Free Things To Do In New Orleans This Year
People travel to New Orleans to have a good time. Nicknamed “The Big Easy”, and although there are some things worth paying for, there's enough free things to do in New Orleans to enjoy a trip on a tight budget. This is the place to go for lively Mardi Gras celebrations, vibrant history, and amazing soul food. You don’t need to come with a pocket full of money to burn to enjoy this city sitting on the Mississippi River.
Read our guide to discover 11 totally free things to do in New Orleans, Louisiana.
1. Wander the Garden District
New Orleans’ Garden District is where some of the most important families from the city’s long history have lived. This historic walking district is filled with French colonial style mansions surrounded by wrought-iron fences, manicured gardens, legendary cemeteries, and antique cafes and restaurants. The sidewalks are old and uneven here, so wearing comfortable shoes is a must.
The wide streets are well shaded by tall, leafy trees. Stop and learn more about these stunning Creole-style 19th-century houses. If you are wondering why many look eerily familiar, this well-preserved historic neighborhood is often used in movies and television series. Some say ghosts roam the streets, but we will leave that for you to decide.
2. Stroll Through City Park
Containing a whopping 1,300 acres, City Park is a paradise inside of New Orleans. Old oak trees shade the Big Lake. See the turtles and regal egrets that call the lake home. Walk over stone bridges, sleepy streams, and around local foliage. Various festivals are held here throughout the year, check out the calendar to see when the next ones are.
A modern sculpture garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art are located within its grounds, but tickets are needed for admission for both. However, there are plenty of interesting pieces of public art, from statues to mosaics, interspersed throughout the park that you can see for free.
3. See a Parade
One of the best free things to do in New Orleans, if you're here at the right time of year. Thousands of people come every year to see the famous Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. Carnival season kicks off every year on January 6th. This starts that year’s jam-packed parade schedule. Multiple parades run every week from January to March for Mardi Gras. Krewes dressed in feathers, beads, and colorful costumes perform up and down the French Quarter on extravagant floats.
This is a very busy time of year, and hotels and parking will be difficult to find. Most families arrive four hours early to claim their spot along the parade route. Plan ahead to ensure that you get the best Mardi Gras experience.
4. Browse the French Market
The charming French Market is located near the banks of the snaking Mississippi River and can easily be reached by foot from the French Quarter. This open-air market can be dated back to 1791. Originally a Native American trading post, the French Market has evolved over the years to a six-block European style market that sells everything from produce to souvenirs.
Browse the stalls to find unique hand-made crafts that can’t be found elsewhere. Restaurants with outdoor seating dot the market and call out to hungry visitors. An afternoon can easily be lost looking at what the French Market has to offer.
5. Visit the St Louis Cathedral
Opened in the 1700s, the St Louis Cathedral is one of the oldest in the country. New Orleans stayed true to its French roots and named the Cathedral after King Louis XIV of France. Centrally located across from beautiful Jackson Square, its iconic triple spires and clean white exterior stand out in the city.
Entry to the cathedral’s interior is free during operating hours (from 8 am-4:30 pm every day). Step inside to see the colorful interior, from stained-glass windows to an ornate church organ.
6. Listen to Live Music
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. It’s no surprise that you can always hear the sound of music in the air. Up and coming musicians and seasoned legends alike play in New Orleans.
From March to June, Lafayette Square holds a free jazz concert every Wednesday. In the autumn, Jazz in the Park takes place in Louis Armstrong Park. Right next to the French Quarter, visitors can catch a free concert every Thursday. The artists come from all over the world, depending on the week you might hear funk, rock, Latin, or jazz.
Street performers are a permanent fixture in New Orleans any time of the year. Some of the best musicians and bands got their start on these streets. Walk through the French Quarter and stop to listen for a while.
7. Visit an Iconic Cemetery
New Orleans has some of the most iconic cemeteries in the country. Many of these historic cemeteries are open to the public. Make sure you and your family are respectful as you tour these hallowed grounds.
Head to St Louis cemetery to see the final resting place of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen, in the St Louis Cemetery. You might see many “x”s on her tomb. Legend says that if you make a wish and mark an x, then Marie Laveau may grant it for you.
The Lafayette Cemetery in Uptown has been featured in many movies. It is one of the oldest in the city, with tombs dating back to the city’s first immigrants.
8. Escape to Crescent Park
Those who want to escape the busy city streets should head to Crescent Park. This 20-acre urban park hugs the meandering Mississippi River. Climb up the bridge to enjoy one of the best views of New Orleans. Catch the sunset and stay for the glittering lights of the city’s towers reflecting off the water.
Locals come here to exercise, walk their dogs, have a picnic, and enjoy the fresh air. The city is known to be loud and rowdy, making this park a quiet oasis.
9. Roam through the French Quarter
Visitors can easily spend an entire day roaming the historic French Quarter. This is the oldest neighborhood in the city with buildings dating back to 18th-century Spanish rule and 19th-century American expansion. This has created a distinct style that isn’t duplicated anywhere else. Cast-iron balconies overflowing with plants decorate colorful buildings. Stop at a charming cafe or Cajun restaurant. Street performers line the neighborhood, making sure there is always entertainment.
At night, the French Quarter becomes the center of every New Orleans party. People watching reaches a new level on the infamous Bourbon Street. Even those who don’t like to party themselves come to check out the scene.
10. Tour the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum
The residents of the Lower 9th Ward have important stories to share. Engage yourself in their history at the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum. Always free, this museum documents the story of this New Orleans neighborhood through the lives of its inhabitants.
Spanning generations, this resilient and vibrant neighborhood is detailed from a pre and post-Hurricane Katrina perspective. Don’t leave New Orleans without learning more about the people who call it home.
11. Visit the Galleries in Julia Street Arts District
The modern art galleries in New Orleans’ Julia Street Arts District open their doors to the public on the first Saturday of every month. Stop by and gain a new perspective on life through the paintings and sculptures.
This neighborhood got its start in an effort to revitalize the warehouse district and local artists. Now, the area is full of amazing restaurants, public art installations, and engaging museums.
There’s no shortage of free things to do in New Orleans. With a history full of voodoo, jazz, and French influence, this city remains completely one-of-a-kind. Don’t take our word for it, plan your next trip to New Orleans now with these tips.
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