New Orleans is known for its gorgeous French Quarter and lively annual Mardi Gras festival, which is free to attend. Visitors can explore the city's beautiful neighborhoods for free. Many museums, art galleries, and other attractions offer free admission days throughout the month or are open to the public for free daily. For lower-cost public transportation to attractions, visitors can use the city's NORTA public transit system, which offers bus and historic streetcar service. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
1.The French Quarter
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The French Quarter is New Orleans' most iconic and historic neighborhood, preserved as a National Historic Landmark. The quarter dates back to the city's Spanish rule, with many buildings constructed throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As one of the city's top tourist attractions, the district is known for its colorful preserved historic structures, cast-iron balconies, and exciting nightlife. Local landmark restaurants include Antoine's and Tujague's, which date back to the 19th century, along with restaurants operated by celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse. Jazz clubs, bars, and boutiques also line the district, along with the historic French Market, which sells gourmet food and is home to artisan vendors.
501 Basin Street, New Orleans, LA 70112
2.Lafayette Square Concert Series
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Lafayette Square Concert Series is an annual spring concert series held in New Orleans' Lafayette Square during the months of March, April, and May. The 12-week event is held each Wednesday between March 1st and the middle of May, showcasing local and regional artists playing in a wide variety of genres, including jazz, funk, and Latin music. Each concert begins at 5:00pm, with food and alcoholic beverage vendors hosted on site until 8:00pm. Space is provided for visitors to dance along with music, with well-behaved pets permitted at the square on leashes. Free street parking is available for free on streets near the square after 6:00pm.
2023 Lafayette Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104, Phone: 314-772-5724
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Jackson Square is an historic park within New Orleans' French Quarter, best known as the site of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The park was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and has served as a major filming location for feature films and television series throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. As one of New Orleans' top visitor attractions, the square faces the Mississippi River and is surrounded by historic landmarks such as the city's St. Louis Cathedral and Cabildo and Presbytere Louisiana State Museums. Retail shops, restaurants, and art galleries are offered at the Pontalba Apartments, while an open-air artist colony within the square features local portrait drawers, caricature artists, and other artisans.
700 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116
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Mardi Gras, also referred to as Fat Tuesday, is New Orleans' biggest annual celebration, held each spring between Three Kings' Day and Ash Wednesday. Originally established in France as a Christian holiday, the celebration has become synonymous with New Orleans' French Quarter district, celebrated in the city since at least the early 18th century and officially declared a Louisiana state holiday in 1875. Today, the celebration encompasses multiple festive parades, masquerade balls, and other extravagant festivities over the course of several weeks, with most Carnival festivities centered on the city's Bourbon Street. Many restaurants and bars offer food and drink specials throughout the celebration, which more than doubles the city's population with tourism travel.
5.St. Louis Cathedral
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St. Louis Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, is the United States' oldest existing cathedral, serving as the seat of New Orleans' Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The site has been home to a cathedral since 1718 and has been reconstructed three times, with the most recent expansion in 1850 mostly reconstructing the prior 1789 structure. Visitors can explore the cathedral for free daily between 8:30am and 4:00pm, with self-guided brochures available in the cathedral's lobby for a nominal fee. Beautiful architectural features include a towering central spire and an iconic symmetrical facade, which serves as one of the city's most well-known visual images. Behind the church, the St. Anthony Garden may also be explored as part of self-guided tours.
615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116
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Magazine Street is a six-mile street in New Orleans' downtown district that extends from the city's Uptown area to its Garden District, originally named for its magazin export warehouse which was operated in the 18th century. Today, it is known for its beautiful historic architecture, which spans styles from colorful Victorian structures to majestic 19th-century Greek Revival buildings. As one of the city's top culinary and cultural destinations, the street is home to gourmet and specialty international restaurants, unique food trucks, quaint coffee shops and espresso bars, and a number of art galleries and antique stores. Nightlife options include traditional jazz clubs, lively indie rock venues, and chic nightclubs. A number of annual events are held within the district, including the street's Art for Arts' Sake celebration each autumn.
