New Orleans, LA. Photo by Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in New Orleans

BY Michele Laufik | February 17, 2021

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” New Orleans? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in New Orleans?”

A confluence of French, Spanish, African and American influences, New Orleans is a unique mix of glorious goodness — just like its gumbo. The “Big Easy” is an American gem of a city that serves up a little something for everyone, with everything from a vibrant music scene to spicy Creole cuisine to raucous Mardi Gras celebrations. In recent years, it’s seen more than its fair share of hard times, including destruction in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, though the city continues to possess a resilient spirit and a one-of-a-kind culture, complete with those iconic cast-iron balconies. It’s a must-visit spot, folks. Here are the best things to do in New Orleans right now.

Tourist Attractions with a Twist

New Orleans’ eclectic mix of attractions goes beyond the usual museums and sights that you’d find in other cities. Instead, think voodoo shops, haunted cemeteries and garish parade floats. These must-do’s are how you can get a sense of the city’s lively spirit and rich culture.

Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. Photo via Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, LA - 06/01/2015 - New Orleans Mardi Gras World Eclectic Collection.Photo via Shutterstock.

Mardi Gras World

1380 Port of New Orleans Place, New Orleans, LA, USA

It’s literally Mardi Gras year-round in here. So no matter when you’re visiting New Orleans, you can experience the annual party (minus the revelers) by exploring this warehouse that’s filled with lavish props and floats.

View of Ghostbuster Tours in New Orleans. Photo via Shutterstock.
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NEW ORLEANS, LA, USA - JANUARY 13, 2021: Entrance to Finis Shelnutt Realty and History and Ghostbuster Tours in Cabildo Alley

Ghost Tours

New Orleans, LA, USA

Book a guided tour and visit sites throughout the city including hotels, restaurants and cemeteries to hear stories about their haunted pasts. Since it’s a popular tourist activity, there are plenty of tour operators to choose from.

House of Voodoo in New Orleans.
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House of Voodoo in New Orleans.

Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo

739 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Poke around in this mysterious apothecary, located in the historic French Quarter, and gaze at the treasure trove of spiritual and religious tchotchkes including tribal masks, talismans, charms and, of course, voodoo dolls. Plus, psychic and spiritual readings are on offer.

Traditional French Market at the French Quarter in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Traditional French Market at the French Quarter in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo via Shutterstock.

French Market

1008 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Around for over 200 years, the French Market, located in Jackson Square, has been through a lot, but its joie de vivre remains. This is where you can shop for souvenirs (some cheesy, some cool) and grab authentic grub like pralines, gumbo, jambalaya and beignets at the iconic Café du Monde at the edge of the market.

Dive Deeper Into New Orleans History

Founded by the French, ruled by the Spanish and bought with the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans presents a rich, oftentimes gritty, historical tapestry. And while you can get a feel for the past simply by strolling its streets, if you want to get a more expansive understanding, visit these historical landmarks and sites.

New Orleans Jazz Museum in New Orleans. Photo via Shutterstock.
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, USA—View outside the old United States Mint Museum, a building that is one in New Orleans, Louisiana of the attractions. Photo taken in December 2016.

New Orleans Jazz Museum

400 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA, USA

Housed in the historic Old U.S. Mint, this museum explores the history of jazz in the place it was born — New Orleans.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Photo via Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, LA - Sep. 25, 2017: The National World War II Museum - a military history museum in New Orleans, LA. It is formerly called the D-Day Museum.

The National WWII Museum

945 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA, USA

One of the city’s newest and most popular attractions, this military history museum includes immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences and an expansive collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, USA - April 22, 2018: Lafitte's blacksmith shop bar building architecture in French Quarter Louisiana with lights in evening night and people standing

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

941 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA, USA

In true New Orleans style, you can combine a history lesson with some imbibing at this establishment. It’s reputed to be the oldest structure in the U.S. to be used as a bar and is named after the Lafitte Brothers, who reportedly used the place for a smuggling operation.

Cool Places to Stay

While you’ll find plenty of properties from the big hotel chains, New Orleans is also brimming with charming, historic places. Even hip accommodations like the Ace Hotel are housed inside a 1920s-era Art Deco building.

The Pontchartrain Hotel. Photo by Shutterstock.
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The Pontchartrain Hotel. Photo by Shutterstock.

The Pontchartrain Hotel

2031 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA, USA

Originally opened in 1927, this historic hotel was closed for a brief period and reopened in 2016 with luxe modern amenities while still maintaining its old-school charm. Plus, it’s adjacent to a streetcar route.

Hotel Peter & Paul. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Hotel Peter & Paul. Photo by Shutterstock.

Hotel Peter & Paul

2317 Burgundy St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Like most of the buildings in New Orleans, Hotel Peter & Paul contains an interesting past. The former Catholic church and school were restored and repurposed for new “congregants” who can stay in European-inspired rooms, some with claw-foot bathtubs.

The Ace Hotel. Photo by Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, LA/USA - 2/2/20: Ace Hotel, a Boutique Hotel in the Central Business District of New Orleans.

Ace Hotel New Orleans

600 Carondelet St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Located in the Warehouse District, this boutique property combines features that the Ace Hotel brand is known for, like Smeg refrigerators and turntables, with authentic elements, such as rich jewel tones and woodwork.

Where to Eat (the Abridged Version)

The food of New Orleans is a story all its own, so we’re not going to try to attempt to narrow down the tastiest places to try. But we did pick some classic establishments and some newer spots to give you a little flavor of what’s on the menu.

