also two cooking stages at the Fair Grounds Grandstand, showing off New Orleans culinary pedigree and handing out samples.
Arts and crafts are for sale throughout the grounds, and as well as being able to buy a special handmade something you can watch demonstrations in pottery, painting, metalwork, weaving… the list goes on.
Even away from the Fair Grounds New Orleans is a vibrant place to be during Jazzfest, with extra shows at nightclubs to cater to the influx of people to the city.
Related activity: Evening Jazz Cruise on the Steamboat Natchez
15. National WWII Museum
New Orleans is where Higgins boats were designed, built and tested.
These landing craft were pivotal to amphibious invasions like Normandy in 1944, and so it’s fitting that New Orleans’ superb National WWII Museum should have opened on D-Day’s 56th anniversary on June 6, 2000. As you enter you’ll be given a dog tag, which you can scan at stations around the museum for compelling personal profiles.
Road to Tokyo deals with the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo, giving a sense of the extreme conditions that American forces faced, while Road to Berlin transports you to Europe in richly-designed galleries using lots of footage, realistic soundscapes and tons of artefacts.
There’s a jaw-dropping 4D show at Beyond all Boundaries, while the D-Day Invasion of Normandy does a deep dive on the planning and preparation that went into the Normandy Landings.
If you’re intrigued about Higgins Industries, Bayou to Battlefield presents footage, photographs, interviews and artefacts to show how a shallow-draft swamp boat revolutionised amphibious warfare.
16. St. Louis Cathedral
The longest continually active Roman Catholic church in the United States stands proud on the city side of Jackson Square.
Dedicated to Louis IX of France (1214-1270), St. Louis Cathedral dates from 1789, although there was a church at this spot as early as 1718. The current cream-coloured Spanish Colonial building was reconstructed in 1850, and most of the architecture is from that time.
Take a moment on Jackson Square to appreciate the symmetrical facade, with three spires, window pediments, pairs of Doric columns and decorative scallop mouldings.
Inside the gilded Rococo altar deserves a closer look, while there’s a wealth of stained glass and painting to browse.
You’ll notice that the floor has a slight slope, because the structure, though stable, is steadily sinking.
At the back is the St. Anthony Garden, with a marble statue of Jesus with his arms aloft.
He lost a forefinger and thumb in Hurricane Katrina and looks particularly solemn illuminated at night.
17. Preservation Hall
If you’re daunted by the multitude of jazz joints in the French Quarter, Preservation Hall is a traditional jazz venue with a house band drawing from more than 100 musicians.
You can come for intimate concerts at 20:00, 21:00 and 22:00 Monday to Wednesday and extra performances at 17:00 and 18:00 from Thursday to Sunday.
The shows are great of course, but Preservation Hall accepts audiences of all ages, which makes it a rare nightlife option for families.
The venue goes back to the 1950s, and took on its current form in 1961 when the tuba player Alan Jaffe became manager.
He hired elderly and infirm musicians from the first wave of jazz, helping to bring about the artform’s revival in New Orleans in the 1960s.
Preservation Hall remains a cornerstone of New Orleans culture, giving concerts 350 nights a year.
18. New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)
In the 1912 the sugar broker and art collector Isaac Delgado left New Orleans a sizeable grant to establish what would become the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The main building went up soon after, to a design partly by Benjamin Morgan Harrod, New Orleans’s former chief engineer, while new wings and expansions followed in the early-1970s and 90s.
The collection is huge, with more than 40,000 pieces from the Italian Renaissance to today.
There’s a great deal of 19th and early 20th-century French art to get stuck into, by Rodin, Matisse, Renoir, Monet, Gauguin and Braque.
Edgar Degas is especially well-represented, and lived in New Orleans for a time in the 1870s.
The African American collection is also strong, as are the holdings for pre-Columbian and Spanish-era Central American art, ceramics and folk art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia.
In the last few years there have been exhibitions for Veronese, Carlos Rolón, Japanese ceramics, George Dunbar and Bob Dylan.
19. Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Behind the museum’s main building is a gated outdoor space in 11 acres of mature parkland enriched with more than 90 works of sculpture.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden opened in 2003 and at the time of writing in 2019 had just doubled in size with an expansion that included 26 new works, mostly by 21st-century artists.
On serpentine paths among pines, magnolias, camellias and live oaks draped with Spanish moss there are pieces by Henry Moore, Deborah Butterfield, Barbara Hepworth, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Robert Indiana, Gaston Lachaise and René Magritte, as well as contemporary sculptors like Katharina Fritsch, Hank Willis Thomas and Jeppe Hein.
20. Mardi Gras World
More than three quarters of the floats that roll down the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras are designed and built at this very warehouse on the Mississippi River.
The company, Kern Studios dates back to 1932, when the sign-painter Roy Kern designed his first Mardi Gras float, assisted by his son Blaine Kern Sr.
Now this prolific company employs more than 100 people and in 1984 opened Mardi Gras World to allow a glimpse of the float-building craft and to show off a warehouse piled with Mardi Gras artefacts.
You’ll be able to try on some outlandish costumes, and as you make your way through the warehouse you’ll learn about Mardi Gras’ many traditions.
You’ll also get to see next year’s floats taking shape, from preliminary sketches and engineers’ drawings to sculpting.
And even if you come in the middle of summer you can treat yourself to a slice of king cake with coffee.
21. Po’ Boys
If there’s a delicacy that encapsulates the spirit of New Orleans it might be these decadent, over-stuffed sandwiches on French bread.
Variations of po’ boys have of course been around for centuries, but the name may have originated with a strike by streetcar conductors in 1929. The story goes that a restaurant set up by former conductors handed out free sandwiches in solidarity with the strikers.
Po’ boys are invariably in a baguette and the filling can vary from fried oysters to fried shrimp, fried crawfish, fried fish, roast beef with gravy, fried chicken, soft shell crab, Louisiana hot sausage, turkey and a few more.
The bread will sometimes be slathered with melted butter or Tabasco-infused mayo for seafood fillings, or condiments like Creole mustard for non-seafood sandwiches.
If you have a serious appetite, a sloppy roast beef po’ boy will have shredded slow-cooked beef, with gravy, tomato and lettuce.
You won’t have to look hard for a place that sells po’ boys, but if you’re sticking with the French Quarter try Bourbon House, ACME Oyster House, Johnny’s Po-Boys, Mena’s Palace and Oceana Grill.
22. Natchez Steamboat Cruise
Toulouse Street Wharf at Woldenberg Riverfront Park is the embarkation point for the SS Natchez, the last steamboat in New Orleans.
The current Natchez is the ninth in a long line of boats by the same name, going back to 1823. This vessel was launched in 1975 and in 1976 then-President Gerald Ford used the vessel for a campaign trip in the Southern United States.
If you’re going to spend any time on the Mississippi, it has to be aboard a steamship, and the Natchez has a choice of experiences, all involving jazz music by the Dukes of Dixieland band: There’s a Dinner Jazz Cruise to see the New Orleans skyline at night, a Harbor Jazz Cruise with a calliope concert and a Sunday Jazz Brunch Cruise for two hours with southern-style grub like gumbo, shrimp and grits and sausage and gravy.
For extra convenience, you can book tickets in advance: New Orleans Jazz Cruise
23. Laura Plantation
You can get to grips with a difficult but interesting aspect of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s antebellum past at the old sugarcane farms some way up the Mississippi to the west of the city.
The first of a trio of plantation museums is about 45 minutes away, just outside Vacherie.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Laura Plantation was founded by the Frenchman Guillaume Duparc, who was a naval veteran from the American Revolutionary War.
At its height the plantation had more than 12,000 acres of sugarcane fields, with 69 slave cabins and an infirmary.
The Laura Plantation was in business well into the 20th century, and you may be surprised to learn that the parents and family of Fats Domino lived here.
The main house is considered the apex of the Creole style, and you’ll be guided around on a tour, which will also take in the gardens and the original slave cabins erected in the 1840s.
A new permanent exhibition goes into depth on the African American families that lived at the plantation, in bondage and then freedom (of sorts) into the 20th century.
