Do you love a great party town? Want to hear the music drifting through the streets while holding an ice-cold daiquiri? Head to New Orleans, baby!
You’ll hear two different stories, depending on who you ask, about New Orleans. The first will tell you that New Orleans is a music town with drinkin’ problem, and the next will say it is a drinkin’ town with a music problem. However you choose to view it, New Orleans is full of great music and fun times.
There’s so much more to it than that, however, and to simply write off New Orleans as a party city with nothing else to offer would be a massive mistake. This is one of a very few American cities with truly unique culture, history, and flavor. No trip to Louisiana would be complete without visiting this iconic city.
New Orleans is home to some of the USA’s most fascinating sights, sounds, and flavors. With a clearly distinct and unique history, New Orleans is unlike any other city. Founded in 1718 by French colonialists, and briefly falling under Spanish rule, it was later included in the Louisiana Purchase and became a US territory in 1803.
In this article:
- New Orleans Tourist Map
- New Orleans Attractions
- New Orleans Festivals
- Things to do Nearby
- Getting Around
- Best Time to go to New Orleans
- Safest Places to Stay in New Orleans
- Where to Eat
That French and Spanish influence had a lasting effect on the city, still evident today in the architecture and culinary traditions. Of course, that history and those influences are best experienced through visiting a variety of New Orleans’ sights and attractions.
New Orleans Tourist Map
New Orleans Tourist Attractions
The French Quarter, Arts and Warehouse District, Central Business District, and Garden District are the best bets for a comfortable, safe stay close to all the major attractions. When choosing a hotel, find one near a streetcar stop and you’ll be that much more connected to the rest of the city.
- Explore the French Quarter
- Party down on Bourbon Street
- Take a walk through the Garden District
- Have your future told on Jackson Square
- Confess your sins at St. Louis Cathedral
- Visit the National WWII Museum
- Get high (in the sky) at Vue Orleans
- Sip a famous cocktail at Sazerac House
- Enjoy good tunes and good food at a festival
- Get out of the city on a day trip
Practically every tourist’s agenda includes a visit to the famed French Quarter. And for good reason. No other part of the city shows off the history and culture of New Orleans than the French Quarter. This is, after all, the oldest part of the city with some of the oldest and best-preserved buildings.
Start your visit with a beignet and café au lait at Café Du Monde to build up energy for a walk through the quarter. The architecture is mostly Spanish as can be seen with the ornate wrought iron balconies, but the oldest building is Madame John’s Legacy, the only remaining French colonial house.
Other notable sights and stops in the French Quarter include:
- Shops at the Colonnade and the French Market
- The House of the Rising Sun
- Old Ursula Convent Museum
- Preservation Hall Jazz Museum
If you’re looking for an all day, all night party in a spectacular setting, Bourbon Street is the place to be. Grab a large styrofoam cup of your favorite daiquiri and weave your way through the heart of the French Quarter where all the action is.
Live music spills out of street front bars, performers and buskers vie for your attention, and everywhere you look people are letting their hair down and having the most fun of their lives. Make no mistake, this is an adult party, not really the place for an evening stroll with the children. Once that daiquiri runs dry, stop in at Pat O’Briens for a hurricane, sure to give you a real kick in the pants.
If there’s any part of the city as famous as the French Quarter, this is it. The Garden District is a must for every visitor to the city. Its live oak-lined streets, spectacular mansions, and fascinating history are best experienced on foot, so be ready for some walking.
Some of the notable points of interest here include the Buckner Mansion, especially recognizable to fans of The American Horror Story series; the so-called Mayfair Witches House, the former home of Anne Rice; and the Lafayette Cemetery Number One, with its above-ground tombs and ghost stories.
The best way to experience the Garden District is to take a walking tour. We followed David from New Orleans Historic Tours around the district listening to his fascinating stories about the houses and the owners. I can’t recommend this enough!
Technically, this is part of the French Quarter, but definitely worthy of a place of its own in the list of top attractions. Jackson Square is the name of the park dedicated to Andrew Jackson, considered the “hero of New Orleans” after defeating the British and retaking the city during the War of 1812. You can see him today atop the stallion in the center of the square.
While it is a beautiful little park to stroll through, the square is more widely known for its street artists, performers, and astrologists. Here you can buy a masterpiece from a local artist, have your portrait painted, or get your future told by a mystical palm reader.
St. Louis Cathedral
After enjoying Jackson Square, be sure to stop in at the St. Louis Cathedral. Originally founded in 1727, that first church burnt to the ground in 1788 and was then rebuilt in its current form in 1794. This is the oldest cathedral in the United States. Depending on your NOLA activities, you might want to visit the confessional before leaving the city.
Tours are offered occasionally, you can check the schedule here to see if one coincides with your visit. Otherwise, just take in the splendor and beauty as you walk through this 18th century church. For the best views of the square and the cathedral, climb the stairs at Washington Artillery Park.
National World War II Museum
Designated by Congress as “America’s National WWII Museum,” this is a world-class museum that must be visited during any trip to New Orleans. It houses exhibits and displays that can’t be found anywhere else in the country.
With five buildings on a sprawling campus situated on the edge of the warehouse and arts district, the museum covers all aspects of the war in both Europe and the Pacific.
The interactive exhibits and immersive displays will give any visitor a deeper sense of the war. With so much to do and see, expect to spend several hours here.
The museum is open every day except for Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving, and Christmas but pre-purchasing tickets are highly recommended. Visit the website for more planning ideas and information.
Finding a good viewpoint in New Orleans can be hard with most of the city at or below sea level. Vue Orleans, however, solves that problem by offering views from the 34th floor observation deck in the Four Seasons Hotel tower.
