Planning a trip to New Orleans? Even seasoned travelers are spoiled for choice when sorting through all the best things to do in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Also known as Crescent City and the Big Easy, New Orleans is the biggest city in the US state of Louisiana. For travelers, the top tourist attractions in New Orleans are as eclectic as the city itself. By day, you’ll explore old-world architecture in the French Quarter and Garden District. By night, you’ll enjoy smooth jazz on Frenchmen Street or wild parties on Bourbon Street. Between it all, you can relax in beautiful City Park or soak in river views at Crescent Park.
Unsure about what to do in New Orleans? Plan the perfect getaway with this guide to the best places to visit in New Orleans, LA.
Best places to visit in New Orleans, LA
If you’re visiting New Orleans in one day, start with exploring the French Quarter. The famous district is the city’s highlight and the most exciting things to see in New Orleans.
Also known as Vieux Carré (Old Square in French), the French Quarter is the city’s oldest neighborhood. The district is built on the site where the French established the city in the 18th century.
You’ll delight in the rich history and charming architecture of the French Quarter. As you roam, you’ll dazzle at the colorful historic buildings sporting their iconic cast-iron balconies.
Aside from its culture & history, the district teems with boutique shops and restaurants serving a variety of cuisines. You’ll also stumble upon a profusion of pulsing clubs centered around Bourbon Street. (More on that in sec!)
As you stroll around the French Quarter you’re bound to encounter a street performer or two. Hop onto a horse-drawn carriage and tour the neighborhood in style. End your day in the area with dinner at one of its grand old-line restaurants.
For a high-energy evening filled with excitement, Bourbon Street is just the ticket. For party lovers, buzzin’ Bourbon Street is among the best places to go in New Orleans.
Bourbon Street is one of America’s most famous entertainment districts. The infamous stretch is lined with restaurants, lounges, and bars, doling out drinks & cocktails of all ilks. Drinking is even permitted along the street. At night, the scene is buzzing and raucous.
Of course, Bourbon Street not the ideal spot if you’re traveling as a family or prefer quieter quarters. If you’re not into wild nighttime hijinks, a quick stroll from one end to the other goes a long way.
Need an antidote to Bourbon Street’s craziness? Escape to Royal Street for a breather. Unlike its boisterous neighbor, Royal Street is great for browsing family-owned antique stores.
Royal Street also teems with galleries and pretty Creole townhouses. You’ll also spot boutiques selling antique furniture, chandeliers, and sculptures.
For a perfect end to an eventful day, dine at one of Royal Street’s top-notch restaurants. Many are tucked away in historic hidden courtyards. They’re a fantastic option for a quiet romantic dinner in the heart of the city.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz music. And if you want to experience the city’s jazz scene, set your compass for Frenchmen Street. Located within a 10- to 20-minute walk from the French Quarter, this iconic street is one of the best places to see in New Orleans, Louisiana.
On Frenchmen Street, music plays all night long. You can even enjoy live music right on the street. Frenchmen Street is home to a cluster of poppin’ jazz clubs and music venues. In its music clubs, you’ll hear everything from jazz and blues to reggae and rock.
When hunger pangs strike, pay a visit to one of the late-night eateries along Frenchmen Street. You can imbibe in everything from local Creole and Cajun to Southern-inspired pub food.
After checking out the music clubs of Frenchmen Street, roam around the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. It’s one of the safer areas of New Orleans. The district features an eclectic variety of restaurants, bars, and shops. (It’s a good area to stay, too, if you’re looking for quieter quarters.)
Want to immerse yourself in history? Jackson Square is one of the best places to go in New Orleans. This vibrant square in the heart of the French Quarter is a popular venue for public events.
You’ll enjoy soaking in its stunning 19th-century architecture and wide-open spaces. Browse its outdoor art gallery, featuring artwork displayed on fences.
St. Louis Cathedral
History buffs will be enthralled by a visit to St. Louis Cathedral. The centerpiece of Jackson Square, the famed church is the oldest active cathedral in North America.
St. Louis Cathedral dates back to 1850. Its distinctive triple steeples are among the most renowned symbols of New Orleans. Peek inside to dazzle at its gilded Rococo-style altar, stained glass windows, and stunning religious artwork.
Café du Monde
After a stroll around Jackson Square, rest your tired feet at Café du Monde. The historic coffee shop has been at the same location since 1862.
Café du Monde is famed for its chicory coffee. The drink dates back to the Civil War when coffee supplies in America were limited.
The café also gets accolades for its beignets. For sweet-tooths, the doughy treats, smattered with powdered sugar, are a local favorite.
For a peaceful interlude, City Park is a refreshing oasis away from NOLA’s bustle. The 1,300-acre park is one of the most-visited urban parks in the United States. For a green city escape, it tops the list of what to see in New Orleans.
