Known for its historic architecture, live music, spicy food and warm weather, New Orleans provides the ultimate romantic backdrop to develop or rekindle a romance. With an abundance of free and cheap activities, you can feel the sparks fly year-round – without breaking the bank.
Filled with breathtaking historic buildings that date back to French and Spanish colonial times, the French Quarter is New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood, commonly referred to as the Vieux Carré (French for “Old Square”). One of the most picturesque neighborhoods in the United States if not the world, the French Quarter is home to a number of important historical landmarks, including the St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square and the Cabildo, to name just a few. The neighborhood is easily walkable and also brimming with galleries, restaurants, bars and yes, the infamous balconies of Bourbon Street. It’s a sure bet that you’ll find something interesting along the way, as the neighborhood bursts with vibrantly colored architecture and people from all walks of life.
A free springtime concert series, Jazz in the Park takes place every Thursday evening at Louis Armstrong Park in the musically rich Treme neighborhood. Here you can catch performances from local music icons while sipping a local beer or filling up on a signature food item from one of the many vendors on site. It’s also a place to browse for local arts and crafts, as well as pay homage to one of New Orleans’ most treasured musicians and the namesake of the park, trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, situated behind the New Orleans Museum of Art occupies about five acres in an outdoor natural landscape of live oaks, vines and numerous pathways, including pedestrian bridges over the aquatic features of the park. Open seven days a week, the garden contains 63 sculptures in a variety of genres and materials, and is a serene place to spend an afternoon.
A romantic but casual date that won’t break the bank is a picnic on Bayou St. John, a natural waterway that flows into Lake Pontchartrain from this mostly residential area. It usually offers a laid back vibe and is a popular spot for joggers, bikers and kayakers, along with those who just prefer to sit back and observe the happenings of the mostly quiet but friendly neighborhood.
The New Orleans Airlift’s Music Box is a collaborative space on the edge of the city’s hip Bywater neighborhood. Its mission is to connect artists to each other and to the community, foster education and showcase a variety of structural, conceptual and musical art pieces. Surrounded by trees, the creative, eclectic collection of buildings are mostly made of salvaged materials, and each one incorporates experimental sound and visual elements. The venue is especially magical during its evening concert series, as it hosts local and national acts who often experiment with new performance styles. Hours of operation vary, but if you find yourself in the area it’s definitely worth checking out this imaginative space.
You can access New Orleans’ West Bank by car via a couple of bridges, but a more scenic way to get there is to hop on the passenger ferry at the foot of Canal Street for a quick, breezy and scenic ride across the Mississippi River. Once you get to the other side, you can check out a few historic sites and sit on the levee to catch a glimpse of the city’s skyline from another angle.
Every Thursday evening, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art keeps its doors open a little later than usual to present a weekly entertainment series, Ogden After Hours. Here, visitors can witness performances by both established and emerging musicians, sip on wine and mingle with other art enthusiasts in a contemporary space that has the biggest collection of Southern art in the world. Another bonus is that the location of the museum is situated nearby numerous bars and restaurants that you can check out when it’s over.
New Orleans has become increasingly bike-friendly over the past few years, with safety and awareness programs and newly implemented bike lanes around town. So why not ditch your car for the day and consider exploring the city while getting some exercise on two wheels? If you don’t own a bike, check out the new bike ride share program, Blue Bikes. For $8 an hour, you can rent from any of the stations that are situated across town, and return it at another locale if you don’t have the stamina to return to the point of origin. Plus, if you download the Social Bicycles mobile app, you can purchase the ride while on the go, find a station, reserve a bike and keep track of your trip history and mileage.
You might associate New Orleans with more decadent delights – rich food and strong drinks – but the city has become increasingly health-conscious with plenty of boutique workout studios, outdoor activities and a variety of fitness communities. For health-conscious early risers who want to set a positive tone for the day, NOLA Tribe Yoga offers several donation-based morning classes several days a week at picturesque settings at the New Orleans Lakefront, Coliseum Park and other rotating locations.
Can’t decide where to go? Some of the best dates are the spontaneous ones. Hop on the streetcar (there are three routes, all of which originate downtown) and hop off when you see something that looks interesting. For a $1.25, you can cozy up and transport yourself across town, while enjoying people-watching, along with taking in the stunning architecture along the ride.
A trip to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium might actually render you less squeamish as you learn all sorts of interesting facts about hundreds of varieties of insects. If you want to impress your date and show off your sense of culinary adventure, you can order “buggy” snacks from the cafe, including chocolate chip cookies baked with crickets (which, incidentally, are packed with protein!).
You have the option to start your (romantic) weekend early: Every Friday from 2–3 p.m., NOLA Brewing hosts free tours and tastings at its popular, laid-back facility, and if you happen to get there during crawfish season, stick around for its evening crawfish boil, where the “mudbugs” are served with all the fixings (corn, sausage, garlic, onion, potato and a lot of spice). The brewery also hosts free tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 2–4 p.m.