Right on the banks of the Mississippi River at the end of Canal Street, the view from the Vue is incredible, but there is so much more here than just an observation deck.
The Vue Orleans is a multistory, interactive, and immersive history museum. This is a great place to spend an hour or two learning all about the history and culture of the city.
It’s open every day and tickets can usually be purchased at the time of entry, but pre-purchasing Orleans Vue tickets is always a good idea.
Another Canal Street institution, just up the road from Vue Orleans, is Sazerac House. If you’re not familiar with the Sazerac, don’t be ashamed of yourself. I was also completely ignorant of this famous cocktail until my visit, even though it is the oldest cocktail in the world! Of course, it is also the official cocktail of New Orleans.
The Sazerac house is a three story, interactive multimedia experience where visitors learn all about the Sazerac, the history of the company, and can enjoy a sample drink or two. It is a beautiful space with some amazing exhibits. Oh, and did I mention it is free? You do need to reserve your ticketed entry time using their online form, but then just show up at the assigned time with your ID to prove you are at least 21.
New Orleans’ Festivals
Famous for food, drink, and music, it’s no surprise that New Orleans hosts some amazing festivals throughout the year. Of course, Mardi Gras in February will spring to mind. Other notable festivals celebrating all things New Orleans and Louisiana are always on tap.
For food celebrations, try the Crawfish Festival in March for all things crawfish and Cajun. Then in April, it’s time for the French Quarter Fest. Later in October, it’s time for the Blues and BBQ Festival.
The grand dame of all music and food festivals, however, is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival held every year in late April and early May. Celebrating New Orleans culture, food, and music, there is something here for everyone. Check out the music lineup and plan your visit accordingly.
Things to Do Nearby – Day Trips from New Orleans
There are many things to do not far from this vibrant city. While in New Orleans, plan to take a few rides or day trips south to check out some of the following:
- Take a swamp tour and search for gators.
- Take a Cajun cooking experience at Spuddy’s.
- Take a plantation tour and enjoy the beauty of Louisiana’s rich.
- Head south to the soulful city of Lafayette for some amazing adventures, like visiting the Tabasco factory on Avery Island, and checking out two really cool history spots Vermillion and the Acadian Cultural Center.
Getting Around New Orleans
Getting around New Orleans is pretty easy thanks to the great public transportation system. In fact, one thing everyone visiting the city should plan on doing is taking a ride on the historic St. Charles streetcar, even if it is just to get to the Garden District and back. Public transportation is cheap, especially if you buy and use the Jazzy pass for unlimited rides.
Getting to and from the airport is simple enough as well. Use your favorite ride-share app, take a taxi, or save some money and ride the safe and comfortable Airport Express which will drop you off right on Canal Street downtown.
Best Time to Go to New Orleans
There are a few different ways to decide on the best time to go to New Orleans. It all depends on what you are going for. However, for the best weather and climatic conditions with the fewest crowds, visit the city between November and January. That’s after the hurricane season but before Mardi Gras.
In February, Mardi Gras takes over the city. This famous celebration takes on a new and distinct meaning and dimension in New Orleans.
Sure, many countries celebrate Mardi Gras or Carnivale with parties and parades, but there’s nothing quite like the indulgence of a Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. If that’s why you’re visiting, then start planning your trip a year in advance.
Worst Time to Visit New Orleans
If you’re not into partying with crowds of Mardi Gras goers, then definitely avoid the city in February. You’ll need hotel and restaurant reservations months in advance and all of the attractions in the city will be filled to capacity.
Hurricane season is best avoided as well. From June through October, the humidity rises with the temperature and the rainfall, and a hurricane is possible. Of course, hurricanes don’t trouble the city every year, but if one does, the last thing the city needs is more tourists.
Safest Places to Stay in New Orleans
It’s a well-known fact that Bourbon Street can get downright loud and rowdy on any given night. But all that noise and boisterous energy comes from people out to have a good time. While there are some neighborhoods to be avoided, most of the hotels and bed and breakfast inns are in good parts of the city.
Some of our Recommended New Orleans Hotels
- Quarter House: In the heart of the French Quarter with a beautiful courtyard and pool
- New Orleans Marriott Warehouse Arts District – Personal favorite, near the art galleries, bars and brunch spots of the Arts/Warehouse District
- Drury Plaza Hotel – Excellent rooms and value in a good location in the Central Business District, St. Charles streetcar stop just around the corner
Where to Eat
Food, food, food! New Orleans is as much about the food as it is about the music. Cajun, Creole dishes, and even just plain old (yet so delicious) Southern food, it’s all here. You can’t really go wrong with food in New Orleans.
Check out current reviews to help guide your choices; but just in case, here are some of our favorites:
- Beignet and Coffee at Café Du Monde
- Muffuletta sandwich in the French Market at Alberto’s Cheese and Wine
- Brunch at the Courtyard of Two Sisters
- Charbroiled oysters at Drago’s Seafood
- Lamb ragu at Meril, an Emeril Lagasse restaurant
With so much good food, good music, and friendly people, any visit to New Orleans is sure to be memorable. Regardless of why you are there, a conference, a football game, or Mardi Gras, be sure and get out and visit these incredible sights and attractions. As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”
A big shout out and thank you to our friends at New Orleans & Company who sponsored me on this trip.
About the Author
Jim Vail, cofounder of Roving Vails, is an avid traveler and explorer. He’s been to all fifty states and traveled around the world. He’s happiest shooting wildlife photography, camping and hiking in the mountains, or fishing on the side of a river in Alaska. Find out more on our About Us page.