Recommended tour: Oak Alley and Laura Plantation Combo
24. The Cabildo
The seat of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans, the Cabildo is next door to the cathedral on Jackson Square and was reconstructed in the 1790s after the original was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788. This distinguished monument is in the Spanish Colonial style, with a French Mansard roof that replaced a balustrade in the mid-19th century.
In 1803 a ceremony took place in the Cabildo’s Sala Capitular to celebrate the Louisiana Purchase, which almost doubled the size of the United States.
The Cabildo held judicial and government roles up to 1908 when it was handed over to the Louisiana State Museum.
Since then it’s been the place to get better acquainted with New Orleans and Louisiana, via more than 500 artefacts.
You can get the background on the Battle of New Orleans (1815) between the British Army and the United States, while “We Love You, New Orleans!”, is a showcase for New Orleans signatures like Sidney Bechet’s sax, memorabilia from the closed Pontchartrain Beach amusement park and a sign from the old K&B drugstore chain.
25. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
By the Mississippi on the edge of the French Quarter, The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas has tanks mimicking habitats across North, South and Central America.
The striking, five-metre Gulf of Mexico exhibit holds stingrays, sharks and sea turtles, while the Mississippi River Gallery has a mixture of environments holding owls, a leucistic white alligatory, paddlefish and catfish.
The Amazon exhibit is a highpoint, in a balmy greenhouse planted with rainforest where you’ll happen upon piranhas, an anaconda and freshwater stingrays, while the Great Maya Reef aquarium shows off its moray eels, tarpons, lion fish and spiny lobsters in a submerged city through a nine-metre glass tunnel.
Catch a show at the Entergy Giant Screen Theater, and be sure to feed the parakeets, check out the penguins and sea otters, and find out what a stingray’s back feels like at the touchpool.
A fixture of New Orleans since the 1830s, streetcars are undeniably handsome but also a handy way to get around and see parts of the city you might not have encountered.
The oldest of these, the St. Charles Avenue line, with its famous dark green streetcars, is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world.
Clattering along this six-mile route from the CBD through the stateliest part of Uptown towards Carrollton are original 900 series streetcars by North Carolina’s long-defunct Perley A. Thomas Car Works, built in the mid-1920s.
Along St. Charles Avenue they pass through a beautiful tunnel of southern live oaks, with antebellum mansions on the street’s margins.
The Canal Street Line, with its red street cars is an easy way to get to spots like the old cemeteries, City Park and the New Orleans City of Art, while the Riverfront Line from French Market links lots of shopping and dining hotspots and grants some lovely views of New Orleans’ skyline.
One ride is $1.25 and you’ll need exact change, but you can get a one or three-day “Jazzy Pass” with unlimited rides for $3 and $9 respectively.
27. Magazine Street
This thoroughfare is one of a few streets like Laurel Street and Tchoupitoulas Street that curves with the course of the Mississippi through Uptown and the Garden District between Audubon Park in the west and the Central Business District to the east.
Most likely named after an 18th-century ammunition magazine, this is a shopping artery but with a refreshing lack of chain stores.
What you get along these six miles is sudden knots of art studios, restaurants, bakeries, po’ boy joints, bars, cafes and one-off shops for fashion, antique furniture, jewellery, cosmetics, books, homewares, decorations and the like.
All the while there are Creole and raised center-hall cottages and the sinuous branches of live oaks.
At six miles, Magazine Street is a bit much to attempt on foot, but there’s a bus, or you can take the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar and cut in towards the river.
28. Audubon Park
The refined Uptown park around Audubon Zoo is a bit older, having been landscaped in the 1880s on what used to be a plantation and staging area for Buffalo Soldiers in the Civil War.
If you’re mesmerised by New Orleans’ twisting live oaks you’ll love Audubon Park, which has trees that go back to its plantation days.
Before this space could be laid out by the eminent John Charles Olmsted, it hosted the World Cotton Centennial of 1884, a world’s fair.
The only reminder from this event is a hefty iron ore rock from the Alabama State exhibit.
