New Orleans (Crescent City, the Big Easy, NOLA, whatever you like to call it) is loads of fun. Culture, art, music, nature, nightlife, and plenty of good food. What more can you ask for of a city? It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and in my opinion, not many other US cities top New Orleans in terms of entertainment and culture. That’s why I always find myself visiting New Orleans at least once every two years! I really can’t get enough of this spectacular city.
If you’re not sure what to expect of NOLA, here’s a list that’ll stir your imagination. French-influenced architecture? Everywhere! Drinking in the streets until the wee hours of the morning? Check. Gas station fried chicken (yum)? Check. Live music playing at every street corner? Check. The opportunity to learn more about voodoo culture? Check. Cemetery and ghost tours? Yes!
There is no shortage of things to do in New Orleans. And there really is no better place to vacation! This travel guide features my favorite free and affordable things to do in New Orleans, ranging from must-do tourist activities to the off-the-beaten-path gems.
My goal is to help you plan the perfect New Orleans itinerary for your trip. Read on to discover some of my favorite sights and activities (and food options) in New Orleans!
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MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS
FREE AND AFFORDABLE THINGS TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS
CATCH LIVE PERFORMERS AT JACKSON SQUARE
Jackson Square is a National Historic Landmark nestled right in the center of the French Quarter. It’s an absolutely beautiful and entertaining place to hang out for a few hours. Sure it’s picturesque, but there’s one major aspect that draws travelers to Jackson Square (and often compels them to fall in love with NOLA)– the live music and performances that take place on a daily basis!
Unlike street performers in other tourist destinations (whose main purpose is to make money off tourists doing backflips and showing off their pet parrots), the performers and musicians in New Orleans are extremely talented. Trust me, you won’t regret grabbing a seat on a bench, catching a live performance or two, and watching the time go by. Every time I’m in New Orleans, I carve out a few hours just to sit and enjoy the lively atmosphere in Jackson Square. Definitely some of my fondest memories in New Orleans!
Pro Tip: Grab coffee and beignets from Cafe du Monde and enjoy breakfast while people-watching in the Square.
EXPLORE THE FRENCH QUARTER
The French Quarter is one of NOLA’s most historic neighborhoods and is even a designated National Historic Landmark. For many people, all they see of the French Quarter is Bourbon Street. These folks are missing out on so much fascinating and rich history! Take a stroll through the various streets of the neighborhood and soak in the district’s French-influenced architecture. Seriously, get lost in it. There’s so much old-world beauty here. Along with its bohemian charm, the French Quarter is home to dozens of museums, art galleries, boutiques, long-established restaurants, and bars.
If you’re looking for a stellar meal in the French Quarter, some classic must-try restaurants include Antoine’s Restaurant, Arnaud’s Restaurant, Galatoire’s, and Brennan’s. Go ahead, eat your heart out. Looking for a fine place to brunch? My favorite spot is Cafe Amelie (you gotta get the shrimp and grits here). For daytime drinks on a hot day, head to Napoleon House and try a Pimm’s Cup!
TAKE A GHOST TOUR
A ghost tour is so uniquely New Orleans and is so fun to do, especially with a group of friends! Discover New Orleans’ dark side on a 2‐hour history ghost tour with Haunted History Tours. Hear tales of famous hauntings from your local guide, and visit the French Quarter’s most infamous and eerie locations. The ghost tour we booked for our group of 8 was a great mix of fun, entertainment, and spookiness.
Each location we visited was paired with some kind of story–some were about real vampire worshippers while others were about ghost encounters. If you’re looking for a different kind of walking tour, this one will have you biting your nails and laughing at the same time!
Free Tours By Foot also has a free ghost tour, and though I can’t speak to its quality, all the other tours I’ve taken with them were awesome.
TAKE A FREE VOODOO TOUR
Voodoo tours in New Orleans tend to be pretty popular since voodoo is a subculture that isn’t as prevalent in other parts of the United States. I highly recommend Free Tours By Foot’s pay-what-you-wish New Orleans Voodoo Tour. This tour dives into the history, culture, and beliefs of both historic and current practitioners. Along the way, they’ll also touch upon the history of slavery, Haitian rebellions, the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and also explain the truths behind popular superstitions. The tour ends with a stop inside a Voodoo temple and a chance to pick up some New Orleans “gris-gris” to take home.
Of all the tours I’ve done in New Orleans over the years, the voodoo tours were my favorite–simply because they’re jam-packed with so much educational and historical information!
