New Orleans Bucket List: 10 Things You Must See & Do
New Orleans is a city quite unlike any other, with so much to see and do!
The thing I love about New Orleans most is that it’s so unapologetically itself. New Orleans isn’t always pretty. It’s hot and it’s loud. But in all of it’s unrefined glory, it gives off a kind of charm that you really can’t find any place else. Sure, there’s still southern opulence to be found in Uptown or the Garden District, but make no mistake, NOLA is a city that fully embraces itself: the good, bad and the ugly.
And considering traveling with kids encompasses the good, bad, and the ugly on a daily basis, I’d say we’re in fine company!
So what are the best things to see and do in New Orleans to fully experience this beautiful city?
Read on for our top 10 favorites!
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1 | Listen to Jazz on Frenchmen Street
First things first, yes, New Orleans is a drinking city. But don’t worry that you can’t take your kids inside the bar. Take a stroll down Frenchmen Street and let the jazz bars come to you!
Start your walk at Washington Square Park and its small playground for the kids. It’s the perfect place to kill some time between dinner and when the nightlife starts opening up. From there walk the short 2 block stretch of Frenchmen Street from Royal to Decatur and experience music rolling out the front doors of the many jazz bars (The Spotted Cat being one of Frenchmen’s most famous). You’ll probably even be able to spot a few performances through the windows!
Be sure to make a pit stop at the Palace Market, an outdoor art market that is only open from 7 PM to midnight. Tons of local vendors pack the little courtyard with everything from jewelry to sketches and t-shirts. It’s a cool place to snag a unique souvenir, plus it has a little couch area with blocks and sidewalk chalk that’s totally kid-friendly!
2 | Stroll the French Quarter by Day and Night
Of course, a trip to New Orleans would not be complete without a trip (or 2 or 3!) to the French Quarter! Simply strolling the streets and admiring the unique architecture and building details could keep me busy for hours. My two year old however is less impressed, so sneak in a stop at the French Quarter’s first and only playground, Cabrini Park, to keep the kids going.
You’ll find plenty of walking tours for the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre as the locals know it. For younger kids, try French Quartour Kids (we didn’t personally take their tour, since ours kids are still young, but it’s a recommendation I came across lots of times!).
If your kids are a bit older, go for the Ghost and Vampire Tour with French Quarter Phantoms. It’s a fun way to learn about the French Quarter’s spooky past with spirited guides who make the night come alive.
Other French Quarter highlights not to miss: an iconic photo op in Jackson Square, a jazz show at Preservation Hall, and a walk down Royal Street to window shop the antique stores and galleries.[irp]
3 | Go Back in Time at a Plantation
New Orleans has plenty to see, but for a fun day trip out of the city, head to Vacherie, Lousiana. It’s about a 40 minute drive from the French Quarter, but this is where you’ll find a handful of old plantations that have been lovingly restored and now available to tour.
The most famous plantation is Oak Alley Plantation, with it’s beautiful oak-lined entrance just like you see in the movies. You can tour inside the home, but the most interesting part of the plantation lies in the gardens and slaves quarters that have been re-created outside. It’s a sobering but important piece of history to witness, both for kids and adults.
Just up the street at Laura Plantation, you’ll find a little different feel. Laura is a creole plantation with a unique story, different from what you might expect at a plantation like Oak Alley. You can easily visit both in a single morning, and it’s nice to have the contrasting perspective of both.
Heading back towards New Orleans, you’ll also find two lesser-frequented but equally interesting spots: the Whitney and Evergreen Plantations. Whitney Plantation is unique in that it is the only plantation in Louisiana to focus solely on slavery, giving visitors a unique perspective. Evergreen Plantation is another popular choice, as it touts itself as being the most intact plantation in the south, and is still a working sugar cane plantation.
Whichever you choose, just be sure to include at least one of these historical sites on your itinerary.
Tip: I recommend renting a car in New Orleans. It’s an easy city to drive and makes day trips a lot easier too. But if you decide you don’t want a car, many of the plantations can recommend (or provide) a shuttle service from the French Quarter.
4 | Eat Beignets ’til Your Heart’s Content
Let’s be honest, the beignets were our donut-loving 2-year-old’s favorite part about New Orleans!
You can of course get the classic ones at Cafe du Monde. And if this is your first time in NOLA, it’s probably hard to skip this iconic experience. But if you prefer to go off the beaten path, try Cafe Beignet instead! It’s still in the French Quarter (and plenty busy, don’t get me wrong), but we much preferred its less rushed experience! Try to stop around 10:30-11 AM, just after breakfast but before the lunch rush, for the shortest wait.
Tip: Cafe du Monde is all self-seating. Sometimes you’ll find a line of people waiting to “get in”, but don’t be fooled, this is usually just a line of tourists who don’t know what they’re doing! Skip right past them and look for an open table (you might have to do a bit of stalking if it’s really busy!)
5 | Visit One of New Orleans’ Famous Cemeteries
Fun fact: New Orleans was built on a swamp, so naturally they couldn’t bury people underground. The result? Beautiful cemeteries all over the city with elaborate above-ground tombs!
