NOLA, the Big Easy, Crescent City… Whatever you choose to call it, New Orleans is a city known for its exceptional live music, incredible southern cuisine, and fantastic nightlife. This city is a blend of cultures with centuries of rich history with influence from the French-Creole settlers and Spanish colonists. New Orleans is also the birthplace of jazz, with music dating back hundreds of years.
Today, music can be heard everywhere from musicians performing in the streets to tiny bars, beautiful concert venues, and even world-renowned music festivals. You’ll find no shortage of fun activities in New Orleans.
One of the most popular travel destinations in America, New Orleans has a wide variety of restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, and museums to explore. With New Orleans attractions to suit every type of traveler, New Orleans definitely is a destination to add to your U.S. travel list.
Best Time to Visit New Orleans
There are two popular times of the year for visiting the tourist attractions New Orleans has to offer. Mardis Gras or in Spring. Mardis Gras season runs from January through March depending on the calendar year. But if you aren’t planning a Mardis Gras trip, then spring is the best season to vacation and check out all of New Orleans attractions.
The mild temperatures, usually around 20 degrees Celsius (in the mid-high 70s Fahrenheit), make for comfortable sightseeing weather. Festivals and special events around the city, including the New Orleans Jazz Music and Heritage Festival, are also in full swing this time of year, making it the perfect time to visit New Orleans.
Here is a complete list of festivals and events around the city
High temps of 30 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) and hotter occur throughout June, July, and August. These allow for the budget traveler to grab some sweet deals on hotels if the stifling heat doesn’t deter you from booking your trip.
Keep in mind that these months also experience a lot of rainfall so consider that if you are planning outdoor New Orleans activities during your stay. Another factor is Hurricane Season, which peaks in late August/early September but can be experienced anytime between June and November. If you don’t want a chance of needing to evacuate, keep that in mind if you’re planning on visiting New Orleans.
I have had the chance to visit New Orleans twice now–once in February, and once in early March–and feel this is a great time of year to visit! Not only is the weather in NOLA beautiful but it also offers a much-needed warm midwinter getaway from the cold winters up north! On top of that, when you’re looking for things to do, New Orleans will never be boring.
Top Things To Do in New Orleans
Mardi Gras always graces the lists of the top 10 things to do in New Orleans – and for good reason! Although Mardis Gras was not the purpose of either of my trips to New Orleans, this world famous festival, also known as Carnival, is a popular New Orleans tourist attraction and one of the main reasons to visit the Crescent City; it’s one of the most well-known tourist attractions in New Orleans and the United States!
Fat Tuesday is the last day of this celebration and it always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The best time to visit New Orleans for Mardis Gras celebrations is the weekend before Fat Tuesday when two of the biggest parades take place. If your trip lines up with Mardi Gras, then it’s a must for your list of New Orleans sightseeing.
If your trip to New Orleans doesn’t line up with Mardis Gras, there are plenty of other New Orleans attractions to keep you busy! Including the Mardi Gras World attraction which takes you inside the warehouse where floats are famous for Mardi Gras parades.
The Mardi Gras World museum is open everyday from 9:00am to 5:30pm and is located along the Mississippi River. You can also get a behind-the-scenes-tour to gain more insight on what you’ll witness inside the artist warehouse.
The French Quarter and French Market
When you’re looking for fun activities in New Orleans, the French Quarter is a must-see in the city, with some of the best attractions in New Orleans. This popular tourist area has so much culture and history.
Jackson Square tops the list of New Orleans’ points of interest. It is one of the most well-known landmarks in the city, known for its bronze statue of Andrew Jackson in the center of the square. This is the historic location where Louisiana became a United States territory in 1803. A visit to the square is one of the top things to do in downtown New Orleans.
The French Quarter is also known for its many haunted attractions in New Orleans. The LaLaurie Mansion, Gardette Le Prete House, and Beauregard-Keyes House each have long histories and are considered some of the most haunted attractions in New Orleans. They can be discovered on a French Quarter Ghost Tour, where you’ll hear about each building’s harrowing legacy.
The Crescent City also offers tours to visit the dead at the St.Louis Cemetery. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, visitors can only enter with a guide because the vandalisation which has taken place over the years. Inside you’ll visit the above-ground tombs of people like the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and learn about other prominent figures who helped shape this Mississippi River city. This tour is highly recommended for their fun and informative guides.
For something more light hearted check out the French Market, an outdoor covered market that spans six blocks of the French Quarter. Here you’ll find plenty of unique boutiques, galleries, and restaurants to check out.
The market is open 365 of the year so you don’t have to worry about weekend closures. Grabbing a coffee and perusing the stalls is one of the best things to do in New Orleans on Sunday.