City Park opened in 1854 between Bayou St. John and Orleans Canal, just south of Lake Pontchartrain. The massive park offers visitors a wide range of facilities and attractions.
If you want to get in some exercise, City Park is crisscrossed by several walking paths and bike trails. There’s also a disc golf course, golf club, and a sculpture park.
Throughout City Park, there’s a myriad of photo opportunities, too. Snap a picture of the charming Langles Bridge or swans floating on Big Lake.
New Orleans Museum of Art
Art fans will find plenty to do around City Park. The city’s main art museum, New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), calls the park home. The art museum carries a collection of over 40,000 works from international artists.
Next to NOMA, you can also roam around the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Set on 11 acres of land, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features over 90 quirky modern sculptures.
Also worth a quick visit for art lovers is the Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden. Located in the New Orleans Botanical Garden, it features a handful of sculptures from the Mexican-American artist. Visit in spring to see the garden at its most vivid.
Bayou St. John
When you’ve finished your City Park visit, rent a kayak or a paddleboard for a relaxing float down Bayou St. John. The neighborhood of the same name, located southeast of the park, is worth a gander, too.
Walk down leafy Esplanade Avenue to gawk at its graceful 19th-century townhouses and homes.
Lousiana Children’s Museum
For a more “organized” kid-friendly adventure in City Park, pop into the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Sitting on over 8.5 acres of land, the museum offers a multitude of indoor & outdoor family-friendly attractions.
The activities at the Louisiana Children’s Museum are suitable for children of all ages. Learning experiences include heritage, food, and nature theme.
Children will love the nearby Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. Operating for over a century, the historic park offers several exciting rides. Kids will also delight in a walk through a storybook-themed playground.
While it may seem weird to it into a New Orleans travel plan, Metairie Cemetery is worth the detour. The cemetery was originally built as a racecourse in 1838. After a few decades of horse racing, Metairie Cemetery laid down its first stones in 1872.
The above-ground cemetery is famed for its impressive monuments and tombs. Metairie Cemetery is the final resting place of many of New Orleans’ most prominent historical figures.
Keep on the lookout for the pseudo-Egyptian pyramid and Moorish-style tomb of Laure Beauregard Larendon.
Opening its doors in 1914, Audubon Zoo houses two thousand animals. One of the best activities in New Orleans for kids, the zoo is located within Audubon Park in the uptown part of Crescent City.
Audubon Zoo is home to some of the rarest exotic animals in the world. Kids will be thrilled to see elephants, bears, orangutans, and elks in their natural habitats.
Children will also love taking a spin on the Gottesman Family Endangered Species Carousel. Featuring carousel rides on rhinos, giraffes, rather than just traditional horses, it’s not to be missed.
After visiting Audubon Zoo, save time for Audubon Park. The beautiful green space teems with lovely oak trees and lagoons. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise.
At Audubon Park, you’ll be able to spot several native bird species. There are also twin playgrounds for the kids and an 18-hole golf course for those who want to practice their game.
One of the city’s most popular green spaces, Crescent Park started as an interesting urban redevelopment project. For relaxing in the city center, it’s one of the top New Orleans attractions.
Opened in 2016, the 20-acre outdoor space stretches 1.4 miles along the shoreline of the Mississippi River in Bywater. It’s a great place to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy NOLA skyline views. You may even spot a barge or two sliding by. Alternatively, go for a stroll or a run along the river.
If you’re approaching the park from the French Quarter, you can use the pedestrian bridge to access it. From the bridge, you’ll enjoy excellent views of the surrounding area.
Linger around Crescent Park in the evening to take in a colorful sunset. Take note though that the park closes at 7pm.
National WWII Museum
The National WWII Museum is high on the list of things to see & do in New Orleans. Located in downtown New Orleans, this military museum was previously known as the National D-Day Museum. It’s America’s official national WWII museum, housing exhibits in 5 pavilions. On a visit, you’ll absorb the entire American war experience through multimedia exhibits.
As you tour National WWII Museum, you’ll learn about why WWII was fought and how it was won. As many of the D-Day landing crafts were manufactured in New Orleans, it’s a fitting tribute.
Visit the “D-Day Invasion of Normandy” exhibit at the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. See, hear, and feel the World War II story at the Solomon Victory Theater. Here, the epic tale is told in 4D, narrated by Tom Hanks. A gentle reminder: Flash photography and videos are not allowed at the museum.
While in the area, art lovers should also check out the Ogden Museum of Southern Art next door. The museum hosts the largest collection of Southern art in the Southeast USA. It spans several mediums, including 3D art.
