There is Much More to New Orleans Than Mardi Gras.
You’ve heard them all and are probably confused if you aren’t from New Orleans… Names like Crescent City, the Big Easy, and NOLA all stand-in for New Orleans, Louisiana.
Maybe it’s because New Orleans is just too incredible to be called by only one name!
As the cradle of Jazz music, the home of elegant wrought-iron balconies, and the breathtaking Southern Live Oaks, there is more to see in the French Quarter of New Orleans than Mardi Gras alone (although everyone should join the party at least once in their lifetime).
History of the French Quarter
With over 300 years of history, there is much to learn about the French Quarter. Known as the Vieux Carre, it is the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans.
Let’s start with a quick overview…
The French claimed the area in the 1690s, and the Quarter was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in 1718. Following the Seven Years War, New Orleans ceded to the Spanish in 1763.
After the Louisiana Purchase, the Americans moved in mixing the cultures and architecture of the French and Spanish, with Caribbean accents.
Like most Southern cities, the economy was supported by sugar cane and tobacco crops. Then, in the 19th century, the port brought new people and new money.
The French Quarter itself is a square defined by the streets surrounding it. The land note as the French Quarter includes the stretch along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue, and to North Rampart Street. Those 78 square blocks make up what is called the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Things to Do in New Orleans
Today the Vieux Carre is adorned with iconic gaslights, laid back cafes, courtyard gardens, and jazz clubs. The most excellent food is served in Cajun and Creole restaurants scattered across the Quarter.
To see several, simply hop on a Streetcar from the 1830s, allowing you to see sights you may not otherwise see for only $ 1.25 per ride.
There are so many “must-see’ locations in New Orleans; it is hard to narrow it all down for a vacation. In this article, we will attempt to navigate the vast array of experiences to be had. Be sure to visit as many as you can, then come back for more!
The Streets of New Orleans
The streets of New Orleans and the French Quarter are bustling with lively entertainment, shops, and incredible food. Whether swept up in a parade on the corners of Chartres and Frenchmen Street or dining in the world-famous Café Du Monde, delicious excitement abounds.
Let’s take a stroll down the streets of NOLA…
Bourbon Street– The most talked about street in all the French Quarter is undoubtedly, Bourbon Street. Its bars are world famous with their rich history and lively faire. Bourbon Street is one of the few locations in America where patrons can walk the streets with an open container.
Visit the most frequented bars like The Old Absinthe House, Pat O’Brien’s, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the Napoleon House, and so many more.
Royal Street– Running through the French Quarter and parallel to Bourbon Street is the ever-alluring Royal Street. The more docile of the two, Royal is lined with live music and enticing food as well. Boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, cafes, and more fill the streets with activity. One of the French Quarters’ best hotels, The Hotel Monteleone’s very own rotating Carousel Bar is also located on Royal Street.
Frenchmen Street – Undeniably best place for live music in New Orleans, Frenchmen Street is packed with the iconic New Orleans scene. Drop into a few of the most notable venues like the Blue Nile, the Spotted Cat, and the Maison, Snug Harbor, and d.b.a.
Magazine Street – Curving, with the course of the Mississippi, through six miles of New Orleans magic is Magazine Street. More art studios, restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, decorations, and more line the street with shopping adventure.
Canal Street & Algiers Ferry – Take a Ferry ride over the Mississippi to Algiers Point. There you can spend the day at the Jazz Walk of Fame or Confetti Park. Take a walk along the riverfront and gander at the beautiful homes.
The French Market– Enjoy a day full of shopping and dining designed by one of America’s first African American Architects, Joseph Albeilard. The market spans five blocks from Jackson Square and the famed Café Du Monde, all the way to the flea market at the end of Esplanade Ave. There you will find locally grown produce, specialty foods, and arts and crafts. Take it all in with the sounds of Jazz filling every corner of the market.
Palace Market – This “cool vibe” street is where the locals gather in the evening. On Esplanade Avenue, the market is a nighttime art market peddling art, jewelry, crafts, and the like.
The Riverboat Cruises
There are two Riverboat Cruises docked on the Mississippi.
The Creole Queen Paddle Wheeler is a 24-foot paddlewheel boat located at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Witness the spot-on costumed reenactments that dazzle the keenest history buffs. Reserve your lunch or dinner cruise for a taste of the Mississippi.
The Steamboat Natchez is a two-hour Jazz cruise filled with historical narration and steam engine room tours.
Travel back in time to the old south with a grand tour of the Southern Plantations of New Orleans. Land and homes such as the Laura Plantation from the 1870s claim stories from the tropical gardens and sugarcane fields, to the slaves’ quarters.
The Airboat Swamp Tours
For an exhilarating ride, look no further than the swamp tours of New Orleans. From the Cajun Captains, you will learn the history of the Bayou and be wildly entertained. They love nothing more than to show-off their boating skills on a thrilling adventure through the marshes.
