14 Cool Things to Do in New Orleans at Night

The lively Bourbon Street is a must-visit when in New Orleans
The lively Bourbon Street is a must-visit when in New Orleans | © Jennifer Wright / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sarah Ravits
21 September 2020

Though New Orleans looks good in the day, the city truly shines at night when the neon lights glow across Bourbon Street. Many establishments in the city stay open well after 2am, allowing you to embark on multiple adventures in one night. Whether you’re into rowdy nights, arcade games, cult classic movies, fried food, live music or sweeping views of the skyline, the Big Easy has it all.

Dance to live music on Frenchmen Street

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Frenchmen Street. New Orleans, Louisiana
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The most bustling nightlife scene (other than Bourbon Street) is on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. It’s home to several intimate live-music venues, including DBA, the Spotted Cat Music Club and Blue Nile, that feature local bands and DJs. There’s also an outdoor art market if you need to catch your breath between sets and plenty of street performers if you don’t feel like committing to the clubs’ cover charges. For some late-night fare, visit 13 Monaghan for its famous tater tachos (tater tots loaded with classic nacho toppings).

Sing karaoke at Kajun’s Pub

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This divey, no-frills karaoke bar on Saint Claude Avenue stays open 24 hours a day. Offering a vast and varied collection of songs, Kajun’s Pub is the perfect place to climb up on an elevated stage and sing at the top of your lungs. As you wait for your song to come up, grab a cheap drink from the bar, warm up your vocal cords and sing along with the other patrons. Even if you’re only offered a record deal in your dreams, this could still be the place you make it.

See a midnight movie at the Prytania Theatre

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In Uptown, the oldest movie theater in New Orleans hasn’t changed much since opening in 1914. While it hosts a steady rotation of new releases, it also shows a late-night movie series on its single screen. It’s a great place to see cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and Room (2015). Don’t forget the popcorn, and if you have a special event, the theater is available for private hire.

Take a ghost tour

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Haunted House Tours, New Orleans
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Experience New Orleans’s supposedly haunted history by joining one of the many guided tours around the French Quarter. You can take your pick between ghost tours, vampire tours and even haunted pub crawls where you’ll be treated to a delightful mix of both fact and fiction (who knows where the line is blurred?). Hosted by theatrical and knowledgeable guides, these tours will take you to some of the city’s oldest and spookiest locales. Some of these stories are so spooky that you might just get the urge to return to some of the places on your own – to see what you can see.

Take in the view from the Pontchartrain Hotel’s rooftop

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Over in the Garden District on Saint Charles Avenue, the trendy but classic Pontchartrain Hotel features a lively rooftop bar called Hot Tin, a reference to the Tennessee Williams play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The bar staff serves refreshing and original cocktails, so drink up. On the balcony outside, there are dreamy, sweeping views of the city’s skyline. With four restaurants and every amenity you can think of available to you, you’ll have a hard time tearing yourself away from the Pontchartrain.

Play games at the Rook Cafe

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This quiet coffee shop in the trendy Freret neighborhood is a haven for nerds and literary types who don’t want a wild night out. New Orleans can provide for those looking for an early night as much as for a late one. It’s a peaceful place to read a book, sit back with your laptop or find a buddy and play a tabletop game such as Scrabble, chess or Dungeons and Dragons.

Get the ultimate tourist experience on Bourbon Street

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City skyline and Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America, North America
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Though many would argue it’s a total tourist trap, Bourbon Street is a spot you really should cross off your bucket list. It’s internationally known for its overpowering neon drinks and late-night dance and strip clubs. And yes, this is also where you catch beads year-round off balconies – if you can’t make it for Mardi Gras. While it’s a bit gritty, this extra lively pedestrian street truly captures the spirit of New Orleans.

Bayou Wine Garden

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One of New Orleans’s most popular wine bars, the Bayou Wine Garden offers an extensive selection of vino, including wine on tap, and cheese plates. If you want to snag a spot in its picturesque courtyard that it shares with the nearby Bayou Beer Garden, you’ll want to arrive early. On a warm night, it’s an ideal place to watch the big game or celebrate a birthday or anniversary. Friday nights in the Big Easy really do come easy.

Check out a burlesque show

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At the turn of the 20th century, New Orleans was home to a burgeoning burlesque scene as jazz music began to take shape. Today, burlesque is still a thriving business in the city, with several local troupes and well-known performers, including Trixie Minx and Bella Blue, who exude old-school glamour, sauciness and sex appeal. Some of the best spots to see a live burlesque show include One Eyed Jacks (which also hosts other live-music events and theater shows), the Burlesque Ballroom at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, House of Blues and the AllWays Lounge & Theatre.

Spot celebrities at the Ace Hotel

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With multiple restaurants, such as Josephine Estelle and Seaworthy, and a hip rooftop bar, the trendy Ace Hotel is a hotspot for travelers and New Orleans residents. Regularly hosting live music and film screenings, it’s often frequented by movie stars, high-profile musicians and those looking to snap a pic of the rich and famous. As it’s within proximity of art galleries, cute boutiques, bars serving delicious cocktails and the French Quarter, sleeping here means that you’re automatically in the right place at the right time.

Take a steamboat cruise

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the steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America, Americas
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You’ve seen it in the movies; now do it in real life. As it’s on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, one of the best ways to see New Orleans is from the water, and taking a cruise on a classic riverboat is the way to go. Departing from the Toulouse Street Wharf at 6pm, the beautiful Steamboat Natchez offers nightly cruises, allowing you to enjoy dinner and some live jazz while out on the water. You’re in for an extraordinary night.

Drink some classic New Orleans-style cocktails

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Many modern cocktails come from New Orleans. Drinks such as the brandy crusta, the Sazerac, the Ramos gin fizz and brandy milk punch are a part of the city’s history. To try these drinks and more, visit hot cocktail spots such as Double Dealer and Bar Marilou, or head to a classic place for the classics, such as the Sazerac Bar. You’ll discover your new favorite cocktail in no time.

See some opera

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It’s a little-known fact that New Orleans is also America’s first city of opera. It might not be as polished and pretty as the opera districts in Paris and Vienna, but it brings a unique character to the art. A great spot to see some opera is at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, which produces classic shows such as Carmen and The Magic Flute all year round. You’ll feel oh-so cultured when you tell your friends that you saw an opera on your vacation.

Mardi Gras

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If there’s one time when the whole world wants to be in New Orleans, it’s during Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday – a day of parades, celebrations, debauchery and many drinks. If you go, wear gold, green and purple, the event’s official colors, representing power, faith and justice. To really celebrate the holiday, eat some king cake, too, which is decorated in the same colors. And bring comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot.

Additional reporting by Alice Johnston.

These recommendations were updated on September 21, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.