New Orleans, Louisiana is a magical, alive place, but there is so much to do and see, so I’ve helped you narrow it down with the 10 things you need to do when you visit!
1. Attend a Parade during Mardi Gras
When you think New Orleans, you probably think Mardi Gras! Despite it being a very popular activity, it is well worth visiting New Orleans during its’ busiest time of the year. Despite common misconception, Mardi Gras isn’t all booze and showing your you-know-whats to get beaded necklaces. It’s tradition, parades, and getting to know your parade neighbors very well (and maybe dressing like the biggest tourist ever). I highly recommend everyone attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least once. You can get parade tickets early if you want to sit in special stands, but you can also plan ahead by looking at the parade routes online and plot the best place to stand for each parade. To learn more about Mardi Gras, check out this link. I’ll also be posting more about this later for tips!
2. Get Beignets from Cafe du Monde
The line is always worth it. Cafe du Monde has been serving up delicious beignets and coffee 1862. It’s a great place to sit and relax as you people watch. I’ve seen many parades of jazz bands, street musicians, and even a wedding party parading down the street from this very spot.
3. Explore Frenchmen Street
I can’t say enough about Frenchmen Street and to be honest, I much prefer it to Bourbon Street, but more on that later too! Frenchmen Street is a lot less crowded than Bourbon and you’ll find more of a local scene there. Stroll down the street following the walkway from the French Market, and you’ll happen upon jazz music of all types streaming out of a number of bars and restaurants. Let’s not forget my favorite vegetarian food in all of NOLA, at 13. Some of my favorite bars: Bamboula’s, The Spotted Cat, and Maison. Day or night, this is by far my favorite place in New Orleans. A hidden nighttime treasure on Frenchmen Street: The Art Garden tucked away on your way to the Spotted Cat.
4. Cheers on Bourbon Street
Despite Bourbon Street being crowded and tourist central, it is a must do for every traveler’s first visit to New Orleans. If you’re into drinking, there’s a lot of good drink deals and good party music. If you’re more into people watching, like me, you grab a drink, find a balcony, and watch all of the more rowdy folks strolling, dancing, doing or showing their body parts for beads, and wait… is that some voo doo man? You never know what or who you’ll see on Bourbon Street.
5. Boo! Take a Ghost Tour of the French Quarter
This is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve gotten to do in New Orleans, and for sure, the most unique AND spooky! We did a ghost and vampire tour with French Quarter Phantoms Tours and it was awesome. It started out with 2 drinks included, and we got a pretty good picture of the evil spirits that lurk around the French Quarter, including Madame Lalaurie, who I consider the most evil of all spirits that loom over the city and her mansion, which is closed to the general public.
6. Walk through Jackson Square
Jackson Square is a very well-known site in NOLA and must stop site for pictures. Right across from the Mississippi River, its iron gates are lined with street art vendors and performers and you can step into St. Louis Cathedral if you need a break from the heat (or rain).
7. Shop in the French Market
If you get a shopping bug while you’re in New Orleans, the French Market is the place to go. After you get a beignets and stroll around Jackson Square, you can shop at the French Market for New Orleans souvenirs, trendy clothes, and even Christmas decorations? Even Christmas decorations. Oh, and if you’re into pralines, there are TONS of praline stores.
8. Learn More about Mardi Gras at Mardi Gras World
If you need something fun to do with the kids or if you have some down time during your trip or it just doesn’t stop raining, which is very common in New Orleans, a trip to Mardi Gras World is your solution! At Mardi Gras World, you can get a glimpse into Mardi Gras history, see how parade floats are created, try on some costumes that are worn during parades, and maybe even meet an artist or two while they’re working on the floats in the workshop the tour strolls through. They’ve got a pretty great gift shop too and they offer a couple of free shuttle stops to those that buy a day tour ticket.
9. Explore the Aquarium
Another great activity for kids, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, if full of fun actives and be sure to check their calendar because there are special events catered to kids and sometimes even films like Nemo on their IMAX-sized movie screen.
10. Eat all of the Food
I’ll be honest, for a vegetarian, New Orleans was a challenge. However, the first couple of times I was able to visit, I still ate seafood, and boy did I eat loads of it. First of all, it seems that most of the items on menus were fried. And did I mention the fried food? Seriously though, I’m not complaining too much because the food was oh so delicious. Some restaurants you need to try: Drago’s, Mother’s, Pat O’ Briens on Bourbon Street (and be sure to get a hurricane drink), and Oceana.
This post brings back so many good memories and makes me want to visit time and time again! Again, there are so many things to do in this great city that I still haven’t done it all. Things on my list for next time: exploring Magazine Street and the Garden District, a riverboat tour, the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone.