Got the Blues? New Orleans sure does! The whole city is like a giant stage. Music is literally in the air as you stroll and wander through the city.
New Orleans is a city that gives the world a charming and unforgettable experience. It’s in its unique architecture, colorful history, food, traditions and culture, people and vibe. The Crescent City sits on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, vibrant and colorful.
No where else in the the world will you see the rows and rows of colorful decorated balconies. No where else in the world you will hear some kind of music at every corner. No where else in the world you will come across food that is brimming with deep southern flavors. NoLa will surely charm your heart in a matter of minutes.
People travel for so many reasons. To explore sights, culture, history, art, adventure. So far, our reason seem to be food. Yes, food. Whenever we choose a destination, we always do in depth research for local cuisine, food and popular restaurants.
So when we decided to go on the road again, we quickly gravitated towards our very favorite Cajun and Creole cuisine. And that was it, we decided on New Orleans without any hesitation.
NoLa cuisine and food is featured so often on GypsyPlate (you can find recipes at the end of this article), and we always dreamt about digging into po’ boys or trying local yakamein. And finally that happened… on our first camper van adventure.
For some time, we’ve been thinking of buying a camper van, and this NoLa vacation was a great first hand experience into adventure unknown on wheels. We went ahead and rented a Cruise America RV for a week to see how we like to be on the road. We absolutely loved the whole experience, and know now what we want or don’t want in our future RV.
RVing from Florida to Louisiana was a breeze, with one stopover, and we had booked a great RV Park right next to the French Quarter. It’s very convenient, as you’re a stones throw away from the French Quarter, and you can go walking everywhere.
Yes, the best way to see most of New Orleans is on foot. It’s a great walking city, soaking in sights and sounds at your own pace. Many of the neighboring quarters are just a short ride away, making it easily accessible either by uber or local street car. For dining out, we mostly relied on uber after dark, as it’s recommended.
Here are some of the things we tried on our first visit to New Orleans. Go through them and decide your own itinerary, with whatever interests you the most…
Top things to do in New Orleans
1. Walk the French Quarter
If you visit Orleans, your trip probably starts here. Often called the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, the French Quarter, aka Vieux Carre, is one of NOLA’s most historic neighborhoods.
It’s the heart and cultural center of New Orleans, jam packed with high energy, rich history, unique architecture, music, street performers, renowned jazz clubs, lively nightlife and the finest art galleries and restaurants in the city.
We highly recommend staying near the French Quarter, as most of the city is walkable from the historic district, and it’s fun walking the blocks and blocks of different streets throughout the French quarter.
New Orleans Points of Interest in the French Quarter:
Jackson Square is the heart and soul of the French Quarter. Buzzing with tourists, street performers and artists, you are right where all the action is. From listening to street bands, buying NoLa souvenirs or treating yourself to a famous beignet, all around this beautiful square, it’s a perfect place to start your New Orleans vacation.
This well manicured park is the site of the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral, and is located next to the Mississippi River. Take a stroll, relax and take a breather in the park (Noah was all busy climbing the trees and watching street performers).
In between all the walking throughout the French quarter, take that perfect family photo of Jackson Square with the cathedral from the platform across the street. Or, take a horse carriage ride or walking tour through the heart of the French Quarter.
You can even go on a tour with your favorite cocktail in hand. This is how Noah felt after the end of a walking tour…
St. Louis Cathedral
The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, also called St. Louis Cathedral, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. It’s the oldest working cathedral in what would become the United States, dedicated to Saint Louis, also known as King Louis IX of France.
As the centerpiece of the French Quarter, St. Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans’ most recognizable landmarks. It was originally built in the early 1700’s. The structure standing today is actually the third cathedral built on this spot, as the first two were destroyed.
The St. Louis Cathedral is free and open to the public every day from at 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can purchase a brochure for a self-guided tour for $1 at the entrance, or you can join a guided tour. Tours are led by volunteer docents and are available upon request.
Ride the Streetcar Along St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans’ iconic streetcars have been an integral part of the New Orleans lifestyle and transit since the early 19th century. Riding an old-fashioned street car is a very unique experience. The historical cars only cost $1.25 per ride. Be sure to have exact change or $3 for an all-day pass!
We recommend taking the streetcar to get from the French Quarter to the Garden District, and vice versa. Be sure to schedule more time, as the streetcars do take a little more time. I must say, it was a big hit with Noah.
Bourbon Street is one of the most infamous things to do in New Orleans. This is where tourists party with giant drinks to go, and music plays all night long. This is the party all night place throughout the year. If you’re into night life, try the bar and pub crawl, New Orleans style.
Just the next street over from Bourbon, and worlds apart. Royal Street is one of the most beautiful streets in the French Quarter.
It’s filled with incredible antique shops, art galleries, boutiques, and hotels. Browse at a slow pace. This is a great place for window shopping, or buying that unique knick knack from NoLa.
Café du Monde
One of the best things to do in New Orleans is to try one of the famous beignets, and the place to do it is Café du Monde. Each order comes with three of these tasty, powdery French donuts, and once you try them you will be back for more.
Café du Monde locations are scattered through out the main tourist areas. The one on Bourbon street has jazz performers, so it’s another perfect NoLa moment to capture, sipping your coffee and digging into sugary delight while listening to local music.
We won’t go too much into food on this post, as you will find all our eats and drinks on What to Eat in New Orleans, but the beignet is a “New Orleans attraction” on its own.
Enjoy the Music Scene on Frenchmen Street
Experiencing the local music scene is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in New Orleans. Frenchmen Street is a spot all the locals love, and it’s no wonder. On either side of the entire street there is jazz club after jazz club, playing live music.
One of our great memories is spending an afternoon listening to lively jazz music at Bamboulas, sipping away on a popular Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans.
2. Stroll Around Garden District
Another beautiful neighborhood, and one of the top things to do in New Orleans, is the Garden District. The best way to soak it all in is to walk through the beautiful streets lined with trees and gorgeous antebellum mansions and homes.
You almost feel like you’re in a movie walking down the streets, probably because many big Hollywood movies have been filmed here. It’s a beautiful quiet neighborhood, where you’re comfortable walking with kids and letting them explore at their own pace.
New Orleans Points of Interest in the Garden District:
The Buckner Mansion on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Coliseum Street is one of the most photographed mansions in all of New Orleans.
The reason folks are flocking is because this mansion was featured on Season 3 of “American Horror Story: Coven”, and now again on Season 8 of “American Horror Story: Apocalypse.” Every walking tour guide stops here, this is the most photographed home on the block.
Looking for a pricey fine dining experience? Commander’s Palace is your thing. Just make sure to book the table weeks in advance. It’s New Orleans fine and dine in the Garden District, known for an authentic Southern dining experience and Creole dishes.
Famous for $.25 martinis, it’s an unforgettable experience. Even if most people don’t end up dining there, they surely stop by to take a photo of this iconic restaurant.
Magazine Street is the Garden District’s place for shops, boutiques, and restaurants. We recommend taking a break in one of the great restaurants, then taking a stroll, browsing through shops and galleries.
We stopped at the Ruby Slipper café on magazine street for a hearty brunch before wandering around the beautiful antebellum mansions.
3. Immerse Yourself at The National WWII Museum
This is an extremely popular place in New Orleans. A must-see for history lovers and all patriots, it has been designated by the U.S. Congress as America’s official WWII Museum. It features grand exhibits, multimedia experiences, and an expansive collection of artifacts that tell the inside story of the war.
You might need a full one to two days to browse it at your own leisure, it’s that massive.
4. Visit Famous Gravestones on a Cemetery Tour
One of the most popular things to do in New Orleans is to visit their many cemeteries. Since New Orleans is below sea level, they are unable to bury their remains underground. The only other option is to have above ground tombs and mausoleums.
This is not a common practice in cemeteries in the US. The cemeteries in New Orleans are not only unique, but a rich part of its history, making them one of the most iconic things to do in New Orleans. They’re scattered all over the city.
Take a guided tour and you will learn about the famous people whose remains are there, as well as the burial rituals and techniques of the local cemeteries. We’re mentioning just a couple, which are conveniently located around other popular spots.
Lafayette Cemetery No 1.
This one is located directly across from the Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. Stroll through the famous maze of above ground tombs, a different perspective from the nearby antebellum mansions.
St. Louis Cemetery No 1.
Located right outside the French Quarter, this is the city’s oldest cemetery, and one of the most famous being the final resting spot of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. You would need to book a tour to visit this cemetery.
5. Have Fun at City Park
More than just a green space, New Orleans’ City Park has a week’s worth of activities within its boundaries. It’s home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, the city’s own lush Botanical Gardens, a golf course and much more.
