If you’ve dreamed of visiting New Orleans, then you probably have an idea of what you’ll find there. This is one of the most unique cities in the world, and there is no end to the variety of amazing, startling, and beautiful places to visit in New Orleans. It’s famous for its Cajun cuisine, jazz music, great architecture, and a unique and lively culture.
But New Orleans can be a little intimidating too. Its very uniqueness can make it seem difficult to navigate or understand on even a surface level. But if you’re ready for the challenge, this list of the best things to do, see, and eat will help guide you during your trip.
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in New Orleans:
At the heart of the city, the French Quarter is where you can find great food, incredible music, and lively nightlife. Here you can enjoy good times, a laid-back attitude and colourful surroundings. It’s also a great area to explore New Orleans!
- Enjoy the sights and sounds of New Orleans in central Jackson Square.
- Wander along Chartres Street, a street famous for its historic sites, bustling bars, and its many souvenir shops.
- Visit the stunning St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in North America.
These are the BEST Places to Visit in New Orleans!
#1 – The French Quarter – A great place to see in New Orleans if you love architecture
Why it’s so awesome: The French Quarter is why most people travel to New Orleans. The buildings and the architecture date back up to 300 years and hold a charm that you won’t find anywhere else in America. But there’s more to do in this New Orleans must-see than staring at buildings. It’s also one of the best areas in the city to eat and shop!
What to do there: This area is curled on a bend in the Mississippi River and you’ll see countless period details as you wander through it. Many of the buildings now hold hotels, galleries, jazz spots, and souvenir shops, so make sure you do more than just take pictures! There are several famous streets in the area including Bourbon Street, Royal Street, and Frenchman Street. So, make sure you take your time and see it all. Book yourself into a Bourbon Street hotel for easy access to all the action, and a New Orleans food tour that’ll show you all the hidden hotspots.
#2 – Jackson Square
Why it’s so awesome: Once called the Place d’Armes, this square is located in the heart of the French Quarter and is a surprising natural area filled with trees. It contains the statue of General Andrew Jackson as well as the St. Louis Cathedral, with its cone spiral and stunning white façade. There are also a couple of museums as well as shops and restaurants in the area, which is why it’s often crowded with tourists.
What to do there: You could spend all day exploring this area. Make sure you visit the cathedral and the museums before heading to some of the shops and restaurants in the area. In front of the cathedral, along the iron fence, is a prime hang out space for artists, so it’s usually worth spending some time there to see what’s going on as well.
#3 – The National WWII Museum – A fascinating educational place to visit in New Orleans
Why it’s so awesome: This museum focuses on WWII from the point of view of Europe and the Pacific and it’s divided into sections to explore those different histories. There’s also a section that houses several WWII aircraft, so don’t miss it if you want to learn more about these seemingly fragile looking museums. The museum is impressively interactive and varied and includes a 4D film produced and narrated by Tom Hanks.
What to do there: Take the time to explore this museum, because you won’t regret. As you wander around, check out the documentary style film segments that will teach you more about the objects on display. Make sure you check out the 4D film, which has chairs that rumble when tanks appear on the screen and stage props that make the experience extremely sensory. Also, make sure that you make a stop at the Stage Door Canteen, where you’ll be treated to entertainment from the 1940s.
#4 – Preservation Hall – A great place to visit in New Orleans at night
Why it’s so awesome: You can’t visit New Orleans and not immerse yourself in the jazz culture and this is a great place to stare. The Preservation Hall is one of the most famous hotspots in New Orleans for great jazz music, so if you’re looking for a great night out then look no further.
What to do there: This is a small, intimate hall and seating is limited. This means that you must arrive early if you want to get a seat. On the door of the hall, you’ll find a list of the opening times and any special events. So, your best option is to pass by one day and see what’s on that night. And then show up early to make sure you don’t miss out!
#5 – The City Park – Awesome place to visit in New Orleans with kids!
Why it’s so awesome: The city park covers more than 1,300 acres and is a surprisingly huge, natural area in the middle of the city. It’s also packed with things to do, and you could literally spend your whole trip there, exploring everything that it has to offer. The park is a great place to get some exercise too as it includes an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and walking trails.
What to do there: Whatever you enjoy doing, you’ll find something fun at this park. If you travel to New Orleans with the kids, then take them along to the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, Storyland, or the City Splash Water Park. If you’re looking for more adult activities, then head over to the amazing Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden or to the Botanical Garden. And if you’re just looking for a place to work off all that Cajun food, then play a game of tennis, go for a round of golf, or just wander through the area and explore.
