15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in New Orleans
New Orleans is the city of jazz, Mardis Gras, and Cajuns cuisine. Located along the Mississippi River, it is the largest city in Louisiana and one of the largest inland ports in the United States.
New Orleans is a true melting pot of cultures. In addition to the French speaking Cajuns, its population includes Creoles, Italian, Irish and German immigrants and the descendants of black slaves. The city's cultural diversity is reflected particularly in its music, its food, and of course in its calendar of festivals. Its individuality also finds expression in its popular names "Queen of the South", or even better, "The Big Easy". At the end of the 19th, and beginning of the 20th centuries, this was the birthplace of jazz, which is still actively practised at various places. This metropolis of the Old South draws great numbers of visitors, especially for Mardi Gras.
Editor's Tips: Where to Stay in New Orleans for Sightseeing
1 French Quarter
The Vieux Carre or French Quarter of New Orleans, the old town center, extends along a crescent shaped bend on the Mississippi. French influence is particularly noticeable in the buildings, some of them between 100 and nearly 300 years old, with their arcades, wrought iron balconies, red-tiled roofs and picturesque fountain decked courtyards. The blacks who settled in the town, together with the old established Creole inhabitants, created jazz around the turn of the 19th century. It was prevalent in the entertainment quarter, which was demarcated by municipal ordinance in 1897 and marked out with red lamps, and in nearby Bourbon Street. Nowadays the district contains a profusion of jazz spots with entertainment of very varying quality, well-known restaurants, cheerful cafes, souvenir shops, galleries and old hotels, all refurbished for the tourist trade.
2 Mardi Gras
New Orleans and Mardi Gras go hand in hand. This is New Orleans' biggest event of the year, with parades and all kinds of festivities. Onlookers crowd into the balconies and sidewalks to watch the parade and catch strings of beaded necklaces thrown from the outrageously decorated floats. Mardi Gras was introduced by French settlers and flourished particularly at the end of the 19th century.
3 Bourbon Street
The best known street in New Orleans is Bourbon Street. Located in the French Quarter this street is known for hot jazz spots, restaurants, and all kinds of entertainment options. During the day it is relatively quiet and it night it is generally busy and lively. Bourbon Street is a big tourist area in the city and the scene of all kinds of activities. During Mardis Gras the street and the balconies on all the buildings overlooking the street, are packed with people who come to see and experience the festivities.
Bourbon Street is also important from a historical perspective. It is home to the famous Preservation Hall, and the Old Absinthe House (1807), in which Andrew Jackson and the guerrilla leaders Jean and Pierre Lafitte planned the decisive battle with British forces.
4 Jackson Square
The main square in the old town, in the heart of the French Quarter, is Jackson Square. It was originally known as Place d'Armes. In the center of the square, surrounded by trees and greenery, is an equestrian statue (1856) of General Andrew Jackson. Standing prominently on the square is the landmark St Louis Cathedral, with its white façade and cone shaped spires. Also in the surroundings are the Presbytere and Cabildo, both Louisiana State Museums. The area around the iron fence has long been an artist's hang out, and nearby are shops and restaurants, making it a popular tourist place.
The whole area is very attractively laid out along the banks of the Mississippi, with the Riverboat Docks, the promenade known as the Moon Walk, and the Millhouse, as well as a variety of boutiques and fast food outlets.
5 Royal Street
Royal Street, located in the French Quarter, offers a great mix of history, fine cuisine, and unique shopping opportunities. There are numerous antique shops, as well as upper end stores, and art galleries. In addition, there are also many hotels and restaurants along Royal Street, with some well known fine dining spots.
Royal Street showcases some of the traditional architecture, with many old buildings featuring the classic iron balconies for which New Orleans is so well known. Some of the fine buildings on Royal Street include the old Bank of Louisiana, and the Court of Two Sisters (1832).
