17 Things to Do in New Orleans
New Orleans is synonymous with Jazz music and Mardi Gras parades. Every visitor to NOLA spends some time on Bourbon Street or enjoying some beignets at Cafe du Monde. But New Orleans has so many things to offer people of all ages and interests.
Party-seekers may want to hang out on Bourbon Street. History buffs may head to some of the museums. Families may spend an entire day exploring City Park.
Fritzel’s European Jazz Club on Bourbon Street
I love jazz music, and New Orleans is full of it. You may run into a small band walking through the streets of the French Quarter or hear it coming from inside a bar along Bourbon Street.
But in all my wanderings of New Orleans, the best place for great jazz is Fritzel’s European Jazz Club. It’s right on Bourbon Street, though not where the heavy partying takes place.
There’s no cover charge – you just have to purchase one drink per set. I am more than happy to pay $5 for a sprite or lemonade to be able to enjoy some live jazz. If you want to taste of their music, look up Fritzel’s on iTunes or Spotify. You won’t be disappointed!
The National World War II Museum
When people ask me what I recommend in New Orleans, my second recommendation – after Fritzel’s – is the National World War II Museum. You may wonder what a museum like this is doing in New Orleans, and I’ve got the answer to that question in my article about this amazing museum.
Plan to spend a couple of hours at the museum if you want to take it all in. There are stories and personal accounts from the men and women who fought on both the home front, Pacific Theater, and European Theater.
Shopping and Entertainment at Jackson Square
You never know what you’re going to find at Jackson Square. Some days I’ve been surprised by the number of artists selling their works, or even some creating works of art while in the square.
It’s also fun to catch some street performers. There are performing solo musicians (I heard a great rendition of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald) and statues that are alive.
One of the funniest scenes was a New Orleans band performing outside St. Louis Cathedral. It was the band that was waiting to escort a bride and groom through the streets of New Orleans after their wedding ceremony.
Ride a Street Car Named Desire
You can’t miss the streetcars making their way around New Orleans. It’s a fun way to make your way around the city.
Fare is $1.25 each way, but you can purchase a single-day, unlimited-use pass for $3. Multi-day passes are also available. These daily passes are known as Jazzy Pass and can be purchased when you board your first streetcar or online in advance.
NOTE: Exact change is required when purchasing tickets on the streetcars.
Explore the Party Scene of Bourbon Street
If you’ve never been to Bourbon Street, you might be a little surprised at what you’ll find. Especially if your kids are with you exploring the city. During the day, it’s a pretty regular street, although there are lots of ads for all the Gentlemen’s Clubs that line the street. You can find some souvenir shops and some places to eat – including Red Fish Grill.
At night, the partying breaks out. Crowds with drinks in hand and beads around the neck can be difficult to navigate through. There are people on balconies hollering for women walking below to “show them something”. The reward? They toss down some beads.
There are music and dancing, people in costumes, and so much more. If you’ve never been there, it’s an experience. But just know what you’ll find – especially if you have your kids with you. Yikes!
Shop the French Market
I was surprised to find the French Market while working my way around the city. While walking through the market looking for souvenirs for my kids back home, I found a name bracelet for my daughter. But there are many other trinkets and items available throughout the market. There are several food options, too, including a quick place to grab a bite or shops to buy Cajun spices and treats.
Enjoy Beignets at Cafe du Monde
Cafe du Monde is famous. You’ll see if in countless Hollywood films, like Runaway Jury (one of my favorites). In the morning, the line to enjoy some of the powdered sugar treats and a coffee stretch down the street. If you don’t want to wait that long, then try something later – it’s open 24 hours a day!
NOTE: They don’t accept credit cards, so you’ll want to bring enough cash with you to pay your check.
Their menu is simple: Beignets and drinks. My go-to is an order of beignets (which can be shared with at least one other person) and a hot chocolate. Not that it’s particularly cold in New Orleans, but the chocolate helps wash down the mass amounts of the powdered sugar.
NOTE: Don’t inhale too quickly if the beignet is anywhere close to your mouth or nose. I’ve heard many coughing fits from people to end up with a lung full of powdered sugar. 😉
Take a Ride up the Mississippi River on the Natchez Steamboat
Enjoy a steamboat ride up the Mississippi River. The Natchez is the only steamboat in New Orleans, so it’s a great treat to enhance your New Orleans experiences.
There are several departure times and cruise options – and they all involve enjoying live jazz music. Make reservations in advance, then show up for your cruise and enjoy it.