For a foodie, the French Market is one of the best places to go in New Orleans. Open daily from 10 am – 6 pm, you’ll find a handful of restaurants and cafes, a farmer’s market, shops, and a flea market.
There is always something exciting going on here, with the market district offering festivals, music events, classes, and events for children, too. It’s the perfect place to go if you’re looking for family activities in New Orleans.
What to do in New Orleans? Check out the French Market, French Quarter
A Louisiana Swamp Tour is one of the best New Orleans activities you can do during your stay! Especially if you’re looking for New Orleans things to do with kids.
If you’ve always wanted to see an alligator up close, this is the perfect opportunity. Especially if you’ve never seen a gator in person before.
But aside from gators, the swamps surrounding NOLA are filled with wildlife, including bald eagles, turtles, herons, not to mention flora and fauna, and beautiful Spanish moss probably coming to mind when you imagine cruising down the bayou.
If the thought of spending a few hours on a slow moving boat doesn’t excite you, there are plenty of other tour options for this particular New Orleans tourist attraction.
A New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tour may be a better choice for those looking for a more active and eco-focused tour of the swamp, making it one of the best attractions in New Orleans.
This unforgettable adventure makes fun and safety top priority while giving you the chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery that surrounds you as you learn about the unique ecosystem of Honey Island Swamp or Manchac Swamp (depending on the tour you choose).
I went on a swamp tour during my first visit to New Orleans, so this last visit I decided to try something new and to view the bayou from a different perspective… on a paddleboard right in the middle of it.
Although not technically a swamp, Bayou Saint John drained the swampy land of a good portion of the city into Lake Pontchartrain. As a big lover of Stand Up Paddleboarding, signing up for a 90-minute tour with private guide of Bayou Saint John would be a unique adventure (not to mention it was quite the workout as we went on a very windy day).
While our guide assured me that there PROBABLY weren’t any gators in the Bayou, I was determined not to fall in and find out. NOLA Paddleboards is a company with a mission of bringing together the community in an active, fun, and eco-friendly way, and I would definitely recommend their SUP tour to anyone looking for less traditional New Orleans activities on the water.
Not far from Bayou Saint John is City Park, a 13,000-acre outdoor oasis in the heart of New Orleans. A visit here is one of the best free things to do in New Orleans.
Not only is this magical park home to recreation activities such as birding, boating, fishing, and golf, but it also features some of the most exciting cheap things to do in New Orleans. You can explore the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden. Although not these are not free museums in New Orleans, they simply request $8 for entry to the gardens and $15 for admission into the New Orleans Museum of Art. A small price to pay for some of the best things to do in NOLA.
A visit to City Park is a great idea for anyone looking for fun things to do in New Orleans with kids, activities for a Sunday in New Orleans or if you simply want to appreciate the art and beauty of the City Park attractions.
Listening to live music is a must during your visit to New Orleans! On my last visit, I went to Sunday jazz brunch in the French Quarter, a concert at the Orpheum Theater, a renovated historic venue in the Central Business District, and listened to countless performances at bars on Frenchmen Street.
My personal recommendations for live music on Frenchmen Street include Blue Nile, Apple Barrel, and The Spotted Cat. They’re all some of the best places to visit in New Orleans.
If you are short on time, one of the best walking tours New Orleans has to offer is the Music of New Orleans: Listen and Learn Tour. Your guide will take you through some of the most musical neighbourhoods in New Orleans and to explore musical landmarks.
If you are still wondering about things to see and do in New Orleans, check out this New Orleans Bucket List of 43 top things to do!
Where To Stay in New Orleans
Of course, before you can delve into New Orleans attractions, you’ll need a place to base yourself. With New Orleans’ French influence and southern charm, you are likely to find numerous possibilities to consider when looking for a place to stay.
There are 3 popular areas of the city to stay – the French Quarter, The Garden District, and The Central Business District, and your decision may be influenced by anything you absolutely must do in New Orleans, the purpose of your visit and who you are traveling with.
If you would prefer to experience the city like a local with Airbnb? Airbnb has a lot of great options in the French Quarter that are significantly cheaper than the neighbouring hotels, and many homes feature private gardens or terraces too.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive up to $35 to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
The French Quarter
The French Quarter is probably the most well-known area of town and it is incredibly charming. Not only does this area have a ton of character with hotels featuring balconies overlooking cobblestoned streets, but it is centrally located AND you’ll also find some of the best restaurants in the French Quarter. It’s a must see in New Orleans.
The French Quarter is walking distance from the famous Jackson Square, as well as popular New Orleans tourist attraction and hot-spot Bourbon Street.
I recently stayed at the Crowne Astor Hotel and was impressed with the quality of service we received, such as being permitted to check-in 5 hours early. Ace Hotel was also impressive.
