10 Best Things To Do In New Orleans, Louisiana
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Walking in the streets of New Orleans makes you feel magical, and not just because of the Voodoo history of this place. It is something in the air, maybe the architecture, but definitely the fact that you can walk with a glass of alcohol on the streets. New Orleans is like an on-going party. it starts quiet during the day, but as the night comes down, the party is getting started. Burbon street or Frenchmen street – it doesn’t matter what your style is (and I think that combining the two is always the best), you are going to have a good time here. And then there is the tremendous celebration of the Mardi Gras, that you can sense all year long.
New Orleans also has a magnificent history of French and Spanish colonialism, which had an impact on the entire state of Louisiana. This is reflected in the name of the streets, the architecture, and the stories you hear about the people who lived here. On the other side, it has sad memories of slavery in the plantations and a spooky repertoire as one of the most haunted cities in the US.
So many attractions and interesting things to see and do here, so let’s choose the top ten. Here are the best things to do in New Orleans:
Party on Bourbon street
Named after the royal French family at the beginning of the 18th (nope, the liquor is not related), this is one of the oldest streets in the United States. However, OLD is the last thing you can say about this place. It is the heart of the French quarter, and where everything happens.
During the day, it might be just a touristic street with souvenir shops and some bars that open early. Towards the evening this beautiful street, with the small houses and the balconies that look as if they were taken from a movie-set, turns into one big party with over-size frozen cocktails in everyone’s hands. This atmosphere is pure fun and even if it is not posh, any person can find their place here. From fancy bars with staff dressed like in the 1850s, to open street bar with live music and drinking games.
Tip: The surrounding streets are great for accommodation, as they are quiet but close enough to the party. In my opinion, staying at a 150-year-old building is better than a modern tower. Especially in New Orleans. I stayed at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel and loved it – the location, the room, and the rooftop swimming pool.
Visit Jackson Square
Jackson Square is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most recognizable sites in the US, surrounded by historical buildings like St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo. The Square is facing the Mississippi River and is so beautiful that you might see couples taking their wedding photos here. Around the square you will see artists selling their art and some work on their art on the spot. Street bands playing jazz music and entertaining the crowd are also part of the view here.
Tip: Café Du Monde is a New Orleans icon, known for its beignet – the local and delicious pastry, which is a New Orleans must do. If you want the vegan version, check out Seeds restaurant at 1330 Prytania St. (they also serve delicious plant-based food and are one of the best restaurants in New Orleans).
Shop and dine at the French Market
Also located in the French Quarter, this charming open-air market is working for over 200 years. The place has been in use by the Native Americans, the French, and the Spanish as one of the trading points along the Mississippi River, and still today you feel the European vibes here. Along the five blocks of the French Market, you will find farmers’ market, stalls selling crafts and souvenirs, food, and flea market.
Spend the night on Frenchmen street
Compared to Bourbon street, Frenchmen street is the quiet part of the French quarter. But don’t get me wrong, quiet it is not. This is where “the locals” prefer to come for a night out for a different kind of party than the one tourists enjoy on Bourbon street. Also vibrant with neon lights, this is where you find clubs with live performances of jazz, blues, and reggae bands, restaurants – casual to elegant, and street sellers selling arts and crafts. Does it sound so different than Bourbon street? Not really, but it is. I recommend spending your night in between these two locations, to enjoy all the fun that New Orleans has to offer.
Visit The Mardi-Gras world mesuem
If you are not visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras, this is where you can get a taste of this incredible and massive celebration. The visit starts with a short video about the history of Mardi Gras and the hard work of preparing for the festival. Then you continue to the workshops to see the huge floats – some are work-in-progress and others are already done (or were used in the last parade). An interesting fact is that they don’t use the same design twice, and every year they work on creating new decorations from scratch or reshape the old ones for the next parade.
This is a good place to take beautiful and funny pictures that will later remind you one of the biggest and oldest celebrations in the world.
Take a Ghost tour
New Orleans has a dark side, and you want to take part in it! It is one of the most haunted cities in the US, and its history is full of ghosts, Voodoo, magic, pirates, and vampires’ stories. Walking tours around the French Quarter are family-friendly, fun, and entertaining and will take you back in time and from a different point of view.
You will walk between residential buildings, hotels, restaurants, and bars – each with its own spooky story. The highlights are the infamous Lalaurie mansion and wait to hear what Nicolas Cage has to do with all that. A Ghost Tour is definitely one of the most fun things to do in New Orleans.
Take a Cemetery tour
Another way to connect with the creepy history of New Orleans is by visiting one of its old cemeteries. This is the place to see graves that are family affairs and the cemeteries are like cities of the dead. While the impressive St. Louis Cemetery no. 1 allows entries only with a guided tour, Lafayette cemetery on Garden District is open to the public. Tours might be better anyway since they share with you the interesting facts on the lives and deaths of Voodoo queens, witches, and others that were buried here.
Visit the Plantations
At a certain point in history, New Orleans had more millionaires than any other American city. But that glory is filled with sad stories from the days of slavery. The massive fields of cotton and sugar canes that were filled with slaves in the past are now beautiful greenery fields that make it hard to realize what life was here about 200 years ago. Visiting the plantations allows you to enjoy the outdoors and the grand architecture of colonial times, and to learn about the past that built New Orleans into the diverse destination it is today. I recommend Laura Plantation where you can learn about four generations who ran this plantation for almost 200 years.
Tip: Public transportation to the plantation does not exist. Shared-ride or taxis are available to get there, but might not be available to get on the way back. Some plantation tours offer shuttle rides from/to the city when you buy a package. Alternatively, you can get just an entry pass and take your own/rented car – recommended for a larger group.
Note: If you want to read more about Black History in the US, check out this interesting post by A Dangerous Business – Travel Blog
Take a ride on a Steamboat on the Mississippi River
The beautiful steamboats on the Mississippi River are another great way to experience New Orleans and learn about its history, this time from the riverside. This is a going-back-in-time experience, some also include buffet dinner or Sunday brunch, live music, bars, and great fun. Tickets can be booked online or in ticket offices around the French Quarter.
Visit The National WWII museum
This is not the kind of museum I was expecting to find in New Orleans. It was built here to honor Andrew Higgins – the New Orleans-based manufacturer of the famous Higgins boats, that helped the American forces to storm the beaches at Normandy and eventually win the war. The exhibits tell the story of the war from the American point of view. The Presentation gets down to details, using documents, uniforms, and old weapons. Don’t miss the amazing 4D theater experience, of simulated gunfire and artillery explosion.
The National WWII Museum
945 Magazine St, Central Business District
New Orleans, LA 70130
Open daily (not on Holidays): 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
For a shopping experience, go to The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk. This is where you can find brand stores with good deals, and a beautiful boardwalk on the edge of the Mississippi River.
If you are a Jazz fan, check out the New Orleans Jazz Museum. The museum is located at 400 Esplanade Ave, right behind the French Market.
Art fans should visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden right next to it. Both are located in the City Park – about 15 minutes cab ride from the French quarter.
A nice day trip from New Orleans is to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. 30 minutes drive will take you out to nature to learn more about the history and culture of the region, as well as the real locals – alligators.
New Orleans is one of the happy places I have been to. There are many attractions and sightseeing to do in this city, but you always need to remember to save some power for the the nights out. I recommend spending at least 4 days here, with one day dedicated to a tour in one of the plantations, which was one of the strongest experiences I had in New Orleans.