New Orleans is a blend of cultures that truely come together and create a very special place to be. The city is very open about its history and round every corner you will find examples of its past in its present. Music lovers, especially fans of jazz, will be in heaven in the city but food lovers and art buffs are equally well catered for. Despite its lively buzz, you will also not struggle to find a green space to chill out in and surround yourself with old oak trees.
Here are the best things to do in New Orleans:
1. Stroll around the French Quarter
The oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans is also one of its liveliest. The French Quarter is home to some of the city’s iconic landmarks as well as a great variety of restaurants, shops, bars and concert venues. Whether you enjoy dancing in one of the quarter’s great bars or whether you enjoy eating Cajun cuisine, you are bound to discover something you love in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is also home to Walt Disney’s Port Orleans Resort with its very own jazz club and horse drawn carriage rides.
2. See some art at Jackson Square
This historic park within the French Quarter has been a National Historic Landmark since 1960. The square has been a prominent part of the French Quarter since the 18th Century and is a place where local artists paint, draw and sketch whilst also trying to sell their work. The park is a great place to get a souvenir whilst in New Orleans with artists able to draw a caricature of you or paint a portrait and you can take it home right away.
3. Chill out in City Park
City Park is without a doubt one of the best urban parks in the United States. It is an ecclectic mix of trees and flowers covering a space of around 1300 acres. The park is the seventh most visited Urban Park in the United States and is known as being the most attractive green space in the city. The park is a great tribute to the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana with refined versions of both the wetlands and forests that are prominent outside of the city.
4. Admire the St Louis Cathedral
Another of the French Quarter’s Gems; the St Louis Cathedral is seen as one of the best examples of French architecture in the United States. In the past the cathedral has hosted black, white and Creole Catholic congregants as well as a mix of influences including voodoo queen Marie Laveu. In 1964 the cathedral was awarded the rank of minor basilica by Pope Paul VI. Even if you don’t feel like stepping foot inside the building, make sure you admire the amazing French facade.
5. Visit the zoo
The Audubon Zoo, found on Magazine Street, covers 58 acres and is the home of more than 2,000 animals. The animals that are the stars of the show range from habitats found all over the globebut also feature habitats based on those found closer to home including the popular Louisiana Swamp exhibit. As with many zoos, there are daily presentations and feeding times which are worth trying to catch during your visit.
6. Visit the Aquarium of the Americas
Near to, and also part of the Audubon Nature Reserve is the fascinating Aquarium of the Americas. The Aquarium explores everything from the Carribean reefs to the Southern Seas and everything within them including otters and sting rays. Also popular is the Gulf of Mexico exhibit with its sharks and tarpons within a tank holding over 400,000 gallons of water. The aquarium is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm.
7. Learn more about the magic of Mardi Gras
The New Orlean’s festival known all over the world, Mardi Gras, takes place only once a year but if you visit the city when it is not time for Mardi Gras then Mardi Gras World is the best alternative. Mardi Gras World is home to an actual workshop where floats for the parade are made as well as a variety of objects and artifacts that give a real behind the scenes view of the festival. Tours are possible seven days a week and take place every half hour.
8. Learn at the National World War 2 Museum
Previously known as the D-Day Museum, the National World War 2 Museum is a well presented and educational look at the lives of those who fought in, and were part of, World War 2. The exhibits cover the history of the war in general as well as changing, more focused, exhibits. Currently, exhibits focus on the path of the American troops to Tokyo during the battle with the Japanese. The exhibits are housed in three buildings and consists of more than 100,000 artifacts and objects.
9. Admire art at the New Orleans Museum of Art
The New Orleans Museum of Art is the city’s oldest fine art museum. It opened over a hundred years ago in 1911. When it opened, the museum had only 9 pieces of art but now has more than 40,000. In true homage to New Orleans, the museum focuses mainly on French and American artowrk across a range of media including photography, sculptures and glasswork. The museum also has a smaller but impressive collection of African art.
10. Go jogging in Audubon Park
Another little gem within the Audubon Nature Institute is Audubon Park, an urban green space located in the Uptown area of the city. The park has something for the whole family and is a great place to relax away from the lively atmosphere of downtown. Among the things to do within Audubon Park are stables, playgrounds, tennis courts and various historic information about the area.
11. Get up close and personal with bugs
The last time the Audubon Nature Institute will make it to this list, but still worth mention as an attraction is the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. The gardens encourage visitors to use every sense (even taste) available to explore the world of bugs. A trip to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is good fun and includes memorable moments like being shrunk to the size of a bug and exploring a Louisiana swamp.
12. Listen to jazz at Preservation Hall
Preservation Hall is an iconic no nonsense venue that dates back to 1961. It has hard wooden floors and no air condition so comfort is not top priority here but music certainly is. The venue hosts a variety of well known and local jazz musicians that will appeal to all ages and tastes. For most shows you can just turn up half an hour before the show starts and queue for entrance.