This hotel had a lot of character, with a 5-star restaurant, and even a rooftop pool and bar. It’s a slight disappointment that I didn’t know this hotel before I book my stay in NOLA! Another option is the French Market Inn, which was built in the 1800s and has simple but beautiful rooms. It’s also within easy walking distance of some of the top things to see in New Orleans.
Overall, I’d recommend the French Quarter as an area to stay, especially if you are looking for fun things to do in New Orleans for couples, due to the central location and proximity to New Orleans tourist attractions, dining, and nightlife.
The Garden District
The Garden District is a great alternative that is further away from the hustle and bustle of the city, while still being one of the best places to visit in New Orleans. This historic neighbourhood is quite elegant, featuring enormous mansions and properties with beautiful landscapes. However, along with that comes pricey accommodations.
With some of the best restaurants in town and the Audobon Park and Zoo in the immediate area, this area might be for you if you are looking for family activities in New Orleans, or if you want fun things to do in New Orleans with kids.
The Hotel Indigo is chic, modern, and high end, and the area is known for Mardi Gras parades.
Central Business District
Another popular area of the city for visitors is the Central Business District. A good choice for those traveling for work, this neighbourhood features more affordable hotels, however, you’ll find less trendy options than in the previously mentioned neighbourhoods.
While this area of town is less scenic and not all areas are safe for walking at night (don’t wander to the outskirts of this area or too far off the beaten path) this is a good option for budget travelers who still want to be in close proximity to some of the major New Orleans tourist attractions, and dining options.
The Omni Riverfront is in a good location for anyone who prefers to get around by walking, and it’s in a good proximity to plenty of New Orleans day trips.
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
Where to Eat and Drink in New Orleans
To be honest, my favourite part of my recent visit to NOLA was the food and drinks. New Orleans is definitely a city for foodies, with countless restaurants and cafes around the city serving delicious Cajun and Creole-inspired dishes.
With restaurants serving impressive meals from bar-style Po’Boys to upscale Gumbo, we certainly ate and drank our way through the city in a short three and a half days. If you’re a foodie, then take it from us: you’ll never run out of things to do in New Orleans.
Check here for the list of the hottest restaurants in New Orleans this April.
- Muriel’s Jackson Square: While you’re looking for top things to do in New Orleans French Quarter, you can’t forget the food, with its many impressive restaurants. We really enjoyed our Sunday Jazz Brunch at Muriel’s Jackson Square. This historic property dates back to the 1800s and rumours are that it’s even haunted.
- Magazine Street: Some of the best restaurants in the city can be found on and around Magazine Street, a six-mile-long stretch that runs from the Garden District to Uptown NOLA. The busiest area of this street runs through the Garden District and City Center. Here you can find any, and every type of cuisine, along with cafes, food trucks, and even gourmet hot-dog stands.
- Cochon: My favourite meal in New Orleans was at Cochon, a trendy restaurant in a renovated warehouse located a few blocks off Magazine Street in Central New Orleans. Cochon is known for its traditional Cajun Southern dishes and is food heaven for any meat lover (I found some pescetarian options too). So what was on the menu? We feasted on fried alligator, wood-fired oysters (the best oysters either of us has ever had), rabbit, and the “fisherman’s style” gulf-fish for me! I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant for vegans or vegetarians, but everyone else should definitely add Cochon to their list.
- Parkway Bakery and Tavern: If you are looking for a traditional New Orleans Po’ Boy sandwich, head off the beaten path to Parkway Bakery and Tavern. This restaurant is a recommendation to us by a local and was a low-key but extremely delicious meal. With over 100 years of history, Parkway Bakery and Tavern opened in 1911 as a bakery and has been one of New Orleans points of interest ever since. It wasn’t until 1929 that the owner added the recently invented “poor boy” sandwich to feed the workers at the American Can Company – today Parkway features a number of seafood, specialty, and vegetarian Po’Boys.
- Cafe Du Monde: No visit to NOLA is complete without a visit to Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans’ iconic cafe that is known around the world for its famous cafe au lait and beignets. The beignets which are square pieces of fried dough with powdery sugar on top are in my opinion worth the wait! To avoid the long lines go midweek, early in the morning. An alternative to waiting for table service is to grab takeout and enjoy your breakfast on a bench outside Jackson Square.
- Take a Food Tour: You can also take a food tour of the French Quarter and have an insider’s guide to eating New Orleans! The three hour tour makes a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in New Orleans and is a great introduction to the best restaurants in the French Quarter, the history of the area and the food.
New Orleans Nightlife
Aside from delicious meals, we found that tasty cocktails and experiencing NOLA nightlife was amongst the best things to do. New Orleans has great nightlife!
