Free Things to Do in New Orleans

10Best free (or almost free) things to do in New Orleans

New Orleans isn't a place for pennypinchers. The pace in the Big Easy is, well easy, which means you don't want to be watching every nickle and dime, especially when you're on vacation.  That said, the savvy traveler knows that there are ways to get around big ticket items and high dollar restaurants without sacrificing the quality of the experience. 

As far as food goes, if you have a bucket list of restaurants to try, consider going for lunch instead of dinner.  The food will be as delish, but you'll pay a fraction of the cost.  Another good move is to belly up to the bar at Happy Hour.  Many restaurants offer deals on drinks and reduced price nibbles, usually in the 4-6 pm range, but that can stretch into more hours depending on the season.  Domenica, for instance, on Canal Street in the Roosevelt Hotel, dishes a kickin' happy hour seven days a week from 3-5 pm, offering killer breaks on drinks, wine and beer and half price pizza.  The locals know about this one, so you can expect a crowd unless you get there early.

The best way to enjoy New Orleans culture and architecture is on foot - FREE - or by streetcar headed Uptown - a bargain at just $1.25.  Soak up the sunshine, gander at the river and mix in with locals at one of the city's gorgeous parks, be it City Park by the New Orleans Museum of Art, Audubon Park Uptown or at The Fly on the river by the zoo.

Another way to economically indulge is to attend one of the many free festivals the city hosts. Admission, activities and live music won't cost you a dime and food vendors keep prices reasonable so you can feel good about lining up for seconds. Just remember there's a difference between thrifty and cheap - don't forget to tip wait staff and musicians, their lives depend on it.


French Quarter Festival
Photo courtesy of Zach Smith

Lively, joyful, 100 percent local and, most amazingly, free, the French Quarter Festival takes place over four days in April, when thousands of festival-goers camp out in the Quarter to enjoy local music played on 25 stages and ranging from jazz and gospel to funk and zydeco. The only cost is for food vendors representing dozens of the city's greatest restaurants, offering affordable prices on favorites like Muriel's crawfish crepes and Antoine's baked Alaska. The French Quarter Fest usually happens a few weeks before Jazz Fest, and for some music lovers, its downtown location and free entrance makes it the preferred event.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The French Quarter Fest is the largest free music festival in the South.

Beth's expert tip: Bring chairs and stake claim early at the stage of your choice.

Read more about French Quarter Festival →

French Quarter
Garden District
Photo courtesy of Paul Broussard

Wrought iron fences, exquisite gardens and lush antebellum homes line the streets of the Garden District. The area, bordered by St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street, as well as Jackson Avenue and Louisiana Avenue, is where the city's original aristocratic class settled. Highlights include the St. Charles Streetcar line, which offers affordable transit to the French Quarter, and Lafayette Cemetery. The Garden District has been home to some famous folks, including novelist Anne Rice (1239 First St.) and rock star Trent Reznor (2425 Coliseum St.) The best way to enjoy the scenery is on foot for views of architectural detail and lush gardens.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Getting around the Garden District on foot is a breeze, and allows travelers to witness the sprawling estates and beautiful architecture of New Orleans'famed neighborhood.

Beth's expert tip: Pay a visit to Lafayette Cemetery while you're in the neighborhood.

Read more about Garden District →

Satchmo SummerFest
Photo courtesy of Mary Witzig

People who let the summer heat and humidity keep them away from New Orleans miss out in a huge way when it comes to this wonderful local jazz festival, a bargain at $7 admission, with kids 12 and under free of charge. You may know Satchmo better as Louis Armstrong, and this weekend celebration pays tribute to the legendary musician's life, legacy and love of music. Associated events range from exhibits to panel discussions, and there are also organized club crawls, food stands operated by local eateries, and plenty of great live performances. Most of the Satchmo SummerFest's activities take place in and around Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Is it hot in New Orleans in August? You bet - but so is the music at this terrific free three day outdoor jazz festival.

Beth's expert tip: Don's miss the Second Line in honor of Satchmo's'birthday August 4.

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Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street is a place you need to visit at least once in New Orleans. The nearly mile long strip of bars, clubs and restaurants attracts millions of visitors each year, mostlyl tourists and convention goers in search of scintillation and libation. Famous drinks such as Pat O'Briens Hurricanes, and the Hand Grenade are staples here. The open container laws permit consumption in the streets, so get loose while taking in the sights. Whether it's Mardi Gras season or a regular mid summer week, the porch balconies are stuffed with party-goers ready to toss beads to open hands below. Fritzel's and the Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta are two seriously good jazz venues on this street.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Bourbon Street is one of the best places in the world for people watching, even if most of the people are tourists.

Beth's expert tip: Bourbon isn't really a street for the kiddos - parents will want to make that call before exposing young minds to the sights.

