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

Photo courtesy of Mary Witzig
Photo courtesy of Dita Margarita
By Beth D'Addono, New Orleans Local Expert

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, most really, 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 3-6 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 to the Garden District - 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 or uptown 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.

10. French Quarter Festival

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 20 stages and ranging from jazz and gospel to funk and zydeco. The only cost is for food vendors operated more than 60 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 happens a few weeks before Jazz Fest, and for some music lovers, its downtown location and free entrance makes it the preferred event.

9. Garden District
Photo courtesy of Ken Lund

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.

8. 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 $5 admission. 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.

7. 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.

6. New Orleans Streetcars
Photo courtesy of ianloic

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, 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.

5. Royal Street
Photo courtesy of Numinosity (by Gary J Wood)

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 you love, 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.

4. Woldenberg Riverfront Park
Photo courtesy of Mary Witzig

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.

3. 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.

2. The Fly
Photo courtesy of Dita Margarita

The Fly is a secret among New Orleans locals; it's 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 the frisbee. Set up camp feet from the Mississippi and watch the big boats 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.

1. Canal Street / Algiers Ferry
Photo courtesy of Mathematical Association of America

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.