Planning a trip to New Orleans and not sure where to start? You've come to the right place. Discover the top sights, attractions, and activities...perfect for first-timers! Here's my list of the 11 BEST things to do in New Orleans!
New Orleans makes for a great escape if you're craving something different. The culture is rich, vibrant, and very different from the rest of the United States.
Fortune tellers in Jackson Square, jazzy Sunday brunches, chicory coffee and beignets, street art, historic trolleys, art galleries, gaudy beads, and colorful french colonial-style architecture are some things that come to mind when it comes to "The Big Easy".
NOLA offers enough to keep tourists busy visit after visit. If you're planning a trip to New Orleans and are a first-time visitor, this is the post for you! Read on to discover the 11 best things to do in New Orleans.
1. Visit Jackson Square
Jackson Square is one of the most popular things to do in New Orleans. The park has the Mississippi River on one side and the iconic (and much photographed) St. Louis Cathedral on the other.
Surrounding the square are fortune tellers and tarot card readers, local artists displaying their craft, and musicians.
This is a wonderful place to start your visit in NOLA, feel the energy, and snap some pictures. Jackson Square just happens to be right across the street from the extremely popular Cafe du Monde.
2. Have beignets and café au lait at Cafe du Monde
No visit to "The Big Easy" is complete without at least one stop for beignets and a café au lait. This should be at the top of your list of the best things to do in New Orleans.
Cafe du Monde has been serving some of the best beignets in New Orleans alongside its iconic chicory café au lait since 1862! There is rarely a time when the line isn't out the door, but don't worry, it moves quickly.
3. Browse the art galleries along Royal Street and Julia Street
Whether you're looking to buy or just enjoy the experience of gallery hopping, New Orleans has plenty to offer. Two of the most popular streets to browse art are Royal Street and Julia Street.
Royal street - located in the French Quarter and runs parallel to Bourbon Street.
Julia Street - known as "Gallery Row" and located in the warehouse district. Extended hours with music and tastings take place at 6:00 pm on the first Saturday of every month.
4. Take a Ghost Tour
Considering New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in the United States, a ghost tour is a must and easily one of the best things to in New Orleans.
There's plenty of history, haunted sites, and stories to keep ghost believers and non-believers entertained on a tour. Just think of what this city has endured! Once you learn the tales, you'll see why NOLA has its haunted reputation.
Between the two great fires that destroyed the city and claimed countless lives in 1788 and 1794, the yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s, helpless souls being buried alive while in a coma from yellow fever, and individuals claiming to be Voodoo queens, vampires, and Wiccans...there's some serious dark history here.
This is one of the best activities in New Orleans for a mix of history and entertainment. You can find a ghost tour to match pretty much any interest. Pick from family-friendly to pub crawl ghost tours.
5. Tour the National WWII Museum
It took Jake and me several visits to New Orleans to finally visit the National WWII Museum. We had heard really good things about it but were tentative since neither of us are museum people.
I know some of you may be judging that last statement. Let me explain. I spent two months in Europe tagging along with an Art in Europe program. During those two months, I toured more museums than most people see in a lifetime. Hence why I usually only visit museums that are REALLY worth it. I guess you could I became "museumed out" after that Art in Europe trip.
So, for me to say I thoroughly enjoyed this museum is really saying something. It's a completely immersive experience. Not your typical, look at a picture and read the caption, type museum.
One moment you're walking through the jungles of SE Asia (Road to Tokyo exhibit), the next you're in a wintry battle scene (Road to Berlin exhibit).
You'll leave the National WWI Museum not only deeply moved, but have a better understanding of the war, what lead to it, what ultimately ended it, and how the lives of people across the globe were affected.
I recommend at least four hours to do a fast paced tour. Visit the official website for full day, half day, and two day itineraries. I also recommend purchasing tickets in advance (try to get a morning spot for fewer crowds).
6. Experience a Sunday Jazz brunch
A jazzy brunch is a NOLA tradition and one of the best things to do in New Orleans on a Sunday. Some popular options with live music are Commander's Palace, Mr. B's, Court of Two Sisters, and Arnauds. Commander's Palace is hands down the most popular.
7. Visit Marie Laveau's tomb and other famous cemetaries
Marie Laveau, the Queen of Voodoo, is buried at St. Louis No. 1 cemetery. This is the city's oldest burial ground and one of the most popular things to do in New Orleans.
Is it just me or does it feel odd to say a burial ground is a "popular attraction"? Anyway...New Orleans has many haunted cemeteries. The most famous are St. Louis No. 1 and Lafayette Cemetery.
Be sure to take a tour of at least one to hear the stories behind the graves, see the ornate above ground tombs, and learn some of NOLA's spookiest history.
8. Ride the historic St. Charles Streetcar
Hop on the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world! The St. Charles streetcar will take you all the way to the Garden District. This is a great way to see the city and it's cheap at $3 for a day pass. Bring exact change to purchase your ticket onboard.
The Charles and Common stop is a good place to board if you're staying in the French Quarter. Your hotel will be able to help you find the best place to board as well.
9. Shop the boutiques on Magazine Street in the Garden District
Once you've arrived in the Garden District via the St. Charles streetcar, wander along Magazine street to shop the boutiques and art galleries. This is the area to see some gorgeous Victorian mansions. Several celebrities live in this area, including Sandra Bullock and John Goodman.
The Garden District is also home to some of the best restaurants in New Orleans and Lafayette Cemetery.
If you're interested in learning the history of this area, seeing the best homes, and touring Lafayette Cemetery, book this 2-hour tour.
10. Drink a hand grenade on Bourbon Street
Bourbon street is an obvious must for the best things to do in New Orleans. Have you heard of the famous Hand Grenade cocktail? This is the place to get your hands on one as it's exclusively sold on Bourbon Street.
Get those taste buds ready...the Hand Grenade is a sickly strong drink made with gin, vodka, rum, and melon liquor. It will probably be the first and last one you ever have, but hey, YOLO!
This is also the place for some seriously entertaining people watching. Even if you're not partaking in the party scene, it still makes for an interesting walk through.
Looking for a less rowdy cocktail option? Check out the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone.
11. Stroll the French Market
The French Market is 6 blocks of open-air shopping. Take your pick from fresh produce, local crafts, souvenirs, art, and food stalls. You can try everything here from soft-shell crab to crepes and oysters. This is one of the busiest attractions in New Orleans so try to go when they open at 10:00 am.
Now that you've discovered the best things to do in New Orleans, start planning your tours and side trips!
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See my Charleston and New Orleans blog posts
What are your favorite things to do in New Orleans? Let me know if there's anything you would add in the comments below!
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