Read more about Bourbon Street →

New Orleans Streetcars
Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono

The New Orleans streetcar is the preeminent mode of transportation in the Crescent City. Traveling through the middle of major streets such as St. Charles, Canal, Carrollton and Rampart, the streetcar is an affordable method of transportation that allows you to soak in the sights as you move closer to your end destination. $1.25 gets you aboard ($3 for a day pass), and if lucky, you'll have a street car operator that will act as a pseudo tour guide, pointing out important landmarks. The streetcar itself is of historical significance to the city. It is the oldest continually operating street railway system in the entire world, moving city-goers around since the 19th century.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Though the Streetcar isn't technically free ($1.25/trip), it is the most economical non-walking tour of the city.

Beth's expert tip: You need exact change to board, so keep dollar bills and quarters handy.

Read more about New Orleans Streetcars →

French Quarter
Royal Street
Photo courtesy of New Orleans and Company

Royal Street is one of the city's treasures, a thoroughfare ideal for strolling. Reminiscent of a European 19th century city, Royal Street is lines with shops and art galleries, making it perfect for window shopping. Street busking is constant here. On any given day you can hear Doreen on clarinet in front of Rouses, a young music student singing arias, a full on brass band and a gifted violinist playing classical music. This is free - but please tip the musicians - the concerts are a bargain with just a few dollars in your pocket. And there are constant reminders that the French Quarter is a living neighborhood, as you pass an elementary school, a vet's office and a supermarket. The heart of the street is closed to car traffic during the day, making it an easy pedestrian destination.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Free music, great window shopping, excellent people watching - there's nothing not to love about Royal Street.

Beth's expert tip: Lauded internationally for its art galleries and antique shops, Royal Street is a must-stroll for any New Orleans visitor.

Read more about Royal Street →

A 16-acre haven of green located between the French Quarter and the Mississippi, Woldenberg Riverfront Park is a perfect place to unwind after a jaunt in the Quarter. Its arresting artworks, riverside promenade and frequent strolling bands and festivals offer visitors a bucket list New Orleans experience. Park goers can stroll the Moonwalk path for stunning views of the busy port, the Crescent City Connection Bridge and the Toulouse Street Wharf. Woldenberg is ground zero for French Quarter Fest as well as other special music events throughout the year. It's also a great place to eat beignets and slurp chicory-laced coffee from Cafe du Monde.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Woldenberg Park is the only place where you can hear free live music from name acts literally next to the Mississippi River.

Beth's expert tip: If you're heading to a festival at Woldenberg Park, stake out a spot along the railing adjacent to the Mississippi River for great views.

Read more about Woldenberg Riverfront Park →

City Park

The largest green space in New Orleans, City Park boasts 1,300 acres featuring dozens of colorful original artworks, excellent sports facilities and beloved attractions, such as the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art, all surrounded by picturesque lagoons and sprawling lawns. Little ones love the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, home to an antique carousel, and the whole family can enjoy boating, biking or picnicking under the Spanish moss-draped oak trees. The Park also includes the very reasonably priced City Putt, a 36-hole mini golf complex with two courses, one themed around sites around Louisiana, the other highlights New Orleans streets and iconic themes.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: City Park has a multitude of free options for the New Orleans traveler: the sculpture gardens behind NOMA, picnic areas, playgrounds, exercise circuits and more.

Beth's expert tip: During the summer months, shade under the massive live oak trees is a hot commodity - stake your claim early in the day.

Read more about City Park →

The Fly
Photo courtesy of Dita Margarita

The Fly is a secret among New Orleans locals, a strip of frontage along the Mississippi River behind Audubon Zoo. On weekends, people flock in droves for grilling, crawfish boils, sunning and to throw a ball or frisbee around. Set up camp feet from the Mississippi and watch the big barges maneuver through the currents. Numerous fields exist for kids and adults to enjoy their favorite ball games. If you don't come with enough to field a squad of your own, others will be glad to include you in their pickup games. Dusk is a great time to show up, as the sun sets right over the river, a truly spectacular sight.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A visit to the Fly for sports, sunning or simply watching the river traffic flow by, is one of New Orleans' best kept secrets.

Beth's expert tip: Come for the sunset, a riot of color along the Mighty Mississippi.

Read more about The Fly →

There was much hue and cry when new operators took over this formerly free ferry in 2014, but it's still only $2 to take this scenic ride, and kids ride for free. Although the ride across the Mississippi only lasts five minutes, the air-conditioned ferry offers spectacular views of the New Orleans skyline, particularly striking at dusk as the city lights begin to twinkle. Upon arriving at Algiers, a quaint historic neighborhood founded in 1719, visitors can walk the tranquil, tree-shaded streets lined with charming Creole cottages and Greek Revival mansions before grabbing lunch at a local cafe or a seat outside at one of the bars along the Point.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The $2 fare earns you river views and a chance to explore historic Algiers point.

Beth's expert tip: Kids ride free on this ferry across the Mississippi.

Read more about Canal Street / Algiers Ferry →


Meet Beth D'Addono

Beth D'Addono is a food and travel writer obsessed with flavor, exploring cultures, street music and the city of New Orleans.

Beth writes about New Orleans and other destinations for outlets...  More About Beth