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
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.
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.
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.