Best Things To Do When Visiting New Orleans

"Laissez les bons temps rouler!" So goes the popular Cajun French saying, "Let the good times roll," of which in New Orleans, there are plenty. It doesn't matter if you're visiting The Big Easy for the first time or know your way around the Crescent City by heart, New Orleans offers something for every kind of traveler, whether you're looking to feast on Cajun and Creole cuisine, sail down the Mississippi, spark your morbid curiosity in a historic cemetery, or bob along to live jazz.

With a variety of museums, parks, historical monuments, and cultural sites spread around the city, you'll find it alarmingly easy to fill up several days' worth of things to do. Visit during Mardi Gras season to partake in the city's most colorful festival of parades, beads, and king cake, or go around October when the folklore and superstitions of the city will spring you right into the spooky season — there's always something to celebrate in N'awlins. To make sure you do New Orleans right, you'll want to make note of the best things to do around the city.

Visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

Step inside the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum situated between Bourbon and Royal to learn more about the city's rich history of voodoo. This tiny but impactful museum is worth the addition to get insight into one of New Orleans' most iconic cultural traditions and notable historical figures like Marie Laveau, whose former kneeling bench is on display. 

Book a tour of the museum to get the full experience, where you'll be transported centuries back to the origins of Louisiana Voodoo and its unique cultural importance in New Orleans. Whatever you do, don't forget chicken feet souvenirs, snake skins, or a potion book on the way out.

Take a walk around Jackson Square

Smack dab in the French Quarter is a lively square and meeting place for artists drawing lifelike portraits, concentrated tarot card readers, chipper jugglers, and street food peddlers alike. Steeped in history — it was the site of the Louisiana Purchase, after all — Jackson Square actually got its start in 1721 as an open-air market known as Place d'Armes, and thanks to its convenient location near the port, it has been a central hub of the city ever since. 

Think of it like a gateway to the rest of the Crescent City; have your fortune read, take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, or get a personalized doodle of French Quarter architecture for a great souvenir.

Admire the beauty of Saint Louis Cathedral

Jackson Square dazzles, but it's nothing without its centerpiece: Saint Louis Cathedral. As the oldest Catholic Church (in continuous use, that is) in the United States, a visit should be in order to see its gilded altar and triple spires alone. Technically a basilica, Saint Louis Cathedral isn't just important to the Archdiocese of New Orleans; it's also one of the city's most important cultural landmarks. 

So carve out some time to see it in all its glory with a self-guided, donation-based tour that gives a front-row seat to the church's fascinating history, like who is buried beneath it and a certain ill-fated fire in the late 18th century. Afterward, walk a couple blocks down Chartres Street to find the historic Old Ursuline Convent; just be sure to check their hours first.

Get rowdy on Bourbon Street

With its kaleidoscope of technicolor neon signage, historic jazz bars doling out absinthe, funky nightclubs with kitschy cocktails, and everything in between, few things are more emblematic of New Orleans than Bourbon Street. Pop into Fritzel's Jazz Pub for some live music, but only after a visit to The Old Absinthe House that once beckoned Oscar Wilde and the likes, and the historic Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest bars in the country. 

Once you're cultured out, then you can hit the party spots, like Tropical Isle's Bayou Club, which blasts out Cajun tunes and serves up classic drinks. Not up for an all-nighter? Close the evening off with dinner at Olde Nola Cookery — don't miss the gator tail bites.

Experience the New Orleans Jazz Museum

Long hailed as the birthplace of Jazz and home of plenty of the greats like Louis Armstrong, Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, and Harry Connick Jr., New Orleans wouldn't be complete without the New Orleans Jazz Museum — and a visit is obligatory.

Set inside a historic U.S. Mint right on the Mississippi near Crescent Park, the New Orleans Jazz Museum showcases the music that brought the city to life with tons of interactive experiences and exhibits, plus a whole roster of annual events, concerts, and festivals. Be sure to check their calendar of events for any shows you can time your visit around, like the famous Satchmo Summerfest that commemorates the beloved trumpeter every year in early August.

Have a po' boy at Johnny's

Nothin' hits the spot quite like a shrimp po' boy in the Big Easy. History says that the iconic sandwich got its start after an early 1900s streetcar strike when conductors opened up a stand and started selling what would later be called a poor boy, or po' boy, sandwich. One of the best places to feast on one is at Johnny's, a retro-fitted, family-owned 1950s diner with one heck of a po' boy lineup to choose from. 

We're talkin' everything from alligator sausage to crap cake and chicken club to veal parmesan. To stick with tradition, though, go for the Surf & Turf — roast beef topped with fried shrimp.

Take NOLA in from above at Vue Orleans

To take in one of the most beautiful cities in America from above, head to The Four Seasons on Canal Street for Vue Orleans. The most obvious draw of Vue Orleans is its sweeping 360-degree panoramas of the Mississippi and New Orleans, but beyond — or perhaps below — that, Vue Orleans is a fully interactive experience. 