When you think of NOLA, Bourbon Street might automatically come to mind, since it’s one of the top attractions in New Orleans. Bourbon Street is in the heart of the French Quarter and sort of like a playground for grownups. However, for parents beware it’s not the most kid-friendly atmosphere and it may be best to consider other family things to do in New Orleans.
With laws permitting you to walk around the city with alcohol, Bourbon Street is famous for being one giant street party with people bar-hopping from one place to the next. If you’re looking for a good bar crawl, then Bourbon Street is a must see in New Orleans.
However, the drinking/nightlife scene in New Orleans is so much more than that, and we actually spent relatively little time on Bourbon Street. A short walk away is Frenchmen Street, a strip of restaurants, bars, and live music establishments, hosting awesome jazz bands almost nightly, and a more low-key (yet still fun) alternative to Bourbon Street which can definitely get out of hand. It’s one of the best things to see in New Orleans.
The Sazerac is New Orleans’ official cocktail and is a variation of a Cognac or whiskey cocktail. This signature cocktail is considered by many to be America’s first mixed drink – head over to The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel, an iconic cocktail bar that has even made CNN’s list of world’s best hotel bars in 2015.
A stop off at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, America’s oldest bar, is also a must do in New Orleans, with this establishment dating back to 1722. The historic bar is the only thing with lightings anything other than candles, and although a little touristy, this destination is still one of the top things to see in New Orleans.
Before leaving New Orleans, make sure you grab a Hurricane cocktail at Pat O’Brien’s Bar, a world famous hangout in the French Quarter. The Hurricane, a sweet, red rum punch served in a lantern-shaped glass was believed to be invented at Pat O’Brien’s in the 1940s, when importing Scotch became difficult during WWII, and rum was more available.
It’s one of the more unique things to do in New Orleans. With an outdoor courtyard featuring a flaming fountain, and a piano bar featuring duelling pianos where you can request your favourite song, a stop off at Pat’s is sure to live up to the bar’s motto of “Have Fun”!
How Much Time Do You Need in New Orleans?
If you only have a classic weekend New Orleans itinerary, 2 days is enough to explore the city. However, 4 day long weekend is the perfect amount of time to enjoy all of your favourite New Orleans attractions at a leisurely pace.
You’ll still have plenty of time to see the best things to see in New Orleans. On my last visit to NOLA, we spent four days and three nights. I think it’s the right amount of time for sampling the best of New Orleans activities and eating New Orleans until we burst!
New Orleans Itinerary – 4 Days
The top things to do in New Orleans really depend on what you’re looking for, but we would love give you a few ideas to get a headstart. This itinerary, 4 days, includes the top points of interest New Orleans has to offer and gives you a chance to get a feel for the city.
- Day 1: Use your first day to really get acquainted with the city and the neighbourhood you’re staying in, whether it’s the Garden District, the Warehouse District, or the French Quarter. If you are staying in the Garden District, this Garden District self guided walking tour will guide you past the most beautiful homes in the area. If you need a hand getting to know what to do in New Orleans French Quarter, this tour is chock full of information and interesting sights,
- Day 2: On your second day, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and find some of the best New Orleans day trips. Taking a trip to the Audubon Park or the City Park will always be one of the best things to do in New Orleans, and they could be a nice breather before or after you take a haunted tour. There are ghost stories around every corner in New Orleans. If you’re interested in the history of voodoo in the city, then the Voodoo and Cemetery Tour at the St. Louis cemetery is a good option. You’ll learn all about the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Afterward, if the hauntings have you a bit on edge, then you can wind down with some music. Whether you would prefer to wander the streets or have dinner and a show at a restaurant, you’ll have plenty of options to suit your tastes.
- Day 3: On your third day, if you’re in the mood to make it a long one, then you can’t go wrong with a plantation tour or a swamp tour. The history of both is integral to the culture of New Orleans. If you’re feeling ambitious and really want to experience the best attractions in New Orleans, then you can even take a 2-in-1 tour. Just make sure you wear some comfortable shoes. Unwind after all of that heavy history with some good food, good music, and good fun with jazz music and dinner on the steamboat Natchez. If you’re into history, Steamboat Natchez, the last authentic steamboat might be your interest.
- Day 4: If you have missed any top 10 things, do New Orleans missed attractions on your fourth day. If you’d like to keep the day pretty low-key and chill, then there are all sorts of walking tours to show you the heart of NOLA. Whether you’re interested in the history of one of the larger neighborhoods, the sordid history of the red light district, or anything in between, you can find a tour to accommodate your interests. Otherwise, a trip to the Jean Lafitte museum is always a hit while you’re in the Big Easy. Whether you want a guide or a self guided walking tour, New Orleans has it all.