13. Explore the history of New Orleans
The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum and research center dedicated to the state of Louisiana and in particular the city of New Orleans itself. Current exhibits include information about the twenty most influential women in the history of New Orleans and Shakespeare’s connections with the city. Docent guided tours take place on a daily basis and last for about 45 minutes but only cost $5.
14. Have fun at the Louisiana Children’s Museum
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is a must visit attraction if you are visiting New Orleans with youngsters. The museum is 40,000 square feet of fun and interactive exhibits including learning about how your body works complete with rock climbing and the Safety Zone which teaches children how to react in an emergency whilst keeping it interactive, fun and relaxed. Opening times vary during the different seasons so be sure to check before you visit.
15. See an alligator
The purpose of the Jean Lafitte National Park is to preserve and protect an area of the Louisiana Missisippi Delta Region. The main attraction within the park is the Barataria Preserve. Situated just 17 miles away from New Orleans the wild wetlands of Barataria is home to alligators and bayous as well as rare bird species. Also within the park are the Prairie Acadian and Wetlands Acadian Cultural Centers.
16. Walk around a cemetery
With the lush green that surrounds the cemetery, you will really get a sense of sub tropical Gothic whilst visiting Lafeyette Cemetery No 1. The Cemetery was built in 1883 and its most notable sights include the crypts of the Jefferson Fire Company. You may also notice that there are a lot of German and Irish names in the cemetery and this bears testimony to the lethal affect of the Yellow Fever epidemic in the 19th Century. Self guided tours are the best way to explore the cemetery allowing for time to explore the many graves.
17. Appreciate Southern Art
A brilliant museum in the city that is not one of the best known is the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The collection housed within the museum was started by New Orleans businessman Roger Houston Ogden and has become one of the finest collections of Southern art ever amassed. Thursday nights are a great time to visit as they combine live performances by local musicians with wine and, of course, the art itself. Pieces within the museum range from folk art to impressionist portraits.
18. Visit the former seat of government
Cabildo was once the seat of government back in colonial Louisiana but it now offers an opportunity to learn about the history of the state. The building itself is also spectacular and is worth seeing on its own merits and is an eclectic mix of Spanish Colonial and French architecture. Objects on show include paintings of old New Orleans residents, wanted posters advertising rewards for the return of escaped slaves and Native American tools. The building acted as the council hall for New Orleans up until the 1850s.
19. Get cultured at the Backstreet Cultural Museum
This stylish and informative museum focuses on the African American cultural influences in New Orleans. The museum is set in a former funeral home and isn’t very big but it will still take a couple of hours to fully absorb the exhibits on show here. The guided tours at the museum are good if not a little rushed. Either way they are the best way to experience, and learn from, the museum.
20. Visit another cemetery
Visiting two cemetery’s whilst on holiday may sound a bit depressing but the St Louis Cemetery No 1, much like Lafayette, is packed full of history. Due to the shallow water table of the area burials at this cemetery, mostly involving Creoles, had to be conducted above ground. The grave of the voodoo queen Marie Laveau can also be found within the cemetery marked with three crosses by those under her spell. Due to ongoing troubles with vandalism, visits to the museum were restricted to family and guided tours only.
21. Stroll down Royal Street
Royal Street is the perfect place to spend a few hours of your time exploring. The street is lined with antique shops that will keep you entertained even if you don’t plan on spending any money. The garden balconies that feature throughout the street also make an attractive feature. To make things even better, the street is pedestrian only during the day so you can walk along and admire the galleries and shops without worrying about traffic.
22. Visit Newcomb Art Gallery
Not only is this art gallery worth visiting for its collections of art but it is also a nice place to see University life in America at its most chilled out. The green lawns outside the gallery are often home to sunbathers and games of frisbee and offer a great spot for people watching. Exhibits inside the gallery include pottery and sculptures from around the world as well as more traditional painting collections.
23. Stroll through Tulane University campus
Whilst we are on the topic of Tulane University, it is worth mention the campus in its own right. The Tulane University Campus is one of the most attractive in the country and should be viewed during a visit to New Orleans. Its a great place to relax and go for a peaceful stroll but it also has points of interest including the cemetery and art gallery. Tours are available and we recommend the New Orleans Ghost Tour.
24. Go back in time to the 1850s
The 1850 House, which is actually part of the Louisiana State Museum, transports visitors back to the mid 19th Century with original furnishings that accurately represent the era. The buildings themselves are supposed to be the oldest apartment buildings in the United States and are as intriguing to look at from the outside as within. Admission to the 1850s house costs only $3 for adults.
25. Sample some New Orleans food
New Orleans cuisine is rather unique mainly due to the fact that so many cultures and countries have had an influence upon it. Staples of a New Orleans diet include sausage, okra, seafood and chicken and that is just in one dish! The Gumbo, which can be a mix of just about anything, is a hearty stew that originated in the state of Louisiana and should be sampled during your time in New Orleans. You certainly won’t struggle to find a place that serves it.