Under the observation deck on the lower levels is an immersive look into some of the most important pieces of New Orleans history, from the humble origins of gumbo to voodoo traditions.That said, come prepared to spend some extra time to enjoy the full experience, all of which has been carefully curated by locals dedicated to preserving the city's rich heritage.

Taste beignets at Café du Monde

The emerald and porcelain pavilion flaps and powdered sugar-covered tables of Café du Monde reel in travelers from all around the world looking to indulge in New Orleans' sweetest tradition in a lively atmosphere. Dating to 1862, this cash-only cafe that seems to never be dead is open 24/7, 364 days a year (closed on Christmas day), and churns out piping hot coffee and pillowy, powdery beignets. 

In the 160-some-odd years that Café du Monde has been around, its menu has "hardly changed," according to TripSavvy, serving just a handful of coffees, one of which is the famous coffee and chicory combo and the iconic donuts. Don't forget to grab a souvenir mug and a bag of the coffee chicory blend on the way out.

Pay a visit to Le Musée de f.p.c.

Housed in a stunning historic Greek Revival home that once made up part of a Spanish colonial plantation, Le Musée de f.p.c., a museum dedicated to the lives and legacies of New Orleans free people of color (f.p.c.), is a truly one-of-a-kind establishment not only in New Orleans but in the entire country. Book the special Moonlight Tour that occurs every third Wednesday and includes dinner, music, and open conversation about the ongoing endeavors of Le Musée. 

And don't just take our word for how impactful the museum is; the reviews speak for themselves, like this Tripadvisor reviewer who raved, "... if you want to really learn about the history of Louisiana, its race relations, and the history and contributions of free people of color in Louisiana, make sure you add this tour to your itinerary."

Shop trinkets and treasures at the French Market

Once upon a time, the French Market was anything but — it was, in fact, a Native American trading post set up by the Oumas, who used the banks of the Mississippi to sell goods to the many different travelers that traversed it in the late 18th century. In the centuries since, it has exploded and evolved into the buzzing and bustling marketplace the city knows and loves today. 

Taking up five blocks of shops, stalls, and small vendors between Jackson Square and Esplanade Avenue, it's best to plan for a few hours in the area. Browse the many local crafts and forgotten antiques, bag some rare finds in the flea market area, or munch on treats at the farmers market.

Enjoy gumbo and étouffée at Pierre Maspero's

No trip to The Big Easy is complete without at least a few Cajun feasts full of hearty gumbos, rich étouffée, and heaping plates of jambalaya. Food is at the center of New Orleans culture and embodies as much vibrancy and history as the city itself. For the uninitiated, Pierre Maspero's is just the place.

Go for lunch or dinner and enjoy a steaming bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo with its rich and aromatic roux and everyone's Creole favorite, crawfish étouffée. To get a little bit of everything, go for the Crescent City Sampler, which includes all the greatest hits, like jambalaya, étouffée, red beans and rice, and gumbo.

See the many colors of Mardi Gras World

New Orleans often conjures up the colorful images of masqueraded partygoers, brass bands, elaborate floats, and lively parades of the city's most celebrated event, Mardi Gras. Mostly taking place in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, visiting the city while it's in full Carnaval swing is an experience in and of itself. 

However, whether you're visiting during a different time of year or are just looking to enrich your Mardi Gras trip a little further, then Mardi Gras World is a must-visit. This warehouse-turned-mardi-gras-float-showroom is like a time capsule of the iconic celebration, with some of the holiday's most iconic floats on display and plenty of costumes to match.

Wander the hallowed grounds of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

From voodoo to the whimsical tradition of jazz funerals, New Orleans has an interesting relationship with death. One of the most unique experiences to better understand it can be had at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Consecrated in 1789, these sacred grounds hold centuries of New Orleans' greats and boast the city's iconic above-ground tombs — rumor has it, the voodoo queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, is buried there. 

The fact that it's only possible to visit with a guided tour is actually a plus because it ensures you understand the full history and importance of one of the city's most fascinating tourist attractions. As a popular destination, the tours do fill up quickly, so you'll want to book in advance.

Stroll around the Garden District

During your stay, wake up a little early for a morning stroll around one of the prettiest neighborhoods in N'awlins. It's not just the stately mansions and romantic shade of oak trees, either — though a wander down St. Charles Avenue is a large part of the experience — the Garden District boasts all sorts of to-dos.

Pop into small shops and cute boutiques along Magazine Street, enjoy a Cajun feast at the famous Commander's Palace, and explore some of the most historic mansions in the city — one of which is the iconic Buckner Mansion, the location of two "American Horror Story" seasons.  

Sip on hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's

If you've already started planning your trip to New Orleans, you're probably at least a little acquainted with the city's most famous drink (of which there are plenty), the Hurricane. The tropical ruby-colored drink was born during a time when whiskey could only be obtained by bars if they also ordered an excess of rum along with it.

