Must-Visit Attractions in New Orleans

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral are must-visit New Orleans landmarks
Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral are must-visit New Orleans landmarks | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sarah Ravits
17 September 2020

It’s difficult to go in the wrong direction upon arrival in New Orleans. This city is packed with activities and attractions that have lived up to the hype for decades, as well as plenty of new, experimental spots that are rapidly gaining acclaim and popularity. From roaming the French Quarter to riding a streetcar, here are the 25 best things to do in the Big Easy.

Eat at the Parkway Bakery and Tavern

Bakery, American, Pastries, Vegetarian, Dessert
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Located in the Mid-City neighborhood, Parkway first opened its doors as a bakery in 1911, adding “poor boy” sandwiches to its menu in 1929 to attract workers from the nearby American Can Company. Parkway Bakery and Tavern shut its doors in 1993, following the closing of the American Can Company, but it opened under new ownership in 2003. Today, Parkway has a full bar and a menu of 25 different types of sandwiches.

Visit the National WWII Museum

Museum, Theater
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Fighter aircraft in the National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
© incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo
Considered the official WWII museum of the United States, this popular attraction comprises interactive exhibits, restoration works, a period dinner theater and restaurants. Established in 2000, it’s a great place to learn about World War II and honor the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the world and their country. Collection highlights include wartime bombers and a room focused on the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Order a muffuletta at Central Grocery and Deli

Deli, Market, Grocery Store, Italian
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This family-owned, Italian-American grocery store and sandwich outlet was founded in 1906 by Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo – the progenitor of the muffuletta – and has since been among the French Quarter’s top spots. Central Grocery’s muffulettas are prepared with fresh meats and home-baked bread and garnished with the family’s century-old Italian olive salad seasoning. If you love their creations so much that you wish you could take them home, don’t fear: they do nationwide delivery too.

Catch some jazz at Preservation Hall

Music Venue
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Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to honor traditional New Orleans jazz, offering patrons the chance to witness the continuous evolution of the city’s most famous art. The popular bar hosts over 350 performances a year of gospel, hip-hop, bluegrass and rock. Preservation Hall’s group of sixty resident musicians also run a program of non-profit educational activities, encouraging young musicians all over the city to get involved with jazz.

Spend an evening at Maple Leaf Bar

Bar, American, Wine, Beer, Cocktails
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Sometimes dubbed simply “The Leaf,” the Maple Leaf Bar and music venue is 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’s the after-party hotspot for the annual “Midsummer Mardi Gras” parade in August.

Check out Jackson Square

Park
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Originally known as the Place d’Armes, Jackson Square – the French Quarter’s principal park – has been a National Historic Landmark since 1960, and offers some great views of the surrounding historic buildings. The site has played a major role in the city’s history, as it was here, in 1803, that Louisiana officially became U.S territory following the Louisiana Purchase from France. St. Louis Cathedral dominates one end of the square.

Have a coffee at Cafe Du Monde

Cafe, French
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No trip to New Orleans, especially for first-timers, is complete without at least a quick stop at Cafe Du Monde for a beignet (a signature French pastry that is covered in a generous serving of powdered sugar) and a cafe au lait. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, it’s also a great place to absorb the sights and sounds of New Orleans’ many street musicians, as they busk on the pavement next to the spacious terrace.

Attend a concert at Tipitina's

University
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Not much has changed since the ’70s at Tipitina’s, a famous New Orleans’ music venue that continues to attract the best local and national acts. 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, awestruck travellers and aging hippies, who converge over their love of live New Orleans music in a no-frills atmosphere.

Visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Museum
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New Orleans, LA : Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The Museum is home to the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.
© jejim120 / Alamy Stock Photo

Home to one of the largest collections in the South, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is a must-see for art aficionados or anyone with an interest in seeing the work 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, bars, shops and the French Quarter.

Chill out in City Park

Amusement Park, Park
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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 dozens of 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. Families and kids, meanwhile, should pay the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park a visit.

Explore Magazine Street

Architectural Landmark, Shop
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Brimming with shops, galleries, flea markets, eateries and bars, Magazine Street is a 6mi (10km) road running parallel to the Mississippi, extending from Uptown to the Lower Garden District. You can jump on and off the Magazine Street bus, but it’s best to explore on foot, as there’s usually a lot of traffic around traffic, especially on weekdays. Plus, you’ll be freer to stop in at the colorful farmers’ markets and irresistible food trucks scattered along its length.

Attend a New Orleans Saints game/tailgate party

Stadium
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There’s no energy that really compares to the New Orleans Saints fans’ energy in the Superdome and the tailgate parties that occur 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 during their home games, when you never have to roam far to find a tailgate party, a porch gathering or a dive bar offering cheap drinks and often complimentary food.

