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Best 11 Fun, Free Things to Do in New Orleans, LA

By Angela Colley

new orleansFor more than 175 years, “The Crescent City” has been a popular tourist destination for Mardi Gras. However, there are plenty of great reasons to visit any time of year. One of the oldest cities in America, New Orleans boasts a rich and unique culture and a lengthy history, and offers countless forms of entertainment – and countless ways to spend money.

But you don’t have to drain your bank account to have fun in New Orleans. In fact, there are numerous free attractions to help you save money on vacation while still having a memorable time.

Free Attractions in New Orleans

1. See a Parade
New Orleans hosts several parades throughout the year, culminating in the largest free party on Earth: Mardi Gras. The Mardi Gras season in New Orleans starts every year on January 6th, and ends when Easter falls. Every parade in the city is free to attend.

Parades nearly every night are a feature of Carnival season in the Uptown areas of the city and along Canal Street downtown. Larger parades last for two or more hours, with an assortment of floats, marching bands, and other attractions.

The different parade hosts (known as krewes) each choose a unique theme every year, and many have special “throws” they hand out to revelers. The Krewe of Muses is an all female krewe famous for throwing shoes. Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club (one of the oldest krewes in the city) is known for throwing their famous hand-painted coconuts.

2. Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art
The 100-year-old New Orleans Museum of Art sits inside the 1,300-acre City Park in the Mid-City area of town. The museum has a collection of fine paintings, sculptures, and historical objects ranging from the pre-Christian era to modern. It also receives frequent traveling exhibitions. An outdoor sculpture garden displays dozens of installations.

NOMA offers free admission to both the main museum and the sculpture garden every Wednesday – regular admission fees are $10 for adults and $6 for children. The museum is open on Wednesday from 11am to 6pm, and the sculpture garden is open from 10am to 4:45pm. From the French Quarter or the downtown area of New Orleans, you can pay $1.25 for the “City Park” streetcar that leaves from Canal Street which drops you off right in front of the museum’s entrance.

new orleans museum of art

New Orleans Museum of Art

3. Listen to a Concert at Lafayette Square
Just a 10-minute walk from the French Quarter, Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans is home to a 12-week concert series every year. Each concert features a host of different bands, including many of the wonderful local brass and blues bands that call New Orleans home.

The concerts are held outside in a lovely park setting where you can bring your own blankets and folding chairs to sit comfortably. Outside food and drinks are not permitted, but plenty of vendors are there setting up shop around the square, so you won’t go hungry.

Known as Wednesday at the Square, these concerts take place every Wednesday from 5pm to 8pm, generally starting in early March and ending in late May. All are free to attend.

4. Ride the Algiers Ferry
The Algiers Ferry gives you three of the best things you can find in New Orleans as you travel from the banks of the French Quarter to the neighborhood of Algiers. First, you get an up-close view of the Mississippi River, one of the most impressive natural landmarks in the city. Second, photography enthusiasts love the opportunities to see both the oldest parts of the city and a view of the downtown skyline from the ferry. Three, the ride is completely free for pedestrians and lasts about five minutes each way.

Once you reach the other side, stroll around Algiers Point, one of the oldest areas on the Westbank of New Orleans. You can tour historic New Orleans homes, visit grocery stores stocked with local goodies, or stop into English-themed pubs for a drink.

The Algiers Ferry leaves the Eastbank from Canal Street. The first ride of the day departs at 6am, and the last leaves shortly before 12:15am.

5. Check Out a Cooking Demonstration
New Orleans cuisine is one of a kind, blending French, Spanish, African, Cajun, and Creole traditions into a unique taste you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re a foodie or love farmers’ markets, you should not miss Saturdays at the Crescent City Farmers’ Market in downtown New Orleans where you can browse seemingly endless rows of local produce, meat, seafood, and homemade goods. Most weekends, local bands perform for free inside the market, while local chefs give free cooking demonstrations.

The Crescent City Farmer’s Market is held year round every Saturday from 8am to 12pm on the corner of Magazine Street and Girod Street. If it rains, the market is moved inside an adjacent building.

crawfish and beer

A plate of crawfish

6. Take a Self-Guided Tour of the Garden District
Founded in 1806, the Garden District is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in New Orleans. St. Charles Street is lined with huge oak trees and large mansions that boast rich history and exemplify southern grandeur.

