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French Quarter, New Orleans
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The best things to do in New Orleans

Think beyond Bourbon Street to experience these amazing things to do in New Orleans, including food, music, shopping and outdoor activities

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
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New Orleans is known for Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, and some world-class attractions like the National WWII Museum, not to mention iconic foods that are on many visitors' must-try lists. The best things to do in New Orleans truly offer something for everyone, whether you’re looking for an unforgettable party, a deep dive into history and art or chance to just go with the flow of the "Northernmost city in the Caribbean". Maybe you’re eager to dine at New Orleans’ best restaurants, seeking a classic cocktail at some of the best bars in New Orleans, or ready to check out the live, local music scene that’s alive at countless joints on any given night. New Orleans also has a rich arts scene, miles of local shopping, and plenty of options for enjoying the unique landscape of the Gulf region.

The long and intriguing history of the city can be explored at museums like the Cabildo and Historic New Orleans Collection, while the history of jazz is covered at the New Orleans Jazz Museum (be sure to hit up one of the best spots to listen to jazz too). Find your groove among the young, trendy crowds that pack the Bywater and Marigny, check the most famous New Orleans restaurants off your list, walk amongst historic houses and majestic oak trees, or just embrace the humidity of the season by checking out the city’s beautiful parks and outdoor activities.

Especially if it’s your first time, your visit is not complete unless you stop by Cafe du Monde (or one of the other places to get beignets) and get a little powdered sugar on you. Whatever your jam, New Orleans has something for you. Just be prepared to relax, have fun, and move to the beat that’s a little slower than other places.

Best things to do in New Orleans

While Bourbon Street can be avoided (unless it’s your first visit to New Orleans - you have to experience it), the French Quarter is always a must-do, any time of year. As the city’s oldest neighborhood, the Vieux Carre is packed with gorgeous architecture, loads of history, a wealth of food and music, and a cast of characters including long-time residents, chatty tour guides, and talented street performers. Don’t skip out on historic attractions like the Historic New Orleans Collection, and be sure to take in the views of the Mississippi from the edge of the Quarter.

Marigny, the neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter, is one of the city’s top spots for music. Here you’ll find a string of live music venues like Spotted Cat and dba offering jazz, blues, reggae, and rock. There’s often a brass band performing on a corner. Restaurants offering pub grub, Egyptian fare, pizza, and more will fuel you up for an energetic, music-filled stroll around the neighborhood.

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  • Things to do
  • Warehouse District

The National WWII Museum is a world-class complex with award-winning exhibits showcasing the stories of those who served in WWII and on the homefront. Highlights include actual planes, jeeps, and Higgins Boats, a theater with WWII-era musical performances, a restaurant, and a fantastic gift shop with 1940s-inspired gifts and clothing.

This six-mile stretch has it all: shopping, dining, art galleries, unique architecture, an award-winning zoo, and friendly local business owners. Get your steps in as you shop local boutiques, then reward yourself with a meal at one of the many restaurants that offer sidewalk dining or patios overlooking the hustle and bustle of the street.

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  • Sports and fitness
  • Exercise classes
  • Navarre

City Park is a beautifully-landscaped, 1,300-acre green space filled with moss-drenched oaks, peaceful walking paths, and native birds. Head to the Big Lake and rent a swan boat, take the kids (or embrace your inner child) at Storyland and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. Don’t miss the Couturie Forest, a diverse nature trail that features New Orleans’ highest point: Laborde Mountain, at a whopping 43 feet above sea level.

  • Art
  • Navarre

Within City Park, at the edge of the Big Lake, sits the city’s preeminent art museum. NOMA houses more than 40,000 pieces featuring pieces from the Italian Renaissance to modern works. Browse works from Monet, Degas, Rodin and O’Keefe as well as glass, ceramics, pre-Columbian art, and an extensive photography collection. Save time for the adjacent Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden, a beautifully-landscaped showcase of the Museum’s sculpture collection.

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  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Vieux Carre
  • price 1 of 4

This French Quarter fixture since 1862 serves the the best cafe au lait alongside hot, fresh beignets at all hours. Take a peek in the window to see the magic happen, then dive in to your order of three. If you make it out without powdered sugar on your shirt, you're doing it wrong.

Stretching from City Park to the edge of the French Quarter, this 2.6-mile linear park is a green oasis in the middle of the city. The bike and pedestrian path takes you past playgrounds, native landscaping, art, and sports fields, and is in close proximity to breweries, coffee shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. Stop by the Crescent City Farmers market on the Greenway on Thursday afternoons, or check out one of the many outdoor fitness classes offered throughout the week.

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Explore a different side of the South at New Orleans' newest museum. MSJE tells the unique story of Jews in thirteen Southern states from Colonial times to the present. Learn how Jews in the South were influenced by the culture of their communities and how they in return influenced their communities with their heritage and traditions.

