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When you think of New Orleans, what comes to mind? Bourbon Street with its all-night parties? Or Mardi Gras with the floats and bead throwing? Or perhaps scenes of voodoo rituals? But New Orleans is so much more than that! There are so many reasons to visit New Orleans and why you add it to your bucket list.
New Orleans’s history and culture make it a unique destination in the United States. Hosting conventions for all sorts of groups and professions, New Orleans keeps business and pleasure travelers alike entertained.
1. Party in the French Quarter
There’s no doubt about it — the French Quarter is the city’s most well-known attraction. A walk down Bourbon Street offers just about every kind of bar and drink an adult could possibly want. As the night goes later and later, the debauchery of some is unavoidable. While it is something to be seen, the inevitable smell of garbage, vomit, and urine overpowers your sense of smell, so be prepared. Don’t misunderstand – we love partying in New Orleans!
But there is something amazing about the jazz bands that come down the streets every few hours to entertain the crowds of tourists, or brides and grooms celebrating their nuptials as they and their parties dance down the street – it is just amazing. The French Quarter is probably the most popular reason to visit New Orleans.
2. Take a haunted tour
New Orleans and spooky tales go hand in hand. Cemetery tours, ghost tours, vampire tales, voodoo stores, you name it, New Orleans satisfies those that love the dark side. The city’s layout lends itself well to walking tours. Some of the more popular tours take place at night, but they fill up quickly, so reserve your spot ahead of time. Or enjoy a daytime tour of the city’s famous cemeteries. One thing to keep in mind is that most tours go forward, regardless of the weather, so bring a rain jacket or umbrella in case of a downpour.
Looking for ideas on where to stay? Check out this interactive booking map!
3. Ride a streetcar
Five different routes comprise New Orleans’ streetcar system. These streetcars are reliable and get visitors closer to multiple areas of the city. Use cash to pay the $1.25 per ride or buy a multi-day pass with unlimited rides during your stay. Download the app so that you can see how to get from point to point and to see in real-time when a trolley is coming your way.
PRO TIP: The streetcar system gets overwhelmed during rush hours, so walk to a popular area in order to improve your chances of having a spot on the streetcar rather than waiting near your hotel or restaurant.
4. Gamble a little
The 21 and over crowd can take enjoy a little time around a table or slot machine. The largest casino in the area is Harrah’s, ideally located between the French Quarter and the Warehouse District, near the cruise port. Boomtown New Orleans, across the river, offers a more low-key experience if you find Harrah’s intimidating. Many bars in town offer slot machines, so you’re never too far from some action. Legal gambling is one of the great reasons to visit New Orleans if Vegas intimidates you.
5. Visit the nation’s best museum – the World War II Museum
Consistently ranked amongst the nation’s best museums is New Orleans’ own World War II Museum. Easily accessible due to its proximity to the trolley system, as well as its location near the Warehouse District and the cruise terminal, the museum is worth a visit. The museum’s exhibits easily lend themselves to a two-day visit, though realistically, most visitors will spend several hours. This amazing museum is a top reason to visit New Orleans.
6. Feed your inner foodie
Not only is New Orleans home to some unique creole and cajun dishes, it houses some of the country’s best chefs. From Emeril Lagasse, best known for his TV shows and product lines, to Stephen Stryjewski, and up and coming chefs like Sue Zemanick, you’ll find chefs with a passion for cuisine and new twists on traditional cajun and creole flavors. There are so many options in town but here is a list to get you started.
7. Try a local brew
Like any great city, New Orleans has its fair share of breweries and microbreweries. At last count, about a dozen breweries can be found primarily in the Garden District and Mid-City. Because of the warm and humid climate, lighter, more refreshing beers hit the spot while enjoying your meal. Great beer is another great reason to visit New Orleans.
Check out the hotel possibilities in New Orleans.:
8. Enjoy coffee and beignets
Opening in 1862, Cafe du Monde fills visitors bellies with cafe au lait (coffee with milk) and beignets, delicious fried dough sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. You can find coffee and beignets in multiple locations, so you should at least try it. After all, have you even been to New Orleans if you don’t take a photo of yourself enjoying coffee and beignets?