You’ve probably heard of the most famous ones. St. Louis Cemetery no. 1, located in the Iberville neighborhood just north of the French Quarter, is most notably home to the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, though her actually burial location within the cemetery is debated. Due to vandalism, the cemetery is no longer open to the public, and visitors must book a guided tour in advance. I recommend Free Tours by Foot, since they only charge the $2 entry fee required by the church.
The other most famous cemetery in New Orleans is Lafayette Cemetery no. 2, located in the Garden District. This cemetery is a lot prettier, with trees and wider boulevards. (probably much more what you’d picture when thinking of a New Orleans cemetery). Free Tours by Foot does a combination Garden District/Lafayette Cemetery tour as well, but you might also get lucky and find a free guide starting one outside the cemetery while you’re there (just as we did)!
If you can only pick one, go with Lafayette Cemetery no. 2.[irp]
6 | Sample a Little of Everything at St. Roch Market
I mean, really, who doesn’t love a food hall?
I seek them out in pretty much every city we visit, and New Orleans’ St. Roch Market did not disappoint!
St. Roch is fairly new in town. It sits on the edge of the Marigny at the corner of St. Roch and St. Claude Avenues. The building, which was abandoned for years before its rebirth, is light and bright with a wide range of offerings.
Our favorite (and a must-try) was the Haitian food from Fritai. Their namesake dish, the fritai “sandwich” is made with roasted pork shoulder, avocado, and mango salsa, sandwiched between two fried plantain patties. Ummm…YES. I’m just sad I only ordered one.
We also tried drinks from the Mayhaw Bar, local ceviche from Elysian Seafood, a trio of bao from T2 Streetfood, and sweet treats from Bittersweet Confections. We loved that we could try a little of everything in one place (especially awesome for picky little eaters!), and suffice it to say, nothing disappointed!
7 | Ride the St. Charles Streetcar
Whether you’re staying near the French Quarter or in the Garden District itself, there’s always time to squeeze in on ride on the historic St. Charles Streetcar!
The streetcar is quite an affordable thrill too. At $1.25 for a one-way ride or $3 for an all-day pass, you find that the reasonable cost brings a mix of both tourists and regular commuters as riders. Do bring exact change though, as the operators won’t have any for you!
If you’re staying in the French Quarter, you can catch a ride at Lee Circle (find a map of the St. Charles Streetcar route here). Most will ride to St. Charles + Washington, where you can hop off and do some wandering amongst the Garden District mansions and Lafayette Cemetery no. 1.
If you’re already stayng in the Garden District, you can either do the reverse (riding into the French Quarter), or do as we did and head Uptown. We found the ride past all the Uptown mansions, Audubon Park, and Loyola & Tulane University buildings to be quite enjoyable! We even Iewarded ourselves with a cheesecake-stuffed snoball (that’s a sno-cone to us NOLA outsiders) at Sno-la on Carrollton Avenue before heading back. Even if you aren’t a huge sno-cone fan, trust me, this one will blow your mind!
8 | Spot Gators on a Swamp Tour
I know what you might be thinking…”Really? A swamp tour? In Louisiana? Sounds pretty cliche.” Heck yes, it is!
I’m all about skipping past gimicky experiences, but this one’s cliche for a reason, my friends…it’s actually pretty fun!
We took the Honey Island Swamp Tour out of Slidell, Louisiana on our first trip to New Orleans, pre-kids. While we didn’t see many gators (we later learned that prime gator spotting season is during the hot and humid summer months), it was a fun to be in a totally new kind of habitat that we’d never experienced before!
Tip: Renting a car and making the hour drive across the lake is easiest with kids, but if you’re without a car, most tour companies will offer French Quarter pick up as well.[irp]
9 | Spend the Day in City Park
Did you know that at 2.5 square miles, New Orleans’ City Park is almost TWICE the size of New York’s Central Park? That’s crazy!
While most of the park is open greenspace, there is TONS for families to do, and it’d be easy to fill up an entire day exploring all the park has to offer!
For families with young kids, visit Story Land, take a ride on the Musical Train, or play at Stanley Ray Playground. Slightly older kids will find fun at Carousel Gardens amusement park or City Putt. Meanwhile, adults with appreciate a trip to the New Orleans Botanical Garden or New Orleans Museum or Art and Sculpture Garden.
Tip: While you’re in the neighborhood, stop at Parkway Bakery & Tavern, a top contender for the best po’boys in New Orleans!
10 | Admire the Mansions in the Garden District
This is the pinnacle of southern opulence. If you love history and architecture, then you must get out to the Garden District!
There are plenty of guided tours to choose from that will explain the history of these homes and their notable residents. Since we’ve got two unpredictable children, we decided to self-guide ourselves, which was still every bit as enjoyable!
Starting at Lafayette Cemetery no. 1, head east on Prytania Street to Jackson Avenue, down a block, and then back west on Coliseum. You’ll pass by many amazing mansions, including Colonel Short’s Villa (formerly New Orleans’ most expensive home on the market at a cool $5 million) and the Buckner Mansion (popularized by it’s appearance in ‘American Horror Story: Coven’).
Tip: Like many places in New Orleans, the Garden District sidewalks can be rough, so I’d recommend either using a sturdy jogging stroller, or skipping it all together and utilizing a carrier instead.
Have you been to New Orleans? Share your favorite spots in the comments below!
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