7.The Garden District
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The Garden District is a charming New Orleans neighborhood that is known for its ornate, gorgeous 19th-century architecture, originally designed in 1806 as a Greek Revival-influenced open district connecting a series of interlocking parks and canals. The district's streets still bear names related to Greek mythology, with many original Greek Revival and Italianate houses and businesses still standing. Boutiques and antique stores line Magazine Street, while beautiful live oaks populate Coliseum Square and the historic 19th-century Lafayette Cemetery. Fine dining establishments, quaint cafes, and popular local nightlife spots are also showcased throughout the district, keeping it lively and active throughout the late-night hours.
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8.Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University
© Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University
Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University is an art museum on the campus of New Orleans' Tulane University, open to the public for free Tuesdays through Saturdays during the morning and afternoon hours. The museum showcases the world's largest collection of Newcomb Pottery and other artisan works produced at the university's H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, which was founded in 1886 and was the nation's first coordinate women's college. Many works are associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, including important pieces crafted by artists such as Marie de Hoa LeBlanc, Harriet Coulter Joor, and Sadie Irvine. Other temporary exhibits showcase artworks and topics related to social justice topics and civic dialogue.
Woldenberg Art Center, Newcomb Circle, New Orleans, LA 70118, Phone 504-865-5328
9.New Orleans Glassworks
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New Orleans Glassworks is the largest glasswork and printmaking studio in the American South, open to the public for more than four decades. The studio has been featured on NBC's Today Show and is located within a restored 19th-century building in the heart of New Orleans' Arts District, near the National World War II Museum. Visitors can watch free live daily demonstrations as part of the studio's Hot Glass Now program, observing master glassblowers at work creating beautiful sculptures. Some demonstrations include hands-on components for visitors, with two-hour workshops also conducted periodically. Visitors can also peruse the studio's galleries, which showcase glass, print, and metal works.
727 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130, Phone: 504-529-7277
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10.Collins C. Diboll Art Gallery and Visual Art Center
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Collins C. Diboll Art Gallery and Visual Art Center is a free-admission art museum located on the campus of New Orleans' Loyola University, showcasing the school's Cornet collection of artifacts from the Belgian Congo. The gallery is located on the fourth floor of the university's Louise and J. Edgar Monroe Library and is open to the public seven days a week during the morning and afternoon hours. Other exhibits at the museum include student art shows and displays of artworks by regional and national artists working in a variety of mediums. Abstract art, graphic art, prints, and pottery are all showcased periodically, including pieces by internationally-renowned artists.
6363 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118, Phone: 504-864-7248
11.House of Dance and Feathers
© House of Dance and Feathers
House of Dance and Feathers is a living culture museum located within New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, originally opened in 2003 by Ronald R. Lewis, the president of the Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club and an active member of the city's indigenous groups. The nonprofit museum is housed within Lewis' home and is open to the public for free by appointment, with donations requested whenever possible to aid with museum operations. The museum strives to preserve the culture of the city's Mardi Gras Indians and Skull and Bone Gangs, showcasing unique masks, suits, and figurines alongside a collection of photography and volumes. Visitors can learn about the history of the city's underdog parades, which have remained popular favorite events during Mardi Gras in the face of larger corporate parades.
1317 Tupelo St, New Orleans, LA 70117, Phone: 504-957-2678
12.The Living Museum
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The Living Museum is a free-admission museum detailing the history and culture of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays during the afternoon hours. The museum was founded by Ian Breckenridge-Jackson and Caroline Heldman in 2011 in response to the slow rebuilding of the district following 2005's Hurricane Katrina, striving to preserve the neighborhood's history and culture in the face of destruction. Oral histories of longtime neighborhood residents are showcased, along with exhibits dedicated to the region's social, cultural, and civic history, including its creation in the 18th century as a colony for escaped slaves.
1235 Deslonde St, New Orleans, LA 70117, Phone: 504-220-3652
13.The Historic New Orleans Collection
© The Historic New Orleans Collection
The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum and research center located in New Orleans' French Quarter, offering free exhibitions open to the public at campuses on both Royal Street and Chartres Street. The museum has been an American Alliance of Museums-accredited facility since 1978 and showcases the history and culture of New Orleans and the broader Gulf South region. The Royal Street location is open Tuesdays through Sundays during business hours and is home to the museum's gift shop, while the Chartres Street campus, which is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, is home to the Williams Research Center, which contains historical materials related to the city's history, along with the Anne and Dick Stephens Collection of Louisiana Decoys and Wildfowl Artifacts.
