20 Best Things to Do in New Orleans in 2023
New Orleans, The Crescent City, The Big Easy — whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that New Orleans is the place to go to have fun in the Deep South. But while New Orleans is known as a party city, it’s so much more than that. Go to Bourbon Street for a celebration that spills out onto the sidewalk every evening, but beyond this, make an effort to also find the plenteous watering holes, spooky haunts, mouthwatering food scene, and near-endless culture and history that all exist in New Orleans.
Ready to discover all that New Orleans has to offer? We’re helping you build your itinerary, with the 20 best things to do in New Orleans.
Table of Contents
Neighborhoods to Explore in New Orleans
Okay, so you don’t always head to a particular destination just to see the neighborhoods, but exploring the neighborhoods of New Orleans is bound to come with some adventure and you can find many a tour to show you the best spots to discover said adventure. Whether you prefer spooky haunted tours, food tours, or historic or architectural tours, you can find one that fits your travel style — or, you can head off and explore these neighborhoods on your own.
1. The French Quarter
The French Quarter is a required experience when visiting New Orleans, no matter how far away your hotel may be. Centered around Bourbon Street, the French Quarter is New Orleans’ most popular and recognizable neighborhood, with its historic architecture and mixture of old-timey luxury and modern-day debauchery. Live music delights at every turn and you won’t need to walk far to find a drink.
While you could easily keep yourself entertained in the French Quarter once dusk settles, no help needed, for a daytime activity in the neighborhood, try a French Quarter historical sights and stories walking tour.
2. The Garden District
The Garden District is a little more refined than the French Quarter, but just as historic. This is where you can go to see the plantation mansions and incredible Southern gardens, with the moss-wrapped oak trees and magnolia trees in full bloom. Photo ops abound, as you might guess.
You can see the Garden District on your own if you hop on and off the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, or you can book a tour.
The Bywater neighborhood is more residential than the French Quarter and the Garden District, but getting off the beaten path and exploring this neighborhood definitely comes with its perks. Boutique shopping, art, galleries, music venues, dives, and more abound. A walking tour can show you the best of the best of this evolving spot.
Museums in New Orleans
Learn a little bit about the culture and history of New Orleans, with a visit to one of the city’s most interesting, one-of-a-kind museums.
4. Mardi Gras World
Don’t have the chance to visit New Orleans for actual Mardi Gras? Get the next best thing by buying tickets for Mardi Gras World. This museum is unlike any other you’ve ever seen, with its larger-than-life floats and colorful costumes. View collections from Mardi Gras festivals past and get closer than you likely ever could at any parade.
5. The National World War II Museum
A little more serious, the National World War II Museum could take an entire day of exploration, maybe even more than a day. The museum experience is incredibly immersive, dropping you into recreated environments from the European and Pacific Theaters. The extensive collection of memorabilia and machinery is sure to impress.
6. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
This small museum will require little time from your itinerary, but it is still worth a visit for anyone interested in the odd and sometimes disturbing history of medicine. The first floor of this museum covers questionable medical practices, voodoo potions, and antique surgical instruments, among other items and topics. The top floor contains rotating exhibits, as well as the home’s original historic living quarters. Several New Orleans tours worth booking offer a stop at the Pharmacy Museum.
7. The Museum of Death
The New Orleans Museum of Death contains all things, well, pertaining to death. If you have an interest in anything death-related, you can find it here, from the more “normal” death-related items, such as exhibits on embalming and autopsies, to the more disturbing, such as exhibits on serial killer art. The museum is definitely not one for children or those with weak stomachs, but it is interesting nonetheless.
8. The New Orleans Voodoo Museum
Voodoo comes with its own very real culture and history, one that’s impacted New Orleans a great deal. While the causal tourists might merely want to stop into a voodoo shop for a gris-gris bag to take home as a souvenir, if you actually want to learn a thing or two, you might want to stop into the New Orleans Voodoo Museum, too. The small museum features relics and paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. There are many New Orleans Voodoo Tours to consider.
9. New Orleans Museum of Art
The New Orleans Museum of Art sits inside City Park (more on that free attraction in a bit) and contains nearly 50,000 works of art from some of your favorite artists from the Renaissance era onward. From Monet to O’Keefe to Rodin, there’s a little bit of it all. A sculpture garden sits adjacent.
10. Studio Be
A non-traditional art museum in the Bywater neighborhood, Studio Be is dedicated to public art. A huge, 35,000-square-foot, four-building, five-story space makes up what is the largest public art exhibition in the South. Originally designed as a non-permanent museum, Studio Be has stuck around since 2016, gaining great fame and attention from all around the world. The museum was even called one of the 50 best things to see in the world.
