When someone says ‘New Orleans’, chances are you’ll think of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. But the best things to do in New Orleans offer a little something for everyone, whether you love the nightlife or are looking for something more laidback. Maybe you’re ready to dive into the local arts and music scene, or learn about the city’s history with a plantation tour. Maybe you want to check out the most famous New Orleans dishes, or take a stroll in its museums. Whatever you’re here for, here are some of the best things to do in New Orleans.
1. Bourbon Street
Every first-timer to New Orleans has to experience Bourbon Street. Famous for its many bars, this is the place to dive head first into the city’s nightlife scene. As one of the oldest streets in North America, Bourbon Street provides a rich insight into New Orleans’ past. Come when it’s alive at night, or join in the French Quarter’s many festivals. The most famous of which is of course Mardi Gras!
2. French Quarter
You can skip Bourbon Street if it’s not your first time here, but the other parts of French Quarter are some of the best things to do in New Orleans anytime of year. As the city’s oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter is the heart and soul of New Orleans. Wander the narrow cobblestone streets to find attractions such as Jackson Square, Historic New Orleans Collection and the Cabildo. While you’re strolling, pay attention to the neighborhood’s beautiful architecture, and walk to the edge of the quarter to see the Mississippi River!
3. Frenchmen Street
For an authentic New Orleans experience outside of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, head over to Frenchmen Street. A favourite spot amongst locals, you’ll find live music, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, and overall also cheaper food and drinks. Some people even suggest skipping Bourbon Street altogether and spending that time at Frenchmen Street instead. Make sure to also check out Palace Market, where local artists sell handmade trinkets and crafts.
4. Mardi Gras World
Note: Mardi Gras World is currently closed due to Hurricane Ida.
Can’t make it for Mardi Gras? Then check out Mardi Gras World, a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into the Carnival celebration. See firsthand what it takes to bring Mardi Gras to life year after year. The huge floats take months to build, and this is where a large part of that happens. Walk through the extensive planning and hard work that goes into the event, and see artists and architects doing what they do best.
5. Whitney Plantation Tour
Note: Whitney Plantation has sustained significant damage from Hurricane Ida. The museum will be closed indefinitely while necessary repairs are made. During this time, the Gray Line tour will visit other plantations.
Take a day trip from New Orleans to visit Whitney Plantation, which focuses on the lives of enslaved people. During your visit, you will learn about the history of slavery on a southern Louisiana sugarcane plantation. This Gray Line tour, which lasts a little over four hours, allows visitors to see exhibits, artwork and recorded first-person slave narratives. It is particularly powerful and important and one of the best things to do in New Orleans.
6. New Orleans Museum of Art
Known simply as NOMA, the museum is a must-see on many New Orleans itineraries. Set in City Park, it hosts an impressive permanent collection of almost 40,000 objects, ranging from early Asian works to European masterpieces. It has come a long way, considering that the museum opened in 1911 with only nine pieces. Today, it is one the South’s most impressive fine art collections. One of the main highlights is the beautiful five-acre sculpture garden, designed by artists from around the world.
7. Cafe du Monde
Located in the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde has been serving the best cafe au lait and hot, fresh beignets since 1862. Open 24 hours a day, there is no excuse for you not to visit. It is a custom for anyone here for the first time to blow the powdered sugar off a beignet and make a wish!
8. The National WWII Museum
Contextualizing a massive global event like World War II is no easy feat, but through an impressive collection of artifacts, exhibits that include personal accounts and films documenting all aspects of the war, The National WWII Museum manages to do just that. It is a unique educational experience, though some of the displays may be too gory for children. You’ll need at least half a day to fully appreciate all of the artifacts, texts and testimonials. If you don’t have the time to see everything in a day, you can return the next day with your ticket and only pay an additional $6.