Whether you are in New Orleans for 2 days, 3 days or more, here are the 12 best things to do for that quintessential New Orleans experience!
1. Sample the local Cuisine
New Orleans is famous for its Cajun and Creole Cuisine and has many tasty local treats for you to enjoy. You can find most of these items in stores, cafes, restaurants, or as street-food in the French Market. For dinner, it’s always advisable to make table reservations at the popular places to dine in The French Quarter well in advance. If you’d like to make a restaurant reservation, you can find all types of eateries to suit your preferred location, budget and dining preferences in a single website, by visiting Open Table.
Your choices of local specialities include Gumbo, Pralines, Jambalaya, Po-boys, Mint Juleps, Bananas Foster and Alligator Sausage to name but a few. To understand these amazing dishes, where’s best to find them and also some great recipes, check out my page on New Orleans Cuisine.
2. Enjoy the Nightlife
Bourbon Street is the centre of the partying scene in New Orleans – with numerous bars, restaurants and shops. To learn more about visiting Bourbon Street and the French Quarter’s nightlife offer just click here.
3. Ride a Street-car
Street-cars in New Orleans provide a practical way to get about and are also great fun. Your vacation photos should include one or two pictures of you riding these beautiful machines. To find out all you need to know about routes, fares and how to get tickets just click here.
4. Sail the Mississippi on Steamboat Natchez
Steamboat Natchez is the last steam-powered paddleboat operating out of New Orleans, providing both daytime and evening cruises lasting around 2 hours. Each cruise is offered with an optional upgrade to include lunch or dinner. While waiting to board, you are treated to live music from a Calliope (a steam powered organ mounted near the captain’s bridge) and when on-board, you have further musical entertainment from a Jazz ensemble. Adult fares range from $34 to $83, depending on the package booked. You get a great commentary and enjoy a tasty lunch or dinner as you glide along the Mississippi. Unlimited iced-tea, sodas and water are included in the lunch or dinner packages and there is also a cash bar, serving cocktails, beers, wines & spirits. You’re totally safe as the cruise departs from and returns to the Riverboat Dock in the French Quarter. It is essential that you pre-book your cruise before the start of your vacation, to avoid disappointment. To get great discounts and promo codes to enjoy a saving click here.
5. Soak-up History in Jackson Square
A National Historic Monument, this beautiful Square has the Mississippi River to the South, St Louis Cathedral to the North and the French Quarter all around. It was the site where in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase deed was signed, making the then territory, a State of the United States. Today, it is a pleasant green Square with a rich history.
6. Explore Mardi Gras World
Set in a riverfront location at the end of the Cruise Terminal / Convention Centre, this huge working museum both makes all the carnival floats for Mardi Gras and also stores the props and floats from past Mardi Gras events. Your tour begins with a short documentary film and an opportunity to dress-up in carnival outfits, then your guide takes you to the design studios, to see how the huge floats are made and decorated. You get time to explore the stock-room, which is filled with colourful props and visit an indoor plantation set, which was once part of a Casino. There’s a shop, an opportunity to sample a free slice of King Cake and also a free shuttle bus to take you back into the French Quarter & Safer Zone hotels. For full details about Mardi Gras World, including opening times and prices, click here.
7. Go shopping in the French Market
The French Market has a colourful, trendy vibe, with a huge variety of indoor stalls under its roof, selling speciality local snacks (beignets, alligator sausage etc) and many items which make ideal gifts. It also adjoins several blocks of souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants (known collectively as the French Market District). Located just a few minutes walk Eastwards from Jackson Square and with its own Street Car stop on the River Front line, The French Market is very easy to find. For clear directions and a map click here.
While visiting New Orleans, you’ll probably want to bring back some souvenirs and gifts from your trip – so what should you buy? Souvenir shops are dotted all around the City – but the widest choice and best prices can be found in the French Market. My top suggestions to bring home are:-
- Bake-at-home Beignet mixes
- Local condiments such as “Louisiana Hot Sauce” or “Tabasco”
- Fleur de Lys – the symbol of New Orleans – on a fridge magnet, pendant or ornament
- Voodoo dolls
- Colourful Mardi Gras beaded-necklaces or masks
- Cajun spices – such as “Slap Ya Mama”
- A jazz-themed item – perhaps a picture of Louis Armstrong
8. Wander through the Garden District
Less than a mile to the West of Poydras Street, the Garden District is home to many stately mansions and several museums. Go there and back either by taxi / UBER or by taking one of the Street Cars (trams) that go along the St Charles Avenue Street-Car line. Try a self-guided walking tour. It will feel very safe to stroll around the main streets of the area during the daytime when they have many tourists visiting (11am until 3pm). For convenience why not download your printable Garden District Map.
9. Explore The French Quarter
The French Quarter is the centre of New Orleans tourist activity. From the bars and noise of Bourbon Street to the tranquillity of St Louis Cathedral and the culture of Jackson Square. Download your printable French Quarter Map. It’s in the heart of the Safer Zone.
10. Step into the St Louis Number 1 Cemetery
The St Louis Number 1 Cemetery has many fascinating sights, including the tomb on 19th century Voodoo High Priestess Marie Leveau and many interesting mausoleums. The site is just outside the Safer Zone and is safe if visited as part of a group, from 11am to 3pm, when the area will be full of tourists. If you are not in New Orleans as part of a group – you should only visit on one of the many escorted walking tours – such as those offered by Witches Brew Tours. You should not visit the area after dark.
11. Go visit Oak Alley Plantation
Situated about a one hour drive from New Orleans, step back in time by visiting Oak Alley Plantation. Built in 1839, the property is now a National Historic Landmark, comprising a preserved Plantation Owner’s mansion and a reproduction ‘village’ of its slaves quarters. The avenue (alley) of oak trees, stretch down from the mansion to the Mississippi River and provide a breath-taking background for photographs. Indeed many movies and music videos have been filmed on site. The property has a restaurant, café, souvenir store and refreshment outlets. Gray Line Tours offer fully-escorted half-day coach tours, departing from their office next to the Steamboat Natchez riverboat dock, in the French Quarter. The tour includes return travel from New Orleans to the plantation, a guided tour of the mansion and access to all facilities at the property.
12. Relax in Audubon Zoo
Take a break from the hurly-burly of City centre and relax with the animals at New Orleans Audubon Zoo. The exceptionally attractive Zoo is set within Audubon Park, a few miles West of the French Quarter, in an area of expensive private homes and several universities. Its easily reached by Street-car along the St Charles Avenue line, but it’s better and quicker to visit by taxi / Uber. The zoo is owned by the Audubon organisation which also operates the New Orleans Insectarium and the Aquarium of the Americas. You can save money by buying a combo-ticket for any two, or indeed all three of these attractions.