Spooky Attractions in New Orleans
New Orleans is known for its spooky attractions, too. From voodoo legends to Anne Rice’s vampires, American Horror Story’s covens to the city’s above-ground cemeteries, ghost stories lurk around every corner.
11. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
One of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans, built in the early 1800s, Lafayette Cemetery is beautiful, if also macabre. More than 7,000 people are laid to rest here, but there aren’t too many notable internments. Still, plenty of notable living people have been attracted to the cemetery, for things like publicity stunts and filming for movies and television series. The cemetery was used as a shooting location for Interview with the Vampire, The Originals, and The Vampire Diaries, as well as for music videos from LeAnn Rimes and New Kids on the Block. Anne Rice emerged from a coffin in the cemetery once, as a promotion for a 1995 book.
To see the cemetery for yourself, you’ll need a guide, but luckily, you can pair a Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 tour with a New Orleans Garden District tour.
12. LaLaurie Mansion
Sign up for just about any ghost tour in New Orleans and you’re likely to make a stop by the LaLaurie Mansion, or LaLaurie House. Tales of torture and murder abound and no owner has stuck around long, at least not long enough to sweep away the ghosts that are supposedly the long-term residents. While you won’t be able to go inside, a tour will tell you all you need to know about the grisly home.
13. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
While Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is old, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is older, established in the late 1700s. Part of a group of three cemeteries (No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3), St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is purported to be the final resting place of such historic characters as voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and slave owner Delphine LaLaurie. Nicholas Cage has also famously purchased a plot here. To see St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, a tour is required, but you can visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 without a tour, and see the tombs there that date back to the 1850s.
Sports Activities in New Orleans
Don’t think of New Orleans as a sports city? Think again. The Big Easy is ready and willing to cheer on its two professional sports teams.
14. The Superdome
At the Superdome (its official name is Caesars Superdome, like the casino, but let’s be real — it’ll always just be the Superdome), you can catch a New Orleans Saints game during the fall and early winter. If you’re not in town for NFL season, you can find other events occurring at the venue throughout the year, from the New Orleans Home & Garden Show in the spring to concerts to collegiate events.
15. Smoothie King Center
Right next to the Superdome, Smoothie King Center is home to the New Orleans Pelicans. An NBA game is a fun way to spend an evening in the city, especially if you’re not into the nightlife scene, but if you’re not in town for NBA season, still check the center’s calendar. You can find A-list music acts performing just about every week.
Free Things to Do in New Orleans
Saving your cash for cocktails? We wouldn’t blame you. Here are a few free things to enjoy while in New Orleans.
16. Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral
Jackson Square is another iconic New Orleans sight to see. On the edge of the French Quarter, right next to the Mississippi River, Jackson Square provides wonderful views of St. Louis Cathedral. The square is always bustling with activity, tourists, and street musicians. Enjoy the view, but then also stop into St. Louis Cathedral for a quick glimpse at the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States. Self-guided tours are free (though you do have to pay $1 for a brochure if you want one).
If you do decide to spend a few bucks after walking about the square, check out Cafe du Monde, on one of the square’s corners, where they’re serving up some of New Orleans’ best beignets and cafe au lait.
17. The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
A newer small museum in New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum covers the history of the neighborhood that many may only know due to news coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Learn not only about the history of the neighborhood but also about the hurricane’s impact and how things have changed since 2005. The best part? Admission is always free.
18. The Sazerac House
The Sazerac House offers free tours to introduce visitors to New Orleans’ cocktail culture. The interactive museum sits across three stories, all filled with exhibits on how Sazerac Rye is distilled, how bitters are handcrafted, and how it all comes together for a classic cocktail.
19. City Park
City Park is like New Orleans’ Central Park. The expansive green space is gorgeously landscaped and home to tons of extra attractions beyond the greenery and ancient, moss-draped trees. There are nature trails, hiking, boating, museums, and even an amusement park.
20. Audubon Park
Across the city, Audubon Park provides respite in the form of 350 acres of green space within Uptown. Popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists, the park is also a favorite for visiting families, as it’s home to the Audubon Zoo and the Tree of Life, a mammoth oak tree that’s very easy to climb, but also a fun spot to stop and see if you can’t peak a few giraffes in their enclosures, from outside the zoo’s boundaries.
New Orleans is blisteringly hot in the summer and prone to hurricanes during the fall and winter. Your best bet for good weather is the spring.
You can easily fly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport from most urban airports. From there, you’ll want to take an Uber or Lyft into the city.
Unless you plan on leaving the city, there’s no point in renting a car for visiting New Orleans. You’ll have plenty to enjoy within the city, which is highly walkable. Anything that’s too far of a walk for you, can be equally easily reached via rideshare services.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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