The Big Easy: 16 Popular Things To Do in New Orleans, LA on Vacation

When visiting New Orleans, there are endless possibilities for a delightful vacation! And, with so many exciting and unique things to do in New Orleans, it’s hard to know where to start!

Admire the stunning architecture in the French Quarter. Feast on Cajun and Creole cuisine from one of the many delicious eateries in the area. Swing by the French Market for unique souvenirs, enjoy the vibrant music scene or take a riverboat ride down the Mississippi.

For those looking for historical flair, tour a nearby plantation, like San Francisco Plantation House, and witness sights like Oak Alley Plantation with its picturesque alley of oaks and alligator-filled swamps during an airboat tour.

With so much to do and see in this exciting city, it’s no wonder it’s such a popular place to visit! Check out our favorite things to do when vacationing in The Big Easy.

Take a Behind the Scenes Tour of Mardi Gras

mardi gras tour new orleans
Photo Credit: Veggies Abroad

Recommended by Rebecca Gade Sawicki of Veggies Abroad

While most people only think about Mardi Gras as a one-day celebration of bead-slinging, it’s a much longer celebration that takes the entire year to plan. The Carnival festivities begin on January 6 and are a period of indulgence that ends on Fat Tuesday, more commonly thought of as Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday)! Visitors are encouraged to try the iconic varieties of King Cake, watch parades, and celebrate with locals.

In the lead-up to Fat Tuesday, New Orleans comes alive with non-stop fun that features multiple fancy balls (many are by invite only), over 54 parades, and over 1,000 creative floats! As you can imagine, it takes a lot of effort and time to pull off a massive celebration like this, but you can see it coming to life at Mardi Gras World!

On the Mississippi River, you will find a giant 400,000-square-foot warehouse filled with colorful floats, memorabilia, and countless artists tirelessly working. Mardi Gras World offers guests the opportunity to learn about the history and see the work up close.

Your tour begins with a short video on the unique history of the event and a slice of the famous King Cake. After, you’re encouraged to explore the warehouse on your own. Aside from checking out the impressive floats, you can watch artists create new designs and artwork in real-time. The warehouse is home to multiple design studios and welcomes the public to check out what they are doing.

Mardi Gras World is open seven days a week from 9 AM – 5:30 PM (the last tour entrance is 4:30 PM). After your tour, make sure you grab a bite to eat at one of New Orleans’ fantastic vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants in the area.

Enjoy Beignets & Coffee at Café du Monde

cafe du monde new orleans
Photo Credit: Southern Trippers

Recommended by Victoria of Southern Trippers

Undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in New Orleans is trying beignets. After all, the Big Easy is known for creating delectable versions of this square-shaped piece of deep-fried dough that is generously sprinkled with copious amounts of powdered sugar. 

To sample this delectable dessert, most people head to Cafe Du Monde. And that makes sense since this famous cafe in New Orleans has been serving up beignets and coffee since 1862. 

However, you will have to wait in line because everyone visits this place during their trip to NOLA. They also have a limited menu since the primary focus is creating delicious beignets. 

But, if you want to get off the beaten path and try (arguably) better beignets, head over to Cafe Beignet in the French Quarter. They not only serve delicious beignets but also feature a comprehensive menu of delicious entrees. Highlights include the crawfish omelet in addition to their classic gumbo!

So, you can easily dine at one of the best places for breakfast in New Orleans before grabbing a beignet for dessert. Just don’t forget to pair your order with some of their delicious coffee. 

And if you want even more beignets, then head to Morning Call. This classic coffee stand started in the French Quarter over 150 years ago and has a quirky charm that is enhanced by live musical performances throughout the weekend. 

Therefore, be sure to stop by and pair a cup of their intense chicory coffee with a nice, hot beignet.

