Top 12 Things to Do in New Orleans for the First-Timer

New Orleans. Love it or hate it, it is a city that tugs at emotions from deep within no matter what your final verdict is.

It is alive, pulsating and breathing like you and me. Its energy is all-consuming. It absorbs and it reacts; it is not afraid of change. Instead, the city is cultivated by the people around it. Just as they are of it.

From the very beginning, New Orleans embraced the essence of individuality and diversity. Native American Indians were accepted instead of suppressed, Europeans and West Africans commingled in the New World, Creole intertwined with Cajun, and French and Spanish equally impacted the spirit of the city.

You can feel its life force, its vitality, its soul. A stroll through its expansive architecture ranging from grand mansions to charming cottages takes you through its past and present. Its eclectic neighborhoods scream charisma and fervor. It will transport you to a different period and mindset yet you’ll feel as relevant as ever.

Like a person, it has evolved over time but never strayed too far from its core. Each unexpected encounter and unique experience has shaped its existence and continues to do so.

Nothing can break this city. It has had its hardships and challenges, but it is stronger because of them. Each occurrence parting with an awakening and an emerging appreciation. Appreciation for the city, its culture, its expressive nature, its people, and its significance.

Today, it is still an environment of acceptance. It encourages a sense of freedom to be anyone you want to be or live the life you were meant to live. The city invokes intrigue and romance. It summons the question of who you are and where you are going.

There’s just something about the place that speaks to my heart. To me, New Orleans is perfectly imperfect. I hope you feel the same way!

New Orleans Itinerary: Top things to see and do in New Orleans including a tour of the French Quarter.
The Saint Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in North America.

Tips for Your First Visit to New Orleans

Questions we often hear are – Is New Orleans safe to visit? What should I avoid in New Orleans? New Orleans is definitely not shielded from crime but generally, it is considered safe for travelers.

Here are some precautions and tips for your visit.

  • Stay aware of your surroundings especially at night. Look for well-lit areas.
  • Keep track of your purse and/or wallet. Do not carry your wallet in your back pocket or bring a big purse.
  • Be aware of scams: people approaching you asking questions like where did you get your shoes or helping you with directions. Also, know if you take a picture of or with any of the ‘entertainers’ on the streets they will expect and/or ask for a tip.
  • It’s always smart to travel in twos especially when a lot of drinking is involved.
  • Bring comfortable walking shoes because the best way to see the city is on foot.
  • Bring some cash, many of the bars have minimums on credit card purchases and/or are cash-only establishments.

Disclosure: Some of the links on our site are through affiliate partnerships. We may receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through our links. 

Where to Stay in New Orleans

Luxury

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In no particular order, here are the best things to do in New Orleans French Quarter and more for any first-time visitor:

1. Soak in the French Quarter Architecture

What is the number one attraction in New Orleans? No one can deny the beating heart of the city is in the historic French Quarter.

Make sure to carve out ample time to wander the streets and soak it all in.

A few do-not-miss places include: 

  • Royal Street
  • St. Louis Cathedral
  • Jackson Square
  • Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar (which should be added to your pub crawl below since it’s the oldest structure in the U.S. used as a bar)
  • Pontalba Buildings at 500 St. Peters Street
First time visiting New Orleans? Here are the best things to do including a tour of the infamous French Quarter.
Things to Know About New Orleans – The Architecture is Captivating!

2. Create your Own Pub Crawl

You can’t come to New Orleans without experiencing the most famous street in America.

Enjoy Bourbon Street at its best, a few hours before and after sunset. You’ll get to drink in – literally – the beautiful outdoor patios during the day and the infamous neon lights at night.

Do not miss Old Absinthe House, Maison Bourbon, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar, the patio at Pat O’Brien’s, Beach on Bourbon, and the Cat’s Meow.

What to Drink: Hurricane from Pat O’s, Hand Grenade from Tropical Isles, Bloody Mary from the Gazebo Cafe or Molly’s at the Market, and Pimm’s Cup from Napoleon House.

If you don’t want to create a DIY crawl, hop on a fun Haunted Pub Crawl where you’ll experience all the haunted bars in the city with a seasoned local guide and other visitors. 

