No matter how many times you return to New Orleans, there’s always something new to discover. The melting pot of Afro-Caribbean meets French and Spanish traditions makes for a European city with a distinctly New Orleans point of view. Which is to say, a place where food, music, and good times are prioritized.
It’s not called “Big Easy” for nothing and each neighborhood has its respective charms. No matter where you choose to stay downtown, uptown, or in between, get ready for sensory-filled experience that will leave you understanding what it means to “Miss New Orleans.”
Here are fun things to do that will help you stretch your vacation budget.
Listen to Music
Any given day of the week there is more live music in New Orleans than in most cities in a month. Don’t believe me? Look up the local community radio station, WWOZ livewire online for up-to-date music listings.
Wander the French Quarter during the day and enjoy the sounds of the Cajun two-step to a strolling brass band.
In the evening, hit up Preservation Hall for a dose of traditional jazz (there’s no food or drink though so prepare ahead!) After 9 p.m., Frenchmen Street comes alive and you can club up and down the street for jazz trios, blues, and more.
Fees range from free to a cover charge up to $30.
Go on a Tour
Nothing beats exploring a city on foot and themed walking tours offer a tour for every interest. From a dose of French Quarter history to an evening of Ghost stories, there are multiple companies that skillfully blend entertainment and history. (Hint: the famed New Orleans cemeteries require a guided tour these days.)
Walking Tours – Garden District Tours, Vampire or Ghost Tours, and French Quarter History--each tour guide tells entertaining tales rooted in New Orleans history.
Bicycle Tour – If you’d rather bike your tour than walk, there are a minimum of four bike tour companies in town. One Saturday morning on my way to brunch at XYZ, I saw no less than 3 bike tour gatherings around the park.
Take the Double Decker Bus Hop On Hop Off – These impossible to miss buses have a two hour loop around the popular French Quarter and Lower Garden District. Set your own pace by either staying on for the whole tour or hop off when you want. Another bus will be by in 30 minutes or less!
For guided tours, fees range from donation based to $39/person.
Visit a Festival
With 130 festivals a year, there’s bound to be one happening no matter when you’re in town. Many of them are free to wander through and enjoy the music. You only pay for any food or drink you consume. Mardi Gras of course is one famous example. It’s completely free to wander the streets and catch throws from the parade floats – and if you head Uptown, it’s a far more family-oriented experience than you may expect.
Go for a Ride
Ride the St. Charles Streetcar – Lined with Live Oak trees and 19th c. mansions., St. Charles Avenue is one of the prettiest streets in town. The 6.5 mile stretch will take you from the Central Business District (CBD) on Canal at Bourbon St. past the gracious mansions and university district to the Riverbend neighborhood.
The price is $1.25, and you'll want to have exact change. Or, you can purchase a multi-use pass.
Ride the Blue Bikes – The Blue Bikes are a new bike sharing program launched in 2019. Bike stations are set up around town. They’re $8 an hour or $15 a month. You can get a map of their locations and download the app here.
New Orleans is a serious food town which means everyone has an opinion on the “best” of anything. If you’re in the Warehouse District around lunch time, duck into the Auction House Market for a quick bite. This light-filled space has 9 food stands offering everything from Indian-style doshas (lentil crepes filled with chicken curry) to oysters.
In the Lower Garden District, Mahoney’s has overstuffed po’boys and on weekends a “boozy brunch.”
Beignets at Café du Monde are always a favorite. Find this powdered sugar covered confection between the river and Jackson Square or at the City Park outpost. They come to a plate of three and are best enjoyed by ducking them in a chicory-laced café au lait.
Visit the Sculpture Garden at City Park
The New Orleans Museum of Art welcomes the newly expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. Open daily until 5 p.m., you’ll find 80 sculptures from the likes of Rodin to Roy Lichtenstein set amid 11 acres of live oaks and meandering pathways.
Back in the French Quarter, Historic Homes like the Hermann-Grima and Gallier Houses offer peeks into New Orleans home life in the 1830’s and 1860’s respectively.
So many things to do! Which of these will make your “must do” list on your next New Orleans vacation?
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