Explore the French Quarter and Garden District

french quarter new orleans, la
Photo Credit: [@Hackman/Deposit Photos]

Recommended by Trijit Mallick from Budget Travel Buff

French Quarter

If you are looking for the cheapest places to travel, you must visit New Orleans. The French Quarter, the city’s oldest neighborhood, is also known as the Jewel of New Orleans. Now this place has become an eclectic place of culture. You will get to see old buildings as well as modern sculptures too.

The nightlife of the French Quarter is most famous to the outer world, but the historic part of the French Quarter is also one of the best attractions in New Orleans. Places like Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, and Preservation Hall are some of the most visited places in the French Quarter where you would love to take a walk to learn about the history of this place.

Everything will make each evening colorful and remarkable in the French Quarter. From boutique shops to street bars, jazz clubs to pubs. If you’re a foodie, you will find some excellent eateries around every corner of the French Quarter. These food junctions serve delicious delicacies.

Garden District

If you prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, you must visit the Garden District. Your New Orleans tour planning is complete with visiting the Garden District. This is considered one of the most beautiful places in New Orleans.

As soon as you step out of the city car and step onto the land of Garden District, you will start feeling that it’s a place of a fairy tale. Beautiful mansions and cottages surround this area.

To explore the best out of Garden District, you must start by simply walking on its streets. So many tiny details at every corner of this place will satisfy you. You can go shopping at the beautiful Magazine Street to explore this iconic place of New Orleans. Everything you will see, from clothing to home goods, has the essence of this place. You will also find some good restaurants here on Magazine Street so you can indulge your craving.

Try Classic New Orleans Food

Muffuletta
Photo Credit: [@bhofack2/DepositPhotos]

Recommended by Riley Adams of Young and The Invested

New Orleans is renowned for its fantastic food offerings, with something to suit every taste. From traditional Creole and Cajun dishes like gumbo and jambalaya to incredible seafood specialties like oysters Rockefeller and crawfish étouffée, there’s no shortage of delicious local fare.

Muffuletta

One of the most iconic dishes from New Orleans is the muffuletta sandwich, a monster-sized treat filled with layers of Genoa salami, capicola ham, provolone cheese, and olive salad. The best one in the city comes from Central Grocery, located on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.

Po’boy

Another New Orleans favorite is the po’boy. This classic sandwich originated as a hearty meal for working-class laborers in the early 1900s and can now be found all over New Orleans, from dive bars to fine dining restaurants. The most popular fillings are roast beef and fried shrimp, but you can also find gourmet takes on the po’boy, like alligator sausage and soft-shell crab. 

While locals have many opinions on which place makes the best po’boy, Parkway Bakery & Tavern is a favorite for its huge selection of fillings and signature “dressed” po’boys with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, and Creole mustard.

Beignet

One final dough-based item to try in the city is the beignet, a light and fluffy pastry dusted with powdered sugar. Locals line up outside Café du Monde in the French Quarter every morning to get their hands on the classic fried dough treat. The café also serves chicory coffee as a café au lait, brewed with roasted chicory root and topped off with steamed milk. If you’re looking for a sweeter snack, head to Sucré on Magazine Street for handmade chocolates, gelato, and exquisite desserts.

Foodie’s Paradise 

New Orleans has something delicious to offer no matter what you hunger for. With its unique culinary blends of Creole and Cajun flavors, it’s easy to see why this city is such a foodie’s paradise. Whether it’s muffulettas, po’boys, beignets, or something else entirely, you’re sure to find the perfect dish in New Orleans.

Take A Plantation Tour

Plantation tours in New Orleans
Photo Credit: Voyage Scribe

Recommended by Natalie of Voyage Scribe

A visit to one of the many plantations around New Orleans is one of the best NOLA day trips you can take without access to a car. That’s because it’s possible to take a tour bus from the city to almost all the nearby plantations. And there are so many good ones to choose from.

Slavery isn’t a pretty part of US history, but it’s a part that shouldn’t be forgotten. Visiting a plantation is a great way to ensure that doesn’t happen. Whitney Plantation is probably the best plantation near New Orleans to visit if you’re looking for a plantation that focuses on slavery rather than plantation owners.