At the foot of Canal Street, hop aboard the Algiers Ferry to feel the power of the Mississippi firsthand. The short ride on this commuter ferry will give you an amazing view of the city and a few minutes to be one with the river. On the other side, spend some time wandering the petite neighborhood of Algiers Point: cute homes, oak-lined streets, and a few cafes and bars.

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This huge warehouse in Bywater welcomes visitors with a massive, colorful mural on its front. It houses the work of BMike — local artist Brandon Odums. He is known for his large-scale murals depicting Black culture in the city, and his studio showcases his floor-to-ceiling portraits of Black leaders and icons.

While in Bywater, stroll the mile-and-a-half Crescent Park along the river. Climb the “rusty rainbow” (a huge steel arch that takes you over railroad tracks) and catch a breeze, have a picnic, watch roller skaters at the Mandeville Wharf, or just chill and watch as huge ships pass by.

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At the far end of Crescent Park sits Bacchanal. While it’s no longer a locals’ secret, this wine shop/hangout retains its unique local charm and funky hideaway feel. The lush back patio is the perfect spot to enjoy a bottle of wine and a cheese plate. Live music makes a visit here even more special.

In a city full of iconic music venues, Tipitina’s stands out. The Uptown joint on Napoleon Avenue was founded in 1977 and is still going strong. For a good dose of New Orleans funk (the venue is now owned by the band Galactic, who continue the tradition of hosting the likes of Professor Longhair, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, and more), check out the lineup at this local institution.

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The renovated historic Broad Theater recently expanded its offerings with an outdoor venue called The Broadside. The schedule features local bands most evenings as well as afternoon shows on the weekends. Other offerings include outdoor movies, arts markets, and trivia nights.

Snoballs
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Snoballs

How to deal with the spring and summer heat? Snoballs of course. Downing cups of fine, fluffy ice topped with sweet syrup is sure to cool you off. Locals are loyal to their favorites, but every neighborhood has a worthy option. Try Hansen’s, Williams Plum Street, Pandora’s, or Sal’s. Each offers standard flavors like cherry, spearmint, and bubblegum, but you can also branch out with more inventive ones like nectar cream or king cake, or top your snoball with condensed milk.

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Experience joy, art, and music at this interactive installation in the Marigny. The 5,500 square-foot warehouse space has been converted into a selfie-haven with bright, colorful rooms designed by local artists, celebrating local art, music, and culture. Jump into a pot with a giant crawfish, snap a pic with an oversized bust of local musicians, and become part of the art in virtual reality booths. It’s sensory-overload, New Orleans style.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Black Pearl

Spend an afternoon at one of the top zoos in the country. The Audubon Zoo has world-class exhibits featuring animals from Asia, Africa, and South America. You’ll also see seals, reptiles, and a glimpse of the Louisiana swamp. Located behind Audubon Park, the zoo is dotted with majestic oak trees (keep an eye out for resident peacocks). In the summer, the Cool Zoo water park offers a respite from the heat.

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Local breweries
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Local breweries

In addition to longtime favorites like NOLA Brewing and Faubourg Brewing (formerly Dixie Brewing), New Orleans has welcomed a slew of new breweries and beer gardens over the past few years. Enjoy a pint or two outside at breweries like Second Line and Zony Mash, or head to Wrong Iron or Tchoup Yard and find a spot in their sprawling outdoor patios. All offer live music on occasion, so be sure to check out their event calendars.

Streetcars
Photograph: Scott Gold

20. Streetcars

New Orleans’ streetcar system has been rolling since 1835. While you can no longer ride the Desire line made famous by Tennessee Williams, the existing lines offer a great way to see the city. The newer red streetcars run out to Mid-City, while the older, original green cars take you down historic St. Charles Avenue, past beautiful houses in the famed Garden District and Audubon Park.

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Garden District
Photograph: Shutterstock

21. Garden District

Upriver from the French Quarter lies the Garden District. Take a tour of this neighborhood’s grand mansions and historic cemeteries or just stroll around on your own. The houses and history are a draw, but the neighborhood also offers a wealth of shops and cafes, as well as Commander’s Palace, one of New Orleans’ best restaurants.

  • Things to do
  • Audubon

This 350-acre park Uptown stretches between St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street. The 2-plus-mile paved loop is a favorite of bikers and joggers. Walk under the shade of massive oak trees, watch ducks and swans paddle around, or pick a spot to have a picnic or play some frisbee. The park is adjacent to the fabulous Audubon Zoo and The Fly - a stretch of park along the riverfront behind the zoo (take a walk back here and you may hear the monkeys or see a giraffe peeking out from its enclosure).

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