Things to do in New Orleans, LA

Get Your Bearings in New Orleans

By Beth D'Addono
New Orleans Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

New Orleans is known for its adult-pleasing attractions, but also has plenty for the family as well. If you're traveling with youngsters, the city has two great parks to explore, plus the world-renowned Audubon attractions (zoo, aquarium and insectarium). Spending an afternoon in the Garden District gazing at the beautiful estates and brushing up on your local history will have you feeling like a native. Sports fans will need to keep an eye on the NFL schedule to see if the Saints are in town during their trip. 

Take It or Leave It:

To save some money, try one of the self-guided walking tours available on your smartphone.

Hot Tips:

Want your child to remember New Orleans? Get them a "Backstage Penguin Pass" at the Audubon Aquarium.

Where to Stay

One of the perks of deciding where to sleep over in New Orleans  is that no matter which hotel you choose, you're a close walk or streetcar ride away from mostly everything. This allows you to focus on amenities, room size, value, etc. If noise and crowds appeal, stay on busy Bourbon Street, or get a little out of the fray at a hotel elsewhere in the French Quarter. If you're a player, head towards the Mississippi with proximity to Harrah's Casino. If you're heading to the game, the hotels in the CBD and Warehouse district should be checked in to. 

Avoid:

Bourbon Street hotels, if traveling with children.

Take It or Leave It:

Though the downtown hotels seem pricier compared to the city fringe options, you'll make up that difference in cab fare. Pony up and stay downtown.

What to Eat

In this city known for its amazing food, there are bountiful palate-pleasing options sure to entice. For brunch and shopping, Magazine Street offers many great options. The French Quarter has plenty of spots for freshly-shucked oysters and loaded seafood po'boys that won't break the bank. Ride the St. Charles streetcar Uptown to Oak Street for a taste of a different section of town. There, you will dine in a neighborhood that resembles vintage New Orleans, with great sushi, BBQ and Creole restaurants. 

Avoid:

Bourbon Street. Although there are a few good restaurants on Bourbon like The Bourbon House and Galatoire's, most eateries cater to the tourist trade.

Take It or Leave It:

Cooter Brown's on the Riverbend may serve the tastiest oysters in the city.

Be Sure to Sample:

Crawfish boil, a local fave that is featured at many restaurants when the mudbugs are in season.

Places to Party

No question you need to walk Bourbon street at least once, with its dizzying array of strip clubs, bars and restaurants, a pedestrian party that never quits. But the real New Orleans happens elsewhere in neighborhoods like the Marigny, where Frenchmen Street delivers primo live music and a night art market not to be missed. It's a great place to check out local theater, dance clubs and exotic music. Uptown, some of the best acts in local music cycle through Tipitina's and the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak. 

Take It or Leave It:

Always remember to tip the band. Musicians work for next to nothing in this town and depend on tips to make ends meet. Keep dollar bills handy.

Where to Shop

Boutiques, galleries and local artisan street vendors are in mass quantity in this city. For luxury shopping with plenty of artsy flavor, head to Royal Street. Find a local treasure in a Magazine Street shotgun-style art gallery or vintage clothing boutique. The French Market is worth perusing as well, with its scores of tables filled with handmade crafts and trinkets and mass-produced Mardi Gras masks.

Avoid:

The touristy t-shirt and nostalgia shops that line Canal Street - you didn't come here to buy junk you can get at the airport.

Best Local Souvenir:

A toss-up between an authentic handmade voodoo doll or a Mardi Gras mask. Sweet pralines are always a crowdpleaser.

New Orleans Neighborhoods

Things to do in New Orleans


New Orleans is known for...

Five of New Orleans's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Festivals:

It should come as no surprise that the host city of Mardi Gras is famous for its festivals. The Carnival season, which begins on January 6 and culminates on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras day), is easily the biggest draw for visitors where festivals are concerned, but the Big Easy has a host of other events throughout the year. In April, the Jazz and Heritage Festival (more commonly known as Jazz Fest) offers a great mix of big headliners and local musicians, while March's Road Food Festival features beignet-eating contests and the world's longest Po'boys.

2. Food:

The indigenous cuisine of New Orleans, made up mostly of Louisiana Creole, is comprised of some of the most diverse, unique, and easily recognizable flavors in the world. Whether you're sipping a chicory cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde while indulging in a few beignets or ordering up the original muffuletta sandwich at the world-famous Central Grocery, you're sure to understand this city's love affair with food and embark on one of your own. Other must-try dishes for a visit to New Orleans include jambalaya, red beans and rice, Creole bread pudding, Po'boy sandwiches, and anything with crawfish. It's worth noting that although New Orleans is widely associated with Cajun food, that style of cuisine didn't see much exposure in the Big Easy until the late 1970's. Acadiana, a separate region of Louisiana, is the true source of Cajun cuisine.

3. Music:

New Orleans is universally regarded as the birthplace of jazz music, a fact that pervades every facet of the city's existence today. The music of New Orleans, not unlike it's cuisine and broader culture, has a long and richly varied history. The infancy of jazz is usually traced back to 1835, when slaves would congregate in Congo Square to sing and dance. Over time, jazz and brass bands (distinct entities for a time) began to form in their own right, and the two deeply forms deeply influenced one another even as they in turn were influenced by Creole contributions, ragtime, Dixieland, and later, blues and rock. Marching bands are an integral part of the Big Easy's musical heritage, and one of the most notable staples of its culture today. It's a rare public event in New Orleans where you don't see a marching band performing.

4. Architecture:

New Orleans is one of a very few cities in the States that has a high watermark example of almost every major architectural style in history, owing largely to its own multicultural heritage. Quaint Creole cottages are strewn throughout the city. These one-story wood or stucco structures have a design that dates back to the 18th century. Elsewhere, on Canal Street and in the French Quarter, a majority of the buildings were refurbished in the Victorian Style following the Louisiana purchase, but a handful maintain Colonial French or Spanish design. Spanish influence is most prominent in these historic districts, but the buildings also have touches of African, French, and Caribbean styles.

5. Shopping:

Whether you're in the market for Old World antiques or cutting edge fashions, each of New Orleans' distinct neighborhoods has something to offer. Foodies should head to the Crescent City Farmer's Market for the proverbial "died and went to heaven" experience, while art connoisseurs can have a field day at the Bywater Art Market. Magazine Street is virtually blanketed in boutique shops that mostly traffic in upscale women's wear, while Canal Street offers an array of high-end cigar shops and music stores that male travelers are sure to find appealing. Bourbon and Canal Streets feature mostly touristy shops, but it's worth tramping around in either of those areas to explore a few Voodoo shops.