#6 – The Cabildo
Why it’s so awesome: The Cabildo was built in 1795 as the Spanish Governor’s Residence but over the year it’s also been the Louisiana Supreme Court. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was agreed to in this building and it was the location of the first town council meeting in 1799. Today, the building contains the Louisiana State Museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
What to do there: If you want to understand New Orleans, then you need to visit this museum. The collection explores the city’s history as well as the history of Louisiana as a whole with a particular focus on the many ethnic groups that make up the population. So, if you’re looking to explore New Orleans on a deeper level, this is your chance to do it.
#7 – The Garden District – One of the nicer places in New Orleans to sightsee!
Why it’s so awesome: The Garden District is a residential area that contains incredible mansions, beautiful gardens, and trees that have stood for longer than you might imagine. There are several streets in this area that still retain this old, wealthy charm that has been made famous in books and movies, so make sure you put aside enough time to see them all.
What to do there: You can wander on foot or take a guided tour to ensure that you see all the best spots. The best streets to explore are First Street, Prytania Street, and Camp Street, but make sure you don’t wander onto private property when you do so. There are also some good shops and cafes in the area, but they can be difficult to find, so make sure you’re fueled up before you arrive just in case!
#8 – New Orleans Museum of Art – A great place to visit in New Orleans if you are alone/traveling solo
Why it’s so awesome: This is one of the best museums of art in the south and contains an amazing collection of American, French, Japanese, and African art. There are also frequent special exhibitions at this venue that are often worth seeing. And the outside of the museum is just as amazing as the inside because of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden complete with walking paths and lagoons.
What to do there: Put aside the time to explore this museum to get a deeper understanding of the combination of cultures in New Orleans. This city really is a melting pot, and that’s stunningly reflected in the artwork that’s produced. And afterwards, make sure you explore the more than 60 sculptures that are displayed in the museum’s sculpture garden.
#9 – The Steamboat Natchez
Why it’s so awesome: Steamboats and the Mississippi River just seem to go together, so you mustn’t miss out on this iconic New Orleans must do. The Steamboat Natchez is a paddle steamer that offers harbor cruises as well as dinner cruises year-round and it’s one of the most popular attractions in New Orleans.
What to do there: You should be able to take a harbor cruise fairly easily. They take two hours and include narration about the sites that the boat is passing. If you travel to New Orleans in high season, you will have to book ahead of time to ensure that you get a good seat at the lowest price. But if you want a more personal experience, try a dinner cruise. They include a jazz band and buffet-style dinner that suits the dreamy lights of the city perfectly. The dinner cruises are more popular, so make sure you book in early to get your seat. And if you’re in New Orleans at special times of the year, check out the special events cruises. These are extremely popular, so book before you arrive!
#10 – New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum – Quite the quirky place in New Orleans!
Why it’s so awesome: Founded in 1972 by artist Charles Massicot Gandolfo, this museum seeks to teach visitors a little bit about the history of the occult in New Orleans. It focuses primarily on Louisiana Voodoo, which combines practices from Africa and Europe in a way that’s unique to this part of the US. Voodoo was originally brought to the city in the 1700ss by the slaves and includes influences from several different cultures.
What to do there: This is a small museum that packs a punch. Wandering around, you’ll see antique voodoo dolls, talismans, taxidermy and the kneeling bench that belonged to famous voodoo priestess Maria Laveau. There’s also a tour that goes from the museum to the St. Louis Cemetery. This may sound like a strange idea, but the cemetery contains Maria’s final resting place, which is why it’s one of the most popular and unusual things to do in New Orleans. You can also buy souvenirs from the museum or get your voodoo fortune told! Check out their tours online.
#11 – The French Market – A great place in New Orleans if you love to shop!
Why it’s so awesome: When a market has been going for more than 200 years, you know it’s worth visiting. Located over 6 blocks of the French quarter, the market has expanded in recent years to include some cafes and eateries.
What to do there: If you’re looking for great souvenirs, check this market first for the best price. And when you’re tired of shopping, stop by one of the eateries for a coffee and some people watching before you plunge back into the crowds.
#12 – Mardi Gras World
Why it’s so awesome: If you can, then you absolutely must travel to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. But if you’re in the city at the wrong time of year, or just want to go deeper, Mardi Gras World is the answer. This studio is one of the leading creators of floats in the world and is heavily involved in creating floats for Mardi Gras. So, if you want to explore the color, imagination, and vibe of the celebration, a tour through the studios is the answer.
