The best things to do in New Orleans.
Legend has it that Dionysus, the indulgent god of wine and pleasure, only ever left the lush gardens of Mount Olympus to visit New Orleans. According to historians, he’d often stumble home with a black eye, no shirt, and an ear-to-ear smile, bringing eternal shame to his father, Zeus. Whether deity or mere mortal, it’s impossible not to have a good time in the Big Easy. But, with so many ways to spoil your every delight, it can become overwhelming.
Depending on the length of your visit, you may want to pack in too much or not enough, and you might find yourself at, Zeus forbid, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Rest easy because we’ve curated a list of the city’s greatest hits, the top experiences, and the best places to eat in New Orleans. Here are the 25 best things to do in New Orleans.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NEW ORLEANSFrom a weather and fun perspective, the best months to visit NOLA are April, May, October, and November.
For all the latest information on COVID-19 in New Orleans, visit NOLA Ready.
Related: What Should You Avoid in New Orleans? 12 Things NOT to Do in the Big Easy
Top Picks for You
Beignets at Cafe DuMonde
If you’ve ever watched a movie or television show filmed in New Orleans, you’ve undoubtedly seen footage of the legendary Cafe DuMonde and the throngs of dough enthusiasts lined up to powder their faces with these traditional confections. Beignets are simple fried pastries sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar and served with cafe au lait, chicory coffee, or hot chocolate. DuMonde, located directly across from Jackson Square, has been in operation since 1862. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Cafe DuMonde is a no-frills kind of joint that has perfected the art of the beignet. Expect to get messy, but don’t expect disappointment.
Spend an Evening on Frenchmen Street
Frenchmen Street is like Bourbon’s more level-headed cousin. It has a job and pays its bills but will not hesitate to slap a cop after a few drinks. Named for the six French men lined up and executed outside the Old Mint for leading a rebellion after Louisiana was ceded to Spain, it still retains that defiant spirit. Frenchmen is the place to be for unparalleled live music, people-watching, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Spots like D.B.A and Blue Nile offer cheap drinks and a year-round schedule of local and touring musical acts. If you think Frenchmen might be too tame for your tastes, think again; a naked hipster once tackled me outside of Bamboulas for insulting his dreadful poetry.
Po’boys, Po’boys, and more Po’boys
The genesis of New Orleans’ signature sandwich traces its roots to the streetcar strike of 1929. The disgruntled workers needed an inexpensive food option, so the savvy operators of Martin Brothers’ French Market Restaurant and Coffee Stand filled large slices of French bread with various meats like roast beef, ham, shrimp, and catfish. You can find incredible versions all over the city, but there are a few standouts you have to try during your visit. Guy’s Poboys on Magazine Street is a darling for keeping the formula simple; a dressed sandwich featuring mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and your choice of meat. Guys is so popular because they don’t skimp on the filling; a full-size shrimp po’boy could easily feed two grown adults or six toddlers with adequate teeth. In 2015, a car crashed right through the front door, severely damaging the building. While the driver’s motives remain a mystery, there’s no doubt he didn’t feel like waiting in the huge lines that often form well before opening.
Take Your Tour
If guided tours are your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Depending on your interests, New Orleans has a tour to fit your needs. Are you an architecture buff? Take a stroll through the Garden District and admire the ornate homes while a licensed guide tells you the funny, tragic, and horrifying stories associated with the city’s history. Tours don’t just need to confine you to the concrete jungle; a swamp tour will take you around the easily accessible wetlands surrounding the Big Easy. There you’ll see a multitude of plants and animals unique to Louisiana.
If seeing wildlife isn’t your cup of tea, how about eating some of it? A food tour will take you around to many hidden gems where you can try distinctive southern dishes like fried alligator and the surprisingly decadent nutria rat. Perhaps you’re the type of drinker who demands more sophistication from your experience. A cocktail tour will introduce you to some of the signature drinks that have defined the city for centuries. If you’re the type who takes pleasure in the macabre, a ghost or true crime tour will scratch that itch and have you wishing you never heard about “The Axeman of New Orleans.”
Work off That Food in City Park
Sprawling over 1,300 acres of Mid-City, City Park is one of the best places to walk or jog away some of the guilt associated with eating your weight in fried oysters. If you’re one of the lucky few who don’t suffer from crippling body shame, take a stroll and witness the wonders of the sculpture and botanical gardens. City Park is also home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, where you can gaze at masterpieces from all over the world. If you aren’t ready to suppress your ravenous hunger, a Cafe DuMonde location within the park is ready to serve you beignets until you pass out. City Park is the 87th largest park in the United States. While that may not sound too impressive, imagine being the 87th most attractive person in the country; if that were the case, you’d be musical sensation Ed Sheeran, which would be pretty sweet.