The park contains Riverview Park, a gorgeous stretch along the Mississippi for picnics, while there’s a par-3 golf course, generous sports facilities, a lagoon with abundant birdlife and a 1.75 mile paved loop for walkers, joggers and cyclists with exercise stations.
A Modernist icon for New Orleans, the Superdome took shape during the early-1970s and is the home stadium of the New Orleans Saints.
With a diameter of 210 metres, this is officially the largest domed structure in the world.
During Katrina the Superdome famously gave refuge to thousands of people escaping the hurricane and floodwater, and images of the damaged dome became a symbol for the disaster.
There have been happier days since then, like in 2010 when the Saints ended a 43-year wait for the Superbowl.
In a nation of outsized sporting venues, this 73,000-capacity monster is extraordinary.
Try to get tickets for a Saints game in spring or for college football’s Sugar Bowl on January I, which paid out an incredible $40m per team in 2019. There’s also a calendar of pre-season games, as well as music events like the Essence Festival in July and dates for the world’s biggest recording artists.
We’re talking Beyoncé, U2, The Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift in the last few years.
30. Metairie Cemetery
Catch a taxi to this beautiful cemetery in the neighbourhood of the same name, a little way west of City Park.
Metairie Cemetery has New Orleans’ largest collection of funeral statuary and ornate marble tombs.
It was founded in 1872 on what used to be the Metairie Race Course, and blends riveting stories with marvellous works of art.
There’s a memorial for David Hennessy (1858-1898), the police chief of New Orleans, whose murder led to the lynching of 11 members of the Italian community.
You can hunt down the final resting place of Josie Arlington (1864-1914), a Storyville madam whose tomb boasts the statue of a woman knocking on wooden doors.
Arlington’s body was removed after the tomb became a tourist curiosity.
The Brunswig mausoleum is an Egyptian-style pyramid and sphinx, while the Moriarty tomb has a monument 18 metres tall.
One of the loveliest is the tomb of Laure Beauregard Landon, with Moorish flourishes and exquisite stained glass.
31. The Presbytère
The Cabildo’s twin, facing Jackson Square on the north side of the cathedral, is from 1791 and held as one of the masterpieces of colonial Spanish architecture.
Previously the domestic quarters, or presbytère, for the cathedral’s Capuchin monks had stood on this spot, which explains the name.
This ornate building has come through a few different uses, and was a courthouse from 1834 to 1911. As with the Cabildo, the French mansard roof is a later addition, dating from 1847. In 1911 The Presbytère became one of the flagships for the Louisiana State Museum, and there are two permanent exhibits to pore over.
Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time maps this Louisiana celebration back to its Medieval European roots, and has historic throws, parade floats that you can climb on and info on the secretive social clubs that gave rise to the carnivals’ modern krewes.
Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond recounts the devastating effects of the 2005 disaster, the rescue effort and the reconstruction that is still ongoing.
32. New Orleans Jazz Museum
The Neoclassical Old U.S. Mint building (1835) on Esplanade Avenue has housed the New Orleans Jazz Museum since the 1980s.
The collection is amazing, and makes this a pilgrimage site for anyone with even a passing interest in the artform.
On display is the first ever jazz recording from 1917, Louis Armstrong’s first coronet and many invaluable instruments played by jazz greats like Sidney Bechet, George Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie.
In fact, this is the largest collection of the world of instruments played by important jazz figures, some going back to the end of the 19th century.
Get up close to Armstrong’s coronet and you can see the notches that he cut in the mouthpiece to help him play.
Also in the inventory are thousands of 78 rpm records from 1905 to the 1950s and up to 12,000 photographs documenting the earliest days of jazz music.
You can’t have a jazz museum without lots of live music, and there’s a programme of concerts and festivals at the performance space on the third floor or out in grounds.
33. Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Across the Road from the National World War II Museum is the world’s largest collection of art from the south-eastern and south central United States.
The museum was set up in 1999 and has been in the dominant Stephen Goldring Hall since 2003, showing works from 1733 to the present.
To name a small selection of the artists represented at the Ogden Museum there’s the ceramicist George Ohr, modernist painter Will Henry Stevens, folk artist Clementine Hunter and neo-Expressionist Hunt Slonem, just by way of introduction.
