10 Things to Do in New Orleans That Don’t Involve Bourbon Street

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When it comes to cities in the US that people tell you you HAVE to visit, New Orleans has to be one of the top. From the food to the live music to the over-the-top culture of having a good time, New Orleans is indeed one of the most fun places to visit in the US.

I didn't visit New Orleans for the first time until I was 30 years old, though, and the main reason for that was that I assumed it was a city that I, as someone who doesn't drink or party much, wouldn't really enjoy.

Well, I was dead wrong.

Just like you don't have to gamble to enjoy Las Vegas, you don't have to hang out on Bourbon Street to enjoy New Orleans.

New Orleans shotgun house
Shotgun style house in New Orleans
New Orleans French Quarter
Carriages in New Orleans' French Quarter

I visited New Orleans for the first time (and the second time) with my friend Kasey, and we had a great time exploring the city's history, food, and top attractions while still going to bed at times that suited our inner grandmas.

So I figured I would highlight some of the things to do in New Orleans that have nothing to do with beads and beers on Bourbon Street.

9 things to do in New Orleans (that don't involve Bourbon Street)

1. Get your history on in the French Quarter

New Orleans' French Quarter is the city's most famous neighborhood – and it's also the oldest part of the city. This is where the first French colonists settled in the early 1700s, bringing with them culture and architecture that you can still see there today. Wandering around the French Quarter is a must.

New Orleans French Quarter
Balconies in the French Quarter

And if you're interested in the history of the quarter, be sure to check out:

  • Jackson Square – This square near the river is one of the oldest in New Orleans. And the iconic St. Louis Cathedral on one end of the square is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States (having originally been built in 1724). This is a great spot to buy artwork and souvenirs, watch buskers perform, and start a carriage tour of the city.
  • 1850 House – On the opposite side of Jackson Square, you'll find the 1850 House. This multi-storied home is decorated with period furniture and artwork in order to depict middle class family life during New Orleans' most prosperous years.
Inside the 1850 House in New Orleans
Inside the 1850 House
  • The Cabildo – Located near St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, the Cabildo is one of New Orleans' most important historical buildings. Not only has it served as the seat of the city's government in the past, but it's also where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. Today it's a museum, with artifacts and exhibits that showcase the history of New Orleans and Louisiana.
  • Historic French Market – You'll also want to check out the French Market, which spans roughly 6 blocks in the quarter. Not only is this a great place to shop, but you'll find very affordable eats here, too.

Take a tour: If you want to learn more about this historic neighborhood, consider a French Quarter walking tour!

2. Go to Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras World in New Orleans
Inside Mardi Gras World

New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations each spring, but visiting during that time of year can be a bit overwhelming. But guess what? You don't *have* to visit near Fat Tuesday in order to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

(I was super excited to learn this, as Mardi Gras in New Orleans doesn't necessarily appeal to me as a person who doesn't love partying or crowds!)

Float at Mardi Gras World
A float from Mardi Gras 2016

I wasn't sure what to expect from Mardi Gras World, but it turned out to be one of my favorite things in New Orleans. The warehouse facility near the city's cruise port is where many of the famous Mardi Gras floats are conceptualized and built each year, and it's also where tons of props are stored.

Your ticket (which is roughly $22 per adult) includes a short movie about Mardi Gras, a guided or self-guided tour of the facility, and then free time to roam around all the floats and props.

Float at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans
The detail on these floats/props is incredible!
Props at Mardi Gras World

It's super interesting to learn about the different krewes, how the floats are designed each year, and what riding on a float is really like. It helped me conceptualize and understand Mardi Gras in New Orleans a lot better.

3. Take a stroll in the Garden District

Many people never leave the French Quarter when they visit New Orleans, but I highly recommend seeing some of the city's other neighborhoods, too.

My other favorite is probably the Garden District. It actually used to be called the “American District” because it's where all the Americans who came down after the Revolutionary War settled in New Orleans.

New Orleans Garden District
Home in the Garden District

The architecture here is so different from what you'll find in the French Quarter, and the tree-lined streets are much quieter.

New Orleans Garden District
New Orleans Garden District

My friend Kasey and I booked a walking tour of the Garden District like this one, which was a great way to learn the history of the neighborhood and see some of the most famous homes. (There are lots of famous homes and homes of famous people in the Garden District.)

You can also take a stroll along Magazine Street, but note that most of the cute little shops close at 5 p.m.!

Take a tour: A Garden District walking tour will cover the history and famous residents of this neighborhood, as well as allow you to learn about the oldest cemetery in New Orleans.

4. Spend time in a park

If it's true green space you're looking for, New Orleans has some great parks to enjoy. Kasey and I spent a morning at City Park, enjoying all the huge live oaks and wandering through the sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and then spent an afternoon at Audubon Park in the city's Uptown neighborhood.

New Orleans City Park
How amazing is this tree in City Park??