6. New Orleans Museum of Art
A must-see on most visitors’ New Orleans itineraries, and deservedly so. The building itself is in city park, with its grand alabaster walls and Greco-Roman columns. There’s also a beautiful five-acre sculpture garden, with artwork beneath magnolias and Spanish moss-laden live oaks.
Inside, the collection is equally impressive, with French and American art and traveling exhibits that feature everything from fashion to digital media. It remains one the South’s most impressive fine art collections.
7. Get Funky at the Jazz Museum
The New Orleans Jazz Museum celebrates jazz in the city where it was born. Strategically located at the intersection of the French Quarter and the Frenchman Street live music corridor, the New Orleans Jazz Museum is in the heart of the city’s vibrant music scene. Explore dynamic interactive exhibitions and marvel at the city’s music scene.
8. Visit the Beautiful Plantations
Many plantations are located within an hour’s drive of the French Quarter, making for an easy day trip from the city. Organized tours, some of which also stop at nearby swamps, offer a glimpse into how the area’s wealthy families lived on these grand antebellum properties centuries ago.
It’s a great way to explore the bygone time and learn the roots of the city. Oak Alley Plantation comes very high on list. It derives its name from the avenue of ancient oak trees leading up to the front entrance. You can tour the giant houses, as well as the well-manicured grounds.
9. New Orleans Swamp Tours
Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city? How about the serenity and calmness of nature? Don’t miss the famous swamps of Louisiana and their biodiversity and wildlife. The best way to see them is by doing a tour of the swamps.
Explore acres of authentic Louisiana swamps and waterways on a New Orleans swamp tour that gets you up close and personal with alligators! Experience narrow waterways, Cajun villages on the water, and all the wildlife.
10. Take a Steamboat Cruise on the Mississippi
Sailing on a steamboat along the Mississippi River is one of the very popular ways to experience the city from water, and is a great way to rewind in New Orleans.
You can opt for a daytime cruise, hearing stories about the history of New Orleans. Or you can choose the evening cruise which features a live jazz band and sometimes dinner on board!
11. Get Spooked on a Ghost Tour
New Orleans has over 300 years of history… and mystery. Explore the haunted side of New Orleans on a ghost tour through the French Quarter and beyond. It has had more than its fair share of death and intrigue.
Whether bloody brawls of sailors, mysterious vampires, or gory unsolved murders, New Orleans has a long and sordid history. One of the best ways to get to know the history of the French Quarter is on a spooky and sordid ghost tour.
12. Backstreet Cultural Museum
Intrigued about Mardi Gras? How about some fun time taking in all the elaborate costumes and stories behind this historic parade and tradition? The Backstreet Cultural Museum is dedicated to documenting the African American culture and traditions of New Orleans.
Those traditions include the Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, and social aid and pleasure clubs. It houses a large collection of costumes worn by the Mardi Gras Indians, the Baby Dolls, and the Northside Skull and Bones Gang.
13. Louisiana Children’s Museum
Located in City Park, the new state-of-the-art children’s museum is a great way to have a fun time with your kid, with lots of hands-on, interactive, and educational activities. What makes the museum stand out is its integrated outdoor activities, which include playgrounds, green spaces, and a wetland lagoon.
14. Spend Some Time with Sea Creatures at the Aquarium
The Audubon Aquarium of America is located at the edge of the French Quarter, and houses over 10,000 creatures. The highlight is a walk through a 30-foot long underwater tunnel. You’ll see sharks, piranhas, sea turtles, anacondas, and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the albino alligator!
15. Go to a Festival
You can always plan your visit during the famous Mardi Gras or Jazz fest. Get the most of this world famous occasion, if you don’t mid the crowd and a little craziness all around.
But in case you can’t make it in time for Mardi Gras, there are so many other festivals the city hosts throughout the year… about 130 of them. That’s one every three days!
Choose any time, and experience this unique cultural aspect of this great city. French Quarter Festival (April), Bayou Boogaloo (May), Oyster Festival (June), Voodoo Festival (October) are just a few, and there are many more for you to check before heading to this Crescent City.
Make the most of it when you are in this charming, historic town. We’ll tell you all about its Cajun and Creole cuisine, and the foods we enjoyed on our visit in our next post, What and Where to Eat in New Orleans. Stay tuned.
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Check out these Cajun and Creole recipes we’ve cooked:
Creole Shrimp with Sausage
Grillades & Grits
Cajun Shrimp Scampi
Blackened Shrimp & Grits
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