What better place to try it than the bar it was born in? For that, you'll need to head to 718 St. Peter and grab a table at Pat O'Briens, a former speakeasy and now one of the most iconic establishments in the city. Sit next to the "flaming fountain" on the patio and catch a dueling piano performance inside if you're lucky.

Visit The National WWII Museum

While World War II may not be the first historical event to come to mind when visiting New Orleans, the city is home to the "official" National WWII Museum, which deserves a spot on your itinerary. Divided into various sections that cover different aspects of the war and all sorts of exhibits like restored planes and impactful galleries that cover Berlin and Tokyo, the museum is enormous and is best explored over the course of a few hours.

For an even deeper behind-the-scenes look at the museum, opt for the Out of the Vault tour, an exclusive tour held every Saturday at 10:00 a.m., which showcases "rarely seen artifacts" that are "not currently on display or available for public viewing," according to the museum's website. 

Take a ride on Steamboat Natchez

One of the best experiences you can have in New Orleans isn't necessarily traipsing around the French Quarter or lounging in Gatsby-esque clubs; sometimes, it's a steamboat ride. It is a port city, after all! Set sail on the Steamboat Natchez as it winds down the Mississippi with funky jazz tunes drifting out from its rafters. 

While there are a few different options to choose from, the evening jazz cruise with dinner, complete with stellar views of the city at sunset and live swing music, makes for the perfect night of fun.

Take a tour of the Sazerac House

Not that you need any extra reason to drink in New Orleans, a tour of the storied Sazerac House off Canal and Magazine St. is well worth it. Learn all about Sazerac Rye, what it has to do with coffee, how it found it's way into the country's first cocktail, and wet your whistle with a tasting.

You can book a time for a complimentary tour, join in on a weekly tasting, or check out their upcoming events that include seasonal experiences such as Boos & Booze and themed tastings like tropical cocktail masterclasses and more.

Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art

New Orleans is chock-full of art — in its heritage architecture, quirky galleries, vibrant murals, inspired street artists, thriving music, and beyond. Wander through the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) to take it all in through a worldly lens, with collections of both French and American art and the much-renowned Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden.

Comprised of over 90 different sculptures on the lush grounds of NOMA, the sculpture garden is one of the most impressive of its kind in the country and is perfect for spending an afternoon exploring. Grab a coffee and bite on your way out at Cafe Noma.

Explore the city by streetcar

There is simply no better way to get around the city than on one of its colorful, charming little streetcars. While you can pay per ride if you want, it's better to invest in one of the Jazzy Passes that cover you for one, three, or even 31 days until the time of expiration and also work with ferries and buses.

There are plenty of scenic or historic routes to choose from, but you'll want to start with the line that trails down St. Charles and doubles as the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world. Also not to be missed is the Canal Streetcar line that can easily flesh out an afternoon itinerary.

Venture out to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

While technically about 15 miles from Nola, an afternoon adventure through Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is worth the drive out of the city. Whether you go to learn about the rich Cajun culture of the area, are in search of alligators, or want to delve into the Acadian traditions of the wetlands, Jean Lafitte belongs on any New Orleans bucket list.

Choose from any of the six sites that make up the park and embark on an adventure through some of Louisiana's most gorgeous swamps rich in wildlife and local customs. Did we mention there are swamp and airboat tours?

Pop in to Backstreet Cultural Museum

The "oldest African-American neighborhood in America," according to the United States Civil Rights Trail, is Tremé. And in that neighborhood stands the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which provides a unique look into the city's enlightening African-American culture and history.

From fascinating Skull and Bone gang memorabilia and costumes to in-depth expositions of the Baby Dolls tradition, Backstreet is the perfect way to add some curiosity and creativity to your trip. Be sure to save time to peruse the enormous film collection that boasts more than 500 jazz funerals.

Strut through JAMNOLA

And on the note of fascinating experiences to have while in the Crescent City, go ahead and add JAMNOLA to your list. Celebrating New Orleans in every way possible, this colorful cultural funhouse is comprised of 17 distinct exhibits that showcase the uniqueness and funky flair that the city is known and loved for, from its food to its music.

Envisioned by founders Jonny Liss & Chad Smith in creative collaboration with Where Y'Art Works and over 30 local artists, JAMNOLA is as much about getting to know the local community as it is about taking selfies with giant crawfish and sparkly Mardi Gras garb. They even have an influencer application where influencers are eligible to receive a "VIP tour," which we're assuming involves taking pics for the 'gram. 

Have a macabre tour at the Museum of Death

With a plethora of ghost tours, haunted hotels, and plenty of vampire lore you might have gathered, New Orleans has a lot to over the morbid traveler. One such example is the Museum of Death, a small, slightly terrifying, and hugely popular museum in the French Quarter that seeks to "educate people about death and in so doing take away their fear of dying and make them happy to be alive," as noted by Atlas Obscura

Decked out in macabre material items that range from Dahmer's letters to shrunken heads and antique embalming tools, the Museum of Death will certainly leave you feeling intrigued, existential, and even a bit refreshed by its oddities — perfectly encapsulating the spirit of New Orleans.