Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, Creole cuisine, jazz, beignets, art galleries, and live music… what brings you to New Orleans?
On a map, it might look small, but there are plenty of things to do in New Orleans to keep you busy.
Whether you are here to stroll through the French Quarter, go shopping, dine on Po Boy’s and Bananas Foster, get a history lesson at the World War II Museum, or party the night away, we cover all of these in this guide.
Tim and I have been here twice, in 2012 and 2022. However, this article was written with tips and lots of advice from my brother, Thomas, who is a frequent visitor to New Orleans.
Before jumping right into the best things to do in New Orleans, we give a quick overview of the city. At the end of this guide, I list our recommendations of our favorite spots and must-see sights, to help you narrow down this massive list.
I do my best to keep the hours of operation and pricing up to date for each attraction, however, these can change at any time. I recommend getting updated hours and pricing for your dates of travel. The link to the official website is provided for each site.
Table of Contents
Interesting Facts about New Orleans
New Orleans is located in Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico. It was founded in 1718 by French colonists and it was the capital city of French Louisiana until 1803, with the signing of the Louisiana Purchase.
The French culture remains, not only in the cuisine but also the architecture, street names, and unique dialects. The heart of New Orleans is called the French Quarter and this is where most visitors spend the bulk of their time.
Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is the last Tuesday before Lent, but leading up to this day are weeks of parades and parties. The first festivities start on the Twelfth Night, or January 6, and run all the way until Mardi Gras, which generally falls in mid-February to very early March. The later Ash Wednesday occurs, the longer the festivities last. In 2024, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 13.
The food in New Orleans is a wonderful blend of French flavors and Creole with hints of Cuban, Cajun, Italian, and African cuisine. Muffuletta sandwiches, beignets, red rice and beans, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and pralines are found on menus throughout the city. Trying these different foods is one of the best things to do in New Orleans.
New Orleans also goes by several nicknames. NOLA may be the most famous, but it is also called The Big Easy, getting this nickname in the early 1900’s since it was very easy for musicians to find work here.
Finally, New Orleans is also famous for its live music, which pours out of bars and music venues throughout the city on a daily basis. New Orleans also frequently makes an appearance in popular movies, with The Pelican Brief, Glory Road, 12 Years a Slave, Project Power, and Interview with the Vampire on this list.
Since New Orleans sits at a low elevation on the Mississippi River Delta, it is very vulnerable to hurricanes. In 2005, two hurricanes hit New Orleans, Katrina and Rita, doing massive damage to the city and taking many lives. 80% of the city was flooded from the surge from Hurricane Katrina.
Best Things to Do in New Orleans
This list of things to do in New Orleans is ordered geographically. First, we start with the sights in the French Quarter, then the Garden District and Central Business District, then City Park, ending with sights on the outskirts of New Orleans.
Things to Do in the French Quarter
1. Stroll along Bourbon Street and Royal Street
Bourbon Street is the most famous street in New Orleans. Lined with bars, restaurants, hotels, and live music venues, this is one of the most hopping streets in the USA, 24 hours a day. Taking a stroll along this street is an essential New Orleans experience.
Bourbon Street | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
Bourbon Street in the evening
Running parallel to Bourbon Street is Royal Street. This street is a little more sedate and lined with more art galleries than bars. With its French architecture, it’s also prettier and has a slightly more upscale vibe than Bourbon Street.
Royal Street | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
2. Café du Monde
Like Bourbon Street, having a beignet at Café du Monde is an essential New Orleans experience.
There are multiple locations in New Orleans, but we recommend the location in the French Quarter right next to Jackson Square (the French Market location). There are two lines at this Café du Monde location. For table service, a line forms on the Decatur Street side of the building. For takeout orders, a line forms on the opposite side of the building. Even if the line looks long, it moves relatively fast, so don’t let that discourage you.
For hours of operation, visit the official website.
3. Best View of Jackson Square
For the best view of Jackson Square, walk up the ramp that sits next to the Café du Monde on Decatur Street. From here, you get one of the best views of New Orleans and Jackson Square. If you turn 180°, you’ll have a view of the Mississippi River.
Jackson Square | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
4. The Riverwalk
The Riverwalk is a promenade that runs along the Mississippi River. It’s a beautiful place to visit all day but especially nice at sunset.