What to do there: Guided tours through the studios are offered regularly and will allow you to watch the artists at work and to enjoy the creativity and imagination that goes into the floats. You’ll see the props, some really amazing costumes, and huge floats close up and get a sense for how much work actually went into them.
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#13 – Barataria Preserve – A very cool place in New Orleans to go for a day
Why it’s so awesome: The city of New Orleans is a fairly recent addition to the landscape and if you want to see what it looked like before, then you should spend some time at the Barataria Preserve. These wetlands offer 23,000 acres of bayous, marshes, forests and swamps along with wildlife including alligators, birds, wildflowers and plants.
What to do there: Admission to the preserve is free and there are lots of options when you decide to explore this area. Grab a map from the visitor’s center and explore on your own or take a cell phone tour. Just remember that the animals are wild and can move faster than you might think, so keep your distance. Also, the preserve holds events, exhibits and programs throughout the year, so if you’re looking for New Orleans vacation ideas, this is a good place to start.
#14 – Lafayette Cemetery – One of the more unique places to visit in New Orleans!
Why it’s so awesome: This cemetery is the size of a city block and around 7000 people are buried there. It was named for the old city of Lafayette and is on the National Register of Historic Places. New Orleans has a long tradition of creating beautiful cemeteries, with lovely monuments and above ground burials. And this example is a tree-filled area that seems to be more about life than death.
What to do there: You can explore this cemetery during the day by yourself but make sure that you take a tour if you’re going at night. Also, if you’re a fan of the TV show The Originals, keep an eye out for familiar scenes. This cemetery was used as the home of the witches and all the cemetery scenes were shot in this area.
#15 – Freret Market
Why it’s so awesome: This market exists for a good cause and it’s also an amazing place to wander and explore the heart of New Orleans. You’ll get the chance to see local artists exhibiting their work and munch on some delicious finger foods. In fact, this is one of the best places to eat in New Orleans, so don’t miss out!
What to do there: This market is open on the first Saturday of every month except July and August, so make sure you show up and see what’s on. Wander the stalls, look for great souvenirs, and try the finger foods. There are also some of the best local musicians performing at this market, so take the time to enjoy them.
#16 – Gabrielle – A must-see for foodies!
Why it’s so awesome: This restaurant was a city favorite amongst locals and tourists before the Hurricane. It was completely destroyed by the natural disaster but has recently reopened with some old favorites on the menu as well as some entirely new and delicious dishes. The chefs are inspired by Creole and Cajun traditions, which makes the food incredibly unique.
What to do there: This is a pricey restaurant, but the food is worth the high prices. Try the slow-roasted duck with crimini mushrooms. It was one of the most popular menu options before the restaurant was destroyed and once it was brought back, the locals rejoiced.
#17 – Zimmer’s Seafood
Why it’s so awesome: This restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it sells seafood that brings in all the locals. It’s located on Anthony Avenue and offers fresh and delicious seafood, New Orleans style.
What to do there: You can get food to eat in or takeaway. If you want to eat in, you’ll be treated to great Lakefront views while you sit and eat your meal. You can also take the food to one of the local parks and have a picnic. Try the boiled crawfish or one of their fried oyster, fried shrimp, and fried soft-shell PO-boys if crab you’re brave.
#18 – Studio Be – Possibly one of the most important places to visit in New Orleans
Why it’s so awesome: The creator of this venue, Brandan Odums, brought more than 40 artists together to create the large murals and exhibits in this warehouse-like building. Many of the displays use spray paint and graffiti techniques and explore aspects of resistance and African American history that you probably haven’t thought about before.
What to do there: When you’re visiting New Orleans, you must take the time to see this display. It attracts visitors from all over the world and is a powerful and sobering reminder of history and of the problems of the present. You will need to pay for admission and the exhibits are open from Wednesday to Saturday, 2-8pm. There are also several other galleries in the area, so you can explore the city’s art scene while you’re there.
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Final Thoughts on the Coolest Places to Visit in New Orleans
New Orleans is one of the most unique and popular cities in the world amongst travelers and for a lot of people, visiting there is a dream trip. And the city doesn’t disappoint either, with a melting pot of cultures, musical trends, and a history that will have you enthralled. There’s no end to the places to visit in New Orleans no matter what you’re interested in, so be prepared to have a busy time in the city. With this easy guide, you’ll be able to find the experiences and sights that will help you make the most from your trip, so make sure you take it along with you!
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