10 Best Things to Do with the Kids in New Orleans

You might not think kids and New Orleans if you haven't been here before - or if your experience is limited to the adult scene rife with strip clubs and drunks on Bourbon Street.  But New Orleans is a city of families who just avoid the Bourbon Street scene with the kiddos. There is so much else to do around town, from more organized attractions to just soaking in the city's rich and vibrant culture.  

Exposing the kids to live music is a must.  Remember that bars don’t let in the under-21 set, and since most live music happens in bars, that’s an issue.  Not to worry though. Kids are welcome at Preservation Hall, the hallowed jazz venue that attracts fans from all over the world.  The sets are relatively short so even the younger ones will have a great time.  Street music abounds on Royal Street during the day, and street performers of all stripes busk for bucks around Jackson Square.  A stroll down Frenchmen Street anytime after 5 pm or so will deliver street corner brass bands, as well as plenty of open doorways to catch some wafting tunes. Depending on the time of year, there are free concerts on Wednesdays and Thursday in Lafayette Square and Armstrong Park, all suitable for young ears.


Outside the city

Family attractions are plentiful on this side of Lake Pontchartrain, a world away from the excess of New Orleans. The Global Wildlife Center is the Northshore's answer to Disney's Animal Kingdom, an eco-friendly 900-acre predator-free animal park that offers 90-minute covered wagon tours to view the 40 species, 2700 animals in all, which live in the park. You're likely to see giraffes, antelope, Father David deer, dromedaries and bison on your Louisiana safari, which includes feeding the curious critters from an open-air safari-like vehicle. There is so much to do for families on this side of the lake that you might want to stay over for a night or two.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the French Quarter, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers visitors a chance to pet stingrays, feed exotic birds, and ogle sharks in their 40,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which simulates ocean life under an oil rig. The colors of a Caribbean reef are featured in a walk-through tunnel, while penguins and Southern sea otters always entertain. Home to more than 10,000 aquatic animals from all over the Americas, the aquarium also offers an in-house Big Screen theater. If you have the time, for about $45 for adults and $35 for seniors or kids 2-12, you can bundle visits to the zoo, aquarium, Entergy Big Screen Theater and Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. .

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. There is some interesting public art, a newly redone riverside promenade, busking musicians and festivals that offer visitors a truly unforgettable New Orleans experience. Park-goers can stroll the Moonwalk path for stunning views of the busy port, the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the Toulouse Street Wharf, as well. There is no shortage of characters and panhandlers as well, something you'll see everywhere in the city. If your kids aren't used to this aspect of city living, you might want to address it in advance.

Jackson Square
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation

Often called the heart of New Orleans, Jackson Square is full of energy and activity. The Square faces the Mississippi River and is directly across from the St. Louis Cathedral. In the shadows of the Andrew Jackson statue, erected for his illustrious performance during the Battle of New Orleans, you will find street artists painting during the day and jazz musicians by night. The gardens are great for a picnic or a leisurely stroll. This is one of the sites for the French Quarter Festival in April, where local restaurants set up stands and dish out delicious cuisine and New Orleans musicians entertain for free.

City Park

The largest green space in New Orleans, City Park boasts 1,300 acres featuring outdoor art, excellent sports facilities, the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art, all surrounded by picturesque lagoons and sprawling lawns. There's a lake for paddleboat rentals, The Carousel Gardens Amusement Park with its antique, wooden Carousels Ferris Wheel, Miniature Train, Musik Express and Bumper Cars. And don't miss Storyland, a Mother Goose-themed playground where kids can meet Three Little Pigs, Cinderella's Pumpkin, the Cheshire Cat and Snow White. The whole family can enjoy boating, biking or picnicking under the Spanish moss-draped oak trees.

Canal Street / Algiers Ferry

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 2 and under 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.

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 and Carrollton, 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 streetcar 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.

Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium

Crawl, fly or scuttle to the Audubon Insectarium on Canal Street, located in the historic U.S. Custom House, a cool museum all about bugs, butterflies and everything creepy crawly. See the world from a bug's perspective as you wander through a mysterious Louisiana swamp and a butterfly-filled garden. You'll discover why insects are the building blocks of all life on our planet and along the way, you'll be shrunk to bug size; wander through a mysterious Louisiana swamp; join the active audience of an awards show for bugs, by bugs and be captivated by thousands of butterflies in an Asian garden.

Audubon Zoo

Audubon Zoo, located in Uptown New Orleans is a great place for a family visit. Home to more than 2,000 animals, the zoo is open year round, from Tuesday through Sunday (seven days a week during the summer). Learning the eating habits of a Komodo Dragon under the Louisiana sun can get hot, so the Zoo features "Cool Zoo", a small scale water park complete with an alligator water slide. The zoo is located across the street from Audubon Park, and adjacent to "The Fly", a great place to relax and picnic in full view of the Mississippi River.

Louisiana Children's Museum

Hands-on learning equals hands-on fun at this spunky children's museum, where kids are encouraged to discover a world of wonder throughout 30,000 sq. ft. of learn-by-doing exhibits. Head upstairs where role-playing rules, at the Little Winn Dixie a grocery store complete with dairy cases and cashiers, a Kids' Cafe for budding chefs-to-be, an optical shop, and an art studio for creating. Whether they are learning what bones they use to ride a bike or loading up a cargo ship in the Little Port of New Orleans exhibit, children take an active role in their own learning. This museum is all kinds of fun and geared to children from toddlers to age 12.


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