If you’re interested in architecture, Laura Plantation’s main house is built in Creole style, unlike the nearby English plantations. It’s a beautiful house, and the tour is excellent, painting a vivid picture of life for both the plantation family that lived in that house and the enslaved people who worked on the plantation.

And finally, another famous plantation is Oak Alley, which is the most beautiful because of the lines of old oak trees in front of the Big House. A tour of the house is included in admission to this plantation and a self-guided tour of the slave quarters.

So no matter which plantation you choose, a trip to New Orleans is incomplete without a visit to the countryside to better understand the area’s history. Most of the plantations are located along the Mississippi River on River Road, a beautiful drive.

Go On A Ghost Tour

cemetery
Photo Credit: [@aetb/DepositPhotos]

When people think of things to do in New Orleans, they often think of things like Mardi Gras, music, and delicious food. However, the city also has a dark side when it comes to things to do – visiting haunted places.

You can explore some of the oldest parts of the city while learning about its old secrets, haunted houses, and famous characters. A local guide will show you around, pointing out historical points of interest as well as places with hidden (or not-so-hidden) paranormal activity.

From the LaLaurie Mansion to St. Louis Cemetery #1, many of the sites are full of eerie stories and urban legends told within the city. It’s believed that these locations are full of spiritual activity from the deceased, who once called the Big Easy home. While those looking for things to do in New Orleans might want to take note: things can get pretty spooky when exploring some of New Orleans’ best-haunted locations!

Ride A New Orleans Streetcar

new orleans street car
Photo Credit: 24 Hours Layover

Recommended by Catrina of 24 Hours Layover

When you are in New Orleans, you need to experience the streetcars – they are a fun, unique, and convenient way to see the city and its neighborhoods. Five streetcar lines (Saint Charles, Canal Street, Rampart/Saint Claude, Loyola/UPT, and Riverfront Lines) terminate in Downtown New Orleans. The streetcars are so charming, romantic, and vintage and are a symbol of New Orleans! 

If you are only in New Orleans for 24 hours or a weekend and can go on one streetcar – make it the St Charles Streetcar! The St Charles Streetcar is the longest continually running streetcar in the world – it has been rattling down St Charles Avenue for over 150 years! With its impressive exposed light bulbs and brass fittings, a ride on this streetcar will take you back in time. It also has the most scenic views out of all the streetcars – taking you from the Garden District to the French Quarter via stunning mansions, Universities, parks, and the majestic part of Uptown New Orleans.

Another favorite streetcar line is Canal Street, which takes you through the Central Business District to the Mid-City area and terminates at the historic cemeteries (known as ‘Cities of the Dead’).

The streetcar fare is $1.25, or $3 for a Jazzy pass unlimited one day pass. You need exact change to pay onboard, although if you download the RTA Le Pass app, you can pay your fare from your phone. 

Take A New Orleans Cooking Class

nola cooking class
Photo Credit: Chef Denise

Recommended by Denise Macuk of Chef Denise 

One of the great things about visiting New Orleans is exploring its unique cuisine. NOLA is one of the best foodie cities in the US, and so much deliciousness awaits your taste buds. Your New Orleans food bucket list should include eating authentic gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines. Kick the experience up a notch by learning how to make these dishes yourself at the New Orleans School of Cooking. 

Located in the French Quarter in a historic building that dates back to the 1800s, at the New Orleans School of Cooking, you’ll learn a lot more than just how to cook a few recipes. The instructors are pretty entertaining, knowledgeable, and even humorous. So, the lunch class is more of a fun-filled demonstration than a pressured lesson. 

Learn about the differences between Creole and Cajun cuisines. In New Orleans, many famous dishes like gumbo and jambalaya can be found in both Creole and Cajun versions. To tell at a glance—the Creole will be redder from the use of tomatoes, and the Cajun will appear browner. But there’s much more history and culture to the differences between these cuisines than just red vs. brown food; food is a great way to learn about it.

