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12 Best Things To Do In New Orleans, Louisiana

Last updated on April 22nd, 2024 at 10:28 am

New Orleans, NOLA, the Big Easy, Crescent City….the names themselves conjure up feelings of excitement and intrigue and the reality is no different! With its long and fascinating history, its jazz, food and architecture, not to mention its location on the banks of the Mississippi River, New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit, whether your time there is short or long.

My visit was only short but I packed in as much as I could. I easily clocked up my 10,000 steps a day and I made sure to have a data package that allowed me to get online in the USA, whether to access maps or research attractions, without incurring roaming charges. I used an eSim for the USA from Airalo. Super easy to set up and with a range of packages to choose from, it was an excellent choice.

Here are my 12 best things to do in New Orleans, Louisiana. Adding these to your itinerary will definitely enhance your New Orleans experience. 

Join A Walking Tour

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I love a good walking tour! Whether it’s history or ghosts you want to learn about, walking tours offer a great introduction to a city, a chance to meet like minded visitors and an opportunity to get tips and advice from a local. As such, they are most definitely one of the best things to do in New Orleans.

I took a free walking tour of the French Quarter operated by Nola Tour Guy. The tour was tips based meaning you paid what you thought the tour was worth.

There are, of course, various other tour companies offering similar – I always use Get Your Guide as a starting point when researching tours options.

If walking tours pose something of a challenge for you or you’d rather not be out walking under the blazing sun or the wading through the high humidity during the summer months, then consider a bus tour – there are various options available including hop on hop off buses and nighttime tours – or an evening walking tour.

Image of sign giving brief history of New Orleans as seen on a walking tour, one of the best things to do in New Orleans

Visit Whitney Plantation

One of the best things to do in New Orleans is to visit Whitney Plantation.

Established in 1752, Whitney Plantation was initially planted with indigo but in the early 19th century there was a transition to sugarcane. By 1819, there were 61 enslaved men and women living on Whitney Plantation. 

Today, Whitney Plantation is a museum dedicated to educating the public about the history of slavery and its legacies. The focus is therefore on the enslaved people who lived and worked at Whitney Plantation and not those who owned them. 

Image of the Big House at Whitney Plantation. Visiting here is one of the best things to do in New Orleans

Everything about Whitney Plantation is poignant but there are some things that stood out to me, including the sculptures of children and monuments to the people enslaved, both on Whitney Plantation and in the wider State of Louisiana.

Please read my post Whitney Plantation Tour & Why It’s A Louisiana Must-Do for further information about Whitney Plantation and my tips for visiting this very important site.

Image of a slave cabin at Whitney Plantation. Taking a tour there is one often best things to do in New Orleans

Take A Swamp Tour

If you fancy seeing some alligators or maybe a few racoons or turtles, then you should add a swamp tour to your New Orleans itinerary.  In fact, it’s one of the best things to do in New Orleans!

There are various companies operating tours – some offer combined trips to plantation homes as well as the swamp. Check Get Your Guide for available options. I joined this tour and went to the Barataria Preserve which is part of the Jean Lafitte Historical Park and Preserve. The boat trip is narrated and the guide on board my trip was very entertaining!  

Read my post Louisiana Swamp Tours – All You Need To Know for more information about taking a swamp tour and my tips for making the most of the experience.

Visit The Hermann Grima House

One of the best things to do in New Orleans is to visit the 19th century Creole mansion and slave quarters known as the Hermann Grima House.

The house was built in 1831 and is a National Historic Landmark. It has the only remaining original and intact stable in the French Quarter. In addition, the carriage house is home to The Exchange Shop. This was founded in 1881 by The Woman’s Exchange, one of the oldest women-led non-profits in the South.

On the Urban Enslavement guided tour visitors learn about the lives of enslaved people in an urban setting and how their experiences differed from those of enslaved people on rural plantations. The urban slave quarters, family home and large courtyard are all visited on the tour – it’s very interesting and I can highly recommend visiting.

The slave quarters comprise a bottom level, where there are workrooms such as ironing room and hearth kitchen, and the upper floors containing bedrooms. I visited in September so not exactly the height of summer but it was still very hot and humid, making me realise just how unbearable the heat in the upstairs rooms not to mention the kitchen must have been for those living and working there.

The open hearth kitchen has been carefully restored and is the only working historic kitchen in the city. A cooking demonstration is held on Thursdays between October and May. Dishes that would have been eaten in the 1830s are prepared at the demonstration.