Wander the streets of the French Quarter
The architecture of the French Quarter is… cute. Quaint, even. If you’re going to wander the area, day time may be the best. I’ve heard it can be a little dangerous at night – as is true with many big cities.
I enjoyed a morning walk through the French Quarter, just me and my camera. I captured some single-story houses and multi-level apartments/homes. It reminded me of the time I lived in France and would walk the streets of little villages and big cities. It was a little nostalgic for me.
One evening, while wandering with my business colleagues on a trip, we ran into a jazz band performing in the street. We enjoyed listening to the performance and watching the musicians dance, with instruments in hand. They are super talented!
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
If you want to get a look at some amazing sea life, include the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in your New Orleans itinerary. I explored it several years ago and enjoyed watching sea turtles float through the water or jellyfish pulse in the current.
After exploring, we brought home a stuffed animal of an otter – one of the other amazing animals at the aquarium. It’s a great way to spend a few hours with the family. You can learn more about the Aquarium online.
Take a Morning Run/Walk Along the Mississippi River
When I travel for work, a few of my colleagues often share photos on Twitter of their morning run. After all, it is a conference of heart-healthy cardiologists from around the world. I get to see the routes they’ve run, and in New Orleans, their path often took them alongside the Mississippi River.
There are various paths along the river, so depending on where you’re staying, you can likely find a path that’ll work for you. Either for a morning run or an evening stroll.
The New Orleans Holocaust Memorial
Over the past couple of years, I’ve stumbled across more and more Holocaust Memorials. I found one in Boston, and more recently in Philadelphia.
The stone near the entrance to the memorial reads, “Let this memorial be dedicated to those brave souls, victims of the holocaust, that their lives were not taken in vain.” Take a moment to reflect on that quote and be mindful of what we as a people can do to prevent it from ever happening again.
Take the Family to City Park
Breakaway from the party scene and crowded streets to enjoy some time at City Park in New Orleans. The park is a short Uber/Lyft ride from the city, or you can take a streetcar.
City Park has numerous activities for the whole family, including:
You could spend an entire day enjoying the park. Learn more about what you can expect at City Park in New Orleans.
Get Spooked on a Haunted History Tour of the French Quarter
Voodoo magic is synonymous with New Orleans and the French Quarter. So what better way to enjoy an evening than to go on a Haunted History Tour. The tour takes you through the French Quarter, where you learn about the history of the area while your guide recounts spooky stories from the area.
Stories about ghosts taking photos of tourists, swords clanking in an empty courtyard or Romeo spikes offering father’s peace of mind are all part of the tour.
While those may be a little spooky, the creepy stuff comes while standing in front of the Lalaurie Mansion. The woman of the house was a terror. She tortured her slaves and servants. There’s a curse on that house, and stories about of owners who’s fortunes have gone by the wayside because they owned the mansion.
Red Beans and Rice, Alligator and Buffalo Oysters
I love the food of New Orleans. First off, I’m partial to seafood. And there’s plenty of that to go around. I also like spice, and the Cajun spices give the food just the right kick of flavor. Plus, there are some weird meals that I’m always game to try – like alligator or buffalo-flavored oysters.
Explore the New Orleans Jazz Museum
If you like history and jazz music, you may want to make a stop in the New Orleans Jazz Museum. There are actually two parts to it:
- History of the U.S. Mint building, which houses the Jazz Museum (1st floor)
- History of jazz music (2nd-3rd floors)
In the foyer, you can see a coronet played by jazz legend Louis Armstrong. On the upper floors, you can listen to jazz from a few different artists, and if you time your visit just right, you can take in a concert of live jazz music.
Taste a Fresh Praline in New Orleans
I’ve always referred to them as “pray-liens”. But in New Orleans, you’ll quickly learn they are pronounced “prah-liens”. The best way to try them is to get them fresh at a bakery or pralines store. The prepackaged ones that are sold to tourists by the dozens aren’t nearly as delicious as fresh ones.
A great place I found was Southern Candymakers. They’re located at 334 Decatur Street – not too far from Jackson Square and Cafe du Monde.
I love New Orleans and could spend days exploring everything the city has to offer. On my next visit, I hope to catch Mardi Gras World, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum and a few other places I just haven’t had the time to explore.
If future visits allow me to explore new places, I will update this article. If there are things you would add, let me know and I’ll expand my list as well.
And as they say in NOLA, Laissez Les Bons Temps Roulez – Let the Good Times Roll.