533 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130, Phone: 504-523-4662
14.Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
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Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is a National Park Service facility that preserves six sites within the New Orleans region with cultural and natural significance. The park was established in 1978 to combine several existing historical sites, named in honor of infamous 19th-century pirate Jean Lafitte. Visitors can explore the park's Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, which was the site of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and is home to many Civil War burials. The 1,855-acre Barataria Preserve, which is located approximately 17 miles from New Orleans, is home to protected swamp, bayou, and marsh lands, while three cultural centers operated by the park preserve Louisiana's Cajun history. New Orleans tourists can also explore the French Quarter Visitor Center, which offers exhibits detailing the city's history and culture.
419 Decatur St , New Orleans, LA 70130, Phone: 504-589-3882
15.The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
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The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is a unit of the National Park Service that is dedicated to the history and evolution of jazz music throughout the city and the greater Gulf South region. The park was established in 1994 within New Orleans' Tremé neighborhood and is open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays during business hours, offering a visitor center with exhibits on jazz history and a world-class jazz performance stage presenting live musical performances five days a week. A self-guided audio tour of 11 sites throughout the city connected to jazz history is offered, with brochures available at the visitor center or on the park's website. Ranger-led programming is also offered weekly, including demonstrations and lectures.
916 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116, Phone: 504-589-4841
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Uptown/Carrollton is a residential district in New Orleans known for its landmark restaurants, including the historic Jacque-Imo's, which is known for its delicious authentic Creole cuisine. The neighborhood was originally developed in the 19th century to refer to the area of the city north of Canal Street, serving as a distinction between its Francophone and Anglophone communities. Today, it is bounded by the Pontchartrain Expressway, the CBD/Warehouse District, and the Mississippi River near S. Claiborne Avenue. The residential neighborhood showcases beautiful live oak trees, stately 19th-century mansions, and the campuses of both Tulane and Loyola Universities, along with iconic live music venues such as the Maple Leaf Bar and quaint bookstores and clothing boutiques along Oak Street.
17.The Crescent City Farmers' Market
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The Crescent City Farmers' Market is a weekly New Orleans market that is hosted year-round in four of the city's neighborhoods, attracting more than 100,000 shoppers and visitors annually. The market serves as New Orleans' premiere weekly farmers' market and is hosted on Tuesday mornings at Tulane University Square, Wednesdays within the city's French Quarter on North Peters Street, Thursdays along Orleans Avenue at the Bayou, and Saturdays in the city's downtown within the Warehouse District. More than 80 local farmers and food producers participate in the market each week, with produce, meats, dairy, baked and specialty pantry goods, and cut flowers sold regularly.
200 Broadway Street, Suite 107, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118, Phone: 504-861-4488
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City Park is one of the United States' most-visited public urban parks, spanning 1,300 acres, or more than twice the size of New York City's famed Central Park. The park is recognized nationwide as an archetype for urban park spaces, overseen by the City Park Improvement Organization, a branch of the Louisiana state government. Despite damage done by Hurricane Katrina, it is home to the largest collection of mature live oak trees in the world, with many reaching over 600 years in age. Multiple athletic facilities are offered, including areas for tennis, golf, disc golf, rugby, lacrosse, soccer, softball, and baseball. For an additional fee, visitors can ride classic and modern rides at the park's seasonally-operating Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, which is home to an historic carousel, a drop tower, and the Live Oak Ladybug Rollercoaster. Other attractions include a 60-acre forest, a botanical garden, and several museums and restaurants.
1 Palm Dr, New Orleans, LA 70124, Phone: 504-482-4888
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LUNA Fête, properly known as the Light Up NOLA Arts Fête, is New Orleans' annual holiday festival of light, art, and technology, held over three days in early December within the city's Lafayette Square. The event was originally inaugurated in 2014 and is one of the city's most unique annual events, showcasing large-scale outdoor light installations created by internationally-renowned artists and design companies. Installations are illuminated each day between 6:00pm and 10:00pm, serving as a family-friendly outdoor holiday spectacular and connecting New Orleans residents and visitors to new forms of contemporary art. More than 100,000 annual visitors attend the event, which also features works using sound installation and video motion graphics elements.