Related: Get Out of The French Quarter to Discover This Much Cooler New Orleans Neighborhood
Ride the St. Charles Streetcar
Sometimes, you don’t feel like spending a lot of money, nor do you want to walk around all day. That’s understandable; life is hard, and you deserve a break. One of the best deals in town is riding the St. Charles Streetcar. For the low, low price of one dollar and twenty-five cents, you can hop on at Canal Street and take the ride up to the Riverbend area of Uptown. Along the way, you’ll see magnificent architecture and stately oak trees, and you might even hear the conductor scream at a jogger who won’t get off the tracks. The quaint wooden benches harken back to a simpler time while the warm breeze hits you as you gaze through the open windows.
The streetcar, while charming, isn’t without its perils. For starters, you never want to put your arms or head out of the window as you may lose an appendage to a light pole. Also, the street car can be home to petty theft so keep an eye on your belongings. Pull the cord directly above your head whenever you need to hop off and explore by foot, and you’ll be dropped at the next stop to continue your journey.
INSIDER TIPWord to the wise: don’t pull the cord more than once. Pulling twice may enrage the conductor, and depending on their mood, they might just keep on rolling.
Bourbon Street Shenanigans
There are two ways to experience Bourbon Street; the conscious and the unconscious. If you choose to walk Bourbon consciously, you decide what you want to see, where you want to eat, and which bars you want to visit. Places like Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Pat O’Brien’s are must-sees for the conscious traveler. But, if you really want to know what this street is about, you can open your mind to the unconscious journey and let Bourbon Street guide you. This approach is akin to a walkabout in the Australian Outback; it’s spiritual, fraught with peril, and you’ll likely lose all of your clothes.
This is not to imply you should get blackout drunk; although that’s a distinct possibility, it just means you should wander, listen, and let the energy of the world’s most notorious street call the shots. Keep your wits about you; Bourbon Street can turn on you in a moment; she’s mercurial, a forlorn princess, but if you can glide with her song, you’ll be richly rewarded.
Elevate Your To-Go Game
The ability to walk down the street with a cocktail is one of the last genuine expressions of freedom. Much like America’s founding fathers penning the Declaration of Independence, walking into a bar and ordering a drink to go is an assertion to those that wish to suppress the souls yearning to breathe. Sadly, leaving a bar with a cup of beer may get a SWAT team called on you in other places, but not in New Orleans. Every bar in the city is a chance to grab a drink and walk out, but some places, like Bons in the French Quarter, have taken things to the next level. A relative newcomer on the scene, Bons specializes in stout drinks, either consumed on-premises or on the road, and a wide variety of to-go snacks that veer away from typical street food like slices of pizza or the ubiquitous Lucky Dog. Here you’ll find Louisiana vittles like frog legs, gator, duck, venison, and Bon’s is one of the last places in the city serving Calas. If you like beignets, try a Calas; it’s a deep-fried sweet fritter that’s fast disappearing from the city’s traditional food landscape. Order a drink, stand on the sidewalk, and let freedom ring.
Admire the Aquarium of the Americas
Philosophers have long debated whether we are actually the ones in the aquarium, and it’s the fish who are watching us. Wherever you land on that perplexing thought, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the Aquarium of the Americas. Located downtown on the Riverwalk adjacent to the mighty Mississippi, this world-class establishment welcomes visitors from all over the globe.
Run by the Audubon Nature Institute, named for famed wildlife photographer John James Audubon, the Aquarium features tropical fish and wildlife from every corner of the planet and highlights Louisiana’s unique ecosystem. One of the animals you can only see at the Aquarium of the Americas is an albino alligator. This uncommon beast floats suspended in the transparent tank like a reptilian apparition. Given the haunted history of New Orleans, it wouldn’t be surprising if it was an actual ghost alligator. Killed by a French Acadian in the 1700s, existing solely as a restless spirit bent on revenge. But, an irritated tour guide told me that it was, in fact, a genuine alligator, and I wasn’t allowed to drink margaritas inside the building.