READ NEXT: NEW ORLEANS BEYOND BOURBON STREET

New Orleans Itinerary: Top things to see and do in New Orleans including a Hurricane from Pat O'Brien's.
Talk about a mega-Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans!

3. Take a Cemetery Tour

One of the most hauntingly beautiful places in NOLA is the above-ground cemeteries.

Witches Brew Tours is a highly rated ghost and cemetery tour that includes St. Louis Cemetery No 1. *The inside is currently closed to visitors, but the tour does take you to the surrounding area.”

Established in 1789, Cemetery No 1 is the oldest in the city and is the final resting place for many colorful native characters such as Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. And another popular site is the future tomb of actor Nicholas Cage.

One of the top 10 things to do in New Orleans is to take a cemetery tour.
New Orleans has the largest percentage of above-ground burial sites in the states and is sometimes referred to as the “Cities of the Dead.”

One of the unique things to do in New Orleans at night is to take a Haunted Cemetery and City Tour.

This two-hour spooky tour takes you to see the Coven House from American Horror Story and two cemeteries where you’ll learn all about voodoo history and hear chilling tales from beyond the grave. 

Get Your Guide is a great company that offers discounted tours and tickets to the best New Orleans attractions. If you book through our site, at no additional cost to you, you’ll help us support the blog since we receive a small commission.

Other fun tours they offer:

4. Try Beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Even if there is a line, it is worth the wait for these light fluffy treats that will melt in your mouth.

Café Du Monde began as a coffee stand in 1862 and it is still pounding out those French donuts called beignets (pronounced ben-yays).

A trip to NOLA is not complete without trying one… Or three.

New Orleans things to do for the first time visitor must include beignets at Cafe Du Monde.
Is 3 days enough to visit New Orleans? If you don’t miss the classics like beignets at Cafe Du Monde, it is!

5. Have Drinks at the Famous Carousel Bar

Spinning inside the Monteleone Hotel for 65 years now, the Carousel Bar & Lounge has a colorful Merry Go Round with bartenders in the middle serving up creative cocktails.

Open all day from 11:00 am to 12:00 am, make sure to swing by and go for a ride. 

You can’t go wrong with ordering one of the classics: Pimm’s Cup, Sazerac, Old Fashioned, or a Manhattan. 

If you’re looking for things to do in New Orleans for couples, check out my suggested Charming and Romantic Restaurants in NOLA next.

One of the top things to do in New Orleans for couples is to grab a drink at the rotating Carousel Bar and Lounge in Hotel Monteleone.
A superb cocktail on a rotating Merry Go Round – I’d say that makes the top 10 things to do in New Orleans French Quarter list, wouldn’t you?

6. Eat a Muffuletta from the Central Grocery and Deli

Serving muffuletta sandwiches for over 100 years, the first owner of the old-fashioned grocery store is known as the creator of the famous meat, cheese, and olive spread concoction.

Go hungry because the sandwiches are about the size of your head!

NOLA Bucket List: The top things to see and do in New Orleans for the first-time visit.
New Orleans Travel Musts: Do not go home till you get a muffuletta!

7. Hop on a Streetcar

Take a ride on the cheap and historic streetcar along St. Charles Avenue.

You’ll glide under ancient oak trees and past antebellum mansions on the forty-minute ride from the edge of the French Quarter.

Fun Fact: The dark green streetcar on the St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. 

NOLA Bucket List: The top 10 things to see and do in New Orleans for the first-time visit.
One of the fun things to do in New Orleans with kids and adults alike is to take a ride on a streetcar!

8. Walk through the Lower Garden District of New Orleans

If you don’t mind walking a few miles, take the St. Charles streetcar to the end of the line, then head back but get off at Louisiana Avenue.

Head over to Magazine Street and check out all the shops and restaurants. 

Atchafalaya is well-known for its build-your-own Bloody Mary Bar and The Bulldog has a great local craft beer selection.

GET A TASTE OF MARDI GRAS WORLD YEAR-ROUND WITH THIS TOUR IN NEW ORLEANS

9. Listen to Live Music

Whether you bar hop along Frenchman Street or hit Preservation Hall, you must spend at least one night jamming out to live music. 

You’ll also catch some entertaining and talented folks on the streets. Just make sure to watch your phones and wallets when crowds start to form. It’s a prime spot for pickpocketing.