20.The French Quarter Festival
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The French Quarter Festival is one of New Orleans' most charming annual events, held each year in early April within the city's historic French Quarter neighborhood. The free festival was originally held in 1984 following the New Orleans World's Fair and celebrates the district's unique music, cuisine, and culture. More than 100 live music performers take to the stage at over two dozen stages throughout the district, highlighting jazz, Latin, funk, swing, R&B, zydeco, and rock music. Signature events throughout the festival include the world's largest jazz brunch at Woldenberg Riverfront Park, with dishes available from more than 60 area restaurants and vendors. Free tours of hidden patios and gardens within the district are also offered, along with film screenings, crawfish eating contests, and children's activities.
21.Art for Art’s Sake
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Art for Art’s Sake is an annual fall festival in New Orleans that attracts more than 30,000 art lovers, held each first Saturday in October. The event was inaugurated in 1980 by the city's Contemporary Arts Center and opens the doors to hundreds of galleries and art and boutique stores along Julia and Magazine Streets and within the historic Warehouse Arts District. Visitors can gallery hop throughout businesses and studios, which offer unique displays of contemporary and modern art and complimentary wine and refreshments. The Contemporary Arts Center is also open to the public for an additional fee between 6:00pm and midnight, showcasing musical performances and new exhibit openings.
22.Algiers Folk Art Fest
© Algiers Folk Art Fest
Algiers Folk Art Fest is an annual festival within the New Orleans suburb of Algiers Point, which is accessible from downtown New Orleans via ferry. The festival showcases regional folk art exhibits and vendors, with many works for sale to visitors. Live music performances are also presented throughout the event from top area performers, with shows emceed by local personalities. Concessions are available from New Orleans-area food trucks, including alcoholic beverage vendors. The festival is held on the grounds of Algiers Point's Folk Art Zone and Blues Museum. For lower-cost transportation to the festival, free street parking is available in some areas.
207 Leboeuf St, New Orleans, LA 70114, Phone: 504-261-6231
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Audubon Park is an urban city park located in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood, approximately six miles from the city's center. The park was originally developed in the 1870s and is named for naturalist John James Audubon, a longtime resident of the city. Today, it spans 350 acres along the Mississippi River near Tulane and Loyola Universities, offering ample opportunities for outdoor recreational activities, including an historic golf course and sports facilities within its Riverview Park portion. A 1.7-mile loop road around the park, which was closed to automobile traffic in the 1980s, has become a popular jogging and cycling route, while a 2.2-mile dirt path is a popular spot for runners.
6500 Magazine St.,New Orleans, LA 70118, Phone: 504-861-2537
23 Best Free Things to Do in New Orleans Year Round
- The French Quarter, Photo: Courtesy of Calee Allen - Fotolia.com
- Lafayette Square Concert Series, Photo: Courtesy of Matthias - Fotolia.com
- Jackson Square, Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
- Mardi Gras, Photo: Courtesy of amadeustx - Fotolia.com
- St. Louis Cathedral, Photo: Courtesy of stevengaertner - Fotolia.com
- Magazine Street, Photo: Courtesy of Rex Wholster - Fotolia.com
- The Garden District, Photo: Courtesy of Ryan - Fotolia.com
- Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, Photo: Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University
- New Orleans Glassworks, Photo: Courtesy of Gekon - Fotolia.com
- Collins C. Diboll Art Gallery and Visual Art Center, Photo: Courtesy of Roberto Sorin - Fotolia.com
- House of Dance and Feathers, Photo: House of Dance and Feathers
- The Living Museum, Photo: The Living Museum
- The Historic New Orleans Collection, Photo: The Historic New Orleans Collection
- Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Bush - Fotolia.com
- The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, Photo: Courtesy of kaznadey - Fotolia.com
- Uptown/Carrollton, Photo: Courtesy of Shakzu - Fotolia.com
- The Crescent City Farmers' Market, Photo: Courtesy of Mat Hayward - Fotolia.com
- City Park, Photo: Courtesy of jimbowie - Fotolia.com
- LUNA Fete, Photo: Courtesy of jenniveve84 - Fotolia.com
- The French Quarter Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Natalia Bratslavsky - Fotolia.com
- Art for Art’s Sake, Photo: Courtesy of vadim_fl - Fotolia.com
- Algiers Folk Art Fest, Photo: Algiers Folk Art Fest
- Audubon Park, Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of evenfh - Fotolia.com