TAKE A CEMETERY TOUR
Now, you may think it’s a little strange to be touring cemeteries, but trust me when I say New Orlean’s cemeteries are a sight to see. Architecturally, the tombs are predominantly above-ground tombs which is very different from what most other places in the US have (this is because New Orleans is actually situated below sea level, which means its water table is too high). I mean, the Saint Louis Cemetery is just beautiful. It dates to 1789 and is the oldest cemetery still standing in the city.
Visiting the city’s cemeteries is an activity unique to NOLA and the best part is that they’re free to visit. If you want to check out some cemeteries, two of New Orleans’ most famous cemeteries include St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 on the edge of the French Quarter and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District.
Don’t feel like visiting on your own? There are various tour groups out there that hold cemetery tours on a daily basis. Below are some highly recommended options:
Fun Fact: Marie Laveau, the most famous voodoo priestess who lived in New Orleans in the 19th century, is said to be buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
FRENCH QUARTER CARRIAGE RIDES
For those of you who would rather explore NOLA on wheels, you can opt for a mule-drawn carriage ride. Each carriage fits no more than 8 people and comes with a guide that will teach you about New Orlean’s history, as well as share some interesting facts about the city. These are easy to find within the French Quarter (you can usually find groups of carriages near Jackson Square).
SHOP AND DINE AT THE FRENCH MARKET
Strolling around the French Market (in the French Quarter) is one of my favorite things to do in New Orleans. This is where people go to get their fill of shopping, dining, music, and local NOLA tradition. The charming open-air market spans five blocks and contains a wide variety of restaurants and shops, a farmer’s market, and a flea market selling specialty art and handmade goods.
Do come hungry, because the food options here are endless. Don’t miss the large variety of food stands, full-service eateries, and outdoor dining spaces at the Farmers Market Pavilion. While you’re here, browse the food stalls for snacks and other packaged edible goods to take home! Some ideas for food items to bring home: spices, beignet mix, hot sauce, local candy, and flavored nuts.
Once you’re done with your meal, follow it up with beignets from Cafe Du Monde. If you’re looking to buy local crafts, check out the tax-free Dutch Alley Artists’ Co-op.
VISIT MARDI GRAS WORLD
If you can’t make it out to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, don’t fret. You can still get a taste of the carnival season on a tour of Mardi Gras World! Mardi Gras World is not an amusement park or anything, it’s actually a working studio where they create and store Mardi Gras floats.
On Mardi Gras World’s behind-the-scenes tour, you can peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of what they’re currently working on, as well as check out a bunch of historic floats, costumes, and decorations from past Mardi Gras festivals. Along with the tour of the carnival float factory, you’ll be given beads, have the chance to try King Cake, and even get the chance to try on costumes. The first tours beginning at 9:30 am and the last tours begin at 4:30 p.m. Admission costs $22.
MARDI GRAS MUSEUM OF COSTUMES AND CULTURES
If you’re more into costumes than floats, but equally into the festiveness that is Mardi Gras, you absolutely cannot miss the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Cultures. The costumes provide insight into the different Krewes and how they come up with their elaborate costumes for the Kings and Queens of the parade. The history of the costumes is really interesting, and they have a costume room where you can try on some of the costumes! All the pieces belong to the collection of Carl Mack, who has preserved and protected these intricate works of art for decades.
NIGHTLIFE ON FRENCHMEN STREET
If you’re looking for nightlife that’s a bit less wild and touristy than Bourbon Street, head to Frenchmen Street. It’s a whole other side to New Orleans nightlife! Ask anyone what they think of when asked about Frenchmen Street–chances are, their answer will be live music. Here, it’s all about showcasing local talent (unlike Bourbon Street, where the goal is to rage, rage, rage).
Once the dinner rush ends, the street itself turns into one big jam session, as talented street performers emerge for the night. On Frenchmen, both inside and outside of clubs/venues, you are likely to encounter all types of live performances ranging from traditional jazz to blues to reggae and even rock! Check out some music clubs like Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat, d.b.a, and Blue Nile.
PALACE MARKET ON FRENCHMEN
Not only is Frenchmen Street a great spot to catch live music and grab a few drinks, but it’s also home to the Palace Market, a weekly night art market. The Palace Market hosts various local and regional artists selling anything from art, jewelry, and handmade crafts. It is open every night except for Saturdays so it’ll be hard to miss when you’re out exploring Frenchmen Street.
GO TO A CASINO
The main spot to try your luck will be the Harrah’s Casino in Downtown New Orleans. If you’re looking for a hotel with a casino, look no further than Harrah’s. You can also visit the Carnival Club Casino or head to the Fairgrounds Racetrack, where you will also find slot machines.