In addition to the entertainment, the history lesson, and learning traditional recipes, you’ll enjoy a delectable lunch. Not just a little sample, a meal—enough to fill you up. Lunch, laughter, and knowledge. This is one of the best deals in the Big Easy.

Take a Mississippi Riverboat Cruise

New Orleans Riverboat Cruise
Photo Credit: [@vschlichting/DepositPhotos]

One of the most exciting things to do in New Orleans is to take a riverboat cruise along the Mississippi River. Not only can you enjoy a leisurely boat ride, but these cruises will also provide an opportunity to explore some of the unique history and culture of the area. A typical riverboat cruise may include stops at Points of Interest such as lush wetlands and bustling harbor towns.

Many of these cruises offer an evening of entertainment, good food and drinks, and a chance to take in the local beauty of the city’s skyline. You can choose to enjoy a romantic dinner cruise or be taken on a guided tour along the many waterways that make New Orleans so unique.

The gliding tour boats offer everything from evening, narrated excursions with jazz music, to brunch and lunch tours that give a different perspective of the city. No matter which option you choose, taking a riverboat cruise through New Orleans is sure to be a great experience full of fun and adventure!

Take A Louisiana Swamp Tour

swamp tours in New Orleans, Louisiana
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Recommended by Nicholas Rosen of The World Overload

When you think of New Orleans, you think of vibrant music, exquisite art, and delicious food. But there is so much more that makes it attractive once you expand outside New Orleans. If you want to take a break from enjoying the city life of New Orleans, take a drive out to the sweet, sweet Louisiana bayou for a classic swamp tour. It’s a must for any first-timer visiting here as it’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors but what you are coming for is to view the wildlife.

Most will have you take a large swamp boat, but other touring companies will give you the option to take an airboat or even pick a kayak. Here in the bayous, snakes, owls, raccoons, egrets, boar, turtles, and of course, the crème de le crème, alligators. Your guide will provide detailed knowledge of the animal’s habits and how it goes hand in hand with the swamplands.

These tours are suitable for a nice day trip and only take about 2 hours for a full circle of the bayou area. But you can also select night tours on some weekends, which gives it an almost spooky Cajun voodoo vibe (think The Princess and the Frog) with all the wildlife sounds.

The one drawback must be the humidity and heat during the summer. Enjoying your time here makes it very uncomfortable, especially while being pestered with mosquitos. Best case if you decide to come here is to do a swamp tour during the fall or spring. More animals, cooler weather, it’s a win-win for you.

When you visit Crescent City, it’s worth adding this to your list of things to do. Coming back from a day in the bayou will make you appreciate and enjoy Bourbon Street even more.

Catch A Collegiate or Professional Sports Game

New Orleans Saints Football
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Recommended by Jason Butler of My Money Chronicles

If you are a sports fan, New Orleans is a city that you should check out. The city has several major and collegiate sports teams and events to cheer for and attend.

Professional Sports

The New Orleans Saints play in the National Football league. They were founded in 1967. The Saints play their home games in the Caesars Superdome.

The New Orleans Pelicans play in the National Basketball Association. The team relocated from Charlotte in 2002. They were initially called the New Orleans Hornets. They rebranded and became the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013. They currently play their home games in Smoothie King Center.

Collegiate Sports

Many colleges and universities in the area have sporting events throughout the year. Tulane, Dillard, Xavier, and SUNO are a few of them.

The Sugar Bowl is an annual college football bowl game played in New Orleans every year in late December or early January. The bowl game is played at the Caesars Superdome.

The Bayou Classic is an annual football game between Grambling State and Southern University. They are the state’s largest historically black universities. This game typically happens in November.

Major Sporting Events Held in NOLA

New Orleans has also hosted several other sporting events. The Super Bowl has been in New Orleans ten times. They are slated to host the big game again in 2025.

New Orleans previously hosted the CFP National Championship game in 2020. They previously hosted the BCS National Championship game in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.