5. Take a Ride on the Steamboat Natchez
The Steamboat Natchez is a riverboat that offers several cruises on the Mississippi River every day. Take your pick between the daytime or evening Jazz cruise, where you have the option to add lunch or dinner. It’s a great way to experience the history and culture of New Orleans and spend a little bit of time on the Mississippi River.
For more information on the cruises, click here.
Steamboat Natchez | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
6. Visit Jackson Square
Jackson Square is a small, green park that sits in the French Quarter. This square is lined with several famous buildings, including the St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, and the Presbytère. The centerpiece of the square is a statue of General Andrew Jackson on horseback.
Jackson Square | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
Along the streets that border Jackson Square you can find artists selling their work and creating new pieces. You can also get your palm read, get a henna tattoo, listen to musicians, and watch street performers.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: For those who get married in New Orleans, it is a tradition for the wedding to end with a jazz parade. The bride and groom lead the parade, followed by the jazz band, then the wedding guests, and then anyone else off the street who decides to join in. It can be a fun way to celebrate your nuptials!
7. Step Inside the St. Louis Cathedral
This cathedral dates back to 1721, when the church was first built and dedicated to King Louis IX of France. In 1788, it burned to the ground and then was rebuilt. In the 1850’s, it was expanded into what we now see today.
The St. Louis Cathedral is one of the most recognizable landmarks in New Orleans. Step inside to see the beautiful stained-glass windows and ceiling.
St. Louis Cathedral | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
Inside the St. Louis Cathedral
8. The Cabildo & the Presbytère
These two buildings sit on either side of the St. Louis Cathedral.
The Cabildo, which sits to the left of the cathedral, is where the Louisiana Purchase transfer occurred in 1803. In the 1800’s, this building was also the center of the New Orleans government. Now, it is a three-story museum that has exhibits covering the history of Louisiana.
The Presbytère sits to the right of the St. Louis Cathedral. It is also a museum. There are two exhibits here, one about Hurricane Katrina and its effects and aftermath on the city and one about Mardi Gras.
The Cabildo | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
9. New Orleans Jazz Museum
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and there is no better place to learn about its origins and history than from the New Orleans Jazz Museum. This museum celebrates the history of Jazz through interactive exhibits and live musical performances.
10. Visit a Voodoo Shop (and Have a Reading)
Step into one of these shops and enter the spiritual and supernatural world that came to New Orleans in the 1700’s. Shop for voodoo dolls, jewelry, and various trinkets that embody the origins and essence of the New Orleans Voodoo culture. Upon entering you might even be inspired to get a spiritual reading.
There are several voodoo shops throughout the French Quarter. Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street is one of the most famous. We are also fans of Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo on Royal Street.
Having a Tarot Card reading at one of these shops is one of my favorite things to do in New Orleans.
11. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
If you want to learn more about the origins and history of voodoo in New Orleans, this museum is worth a quick visit. In just two small rooms are several interesting exhibits about voodoo.
We enjoyed this museum, but we still felt like the cost ($10 per adult in 2022) is a bit steep for what you see. Plus, due to the small size, the museum can get crowded very quickly, especially if a group enters.
I recommend this museum if you are a voodoo enthusiast or curious about voodoo. In that case, get here when they first open to avoid the crowds and to have a better experience.
If the idea of a voodoo museum doesn’t interest you, then at least wander through a voodoo shop. Getting a taste of voodoo while in New Orleans is a must.
12. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
I found this museum more interesting than the Voodoo Museum. On display are artifacts and exhibits that portray the history of pharmacy and healthcare in New Orleans. A visit is relatively quick, with exhibits being located on two floors of a historic building. A visit here can make you thankful for modern medicine.
Pharmacy Museum | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
13. Eat Bananas Foster at Brennan’s
Bananas Foster is another famous food that has its origins in New Orleans.
Bananas Foster is a dessert made from bananas, vanilla ice cream, and a sauce of brown sugar, butter, dark rum, cinnamon, and banana liqueur. The sauce and the bananas are cooked together, the alcohol in the sauce is ignited, and then it is poured over the ice cream.
It is a very sweet treat and something to try at least once in New Orleans. One of the best places to get a Bananas Foster is at Brennan’s. Chef Paul Blangé modified the Brennan family recipe to come up with this dish and it was first served at Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carré restaurant.
14. Take a Break in the Musical Legends Park
Step out of the chaos of Bourbon Street and into this tranquil courtyard where you can admire the statues of legendary New Orleans singers and musicians like Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, and many others. Take a seat at one of the tables and enjoy beignets from Café Beignet while listening to live music.
