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10 Must-See New Orleans Attractions

SmarterTravel

To visit New Orleans is to engage all your senses. Whether your passion is music, art, food, or nature, you can find New Orleans attractions that highlight the best of the city at every surprising turn.

The Top Must-See New Orleans Attractions

To help, here’s a list of ten New Orleans attractions that locals love best.

New Orleans City Park

The 150-year-old oasis offers 1,300 acres of serene green, flush with walking trails, botanical gardens, and—a superstar among New Orleans points of interest—the world’s largest grove of majestic live oaks, many dating back 800 years. The city’s pulse is felt strongly in this beloved New Orleans attraction as families gather for scenic train rides and spins on an antique carousel, jazz musicians perform alfresco, and lovers picnic in the shade.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden, beautifully nestled within park grounds. Rent a bike to pedal miles of cycling trails or kayak to glide with swans along the bayou.

St. Charles Streetcar

No visit to New Orleans is complete without a ride along the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar line. Since 1835, passengers have felt the warm breeze while gazing upon the Garden District’s famed antebellum mansions. Glide all the way to another beloved New Orleans attraction, Audubon Park. Ride all day with a Jazzy Pass for just $3.

Tip: Many New Orleans points of interest are accessible along additional streetcar lines, including City Park via Canal Street line, and lively St. Claude Arts District via Rampart/St. Claude line.

Mardi Gras World

If your visit doesn’t coincide with Mardi Gras, the world’s most colorful festival, there’s another opportunity to celebrate. Get a behind-the-scenes peek into the pageantry of Mardi Gras with daily 90-minute guided tours at this New Orleans attraction. You’ll learn how the sophisticated floats are built and experience the artistry that brings the world-famous parades to life while immersing in Carnival history and lore.

Adding to the merriment, visitors can try on costumes and taste the famously delicious Carnival treat, King Cake. The museum even offers complimentary shuttles—so colorfully designed, you won’t want to miss the ride.

National World War II Museum

This American treasure of history serves as the country’s official World War II museum. Thought-provoking exhibits delve into reasons behind the war, the sacrifices made by many, and the heavy cost of freedom. Upon entry, each visitor is issued a set of dog tags before moving through intimate portrayals and hands-on installations.

Video oral histories of veterans combined with seeing a restored combat PT boat and combat submarine bring the history to life in a way no textbook or classroom can. And, Tom Hanks narrates a gripping 4-D film Beyond All Boundaries that brings the war’s tragedy and heroism into full view.

Backstreet Cultural Museum

A historic shotgun home in Tremé is the backdrop for a small yet fascinating collection of costumes, photographs and video highlighting African-American artistry and culture in New Orleans. Long-time resident Sylvester Francis has spent a lifetime collecting memorabilia and recording cultural traditions including Carnival celebrations, jazz funerals, and second-lines. His collection has blossomed into this community-based showcase highlighting the city’s history in a way no other museum conveys.

Be sure to call in advance for opening hours and don’t be shy about asking questions—the engaging host and his family enjoy talking about exhibits, especially the array of Mardi Gras Indian costumes.

French Quarter Tour

While languorously roaming the French Quarter’s charming streets is a fine way to spend an afternoon, a bit of knowledge about the unique architecture and history will exponentially enhance your stroll. Embark on a walking tour within your first couple of days to better understand the city’s beating heart and musical soul.

Two Chicks Walking Tours takes you through the Quarter, known as Vieux Carre, past popular New Orleans attractions and sights, including Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, and the historic French Market. You’ll learn how the city was built, and about the multi-cultural influence of French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean architecture. And, because it’s New Orleans, refreshment is always near.

Be sure to visit the French Quarter Visitor Center where National Park Service rangers lead free talks and provide printable self-guided walking tours.

Mississippi River Cruise

It’s impossible to understand New Orleans without setting out on the river that defines the city in geography, historical context, and daily life. History buffs should embark on a Steamboat Natchez Cruise to experience the last operating steam vessel on the river. Tip: Reserve a Jazz Brunch Cruise for the views and live Dixieland—the overall experience more than outshines the average buffet food.

For a more DIY and affordable experience, hop the Algiers Point ferry that traverses the mighty Mississippi for just $2 multiple times per day. Algiers is New Orleans’ second oldest neighborhood and often called the city’s best kept secret for its residential vibe, funky bars, and river views. Tip: Take a bike on the ferry to easily exploring this New Orleans point of interest.

New Orleans Cooking Class

Learn to make classic New Orleans’ dishes like jambalaya and gumbo from one of the city’s top-notch chefs. New Orleans School of Cooking, where they say the primary ingredient is fun, offers daily classes where lessons are relaxed and come with a bonus—you eat what you make.

Opt for a hands-on session instead of a more passive demonstration. The small classes usually run three hours and provide local Abita beer and wine, along with recipe cards and souvenir aprons—but the real souvenir is the ability to make your favorite dishes long after the trip ends.

Louisiana Children’s Museum

People are often surprised to learn that New Orleans is a great destination for families and kids. And no place showcases the city’s unique affinity for combining entertainment and education quite like Louisiana Children’s Museum.

Little ones can learn about architecture while walking through a model New Orleans’ courtyard, then explore naval ships commonly seen in the Port of New Orleans. This family-friendly New Orleans attraction is a great way to spend a few hours, especially on a hot or rainy afternoon.

Classic New Orleans Festival Experience

To experience the city in full bloom, plan your trip around one of the city’s festivals. New Orleanians love to take to the streets in celebration—and invite everyone to join the party. The pageantry of Mardi Gras takes over the city for weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday (dates change and are pegged to Easter). New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival brings hundreds of performers in jazz, blues, zydeco, gospel, rock, rap, country, and more to the Fairgrounds, in late April and early May. Essence Music Festival provides a showcase for African-American marquee artists and rising stars over 4th of July weekend at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

One of the city’s longest-running and most beloved events, Southern Decadence, celebrates LGBT culture every Labor Day Weekend. And, Voodoo Music and Arts Fest casts a beautiful spell over City Park for three days every October. In addition to these blockbuster events, find plenty of smaller celebrations centered around every interest, from tacos and beer to film and dance.

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–Original reporting by Jess Simpson

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