Welcome to a tour of the colorful and lively city of New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s a multicultural hub that boasts a unique mix of history, charm, and energy. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or planning your first visit to New Orleans, this guide is tailored to suit you and your companions, regardless of your age or interests.
From the heart of Jackson Square, nestled in the iconic French Quarter, we’ll embark on an adventure that caters to diverse generations and small social groups. Through our journey, we’ll pass by resounding landmarks and uncover hidden gems that make this city a treasure trove of culture and entertainment.
So, grab your maps, and let’s begin this unforgettable exploration of the Big Easy!
Where is New Orleans?
New Orleans, affectionately known as the Big Easy, is located in the southeastern region of the U.S. state of Louisiana. It’s nestled along the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico, making it prone to hurricanes. First-time visitors should note that the city is divided into various districts with unique vibes and attractions.
New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) has an international airport for arriving visitors. Public transportation is accessible, but navigating the city on foot or by bike is common too.
History and Culture of New Orleans
The French founded the city in 1718 and it became part of the United States in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans is full of buildings with different styles. Some homes are Spanish, some are Caribbean, and some are French. They all share the same thing – they’re interesting to explore and easily visible whether you are walking, driving, or touring on the city trolley system.
The Garden District neighborhood has beautiful older homes and spacious mansions. It’s an enjoyable walk, with many opportunities for taking pictures. The Garden District began as a residential area for former plantation owners and others who wanted to reside in a different district than the Creoles. The area has mansions surrounded by Victorian-era homes. Today, it’s a beautiful place for a vacation trip to New Orleans with less of the chaos of the famous French Quarter.
However, if your group seeks a vibrant party atmosphere, the French Quarter is the place to be. In this section of the city, there is constant movement. Many of the city festivals have parades, and a hotel in the French Quarter is likely to have a balcony view of the festivities.
The culture of New Orleans is rich and varied, with world influences that range from Native American to French to Spanish to African. This blend of cultures is reflected in the city’s architecture, music, cuisine, festivals, traditions, and ghost stories!
New Orleans has a long history as an important port city serving merchants coming into town via riverboat or passing by train on their way to the West. As a result, the city hosted many different cultures and worldviews over time, making for an eclectic mix of people and ideas you’ll encounter even during a short stay.
Exciting Places to Tour in New Orleans
- If you want to have fun in New Orleans, go to the French Quarter, where people from all walks of life and all ages converge to enjoy the city. On Sunday, many restaurants offer brunch at a very reasonable price. Some locations may require reservations.
- A plantation tour is a unique way to spend a day learning about how America’s past still influences the social fabric today. Two educational plantation tours are Oak Alley and Laura Plantation. Both have a lot of history and interactive activities for visitors of all ages.
- An educational museum to explore is the World War 2 Museum. It’s interesting to tour the museum and hear the recorded stories (audio and visual) of how the war impacted individual lives and New Orleans’ roles in the war effort. There are interactive displays, and for a history buff, this museum can fill a full day of activity. Advance reservations are available on the website. When it’s time for a break from the tour, be sure to try the gumbo at the museum cafe.
- New Orleans has two fabulous animal attractions: The Audubon Zoo and The Aquarium of the Americas. Both offer many things to do while you learn about animals from all over the world.
- Mardi Gras World is a fun way to connect with New Orleans culture. You can know more about one of America’s most famous holidays and have hours of entertainment.
- If you explore New Orleans on a walking tour or ghost tour, one of the most unusual places to visit is an above-ground graveyard. There are inexpensive and free walking tours for several cemeteries in the city. We also recommend this private tour for those who want a more profound experience learning about voodoo’s history in New Orleans. Marie Laveau was a prominent figure in New Orleans’ history, known as the Voodoo Queen of the city. Born in the early 19th century, she became renowned for her spiritual practices, which combined elements of African, Catholic, and Creole traditions. Laveau’s influence extended beyond her religious and mystical practices, as she was also involved in community work and assisting those in need, earning her a place in New Orleans’ folklore and cultural heritage.
How Much Does it Cost to Have Fun When You Tour New Orleans?
There are plenty of free activities in New Orleans, including walking tours and city parks. If you plan on eating out, the French Quarter and Garden District are full of restaurants with a wide range of prices.
Many museums offer discounts for seniors or students and no admission fees for children under certain ages.