The NBA All-Star game has been held in New Orleans three times. The most recent time was in 2017.

As you can see, New Orleans is a sports city. When planning your trip, schedule some time to attend a game.

Find A Speakeasy-Style Bar

cocktail
Photo Credit: [@Fesenko/DepositPhotos]

Recommended by Margarita Ibbott from Down Shifting PRO

The allure of Speakeasy bars became prominent during the Prohibition era (1920–1933). At that time, distilling, sales, and transportation of alcoholic beverages were illegal throughout the United States. This led to an increase in bootlegging and drinking establishments hidden away from the authorities.

Therein lies the history of these secretive drinking lounges and hidden bars. This unique experience in New Orleans can be found at one of the coolest speakeasies and lounges, Bar MariLou, on Carondelet St. in the Warehouse District of New Orleans.

The main bar has dimmed moody lighting, extraordinary signature cocktails, and a speakeasy! Carefully hidden behind a bookcase, you can access this private lounge from Bar MariLou. Drinks are passed through a secret window connected directly to the main bar. Sip a spell in this cozy room and have a look at the décor, it is pretty extraordinary.

Located in what used to be the library of the City Hall annex, it is adjacent to the very, very exclusive Maison de la Luz hotel. Step into the hotel lobby, but be quick, as the concierge will be asking what you are doing there!

Other speakeasies and lounges worth finding include Potions Lounge, Double Dealer, Good Trouble Lounge, and The 21st Amendment.

Visit The National WWII Museum

WWII Museum New Orleans, LA
Photo Credit: My Flying Leap

Recommended by Sam of My Flying Leap

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is a historical museum dedicated to honoring the legacy of the “Greatest Generation.” Visiting this treasure is one of the most popular things to do in New Orleans. Whether you’re a war and history buff, you’ll learn a lot at this special place.

The WWII Museum presents an intensely immersive experience of the war that changed the world. Through walking this path in history, people can understand why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means to us today.

Through this understanding, people can embrace the lessons learned during the conflict to better understand its relevance for today and future generations.

This museum shares the stories of the American experience during the war on many levels. If you want to learn more about the war, you can learn about each strategic battle and its impacts.

You can also learn the very personal stories of the war, told through video clips, interviews, and written statements. Dig in to discover the brave people who fought for our country.

See the faces of the people who lived through and died in the war fighting for our country. Through their story, people of all ages can understand what freedom means. And this message is more poignant to our lives today than ever before.

Visit the Louisiana Children’s Museum

kids museum
Photo Credit: [@monkeybusiness/DepositPhotos]

Recommended by Krystal DeVille of STEM Education Guide

A family trip to New Orleans is only complete with a trip to the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Located in Uptown, this educational and interactive museum offers a unique and exciting experience for children of all ages. With over 20 interactive exhibits focusing on science, math, music, art, and culture, the Children’s Museum provides an engaging opportunity for families to learn about the city’s heritage together. 

From hands-on experiments in the Science Zone to creating art in the Art Studio or exploring Louisiana’s ecosystems with live animals in ZooLab – there is something for everyone at this fun-filled museum! Kids can explore a replica of a French colonial home from the 1700s, build their robots, climb into an actual pirate ship, and much more. The Children’s Museum also features traveling exhibitions annually that offer visitors even more variety. 

While the museum has something for everyone, they have a few exhibits dedicated to kids four and younger, including the Sensory Lagoon, where your little ones will roll on lily pads and hear the sound of flowing water and feel the movement of it near their body. They will climb inside an egg, gaze at raindrops, or watch the beautiful colors change.

For kids of all ages, you’ll enjoy The River Exhibit. You’ll learn about The Mighty Mississippi, play on the water wall, and learn about the rocks and springs. 

Prepare to get wet on the 100-foot-long water table, with locks, dams, drainage systems, ports, tributaries, and all. Waterproof coats will be provided. 

No matter your kids’ ages or interests, you’ll find something interesting for the whole family at the Louisiana Children’s Museum!