Cheers to Algiers
Algiers, located right across the Mississippi from downtown New Orleans, is cool. It looks like the kind of place Stephen King would have used in his novels if a blackjack hustler raised him in the French Quarter instead of New England. The only part of Orleans Parish located on the Westbank, it has its own magnetism, but it’s still a recognizable part of the city’s ecosystem. Places like the Old Point Bar and the Crown and Anchor Pub are perfect places to relax after a leisurely ride on the Algiers Ferry. The Algiers Point neighborhood also features impressive local art galleries that pair best with a sassy breakfast at Tout de Suite Cafe. During the War of 1812, Algiers suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the British, but the scrappy residents came back and beat them soundly on the fields of Chalmette in nearby St. Bernard Parish during the pivotal battle of New Orleans. Steeped in history, Algiers is not to be overlooked.
Step into History at the WW2 Museum
There’s no question that World War II defined a generation, and there is no better place in the United States to experience the conflict than the WWII Museum in New Orleans. It’s the preeminent location to dive deep into the history, atrocities, and valor that changed the course of history. Among numerous rotating exhibits highlighting various aspects of the war, the museum features a full-sized Higgins Boat used during the D-Day invasion. New Orleans native Andrew Jackson Higgins initially designed the boat for oil and gas exploration but quickly saw its potential as a means to deploy troops in shallow water. Some historians point to Higgins’ contribution as a significant turning point in the war, alongside Ben Affleck’s fearless piloting during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lose Yourself in the Bywater
Like Brooklyn, no one spoke of the Bywater as a “hip” part of town for years. Seemingly overnight, the Ninth Ward exploded with art, music, terrific food, unique experiences, and tattooed residents. The highlights of the Bywater are too numerous to mention, and any local will recommend you spend a large portion of your visit exploring the area. Try the praline bacon at Elizabeth’s, enjoy an evening glass of chilled wine while listening to live music at Bacchanal, take an unforgettable bike ride in the luxuriant green space of Crescent Park, or just walk around soaking up the effortlessly cool atmosphere. If you have a day you want to devote strictly to relaxation, book a table at The Country Club for their weekend drag brunch, and then retire to their pool for a day of cocktails. The pool area used to be clothing optional, but those naked days are long gone, so if you’ve perhaps been there before, remember your swimsuit.
All Aboard the Steamboat
The City of New Orleans, sister ship to the iconic Steamboat Natchez, will be taking her place as she undergoes some much-needed repairs. Don’t worry; the City of New Orleans sets sail daily and satisfies all of your Mississippi River cruising needs. The paddle-driven riverboat will take you out for a two-hour ride along the waterfront and around Algiers Point, offering afternoon and evening cruises. The Jazz Cruises feature a wonderful variety of buffet-style food and a fully stocked bar mixing up traditional cocktails and familiar favorites. Feel like tying the knot? The City of New Orleans is available to rent for all your wedding needs. Years ago, I was a bartender on the Steamboat Natchez for a few months while figuring out my life on the high seas. I’d often pretend I was a merchant marine on the run from the law for a crime I didn’t commit. Those daydreams were constantly interrupted by the steamboat’s piercing whistle and overserved tourists heaving into the river. To get a taste of times gone by, a pleasant afternoon on the City of New Orleans is just what you need.
Who Dat, Flock Up, or Nola Rugby
The New Orleans Saints aren’t a football team in the Big Easy; they are high priests overseeing services every fall Sunday at the Superdome mega-church. The fanaticism surrounding the black and gold, especially in the last ten years, has only intensified. No matter your home team, if you’re in town for a game, experience what it’s like to be a Saints fan and then burn your old team’s jersey because there’s nothing like it.
As someone who was on Bourbon Street the night the Saints won the Superbowl, being swept up in the revival is easy. The popularity of the Saints has always overshadowed the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team, but their recent performance in the playoffs has ignited a fire and turned the Crescent City into a serious NBA destination. If you prefer your sporting events have a more international flair, the NOLA Gold Rugby offers a proper union team for your enjoyment. Many residents were slow to come around to the idea of a rugby team as most are unfamiliar with the rules, but as soon as they realized these enormous men tackled one another with no pads, primal bloodlust took over, and fans came in droves.
Sunset at a Rooftop Bar
Rooftop bars used to only be the domain of movie stars, flamboyant rappers, and nerdy tech billionaires, but no more. New Orleans has embraced their potential and opened numerous locations where you can enjoy a drink and dinner overlooking the city. High above the Ponchartrain Hotel, Hot Tin is a funky spot with incredible views. New Orleans legend Cooper Manning owns it, and he’s often there circulating and working the crowd like a modern-day Huey P. Long. Downtown you can find an unforgettable sunset at the Four Seasons’ Chandelier Bar and delight in high-end snacks from acclaimed chef Alon Shaya. Suppose you’re looking for something a little more eclectic. In that case, the rooftop bar and pool at the Ace Hotel is a known destination for musicians, Instagram models, and affluent hipsters who definitely didn’t shower before they jumped in the pool. If you just can’t take another evening in the Quarter, try one of these rooftop bars and embrace the luxury.