With no single “southern style” of art, the museum’s reserves are a thrilling miscellany, spanning genres and media like naïve art, abstraction, landscapes of bayous, outsider art, sculpture and a great deal more.
When we wrote this list in May 2019 there was a superb individual show for Expressionist Dusti Bongé, and “Vernacular Voices”, drawing from the museum’s first-rate collection of visionary, self-taught and outsider art.
34. Old New Orleans Rum Distillery
The oldest premium rum distillery in the United States is found in New Orleans’ Gentilly area.
Appropriate too, in sugarcane country and in a town of drive-thru daiquiris and real cocktail-making pedigree.
The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery is in a 150-year-old cotton warehouse, producing rums and pre-mixed cocktails from Louisiana sugarcane molasses.
You’ll be treated to a cocktail on arrival, and go on a 45-minute tour with an exuberant guide to find out how those molasses are fermented, distilled and aged to become rum.
At the end you’ll get to try, and of course buy, the distillery’s range, and it will be hard to resist.
The distillery provides a free shuttle service from the French Quarter, while u21s can take a tour free of charge, without a tasting session.
35. Woldenberg Park
Arcing around the east bank of the Mississippi opposite Algiers Point is a riverside park laid out in the 1980s and 90s on the site of former wharves and warehouses.
Woldenberg Park fronts the French Quarter and is bordered to the south by the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Entergy Giant Screen Theater.
During the French Quarter Festival in early April the main stages are put up in Woldenberg Park.
In truth there’s live music here at almost any time, thanks to spur of the moment second lines and strolling bands.
You can saunter along the riverside path, catch steamboats, take a picnic and savour the lush landscaping and profuse public art.
Come early to watch the sunrise and see the fog rolling off the Mississippi.
36. Historic New Orleans Collection
This foundation looks after a beautiful ensemble of seven historic buildings on Royal Street in the French Quarter, and runs the Beaux-Arts Williams Research Center on Chartres Street for academics.
The collection was started by General Lewis Kemper Williams (1887-1971) and his wife Leila Hardy Moore Williams (1901-1966), who in 1938 bought the 18th-century Merieult House and the neighbouring Italianate brick house beside.
Over time the couple assembled a wealth of material about New Orleans and Louisiana, which makes up the museum’s exhibition, while the foundation later acquired more buildings like a late-19th-century townhouse and a Creole cottage.
At the Royal Street campus you can peruse portraits, uniforms, antique furniture, maps and masses of documents.
In the museum’s inventory are collections for the War of 1812, jazz in New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl and masses of materials relating to Tennessee Williams, including playbills and manuscripts of works like The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire.
37. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
In 1804 the State of Louisiana passed a law requiring a licensing exam for would-be pharmacists.
The first person to pass this exam was one Louis J. Dufilho Jr. , becoming the first licensed pharmacist in the United States.
You can drop by his premises on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, where stacks of strange remedies line the walls in historic apothecary bottles.
On the ground floor you can pore over vintage surgical instruments, syringes, suppository moulds, details of questionable medical procedures, bottles of voodoo potions, opium and apparatus for making perfumes and cosmetics.
Above, in the living quarters there’s a preserved physician’s study and sick room, and a fine collection of spectacles.
38. Crescent Park
In the French Market District, Crescent Park is a linear park, 1.4 miles long beside the Mississippi.
You can get there by crossing the levee and railway via the “rusty bridge”. On the water there’s a supreme view west to the French District and Central Business District, accompanied by lots of public art, a series of mixed-use pavilions, native landscaping and paths for cyclists and pedestrians.
You can bring a po’ boy and to-go daiquiri and watch the river traffic floating past.
Crescent Park hosts lots of seasonal events like a New Year’s Day fun run and an outdoor party with DJs to watch the city’s Independence Day fireworks.
39. New Orleans Musical Legends Park
At the very heart of the French Quarter on Bourbon Street there’s a paved courtyard park celebrating New Orleans’ musical giants with plaques, artwork and other commemorative displays.
Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Chris Owens, Al Hirt and Louis Prima are all honoured here, among others.