EXPLORE THE GARDEN DISTRICT
Located just 2.5 miles from the French Quarter, New Orleans’ Garden District feels worlds away and is a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter. Here, you can expect to find grand mansions, beautiful greenery, and great shopping opportunities. The iconic St. Charles Streetcar is located in this district, as is Magazine Street where you can get in some retail therapy (think high-end boutiques, spas, costume shops and art galleries)!
Most people will take the St. Charles Streetcar from the French Quarter to the Garden District. It costs $1.25 each way and is an easy way to see the beautiful uptown mansions then get to experience the downtown energy (or vice versa).
Also located in the Garden District is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is beautiful and worth a tour or even a quick afternoon stroll. The cemetery is steeped in rich history, as some of the first settlers from Ireland and Germany were buried here. Some of the most notable people buried in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 are Mayfair Witches, Lafayette and Jefferson fireman.
TAKE A SWAMP TOUR
Being that New Orleans is situated in the Mississippi Delta, it is surrounded by swamp and marshland. And you know why that’s cool? Because it means travelers like you get a unique opportunity to explore the swamps of Cajun country!
Head out to the swamp on an airboat tour in search of wild boars, turtles, snakes, and alligators. As you pass through the beauty of the bayou, you’ll learn about the history of the marshlands and their inhabitants from your expert captains.
Most of the swamp tours operate just outside of New Orleans’ city limits, 30-45 minutes from the French Quarter. Booking a swamp tour means you’ll be able to simply hop onto a bus that’ll take you out to the swamp and back to the city once your tour is over–easy peasy.
We took a tour of the Honey Island Swamp led by Cajun Encounters and it was by far one of my favorite New Orleans experiences. Highly recommend these guys!
Pro Tip: There are different boat options to choose from on swamp tours, with the airboat tour being the most exhilarating (you’ll alternate between adrenaline-fuelled high speeds and gentle cruising) and the small boat tour being the more relaxing option (allows for better wildlife viewing than larger boat tours; best for families). There are also various swamps to consider, but these are the best ones out there.
TAKE A CRUISE ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
If you find yourself strolling down the riverfront of New Orleans, chances are you’ll spot many riverboats cruising down the Mississippi River. Consider hopping on one yourself! A river cruise in NOLA means you’ll get to experience the bustling activity of America’s second-largest port. While on board the vessel, you can stroll the deck, admire the iconic paddlewheel, enjoy live music, and snap a few shots of the beautiful Crescent City skyline.
There are 2 main paddlewheel vessels to choose from–the Creole Queen and the Steamboat Natchez. There are lots of riverboat cruise options, including evening jazz dinner cruises and daytime cruises with live music included.
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling on a budget and still want to experience a ride on the river, you could take the Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi for just $2 each way, however, it won’t come with live commentary or live music!
DRINK AT THE CAROUSEL BAR AT HOTEL MONTELEONE
The carousel bar, located within Hotel Monteleone, has got to be the coolest bar I’ve ever seen. It is the only rotating bar in New Orleans, decorated like a classic merry-go-round, spinning ever so slowly. If you take a seat at one of the 25 seats available at the bar, you’ll rotate one revolution every 15 minutes. This bar has even been ranked by some publications as one of the best bars in the world!
The bartenders at the Carousel have also invented two signature cocktails worth trying out. There’s the Vieux Carré Cocktail (rye whiskey, cognac, and sweet vermouth), and The Goody (dark rum, light rum, orgeat, pineapple juice, and orange juice). Other classic New Orleans cocktails to try: a Sazerac, a Pimm’s Cup, or just straight up absinthe.
Pro Tip: You do not have to be a guest at the hotel to drink at the bar, and there’s no dress code. However, because of its popularity, you may have to wait for a seat at the bar. There’s also plenty of non-rotating seating in the room!
TAKE A RIDE ON A HISTORICAL STREETCAR
Taking a ride on the St. Charles Avenue Line is one of the most quintessential NOLA things to do. Getting to enjoy the sights and sounds of New Orleans from the mahogany seats of a St. Charles Avenue streetcar is like enjoying a historical museum on wheels. The St. Charles streetcar is the oldest continuously operated streetcar line in the world!
Other notable streetcar lines you could take to explore include the Canal Street Lines (has two routes—one to City Park and the other to the tombs at Metairie and Greenwood cemeteries) and the Riverfront Line (follows the Mississippi River from the Warehouse District to the edge of the French Quarter; this actually passes through the Quarter, passing by Jackson Square, the French Market and the Old U.S. Mint museum.)
You can buy a one-way fare for $1.25 or a one-day pass for $3 directly from the streetcar operator.