Top 12 things to see and do in New Orleans, Louisiana.
New Orleans History Tours is a good way to learn about the city’s storied past.

10. Devour a Po’ Boy

Po’ Boys are a traditional sandwich served all over Louisiana. It is said that they originated in New Orleans to be exact. You can order meat like Roast Beef slathered in gravy or seafood like fried shrimp or crawfish. 

Two favorites are Johnny’s Po-Boys or Killer PoBoys in the French Quarter.

One of the popular sandwiches in New Orleans, the Po'Boy.
The roast beef po’boy is messy but it sure is good!

11. Shop at the French Market

Located in the French Quarter taking up six blocks, the French Market is the oldest of its kind in the United States.

Open daily from 10 AM to 6 PM, it is a place to eat, drink, and shop. Don’t forget to stop in any of the praline shops for some free samples!

Best Things to do in New Orleans for a First Time Visitor. Extensively explore the French Quarter architecture. Wander through the Lower Garden District. Enojy the Music Scene. Check out at least one Cemetery. Experience a vintage Streetcar Ride.
The French Market spans six blocks in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

12. Check out Harrah’s Casino

Even if you are not a gambler, Harrah’s Casino is worth a look. The décor is over-the-top and if you are a gambler, make sure to take advantage of the free drinks!

Other Ideas for your New Orleans Vacation

  • National WWII Museum: For history buffs, the WWII Museum is a must-do. It has a five-star rating and is considered America’s official museum on the subject. Check ticket prices here. 
  • City Park: If you are looking to get outside the French Quarter, head over to City Park, one of the largest and oldest urban parks in the United States. With 1,300 acres of old oak trees and beautiful walking paths, it’s a lovely place for a stroll. Also inside you’ll find other fantastic New Orleans attractions like the Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden, Storyland – a themed playground, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, and the New Orleans Botanical Garden. 
  • Looking for free things to do in New Orleans? Enjoy street music, walk along the Woldenberg Riverfront Park, catch a sunrise at Algiers Point, walk around a cemetery (only Saint Louis Cemetery #1 restricts visitors), check out Louis Armstrong Park, or look at all the mansions on St. Charles Avenue. 

There are so many fun things to do in New Orleans, I hope we narrowed down the best ones for a great first time visit!

Have you been? What were your favorite New Orleans things to do? Any suggestions for a first-time visitor?

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New Orleans Itinerary: Top things to see and do in New Orleans including a tour of the French Quarter, a ride on a streetcar, foodie guide, and a pub crawl.

NOLA Bucket List: The top things to see and do in New Orleans for the first-time visit.

Best Things to do in New Orleans for a First Time Visitor. Extensively explore the French Quarter architecture. Wander through the Lower Garden District. Enojy the Music Scene. Check out at least one Cemetery. Hop on a vintage Streetcar Ride.

34 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Mejia-Salinas

    Husband and I went for our 1st wedding anniversary. I loved it I had never been there before but my husband has. So we will be going back again next year in February 2020 for our 4year anniversary. See what we didn’t get to see on our first trip. Too much to do and see ❤️

  2. Gina

    This is a great web site. However I have a group of students 15( Sophmores and Seniors) that I’m bringing to New Orleans and I would love to have any ideas from hotels, tours and eating wise, they are on a budget we are going there for some history, music and culture. We will be arriving March 13-18. Don’t mind doing tours that’s on a budget, they wanted to visit cemataries and possibly a paddleboat ride. Any information for us first time visitors. Is there like a check list of great designations to visit, kinda lika a stamp book/punch card type of thing?

  3. Kate

    Love this site, thanks for the tips! Any suggestions as to what to do with (5) teenagers over spring break? We are worried there won’t be enough for them to do. Thinking a ghost tour, cemetery tour, garden district tour would be good. Do you have other fun suggestions? Thank you so much!

    • Dang Travelers

      Here are a few of my suggestions with links.

      Cemetery Tour – I would suggest either the Voodoo & Cemetery Tour or for a more budget-friendly tour grab a Groupon for the Witches Tours there are two to choose from.

      Mardi Gras WorldMardi Gras World is pretty cool with all the floats they use during Mardi Gras – really unique to New Orleans.