Eat More Oysters, Have More Fun
Oysters are like presidential candidates; either you love them or find them utterly repulsive. A longtime staple of the city’s food scene, you can find them raw, fried, or chargrilled in many places around town, but there are a few places where they simply taste better. It may sound touristy, but Acme Oyster House is an excellent bet for a cold beer and a dozen raw bivalves. They have some of the fastest shuckers in the game, and if you sit at the bar, they’ll regale you with tales of New Orleans or their time in prison.
Seaworthy is a bit more upscale, and they offer responsibly sourced oysters from the Gulf and both coasts of the United States. Make a reservation and try the original home for the chargrilled oyster at Dragos if you’ve ever fantasized about drowning in a sea of butter; the decadence cannot be understated. Felix’s in the French Quarter, Superior Seafood on St. Charles, and Basin Seafood and Spirits deserve mention for honoring the almighty oyster. Try them any way you can before the former host of Man vs. Food, Adam Richman, comes back to town and eats another 15 dozen.
Spend Some Green on Magazine
For the opportunity to spend money like a jilted heiress to a textile fortune, there’s no better place than Magazine Street. This iconic stretch is home to all of New Orleans’ chicest local boutiques offering home furnishings, clothing, and art. Magazine is no slouch when it comes to restaurants either, so after spending the kids’ college fund on a crystal pelican, take a load off and have a sophisticated lunch.
If money’s a little tight, just take a walk and do some window shopping or pop in and chat with the proprietor. New Orleans business owners are often quite happy to tell you about their wares, even if you have no intention of buying anything. Every August, Magazine Street hosts White Linen Night, a lavish affair where all the local shops open their doors, liberally pour wine, and patrons stroll the banquettes wearing their finest white linens. While it sounds civilized, it usually devolves into a wild block party of sweaty, pinot-stained young professionals howling at the summer moon.
Classy Dinner in Historic Places
Sometimes, it’s just fun to dress up, throw caution to the wind, and step out to a fancy restaurant, an old school place, a place with cloth napkins, waiters in tuxedos, and shiny silverware. Maybe it even has a fountain inside or an old man in the bathroom spraying you with a cologne that smells like Woodrow Wilson. Lucky for you, New Orleans invented and perfected these institutions. Commanders Palace has been doing it right since 1893, serving elevated creole dishes in a chandelier-laden dining room. Arnaud’s has been dishing up traditional cuisine for over a hundred years and remains as popular as it was when they ratified Prohibition. The fancy doesn’t stop there; Galatoires is another of these institutions, and they go so far as to require one to wear a jacket to dinner, so don’t show up in your oversized Celtics jersey. If you’re tired of trendy restaurants playing lo-fi hip hop while you ingest a thirty-dollar piece of deconstructed head cheese, throw on your best tuxedo and eat some history.
Related: The Journey That Led Chef Nina Compton to Open One of New Orleans’ Most Acclaimed Restaurants
More and more, when you ask a local where they live, they’ll tell you Mid-City, which is a mixture of Marigny funk with Uptown sensibilities. Here you’ll find the Bayou St. John neighborhood next to the fairgrounds, home to the iconic Jazz and Heritage Festival. Rent a kayak and float down the same waterway the Chapitoulas and the Choctaw Native Americans once used to show New Orleans founders Iberville and Bienville where they could get a cocktail and listen to some music. Wrong Iron has become a Mid-City standout for its massive drink selection and welcoming patio atmosphere. If you happen to be a soccer fan, Finn McCools is the best place to catch international matches, and if your trip falls during a World Cup year, it’s a scene you don’t want to miss. Mid-City has a strong Sicilian influence represented in its food scene. Nothing beats an ice-cold gelato from Angelo Brocato on a sweltering Louisiana afternoon. For a slice of authentic pizza, try Venezia, established in 1957. If you’ve spent any amount of time in New Orleans and you’re tired of the usual destinations, you could spend your entire trip in Mid-City and never be disenchanted.