NIGHTLIFE ON BOURBON STREET
Bourbon Street doesn’t need too much explanation, other than the fact that it’s pure craziness and the go-to spot for partying all night long. Begin your night at Pat O’Briens for drinks, mingling by the piano bar, and live music (sure, it’s touristy, but you gotta get one or two of those sweet, sweet Hurricanes that’ll slowly creep up on you).
On your night adventures, be sure to head to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar to experience the oldest bar in the country (it was established back in the 1700’s, is one of the only surviving examples of a Creole cottage in the French Quarter, and is possibly even haunted). Then, head to Ticklers Dueling Piano Bar for more fun, live music!
If you’re done with live music and want to turn it up a notch, head to Saints and Sinners, Channing Tatum’s bar, for a touristy, good ol’ time (yes, it’ll be a little reminiscent of those fraternity house party days–for those of you who know what I’m talking about).
Even if you’re not planning on drinking or dancing, a stroll down Bourbon Street during the night hours is an experience not to be missed!
JAZZ BRUNCH AT COURT OF TWO SISTERS
For those of you who are all about ambiance and jazzy vibes, you need to partake in the jazz brunch at Court of Two Sisters. All you can eat brunch paired with live jazz music in a beautiful outdoor courtyard? How can it get any better? You’ll get the chance to enjoy an array of delicious Creole and Cajun cuisine options including turtle soup, gumbo, duck leg confit, blackened fish, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, bread pudding, bananas foster, and much more.
Again, NOLA comes out on top doing what they do best–featuring their great music culture while keeping your bellies happy. This spot is a NOLA classic! Please note, reservations are required.
TAKE A FOOD HISTORY TOUR
Eating in New Orleans can be considered a week-long activity in itself. Seriously, there are so many southern dishes and delights that you need to try before your trip is over. The best way to get a taste of everything is through a food tour! You’ll really need to come hungry for this one.
This 3-hour culinary walking tour will take you through the historic French Quarter neighborhood where you’ll visit 6 locations and sample 10 different food staples. Sample a wide range of Louisiana food staples like boudin, beignets, pralines, gumbo, po-boys, and muffulettas. On your comprehensive food tour, you’ll get to visit high-end restaurants, boutique candy shops, and even hole-in-the-wall joints. I’m drooling just thinking about it!
TAKE A CAJUN AND CREOLE COOKING CLASS
Here’s another super fun activity for foodies, bakers, and people who love to cook! Experience the fun, folklore, and history of creole and cajun cooking with this demonstration cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Every class includes a 3- or 4-course creole and cajun meal, copies of the recipes, and a local brew. You’ll get to make local favorites such as gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines. Along with gaining a few new cooking skills, you’ll also learn a ton about New Orleans culture/history and also get to eat the finished products for lunch!
TAKE A MORNING JOG THROUGH THE CITY
Work off all that good food with a morning jog before you start another day of eating and exploration. I’d recommend you pick a running path depending on what neighborhood you’re staying in.
If you’re staying near the French Quarter, run the Mississippi Riverfront / Woldenberg Park area (1.5 mile stretch of promenade hugging the Mississippi River shoreline, just past the French Market to Canal Street).
If you’re staying in Uptown, a great place to run is at Audubon Park, bordering St. Charles Avenue. Audubon Park has a lake and a paved 1.8 mile path.
If you’re by St. Charles Avenue (this is where I stayed most recently), then you’re in luck because this is one of the best runs in the city! Head to St. Charles Avenue and enjoy a jog under the canopy of Live Oaks and alongside grand mansions. You can run approximately six miles all the way from Canal Street to Carrolton in Riverbend. You can always hop on the streetcar for the return trip.
VISIT THE VOODOO MUSEUM
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is a small, eclectic museum dedicated to showcasing the city’s fascinating and mysterious voodoo culture. The museum focuses on New Orleans Voodoo, or Louisiana Voodoo (a blended product of African and European influences that was a result of the cultural melting pot of New Orleans).
The history of voodoo is so interesting, and I found a visit to the voodoo museum to be extremely educational. You’ll find a plethora of interesting artifacts within the museum, including antique voodoo dolls, taxidermy, and talismans. The museum also offers various items for sale, such as potions, books, candles, and even chicken feet. You can even have your fortune told by on-staff practitioners. General admission is $8.
Can’t get enough of the voodoo culture? Stop by Voodoo Authentica to browse and shop for more handmade voodoo goods (voodoo dolls, potions, gris gris bags, artwork, etc). They also have certified practitioners for spiritual readings!
