There are so many amazing reasons to visit New Orleans that it’s hard to know where to begin! This is one of the most unique cities in all of America, with its very own style of music, food, art, and culture. New Orleans is an ideal place to learn about history, current events, jazz, and southern cooking, and it’s also one of the most fun places to let loose and party.
From the popular tourist spots to the hidden local gems that you might not have heard about, New Orleans is much more than Mardi Gras and Katrina. These are some of the top things to see and do in New Orleans when you head to southern Louisiana and visit this fascinating city on the bayou.
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Revisit the Famous Tourist Circuit
There are a few places in New Orleans that you simply have to revisit, even if you’ve been there a dozen times before. These places include Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, Frenchman Street for its musical magic, Café Du Monde for those tasty beignets, and the French Market for souvenir browsing. Don’t skip these famous attractions just because they’re over-hyped because they define part of the city’s identity and offer something different every time. These are wonderful places to people-watch with a cocktail in hand and let your soul be soothed by the sounds of jazz and blues.
Browse the Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Art has always been an important part of New Orleans’ culture, and one of the best places to experience it for yourself is at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Here you can view paintings, photos, and much more to learn about the South in a whole new way. Take a walk from the French Quarter to get here, or you can take a cab ride if it’s raining. Plan to go on a Thursday evening between 6 pm and 8 pm to listen to local musicians play while you check out the galleries as part of Ogden After Hours.
Go for a Jog in City Park
It’s easy to get caught up in unhealthy habits while visiting New Orleans with all the delicious food and cocktails around. But one of the best ways to take care of your health and get active while visiting the city is to go for a job, walk, or bike ride in City Park. This park is between Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John and stretches on for about 1,300 acres right in the city. The park suffered severe damage after Hurricane Katrina but is a favorite local hangout spot today. If you’re traveling with kids, check out the nearby Story Land and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, or catch a concert on the lawn if you can.
Sample the City's Famous Cocktails
New Orleans is one of the wonderful places where you can walk down the street with your favorite cocktail in hand. So take advantage of the lax liquor laws and sample some local favorites while you’re in town! One of the most famous local cocktails is the Sazerac, and the hurricane is also a popular pick. However, nothing really beats those frozen slushy drinks on a hot summer’s day, especially when you opt for the extra shot of your liquor-of-choice in them.
Visit St. Louis Cemetery & Lafayette Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery on vacation might sound downright creepy, but the ones in New Orleans are truly fascinating even if you don’t think it’d be up your alley. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the oldest cemetery in the city that dates back to 1789. Here you’ll find elaborate tombs and vaults, including ones from famous figures like voodoo queen Marie Laveau and Nicholas Cage’s plots he purchased in advance. You can take a guided tour of this cemetery or visit Lafayette Cemetery instead, which is one you can explore on your own for free.
Get Your Fortune Told at Jackson Square
Whether you believe in the mystical and supernatural or not, there’s just something “typical New Orleans” about getting your fortune read by a psychic at Jackson Square. The square has a large statue of Andrew Jackson and many artists and psychics surrounding it. Maybe you take your reading with a grain of salt or take it to heart, but spending time with a New Orleans psychic is an entertaining experience for sure. Consider visiting Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo while you’re in town as well!
Munch of Mufflettas and Po-Boys
New Orleans is a haven for foodies, and two local favorites here are the muffaletta and the po-boy. A muffaletta is a sandwich that originated with Italian immigrants in New Orleans made typically with Genoa salami, hot soppresata, dry salami, and serrano ham. Great muffaletta shops in the French Quarter include Napoleon House and Central Grocery & Deli. Meanwhile, po-boy sandwiches are made with fried oysters or shrimp on French bread and mayonnaise. Check out the city’s annual Oak Street Po-Boy Festival for the best selection and variety of these favorite sandwiches.
Take a Bayou Swamp Tour
To experience a different kind of wild side that New Orleans has, book a bayou swamp tour to see crocodiles and other wildlife species in their native habitat. There are several local guide companies that will safely take you on a boat into the bayou to learn about the habitat and the role that the bayou plays in Louisiana’s history. For example, Cajun Pride Swamp Tours offers boat tours, and you can paddle yourself on a New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tour if you’re feeling particularly brave.
See the Garden District Mansions
New Orleans has been home to many wealthy residents, and the Garden District is the best place to see the stunning 19th century mansions. This area is a must for history and architecture buffs, as the mansion’s styles range from Gothic to Greek revival to classically southern. Hop on the St. Charles streetcar from downtown to walk around this area and snap some pictures of your favorite New Orleans homes.
Shop on Magazine Street
When you could use a break from the party scene on Bourbon Street, head to Magazine Street for a quieter, local, and more shopper-friendly vibe. There are lots of antique shops, fashion boutiques, home stores, and restaurants here to check out. This is a great place to pick up a beautiful piece of New Orleans-inspired jewelry to take home as a souvenir or give as a gift.
Cruise the Steamboat Natchez
See New Orleans from a different perspective (from the Mississippi River!) on a Steamboat Natchez Jazz Cruise. This is a fun way to listen to New Orleans jazz while embracing the tourist spirit. You can choose to take a diner cruise or a cruise without dinner to save some money and just enjoy the cocktails and music. On a nice evening, grab some chairs on the upper deck and look up at the moon as the music takes you back in time.