A constant stream of musicians put on free performances in this laid-back environment with lots of shade, and you can grab coffee and a Cajun speciality like crawfish omelette at Cafe Beignet.
Once you sit down you may not want to get up again.
40. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
The first planned cemetery in New Orleans is in the Garden District and takes up just a single city block.
When Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was founded in 1833 it was in the City of Lafayette, which was incorporated into New Orleans in 1852. The cemetery holds around 7,000 people and 1,100 tombs, many of which are stunning, all the more so for their patina and the slight air of dilapidation.
This site was understandably chosen as a shooting location for Interview with the Vampire (1994). The book’s author, Anne Rice lived close to the cemetery in the Garden District.
if you’re a fan, the tomb for the Mayfair witches in The Witching Hour, matches a combination of the Jefferson and Fireman tombs in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
Suggested tour: Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery Tour
41. Canal Street/Algiers Ferry
A fine, not to mention cheap, way to see the city is on the ferry over the Mississippi between the foot of Canal Street on the boundary of the French Quarter, and the 19th-century neighbourhood of Algiers Point on the West Bank.
There has been a ferry service at this point in the river since 1827, and the crossing was free until a $2 charge was introduced for a single ticket in 2014. Ferries depart on the hour and half-hour from the West Bank beginning at 06:00, and on the quarter-hour and three-quarter-hour from Canal Street.
You can spend a while in Algiers Point, at the Jazz Walk of Fame, the kid-friendly Confetti Park, strolling along the riverfront on the paved levee bike path and taking in the beautiful houses.
42. Whitney Plantation
This preserved plantation near Wallace was founded in 1752 by German immigrants and has a raised-style Spanish Creole house that was built in 1803, just after the crop was switched from indigo to sugarcane.
The Whitney Plantation, opened to the public in 2014, is the only plantation museum in Louisiana that focuses solely on the lives of enslaved people.
Your 90-minute tour will be a jarring but fascinating journey through slave cabins, the owner’s house and a church for freedmen, a detached kitchen and a variety of outbuildings.
As you go there’s memorial artwork, information boards and first-person narratives for many of the 350 slaves held here.
You can make a round trip to the Whitney Plantation with GetYourGuide.com for a moving and education day trip.
43. Louis Armstrong Park
In the 1960s a big chunk of the Tremé neighbourhood, across Rampart Street from the French Quarter, was razed to make way for the 32-acre Louis Armstrong Park.
Tremé had a crucial role in the development of African American music, and Congo Square, preserved in the park, was its epicentre.
Slaves were given the day off on Sundays from 1724, and from 1817 until the 1850s this space was a gathering point where a multitude of African dances and musical styles collided with European genres and instrumentation.
Their rhythms can still be heard in second lines and New Orleans jazz funerals.
Outdoor performances began once more at the end of the 19th century and have continued ever since, while capacious venues like the Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts (1973) and the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium (1930) arrived during the 20th century.
Among the monuments there’s a 3.6-metre statue of Louis Armstrong, a sculpture for Buddy Bolden and a bust of Sidney Bechet.
As a sidenote, Congo Square was the setting for the first ever New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970.
44. Louisiana Children’s Museum
In spring 2019, this treasured New Orleans institution was getting ready to move from 420 Julia Street to a high-tech and sustainable campus at City Park.
The new museum grounds will cover 8.5 acres and have an interpretive wetland habitat, edible garden and an LEED-certified main building on the banks of a lagoon.
Here there will be a replica grocery store and bubble studio, while the 30-metre Mighty Mississippi exhibit will explain the course of this mighty river from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.
The original Louisiana Children’s Museum was founded in 1986 and became a go-to for young families thanks to its fun but subtly educational take on topics like the environment, health and the arts.
45. St. Roch Market
First raised in 1875, this old market hall on St. Claude Avenue came through a post-Katrina renovation between 2012-15, reopening as a modern, chef-centric food hall.
In this bright and airy space are 11 dining options around an acclaimed craft cocktail bar, The Mayhaw.