Walk down Frenchmen Street

Architectural Landmark
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An enclave of the city with a bohemian bent, Frenchmen Street is lined with music venues, bars and late-night joints. While it was once considered more of a locals’ hotspot (along with in-the-know tourists), it is now one of the most famous stretches of tarmac in the city, due to its abundance of live music venues, casual eateries and the general bustling scene. It’s not all jazz, either: blues, reggae and rock also have a place on Frenchmen Street.

Explore the Lakefront

Natural Feature
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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. You can also take guided tours of the lakefront area and learn about its historical significance for New Orleans’ cultural and industrial development.

Roam the French Quarter

Historical Landmark
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Typical building in the French Quarter area of New Orleans, Louisiana.
© Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo

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 photos and adventures. First developed at the start of the 1800s, it’s now the spot where you can find a number of the landmarks and attractions mentioned in this list. We recommend starting at the foot of Canal Street, and meandering until you get to Esplanade Avenue; don’t set a strict agenda, just let it play out as you see fit – you won’t be bored or disappointed.

Ride a streetcar

Architectural Landmark
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If you’re not a hurry to get anywhere and want to enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace, hop onto one of the city’s streetcars. For just $1.25 (£1), you can get across town effortlessly, taking in the cityscape along the way. There are a number of routes along St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street, Rampart Street and the Riverfront.

Go for a stroll at the Fly

Park
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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 in 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.

Party on Bourbon Street

Architectural Landmark
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Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA at night.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

Even though Bourbon Street is a tourist trap that’s generally avoided by locals, a list of New Orleans attractions would seem incomplete without it. Named after a French royal family rather than the potent beverage, Bourbon Street is a neon-colored strip of bars, music clubs and strip joints in the bustling Upper French Quarter. It’s known for its all-night parties, balcony views and sense of abandon, and it’s definitely something to experience – at least once.

Visit the Cemeteries

Cemetery
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It might seem 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.

Visit the St. Claude Arts District

Architectural Landmark
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A number of artist-run independent galleries along the St. Claude Avenue corridor have popped up in the past several years, in an 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 region’s most imaginative performers and budding entrepreneurs.

Wander around the Garden District

Architectural Landmark
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Victorian House, Garden District, New Orleans
© Nikreates / Alamy Stock Photo

The Garden District of central New Orleans is home to one of the finest collections of historic mansions in the southern United States. It was developed from the 1830s to the early 1900s, as prosperous newcomers built homes to reflect their wealth and status. Some of the most elegant buildings and largest gardens can be seen on First Street and Camp Street. You can take a guided tour of the area to learn the history, or simply wander the smart streets by yourself.

Take a boat ride

Music Venue, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark, $$$
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the steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America, Americas
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
To learn about New Orleans’ history and see some of its landmark buildings, book yourself on one of the cruises available on the city’s most beloved boat, the Natchez. The Steamboat Natchez company offers several tour options, but the most popular are the harbor cruise and the romantic dinner cruise, both of which feature live music by onboard jazz band the Steamboat Stompers. The Steam Engine Room also serves as a floating museum.

Visit the Louisiana State Museum

Museum
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Situated to the left of St Louis Cathedral opposite Jackson Square, the Cabildo is one of New Orleans’ most historic buildings. Built in 1795 for the city’s Spanish governor, it was where the first town council convened in 1799 and, even more significantly, where the Louisiana Purchase was finalized in 1803. Nowadays, it’s home to the Louisiana State Museum, which is focused on the state’s rich history and the people and traditions of New Orleans.

Enjoy a cocktail at a spinning bar

Bar, Pub Grub, American, $$$
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The Carousel Bar is found on the ground floor of the grand Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter: opened in 1949, it remains the only such bar in the city. Guests lucky enough to secure one of the 25 seats are rotated at a rate of one revolution per fifteen minutes, as they enjoy one of two (or both) of the unique house cocktails, the Vieux Carre and the Goody. Famous former patrons include writers Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote and, more recently, the legendary basketball player Michael Jordan.

Explore an abandoned fort

Historical Landmark
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For a little off-piste exploring, head 20mi (32km) east of downtown to the ruins of Fort Macomb. Built along with 42 other defensive structures in 1822 in order to protect one of the passageways from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Pontchartrain, it was also used as a base by Confederate troops in the Civil War, before being abandoned in 1871. The structure suffered further damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but Fort Pike, 10mi (16km) to the northeast, is better preserved.

Additional reporting by Mark Nayler

These recommendations were updated on September 17, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.