I recently was able to tag along on my husband’s work conference trip to New Orleans. I hadn’t been to New Orleans since I was a little girl and the only parts of that trip I remember are the beignets and feeding alligators on a swamp tour. Going back to NOLA as an adult was great and I would go back again in a heartbeat.
Most of the trip I was by myself since Alex was at his conference so I tried to keep myself entertained without spending a ton of money. Mission accomplished! Here are some of my recommendations for things to do in New Orleans for very little money;
I learned immediately that streetcars are the way to get around New Orleans. I was even lucky enough to have a streetcar stop directly out the front door of my hotel! The streetcars are very easy to use and so cheap. Make sure to get either the 1 Day ($3.00) or 3 Day ($9.00) unlimited pass otherwise a one-way fare is $1.25. I used the streetcar multiple times a day so the unlimited passes were a huge bargain but choose what works best for you.
City Park is a huge, beautiful park that can provide hours of entertainment. We started by walking through the Besthoff Sculpture Garden and then snacked on beignets at the Morning Call cafe (being pregnant I needed a lot of snack breaks). From there, Alex and I strolled through the park on the stunning walking paths taking in the live oaks, old bridges, butterflies, etc. We didn’t have the time, or the inclination to spend money, but City Park also includes an amusement park ($4.00 admission + $18.00 unlimited rides), botanical gardens ($6.00), and the New Orleans Museum of Art ($12.00).
My favorite thing to do in New Orleans was the walking tours given by Free Tours by Foot. I absolutely love history and finding out cool facts about places I am visiting. How the tours work is that you make a reservation online for one of the tours (do this in advance – the tours can book up fast) and then you meet up with your tour guide and group at a designated meeting spot. The spots were very easy to find and directions are communicated well.
I went on the French Quarter Walking Tour and the VooDoo Tour. Both were really interesting and I learned a ton about the history and culture of New Orleans. The guides were young and funny. The tours really are free! At the end of each tour you have the opportunity to tip your tour guide as much as you want/can afford. My only regret is that I didn’t sign up for more of the tours. I really wish I would have done a cemetery tour.
I love Jackson Square. Multiple days of this vacation I would start the day by wandering around Jackson Square taking in all the beautiful scenery, live music, and artists. The people-watching is great and Cafe du Monde is right across the street.
Hint – Only go to Cafe du Monde when there is no line. There are plenty of other places nearby to get beignets during the day. I would recommend going to Cafe du Monde for a late-night snack because then there will be no line and you won’t feel rushed.
Definitely make sure you explore the French Market. The first half of the market is dedicated to food vendors. You can get anything from Gator on a Stick to artisanal cheeses. Usually I just pointed to a displayed dish of food to order having no clue what the food actually was – I was never disappointed.
The second half of the French Market is a flea market selling paintings, masks, etc. I am not a big shopper but it is a fun place to stroll through especially if you feel obligated to pick up some trinkets.
Frenchmen Street is the place to go after dinner. It is a much classier version of Bourbon Street (being pregnant at the time the smells of Bourbon Street weren’t for me) with great live music everywhere you turn. Find the bar that has the music you like and relax (or dance) with some great drinks all night.
New Orleans is the Festival Capital of the World. When planning your trip find out what festival(s) and/or parade is happening while you are in town. We were lucky to get to see the Krewe of Boo parade during our trip but we were in New Orleans one week before the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience which would have been really cool to take part in.
(Originally published October 28th, 2016)