Roller coaster in City Park
From an amusement park to an art museum to a botanical garden, there's lots to do in City Park.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Big Easy Travel Guide: 12 Ways to Stay Entertained in New Orleans

For the uninitiated, New Orleans immediately conjures up images of debaucherous Mardi Gras parades full of beads and booze. And while that could be your experience if you come during the famed spring holiday, what else is there to do in New Orleans the rest of the year?

As a former French and Spanish colony, The Big Easy has a long and vibrant history, making it a fantastically diverse city to explore. Sure you can booze it up on Bourbon Street for your entire stay, but there are also a wealth of cultural and historical attractions worth visiting.

One of the top New Orleans attractions happens to be the National WWII Museum in the center of the city complete with interactive exhibits and a dinner theater experience. However, even if you’d rather skip the museums or leave the history to the historians, there are still plenty of other things to do in New Orleans.

Whether you’re traveling with family, looking for the best foodie or nightlife spots, or even if you’re interested in some dark tourism, here are the things you need to check out on your New Orleans vacation.

Best Family Attractions

City Park

New Orleans’ enormous City Park delights visitors of all ages. Nature lovers can enjoy a leisurely stroll among the flowers, plants and trees of the New Orleans Botanical Garden. The butterfly walk contains a variety of plants favored by these beautiful winged creatures and the chance to see them floating about.

Music lovers will enjoy catching free concerts Thursdays in the garden. A large tree called the Singing Oak (near the park’s Big Lake) holds a series of wind chimes as part of a musical art installation. More art can also be found both inside the New Orleans Museum of Art and in the exterior sculpture garden, located at the southern end of the park.

Of course, if you’re traveling with kids, plan to spend an entire day (or two or three) here. City Park has its own amusement park complete with over 16 carnival-style rides including a vintage carousel, Ferris wheel, bumper cars and roller coaster. Nearby, the whole family can take a turn playing mini golf at City Putt.

For smaller children, you’ll also find a fairy tale-themed playground called Storyland, filled with sculptures of classic storybook characters like the Three Little Pigs and Little Bo Peep.

Mardi Gras beadsMardi Gras World is a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the parade floats and costumes are made.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Mardi Gras World

Even if you don’t come to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, you can still enjoy a taste of the parade year-round at Kern Studios in the Warehouse District. Opened to the public in the 1980s, Kern Studios is now known as Mardi Gras World, where tourists can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the parade floats and costumes are made.

During the course of an hour-long tour, you may see artists and artisans painting and constructing actual floats for the next Mardi Gras celebration. Visitors will also get a chance to play dress-up with costume pieces and enjoy a slice of King Cake, the colorful pastry with a plastic toy baby inside.

Whoever finds the baby becomes “king for the day,” is blessed with good luck and has to provide the next king cake.

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Park bench overlooking pondThere's plenty to keep you entertained in Audubon Park.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Audubon Zoo & Park

Audubon Park, a smaller but equally impressive park right on the Mississippi, also has a number of family-friendly attractions. Owned by the Audubon Nature Institute, the park has a small zoo with over 30 species of animals such as tigers, elephants, lemurs and gorillas.

Every day of the week, you can witness animal encounters or keeper feeds and learn fascinating, little-known facts about the wildlife housed there.

On particularly hot summer days, you might want to take a dip in the park’s public swimming pool. Or for a bit of quiet time, consider walking the labyrinth and take in the large, Spanish moss-filled trees around you.

The park also has an equestrian facility with horse stables where you can take riding lessons or treat the kiddos (under 6) to a pony ride. If you’re traveling sans kids, you’ll also find an 18-hole golf course with onsite cafe and pro shop for a relaxing day on the green.


Bourbon Street during the dayIf you're looking for a night of partying and don't mind crowds, Bourbon Street is the place to go.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Best Streets for Nightlife

Bourbon Street

One of the oldest streets in America, Bourbon Street sits in the heart of the French Quarter. It’s the place to be in New Orleans, day or night, and where most of the Mardi Gras crowds flock during Carnival season. If you’re looking to party and don’t mind crowds, you’ll find all the mainstays of nightlife on Bourbon Street.

You could wander endlessly from bar to bar or among countless clubs, restaurants and music venues.

Drinking has almost become a sport here as you can drink on the street, making it a magnet for bachelor and bachelorette parties. A favorite among tourists from all over the world, Blacksmith Shop Bar is one of the oldest bars in the United States, known for their live music and frozen purple “Voodoo Daiquiris.”

Or if you want to get a little more adventurous with your drinking, try your hand at an absinthe cocktail at the Old Absinthe House and make friends with the Green Fairy.

Someone playing a saxaphoneIf you want to soak up the jazz scene in New Orleans, Frenchmen Street is the place to go.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Frenchmen Street

If Bourbon Street is all about the drinking, Frenchmen Street is all about the jazz. Here you’ll find the epicenter of New Orleans jazz culture with over 20 bars and live music venues within a two block span. One of the favored, intimate music clubs in the area, The Spotted Cat, hosts bands starting at 2 p.m., seven days a week, with no cover.

For those looking to dance, The Maison offers more of a nightclub experience with brass and funk bands jammin’ until the wee hours of the morning. For a more varied selection of live music in a laid-back Jamaican-themed bar, head over to Cafe Negril. From R&B to rock and roll to reggae, you can enjoy it all with a few drinks or some Mexican food from the onsite taco truck.

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Sign reading "Fresh Po Boys"The pubs and restaurants on St Claude Avenue serve up everything from po' boys to Slavic soul food.Photo Credit: Getty Images

St Claude Avenue

The hipster stepchild of New Orleans nightlife, St Claude Avenue is an up-and-coming area for all forms of art and music. You’ll find theater, burlesque, live music and other performing arts venues sprinkled among bars, pop-up restaurants and gastro pubs serving everything from classic New Orleans po’ boys to Slavic soul food.

