With its rich cultural heritage, vibrant music scene, and unique cuisine, New Orleans offers visitors a treasure trove of experiences. When I travel, sometimes spending money on airfare and hotel can substantially impact other elements of your trip — like tours, activities, and even how long you stay in a place — so I like finding free or low-cost things to do to balance my vacation budget.
While exploring these attractions, remember to savor the flavors of New Orleans. The city's Creole and Cajun cuisine is a culinary adventure, and you can sample it without emptying your wallet at local eateries. You should check out this list of restaurants in New Orleans, where you'll find something for any budget. Most importantly, relax and enjoy your time in the vibrant Crescent City.
1. City Park: A Natural Gem
City Park is one of New Orleans' crown jewels. This sprawling urban park—50% larger than New York's Central Park—has lush gardens, serene walking trails, boating on the lake, bike rental, and one of the oldest tree groves with live oaks. There's also the serenity of the Singing Tree, which many people love to sit or lay beneath and listen to the magical wind chimes. The iconic Cafe Du Monde and other eateries are in the park, along with the New Orleans Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and the Louisiana Children's Museum. While some of these attractions within the park may have entrance fees, exploring the park itself is free.
2. French Quarter: A Historic Stroll
The French Quarter—also known by its French name, The Vieux Carre—is the absolute highlight of any trip to the Big Easy. The architecture is protected, so you'll find charming historic galleys, gaslights, and buildings, just like traveling through time. Visit historic Jackson Square, check out the work of local artists, and take in some street performances. You can also visit the iconic St. Louis Cathedral. You'll also find the historic seat of Spanish rule in the city, the Cabildo, which is now a museum where you can learn about the city's past, and entry is only $10 per adult.
3. Street Music: A Symphony of Sounds
New Orleans is renowned for its street music scene. You can meander through the French Quarter and immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere created by talented street musicians. While they may pop up in random locations, your most likely spots include in front of Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street —where you can also grab three beignets and cafe au lait for around $8— and on the corner of Royal and St. Peter Streets in front of Rouse's Grocery and near the French Market on Decatur.
4. Mardi Gras World: A Glimpse Into Carnival
While Mardi Gras World does have an admission fee of $22 for adults and $14 for children, it's one of the unique things to do in New Orleans where you can marvel at the grandeur of Mardi Gras floats and costumes without having to come during the very crowded and expensive time of Mardi Gras in February. There are discounts for the military, students, and seniors.
5. Cemetery Tours: A Walk Through History
New Orleans, founded in 1718 by the French, faced burial challenges due to periodic flooding. They buried residents on the levee, but rising waters would expose bodies and caskets. As a result, these structures are mainly above-ground tombs, family tombs, civic association tombs, and wall vaults. They often follow neo-classical design principles and are arranged in orderly patterns, resembling city streets. While the popular tourist attraction St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is now only accessible by a $25 guided tour, others, such as Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, are free to explore.
6. St. Charles Avenue Streetcar: A Historic Ride
Hop on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, one of the world's oldest continuously operating streetcar lines since 1835. It's an affordable way to see the city and appreciate its historic charm. It's only $1.25 for adults to ride and $0.50 for children — you'll need exact change if you're paying in cash. You can also buy credit and use the RTA public transport app. This streetcar will take you to the majestic Garden District.
7. Garden District: A Walk Among Mansions
The Garden District beckons with its historic mansions and distinct architectural charm. It's an ideal place for a leisurely stroll and admiring the elegant surroundings. Some properties here also house museums and are open to the public for a small fee. You'll find properties used in filming, Anne Rice's old house, and the very charming Rink Shopping Center. The area was settled in the early to mid 19th century after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 saw wealthy Americans wanting to settle there.
8. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park: Musical Education
9. Frenchmen Street: Music for the Soul
When I first came to New Orleans over five years ago, I stayed in the Marigny district and walked down to Frenchmen Street. I immediately fell in love when a random brass band started playing on the corner, and people began dancing in the streets in the middle of the afternoon. Even if you have a different experience, many jazz clubs here can be enjoyed by purchasing a drink.
10. Riverfront: A Scenic Riverside Walk
The Riverfront offers amazing views of the mighty Mississippi and historic paddle steamers, and you might find free performances in nearby Woldenberg Park. The park provides a riverside jogging path and art installations and often hosts impromptu musical events and festivals. Its prime location makes it a perfect spot for relaxation and escape.
11. Audubon Park: Picnic Park
Audubon Park has been a cherished destination for over a century in historic uptown New Orleans. It offers a tranquil 1.8-mile jogging path, a picturesque lagoon, picnic spots, and play areas beneath ancient live oak trees. The park is open to the public and features amenities like tennis courts, riding stables, soccer fields, a pool, the Audubon Clubhouse Café, and the Audubon Golf Club, making it a versatile urban oasis for an impromptu picnic.
12. Free Tours by Foot: A Learning Adventure
Free Tours by Foot is an organization that allows you to pay tour guides via tipping in a “pay what you feel” system. These types of tours can be found worldwide, and I've had some of the best tour guides and learned some amazing things about the locations I've been to. New Orleans is no different—the tour company offers French Quarter Tours, Ghost Tours, Garden District Tours, and Voodoo Tours. Check out the Free Tours By Foot website for more information.
13. Louis Armstrong Park
On the outskirts of the French Quarter along North Rampart Street, you'll find the iconic arches proclaiming Louis Armstrong Park. The park often features music events and also features the historic site of Congo Square. Many claim that jazz music started here as enslaved people would gather in the square every Sunday with music and dance in the 1800s. There are also duck ponds, sculptures, and plenty of spaces to relax and do some people-watching.