6 City Park
New Orleans City Park covers more than 1,300 acres and contains numerous attractions. The park was heavily affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many of the trees were knocked down by the winds and attractions were damaged by flooding. Following 2005 work on the park served to repair and remodel the park over a period of years.
7 St Louis Cathedral
On the north side of Jackson Square is the St Louis Cathedral, a landmark structure in New Orleans. It was built in 1794 on the site of two earlier churches and is known for being the United States' oldest cathedral in continuous use. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in 1987.
The church was built through contributions from Don Andres Almonester de Roxas, a Frenchman who spent money from his fortune to rebuild New Orleans after the second great fire.
Address: Jackson Square
8 Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo
The Cabildo, to the left of St Louis Cathedral, was built in 1795 as the residence of the Spanish governor. It is noteworthy both as a historic building and for the collection it contains. The first town council met here in 1799 and the Louisiana Purchase was agreed to here in 1803. It was also at one time the Louisiana Supreme Court .This building now houses the Louisiana State Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A damaging fire in the late 1980s led to a major restoration project, with the facility reopening in 1994.
Today the Cabildo displays the Louisiana State Museum's collections of material on the history of the town and the region. In particular the museum focuses on the people Louisiana and the many ethnic groups which make up the population today.
Address: 701 Charles Street
9 Garden District
The Garden District, a prosperous residential area, lies southwest of the Pontchartrain Expressway. On First Street, Camp Street, and Prytania Street there are many large elegant, 19th century houses with extensive gardens. The area can be easily explored on a walking tour. Some companies offer guided tours, which can be a good way to learn the history and see the sights. The area has lovely mansions, and lots of trees, flowers, and gardens. Some famous celebrities have homes in this area. Most visitors come to enjoy the tranquil environment and see the houses, but there are also boutiques and coffee shops in the area.
In the southwest of the Garden District is Audubon Park, so named in 1886. It was established on the grounds of what had been the site of the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884. Within the park are fine stands of oaks, the Audubon Zoo, hothouses, the Audubon Golf Club, a number of small lakes, and much open green space. Also within the park are a short jogging trail, tennis courts, soccer fields, picnic areas, and children's play areas. The Audubon Clubhouse Café offers a nice environment where visitors can come to relax after a walk through the park.
- Read More:
- Exploring New Orleans' Garden District
10 Preservation Hall
Preservation Hall is an unassuming old building that has long been an institution in New Orleans known for jazz music. The hall still features traditional jazz by local artists in an historic setting. The building is small, creating an intimate setting, and seating is limited.
Address: 726 St Peter
11 Mardi Gras World
New Orleans is world famous for its elaborate Mardi Gras celebrations. People come from all over the world to enjoy the festivities that consume the city during this time period. For a glimpse of what's involved behind the scenes in this huge event visitors can stop by Mardi Gras World to see working studios. The Blaine Kern Studios, make floats and are highly involved with the Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans each year. They claim to be the leading producer of floats in the world.
On display at Mardi Gras World are sculptured props, huge floats, outrageous costumes, and all kinds of figures. Visitors can get a good sense of the size, color, and imagination that goes into the floats and the parade. Guided tours are offered regularly each day through the workshops where artists and sculptors work.
Address: 1380 port of New Orleans Place
12 National WWII Museum
At the National WWII Museum the story of WWII soldiers is told through artifacts, film, photographs, diaries and oral histories. The complex features a variety of segments. At the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, the focus is on the soldiers' experiences throughout the war, with exhibits on D-Day at Normandy, and Home Front and the Pacific. A film entitled Beyond All Boundaries, produced by Tom Hanks, is shown in the 4 D Theater. The museum also features traveling exhibitions to complement the permanent collection.
Also part of the complex is the Stage Door Canteen, featuring entertainment of the 1940s, with matinees and dinner shows.
Address: 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130-3813, United States
13 Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans presents examples of the cultural resources of Louisiana's Mississippi Delta region. The park consists of six physically separate sites in southeastern Louisiana.