      If you are looking for history, I heard the World War II Museum is the best in the country. I have not been yet so I can’t speak from personal experience but I’ve heard A LOT of people say so.

      In my post on how to get off the beaten path in NOLA, I recommend Audobon Park – it has a sculpture park, zoo, and the HUGE tree of life (can skip the zoo if the kids think those are lame at that age). Might be a fun stop for you guys otherwise plus a cheap ride on the trolley to get there. I have all the info on how to get there etc. in my post.

      I would say Preservation Hall for music since it’s all ages and all different show times.

      If you have time and want to do a plantation tour, Oak Alley is absolutely stunning with its tree lined pathway and you learn about slavery on the tour. It’s outside of New Orleans so it would take away at least half a day though.

  4. Becky

    I recommend going to the New Orleans Lakefront and eating at the Blue Crab. Going to City Park for family fun. Visiting Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium. If you have younger children, visit the LA Children’s Museum at City Park. It is very interactive.

  5. Marc Becker

    Great ideas, but need to add another: New Orleans is the ONLY place you can see The National WWII Museum, the nation’s most popular museum. And please add the Higgins Hotel Curio to your list of places to stay, next door to the Museum!

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks Marc! I have heard great things about that museum, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Once we get a firsthand look, we’ll probably agree and add it to one of our New Orleans articles.

  6. Zephainah

    Hi i have family who’ll be attending in November. During this pandemic its hard but they’ll need to be cautious to enjoy themselves. Wgat would food for them to do in thanksgiving weekend.

  7. Latavia Boykin

    Can anyone tell me when is the best time to go for Mardi Gras? And is it canceled for 2021??

  8. Meeka Monique

    Me and my girls are going 2/25-3/1 any ideas as to what to do? And is it any atv or ziplining available?

  9. Tamika M Wilson

    Yes first time! We really wanna zip line!! Do you know if its open around this time or was it just in a movie lol.

    • Dang Travelers

      LOL The one on Bourbon Street is just in the movie, there isn’t really one. That would be fun though! A zip line company was supposed to open this summer (over a swampland) but I don’t think it opened with COVID.

  10. lawanda Conner

    any suggestions on where to stay going 2/12/21 thru 2/14/21. Are there a lot of restrictions due to pandemic

  11. Shirley Boggs

    We are going to New Orleans for the first time the end of April – the first week of May.
    Our 53 anniversary. Best reasonable place to stay?? Things to do ?? Things not to miss ??

    • Dang Travelers

      Hi Shirley, I touch on all of these topics in the article. It has all my recommendations for a first-time visit. The only other places I would add since it’s your anniversary would be Cafe Amelie (heard it is romantic but haven’t been yet – on our list though) and a special lunch or dinner at the historic Commander’s Palace in the beautiful Garden District.

  12. Jill Anthony

    Hi Jill! Thanks for reaching out.

    We will visit may 16 for one day, leaving May 17. I am recovering from foot surgery and can’t walk to far without putting my foot up. Any suggestions for us? We are staying at Intercontinental Hotel.

  13. Stephen Caldecott

    Hi
    My wife and I are visiting next March on a cruise ship. We will only be there for 2 days .what would you suggest we shouldn’t miss in such a short trip?
    We thought padleboat trip and music somewhere?

    Thanks Steve

  14. Fahreen

    Hello Dang Travelers! We are a family of 4 with two teens in tow. My son will be touring LSU and Tulane in April. It is Spring Break week and we are trying to book, only to realize how sold out NOLA is! Any tips for family things to do; we are first timers there. Any further tips or thoughts on hotels is appreciated too! We are crossing out airbnb just because we want a nice pool and pool service 🙂 Thank you in advance!

    • Dang Travelers

      Hi Fahreen! Thanks for reaching out. How exciting for your son to be college touring!

      As far as New Orleans goes for teens, Mardi Gras World is a neat option to see the floats. It’s inside so I’d plan to go on a not so nice day if you have one. An airboat & swamp tour would be fun for them too. Also, I think they’d like a ghost /voodoo tour. Otherwise, I’d say to take the streetcar to City Park and see the sculpture park and on the way back walk through the Garden District. Let me get back to you on the hotel when I get a chance to check some things.

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