NEW ORLEANS PHARMACY MUSEUM
Calling all science lovers, this museum is for you! The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum showcases an extensive collection of historical medical equipment both in the realm of pharmacy and healthcare. You’ll be able to examine old apothecary jars, old wheelchairs, aged physicians’ bags, medical instruments, and even surgical tools displayed in the museum’s cabinets. Be sure to check out the voodoo potions section, where you’ll find the famous “Love Potion No. 9”!
Admission is $5. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are valid only for the date and time slot purchased.
CATCH A LIVE PERFORMANCE AT PRESERVATION HALL
Preservation Hall is a historic music venue in the French Quarter that serves to protect and preserve the spirit of traditional New Orleans jazz. Catching a show here is a must for music lovers–and personally, it was one of my all-time favorite experiences in New Orleans!
Preservation Hall offers multiple showtimes per night, seven days a week. A ticket will grant you a jazz concert in a very intimate space. You can either sit on benches or opt for the standing room. General admission tickets are $15-$20 at the door, or you can reserve “Big Shot” seating tickets for $35-$50.
There is a limited number of advance “Big Shot” reservations. These reservations allow guests first access into the Hall before the general admission line and a guaranteed seat in either the first or second row.
Pro Tip: Get there 30 minutes early. People with reserved seats are seated first, and if you get there 30 minutes early, you will most likely get a seat.
MUSIC BOX VILLAGE
There is no shortage of music in New Orleans. But one of the most unique music experiences has entered the scene recently. The Music Box Village is a village of musical architecture and is a particularly great activity for families. How does it work? Well, each of the houses at Music Box Village is a musical instrument.
For example, there’s a telephone booth that serves as a vocal station, a structure that serves as a drum station, and much, much more. It’s a totally immersive hands-on experience, perfect for those who are interested in music, architecture, or community art!
Trust, this one-of-a-kind art installation will keep adults and children alike entertained for a few hours. Music Box Village also hosts national and local musical performances periodically, so keep an eye out for events before you go.
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ MUSEUM
Where better to learn about the history of jazz than in its birthplace right here in New Orleans? The museum will educate you about the origins of jazz and about various musicians. You’ll be able to hear recordings and check out the collection of musical instruments and other jazz memorabilia, including Louis Armstrong’s first cornet.
Pro Tip: The New Orleans Jazz Museum is housed in the historic Old US Mint, which means you’ll get to enjoy free exhibits about the historical building too!
THE NATIONAL WWII MUSEUM
The National WWII Museum is a must-see for history lovers and all patriots alike! This museum contains five pavilions’ worth of history and exhibits dedicated to the second world war. Relive the WWII experience through immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences, and thousands of personal accounts. You can even upgrade for a 4-D movie experience, “Beyond All Boundaries”, narrated by Tom Hanks.
Not only is City Park a great place to go for a jog or stroll among the Spanish Moss and Resurrection Fern trees, but there’s also a wide array of activities to do here. Being a nature lover, I absolutely love strolling through City Park, enjoying the fresh air, and taking in the beautiful scenery the park has to offer. Seriously, I could spend a whole afternoon here by myself!
City Park is not just trees and plants–it is a particularly family-friendly park as well! Younger children will love Storyland and Carousel Gardens, while older kids will love the chance to play mini-golf at City Putt.
For art/museum lovers, the New Orleans Museum of Art is located here as well. Outside of the NOMA, you’ll find the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden (my personal favorite attraction here), which I highly recommend you check out! The 11-acre sculpture garden holds more than 80 sculptures, all incredible works of art surrounded by live oaks, meandering footpaths, and reflective ponds.
Whenever I find myself in City Park, my first stop is to check out the sculpture garden–the artwork there is simply amazing (and free to see). Following that, my go-to spot is Morning Call. Any beignet aficionado who swears by Cafe Du Monde needs to take a trip to City Park to grab a few beignets at Morning Call, open 24 hours!
Audubon Park awaits those in search of a more tranquil experience. It’s also a great spot to spend a day with the family. This is a 350-acre park located in Uptown New Orleans near Tulane University. If you’re riding the streetcar along St. Charles Avenue, it’s really a great spot to get off and get a stroll in.
While the kids play at the playgrounds at the northernmost corners of the park, you can trek, jog, or bike along the Audubon Park Trail among ancient oak trees. Fancy a game of golf? There’s the Audubon Park Golf Course, an 18-hole course spanning more than 4,000 yards.
The Audubon Zoo and Aquarium are both also located in Audubon Park. If you are traveling with children, these are great activities to consider.
Pro Tip: You can save money by purchasing a zoo ticket that also includes the Audubon Aquarium. Alternatively, entry to both attractions is free with the purchases of major tourist passes.