When people think uptown, they often think about craft cocktail lounges filled with tall blonde guys named Eric drinking sapphire martinis in Abercrombie sweaters. This scenario might be accurate in some places, but in New Orleans, uptown is a perfect place to get down. Ditch the Quarter and take the streetcar up St. Charles to the Riverbend area of uptown and catch some live music at The Maple Leaf. Suppose you want to kick it with the college crowd and love taking shots; head to Bruno’s Tavern on Maple Street or The Boot, New Orleans’ quintessential college bars. Ale on Oak Street features a sprawling patio and an unparalleled craft beer selection. If you harbor a secret desire to be like Eric, there are plenty of upscale places to see and be seen. Oak Bar often has mellow live music and a vast selection of premier wines and bar food. Freret Street is a food lover’s dream come true; grab a burger at The Company Burger and then head to Gasa Gasa, where you can see up-and-coming musical acts from around the world.
Asian Delights, NOLA Style
Asian cuisine has long been a staple of New Orleans. South Louisiana’s sub-tropical climate is similar to that of Southeast Asia. In the 1970s, NOLA East saw an explosion of Vietnamese immigrants who came to escape the horrors of war and carry on their beautiful traditions. Here you can find top-tier Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Thai food at places like Tan Dinh in Gretna, Red’s Chinese, Little Korea BBQ on Magazine, Mikimoto Restaurant, and Budsi’s Authentic Thai on North Rampart. The parallels between South Louisiana and Asian cultures are many; the emphasis on food that bursts with flavor, the focus on family, and preserving what makes us unique. If you like Asian food, and one would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t, you’ll find all you can handle in NOLA.
Louis Armstrong Park
Named for New Orleans’ favorite son, Louis Armstrong Park is a historical site in the Treme neighborhood just a stone’s throw from the French Quarter. You can trace the origins of jazz, blues, and the inspiration for rock and roll to Congo Square, where enslaved people would go on their day off to play music, cook, and sell crafts. It’s said that Congo Square was the birthplace of gumbo as West Africans would make a traditional stew using local ingredients. Take a walk by the duck ponds and relax in the shadow of Louis’ statue at the park’s center. It’s a fabulous place to visit, reflect, and give thanks to a musical icon.
They Asked for You at the Audubon Zoo
Right next to Audubon Park, the Audubon Zoo is a world-class animal sanctuary that’s fun for kids and adults alike. If you’re expecting to see monkeys smoking cigarettes, you’ve come to the wrong place; the facilities here are so lovely it’s said they left all the cages open one day, and none of the animals wanted to leave. It’s understandable once you experience exhibits like the Louisiana Swamp and the Jaguar Jungle Showcase. The Audubon Zoo is a perfect place to bring the kids as they offer numerous educational experiences and hands-on animal interactions. Of course, petting the tigers has been banned ever since the tragic devouring of the fourth Manning brother, Cecil. Consistently ranked as one of the best zoos in the country, it’s the ideal destination for a family day on the town.
Graves Above Ground: Wander the Crescent City Tombstones
New Orleans’ relationship with death is peculiar. Many cities would find it ghoulish to celebrate the afterlife with such abandon, but here, death isn’t viewed as the end; it’s just another excuse to party. A New Orleans jazz funeral is a cavalcade of revelers marching in the street commemorating the life of the fallen and doing it with style. A band walks in front of the deceased’s loved ones as they carry the casket through the neighborhood. Tears are shed, stories are shared, and the spirit moves to the next plane of existence with a pleasant hangover. The city’s cemeteries are unique; we can’t bury our dead because digging any further than a few feet will cause the shovel to hit the water. Graves are above ground, making for some of the eeriest graveyards in the world. Take a tour or wander among the dead in St. Louis or Lafayette cemeteries. French playwright Francoise Sagan said it best; “you should celebrate the end of a love affair as they celebrate death in New Orleans, with songs, laughter, dancing, and a lot of wine.”
Lakefront Libations and Sunset Sails
The New Orleans Yacht Club hosts Wednesday night sailing races at the Lakefront from March to November. There you can watch or even participate in these competitive evening races. Some boats will let you hop on, showing you the finer points of sailing and drunken pirate combat. After the race, most captains and their ragtag crews retire to the NOYC for drinks and tall tales of mermaids, white squalls, and talking whales. Have a few beers and gaze on the glory of Lake Ponchartrain at the Blue Crab or take your sunburned family to Landry’s Seafood House for a plate of fried catfish. For the nautical buff, the New Orleans Lakefront is your island of Tortuga.
slap a cop? Really?
You left off two of the best things to do with kids, Mardi Gras World and Jackson Square. The latter has so much activity, e.g. mimes, balloon artists, etc. and it's free.