T2 Streetfood does Vietnamese classics like banh mi, pho and bao buns, while Torshi is all about eastern Mediterranean flavours, from falafel to gyros, tabouli and baklava.
Check out Fritai for treats like baked crab, mac & cheese and pork shoulder sandwich with fried plantains, avocado and mango sauce, or Doily for its extra creative sandwiches, salads and soups.
Lastly, Coast Roast uses antique century-old roasting machines to produce full-bodied frozen, iced and dip coffees.
46. Rooftop Bars
In a city blessed with good weather, great views and a flair for cocktail-making, it makes sense that rooftop bars should thrive in New Orleans.
These tend to belong to hotels, but all the bars included in this paragraph are open to the public.
There’s Hot Tin at the historic Ponchartrain Hotel where you can take in clear views of the Mississippi and downtown New Orleans sipping classy cocktails in a space with nods to Tennessee Williams.
Monkey Board at the Troubadour hotel has regular live music and DJ sets, and a menu inspired by food trucks, while Capulet in Bywater is a restaurant terrace serving inventive sandwiches like bloody mary beef and kimchee BLT.
Atop the Ace Hotel in the Warehouse District is Alto, a rooftop garden and poolside bar for seasonal cocktails and Italian-style small plates.
47. Bayou St. John
A genteel neighbourhood bordered to the west by the waterway of the same name, Bayou St. John has centuries-old oaks, distinguished Creole mansions and an inviting waterfront.
A near-perfect way to pass a couple of hours might be to grab a Blue Bike from New Orleans’ bike sharing system, and coast down Esplanade Avenue, pausing at sights like the Dufour-Plassan House from 1870, which has an exquisite iron fence adorned with cornstalks and sunflowers.
Also on Esplanade Avenue is the mansion that Edgar Degas stayed in during his spell in New Orleans in 1872-73. Once you get to the water you can take a break at the Bayou Beer Garden, which hosts a crawfish boil during the season.
The east bank of the bayou is a fine place to watch the sun go down, and if the water is calling your name you can rent a kayak or paddleboard from Nola Paddleboards and Bayou Paddlesports.
48. Oak Alley Plantation
The name of this sugarcane plantation on the west bank of the Mississippi in St. James Parish comes from the graceful 240-metre alley of southern live oaks running from the riverside to the Greek Revival house.
These were planted in the early 1700s, a good century before the house was built, and their twisting branches form a beautiful shade canopy.
The house went up in 1837 and has a colonnade with 28 imposing Doric columns, mirroring the 28 oaks in the alley.
Take a couple of hours to tour the landscape and get in touch with the lives and routines of the enslaved men, women and children who were kept at Oak Alley.
One slave, Antoine, was the first person in the world to find out how to propagate individual pecan trees.
The Sugarcane Exhibit charts the sugarcane empire of the owners, the Roman family, explaining how sugarcane was grown and processed and how vital slaves were to the operation.
Recommended tour: Oak Alley and Laura Plantation Combo
49. Carousel Gardens
The last antique wooden carousel in Louisiana sits in this small amusement park in City Park.
Dating to 1906 and often known as “Flying Horses”, this is one of the oldest carousels in the country, still using its original motor and beautifully carved horses, and moved to this spot in 1928. The ride was damaged during Katrina, but was carefully restored and drew national attention when it reopened.
The fun doesn’t stop with the carousel, as there’s a decent helping of amusements to go with it, like bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, a narrow-gauge railway with a steam whistle, a tilt-a-whirl and the Live Oak Lady Bug Roller Coaster.
50. Faubourg Marigny
You’re sure to visit Marigny at night for Frenchmen Street’s jazz and blues on Frenchmen Street but you should also try to return during the day to poke around this colourful part of town.
Settled for the first time in 1806, Faubourg Marigny is full of brightly painted Creole cottages in the French and Spanish colonial styles from the 19th century.
For the best of this architecture check out Dauphine Street, Washington Square and Burgundy Street.
Some of the luminaries of the New Orleans jazz scene lived in homes such as these in Faubourg Marigny, like Danny Barker, Paul Barbarin and Sidney Bechet.