The Barataria Preserve is one of six sites making up the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The environment here consists of natural levee forests, bayous, swamps, and marshes. Archeological sites here have been found to contain remnants of the ancient Troyville, Marksville and Tchefuncte cultures.
The Chalmette Battlefield preserves the site of the January 8, 1815, Battle of New Orleans which was a decisive American victory over the British at the end of the War of 1812.
14 Steamboat Natchez
The paddle steamer, Steamboat Natchez, offers cruises on the Mississippi River and is a unique way to see and learn about the city. The harbor cruises take two hours and provide narration on the sites, with an optional lunch of creole cuisine. The dinner cruise features a live jazz band, buffet-style dinner, and of course, wonderful views of New Orleans.
Special events cruises are also available seasonally, with special cruises offered for such occasions as Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and around Christmas and other holidays.
It's a good idea, particularly during high season, to book a Steamboat Natchez Harbor Cruise in advance. This tour guarantees your spot on the boat and also the lowest prices.
15 New Orleans Museum of Art
In the south part of City Park is the New Orleans Museum of Art with an excellent collection of French and American art. Another highlight is the outdoor Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden with walking paths, lagoons, and old trees.
Address: One Collins C Diboll Circle
Where to Stay in New Orleans for Sightseeing
To experience the real charm of New Orleans, the best place to stay is in the famous French Quarter. Many of the hotels here are housed in historic buildings and exude their own unique character. Below are some highly-rated hotels in or near the French Quarter.
- Luxury Hotels: In a great location at the foot of Royal Street is the historic Hotel Monteleone, a landmark building in the French Quarter, built in 1886. This high-end luxury hotel offers a variety of rooms and suites and a rooftop heated pool. The recently renovated Omni Royal Orleans is another elegant top-end hotel with a fabulous location in the French Quarter. With a more contemporary feel, the Hyatt French Quarter is located in the heart of the action, just off Bourbon Street, and within easy walking distance of the city's major attractions.
- Mid-Range Hotels: If you are looking for quaint and quiet but still central and convenient, Grenoble House offers a charming atmosphere, with exposed brick walls, tasteful decor, and an outdoor pool. The Hotel Provincial is another good mid-range option, with a classic New Orleans feel. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also located in a historic building and with a great location is the Hampton Inn and Suites, offering a mix of classic architecture and modern amenities. All of these properties are in the French Quarter.
- Budget Hotels: At the high end of the budget range but well positioned in the French Quarter is the Inn on St. Ann, with classic New Orleans style architecture featuring wrought iron balconies, exposed brick walls, and antique decor. In a similar style and with a convenient location on the edge of the French Quarter is the Inn on St. Peter. Outside the French Quarter but only a five-minute drive away is The Treme Hotel, with basic but comfortable rooms.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to New Orleans
- Sightseeing: To see the sites at your own pace and learn a little of the city's fascinating history, the best option is to take a Hop-on Hop-off Tour on an open-top, double-decker sightseeing bus. This tour stops at 18 locations around the city and gives you the option to get off wherever you like, or you can choose to stay on the bus for the full two-hour loop. Also part of this tour is a guided walking tour of the Garden District.
- Bayou Tours: Getting out into bayou country is one of the most popular things to do around New Orleans. The Swamp and Bayou Sightseeing Tour with Boat Ride from New Orleans is the easiest way to experience the beauty of the bayou, with transportation right from the French Quarter to the wetlands. Visitors are then taken on a two-hour wildlife-viewing boat ride through the swamps, with opportunities to see alligators, snakes, birds, and other animals. Total tour time is about four hours. Another option, if you are looking for more of a thrill ride, is a New Orleans Airboat Ride. This two-hour fast-paced ride takes guests through the cypress swampland, not far from Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. Tours are offered in the morning or afternoon, and visitors can choose a small or large-boat tour (eight person or 25 person tours).