Sports fans visiting New Orleans can’t miss spending an evening at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Located in the Central Business District, the stadium is the home of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Can’t fit in a football game? Pick up authentic souvenirs at the official Saint Team Shop for the die-hard NFL fans in your life.
A visit to New Orleans is incomplete without a stroll down Magazine Street. Reminiscent of an old-time American Main Street, this street is one of the top points of interest in New Orleans.
You’ll thrill at the laid-back atmosphere and a chance to rub shoulders with the locals. Magazine Street buzzes, but it’s not as crowded as streets in the French Quarter. It’s ideal for families looking to escape the chaos.
Magazine Street follows the curve of the Mississippi River about seven blocks from the waterfront. It’s a 5-mile-long shopping paradise. You’ll browse through antique shops, clothing stores, and home décor stores. Local art is also in abundance along the drag.
Got an appetite? There are also plenty of Cajun and Creole eateries to sample along the stretch. Magazine Street is also a favorite with coffee buffs and craft beer connoisseurs. Take time to relax and have a drink in one of the neighborhood’s trendy bars.
Drawing the southern boundary of the French Quarter, Canal Street is one of NOLA’s must-sees. The grand avenue reminds of Paris’s Champs d’Elysee. It’s lined with upscale boutiques, department stores, malls, and some of the best luxury hotels in New Orleans.
Canal Street is wonderful to explore on foot, but don’t miss the chance to ride its famous streetcar. The streetcar plies the entire 5.5-mile route between Greenwood Cemetery and the Mississippi.
From Canal Street, you can also switch over to the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line to explore the Garden District. The distinctive dark green St. Charles Avenue streetcar is the longest operating line in the world.
Mardi Gras World
Missed out on New Orleans’ world-famous Mardi Gras festival? Get in the spirit anyway with a visit to Mardi Gras World. Located in the Warehouse District, Mardi Gras World is the world’s largest parade float designer. Over 80% of the festival’s vibrant floats are designed at the 300,000-sq-foot facility.
On your visit, you can don costumes and beads as you walk between the elaborate parade floats. The tour also runs through the history & customs of Mardi Gras. As you stroll through the warehouse, you’ll even get to enjoy a bite of king cake and a hot local coffee!
Located in uptown New Orleans, the Garden District is one of the city’s richest neighborhoods. In the area, you’ll find distinguished plantation-style mansions the South is renowned for. The Garden District is a vision of gleaming white stately homes set in beautiful gardens. You’ll feel a colonial vibe in the air and delight in its variety of architectural styles.
The Garden District was once home to several plantations before plots of land were sold off to wealthy Americans. The area soon became a part of the former suburb of Lafayette.
A stroll down the magnolia-shaded streets will take you to Toby’s Corner, a Greek Revival house. You’ll also see Manning House, where the NFL football stars Eli and Peyton Manning grew up.
The Garden District boasts quality places to eat and great shopping, too. Most of the cafes, restaurants, and boutiques dwell around Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue.
Beer lovers will also find a couple cool local craft breweries on nearby Tchoupitoulas Street. The riverside avenue runs along the banks of the Mississippi River.
While walking around the Garden District be sure to wear flat shoes as the pavement tends to be uneven.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Located in the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery No.1 is one of the top New Orleans points of interest. It was the first planned cemetery in the city. Over 7,000 people buried in the historic Lafayette Cemetery No.1.
Lafayette Cemetery No.1 occupies an area of about one city block. The cemetery is built in Neoclassical architectural style. As gloomy as it can seem to tour a cemetery, its architecture is quite striking. The cemetery has also sprouted magnolia trees for shade and an abundance of sweet-smelling flowers.
Like other above-ground cemeteries in NOLA, Lafayette Cemetery No.1 features tombs rather than graves. The tombs were built above ground to save on space and to prevent damage from floodwaters. The tombs and mausoleums often contain several family members.
With its aging beauty, Lafayette Cemetery No.1 is popular with filmmakers. See if you can spot the distinctive tombs in shows like NCIS: New Orleans or movies like Double Jeopardy and Interview with the Vampire.
Want to take a journey back in time? Hop aboard the Steamboat Natchez. Sailing along the Mississippi, the S.S. Natchez is a great way to enjoy the charms of New Orleans minus the crowds. With its old-time music and captain speaking through a hand-held megaphone, you’ll be transported back to another era.
The Natchez Steamboat Cruise lasts a couple of hours and includes a live concert. And, if you wish, you can also tour the S.S. Natchez’s engine and learn about its inner workings.
You may opt for a lunch cruise to enjoy sightseeing with an afternoon meal. Onboard the S.S. Natchez, there’s also a bar where you can have a drink.
