“Laissez les bon temps roulez!” This Cajun French expression, translating to “Let the good times roll!” has become New Orleans’ unofficial motto.
The minute you hear a musician playing an improvisational jazz song, smell the sweet frying of beignets, and see tourists walking around with margarita cups as necklaces, you know you’ve reached The Big Easy.
It’s time to don your seersucker suit, put on some Southern charm, and experience the Top 10 Things to do in New Orleans.
1. Visit the Historical St. Louis Cathedral
The oldest cathedral in North America can be found here in the French Quarter. Built in 1720, the St. Louis Cathedral pays tribute to a lot of architectural styles, most notably the gothic style, with its colorful stained glass windows, rows of columns, and pointed arches.
From the outside, it looks more like a castle than a cathedral, and completing the scene is its white façade, three pointed towers, and the horse-drawn carriages that typically park at the front gates.
Next to the cathedral, you’ll find the Old Ursuline Convent, built in 1753. This typically French colonial-style building now houses a museum where you can learn all about the history of the convent and the cathedral, as well as historical New Orleans.
Free daily visits are available at the cathedral, from 8:30am to 4pm. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, and a ticket costs $8.
2. Be Part of Living History at Jackson Square
The grandiose park in front of St. Louis Cathedral is none other than Jackson Square. This historical landmark has played an important role in the history of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.
Originally conquered by the French and then the Spanish, the plaza was taken over by Americans in 1815. Imagine President Andrew Jackson on his horse, the horse kicking its legs in the air, leading his soldiers to victory in the Battle of New Orleans. In fact, the large statue at the heart of Jackson Square captures that very moment.
Today, you can attend a variety of live music events, from street performers to big name concerts. In addition, you’ll find a lot of local artists selling their paintings around the park’s entrances.
3. Dance the Night Away at Frenchmen Street
Skip the crowds, chaos, and overly-priced drinks of Bourbon Street and sidle down to Frenchmen Street. This is where the locals hang out, and with good reason.
At any given night, you’ll hear music streaming from the dozens of clubs and bars along the street. There’s something for every music aficionado, including reggae, jazz, blues, Latin, rock, folk, and so on… Go bar hopping to hear a little bit of everything. You can afford it—cover charges and drinks are way cheaper than on Bourbon Street, and best of all, you’re supporting local talent.
In addition to the amazing music, be sure to sample the delicious Cajun food along the street.
Starting on Thursdays, you can tour the nighttime Frenchmen Art Market full of handmade art, jewelry, and clothing.
4. Get to the Roots of New Orleans in the French Quarter
This historical section of New Orleans has been around since 1734 and is full of dainty, pastel colored buildings wrapped with balconies and elaborate ironwork, remnants of the French colonial presence.
St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, and Frenchmen Street can all be found in this area of the town.
It’s not just the buildings that are historic here. No visit to New Orleans can be complete without a powdered sugar beignet and café au lait from Café du Monde on Decatur Street. Open since 1862, this café has been operating 24hrs a day ever since, with the exception of Christmas Day and severe hurricanes.
After your sweet tooth’s been satisfied, be sure to try some spicy Cajun favorites like po’ boys subs, gumbo, and boiled crawfish from the many restaurants in this area.
5. Cool off at the Audoban Aquarium of the Americas
If you’re looking for some shade, cool waters, and a place to relax after the lively streets of the French Quarter, step into the Audoban Aquarium.
The aquarium is on the banks of the Mississippi River, just past the French Quarter. Thus it’s only natural that you start your journey above this river, learning about the local fish, wildlife, and gators.
Next, dive in to the Living in Water exhibit to meet some brightly colored saltwater fish. You can also see seahorses, jellyfish, sharks, and even pet stingrays.
Once you’re ready to surface, learn about the animals that live in water and breathe in air at the penguin and sea otter exhibits.
The aquarium is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Tickets are about $25 for adults and $19 for children, plus tax.