Musical Legends Park | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
15. Try a Café Brulot
This unique coffee drink is prepared tableside, similar to ordering Bananas Foster at Brennan’s. This “burnt coffee” is chicory coffee blended with triple sec, brandy, cloves, sugar, citrus (orange or lemon), and cinnamon.
We had Café Brulot at Hermes Bar at Antoine’s Restaurant on St. Louis Street.
16. Visit St. Louis Cemetery #1
Founded in 1789, this cemetery is the oldest in New Orleans and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside this cemetery is Marie Laveau’s Tomb and the Nicholas Cage grave site.
The only way to visit the cemetery is on a tour. Click here to learn more on the official website.
St. Louis Cemetery #1 | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
17. Listen to Jazz at Preservation Hall
As you walk up and down Bourbon Street, you will hear live music bellowing out of the various bars. And while you can step into any number of these bars to listen to live music, stepping into Preservation Hall is a completely different experience. The band’s comradery with each other and with the audience made it feel like we had stepped into a small concert being held at a friend’s house.
There are a variety of bands that rotate through the venue. We saw the band featuring Shannon Powell and their jazz music was excellent.
This is a popular venue, and the single indoor room can only hold a limited number of people, so it is best to reserve a spot online in advance. You can purchase tickets for seats or for the standing area behind the multiple rows of seats.
Preservation Hall | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
18. Drink a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s
A hurricane is another signature drink in New Orleans. Pat O’Brien’s, which is located on St. Peter Street between Bourbon Street and Royal Street, is famous for their hurricanes.
19. Have a Drink at the Carousel Bar
This is one of the most unique bars in New Orleans. Located in Hotel Monteleone, this is the only rotating bar in the city. Twenty-five seats slowly revolve around this colorful Merry-Go-Round. It’s so unique that Vogue Living listed the Carousel Bar as one of their Top 20 Bars in the World.
This lively hotspot is one of our favorite spots in New Orleans to have a drink, since the cocktails are fantastic.
Carousel Bar | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
20. Listen to Jazz on Frenchmen Street
Frenchmen Street sits just outside of the French Quarter.
You can think of Frenchmen Street as an extension of Bourdon Street and Royal Street, with its live music and artsy vibe. Most of the action along Frenchmen Street is within the two blocks that run between Decatur Street and Royal Street. Many people prefer the live music scene here over what you’ll find in the French Quarter.
From jazz, to blues, to funk, and more, Frenchmen Street has a great live music scene that isn’t as chaotic as Bourbon Street. There are a lot of venues to pick from but some of the standouts are The Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor, and Three Muses.
The Spotted Cat offers live music and drinks. Reservations are not possible as it is a first come first serve establishment. So, expect to queue outside before getting in. For establishments that offer food in addition to drinks and live music, like Snug Harbor and Three Muses, its best to make a reservation in advance to reserve a table.
Also on Frenchmen Street is the Frenchmen Art Bazaar. At this evening outdoor art bazaar, you can peruse and support the talents of local artists.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If it is your birthday, safety pin a dollar bill to your shirt. Other people will wish you happy birthday and some will give you a dollar to help pay for your birthday celebration.
Things to Do in the Central Business District
The Central Business District is located right next to the French Quarter on the southwest side.
Many people prefer to stay in the hotels in this district as a way to get a break from the crowds and noise typical of the French Quarter. From here it is a short walk to the French Quarter.
21. The National WWII Museum
This museum is one of the best things to do in New Orleans. We have been to a lot of World War II Museums, not only in the USA but also in Europe, and this is one of the best.
The National WWII Museum is comprised of several buildings, with exhibits about World War II. At these world-class exhibits, learn about the historical events that occurred before the war, get an in depth look at the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and learn how New Orleans was instrumental in building and supplying ships for the war effort.
Enigma Machine on display in the museum.
Don’t miss the 4D movie Beyond All Boundaries, which is narrated by Tom Hanks and features the voices of other famous actors. This movie succinctly teaches viewers about World War II, from its start to finish. It’s the best experience in the museum, in my opinion.
The Final Mission: USS Tang Submarine Experience is an interactive experience where visitors relive the last battle of the USS Tang. Spaces are limited so we recommend booking your spot in advance.
