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

Get a taste of the city's history and culture with the best things to do in New Orleans

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
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Everyone has their reasons for visiting New Orleans (and loving living here). Checking out jazz clubs, festivals, and of course dining on iconic foods at the city’s best restaurants are among the best things to do in New Orleans and the most well-known. But the city offers much more than an indulgent party; from world-class attractions like the National WW2 Museum to amazing architecture and natural beauty, New Orleans has something for everyone.

Perhaps you want to sip cocktails at one of New Orleans’ best bars or get your sugar fix with a delicious beignet. If you’re more of a history buff, explore the city’s long and intriguing history at museums like the Cabildo, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the parks, bayous, rivers and lakes in the area. Or you can just wander the city’s charming, unique neighborhoods. These top picks for things to do in New Orleans will give you a true taste of the city.

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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. The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (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 new communities, and how they shared their own culture with these communities (which were primarily Christian) through 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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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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  • Music
  • Music festivals

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of Crescent City’s biggest annual festivals, celebrating the unique music, arts, culture, and heritage of New Orleans. Unlike its name suggests, the Jazz Fest lineup features hundreds of bands that perform a wide range of music—not just jazz, but anything from zydeco and hip-hop to funk and gospel—on over a dozen stages. Even better, there are renowned food vendors throughout the grounds. Jazz Fest is a must for any music, food and culture lover.

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.

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Snoballs
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17. 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.

It's only logical for New Orleans to be home to a jazz museum, for this is the city where the musical genre was born. At this comprehensive repository of artifacts from the very beginning of the 20th century, you'll see and hear the history of jazz. The museum also presents more than 365 concerts a year and hosts educational programs for kids (and adults, too) aspiring to play jazz like the city's legends, from Louis Armstrong to Al Hirt, Louis Prima and more.

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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.

In this city with a lengthy history and culture surrounding cocktails, the Sazerac cocktail might be the most famous drink to come out of New Orleans. It sits on nearly every bar menu, has been designated the city’s official cocktail, and even has its own museum. Visit the Sazerac House — located at the site where the first cocktail was served — to learn the history of the drink through immersive exhibits and chats with virtual bartenders in an impressive setting.

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  • 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.

Local breweries
Photograph: Shutterstock

22. 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.

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Streetcars
Photograph: Scott Gold

23. 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.

Blaine Kern has been building Mardi Gras floats for the various krewes (social groups) that roll through parades in the weeks leading up to and on Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday). He's known as "Mr. Mardi Gras" for a good reason, as his designs have delighted the city for over 50 years. Once across the river in Algiers, now the store is near the Convention Center and offers tours that take you into the real heart of the Mardi Gras parade experience.

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Garden District
Photograph: Shutterstock

25. 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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