VISIT A PLANTATION
Even though plantations are not located within the city limits of New Orleans, it still made the list because of their proximity to New Orleans. But more importantly, because of the significant history they hold. If you’re open to venturing out of the city, consider a plantation tour to enhance your understanding of slavery in the past as well as to discover some of the most well-preserved southern plantation estates in the U.S.
These tours will teach you about the history of creole mansions and the people who lived there. Most offer guided tours of the mansions, grounds, and slave cabins.
Want to learn more about the history of plantations and slavery, but don’t want to bother with figuring out how to get there? The Whitney Plantation tour and the Oak Alley Plantation tour offer convenient transportation from Central New Orleans.
OLD NEW ORLEANS RUM DISTILLERY
The oldest operating rum distillery in the United States can be found right here in New Orleans’ Gentilly area, just minutes outside of the French Quarter.
With the distillery and tasting tour of the Old New Orleans Distillery, you’ll be treated to a cocktail on arrival and go on a 45-minute tour with an expert guide to learn about how molasses is fermented, distilled and aged to become rum. The tour ends with a premium rum tasting! The distillery provides a free shuttle service from the French Quarter. Be sure to grab a fresh daiquiri at Organic Banana while you wait for the shuttle!
ST. ROCH MARKET
St. Roch Market is a chef-centric food hall featuring an eclectic mix of local food and drink. This old market hall on St. Claude Avenue came about as a post-Hurricane Katrina renovation between 2012-15. If you’re open to trying new cuisines, there are 11 exciting dining options all centered around their award-winning craft cocktail bar, The Mayhaw. The food hall offers all-day dining, counter service, and a variety of other seating options that allow you to dine, grab a drink, work, or just hang out.
THE SOUTHERN FOOD AND BEVERAGE MUSEUM
The Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) is an organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding, and celebration of Southern food, drink and culture. The museum showcases all the various cultures that have come together throughout the centuries to create the unique culinary heritage we know and love today. They often host special exhibits, demonstrations, and even tastings that’ll enhance your experience that much more.
The museum is definitely small, but full of information regarding food & drinks in the south. Each southern state has its own little exhibit here, and there’s even a large exhibit on absinthe! If you’re interested in cocktails, the grand Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) is located here too. There’s also an attached restaurant with a historic 1850’s bar where you can grab a bite to eat (or even grab a cocktail)!
Admission is $10.50 per adult; half-price for students, military, and seniors.
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL
If you happen to be in NOLA during the last weekend of April or the first weekend of May, your trip will coincide with one of the city’s major highlights all year long–the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival! This outdoor music fest features eight whole days of music, art, and good food. There are 12 stages you can choose from, hosting a myriad of music genres including jazz, blues, gospel, Cajun zydeco, rock, country, funk, rap, and even hip hop.
The festival also serves up some of the best foods in New Orleans, including local favorites like jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish, po’boys, and Cafe du Monde beignets. If you plan on attending, make it even more fun by dressing up in quirky costumes and over-the-top hats and accessories (don’t worry, it’s quite common).
EXPLORE THE BYWATER
Bywater is an in-transition neighborhood where people go to enjoy boho artist vibes and enjoy great murals of street art everywhere they turn. Once you get your fill of street art (St. Claude Avenue is a good place to start), take a break and grab a refreshment at one of the many cool cafes and bars in the neighborhood. A few spots I recommend you check out: Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits for charcuterie and drinks, Bywater Bakery for pastries and coffee, and The Joint for downright great BBQ!
SHOP FOR PRALINES TO BRING HOME
At some point, you’re bound to catch a glimpse or a taste of these sweet babies. Introducing the New Orleans praline, an intensely sweet creation made of sugar, butter, and pecans. Pralines are a southern specialty with a load of history behind it. It’s hard to find one definitive origination story of the praline, but despite the many stories, it is widely agreed that pralines are named after a French diplomat from the early 17th century whose title and name was César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin.
Whatever the history, these confectionary delights are worth trying for yourself! The best place to grab a batch (for yourself or for friends) is Aunt Sally’s Praline Shop, Southern Candymakers, or Loretta’s Authentic Pralines.
EATING IN NEW ORLEANS
Like I said, eating in New Orleans is an activity all its own. As such, it deserves its own category! Below are some must-try local dishes as well as some of my favorite food joints.
ACME OYSTER HOUSE
To say the oysters here are ‘good’ would be an extreme disservice–these are some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. You absolutely must get a few orders of the chargrilled oysters (served with succulent cheese and a decadent butter sauce)! It may very well be crowded during your visit, so plan ahead and try to get there before the lunch/dinner rush.