On the weekends you may stumble on an art opening at Barrister’s Gallery or all-night karaoke at Kajun’s Pub. One of the real gems of St Claude, however, is Saturn Bar, a true dive that features monthly dance parties and live music nearly every night.

Or if you’re looking for something a little classier, check out Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club. Although it looks unassuming from the outside, the club is a well-loved local spot for laid-back jazz and poetry slams.


Fried onionFried oysters are a specialty at Casamento's.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Best Foodie Spots

Casamento’s

A staple in New Orleans since 1919, Casamento’s serves up oysters on the half shell and other tasty seafood options. Located in an unassuming storefront off Magazine Street, dining at Casamento’s will transport you back in time, as many locals say it hasn’t changed since the 1950s.

You can still watch oyster shuckers take fresh batches of oyster from sacks and shuck them right in front of you. As such, the cafe often has a line of hungry neighborhood devotees waiting for their favorite meal of the day, Casamento’s famous fried oyster sandwich.

Flash fried oysters are sandwiched between two thick, buttered pieces of white bread with mayo, tomatoes and some hot sauce and served up with a chilled bottle of Dixie beer. If you want to know what New Orleans tastes like, this is it.

Patio at Bacchanal WineEnjoy their outdoor patio, with its great jazz ambiance. Photo Credit: Bacchanal Wine

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits

An urban culinary oasis lies in the Bywater Neighborhood off the banks of the Mississippi. Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits is more than just a place to buy booze; it’s an experience. Stop by and sip some vino during their weekly wine tastings or grab a craft cocktail during Happy Hour.

Peruse their extensive collection of wine, cheeses and cured meats, making your own charcuterie board or try something off their in-house Mediterranean-inspired menu. But best of all is the chance to sit back and enjoy your indulgent purchases on their outdoor patio as local jazz acts entertain from open to close, seven days a week.

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Exterior of the Country ClubBrunch at The Country Club is known to be particularly delicious.Photo Credit: The Country Club

The Country Club

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, look no further than a converted cottage turned restaurant called The Country Club. Despite its name, The Country Club doesn’t cater to golfers or the super rich, but it does cater to local foodies and foodie tourists.

While the restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, it’s the weekend brunch that really shines. Local specialties like crab cakes and egg or fried green tomatoes are favorites, enjoyed with their signature Bloody Mary (made with cucumber infused vodka). Or just stop by for dessert and treat yourself to the baked ricotta with Jack Daniel’s poached peaches.

And while no membership fee is required for entry, there is a fee to use the onsite pool. That’s right — you can dine poolside or sip cocktails in a bikini for only $15. It’s the best kept secret in New Orleans.


Tombstones at St. Louis Cemetery in New OrleansVisit the grave of renowned voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Best Spooky Attractions

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

Believe it or not, a cemetery is one of the top New Orleans points of interest and definitely one of its spookiest. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to tour its unique maze of above-ground tombs. Here you’ll find the final resting place of some of the founders of New Orleans and several well-known historical figures.

However, its biggest draw is the tomb of rumored voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, who lived in 19th-century New Orleans. Countless voodoo and ghost-themed tours stop off at her grave, weaving stories of magic and miraculous healing powers.

Nearby is also the pyramid-shaped, future grave of actor Nicolas Cage, which currently only has the words “omnia ab uno” on it meaning “everything from one.” Needless to say, his unique, yet morbid, purchase has become an attraction in itself.

Although the tours are offered year-round, the best time to experience them are around Halloween when the spirits of the dead are thought to be most active and the tour guides most enthusiastic.

Exterior of LaLaurie MansionAlthough the LaLaurie Mansion is now privately owned which means you can no longer go inside, many ghost tours make a stop at the house to explain its history.Photo Credit: Flickr

LaLaurie Mansion

One of the most haunted places in New Orleans, LaLaurie Mansion has a terrifying history of murder, torture and paranormal disturbances. Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie lived there with her husband and their slaves until a fire and subsequent smear campaign drove them out. Legend has it that Madame LaLaurie tortured and even killed some of her slaves, leaving them chained up for days in the house’s attic.

Although those claims have never been fully substantiated, the stories remain a part of the house’s history to this day. Nevertheless, a murder did occur in the house years later, supposedly the work of supernatural forces. Even when the house was converted into an all-girls school, strange occurrences continued, such as students getting scratched by an unseen woman.

Today, while you can’t go inside the house itself (it’s privately owned), numerous ghost tours include the LaLaurie house as a stop, recounting the details of its creepy history. However, you can visit the Gallier House or the Hermann-Grima House, which both stood in for the LaLaurie Mansion in “American Horror Story: Coven.”

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Exterior of The Mortuary, lit up greenParticipate in an escape room experience or journey through a haunted house closer to Halloween.Photo Credit: The Mortuary

The Mortuary

Formally an actual mortuary, The Mortuary is a spooky New Orleans attraction that operates year-round. For most of the year, you can book an escape room experience in one of the five different themed rooms that feature everything from zombies to serial killers.

During Halloween, however, The Mortuary transforms into an elaborate haunted house complete with Hollywood-style special effects. Guests make their way through countless creepy scenes, encountering live scare-actors and perhaps even a real haunt or two.

The weekend after Halloween, The Mortuary also offers a blackout experience of the haunted house with a tiny flashlight as your only guide through the darkness. Enter if you dare, and you might even catch a glimpse of the ghostly mortician who’s said to still haunt his former workplace.

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