Whether you are coming to New Orleans for the famous Mardi Gras festival or to eat your way through the city, every experience here is unique and absolutely wonderful. In the city that offers never-ending live music, the enormous Mississippi River, a haunted history and the oldest ice shaving machine in the world; there are no shortage of things to see and do. Explore the French Quarter, stroll through the Botanical Gardens or try the famous “hurricane” cocktail. Don’t think about leaving New Orleans without experiencing these 10 things to see and do.
10. Experience Mardi Gras
It is New Orleans’s most famous festival and known by people all over the world. If you want to experience this famous festival full of colorful parades and festivities, make sure to book your hotel early as the city fills up. Elaborate floats, beaded necklaces and never ending parties are what you have to look forward to. If you can’t visit during the festival but still want to experience it, head on over to Mardi Gras World, a working studio that produces the outrageous floats. Daily guided tours are offered to visitors and take you behind the scenes where the artists and sculptors work. On display expect to see huge floats, outrageous costumes and all kinds of props and figures. It wouldn’t be a trip to this city without experiencing Mardi Gras one way or the other.
9. Explore City Park
It is 1,300 acres of outdoor oasis and the perfect place to discover on your trip to New Orleans. Adults and kids alike will delight on riding the carousel at Carousel Gardens in City Park. This antique wooden carousel is over 100 years old and is one of the hundred that still exist in the country. It is truly a masterpiece, beautifully carved and has been well taken care of. That’s not all there is to do in this park that is full of towering oak trees, hiking and bike paths. Take a ride on the miniature train that lets you see most of the park, or explore the twelve acres of gardens and art. The New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden is also located inside the park and is the city’s oldest fine art institution.
8. Eat Your Way Through the City
New Orleans is truly a city for foodies with its historic cafes and fine dining restaurants throughout the city. It is known for its blend of electric food, ranging from Cajun to French to African and everything in-between. Known best for their distinctive Creole and Cajun dishes that are original to the city, it won’t be hard to find somewhere to fill your belly. Gumbo is one of the staples here, whether it is made up seafood, chicken, okra or sausage, you truly can’t go wrong. Po-Boys, overstuffed sandwiches on French bread are another staple of New Orleans and can be found just about anywhere. When it comes to sweets the beignets stand out, deep friend dough balls that are sprinkled with powdered sugar can be eaten at any time of the day.
7. Take a Riverboat Tour
A riverboat tour is the perfect way to learn more about the city and experience it from the enormous Mississippi River. At one time the only way to reach New Orleans was by boat and the Mississippi River was the city’s front door. Today paddlewheel steamboats take visitors on a cruise which often includes live music, local food and beverages and scenic views of the city. The first part of the cruise visitors will be privy to narration about the surroundings, the boat itself and the river. On the return trip the live jazz music starts up and sitting on the top of the boat, drink it hand, watching the landscape roll by is something pretty special. After all not everyone gets to say they have sailed “The Mississippi”.
6. Visit Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
It is believed to be the oldest sno-ball stand in the United States and there is no better way to cool off from the hot New Orleans heat than to head on over to Hansen’s. It was started in 1939 when owner Ernest created his own ice shaving machine and his wife Mary started creating flavored syrups. Decades later the snowballs are still made from the original machine with the homemade flavors. Some of the favorite flavors include anything that is cream with the condensed milk topping. Visitors should expect a line-up when they get here but it does move quickly and the snowballs are well worth the wait. Make sure to check out the pictures inside as they tell the history of this very cool stand.
5. Take a Ghost Tour
We can’t promise you will see any actual ghosts on one of these tours but rest assured they will be highly entertaining, slightly creepy, a little theatrical and hugely historical. There are absolute tons of tour operators that offer ghost tours so make sure to do your research before hand on what you want to see, where you want to go, etc. Visitors should expect a leisurely walk, to numerous private residences where you can’t go inside but your guide will stop outside and tell you all about the hauntings. Rest assured though, there are some haunted bars that you can actually go into. Most tours focus on the French Quarter as it seems to be the spookiest and most haunted. Make sure to pack your camera just in case and prepare yourself for some haunting stories. Graveyards tours are also quite popular during the day but tend to be more history focused rather than ghost focused.
4. Sip a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s
It may be touristy but this bar is actually full of history and a stop here is well worth it on any visit to New Orleans. Originally this bar operated during Prohibition and was complete with a secret password that patrons needed in order to gain entrance. It is known as the inventor of the “hurricane”, a cocktail served in a hurricane glass shaped like a hurricane lamp. The hurricane was invented in order to use up the surplus of the rum that bar owners were forced to buy back in the 1940’s. The perfect place to sip on one of these cocktails is at Pat O’Briens, in the legendary courtyard that looks over the flaming fountain. Be sure to check out the dueling piano show where local entertainers take on requests from patrons and bang out some awesome Grand Piano melodies.
3. Catch Some Live Music
It is worth visiting New Orleans just for the music alone and at times it can be overwhelming deciding where to go to check out the awesome live music scene. Whether you are into Jazz, Blues, Creole or live brass bands, you will find it here. Tipitina is a great place to start as this legendary venue has seen the likes of Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson and other legendary artists. Outside the sidewalk pays tribute to legends with its walk of fame and Sunday evenings is devoted to Cajun music and dance. For the jazz lover, head to Preservation Hall where there is no air conditioning, no food or beverages, no seating but nonetheless draw a huge crowd every night. Three nightly shows are offered and patrons start lining up as early as 6pm and this promises to be a true New Orleans music experience.
2. Ride the Street Car
Step into New Orleans past when you board one of these streetcars straight from the 1920’s and 30’s. The St. Charles streetcar in particular travels 13 miles through the Garden District, past the university and to the Audubon Park and Zoo. The classic green cars are a bargain at under $2 for a trip and if you plan on hopping on and off, you are best to buy a day pass which lets you ride all public transit for one price. A lot of the residents use the streetcars to commute to work so if you are looking to avoid peak hours make sure you travel in the middle of the day. Stops that are worthy of getting off at include the Garden District where you can take a walking tour, the Universities and Audubon Park and Zoo. One of the best and most economical way to get around the city are these iconic green cars.
1. Experience the French Quarter
It wouldn’t be a trip to New Orleans without experiencing the French Quarter. Wander through the streets admiring the buildings that are over 250 years old, with their red tiled roofs, wrought iron balconies and fountain filled courtyards. The creative side of the French Quarter is made up of artists, musicians and fortune tellers that line the streets. Visitors will want to make their way to Jackson Square, which is flanked by historic structures and filled with beautiful gardens inside. The French Quarter is also where you will find the famous Bourbon Street which comes alive at night, boasting an abundance of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and strip clubs. Whether you want to take a guided walk through the area learning about the history, stumble from bar to bar with a beverage in hand or simply snap the iconic New Orleans photographs; the French Quarter is the place to do so.