New Orleans is famed for its raucous nightlife, buzzing music scene and distinctive cuisine – but all of that barely touches the surfaces of the glut of fun things to see and do here.
The Big Easy on the Mississippi River has bounced back with expected vigour since the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today the city has returned to its intoxicating, all-consuming best, with its bars packed, restaurants brimming, and music humming through the streets. If you’re visiting New Orleans and would like to start working on an itinerary for your stay, here are 12 of the most fun activities and attractions in and around the city.
Attend a fun-packed festival
A world-renowned multi-genre music festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has been one of the most eagerly awaited event’s on the city’s cultural calendars since its inaugural edition back in 1970. Today the festival remains one of the biggest and most influential of its kind anywhere in the country, welcoming around half-a-million fans each year and with live performances spread across some 14 tents and stages – including a legendary main stage, where some of the world’s biggest artists have appeared down the years. There are also local and regional delicacies to sample, handmade arts and crafts,and more.
Fair Grounds Race Course / April-May each year
Across Mexico and farther south, on the day after Halloween each year, families visit cemeteries to commune with their dearly departed and tend to their tombs. In New Orleans, the city’s large Latin community joins in the event – commonly known as Day of the Dead – in a big way, with various celebrations all over the city, including candle-lit parades featured dazzlingly elaborate costumes. Some families mark the occasion by building colourful altars and leaving intricate displays by their loved ones’ tomb stones, while others decorate themselves in the manner of stylised skeletons, all serving as a reminder of life and death.
Venues across New Orleans / 1 November each year
Visit a fascinating museum
Located in the historic and now-renovated Dryades Market, a public food market which first opened in New Orleans back in 1847, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum is widely considered one of the world’s finest food museums. Celebrating the food and drink of all cultures, with a focus on the history of cuisine and cocktails, through a variety of exhibits, programming, and a range of media, the museum is a delight to explore. Highlights include the spectacular La Galerie d’Absinthe exhibit and a collection of 11,000 culinary-themed books at the Boyd Library. Visitors can also take part in cooking classes in a state-of-the-art educational kitchen.
1 Poydras Street / Thurs-Mon 11am-5pm Closed Tues-Weds
While most Jewish emigres to the US have wound up in large East Coast cities, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience examines the lives of those who transited through predominantly Christian port towns, like New Orleans. Many started prosperous farms in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachian mountains and went on to win elections as mayors, sheriffs, council members, and civic leaders. Through a wide range of exhibits, collections and programs, the museum traces the history of Jews in the American South, exploring the many ways that they’ve influenced – and were influenced by – the region’s distinct cultural heritage.
818 Howard Avenue / Weds-Mon 10am-5pm Closed Tues
Discover the local food scene
At the heart of New Orleans’ rich food scene is the city’s famous French Quarter, which is packed with eateries serving up delectable local delicacies such as seafood gumbo, Creole brisket, and beignets. Visitors can discover such mouth-watering treats while learning about the city’s culinary culture by joining a food walking tour. Accompanied by an expert guide, you and your group will walk the city streets, get an inside peek at kitchens in world-renowned restaurants, and try food tastings form various food outlets. The tour runs for around 3 hours and ends with a look around the French Market.
Embark on an evening jazz cruise
One of the most unique ways to discover New Orleans’ world-renowned jazz heritage is while cruising along the Mississippi river. The Evening Jazz Cruise on the Steamboat Natchez, the only surviving authentic steamboat in New Orleans, invites guests to listen to the cool jazz of the acclaimed Dukes Trio while enjoying a graceful trip down the famous river. There’s also the option to upgrade to include an onboard Southern style buffet. Seating is available indoors, or on deck for the very best river and city views. The tour lasts for around 2 hours.
Gain an all-access look at Mardi Gras
If you can’t quite manage to attend the legendary event itself, then the next best thing is a behind-the-scenes Mardi Gras tour. The all-access, self-guided tour lets visitors see where artists and architects build unique Mardi Gras floats from the ground up year after year, marvel at talented artists painting and sculpting materials, and watch a fun and informative film about the iconic carnival. It takes around an hour to complete the tour, and a complimentary shuttle service is provided from various stops in Downtown.
Step back in time at a former plantation
For visitors to New Orleans with an interest in the region’s notorious slave trade, the Whitney Plantation Museum makes for a fascinating excursion. Situated less than an hour west of the city, the former sugar plantation is dedicated to promoting an understanding of slavery in Louisiana. Exhibits and recorded narratives serve to document the realities of plantation life, offering a thought-provoking perspective on the people who lived and worked here. There’s also the chance to explore some of the site’s original buildings including the Spanish Creole main house and restored slave cabins.
5099 Highway 18, Wallace / Mon-Sun 9:30am- 4:30pm
Check out the city from a chopper
New Orleans is a sight to behold from any vantage point, but few can be quite as dramatic as the views afforded by a helicopter tour. During a magical 12 to 24-minute flight, you’ll soar over notable landmarks like the French Quarter, New Orleans City Park, St. Louis Cathedral, and the French Market, as your experienced pilot shares fascinating facts and stories about the city. On the extended version of the tour, you’ll also pass over an abandoned theme park, see a NASA rocket building facility, and soar over the swamps along Lake Borgne, before returning to New Orleans Lakefront Airport.
Catch some live music along Frenchmen Street
Don’t be fooled by the lack of neon lights along Frenchmen Street, situated just a short walk from New Orleans’ French Quarter. Laying behind the myriad of plain wooden frontage signs and blacked out windows are more than twenty buzzing bars and other entertainment venues, all combining to make this the go-to spot in the city for live music. Venture inside and you’ll be treated to a diverse mix of music genres, performed by both established names and up-and-coming acts.
Join a spine-tingling ghost tour
Exploring New Orleans after dak can seem like an intimidating prospect if done solo, but this ghost, voodoo, and vampire walking tour takes you to the city’s most eerie sites at night in the safety of a group with a knowledgeable guide. Not for the faint-hearted, during the 1.5-hour tour you’ll stop by notable spooky landmarks and places of interest such as the LaLaurie Mansion and New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, all while listening to your guide’s chilling tales of the paranormal.
Kick back and relax in a public park
The pristinely landscaped New Orleans City Park is a haven of tranquility that serves as the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city. Spanning some 1,300-acres, the vast green expanse is brimming with moss-drenched oaks, serene walking paths, and native birds. Besotted couples can can rent a swan boat on the Big Lake, while families will love Storyland and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park . The park is also home to Couturie Forest, with its diverse nature trail leading to New Orleans’ highest point, affording superb views across the city.
1 Palm Drive / Mon-Sun 8am-5pm