EAT A MUFFALETTA
The Muffaletta Sandwich is a delicious New Orleans sandwich filled with olive salad, cheese, and a variety of meats served on a soft sesame-seed bread. A typical Muffaletta usually includes ham, salami, mortadella, and capicola. If you like sandwiches, you gotta try one! Some of my favorite spots to grab one of these bad boys: Herbsaint Central Grocery or Cochon Butcher.
Obviously, eating beignets is one of the most iconic things to do in New Orleans. Eating them once is not enough–three times per trip seems to be my average these days. Head to Cafe Du Monde, but do things a little differently by skipping it in the day time (thereby skipping the lines). Cafe Du Monde is actually a great place to stop after a night of drinking on Bourbon Street. Not only will it help soak up some of that alcohol you’ve just consumed, but you’ll also find the greatest surprise of all–no lines!
Another great spot to grab beignets is Morning Call in City Park.
EAT A PO BOY
If there’s a food that encapsulates the essence of New Orleans, it’s the po boy! Po boys are basically sandwiches filled with anything from fried oysters to fried shrimp, fried crawfish to fried fish, and even roast beef with gravy, fried chicken, soft shell crab, hot sausage, turkey and more.
You won’t have to look hard for a joint that sells po boys (a lot of restaurants have them on their menus) but my favorite spots are Guy’s Po Boys, Killer Po’Boys, and Parkway Bakery & Tavern (this one is a little farther out, but so worth the trip).
TRY A PIMM’S CUP AT NAPOLEON HOUSE
This light and refreshing drink was created by James Pimm in London in the 1840s. A hundred years later in the 1940s, the owner of the Napoleon House took Pimm’s No.1 creation and gave it a New Orleans twist by adding lemonade, Seven Up, and cucumber garnish. It’s now become a New Orleans staple, especially during the hot summer months!
Seriously, this drink is so delicious and easy to drink!
BANANAS FOSTER AT BRENNAN’S
In 1951, Owen Brennan challenged his chef to create a dish featuring the banana. The result? Bananas Foster is now the most-ordered item on Brennan’s menu. You can choose to have dinner there, or just stop in after dining elsewhere just for a dessert of Bananas Foster! A lot of people (us included) stop in for just drinks and/or dessert–it’s totally normal.
CONSIDER AN ALL-INCLUSIVE ATTRACTION PASS
New Orleans offers several tourist attraction discount cards which can help you can save up to 50% on attractions and tours when you bundle them together. Some of them can also save you time with skip-the-line privileges.
One of the best options out there is the Go New Orleans Pass. This pass provides free access to over 25 tours and attractions around New Orleans so it’ll be the best bang for your buck if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing over a short amount of time. You can choose between a 1, 2, 3, or 5-day pass.
These are the activities, attractions, and tours included with the Go New Orleans Pass:
- Paddlewheeler Creole Queen
- Adventures in New Orleans Bus Tour
- The National WWII Museum
- Haunted History Tours
- Ultimate Swamp Adventures
- Mardi Gras World
- St. Louis number 1 Cemetery Tour by French Quarter Phantoms
- Music of New Orleans by French Quarter Phantoms
- Cooking Demonstration Class / New Orleans School of Cooking
- Saints and Sinners by French Quarter Phantoms
- Cajun Pride Swamp Tours
- Garden District Tour by French Quarter Phantoms
- Treme Tour by French Quarter Phantoms
- Longue Vue House and Gardens
- Edgar Degas House
- San Francisco Plantation
- RideThisBike 2-hour Bike Rental
- Southern Food and Beverage Museum
- The New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old US Mint
- 1850 House / Louisiana State Museum
- Cabildo / The Louisiana State Museum
- New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
- Louisiana Children’s Museum
- Presbytere / The Louisiana State Museum
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS: NEW ORLEANS, LA
- The best time to visit New Orleans is in late February to April. If sticky, humid, and downright hot weather prevents you from functioning or enjoying yourself, skip visiting in July and August. I’ve only ever gone to NOLA in the month of March and I must say, the weather is perfect (low 70’s, low humidity) each and every time!
- Renting a car in New Orleans is not required. You can get everywhere you want to go on foot, by streetcar or bus, or rideshare. Not to mention, parking is ridiculously expensive and hard to find in Downtown NOLA and the French Quarter.
- New Orleans is one of the most walkable cities in the USA. So don’t forget to pack a pair of your favorite walking shoes!
If you do end up going to New Orleans in the hot summer months, bring a cooling towel or portable mister fan.
- Your streetcar day pass also grants you free rides on any of the city buses as well. Benefits of taking the bus? It’s air-conditioned (much needed on those sweltering summer months)!