Both parks have nice walking/biking trails and tons of huge trees. Wandering through Audubon Park especially gave us a feeling of what it might be like to actually live in New Orleans as opposed to just being tourists there.

New Orleans City Park
The Bayou in City Park

5. Learn about NOLA's cemeteries

Maybe it's weird, but I love visiting cemeteries when I travel. And New Orleans has some very famous and fascinating cemeteries. We visited Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 as part of our Garden District walking tour, and learned all about these “Cities of the Dead” in New Orleans.

What makes the cemeteries here unique is the fact that, because of the swampy ground New Orleans was built upon, people need to be buried above-ground – hence why you'll find cemeteries here filled with stone crypts and mausoleums built along “streets.”

Lafayette Cemetery #1 in New Orleans
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

When you die in New Orleans, your coffin is put in your family mausoleum for at least one year and one day. After that, the family removes the coffin, places the remains in a bag, and puts them back into the bottom of the mausoleum, making room for more dead. This means that there literally could be dozens – or even hundreds! – of bodies in just one crypt. Talk about efficient (and creepy).

Take a tour: If you have time, definitely try out a cemetery tour in NOLA to learn even more.

6. Go on a ghost tour

Speaking of creepy… You can't really go to New Orleans without going on a spooky tour of some sort! Since Kasey and I were interested in everything from ghosts to voodoo to vampires, we ended up booking a combo tour like this of the French Quarter.

New Orleans French Quarter at night
French Quarter after dark

The evening walking tour was very well-done – it was the perfect blend of actual history and spooky mystery from New Orleans over the centuries, from vampires to voodoo.

If you're looking for a ghostly tour in NOLA, check out some of these options:

7. Listen to some live music

New Orleans is incredibly famous for its jazz music. And while you can find it on Bourbon Street, the best “local” place to go for live music is Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny. Within the space of about 4 blocks, you'll find some of the best live-music venues in the city here.

Take a tour: Try out this live music pub crawl along Frenchman Street.


Perhaps just as famous as its music is New Orleans' food. I don't pretend to be a foodie by any means, but OH. MY. GOD. The food in New Orleans is just incredible. I left Kasey in charge of most of our restaurant choices, but I don't think it would have mattered – everything we had was delicious (and I'm pretty sure I gained like 10 pounds in 4 days).

Oysters at Drago's in New Orleans
Charbroiled oysters at Drago's

Here were some of our favorite dishes and drinks:

  • Charbroiled oysters (and the best red beans and rice) at Drago's
  • Softshell crab po'boys at Stanley Restaurant
  • Fried green tomatoes + shrimp and crawfish etouffee at The Original Pierre Maspero's
  • Coffee + beignets at either Cafe du Monde or Morning Call
  • Pre-dinner drinks at the Carousel Bar (inside the Hotel Monteleone) – the bar slowly spins like a carousel!

I wish I could have stayed another week just to eat all the delicious food!

Take a tour: There are so many good New Orleans food tour options, and you should definitely go on one!

9. Take a cruise

New Orleans sits on the mighty Mississippi, and a ride on the historic steamboat NATCHEZ is an excellent afternoon activity. Watch the big red paddlewheel, see New Orleans from the water, and add on an optional buffet lunch with jazz music to make it extra memorable.

Take a tour: This 2-hour jazz cruise is the one you want!

10. Visit a plantation

Lastly, if you have an extra day in New Orleans, I highly recommend getting out of the city to see one or two of the nearby former plantations along the Old River Road. These plantations (and everything associated with them – including slavery) were such a huge part of southern Louisiana's history.

Laura Plantation in Louisiana
Laura Plantation

Popular plantations to visit include:

Whitney Plantation is the only former plantation that focuses solely on the experience of enslaved peoples in Louisiana. A tour of Whitney Plantation is a must in my opinion. The self-guided tour highlights the realities of plantation life as you move through museum exhibits and restored structures.

Laura Plantation is a historic Creole Plantation, and I really enjoyed the tour of the house and grounds here. They're doing a lot to restore buildings on the property in order to tell the story of everyone involved in the plantation's story – including the former enslaved people.

Oak Alley is possibly the most photogenic of the Old River Road plantations because of the avenue of 28 live oaks that lead up to the plantation house. It's more commercialized than Laura (with a restaurant, B&B, and even a bar on the property), but the tour through the house is interesting and they have a decent exhibit on slavery at the plantation in replicas of old slave cabins.

Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation

There's SO MUCH to do in New Orleans without ever setting foot on Bourbon Street. In fact, with four full days in the city, there was still plenty we didn't see (and even more that we didn't eat!).

Next time, I'd spend more time in the Bywater and Faubourg Marigny neighborhoods. I might take a steamboat ride on the Mississippi. I would probably take another ghost or vampire tour. And I would consider a swamp or bayou tour.

Whatever you do, don't think that there's nothing more to NOLA than partying on Bourbon Street!


When to go to New Orleans

The most popular time to visit NOLA is February-May, when the weather is mild and you have events like Mardi Gras and the annual Jazz Fest happening.