The neighbourhood has a slightly rakish quality, which adds to its charm and is loaded with hip restaurants and bars, art studios and thrift stores for one-off souvenirs.
51. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Protecting six different locations in and around NOLA, the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve adds up to 22,421 acres, encompassing bayou, prairie, swamp and the site of the Battle of New Orleans (1815) at Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery.
The park also looks after the French Quarter Visitor Center, which maps the history of New Orleans and the many cultures of the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana, going into language, music, livelihoods and architecture.
A little way south of New Orleans in Marrero is the expansive Barataria Preserve, where marsh, swamps and hardwood forest are crawling with gators, snakes and turtles.
Come for guided walks to spot wildflowers in summer, or to cross the boardwalks in the wetlands at 10:00 from Wednesday to Sunday.
Much further afield, three of the preserve’s sites delve into the Cajun culture in Lafayette, born after the Acadians were expelled from Canada in the middle of the 18th century.
52. Longue Vue House and Gardens
Beyond the cemeteries to the west of the city is a genteel Classical-Revival mansion in eight acres of intricately landscaped gardens.
The house, dating from the late-1930s, was the home of businessman and philanthropist Edgar B. Stern and his wife Edith who was the daughter of Sears Roebuck magnate Julius Rosenwald.
Longue Vue was one of the last of the Country Place Era estates, a mansion styled at the turn of the 20th century that included rich gardens.
There are 20 rooms to ponder in the house, which is unusual for the New Orleans area thanks to its basement.
There are carpets from Europe, preserved costumes, ceramics from China and eminent manufacturers like Wedgwood and a collection of modern and contemporary art.
Figures like John and Robert Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt were received in the opulent drawing room, while the Blue Room is so called for its matching wall hangings, carpeting and furniture.
Outside, the walled garden grows fresh vegetables and herbs, while the wild garden is planted with species native to Louisiana.
53. Drive-Thru Daiquiris
We’ve seen that New Orleans dances to a different beat, and another manifestation is in the concept of a drive-thru daiquiri.
Yes, you read that right.
These businesses first cropped up in the early-1980s when there were no laws against driving under the influence in Louisiana.
The state now has sensible drink driving laws, but there’s a slight loophole permitting frozen beverages provided there’s a plastic lid.
So a raft of drive-thru daiquiri joints persist, especially on Airport Road, with the straws handed over on the side.
One of the big chains is New Orleans Original Daiquiris, which has a volume of flavours of this refreshing frozen drink to choose from, many approximating classic cocktails, like piña colada, margarita, bellini, hurricane, amaretto & pineapple, in cups from 12oz up to a head-reeling 40oz.
The same principle applies on the city streets where you can order post-meal drinks “to go” or find walk-up daiquiri spots selling drinks from a window.
54. Saenger Theatre
Established in the French Quarter as an “atmospheric” movie theatre in 1927, the Saenger Theatre fell on hard times by the 1960s and was renovated as a performing arts venue in the late-1970s.
Katrina hit the Saenger Theatre hard, but fortunately the building was in the middle of restoration so many of its fittings had been removed as the waterline was above stage level.
This brought on another phase of restoration that continued right up until Jerry Seinfeld took the stage for three nights in September 2013. The original finishes and colour schemes from 1927 have been brought back to life, but combined with state-of-the-art sound and technical systems.
The Saenger receives an endless parade of Tony award-winning musicals, major recording artists, international dance companies, some of the country’s top comedy talent and children’s shows, all in an opulent and historic setting.
55. Airboat Tours
Definitely the most thrilling way to experience the swamps around New Orleans is at high speed on an airboat.
To make this happen there are a few options on GetYourGuide.com. “Swamp Tours South of New Orleans by Airboat” set off from a dock on Bayou Barataria.
You’ll glide across the water at speeds topping 35 mph, in search of alligators, bald eagles, pelicans, ospreys, wild pigs, turtles, owls, raccoons and other swamp life.
The boat will make regular stops for photos, and to see alligators so close you can look into their eyes.
With luck you’ll get to meet Sugar and Flour, two leucistic alligators, and may get to hold a baby gator.
Pickup and drop-off are available from hotels and rental accommodation in the city.