Top 8 Free Things to do in New Orleans
Let’s face it; travel can be expensive. But, when you know where to go, you can explore new destinations at a fraction of the cost. One of our favorite places, New Orleans (aka The Big Easy), can be pricey to visit but is filled with rich culture, historic buildings and landmarks, and music that will move your soul and justify the travel investment.
Having traveled to New Orleans (NOLA) many times to cover the French Quarter Festival, a free music and food festival, we’ve discovered several attractions and things to do in New Orleans for free! Your next adventure through the vibrant city of New Orleans will surely excite and be kind to your wallet too.
1. Vibe To New Orleans Music
New Orleans, known as the Birthplace of Jazz, offers many opportunities to immerse yourself in the music and culture for free. In addition to finding street music wherever you go, Wednesday at the Square is a weekly festival between March through May for tourists and locals alike to come together and listen to various indigenous styles of music, such as jazz, funk, Latin rhythms, and more!
Attend Jazz in the Park is located in Louis Armstrong Park for free concerts on Thursdays in the Spring and Fall. Browse the many shops surrounding the park and shop for handcrafted jewelry, art, and craft. Don’t forget to come hungry and enjoy local New Orleans cuisine!
Gather your friends and family, pack a picnic basket, and enjoy the great outdoors with the sweet sounds of the saxophone playing in the distance by the talented local musicians.
2. Carnival Season
You haven’t lived until you have attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans! If there is one thing to add to your bucket list, it’s carnival season in New Orleans. The streets come alive with parades, music, and art. Mardi Gras starts in early January, and spectators witness the best of the best float and costume creators. Try good old-fashioned New Orleans traditions, such as grabbing a slice of King Cake and snowballs (snow cones) to complete your carnival season.
If you happen to miss carnival season, don’t worry! You can experience some of the magic of Mardi Gras at the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum. It is located upstairs from the Arnaud’s restaurant and has become a shrine dedicated to Mardi Gras filled with masks, costumes, and vintage photographs.
3. Bourbon Street
Sure, you get warned about Bourbon Street due to pickpocketers and unsavory establishments. However, it is worth the visit! You can find street performers, bars, and local cuisine all on one street for free. With melodies of jazz and blues filling the air, it may just inspire you to sing karaoke at The World Famous Cats Meow.
Don’t forget to tickle your taste buds with a NOLA favorite–the “hurricane.” This sweet alcoholic beverage is rum, lime, and fassionola or passion fruit syrup and it will certainly have your head spinning.
4. Jackson Square
In the French Quarter of New Orleans, Jackson Square is a high-energy cultural center of New Orleans. The streets around the Square is filled with art, history, live music in every direction, and diverse architecture to make every visitor in awe of its design.
Stand in admiration for the St. Lewis Cathedral. This stunning Catholic church was built in 1718, but it burned down in 1788. So the new building got erected in 1794. Facing the Mississippi River, the architecture of the St. Lewis Cathedral is worth a visit.
Sadly, the looming statue of America’s 7th President, Andrew Jackson, that stands tall in the center of the square is a painful reminder of America’s dark past. Jackson was a tyrant and unrepentant slaveholder. He was also responsible for the forceful removal of five peaceful American Indian tribes from their homelands and triggered the Trail of Tears, a 1,000-mile death march that left thousands of Cherokees dead along the way.
5. Garden District
Take a streetcar to The Garden District, also known as Lafayette City. Here you can do a free Tour By Foot where you will hear stories of legends, celebrities, epidemics, and tragedies through mansions and manicured gardens. You can also choose to go on a self-guided audio tour that’s GPS-enabled.
The Garden District is a short 2-3 miles from the French Quarter. The places the tour will cover are:
- Colonel Short’s Villa
- Briggs-Staub House
- Commander’s Palace Restaurant
- Toby’s Corner
- Manning House
- Brevard-Mahat-Rice House
- Payne-Strachan House
- Lafayette Cemetry (currently closed for maintenance to visitors)
6. Crescent City Farmers Market
Take a stroll through Crescent City Farmers Market. You may find a free cooking class or watch cooking demonstrations by local chefs to find their culinary secrets. Crescent City Farmers Market doesn’t only support local farmers but local musicians in the community. The market regularly hosts musicians to enhance the visitor’s shopping experience – and it’s free!
Once you’ve learned a new recipe, you can shop for fresh farm produce from local farmers and cook up a traditional favorite – the New Orleans Muffaleta. Next, explore the various vendors selling books, jewelry, flowers, and other arts and crafts.
7. Sazerac House
Another exciting thing to do in New Orleans is visiting the Sazerac House for complimentary tours and cocktail exhibits to experience the French Quarter in the 1800s. In addition, you can chat with virtual bartenders and learn about their favorite cocktail recipes. Admission into the Sazerac is free!
Learn where the Sazerac Cocktail was born and how to build drinks from the Mr. Boston guide with this state-of-the-art experience.
Oh yeah, you can sample Sazerac along the way too!
8. Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve
You can’t visit New Orleans without experiencing the wildlife! There are six sites in the Jean Lafitte National Park, and admission is free to the bayous, marshes, and swamps. There is so much wildlife to view, such as alligators, minx, armadillos, water snakes, and a range of other reptiles and amphibians.
The park is located along the Mississippi Flyway and is every birdwatcher’s dream location for beautiful birds. You might even spot a Heron or Ibis walking along the canal banks.
The Bottom Line
New Orleans is a stunning location filled with culture, flavorful cuisine, historic architecture, and music to excite the soul! But don’t let it affect your wallet. There are many exciting free things to do in New Orleans. Street music fills the streets and tasty smells from restaurants cooking New Orleans favorites such as Jambalia and Gumbo!
Even if you’re on a tight budget you can still let the good times roll without breaking the bank.
Tonya Fitzpatrick, Esq. is a co-founder of World Footprints. A three-time TEDx presenter and international speaker, Tonya was appointed a Delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (63rd Session). An almost “recovering attorney”, Tonya has found her purpose as a cultural connector. She loves spreading positive messages about the power of travel and the strength of the common humanity we share. Tonya holds a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics and memberships in the National Speakers Association, Society of American Travel Journalists, Women in Film and Video, Society of Professional Journalists and the North American Travel Journalist Association where she serves as a Board Member. Tonya enjoys a life full of adventure, dark chocolate and champagne with her husband and business partner, Ian, and their beloved cat, Irwin.