The Top Things To Do in Louisiana

Kayaking is a unique way to experience the bayou on a trip to Louisiana
Kayaking is a unique way to experience the bayou on a trip to Louisiana | © Heebphoto / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nick Dauk
2 September 2021
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Mardi Gras parades, French pastries and Cajun culture may come to mind when you picture the Bayou State. But there’s more to the US state of Louisiana than parties and doughnuts. Here are Culture Trip’s recommendations of the best things to do.

Louisiana’s name alone conjures up a cavalcade of hallmarks, which promise a unique experience for every type of traveler. History buffs and nature lovers can explore an untouched side of the bayou, while foodies and jazz lovers can stumble into the secret local spots with a little sleuthing.

Whether you’re joining Culture Trip on its exclusive four-day tour of New Orleans or winging it on your own, every time can feel like your first time in Louisiana – especially when your to-do list includes these top attractions.

Cruise down the Mississippi on an old world steamboat

Music Venue, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark, $$$
Natchez steamboat, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Steamboat on Mississippi River with bridge in background.
© Stephen Saks Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
The mighty Mississippi River is just as influential in New Orleans history as food, music, and community. Experience the majesty of this waterway during a two hour cruise atop the Steamboat Natchez. Owned by the oldest operating steamboat company on the planet, Steamboat Natchez offers dinner and daytime jazz cruises. Live music, local Creole bites, and unrivaled views of the city are all yours to savor from the top deck.

Explore the music sights of New Orleans

Music Venue
Jazz at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, LA
© dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo
You simply cannot escape live music in New Orleans even if you tried. While the bands filling the streets with sweet jazz certainly deserve your attention, there are a few Big Easy venues that showcase the best music in the city – particularly, Preservation Hall. What started as informal jazz sessions in the courtyard crescendoed into the legendary concert hall it is today. Don’t worry about planning your trip around a performance; you can catch an intimate jazz concert almost every night of the year at Preservation Hall.

Go kayaking in the Louisiana bayous

Natural Feature
USA, Louisiana, Lake Martin. Kayakers in cypress tree swamp. Credit as: Cathy and Gordon Illg / Jaynes Gallery / DanitaDelimont.com
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

Get deep into the bayou on a kayaking tour of Manchac Swamp. You don’t have to be a whitewater rapids expert to navigate the swamp; the calm waters of the wetlands and Cypress forests are great for beginners. A guided eco-tour will give you the rundown on the wildlife that lives right below the surface as well as the Native American and Cajun history surrounding the area. Most kayaking tours are low-impact on the environment, so try not to get too jumpy if a curious alligator decides to take a closer look.

Try crab boil in New Orleans

Architectural Landmark
June 4, 2010"To call attention to the safety of the seafood in the Gulf Coast, the President ate some shrimp and crawfish with locals in Grand Isle, Louisiana. I noticed all the hands digging into the food and thought it made an interesting angle."
© GM/Current Affairs / Alamy Stock Photo
After a day spent sipping hurricanes around Bourbon Street, get some solids in your stomach with a crab boil. You can’t skip a stone in Louisiana without hitting a seafood boil – New Orleans has plenty of restaurants serving up crab boils in nearly every ward. Red potatoes, corn cobs, seasonings, onions, and more swim around with chunks of dungeness crab. Don’t be surprised if you find a little crawfish, lobster, or andouille sausage, too; each restaurant will stir something different in their crab boil.

Visit a gospel church on Sunday

Church
Gospel concert at Peace and Goodwill Baptist Church.
© Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

You don’t need to be religious or spiritual to be welcomed into a Louisiana gospel church. Sunday service in a gospel church showcases the past and present of Louisiana’s Black community. The music, an evolution of African-rooted traditions, is mixed with jubilee singing, blues, and even modern pop music. Never feel shy about being a non-parishioner – you’ll be singing and praising with the rest of the congregation in a matter of minutes.

Uncover the tragic past of the Whitney Plantation

Museum
Wallace, Louisiana - The Whitney Plantation, a sugar plantation that has been turned into a museum to tell the story of slavery.
© Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

The Whitney Plantation and Museum does not shy away from its past. You’ll soon discover that it’s the only museum in the state that only focuses on the lives of the enslaved people who labored there. Nearly two dozen buildings, some original and others added over the years, show the evolution of the property. The self-guided audio tour lasts just over an hour, offering an opportunity for you to stop and reflect on the tragic history of this sugarcane plantation.

Kick back on the beach at Grand Isle

Architectural Landmark
Grand Isle, Louisiana beauty images.
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Take a break from the city and get away to Grand Isle. 100 miles (161km) due south of NOLA, this remote town is known by locals as an oasis for outdoor sports. There’s no way you can afford to leave your rod and reel at home; nearly 300 species of fish are a mere cast away. If you’d rather have someone else catch the fish for you, spend your afternoons lounging across seven miles of beach, then head over to one of the island’s restaurants for a seafood dinner.

Discover the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans

Museum
Attendees laugh near a display of period memorabilia during the re-opening ceremony for the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, Louisiana July 21, 2008. Vintage cocktail shakers, Prohibition-era newspapers, one-of-a-kind whiskey bottles and so
© REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo
Raise your hand if there’s a cocktail in it! Down your glass and learn a little more about your favorite drink at the Museum of the American Cocktail. Explore two centuries of history that have left the world shaken and stirred. If you’re a bartender, mixologist, or just someone who appreciates a perfectly prepared cocktail, you can attend a seminar and impress your friends back home next time you make them a drink.

Get lost in the Jungle Gardens on Avery Island

Botanical Garden
Flowering azaleas and southern live oak in early spring, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, Louisiana, USA
© Don Johnston_SU / Alamy Stock Photo

One look at Jungle Gardens and you wouldn’t believe that Avery Island is a salt dome. More than 200 acres are home to timber bamboo groves, hundreds of thousands of birds, diverse flowers, and whichever wildlife decides to wander in. Choose between a guided historical or botanical tour, but we suggest shutterbugs opt for a private photography session. Zoom in on your photos and you may catch a bear, alligator, or wild cat photobombing in the background.

Freak yourself out at the Gothic Jail

Museum, Architectural Landmark

Trust us, the detour to DeRidder’s Gothic Jail will be one of the coolest moments of your road trip. Whilst certainly created as a center for criminals, architectural features like bay windows and Tudor arches create a more haunted mansion-like appearance. You’ll get a thorough history of the jail during a day tour. However, those who visit at night can schedule a lantern or paranormal tour under the moonlight to discover if “The Hanging Jail” has any former felons still floating around its halls.

Feeling inspired? Most of these activities are packed into our exclusive four-day tour of New Orleans, led by a Local Insider and designed for culturally curious travelers.

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