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.
New Orleans is the home of jazz. The chief musicians of this new musical style were "King" Oliver, J.R. Morton and above all Louis Armstrong. The jazz of New Orleans continues to attract fans from all over the world to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in spring and to the many clubs. Blues and Dixieland, ragtime and swing, Cajun and Zydeco, Creole jazz and funky jazz, can be heard in some of the old traditional music venues, such as Preservation Hall and countless other night spots.
The highlight of the city's calendar is Mardi Gras, which was introduced by French settlers and flourished particularly at the end of the 19th century. During this time, particularly on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, and Shrove Tuesday, the town is taken over by the revelers with a series of lively parades and masked balls.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French governor Jean-Baptiste Lemoine de Bienville and named after the Duc d'Orleans, then Regent of France. In 1721 it became capital of Louisiana. Soon afterwards a large party of German immigrants arrived, and by 1732 the population had risen to 5000. In 1762 France was compelled to cede the town to Spain, though for several years the population successfully resisted the takeover. New Orleans was again in French hands from 1800 to 1803, when under the Louisiana Purchase it passed to the United States. In 1815 General Andrew Jackson inflicted a decisive defeat on British forces near the town. During the Civil War New Orleans surrendered to Union forces in 1862.
By the early 20th century, New Orleans was a progressive city that was vulnerable to flooding. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of New Orleans. As a result, the city's population was drastically reduced, with many victims of the flood never returning. However, the city recovered, tourist districts were restored, and tourism returned.
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.
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 fašade 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.
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.
9 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.
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.
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.
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 offers a unique way to see and learn about the city. Guests can choose from Jazz Dinner Cruises and Jazz Harbor Cruises. The harbor cruises take two hours and provide narration on the sights. There is also an optional lunch serving creole cuisine. The dinner cruise features a live jazz band, a 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.
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.