There’s no better city than New Orleans and there’s no better price than free.
Tourism, one of New Orleans’ biggest industries, starts to wane a bit in the summertime, thanks to the weather and humidity levels. But if you can handle the heat, your wallet will be rewarded, as there are still plenty of cool things to do. Another bonus? The crowds are smaller than they are during the rest of the year, opening up new possibilities for cheap and free things to do.
This August’s highlight is a three-day event that commemorates the life and legacy of one of the most iconic musicians to come from New Orleans and one who makes his hometown proud: Louis Armstrong, aka “Satchmo.” Although he had a troubled childhood, he became one of the pioneers of jazz music, which is still enjoyed around the world. During the weekend, multiple stages and smaller venues in and around the French Quarter host live musicians who pay tribute to the great musical hero. Look for free shows (but always tip the musicians if you’re able to), seminars, and street parties.
The Carpark Cinema is a “pop-up” theater run by passionate cinephiles, who screen cult classics in a parking lot in the otherwise residential Broadmoor neighborhood. They often partner with other local companies, including Broad Street Cider & Ale, to offer beverages and snacks for a small fee. Visit their Facebook page for more information and a calendar of upcoming events.
The Red Dress Run is an annual run, jog, or saunter throughout the French Quarter and Central Business District that benefits a variety of charities. Official participants pay a fee, so it’s not technically a “free” event, but there is no cost to cheer them on while sporting a red dress of your own. The Red Dress Run is organized by the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, an organization that prides itself on its status as a “drinking club with a running problem.” This year’s event is slated for August 11th.
Modeled after the famous Running of the Bulls across the pond in Pamplona, Spain, “San Fermin in Nueva Orleans” is the city’s annual encierro (“bull run”) festival. Except, here things are done a little differently: The “Bulls” are actually members of the Big Easy Roller Girls derby team (along with others who are visiting from other locales), who wield plastic bats and chase pedestrian participants around the French Quarter and Central Business District. And it’s not just a singular event: Festivities occur throughout the weekend, from July 13–15 with a number of Spanish-inspired events, parties, and live music.
Every Thursday, Sidney’s Saloon hosts a free showcase with local and touring comedians. Sometimes, they serve complimentary ice cream; and you won’t have to worry about breaking the bank if you shell out for a beer or cocktail, since the drinks are known to be cheap and strong.
Each year, Mid-Summer Mardi Gras is a one-day fête, organized by the Krewe of OAK, named for the eponymous Uptown street where the festivities begin and end. The krewe elects a reigning king and queen and the parade usually takes on a satirical bent, where costumed rowdiness is the norm. While members pay dues, it’s free to attend and join in on the merriment, along with dance troupes and live bands who parade and celebrate until the early morning. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as the event usually takes place in late August; this year, it is scheduled for August 27th.
Cold, refreshing beer is essential in helping New Orleanians beat the heat during the summer months, and if your wallet needs a break but you’re thirsty for more than just water, check out a tour at NOLA Brewing. Every Friday afternoon, the brewery opens its doors to welcome in visitors and regulars for a tour and free tastings in its spacious warehouse setting.
Singin’ in the Rain, Coco, The Incredibles, and Mary Poppins are some of the crowd-pleasers showing at this iconic theater throughout the summer. Throughout the rest of the year, The Orpheum hosts operas, Broadway musicals, and headliners, but during the summer months, it’s a more low-key spot to catch some free flicks in a festive environment.
New Orleanians have a reputation for hosting over-the-top celebrations for many of its offerings, including the humble but important juicy Creole tomato, found in much of the local cuisine. The French Market is the site of this festival, which incorporates cooking demonstrations, a variety of food vendors showcasing local delicacies, and live music.
We’ve included a lot of free celebrations and festivals in this list, but if you’re looking for something a little more low-key (and healthier for your body), New Orleans has a thriving yoga and wellness community that wants to become more inclusive. If you’re short on cash but still looking to get in a good stretch or workout, check out the donation-based yoga classes from NOLA Yoga Tribe, which take place in picturesque locations to constantly change up the ambiance, whether it’s at a trendy hotel, City Park, or along the water.