9. Take a cruise
New Orleans’ cruise port is ideally located near the action. Steps away from the Warehouse District and a short walk to the French Quarter, a visit to New Orleans adds to your Western Caribbean cruise. Sailings offered by Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian begin and end in New Orleans. Consider adding a couple of days to your vacation to enjoy all the city has to offer.
I enjoyed my stay at the Residence Inn, located in the Warehouse District and a few blocks from the cruise port.
10. Enjoy the art scene
Are you an art collector or someone who enjoys artists at work? Take a walk through many of the streets of the French Quarter and you’ll find artists peddling their work. Particularly in the evening time, the area around Jackson Square becomes crowded with artisans of all kinds. Many businesses will ship your artwork to your home for a small fee so that you don’t have to carry it around with you. And there’s something pretty unique about watching musicians performing along various street corners, where crowds gather to clap and dance along.
11. Catch a sports event
Football fans can cheer on the Saints (or their own team) in the Superdome. Fans of professional basketball can cheer on the Pelicans, who play at the Smoothie King Stadium. The city is home to several universities (Tulane, Loyola, University of New Orleans) fielding sports teams. The annual Sugar Bowl showcases post-season NCAA football teams selected from the South Eastern Conference (SEC). So sports fans have some great reasons to visit New Orleans.
12. Enjoy the sweet sounds of live music
Jazz and New Orleans are synonymous but there is so much more to the music scene of New Orleans. Walking down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter during the weekend, live music spills onto the street. Whether you’re a fan of jazz, country, or rock, you’ll find a locale catering to your taste in music.
13. Visit during Mardi Gras
For two weeks before Ash Wednesday, New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras. Literally meaning “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras celebrates excess before the restrictions associated with Lent. But really it is an excuse to party! Bleachers along the main streets provide seating for spectators to the daily parades. The city estimates 1.4 million visitors come to New Orleans to attend Mardi Gras. With everything colored green, gold, and purple, the city comes alive during this period. The floats created for the annual celebration have become elaborate over the years (get a behind the scenes look at Mardi Gras World). It is a great time to come party!
Looking for a hotel in the French Quarter? I enjoyed the location and amenities (hello, pool!) at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.
14. Visit the Garden District
If all the party activity is not for you, here is a great reason to visit New Orleans. A short distance away from the typical New Orleans tourist areas you’ll find the calmer and pretty Garden District. Oak-shaded streets provide a respite from the sun along this district combining housing and businesses. Along St. Charles Avenue, historic mansions proudly display the city’s Mardi Gras colors from balconies and porches. Make your way to Magazine Street for boutique and fine dining. The Garden District celebrates the historical architecture of the South. Home to the beautiful The Columns hotel and the well-reputed restaurant Commander’s Palace, this neighborhood elevates your New Orleans experience can be enjoyed in a less hectic environment compared to the French Quarter. You can find some fabulous Airbnb stays in the Garden District too!
15. Dance in the streets.
In New Orleans, music surrounds visitors at most locations. Whether you like dueling pianos or the live music stages at the bar, one thing that is uniquely New Orleans is the regular performers in the streets. While some jazz bands are sponsored by various groups in the city, it seems that musicians enjoy sharing their talents with the rest of us. Join in! You’ll find crowds following in the streets and you should too!
16. Ride a paddleboat down the river.
Little is more iconic for New Orleans than the large river paddleboats that take you for a ride up the Mississippi River. Whether you enjoy a short ride or a dinner cruise, you’ll be transported to another time period.
With several discount airlines offering flights to New Orleans, New Orleans is the perfect affordable getaway city from those of us in the United States. Whether you choose to spend a weekend or an extended stay, there is something for every interest.
Are you convinced that New Orleans is more than just Bourbon Street and the French Quarter? There is so much to do and enjoy, you really should add New Orleans to your list of US cities to visit. It is a perfect weekend getaway destination! Hopefully, this list will inspire you to check out all the great things to do in New Orleans. And don’t forget to bring back a NOLA souvenir as a reminder of your awesome time.
Read more about New Orleans:
- Partying in New Orleans
- Best New Orleans foods to try and where to try them
- New Orleans souvenirs worth getting
Annick, The Common Traveler