Take the streetcars or walk around town when you can. The streetcars have multi-day tickets available with unlimited rides per day. Children love watching the draping Spanish Moss hanging from the large oak trees while the city blocks roll by. Some say the ride on the streetcar is one of the best ways to tour New Orleans.
Check websites for free nights at the museum or free outdoor events during your stay.
Things to Do in New Orleans
Explore the French Quarter
Take a stroll through the vibrant streets of the French Quarter, admiring the historic architecture, lively music, and eclectic shops. Enjoy the festive atmosphere and visit the Frenchmen’s Market to view street performers and local artists. Visit local landmarks as a walking tour and use a camera to capture great photos for your souvenir albums.
Tour New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
Immerse yourself in the rich musical heritage of New Orleans with a visit to the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Attend free concerts, educational programs, and interactive exhibits celebrating the city’s jazz traditions. Start at the National Park Service Visitor’s Center on Decatur Street for maps and more information about the walking tours.
The Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art
Spend a day at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park. Wander through the outdoor gallery, marvel at the captivating sculptures, and enjoy the serene surroundings of lush greenery and lagoons. There is no charge for admission, but donations are welcome.
Experience the St. Louis Cathedral
Visit the iconic St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, one of the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic cathedrals in the United States. Marvel at the stunning architecture, attend a free musical performance, or enjoy the peaceful ambiance. There is no entry fee, and this is a serene place to take a break from the heat on hot summer days.
Explore the Garden District
Take a self-guided or local-guided walking tour of the picturesque Garden District, known for its stunning mansions and oak-lined streets. Admire the grandeur of the historic homes, soak in the neighborhood’s charm, and stop by Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, a hauntingly beautiful burial ground.
Discover the Mississippi Riverfront
Take a leisurely walk along the Mississippi Riverfront, enjoying the scenic views and river breezes. Visit Woldenberg Park and Crescent Park, which offer green spaces, picnic spots, and panoramic river vistas.
Take a ride on the Steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River for a different vantage point. The dock is along the riverfront, and you’ll hear the calliope sounds throughout the French Quarter, guiding you to the tour departure location.
From immersing yourself in the city’s vibrant music and cultural scene to exploring its historic neighborhoods and green spaces, there’s no shortage of experiences to enjoy without breaking the bank. New Orleans is full of history, culture, and fun activities that will be memorable for the entire family or your traveling group.
Tips for Your First Time in New Orleans
If you’re planning your first trip to New Orleans, here are five valuable tips to enhance your experience:
Explore Beyond the French Quarter
While the French Quarter is undoubtedly a popular destination, expand beyond just that area. Venture into other neighborhoods like the Garden District, Marigny, and Bywater. Each community offers its unique charm, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine.
Embrace the Local Food Scene
New Orleans is famous for its delectable cuisine, so indulge in local specialties. Try classic dishes like gumbo (guhm·bow), jambalaya (juhm·buh·lai·uh), po’boys, and beignets (ben·yays). Don’t forget to sample the incredible seafood options too. Explore local eateries, food stalls, and iconic restaurants like Commander’s Palace or Café du Monde for an authentic culinary experience.
Immerse Yourself in Live Music
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and a city renowned for its live music scene. Enjoy the city’s vibrant music culture by visiting famous jazz clubs like Preservation Hall or catching live performances on Frenchmen Street. Music is deeply ingrained in the city’s soul, so embrace the rhythm and soak in the atmosphere as you tour New Orleans.
Stay Hydrated and Be Weather-Aware
New Orleans has a humid subtropical climate, so staying hydrated is essential, especially during the hot and humid summer months. Carry a water bottle, wear sunscreen, and take breaks in air-conditioned spaces. Additionally, be prepared for occasional rain showers, and consider carrying a light rain jacket or umbrella.
Prepare for Navigation
When you first arrive in New Orleans, you may find traveling around in a new city intimidating, but if you know what to expect before arriving, everything will be easier in only a few hours.
- New Orleans has many transportation options: car rental, Uber/Lyft, bikes, streetcars (no reservation required), and pedicabs.
- A favorite way to travel within New Orleans is via the streetcar system, which allows you to access all major areas for a modest ticket fee. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love riding around on a classic trolley or historic green streetcar?
- For more reasons to try the streetcars, check out this article about slowing down in New Orleans on the St. Charles Streetcar route.
- If you are driving or choose to rent a car, remember that New Orleans streets are sometimes under repair, so allow time for detours and traffic congestion.