6. Go on a Free Walking Tour, or Six!
What better way is there to see and learn about the Top 10 Things in New Orleans than to go on a walking tour of this historically rich city? With six different Free Tours by Foot, you can meet fellow travelers, get a local’s perspective of the town, and pay what you want.
History lovers and sightseers alike will be fond of the 2hr. French Quarter Tour, visiting literary and historical landmarks, shops, and the Pirates Alley. Meanwhile, the Garden District Tour will take you around the city’s mansions.
The St. Louis Cemetery #1 Tour, the New Orleans Ghost Tour, and the Voodoo tour also take visitors back in time, with different focuses on the lives of deceased actors, voodoo priestesses, musicians, politicians, wealthy families, etc..
Those interested about the local cuisine can go on the New Orleans food tours to sample gator, crawfish, frog legs, gumbo, and more!
Book your tour at http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-orleans-tours/book-online
7. Visit The Cabildo, a Courtroom-Turned-Museum
To the left of the St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, you’ll find The Cabildo. Originally built in 1795 as a town hall, this monument has seen its fair share of history. It was used by the Spanish as a council meeting place before transferring to the Louisiana Supreme Court after the Civil War.
The museum houses a collection of historical paintings, documents, letters, and artifacts from colonial Louisiana. Through visiting the three floors, visitors will learn about the Battle of New Orleans and its participants. A number of the artifacts on display reveal the religious customs and music preferences common to antebellum Louisiana.
The museum is open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 4:30pm. Adult tickets are $6.
8. Take a Stroll through Louis Armstrong Park
Situated on the outskirts of the French Quarter, this park pays homage to New Orleans’ jazz scene and its main star, Louis Armstrong. At the center, you’ll find a statue of Armstrong holding a trumpet.
The Mahilia Jackson Theater, named after a gospel singer, is also near the center of this park. Here, you can attend a variety of dance and musical performances.
Beside the walking paths are numerous ponds which reflect the surrounding trees and colorful pastel buildings.
Walk down to the southern corner of the park to find Congo Square, once a meeting ground for slaves and free blacks to host markets, meetings, and make music.
9. Experience Nature and Community at City Park
This grand, 1,300 acre park is open to everyone! Nature lovers, children, art fans, and music and dance appreciators will feel like the City Park is their own backyard. It’s already been the home of a live oak tree for 800 years.
The Botanical Garden makes for a romantic stroll or an inquisitive walk between its pink and red rosebushes, purple lilacs, and green lily pads dotting small ponds. There’s also a sculpture garden exhibiting the work of Mexican-American sculptor Enrique Alférez. Tickets to the garden are $6 for adults and $3 for children.
Active park-goers will enjoy the long biking and running paths, twenty-six tennis courts, and 18-hole golf course.
Fun-seekers should visit the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park to ride a one hundred year-old wooden carousel as well as fifteen other rides. Each ride costs $4 and an unlimited rides pass is $18.
10. Learn About World War II (WWII) at the National WWII Museum
Here, history jumps out of the textbook pages. This museum centered on “The War that Changed the World” traces the lives of key political figures as well as soldiers and civilians. 100,000 artifacts such as clothing, letters, advertisements, propaganda, medals, diaries, vehicles, etc… fill the museum’s three buildings.
Begin your journey through time at the Solomon Victory Theater with a 4D showing of Beyond All Boundaries, a documentary narrated by award-winning actors.
Next, visit the Campaigns of Courage exhibition to learn about where these wars were fought in the European and Pacific Theaters.
Afterward, see how these wars were fought using planes, submarines, and naval vessels by walking through the immersive Boeing Center and the U.S. Merchant Marine Gallery.
Finish up your visit by learning about artifact restoration and preservation at the Restoration Pavilion.
The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Tickets are $26 for adults and $16.50 for kindergarten to 12th grade students.
These Top 10 Things to do in New Orleans take you down the historical avenues of the city and into its heart.
With its history museums, public parks and sculptures, and aquarium, New Orleans is more than a party city. It’s a prime destination for an interesting, family-friendly vacation. “Laissez les bon temps roulez!”