Packed with activities and attractions, it’s difficult to really go in the wrong direction upon arrival in New Orleans. There are many places that have lived up to the hype for decades, and there are new, experimental spots that have quickly gained acclaim as well. Below is an eclectic list of must-see attractions.
Located along Bayou St. John in the Mid City neighborhood of New Orleans, Parkway Bakery & Tavern is a New Orleans institution. Parkway first opened its doors in 1911, operating as a bakery, and in 1929, the shop added ‘poor boy’ sandwiches to the menu to attract workers from the nearby American Can Company. Parkway Bakery and Tavern shut its doors for about 10 years following the closing of the American Can Company, but opened under new ownership in 2003. Today, Parkway has a full bar and a menu of 25 different varieties of the sandwich.
The National World War II Museum (formerly known as the D-Day Museum) is a top-ranked tourist attraction in New Orleans. Congress considers the museum the official WWII museum of the United States. This popular historical monument is located downtown and houses interactive exhibits, restoration works, a period dinner theater and restaurants. Established in 2000, the National WWII Museum is an incredible place to experience and learn about World War II and honor the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the world and their country. Visitors can witness the efforts of civilians and the combat experience of soldiers. Guests can view collections of wartime bombers and aircrafts while touring the museum.
Muffaletta from Central Grocery & Deli, courtesy of Central Grocery & Deli
In the center of the historic French Quarter is the Central Grocery & Deli: the place where the muffuletta was born. This family-owned, Italian-American grocery store located on Decatur Street was founded in 1906 by Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo – the progenitor of the muffuletta – and has since been among the top spots to visit while touristing around the Crescent City. Central Grocery’s muffulettas are delicious because the sandwich is prepared with fresh, in-house sliced meats and locally baked handmade bread – however, what makes them particularly special is the family’s century-old Italian olive salad seasoning. If you love their creations so much you wish you could take them home, know that they do nationwide delivery, too.
Encompassing traditional New Orleans jazz, Preservation Hall is a cornerstone of music and culture. It was established in 1961 to honor traditional New Orleans jazz. Every night, patrons can witness the wonderful musical evolution of jazz culture. The popular bar hosts a variety of musical performances, including gospel, hip-hop, bluegrass and rock. The best aspect of Preservation Hall is its non-profit affiliation. This is more than a music hall, it is a place for the community; they engage with the local community helping with education and social programs.
Maple Leaf Bar is a casual, local favorite hangout that stays open late and hosts live music until the wee hours, along with their sweaty, adoring fans who cram into this intimate space with reckless abandon. Sometimes dubbed simply “The Leaf,” this bar and music venue has been a consistent favorite for locals, students from the nearby universities, and visitors, especially on Tuesday nights when it hosts the much-beloved Rebirth Brass Band. Other than being a popular music bar, it also hosts special events, including crawfish boils when it’s seasonably appropriate, and it is the after-party hotspot for the annual “Midsummer Mardi Gras” parade in August.
Arguably the most famous area in New Orleans, the French Quarter is home to a number of street performers, bars, shops and restaurants, all in one historic location. However, Jackson Square, the Quarter’s park, has been a National Historic Landmark since 1960, offering gorgeous views of the historic buildings. It’s also a site that plays a major role in the city’s history as the site where in 1803 Louisiana officially became U.S territory following the Louisiana Purchase from France.
No trip to New Orleans, especially for first-timers, is complete without at least a quick stop at Cafe du Monde for an order of beignets (a signature French pastry that is covered in a generous serving of powdered sugar) and a cup of cafe au lait. In proximity to the Mississippi River, Cafe du Monde is also a place to soak in the sights and sounds of street musicians.
Not much has changed since the ’70s at New Orleans famed Tipitina’s music venue, which continues to draw in iconic local and national acts who have been known to jam well into the wee hours. Its name is a tribute to iconic musician Professor “Fess” Longhair, who regularly performed there until his death in 1980. It’s a place that draws in a diverse crowd, including students and aging hippies, who converge over their love of live New Orleans music in a no-frills atmosphere.