Tips for Visiting

My tips for visiting:

  • The Hermann Grima House is open 6 days a week, 10am – 4pm. Tours take place at 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm Wednesday to Monday (closed Tuesdays). There is no tour at 12 so plan accordingly
  • Adult Ticket prices are $17 (concessions available). The Woman’s Exchange manages this property and Gallier House so there is an option to buy a ticket for both
  • Large bags, backpacks and umbrellas have to be checked in at the shop
  • Video recordings are not permitted; photography is but without flash or use of a tripod
  • Do check the official site for up to date visitor information and rules for visiting

Eat Beignets!

Have you even been to New Orleans if you don’t eat a beignet?! I think not!

Beignets are basically deep fried dough covered (liberally) in icing (powdered) sugar. In New Orleans they are a popular breakfast meal to have with coffee. They are best eaten hot….and they taste good!

Beignets were brought to New Orleans by French-Creole colonists in the 18th century. The oldest and most iconic of the cafes to sell beignets is Café du Monde in the French Quarter. There are other well known, popular places however including Café Beignet.

I ate beignets at both places (research!) and for me, the Café du Monde beignets came out on top. This was solely down to the fact that beignets at Café du Monde were smaller than those at Café Beignet and therefore I was able to sit and eat them all whilst drinking coffee and listening to jazz! If you have a big appetite, you may prefer to go to Café Beignet! Whichever you choose, eating beignets is one of the best things to do in New Orleans….you can thank me later!

For those interested in an ultimate beignet guide – check out the official New Orleans tourism site here. There is also a beignet festival every October which raises money for children with developmental delays and disabilities – click here for more information.

Cruise The Mississippi

If you’re in New Orleans then you really should spend some time on the mighty Mississippi River.

The name “Mississippi” is a Chippewa Indian word meaning big river and big it definitely is! The river has played a key role in the history of New Orleans, even shaping the city into its crescent shape (did you know that one of New Orleans’ nicknames was the Crescent City?).

There are a variety of sailing options available, including lunch and dinner cruises with live jazz. However, I chose to take this history cruise which included a stop of the Chalmette Battlefield where the battle of New Orleans took place in 1812.

Whatever your interest, taking a trip along the Mississippi River is one of the best things to do in New Orleans.

Dine At Antoine’s

Established in 1840, Antoine’s is the oldest family run restaurant in the United States. It’s also one of the best restaurants in New Orleans. Founded by Antoine Alciatore, today it is run by a 5th generation relative.

The restaurant serves world renowned French-Creole food in lovely surroundings. I dined there one evening and can highly recommend it. Here’s what I ate:

  • Seafood Gumbo to start
  • Chicken Rochambeau – herb roasted chicken breast with twin sauces of Rochambeau and Béarnaise with a pineapple confit (I don’t usually eat pineapple but here it worked for me!)
  • Peach Cobbler

Each course was delicious and, in my view, Antoine’s is a perfect place to enjoy some New Orleans food. 

Tips for Visiting

  • The restaurant is located at 713 Saint Louis Street, where it’s been since moving there in 1868
  • Make a reservation in advance. Walk ins are welcome but there is no guarantee you will get a table quickly or at all. I made my reservation several weeks before leaving London and it was busy the evening I was there
  • There is a ‘business casual’ dress code so ensure you have something suitable packed! Jackets and collars for men, no athletic clothing, flip flops or baseball caps
  • Check the official restaurant website for up to date information, including as to opening times and menus

Visit St Louis Cathedral

One of the most iconic sites in New Orleans, the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France (aka St Louis Cathedral) is the oldest catholic cathedral in continuous use in the USA.

New Orleanians have worshipped at churches on this site since 1727 making it very much the historical centre of the city. The current Cathedral is the 3rd building constructed on this site and dates from the 1850s when reconstruction and enlargement works were completed.

Tips for Visiting

  • The Cathedral is open daily from 9am until 4pm (note though that as a working church some times to visit may not be available)
  • You can take a self-guided tour – a brochure is available for a $1 donation
  • A guided tour may be possible if a docent is available when you visit but this is not guaranteed
  • Consider allocating enough time to visit the Cathedral and the adjoining Cabildo and Presbytère
  • Check the official site for up to date visitor information.
Image of St Louis Cathedral. Visiting the cathedral is one of the best things to do in New Orleans.

Stop By Jackson Square

I visited New Orleans in September and it was hot and humid then. I can only imagine how brutal the weather is in the summer months! Finding some shade is therefore pretty important.

Jackson Square is a gated public park located in front of St Louis Cathedral. At its centre is a large statue of President Andrew Jackson (for whom the Square is named) atop a horse. General Jackson, as he was at the time, led the American troops to victory at the Battle of New Orleans and was honoured with the erection of the statue in 1856.