Other highlights in the neighborhood include Prytania Street, where Greek Revival homes are abundant, and Camp Street, where you can stroll through the park and view a host of beautiful statues. Free tour maps are available in the French Quarter Visitor Center, inside any streetcar, or in the Riverwalk Mall.

If “star gazing” is your pastime of choice, check out the corner of Camp Street and First Street to see the former home of writer Anne Rice. On Prytania Street you can spot the former home of Nicholas Cage, and the nearby former home of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. John Goodman, Sandra Bullock, and Matthew McConaughey have also at one point called the Garden District their home.

New Orleans is also a hotspot for film production, and the Garden District plays host to film crews all year long. If you’re lucky you may see a movie in production.

The Garden District is walkable from many downtown hotels. If you’d prefer public transportation, you can hop a ride on the St. Charles streetcar.

7. Spend the Day in City Park
1,300-acre City Park includes the largest collection of live oak trees in the world, some dating back 600 years, according to the City Park Improvement Association. You can spend an entire day getting lost among the oaks, but there are also lagoons, water fountains, walking and jogging trails, and small lakes to take in as well. If you’re bringing kids, there are playgrounds and plenty of green space for running around.

City Park is open year-round, and while some attractions (such as boat rentals and gondola rides) cost a small fee, entrance to the park and the majority of the activities inside are free. The park is open during the day year round, seven days a week. To get there, take the Canal streetcar marked “City Park” (not the one marked “Cemeteries”).

8. Catch the Street Performers at Jackson Square
The French Quarter’s Jackson Square is a year-round hangout for street performers and artists. The perimeter of the park is lined with painters and sketch artists creating and selling original work. On the square’s two side streets, street performers do everything from tap dancing to creating living sculptures. Behind the square you can catch solo musicians and bands, or get your fortune from a tarot reader.

The square sits in front of Saint Louis Cathedral and across from the world famous Cafe Du Monde. The square is open every day, and is free for pedestrians to explore.

st. louis cathedral and jackson square

Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square

9. Tour Saint Louis Cathedral
Dating back to the 1700s, Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France is an impressive blend of Old World architecture and Catholic treasures. The church features ornate woodwork, stained glass windows, and beautiful sculptures. While mass is still held inside the church, you can tour both the grounds and worshiping areas Wednesday through Saturday from 1pm to 4pm.

The cathedral is located directly behind Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

10. Window Shop on Magazine Street
Magazine Street stretches from the Lower Garden District all the way to Audubon Park. You can pass several hours window shopping along a row of galleries, shops, bars, and restaurants – many of which are located in historic buildings – that stretches for several miles. Since most of these businesses are local, you can find designer clothing, locally made art, antique shops, and funky home decor shops that you won’t find anywhere else.

Magazine Street is open night and day all year long, and is within walking distance of downtown hotels. If you don’t feel like taking a long walk, you can hop the Magazine Street bus for a $1.25 fare. The bus stops at the corner of Magazine and Canal streets.

11. Tour the Cities of the Dead
Large above-ground cemeteries scattered around New Orleans known as the Cities of the Dead are must-see for any visitor. You can pay for a guided tour of many of them, but they’re also open to the public free of charge.

The Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the French Quarter is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 3pm, and from 9am to 12pm on Sundays. Here, you can see what many believe is the grave of Voodoo queen Marie Laveau, where people still leave ritual offerings. In the Garden District you can visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 between 9am and 3pm daily to see the final resting place of Judge Warren J. Ferguson, of “Plessy v. Ferguson” fame.

city of the dead

A New Orleans “city of the dead”

Final Word

New Orleans is a busy city full of great restaurants, fun bars, and excellent shopping. While it’s tempting to blow your entire savings account while you’re visiting, you can easily cut down on expenses if you plan ahead and select a few of the many free attractions the city has on offer. Most are just as good as anything you must purchase a ticket for, and you can save that extra cash for your next trip.

Have you visited New Orleans before? What were your favorite free sights?

(photo credit: Spirit of America, Chuck Wagner)

Angela Colley
Angela Colley is a freelance writer living in New Orleans, Louisiana with a background in mortgage and real estate. Her interests include animal rights advocacy, green living, mob movies and finding the best deal on everything. She blames her extreme passion for never paying full price on two parents that taught her that a penny saved is two pennies if invested wisely.