One of the largest art collections in the South, the Ogden Museum of Art is a must-see for art afficionados or anyone with a casual interest in soaking up some of the region’s diverse artists. The museum offers educational programming for all ages, as well as an acclaimed music series held every Thursday in its atrium, and it’s located within walking distance of restaurants, shopping and the French Quarter.
One of the largest city parks in the country, New Orleans City Park features breathtaking gardens, centuries-old oak trees draped with Spanish moss, waterways, tennis courts, the New Orleans Museum of Art and other outdoor attractions. Nature enthusiasts and curious explorers will appreciate the numerous bike and running paths, along with picturesque places to sit back and enjoy the views.
Brimming with shops, galleries, flea markets, eateries and bars, Magazine Street is a six-mile stretch that extends from Uptown to the Lower Garden District. It is easily accessible from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar; we recommend exploring it on foot, as it tends to be a high-traffic area for cars and it can be difficult to find parking.
New Orleans Saints game/tailgate party
There’s no energy that can really compare to the New Orleans Saints fans’ energy in the Superdome and its surrounding tailgate parties before, during and (depending on the outcome) after the game. New Orleanians are passionate about this team, whether they win or lose, and the whole city gets involved. It’s never difficult to find a tailgate party, porch gathering or a dive bar offering cheap drinks and often complimentary food.
An enclave of the city with a Bohemian bent, Frenchmen Street is lined with music venues, bars and places to grab a late-night snack. While it was once considered more of a locals’ hotspot (along with in-the-know tourists), it is now the lively scene for group outings, bachelor parties and other festivities due to its abundance of live music venues, casual eateries and the general bustling scene.
The New Orleans Lakefront
Unbeknownst to most tourists, the New Orleans Lakefront offers beautiful views of Lake Pontchartrain, along with a number of laid-back restaurants along the water that serve fresh seafood. Get there in the late afternoon to hit up a happy hour, and stay for a sunset stroll.
The French Quarter
With gorgeous, historic buildings that date back to French and Spanish colonial times, the French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the city and one of the best places for a photo opportunity and an adventure. It’s the spot where you can find a number of historic landmarks, bars and other places mentioned in this list. We recommend starting at the foot of Canal Street, and meandering all the way until you get to Esplanade Avenue; don’t set a strict agenda, just let it play out as you see fit.
If you’re not a hurry to get anywhere, and you want to enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace, hop onto one of the city’s streetcars. For just $1.25, you can get across town while soaking in the cityscape along the way. There are a number of routes along St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street, Rampart Street and the Riverfront.
Another outdoor spot that offers sweeping views of the water – this time, the Mississippi River, not the lake – is dubbed “The Fly” and it’s located Uptown. It’s the waterfront portion of Audubon Park behind the Audubon Zoo, and on warm days it is a popular destination for students at the nearby Tulane and Loyola universities. It’s also a pleasant spot to go for a jog or a bike ride; to throw a frisbee around; or just sit back and enjoy a good book as the riverboats pass by.
Even though it’s a tourist trap that’s generally avoided by locals, it would be remiss to publish a list of main attractions without mentioning Bourbon Street, the neon-colored festively chaotic strip of bars, music clubs and strip joints in the bustling Upper French Quarter. It is known for its all-night parties, balcony views and sense of abandon, and it’s definitely something to experience – at least once.
It seems a little creepy to just hang out in a cemetery, but the New Orleans cemeteries are famous for their above-ground tombs (since the city is below sea level) and the general sense of antiquated beauty. There are about 45 cemeteries in New Orleans, and within them are thousands of mysterious-looking vaults, often adorned with sculptural decorations that represent the surname, occupation or faith of the deceased inside.
St. Claude Arts District
A number of artist-run independent galleries along the St. Claude Avenue corridor have popped up in the past several years in this urban hipster haven that has been experiencing a population boom. More than two dozen collectives, co-ops, pop-up restaurants and collaborative spaces can be found in the area, drawing in some of the most imaginative performers and budding entrepreneurs.
These recommendations were updated on April 28, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.