Updated: Jun 17
Beautiful city. So glad to have come, I haven't done much on Bourbon street but I am surprised how beautiful it all is. I just thought it was a party town... I mean I grew up on the Mississippi, so I just assumed it wouldn't be so rich in culture. It feels like Europe... and yet not.
If you've lived in New Orleans long enough, you've gotten that call, and you're probably happy to play tour guide. Everyone knows that visitors without local friends or family, or a legitimately kickass guide to the city, end up spending their whole trip on Bourbon Street, and that just won't do. While Bourbon Street has its own gems (we're looking at you, Bourbon House, and your gloriously huge selection of top-shelf and rare whiskeys), the Crescent City has so much to offer that's cheap, affordable, and popular with locals, too.
So allow us to be your guide and get you and your friends off the beaten path. Here are all the best things to do in New Orleans over a quick trip -- including the aforementioned stuff that's free, cheap, and popular with locals. We even worked in a few once-in-a-lifetime splurges you can't get anywhere else, plus enough crawfish to feed a small army. (And don't forget our seasonal events roundups, either.)
Go gator-spotting Jean Lafitte National Historical Park The Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, is probably the easiest, closest place to New Orleans where you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot at least one alligator in the wild. The hiking trail is gorgeous in and of itself, and if you show up at around 10am on Wednesday through Sunday, you can get a free guided tour with a park ranger. (Helpful, especially if you’re not great at telling a gator from a log.)
Besthoff Sculpture Garden
City Park The adjacent New Orleans Museum of Art is spectacular (and spectacularly air-conditioned), but for a couple of free hours of talking and strolling, you can’t beat the weird and wonderful installations at the Sydney and Wanda Besthoff Sculpture Garden -- a gorgeous outdoor space in City Park. With pieces by Fernando Botero, Robert Indiana, René Magritte, Paul Manship, and more, it’s a world-class collection that’s as much fun for art snobs as it is for teenagers looking for Instagrammable moments.
Catch live music outside
Various locations No amount of heat or humidity ever stopped South Louisianans from getting outside to shake that thang to some live local music. And with free concert series in multiple parks and public squares around the city, plus a hot lineup of spring and summer music festivals, there’s something playing nearly every night of the week, all season long.
Follow a second line
Free Various locations It’s likely that someone new to the city won't even know what a second line is, let alone how to follow one, so definitely mind the etiquette. Especially the part about bringing a backpack full of beers and hitting up every single yaka-mein or jambalaya lady you see on the route. The social aid and pleasure clubs wind down their seasons in late spring, as the weather gets too hot for long marches, but it picks back up in early fall and carries through the winter.
Burgundy Picture House
Free Bywater These free (donations gratefully accepted) outdoor movie screenings in the Bywater offer just the kind of oddball NOLA experience that lots of guests are looking for. Unless you’re a serious student of avant-garde filmmaking, it’s unlikely that you’ve seen (or heard of) much of what’s on offer, but that’s half the fun of it. (The other half is the $1 beers and liberal BYOB policy.)