New Orleans is a colorful and indomitable city. It’s been the object of many battles, the victim of hurricanes, and the home of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures. The strength and vivacity of this city is a testament to the incredible place it is, and it’s certainly one of the top cities you have to see before you die. There’s a lot to see in Louisiana’s most fascinating city, but these 14 things to do in New Orleans should make it to the top of your agenda.
First things first. There is no city more food-centric than New Orleans. The Crescent City is home to iconic foods like po’ boys, muffalettas and beignets and unique cuisines like Creole and Cajun. It’s hard to go wrong when it comes to dining in The Big Easy. Long time cheap eats favorites include Parkway (po’ boys), Central Grocery (muffaletas), and Cafe du Monde (beignets). Feeling like something a little more upscale and classic? Try breakfast at Brennan’s, French-Creole at Antoine’s, or the jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace. Who knew that New Orleans also has some of the best fried chicken in the country? Try Willie Mae’s Scotch House, Coop’s Place or Dooky Chase.
Live Music on Frenchmen Street
New Orleans is world famous for music, and Frenchmen Street is one of the hottest areas to check out live bands. It doesn’t have the touristy glitz of Bourbon Street but instead offers an authentic New Orleans experience. Check out venerable clubs like Blue Nile or The Spotted Cat or check out d.b.a. for both famous artists and up and comers. You don’t even have to go in to the clubs to have a good time; brass bands, Hula-Hoop squads, and more create a unique atmosphere on the street and you’ll find local art and crafts at the late night Frenchmen Art Market. Satisfy your after-club cravings with “tachos” – a mash up of tater tots and nachos – at 13 Monaghan.
Visit French Quarter
French Quarter is the original New Orleans neighborhood. It was the first area settled after the city was founded in 1718. The marks of 300 years of history have been left throughout the area, lending a charmingly old-fashioned feel to the area and plenty of history to see and explore. Be sure to check out Bourbon Street while you’re there— with it’s flashy neon and rollicking music, you can’t miss it.
Go to Jackson Square
Jackson Square is an artsy part of New Orleans, and it’s one you have to see while you’re in the city. There are always performers in the square—mostly musicians who play the melodies of the city. Usually, there is also art lining the walls. Around the edges of the square, beautiful historic buildings and a historic cathedral lend a European feel to the environment. The park was built in 1721, and many of the buildings are from that era. Some of them now contain restaurants and boutiques.
Aquarium of the Americas
You’d think that this aquarium holds every kind of fish in the sea! Four hundred thousand gallons of water contain actual coral reefs, fish, rays, and more. There’s also a walk-through tunnel, where you can watch sharks swim overhead! You can also see alligators and penguins, and if you time it right, see the otters get fed and feed the stingrays yourself.
The huge enclosures at the Audubon Zoo seem to make the animals happier and carefree than a lot of the animals at other zoos. There is a huge mix of animals here, from local New Orleans animals to the most exotic of species. There’s also a carousel and a dinosaur exhibit for the little ones. Be sure to pack snacks, because you’ll want to stay all day long.
The National WWII Museum
This huge museum has plenty of displays to help you and your group understand World War II like never before. The museum boasts a submarine, historic planes, and more. You can walk through the museum in chronological order, watching the unfolding of events as somebody who was actually there. There’s a lot to see, so make sure you set aside enough time to view everything, especially if you’re one of those people who likes to read all the labels.
St. Louis Cathedral
This 18th Century cathedral is smaller than its most famous European counterparts, but it rivals in beauty many of the cathedrals built in France around the same era. The outside of the building is striking but the inside is absolutely gorgeous. The Baroque altar, frescoed ceiling, and stained glass make this cathedral one of the loveliest on the continent.
When you want to relax and enjoy the great outdoors, there’s nowhere better to go than Audubon Park. This park is filled with trees and grassy fields, so you can play a pick-up game of soccer or just hang out in the shade. For kids, there is an awesome playground, while adults can take advantage of the tennis courts and jogging paths. If you go, be sure to bring a picnic! There are plenty of tables and space to spread out a blanket.
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
This living museum is ideal for kids who are all about the creepy-crawlies, but it’s actually a pretty cool place to visit, no matter who you are. You can walk through the butterfly garden while a tour guide explains all about the various butterflies. There is also a museum hall filled with all types of bugs, so you can get a closer look without worrying about them crawling on you. At the end, watch an IMAX movie about insects.
Mardi Gras World
If you don’t make it to New Orleans around Mardi Gras, never fear! You can still get a good look at this part of New Orleans Culture. Mardi Gras World is the place where all the famous floats are created and kept, and you can go get a good look at them during the facilities tour. Watch the artists at work and gaze at finished products! This actually might be even cooler than the event itself.
Sports fans, rejoice! The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is the place where the Saints football team plays, and in the off-season, it also hosts a variety of other activities. See the staduim that hosted a record number of Super Bowls and innumerable iconic sports moments. The entire experience is a blast!
Once the courthouse, this 19th Century building now houses the Louisiana State Museum. For a low price, you can explore the history of Louisiana, including an extensive exhibit on Hurricane Katrina’s effect on the state. It also covers the history and culture of Mardi Gras, plus the story of New Orleans. This is a great place to learn all about the city and get a historical context for the things you will see as you’re out and about.
New Orleans Museum of Art
The museum building itself is a work of art. The marble building is built in a beautiful old world style that will make you want to stop and take photos before you even get inside. The New Orleans Museum of Art not only features thousands of paintings, but also an enchanting sculpture garden. The art is from cultures all around the world and from across many eras, making it a place with something new to appreciate around every corner.
New Orleans is an amazing mix of cultures, all combining to make an intoxicating experience. (Both literally and figuratively speaking.) From first class jazz and blues music to French and Creole cuisine to art and history, the Big Easy gives visitors exciting things to see and do, whether its their first visit or their hundredth.