To tour the entire museum takes about 4 hours, or about half a day. In addition to the movie and submarine experience, you can also join guided tours of the museum.
For pricing, hours, and to purchase your tickets in advance (highly recommended!), visit the official website.
22. Have a Sazerac at The Roosevelt New Orleans
The Sazerac is a cocktail that has its origins in New Orleans. It gets its name for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac that was originally used as the main ingredient. Antoine Amèdèe Peychaud, an apothecary in New Orleans, is credited with creating this drink.
Cognac or rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, and sugar are combined together to create a Sazerac. You will see them on cocktail menus throughout New Orleans, but one of the best places to have one is at the Sazerac bar at The Roosevelt. This cocktail bar was named the #1 Hotel Bar in the US in 2019, 2020, and 2021 in USA Today’s 10 Best poll.
23. The Sazerac House
The Sazerac House is a distillery and a museum. This is where the Sazerac originated, being first made here by Peychaud. In 2019, this building reopened as a museum and immersive experience.
On a visit to the Sazerac House, tour the exhibits, learn about how Sazerac rye is distilled, learn about the New Orleans cocktail culture, bottle your own Sazerac Rye, do a tasting, or go shopping in the gift shop.
Learn more on the official website.
24. Vue Orleans
Located on top of the Four Seasons Hotel is a 360° observation deck. From here, you get an amazing bird’s eye view of New Orleans. Timed tickets are required and you can purchase these in advance on the official website.
25. Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
At Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, get an up-close look at floats and sculptures from the Mardi Gras parade and watch as new ones are being created. This colorful “museum” is a great place to take kids on a visit to New Orleans. It takes about 30 minutes to walk through the museum.
It is a bit out of the way from the French Quarter and other places in New Orleans. However, they offer a complimentary shuttle for visitors. Visit the official website to learn more about the shuttle, and for hours and pricing.
Mardi Gras World | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
Things to Do in the Garden District
This quiet, residential area of New Orleans is home to some of the most beautiful streets and homes in the city.
26. Stroll through the Garden District
Take a stroll through the Garden District to admire some of the most beautiful houses in New Orleans. Oaks covered with Spanish moss line the streets. This is a great place to escape the chaos of the French Quarter.
Lafayette Cemetery #1 is another famous New Orleans cemetery. Over 7,000 people are buried here, including the Mayfair witches and some of the first settlers from Germany and Ireland. This is a popular stop on haunted tours of New Orleans. Currently it is closed to visitors but you can get updates here.
Lafayette Cemetery #1 | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
27. Ride a Streetcar
There are several trolley lines that run through New Orleans. One of the most scenic is riding the St. Charles Streetcar from Canal Street through the Garden District. This is a great way to get from the French Quarter to this beautiful part of New Orleans. It costs $1.25 per single ride or $3.00 for an all-day pass.
New Orleans streetcar | f11photo/shutterstock.com
28. Stroll along Magazine Street
Magazine Street runs from the French Quarter out to the Garden District. It is lined with restaurants, boutique shops, and art galleries. You can simply stroll the few blocks of Magazine Street that runs along the Garden District or walk it all the way to or from the French Quarter (about a 2.5-mile walk).
29. Grab a Bite to Eat
In the Garden District, there are a few notable places to grab a bite to eat. Commander’s Palace is a highly rated, upscale restaurant that serves traditional New Orleans fare. Joey K’s is a casual spot that is famous for their Po’boys and red beans and rice.
Things to Do in City Park
City Park is an enormous park that sits north of the French Quarter. To get here, take the bus, hire a taxi, take the streetcar, or hire an Uber.
30. The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)
On display are works of art by Monet, Rodin, O’Keefe, and Degas. There are also temporary exhibitions with paintings, photographs, and sculptures from around the world.
Get pricing and hours on the official website.
Inside the NOMA | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
31. The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA
Sitting next to the art museum is an outdoor sculpture garden. It is free to visit, lovely to walk through, and a great place to visit, particularly when the weather is nice.
And if you need a bite to eat, Café du Monde has a location within walking distance of NOMA.
The Sculpture Garden
More Things to Do in New Orleans
32. Longue Vue House and Gardens
This historic museum was the home to two philanthropists, Edgar Bloom Stern and Edith Rosenwald Stern. They built this estate in the early 1900’s. Throughout the 20th century, they donated their time, money, and resources to a number of local organizations and addressed creative expression and education for African Americans.