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  • Walt Johnson

    Netrate Concepts

    Fifty FREE Things to Do in New Orleans

    New Orleans is like no other city in the
    world. With such an abundance of great music, great food and great
    attractions, a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to see and do it all. And
    the best part of it all is that a lot of it is FREE! It’s all out there
    just waiting to be taken in and enjoyed.

    Listed below
    are fifty of the best free attractions in New Orleans. Pick out the
    free things you’d like and remember Netrate Concepts can help.

    Jackson Square

    Take in the sights and sounds of Jackson Square, a good spot to take a rest, too.

    Gallery hop in the Arts District along Julia Street on the first Saturday night of each month.

    Join the parades during Carnival Season and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

    Stroll Royal and Chartres streets and window shop the arts, antiques and boutiques.

    Enjoy French Quarter Festival every April, the South’s largest free music festival.

    Watch the ships pass on the Mississippi River from Woldenberg Riverfront Park and listen for the Steamboat Natchez’s calliope.

    Visit the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Williams Research Center.

    Swing dance every Sunday in the summer at the National World War II Museum.

    Ride the Canal Street Ferry to Algiers Point and see the New Orleans skyline.

    Let the kids run around in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park.

    Volunteer at one of the many organizations helping to rebuild New Orleans’ residences.

    Celebrate the life and music of jazz legend Louis Armstrong during Satchmo SummerFest.

    Experience a cooking demonstration at the Crescent City Farmers Market.

    Jam out at the free Wednesday afternoon concerts in Lafayette Square during the spring and fall months.

    Dance down Frenchmen Street at night, many clubs don’t have a cover charge.

    Watch the fireworks on the Mississippi River every New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July.

    Enjoy free oysters and music every Friday at Le Bon Temps Roule music club.

    Attend one of the many
    festivals that the Jazz and Heritage Foundation hosts throughout the
    year, like the BBQ and Blues Festival or Congo Square New World Rhythms
    Festival.

    Browse the shops and stalls

    throughout the French Market.

    Saint Louis Cathedral

    Tour Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.

    Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art free on Wednesdays.

    Enjoy a free concert of opera arias and musical show tunes by Bon Operatit! on the second Wednesday of each month at the Inn on Bourbon.

    Venture into our “Cities
    of the Dead” for a self-guided day tour of a unique cemetery,
    especially St. Louis Cemetery #1, the closest one to the French Quarter.

    Bring your book on the Garden District and take a self-guided walking tour.

    Find a Saturday Art Market and check out the local art scene.

    Listen to live music near the Joan of Arc Statue on Decatur Street.

    Go upstairs at Arnaud’s for a tour of their Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum.

    Ask Antoine’s for a tour of their 160-year-old restaurant.

    Watch artists demonstrate glassblowing at Rosetree Glass Studio, Studio Inferno, or Glassworks.

    Sit under 100 year old Oak trees in

    Audubon Park and/or City Park.

    Cafe du Monde

    See beignets made through the kitchen window at Café du Monde in Dutch Alley.

    Sample a praline at a sweet shop.

    Take a free self-guided audio tour of downtown and the French Quarter with the National Park Service at 419 Decatur Street.

    Try on masks and boas in French Quarter shops.

    People watch on Bourbon Street.

    Take a picture with Fats Domino, Pete Fountain, or Al Hirt at Music Legends Park on Bourbon Street.

    Tour the Global Green house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

    Get a view of Jackson Square from

    Washington Artillery Park.

    Spanish Plaza

    Make a wish in the fountain at Spanish Plaza in front of the Riverwalk Shopping Center.

    Watch looming at Louisiana Loom Works on Chartres Street.

    Check out the Fulton Street Mall near Harrah’s Hotel and Casino.

    Catch a concert at Wednesdays on the Point
    during the summer months taking place in Old Historic Algiers just a
    quick ferry ride across the Mississippi from the French Quarter.

    Window shop on Magazine Street.

    See the swans from the Peristyle in City Park.

    Tailgate outside the Superdome at a Saints football game or join the party before a Pelicans basketball game.

    Walk the nature trail at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Barataria Unit.

    Watch the sailboats race on Lake Pontchartrain from the Lakefront Park or watch the sunset from Lakeshore Drive.

    See the Battle of New Orleans reenactment at the Chalmette Battlefield unit of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

    Pay homage at the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos.

    Catch the holiday spirit with Cathedral concerts, cooking demonstrations and more during Christmas New Orleans Style, the entire month of December.

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