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Whether you visit during Mardi Gras season or at any other time of the year, New Orleans is undoubtedly one of the most fun cities in America. There seems to be something to celebrate every single day, and the city also has so much history and outdoor recreation beyond the famous party scene. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to have fun in New Orleans without spending a dime. Here are some of our favorite free things to do in the Big Easy.
New Orleans draws in fun-seekers from all around the world, and it’s absolutely fascinating to watch them strut their stuff down Bourbon Street. This is the main party street in the city that’s lined with bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues of all kinds. Take your time to stroll up and down the street a few times to take in all of the wild outfits, costumes, street performers, and shenanigans. Things tend to get a bit more interesting as it gets later in the evening, but there’s certainly no shortage of great people-watching opportunities during the daytime as well.
The NOLA Jitterbugs is a dance group in the city that offers classes to people of all ages and skill levels. Dance culture is thriving in New Orleans as a way to get social and bring people together. On the group’s dance calendar, you’ll find lots of opportunities to learn to swing dance, and these classes are usually $5 for a beginner lesson with a social dance that follows. That’s actually a great price for a dance class, but you can also attend the AllWays Lounge drop-in class events on Sunday at 8pm for free. This is a non-touristy venue where you can take a free class while listening to a live jazz band following the class from 9pm to midnight. The NOLA Jitterbugs also host jazz brunches on Frenchman Street, sponsor the Fleur de Lindy Exchange, and perform at other events around town.
Many New Orleans visitors don’t think about getting outdoors and active during their time in the city, but there are actually some great biking opportunities here. If you bring your own bike, you can see the city on two wheels for free by traveling 15 or so miles along the lakefront on Lakeshore Drive. You’ll get gorgeous views and pass by lots of tempting seafood restaurants. It’s also fun to bike along St. Charles Avenue to see the Arts District and Garden District, bike through Audubon Park and City Park for a dose of nature, and bike along the Lafitte Greenway to reach other neighborhoods in the city.
The city of New Orleans loves its parades, and all of the parades here are free to attend and watch. These parades feature festive floats, marching bands, impressive costumes, and exciting live music. Mardi Gras season runs from January 6 through Fat Tuesday, which is right before Easter. But most of the big activities take place during that last week. There are also quite a few Easter-themed parades that take place around town, as well as a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Jackson Square is in New Orleans’ French Quarter and a big hangout spot for the local artistic crowd. Here you’ll find lots of caricature artists drawing tourists, painters recreating scenes of the city, fortune tellers, and even tap dancers showing off their skills for tips. It’s fun to walk through the square or even sit down for a while to watch all of the activity and listen to some live music while you’re here as well. There’s usually a band of musicians playing for the entertainment of visitors here, so stop to listen for a while and toss a tip in a guitar case if you like what you hear.
It might sound a bit morbid to walk through cemeteries on your trip to New Orleans, but there is so much fascinating history in these above-ground resting places for the dead. For example, you can walk through Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the French Quarter and see the graves of New Orleans legends, like the Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Homer Plessy of the famous court case Plessy v. Ferguson is buried here too, as well as the first African-American mayor of New Orleans. There are actually at least 40 cemeteries in the city so you can create your own free, self-guided tours of these allegedly haunted places. There are organized cemetery tours that you can book and pay for, but these are definitely places that you can explore on your own too.
While colorful frozen drinks are the norm while walking around New Orleans, there’s also a great brewery here worth visiting. The brewery offers free tours to the public on Fridays from 2pm to 3pm and on Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm to 4pm. These tours take place regularly unless there’s some other big event going on. Some favorite brews here are the NOLA Blonde Ale, Hopitoulas, 7th Street Wheat, and Rebirth Pale Ale. Unfortunately, the beer isn’t free unless you make a new friend willing to buy you a drink! The tap room here is open from 11am to 11pm seven days a week at 3001 Tchoupitoulas Street.
Crescent City Farmers’ Market is a great place to visit in New Orleans even if you have no intention of stocking up on fruits and vegetables. These markets take place on Saturday mornings in the downtown area and feature lots of local produce, seafood, and homemade items. You can stop by Magazine Street and Girod Street to pop into the market, listen to live bands, and maybe even watch a local chef give a free cooking demonstration. Delicious food is such a big part of New Orleans culture that this is a fun way to embrace the city’s culinary side.