BUT, visiting in mid-November was great, too. We had mostly sunny weather, no humidity, and temperatures near 70 degrees (F) every day. And, with no huge events going on, it never felt like it was too crowded, even in the French Quarter.

Audubon Park in New Orleans
We had some great weather in November

Where to stay in New Orleans

Kasey and I rented an awesome shotgun-style home in the hipster Bywater neighborhood, which was great for our budget and for getting a more “local” feel for New Orleans.

But if you want to be closer to the action, I would probably just book something in the French Quarter. For luxury-seekers who still want the historical charm, my pick would be the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. For those looking for something more budget-friendly, check out the Holiday Inn Hotel French Quarter-Chateau Lemoyne.

In the Garden District, I would go boutique: the Henry Howard Hotel and Hotel Indigo would be my picks.

Or, you can compare prices for other New Orleans hotels here.

New Orleans French Quarter
French Quarter architecture

Getting around New Orleans

You certainly don't need to have a car in New Orleans (and, to be honest, I wouldn't want to try navigating the narrow streets in the French Quarter, which you have to share with pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, and even Segways!). While our Airbnb host didn't recommend the bus system, we got around using:

  • The street car – New Orleans has three street car lines: one that runs along the river, one that goes up and down Canal Street (which borders the French Quarter), and one that runs along St. Charles Avenue. If you want a scenic ride past some of the city's prettiest buildings, hop on the St. Charles line for a ride. (Tip: Make sure you have exact fare, because you won't get change back! One ticket costs $1.25, or you can get a day pass for $3.)
  • Uber – Kasey and I are both Uber fans, and the ride-sharing company is alive and well in New Orleans. Since we were staying about 3 miles from the French Quarter (and most of the other places we wanted to visit), we would usually get an Uber into and back home from the city every day. Rides were usually under $10.
  • By foot – Lastly, we walked a ton in New Orleans! Most neighborhoods (and especially the touristy ones) are perfectly safe to walk through, and it's a great way to see all the interesting and colorful architecture.

READ NEXT: How to Have a Classy Girls Weekend in New Orleans

What would YOU most want to do in New Orleans?

New Orleans travel guide

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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44 Comments on “10 Things to Do in New Orleans That Don’t Involve Bourbon Street

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  1. The best attraction in town is the National World War 2 museum.

      Amanda, I truly appreciated your article. I’m a New Orleans native and your helped me remi
      nisce on some highlights of my city. Thank you. The article was well written.

    Great Article and definitely some great places to visit there. Tip though much of New Orleans was actually built by the Spanish and not the French. Also the original city of New Orleans was the French Quarter (90 sq. blocks). Last interesting fact, The Garden District was mainly founded because the Americans agree with the French and Spanish mixing with Native American and African women so that is how the Garden District was started. Also by the time of the Civil War there more Free People of Color in New Orleans who had been free for generations. New Orleans is an amazing city and when people say it gets in your blood…it really does get in your blood.

    Walk down Royal Street and see how many courtyards you can fined. Magazine Street is a must for shopping, and food. Ride on the Steamboat Natchez. Get those Beignets! We also have a wonderful zoo, and aquarium. Ride a streetcar. Catch a Saints Football game, Breakfast at the Ruby Slipper. So much to do in NOLA

    Could you please let me know where you stayed. I would like to check it out for our trip in November

      I stayed in an Airbnb in Bywater, but a friend of mine booked it so I’m afraid I don’t know the exact listing, or if it’s still even available to book. I do list some hotel recommendations in this post though. 🙂

    Great article, went there a few months ago and surprisingly did most of the things on your list. (Just a small note there’s a typo in the food section just thought I’d better let you know)

      Awesome! I think once you get there you realize just how much there is to see/do, but if you’ve never been you have no idea!

    I love New Orleans SO much! I went years ago (gosh – over a decade at this point, I guess!) and it’s *still* one of my favorite cities in the world. I was so young back then – I definitely need to revisit and try again as an adult! My boyfriend and I at the time had gotten some “great deal” and got stuck in some hotel that said it was in New Orleans but was actually in another city a half hour away. We weren’t old enough to affordably rent a car at that time, so we spent a lot of time (and money) cabbing it back-and-forth every day. I definitely need a do-over! (And with all that, it’s STILL one of my favorite cities!) Your post brought back so many great memories. Glad to see you enjoyed your time there!

      It sounds like it made an impression on you! I had so much fun there – it’s a city I can definitely seeing myself going back to more than once! (Though I won’t be able to go too often, or else I won’t be able to fit into any of my clothes! Haha!)

        Ha! I know what you mean. It sounds like you may not have found my personal obsession from when I was there… pralines (Aunt Sally’s pralines, to be precise!). I loved those so much, I ended up ordering them from time-to-time even after I got home! In fact, it’s been quite some time since I’ve placed an order… Hmmm…. ; )

          Oh we definitely got some Aunt Sally’s pralines!! I ate one a night the whole time I was there. 😉

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