- If you need to be somewhere on time, skip the streetcar. The streetcar is fun and enjoyable but get you there on time it will not. If you need to be on time for reservations, take an Uber or Lyft instead.
- Rideshare and taxi to and from MSY are not that cheap. Taxi rides cost $36.00 from the airport to the Central Business District or French Quarter for up to 2 passengers. For 3 or more passengers, the fare will be $15.00 per passenger. Uber will cost around $30+. If you’re traveling with friends/family, it won’t be too bad since you’ll be able to split the cost of the ride.
- Mosquitoes may be prevalent on warmer nights, so be sure to bring bug repellent if you’re traveling during the summer months.
- If you plan on wandering around at night, bring a few friends with you. As with any other big destination city, New Orleans has its fair share of crime. Be sure to stay in well-lit areas and areas with crowds. Always be cautious!
- Don’t wear open-toed shoes on Bourbon Street. You’ll definitely want to keep your toes dry of spilled cocktails, mystery water puddles, and even the occasional throw-up pile.
- If you can’t finish your drink at the bar, take it to-go! Unlike other places with strict open container laws, drinking in public is legal in New Orleans. However, glass is not allowed so if you’re drinking in the streets, you must consume alcoholic beverages from a plastic to-go cup.
- Don’t pick up beads off the ground! Not only is the floor likely dirty as heck, but picking beads up off the ground is considered bad juju!
- Many New Orleans attractions are closed on Mondays (like the aquarium or zoo). Some restaurants are even closed on Mondays in New Orleans. Be sure to check business hours before going anywhere!
- Venture out and check out some of the other cool neighborhoods in NOLA other than the French Quarter. Visit the Arts/Warehouse District, Garden District, Uptown, Downtown, and Marigny/Bywater, just to name a few. They’re all so fun to explore!
- To visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, you’ll need to visit with a licensed tour guide. Don’t worry, there are tons of free/cheap walking tours that will take you there.
- Get the Go New Orleans Pass. New Orleans is a big city and there are lots of exciting things to see and do. It can be challenging to plan an itinerary and decide which attractions to spend your money on. The best bang for your buck is definitely going to be the GO New Orleans Pass (this pass gets really good user reviews)! With the GO New Orleans Pass, you’ll save so much time and money!
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: NEW ORLEANS, LA
- Packing Cubes | Start packing the smart way. The key to smart packing is going to be compartmentalization, aka your packing cubes. This set comes in a bunch of different sizes, so you can create a separate compartment for undies and socks, one for clothing, one for toiletries, and one for anything else you may want to organize. By using packing cubes, it’s so much easier to pull out only what you need, rather than dig through all of your luggage to find that one thing you’re looking for.
- Laundry Bag | Warm, humid destinations = potentially lots of sweaty, smelly worn clothes. Don’t spoil your entire bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Packable Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of exploring! A jacket that’s packable is key.
- Travel Daypack | I’m a huge fan of the Fjallraven Kanken Mini Backpack. It stylish and has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Walking Shoes | One pair of closed-toed shoes (walking shoes or running shoes) is always crucial for any trip. These ones that I’ve been traveling around with are super light and breathable. I can even walk 15+ miles in them before getting sore feet.
- For women: Adidas Cloudfoam runners are classic-looking and ultra-comfortable.
- For men: ON Running Shoes have risen in popularity, and for good reason! They are comfortable as heck, my boyfriend loves his pair.
- Clothing | A few pairs of casual pants, shorts, skirts, a few casual t-shirts, 1 long sleeve shirt for layering on cool evenings, 1-2 dressier shirts, dresses, pants or skirts for evenings out
- Socks and Underwear | Enough for your entire trip.
- Hat, sun visor, or Buff bandana | Sun protection is key for any southern USA destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, baseball cap, Buff bandana, or sun visor. All three can be used to shield your neck and forehead from the sun. As a bonus, Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your Buff with some cold water, then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike (or even after a walk outside on a hot, humid day) but don’t have the time to shower right that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be exploring with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of urban exploration without it.
- Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling from abroad, a universal travel adapter is a necessity. This 5-in-1 travel adapter is perfect for travel use with cell phones, laptops & other devices anywhere in the world.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Sunscreen | A must for any warm, sunny destination.
- Cooling Facial Mist | When you’re faced with mid-day humidity, it can be very hard to deal with. Keeping a small bottle of facial mist in your purse or backpack on a hot day will save your life. This mist takes all the cooling, soothing ingredients you can think of—aloe, cucumber, and green tea—and combines them into one refreshing spritzer for your face.
- Dry Shampoo | Bring some dry shampoo to use in between washes to instantly revitalize and freshen your semi-dirty hair.