In 1980, their private residence became a nonprofit historic house museum. Edgar and Edith’s legacy lives on, as Longue Vue continues to address important issues such as equity, education, and environmental responsibility.
At Longue Vue House and Gardens, you can tour the house, take a guided tour, or have tea.
For information on pricing, hours, and how to get here, visit the official website.
Longue Vue House | Kathleen K. Parker/shutterstock.com
33. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Also called “Jazz Fest,” this festival runs from the end of April into early May. It first got started in 1970 and features a variety of music, including jazz, Cajun, zydeco, rock, funk, African, Caribbean, folk, blues, gospel, and more. Past guests include Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, Lenny Kravitz, Jimmy Buffett, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Pitbull, and The Temptations, just to name a few.
In 2024, the Jazz and Heritage Festival takes place from April 26 to May 5.
34. Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is the largest and most popular festival in New Orleans. It starts on January 6, Twelfth Night, and runs all the way until Mardi Gras, which generally falls in mid-February to very early March.
The peak of the festivities occur in the two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday. During this time, there is a major parade each day. Bourbon Street is filled with partygoers and beads of green, yellow and purple are thrown from balconies.
Speaking from experience, Mardi Gras is a wild time to visit New Orleans.
Mardi Gras Parade | Best Things to Do in New Orleans
Mardi Gras Decorations
Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras requires its own special planning, because the city almost shuts down for it. Streets are closed for parades, sometimes making getting from place to place very difficult, hotels and restaurants are full, and waiting lines for bathrooms is commonplace.
Future dates of Mardi Gras:
- 2024: February 13
- 2025: March 4
- 2026: February 17
35. Take a Tour of New Orleans
There is a long list of tours of New Orleans.
Leaving the city behind and going on a swamp tour is one of the best things to do in New Orleans. This airboat ride through the swamp gets rave reviews and you have a chance to see alligators and other wildlife.
Visit the cemeteries of New Orleans or take a walking tour of the French Quarter where you learn about the haunted history of the city. A haunted pub crawl is another popular nighttime tour of the city.
Best of New Orleans: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Best Things to Do in New Orleans: Our Recommendations
Top 10 Experiences
- Visit the French Quarter
- Visit the National WWII Museum
- Try some famous New Orleans foods (beignets, gumbo, po’boys, Bananas Foster, chicory coffee, or charbroiled oysters)
- Listen to live music on Frenchmen Street
- Stroll through the Garden District
- Visit Jackson Square
- Have a Sazerac and/or a Hurricane
- Visit New Orleans at Mardi Gras
- Visit City Park
- Learn more about jazz, either at Preservation Hall or at the New Orleans Jazz Museum
10 Best Free Things to Do in New Orleans
- Stroll along Bourbon and Royal Streets
- Enjoy the view of Jackson Square from the elevated walkway
- Step inside the St. Louis Cathedral
- Stroll through the Garden District
- Visit the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA
- Take a break in the Musical Legends Park
- Take a walk on the Riverwalk
- Visit City Park
- Stroll along Magazine Street
- Ride a streetcar (almost free)
If you have any questions about the best things to do in New Orleans, or if you want to share your favorite experiences, let us know in the comment section below.
Visit More US Cities
LAS VEGAS: For information on how to visit Las Vegas, read our article Best Things to Do in Las Vegas, which also has advice on where to stay, where to eat, and how to plan your time. If you are visiting with kids or teenagers, don’t miss our article Best Things to Do in Las Vegas with Teenagers.
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA: Learn about the top experiences in our article Best Things to Do in Savannah, Georgia. We cover the top places to eat in our Savannah Restaurant Guide and the top rooftop bars in our Guide to the Savannah Rooftop Bars.
KEY WEST: For a list of top experiences in Key West, read our article Best Things to Do in Key West. We also have guides on renting a Tiki Boat in Key West, Where to Eat in Key West, and Where to Stay in Key West.
NASHVILLE: For recommendations on what to do in Nashville, check out our articles Best Things to Do in Nashville and Best Eats in Nashville. And for full details on Bluebird Cafe, read our article How to Visit Bluebird Cafe.
NEW YORK CITY: For a list of the top experiences in New York City, read our article Best Things to Do in New York City. We also have a detailed 5 Day NYC Itinerary, a guide to the best observation decks in New York City, and how to spend one day in Brooklyn.
If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.
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