In addition to the St Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square is surrounded by The Cabildo (see below) and The Presbytère (either side of the Cathedral) and on two sides by the Pontalba Buildings, matching red-brick, block long, 4-story buildings built between 1849-1851 by Baroness Pontalba. They, along with The Cabildo and The Presbytere, are a National Historic Landmark.

At about 2.5 acres, Jackson Square is quite a sizeable area and a perfect backdrop for taking photos, looking at artwork displayed by local artists, eating beignets and drinking coffee from the nearby Café du Monde or just relaxing and watching the world go by. Whatever reason you have for stopping by Jackson Square, not only is it one of the best things to do in New Orleans, it’s ones of the free things to do in New Orleans! 

Image of Jackson Square with sculpture of President Jackson on a horse at the centre. Visiting the square is one of the best things to do in New Orleans.

Listen To Live Jazz

One of the best things to do in New Orleans is to listen to live music. After all, New Orleans is the home of jazz, the place where it all began.

There are many venues throughout the city including those on the well known Frenchman Street and Bourbon Street. Popular spots include The Blue Nile, The Spotted Cat, Fritzel’s European Jazz Club and Preservation Hall. I went to Maison Bourbon on Bourbon Street and would definitely recommend it!

Visit The Cabildo

As I mentioned above, The Cabildo is located next to St Louis Cathedral. Built between 1795 and 1799, it was the seat of government during the Spanish colonial period.

In 1803, a ceremony to commemorate the signing of the Louisiana Purchase took place in its large meeting room. It was also home to the Louisiana Supreme Court until 1910.

Today it is part of the Louisiana State Museum and regarded as one of the most historically significant buildings in the United States.

The Cabildo contains many artefacts and exhibits which tell the history of Louisiana and, for me, a visit here is one of the best things to do in New Orleans. I particularly enjoyed the work of New Orleans artist Andrew Hopkins on display at the time of my visit.

Tips for Visiting:

  • The Cabildo is open Tuesdays – Sundays 9am – 4pm (closed Mondays and State Holidays)
  • Tickets are $10 for adults (concessions available). Note that a 20% discount is available when buying tickets for 2 or more Louisiana State Museums. This would include The Presbytere which is located on the other side of the Cathedral
  • Allow 45-60 minutes for your visit to The Cabildo
  • Check the official Louisiana State Museum site for up to date visitor information for The Cabildo and a further 9 museum locations
  • Consider organising your time to allow for a visit to both The Cabildo and adjacent St Louis Cathedral (and The Presbytère – unfortunately I did not have time to visit, however it has 2 permanent exhibits, one relating to the world famous Mardi Gras and the other to the devastating Hurricane Katrina)

Stay In The French Quarter

In my opinion, staying in the French Quarter is one of the best things to do in New Orleans.

Founded in 1718, the French Quarter (also known as Vieux Carre) is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans and home to many of the sights and attractions visitors want to experience, including the famous (or infamous!) Bourbon Street.

The entire district is a National Historic Landmark and its buildings with the iconic cast iron balconies (or galleries as they are known) will form the background to many of your photos! It’s also home to several of the must see sights I list in this post. As such, it’s the perfect location to stay during a visit to New Orleans.

I stayed right on Bourbon Street in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, one of the top 10 most haunted hotels in the United States! Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the location of the hotel is excellent and despite its proximity to Bourbon Street, I did not hear any of the noise emanating from there.

There are of course many New Orleans hotels, especially in the French Quarter – check Booking.com and other providers for options and availability.

Bourbon Orleans Hotel

If Only I Had More Time In New Orleans!

Once again I am bemoaning the fact that my time in New Orleans was limited. That meant making choices and, inevitably, not getting to see or do as much as I might have hoped. Here are a few additional activities you may want to consider adding to your New Orleans itinerary:

  • Visit the voodoo museum and/or take a voodoo tour
  • Tour the Garden District
  • Visit Mardi Gras World
  • Enjoy historic New Orleans travel and ride the famous St. Charles Streetcar
  • Visit New Orleans City Park (home to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, New Orleans Museum of Art and the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, amongst other attractions)
  • Take a ghost tour
  • Visit the National WWII Museum
  • Take a mule and carriage ride (maybe a night one!)
  • Visit Oak Alley Plantation (as the names suggests, it’s home to some beautiful live oak trees)
  • Visit the New Orleans Jazz museum 

You may also want to consider the options available if you purchase the Go City New Orleans Pass.

Final Thoughts

New Orleans definitely lives up to the hype! Whether you’re interested in history, food, voodoo, jazz or the might Mississippi itself, you will find plenty to keep you busy in this incredible city.

If you are interested in more destinations in the USA then click here. If you need any general assistance in planning a trip to New Orleans or elsewhere, then check my Resources page here.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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