Take A Day Trip To The Northshore

st tammany parish, northshore, louisiana
Photo Credit: Sky vs World

Recommended by Sky Fisher of Sky vs World

One of the best things to do in New Orleans is to take a day trip across Lake Ponchartrain to the Louisiana Northshore. The Northshore, also known as St. Tammany’s Parish, comprises several towns, including Mandeville, Madisonville, Slidell, and Covington. It takes just an hour from the French Quarter to drive across the Causeway to the Northshore, making it an easy day trip.

Within the towns of the Northshore, there are so many things worth doing. You can visit the historic Olde Towne Slidell Main Street in Slidell, go fishing on the Biloxi Marsh, or visit the public Northshore beach along Lake Ponchartrain.

In Covington, you can find the start of the Tammany Trace, a walking and biking path that stretches from Covington to Slidell, the Covington Trailhead Museum, the historic HJ Smith & Sons General Store, and other historical stores. Madisonville is also worth a visit, home to the Lake Ponchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, the Fairview Riverside State Park, and some excellent bayou kayaking.

Perhaps the best thing to do in St. Tammany Parish is to take a boat tour down the Tchefuncte River. Several tour operators offer private tours, such as Louisiana Tours and Adventures. You can customize the trip however you want, whether checking out some of the filming locations of Where the Crawdad Sings, jumping from rope swings, or searching for wildlife.

Boat tours on the Tchefuncte River are also one of the most ethical ways to see gators, as they do not bait them as many “swamp tours” do. Nevertheless, you’ll often be able to spot them in the natural habitat – sometimes even baby gators, depending on the season!

Attend Mardi Gras Festival

mardi gras new orleans
Photo Credit: The Van Escape

Recommended by Agnes of The Van Escape

One of the most iconic annual carnivals in the world is the Mardi Gras Festival in New Orleans. It’s worth going to NOLA around January/February when Mardi Gras takes place.

The dates of this festival are movable. Mardi Gras begins on January 6 and continues through Fat Tuesday. It’s the last day of the carnival season and is always the day before Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent. The Mardi Gras tradition is French for “Fat Tuesday” It reflects the custom of eating rich, fatty foods on the last night before the ritual Lenten sacrifices and fasting of Lent. 

In 1699, Mardi Gras found its way to New Orleans, thanks to French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. He settled near present-day New Orleans and brought the tradition with him.

In 2023, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 21. So plan your trip to New Orleans between January 6 and February 21. However, the biggest and most elaborate parades occur during the last five days of the Mardi Gras season.

Mardi Gras is all about music, parades, and excitement. The parades are organized by social clubs called krewes. The primary colors of the costumes are purple, green, and gold. The most popular krewes and parades are the Ancient Druids and the Krewe of Nyx, the Zulu and Rex parade, and the Endymion parade.

The best way to watch the parades is from the balcony of your hotel or one of the specially arranged platforms in front of the hotels. Reservations are required. However, the most exciting place to experience the parades is on the streets of New Orleans. You can feel the rhythm, the magic of the spirit, and the energy of Mardi Gras all around you.

Popular Attractions in New Orleans

things to do in New Orleans
Photo Credit: [@fotoluminate/DepositPhotos]

Visiting New Orleans is an experience, from the bright and vibrant music echoing through the cobblestone streets to the fragrant smell of beignets freshly baked at any local café. Perhaps take a stroll in City Park and visit one of the many chic boutiques or take some time to people-watch from a café in French Quarter.

There’s so much to explore and see, from cultural cuisine that infuses Creole flavors into kitchen masterpieces to exploring historical monuments embedded with stories of days gone by. Visiting New Orleans offers unique experiences for everyone.

This article The Big Easy: 16 Popular Things To Do in New Orleans, LA on Vacation originally appeared on Wander With Alex.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog, where she provides vacationers with trip ideas, travel guides, and news. She travels to experience, eat, explore, and escape! Alex’s mission is to help you find the perfect vacation destination.