Top 10 Things to Do in New Orleans
New Orleans: The French Quarter, Cajun Delights, and Jazz! New Orleans is famed around the world for hosting Mardi Gras, one of the biggest parties on the planet. However, there is far more to this city that this festival. New Orleans’ combination of charm, character, and must-see attractions means it is a fantastic place to visit any time of the year.
Amelia Conrad lived in New Orleans for three and a half years while attending college and, though she can’t say she crossed every item off her bucket list, she saw and did a lot!
So, whether you’re moving to the city or visiting for a few days, here are some of the best highlights of New Orleans to add to your itinerary perfect if it is your first time in The Big Easy.
1. Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is quintessential New Orleans and people in all parts of the world have heard of this giant festival.
However, I discovered during my time down South that Mardi Gras is so much more than drunken debauchery and topless girls (if that’s your style head to the French Quarter!) Instead, it is a wonderful street party where people of all ages, races, genders, and lifestyles come together to celebrate life and party New Orleans-style. Plus, there are some really killer parades!
You can search Mardi Gras tour packages on our website or if you don’t plan to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, then that’s no problem at all. This city is perfect for visiting throughout the year, and with attractions like the ones above you will not find yourself short of things to see and do.
Creepy, perhaps, but one of the coolest things about New Orleans are the raised cemeteries. There are lots of tours offered—haunted and otherwise—but I’ve enjoyed simply visiting on my own, wandering quietly around, and snapping some pictures of the very unique gravestones. It helps you start to recognize the depth of history in this town!
New Orleans has more amazing restaurants than it has potholes - and that’s saying something!
While I certainly didn’t go to every restaurant in my four years in New Orleans, I also never had a meal I didn’t enjoy! If you’re looking for a slightly more upscale dining experience, you’ve got lots of choices. Emeril Lagasse has three restaurants in the city; I’ve only been to NOLA but wholeheartedly recommend it for its combination of service and delicious comfort food.
Jacques-Imo’s Cafe is a quirky spot on Oak Street—perfect for a sampling of gourmet Southern food like “Godzilla Meets Fried Green Tomatoes”! Ralph’s on the Park and Dante’s Kitchen are great spots for taking parents or grandparents. Redemption is built inside a renovated church and serves superb “New Orleans revival” cuisine—I’m a big fan of the alligator sausage and waffle gratin at brunch!
If, like me, you’re on a budget, most of the time you’ll be looking for less expensive dining options. Luckily, New Orleans doesn’t disappoint. The food at these restaurants was every bit as delicious as the higher-end restaurants listed above! The Rum House is hands-down my favorite restaurant in New Orleans with a wide-variety of Caribbean-inspired tacos and appetizers and drinks served in over-sized mason jars!
Personally, I still have dreams about their queso, but my mom can’t stop talking about their fried plantains and my fiancé was really intrigued by their diverse rum options. Dat Dog is a local favorite, serving gourmet hot dogs, fries, and drinks and with plenty of spots for al fresco dining! As the name might suggest, dogs are more than welcome to join in on the fun.
If you’re wanting to sample traditional New Orleans fare, I recommend The Gumbo Shop, but VooDoo Barbeque combines New Orleans classics with hearty barbequed meats. Camelia Grill is a traditional Southern diner with freezes to die for! Taqueria Corona is my pick for delicious Mexican food, Magasin for Vietnamese, and Salú for tapas! Finally, Midway Pizza delivers great pizza with lots of beer options - try an Abita, made right here in New Orleans!
4. Bike or Walk Through the Lower Garden District & Uptown
New Orleans has some amazing architecture and the Lower Garden District and Uptown offer quiet streets to admire the scenery by foot or bike. While you’re there, check out Loyola and Tulane’s lovely campuses and the always peaceful Audubon Park!
The streets in the Garden District are lined with huge mansions in a wide range of styles, and it feels like walking into another world. You’ll also find Lafayette Cemetery located here, so take a tour and marvel at the tombs. Then simply enjoy walking around the area and taking it all in.
5. Food, Drink & Festivals
Besides all of the big attractions in New Orleans, one of the best things of all is enjoying the food and drink of the city. Don’t miss trying out a famous Po-Boy sandwich, which you can pick up almost anywhere, tuck into some cajun dishes such as jambalaya, and drink one of the signature drinks such as the Sazerac in a top local joint such as Cure.
If I had to pick a favorite thing about New Orleans, festivals might just be it! It’s not just Mardi Gras; New Orleanians know how to throw a party! Whether you’re visiting during Strawberry Fest, Jazz Fest, Po Boy Fest, Seafood Fest, or any other, take time to soak in the live music, sample the fabulous food, and enjoy the atmosphere!
6. The Lower Ninth Ward
While partying, pretty sights, and good food are part of the soul of New Orleans, so is the Lower Ninth Ward. I recommend a drive through this part of the city, slowly rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, to appreciate the poverty and resilience that are so key here. I also highly recommend Dan Baum’s book Nine Lives to learn a bit more about the history of this part of the city!
7. Take the Streetcar Down to City Park
Riding a streetcar is a must-do for a visit to New Orleans. Use it to visit the beautiful City Park where you can stroll under live oaks, ride a paddle boat, visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and sculpture garden, or check out the Celebration in the Oaks lights display at Christmastime!
City Park is vast, and if you want to escape the city’s streets for a while then this is the place to go. It is almost twice the size of Central Park in New York, and inside you will find a botanical garden, the New Orleans Museum of Art, gondola rides, a playground, and more to keep you busy.
8. The French Market, Beignets & the French Quarter
The French Quarter is the most popular area of the city for tourists. It is the oldest part of New Orleans, and there are plenty of things to see and do in its vibrant and atmospheric streets. For example, you could visit Jackson Square with St Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, or take a trip down Bourbon Street, which is where the nightlife is at its liveliest.
After touring the main areas, spend some time exploring the various corner stores, discover the best venues for live music, and pay a visit to the famous Café du Monde to relax with a coffee. The French Quarter really is a must-see before you leave the city. I enjoy it more in daytime with a trip to the French Market for food or crafts and a stop at Café du Monde for delicious beignets, but, of course, it’s lots of fun at night too!
No visit to New Orleans is complete without stopping off in one of its numerous jazz bars. However, to discover more about jazz in the city, take a trip to Preservation Hall. You’ll find it located in the French Quarter, and here you’ll be able to listen to a jazz concert featuring some of the best musicians in the city.
9. Frenchmen & Magazine Street
This street, a bit past the French Quarter, receives many fewer tourists than the infamous Bourbon Street and retains more of it’s charm. Live music spills out of the local bars and a charming art market displays local handicraft. On Halloween, this street is the place to be!
Magazine Street is the number-one shopping street in New Orleans. You’ll find a huge range of stores here selling anything from pottery to antiques to jewelry, but the real joy comes from simply strolling around, stopping off for lunch in one of the many cafés, and talking to the local store owners.
10. Leave the City
By all means, please come back! But if you’ve got a longer visit to New Orleans, take a day to get outside the city a bit. Go on a swamp tour and visit a plantation. Drive through the smaller towns to see some of the quirks Louisiana always has in store. Go tubing down a river near Baton Rouge. It’ll be fun and you’ll appreciate how wonderfully unique New Orleans is once you return!
So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to this amazing city, and enjoy your time in one of the most unique destinations in the USA.
By Amelia Conrad