Places to Stay in the French Quarter In New Orleans
Hotel Monteleone: This grand, historic hotel on Royal Street is known for its famous Carousel Bar and a heated rooftop pool. The children will love the magical atmosphere. The adults will love the proximity to local attractions and unique tours. Its soundproofed window treatments go a long way toward ensuring a peaceful night’s rest.
Le Pavillon Hotel: This exquisite hotel, established in 1907, sits just outside the French Quarter, ensuring a quieter ambiance for guests. It is closer to the business district, just a short streetcar ride from the heart of the French Quarter. The antique-inspired decor is a refreshing reminder of the area’s history.
The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel: Combining luxury with accessibility, this historic hotel is an excellent choice for families. It offers wheelchair-accessible rooms and facilities, a quiet environment for sleeping, and a short distance from Jackson Square and other attractions.
Places to Eat in the French Quarter In Historic New Orleans
New Orleans is world-renowned for its incredible selection of restaurants. Whether you’re looking for a casual meal, an upscale dinner, or something between the two, there’s a delicious option waiting for you in the French Quarter.
Many guided tours offer New Orleans food walking tour experiences. These tours are educational and fun for the entire family.
Choose from local favorites like Café du Monde and Brennan’s Restaurant to international cuisine at places like The Court of Two.
Activities and Tours in the New Orleans French Quarter
This compact district, also known as Vieux Carré, offers endless opportunities for exploration and entertainment. You’ll be enticed by the rhythm of jazz wafting through the air, fascinated by the stunning colonial architecture, or lured in by the tantalizing aroma of Creole cuisine when you embrace the city’s history.
There are many ways to enjoy city sightseeing while learning about the French Quarter’s history. Whether you choose among the many NOLA historical tours, a cooking class, or one of the spooky famous cemeteries tours with ghost hunters, you will embark on an unrivaled journey through the heart of New Orleans, where every twist and turn unravels fascinating tidbits and interesting stories of this city’s rich tapestry.
Places to Stay in the New Orleans Garden District
For an unforgettable stay in the Garden District, book a room at one of its many charming hotels or bed and breakfasts.
The Pontchartrain Hotel: A historic hotel rich in character and charm, The Pontchartrain Hotel is pet-friendly, too. It offers beautiful rooms with modern amenities, making it a perfect choice for families. Its St. Charles Avenue location in the Garden District provides easy access to the streetcar line for exploring the city.
From this hotel, Magazine Street is a pleasant 7-minute walk. There is a rooftop pool and views of the New Orleans skyline from that higher elevation.
Henry Howard Hotel: Designed by a renowned 19th-century architect, this 18-room boutique hotel combines local history with privacy and elegance. It’s a recommended choice for families looking for a peaceful retreat away from the rush of the city.
The Columns Hotel is popular with families. It has a beautiful Victorian setting and a welcoming atmosphere. It’s located on the St. Charles streetcar line, which can take you directly to the French Quarter.
Places to Eat in the Garden District When You Tour New Orleans
Explore the grand homes and lush greenery of the Garden District. Then enjoy a delicious meal at one of its many restaurants. From the Ruby Slipper Cafe to Juan’s Flying Burrito (both on Magazine Street), you’ll find delicious Creole, Cajun, and international cuisines.
Try one of the city’s many po’boy restaurants. Or stop at Dat Dog Garden District for hot dogs and sausages for more classic New Orleans flavor. Many newcomers to New Orleans enjoy a food tour with local guides. It’s a great way to learn about local cuisine without any risk of getting lost.
Food tours are often ranked as the best New Orleans tours for families and groups.
Garden District Activities and Tours in New Orleans
While in the Garden District, stroll Magazine Street for an array of local boutiques and quirky stores, or see celebrity homes on magnolia-lined streets.
Explore the Famous Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
This historic above-ground cemetery, established in 1833, houses ornate tombs and mausoleums. Walk among the haunted and landmark tombs on silent paths. Discover the final resting place of several notable personalities, including Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, and novelist Anne Rice. The historical significance and unique architecture make this cemetery tour intriguing. You may recognize some markers as prominent features in many Hollywood films.
The Tour New Orleans Summary
Whether discovering new foods at local restaurants or visiting museums with your friends or family, absorb every moment of culture and tradition during your tour of New Orleans. You’ll undoubtedly take a bit of the New Orleans spirit home with you.