Brigtsen's Restaurant in uptown New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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NEW ORLEANS, LA, USA - JULY 5, 2020: Full front view of Brigtsen's Restaurant in uptown New Orleans

Brigtsen’s Restaurant

723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Known for revitalizing Creole and Acadian cuisine, chef Frank Brigtsen serves up authentic dishes like catfish with grits and King Cake bread pudding.

Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, USA - April 22, 2018: People in line queue waiting to enter Cafe Du Monde restaurant sign eating beignet powdered sugar donuts and chicory coffee. Photo by Shutterstock.

Cafe Du Monde

800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Prepare to leave here covered in a light dusting of powdered sugar, thanks to the hefty pile that sits atop each serving of the cafe’s warm, pillowy beignets, which should be accompanied by a cafe au lait.

Willa Jean in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Willa Jean in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.

Willa Jean

611 O'Keefe Ave, New Orleans, LA, USA

Grab treats and housemade breads at the bakery counter up front or take a seat in the dining room for some Southern-inspired dishes like fluffy biscuits topped with fried chicken and Tabasco honey; BBQ shrimp and cheesy grits; and pimento cheese dip.

Cavan in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Cavan in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.

Cavan

3607 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Housed in an 1800s-era mansion along picturesque Magazine St., this restaurant’s elegantly shabby dining room makes the perfect setting for indulging in fried oyster toast and a cocktail or two.

Killer Poboys in New Orleans.
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Killer Poboys in New Orleans.

Killer Poboys

219 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA, USA

While these traditional New Orleans sandwiches (usually made with roast beef or fried seafood) are available all around the town, this shop offers an updated spin on the classic, such as roasted cauliflower, pecan butter and jelly and BBQ chicken confit.

Where to Order a Sazerac

Like its food, good cocktails are easy to come by in New Orleans. And while you’ll be able to find spirits, beers and liqueurs of every persuasion here, be sure to order the city’s official cocktail: the Sazerac, made with rye whiskey, bitters and absinthe. Or channel Mardi Gras season and suck on a hurricane served in a curvy glass.

Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans.
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Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans.

Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone

214 Royal St, New Orleans, LA, USA

At the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge in Hotel Monteleone, it’s the whimsical merry-go-round bar (and maybe the cocktails too) that will make your head spin — in a good way. Sip on a Sazerac as you take a spin on the city’s only revolving bar.

Bacchanal Wine in New Orleans.
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Bacchanal Wine in New Orleans.

Bacchanal Wine

600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA, USA

Found on the outskirts of the city, this casual Bywater watering hole boasts a big backyard where you can grab food, sip some wine and listen to live music.

Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans.
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Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans.

Arnaud’s French 75 Bar

813 Bienville Street, New Orleans, LA, USA

As the name would suggest, this classic drinking establishment, located inside Arnaud’s restaurant, serves up a long list of custom cocktails, including the French 75, which is made with Courvoisier VS, sugar, lemon juice, and Moët & Chandon.

Where to Hear Some Jazz

In New Orleans, jazz music seems to constantly waft through the air like the scent of blooming jasmine flowers. After all, it is the birthplace of the genre, so you’ll be able to hear it all over this town.

People wait in line outside of Preservation Hall in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, LA, January 24, 2018: People wait in line to enter the world famous Preservation Hall, the historic music venue where nightly performances occur to preserve New Orleans Jazz. Photo by Shutterstock.

Preservation Hall

726 St Peter St, New Orleans, LA, USA

This historic music venue, located in the French Quarter, hosts acoustic jazz concerts almost every single night of the year.

Spotted Cat Music Club in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Spotted Cat Music Club in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.

The Spotted Cat Music Club

623 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA, USA

Known by locals as simply “The Cat,” this club showcases New Orleans music, including traditional and modern jazz, blues, funk, klezmer and more.

Wander Around These Neighborhoods

The city’s patchwork of neighborhoods, with distinct streets and thoroughfares woven throughout, possess their own unique characteristics and je ne sais quoi

French Quarter in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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French Quarter in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.

French Quarter

French Quarter, New Orleans, LA, USA

The city’s most famous neighborhood, the French Quarter encapsulates the culture of New Orleans with a mix of historic sites, jazz clubs, iconic restaurants and rowdy nightlife.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - AUGUST 25: Pubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter, New Orleans on August 25, 2015.

Bourbon St.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA, USA

Known for its raucous partiers and syrupy cocktails, Bourbon St., which is located within the French Quarter, really comes alive during Mardi Gras. Fun fact: The “go cup” was invented here.

St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, Louisiana - February 9, 2015: The krewe of Carrollton parades down St. Charles Avenue for Carnival Season. This year's theme is "Night at the Opera".

St. Charles Avenue

St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA, USA

You can hop aboard the city’s classic streetcars via several routes, but the St. Charles line has been rumbling along for more than 150 years, and its green car is a symbol of New Orleans.

Magazine Street in New Orleans. Photo by Shutterstock.
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New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A - February 4, 2020 - The view of the traffic on Magazine Street by The Garden District. Photo by Shutterstock.

Magazine St.

Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA, USA

This major thoroughfare follows the Mississippi River, traveling from the city’s Central Business District and the Warehouse Arts District through the Garden District and Uptown. Cafes, restaurants and shops mingle with charming homes along this street, making it the ideal spot for a leisurely stroll.

Frenchmen St. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Frenchmen St. Photo by Shutterstock.

Frenchmen St.

Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA, USA

This stretch within the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood is where you’ll find some of the most popular music joints in New Orleans, including Snug Harbor, The Spotted Cat, d.b.a  and Blue Nile.