History buffs will find the Natchez Steamboat Cruise informative. Alternatively, arrange for a night out and opt for a jazz cruise featuring live jazz music and a Creole dinner. On a Natchez Steamboat Cruise, you’ll undoubtedly have a night to remember.
For a historical crawl along the Mississippi, hop onto the Creole Queen. The historic paddle wheeler putts alongside the S.S. Natchez on the Mississippi riverfront. Like on the other steamboat, a ride on Creole Queen lets you admire the city from a different perspective.
The Creole Queen History Cruise drifts south of the city to Chalmette Battlefield at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. On the ride, you’ll enjoy superb riverside skyline views while learning about the city’s rich history.
Oak Alley Plantation
With its beauty and rich history, Oak Alley Plantation is not to be missed. Oak Alley Plantation is one of the top New Orleans sightseeing opportunities. The historic plantation is located by the banks of the Mississippi River west of the city. It got its name from the double row of oak trees that form a canopy leading up to the house.
The plantation house was built between 1837 and 1839. Showing off its Greek Revival style, 28 Doric columns surround the house. Elegant porches adorn the first and second floors. The former kitchen garden is now a formal boxwood & lawn garden.
On an Oak Alley Plantation Tour, you’ll explore its gardens, mansion, and slave quarters. The tour gives a good sense of 19th-century life in the Deep South.
Located a few plots over from Oak Alley, Laura Plantation is another one of the top New Orleans day trips. For its history, the plantation is one of the most important in the area. It’s among Louisiana’s only Creole plantations, giving it a different look than others nearby.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, Laura Plantation centers around its Creole mansion. Besides the Big House, you’ll also spot several outbuildings, including two 1840s slave cabins.
On a Laura Plantation tour, you’ll explore the cane plantation’s entire turbulent history. The tours and permanent exhibits weave in stories from its founding in 1803 to its 20th-century closing.
Laura Plantation is located about 55 minutes from central New Orleans by car.
There’s no place around New Orleans quite like Whitney Plantation. Unlike at other nearby plantations, the focus here isn’t on its historical buildings and landscapes. Instead, Whitney Plantation tours dive into the lives of Lousiana’s enslaved people.
Established in 1752, Whitney Plantation is a memorial to the over 100,000 people who were enslaved in Louisiana. On a plantation tour, you’ll explore its former slave cabins and owner’s house. At the visitor center, you’ll learn about Louisiana’s dark past with “The History of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade” and “Slavery in Louisiana” exhibits.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve
No trip to New Orleans is complete without roaming through the bayous. And there’s hardly a better place to do it than Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve. Located 30 minutes southwest of downtown, the nature preserve encompasses over 25,000 acres of forests, swamps, and marches.
Start your visit at the park’s Barataria Preserve. Walk through bayous via boardwalks and trails to experience Lousiana’s distinctive natural beauty. End with a stop at the interpretive visitor center to learn about Louisianan Cajun culture.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is also home to Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Be sure to squeeze in a visit to learn more about the battle and its importance to U.S. history.
One of the city’s most ambitious redevelopments, Woldenberg Park sprawls across 16 acres of shoreline. Located on the eastern edge of the French Quarter, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing in New Orleans.
Woldenberg Park is a favorite spot for locals to grab a moment of peace along the riverfront. With its walking paths, the riverside park also frequented by joggers squeezing in a morning run. Stroll along the paths, watching barges float by, as you admire the park’s outdoor sculptures.
If you’re visiting in April, Woldenberg Park hosts the French Quarter Festival. Featuring talented local musicians, the lively festival is one of the year’s best. Its amphitheater also holds regular concerts throughout the year.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
While roaming around Woldenberg Park, don’t miss the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Located on the park’s southern edge, the aquarium is one of New Orleans’s favorite family-friendly activities.
As you’d imagine from its name, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas focuses on marine life in North America and South America. Most impressive is its 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit. The 17-foot-high tank teems with sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles.
Kids will love the 30-foot Caribbean reef tunnel, featuring colorful marine life like angelfish. The African penguin exhibit is also a hit with the young ones.
Best places in New Orleans for sightseeing
For most travelers, the best places to stay in New Orleans fall within the French Quarter and Central Business District. Staying in these city center neighborhoods puts all the top points of interest in New Orleans at your fingertips. Start your search with these top-notch hotels.
Watch the city’s French colonial charm come to life at this lovely boutique hotel. Relax with an evening in the hotel’s private courtyard or two on-site wine bars.
Located a block from Bourbon Street, Grenoble House is both well-positioned and elegant. The fully-equipped suites offer a douse of old-world sophistication and comfort.
Sitting a block from historic Decatur Street, this modern hotel is one of NOLA’s top luxury hotels. Cool down in the hot Louisiana summer sun in the chic outdoor pool for the full W experience.