If you love wildlife, you will love the Bayou. Look for wild boar, raccoons, bald eagles, herons, egrets and of course, alligators. Your captain may even let you hold a baby gator!
Whether your speed is a gentle cruise on a pontoon boat or the thrill of an airboat ride, you will see and learn a whole new side to Louisiana, with a Bayou swamp tour.
If gambling is your thing, you have landed in the right location. Harrah’s, Carnival Club, and Fairgrounds Racetrack are sure to meet your gambling and entertainment needs.
The Cocktail Tours
What’s your poison? New Orleans has it! Cocktail Tours in the Big Easy are a must for the refined mixologist and anyone wanting to have a good time. Be sure to locate the rooftop bars for an overhead view of the festivities.
Do not miss the cocktails made especially for NOLA…
- Brandy Milk Punch
- The Hurricane
- Pimm’s Cup
- Ramos Gin Fizz and so many more!
The Food Tours
Ahh, the food tours. This could be an article of its own. There are so many to choose from. There are walking tours, sunset tours, history tours, food and cocktail tours, and many others. There is a tour for whatever type of foodie you are.
Sample a taste of New Orleans authentic cuisine and learn the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking. Tours last anywhere from 2-4 hours.
Learn all about the city’s fantastic cuisine, including:
- Red beans & rice
- Hot Sauces
- Muffulettas, Seafood, and crawfish boils
- Po Boys
That leads us to the most famous café’ in the French Quarter…
Café Du Monde
If you want to look like a local, stop by Café Du Monde and order a coffee and chicory (au-lait style) with a beignet. Somewhere under the heaping mound of powdered sugar, you will find the most delectable square-shaped donut. YUM!
Cemetery Tours are packed with history and interesting New Orleans facts like…
- Why are the tombs above ground?
- Why does Mark Twin call New Orleans the City of the Dead?
- Discover the resting place of Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.
St. Louis Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans and is located near the French Quarter. The only way to get into this unique and mysterious cemetery is with a tour guide.
Garden District Cemetery and Lafayette Cemetery are two additional tours to discover. And, like food and cocktail tours, there are many styles of trips. Read all about them, but be sure to pick one!
Ghost Tours and Vampire and Voodoo Tours
Ready for a thrill and a fright? You have found the right tour. Join a tour for the history of the eerie nighttime in New Orleans. See the mansion featured in popular television series, American Horror Story, and the spooky St. Germain House.
Learn about the Voodoo history, witchcraft, ghosts, and vampires of the New Orleans City of the Dead.
Get tickets to see the Burlesque Shows, both classic and outrageous. These shows feature vaudeville, magic, comedy, music, and burlesque.
The interior of the Saenger Theater is adorned with Greek and Roman statues, columns, and archways. Visit to enjoy Broadway, comedy, dance, and music.
There are many museums in the French Quarter and surrounding areas. For a cultural experience, visit any one of the many, including…
- NOMA New Orleans Museum of Art
- New Orleans Jazz Museum
- Ogden Museum of Southern Art
- Louisiana Children’s Museum
- National WWII Museum
The Many Parks
Parks such as Woldenberg Park, the Audubon Park, Crescent Park and New Orleans Musical Legends Park, Lewis Armstrong Park, the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve all offer a day in the outdoors. A day for play and rest is recommended with so much to do in this incredible city!
Individual Locations to peruse at your leisure:
Jackson Square is the center of the city and was designed for military parades from the 1720s. The Square was named after General Andrew Jackson (7th President) after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Jackson Square is an excellent photo opportunity.
Garden District– Those who didn’t want to live in the French Quarter with the Creoles, built these Antebellum Mansions in the Garden District.
Bougainvillea crawls up the walls of the gardens, and the gates are teaming with fragrant jasmine and magnolias.
Audubon Zoo– This zoo honors famous naturalist John James Audubon who lived in New Orleans in 1821. It is located on Magazine Street and offers a summer splash park called the Cool Zoo and the Gator Run Lazy River. Don’t forget to stop by the Audubon Butterfly Gardena and the Insectarium at Canal Street as well.
Jazz Clubs Preservation Hall– How about Jazz music 7-days a week? That is what you will find at Preservation Hall. They have the noble task of preserving one of New Orleans’s unique music contributions! Drop in to learn more.
St. Lois Cathedral on Jackson Square is the longest continually active Roman Catholic church in the United States, known for its architectural beauty and 3 spires, scallop moldings, and Doric columns.
Visit Mardi Gras World
So, you can’t make it to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday? Well, you can still experience Mardi Gras at Mardi Gras World. This gigantic warehouse holds the parade’s floats and is where artists work on the construction of the floats and costumes. After the tour, you are free to wander in awe at the magic behind the scenes.