Lifestyle

The Best Free Things to Do in New Orleans

Updated On 03/20/2017 at 04:57PM EST Updated On 03/20/2017 at 04:57PM EST

Traveling can be expensive. Between gas or plane fare, lodging and food, a trip out of town can really sucker punch you in the wallet. Which is why it's great that -- among other reasons to visit the Big Easy, there are tons of things to do here that cost literally nothing. And that doesn’t just include people-watching (which is still plenty of fun). Here are some of the very best ways to get your gratis going if you’re planning a visit to New Orleans. Or, better still, if you happen to live here...

Flickr/ih

Hit the park

This city cultivates resplendent natural beauty, and that in spades. There are so many ways to enjoy it, but it’s best to start with New Orleans’ public parks, whether it’s Woldenberg Park right on the river in the French Quarter, Audubon Park if you’re Uptown, or City Park in Mid-City, one of the biggest (13k acres) and oldest municipal parks in the country, dating back to 1854. 

Visit the “Cities of the Dead”

The cemeteries of New Orleans are iconic, historic, and uniquely beautiful do to their mausoleums (our dearly departed are buried above ground, here). Even though a new law says you can’t visit the famous St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 without a licensed tour guide now, it's still worth it. 

Free art Downtown

With a visit to the Arts District, you can gallery hop on Julia St for free the first Saturday of the month and pretend that you’re a fancy pants without actually having to buy fancy pants. (Although, in general, some kind of pants will be required.)

Flickr/Adam Lederer

Check out NOMA and its Sculpture Garden

Every Wednesday, the New Orleans Museum of Art is free to all, albeit you need to prove that you’re a Louisiana resident. Yet another reason to move to NOLA! 

Get into the swing of things

Like to dance? Take some swing lessons on Sundays at AllWays Lounge and Tuesday nights at DBA on Frenchmen (though there's a one-drink minimum for that event, so it’s not technically free).

Flickr/Gary J. Wood

Live music on Frenchmen

There is obviously an abundance of music in the Big Easy, but you’ll be heartened to know that many of the clubs on famous Frenchmen St don’t have covers, including The Spotted Cat, Apple Barrel, and Café Negril. (Adult beverages still aren’t free, unfortunately.)

Get swampy

Just 30 minutes from the city, you’ll encounter the glorious beauty of South Louisiana’s swamp life at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Just make sure to bring the bug spray and watch out for ornery nutria and gators. 

Stop in some art galleries on Royal St

You don’t have to drop a couple of grand on art to appreciate it, which is exactly what you can do by perusing the various galleries and antique dealers down the Royal St corridor. Make sure not to miss M.S. Rau Antiques -- just ask for a guided tour, and they’ll be happy to oblige you. They have a killer collection of sword-canes (really), among other cool artifacts.

Flickr/Phil Roeder

Free live music courtesy of street performers in Jackson Square

There’s plenty to enjoy in historic Jackson Square, right in the heart of the French Quarter, but the seemingly never-ending stream of live music by the local talent -- from folk to brass, rockabilly, and more -- doesn’t cost a dime, and it’s always fun to check out, preferably with a drink in hand. 

Mardi Gras

Oh yeah, did we mention that we have the biggest free party in the world here? Yup... you don’t have to buy tickets to Carnival, folks. Just show up. Preferably in costume.

Flickr/Derek Bridges

French Quarter Festival

Although Jazz Fest is often touted as the biggest music festival in New Orleans, FQF has become a massive hit with the locals, mostly due to its amazing entertainment lineup, inclusivity, diversity, and the fact that it’s free to all. 

Free opera on Bourbon St

When it comes to local music, if you’re less into “Back That Azz Up” and more into “Die Fledermaus” or “The Marriage of Figaro,” you’ll be delighted to know that every second Wednesday of each month there is a totally free opera performance down in the Quarter, courtesy of Bon Operatit!.

Sit on the levee and watch the boats cruise the Mississippi

The barges, tugboats, cruise ships, and cargo freighters navigating the river always make for a relaxing show, especially around sunset. Bonus points if you pack a picnic and a six-pack (just remember, no glass bottles). 

Flickr/Jason Mrachina

Take a free tour of the French Quarter

Want to get to know the city’s oldest and most historic neighborhood? You can do it for no cost, either with a tour guide (Tues-Sat at 9:30am) or a self-guided tour, via the National Park Service’s French Quarter Visitors Center

Wednesday at the Square

This 12-week concert series in Lafayette Square is free to the public, and has an amazing bill. Ever heard of Flow Tribe? George Porter Jr.? Kermit Ruffins? Irma Thomas? They’ll all be there. Will you?

Gret a free BLT

The only thing that can make a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich better is not having to pay for it. You can experience this glory at 10pm every Wednesday at Banks Street Bar. Also, free red beans and rice on Mondays. 

Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Get free CRAWFISH!

Yeah, that’s right. Free. Effing. Crawfish. Just show up at R Bar (aka Royal St. Inn) every Friday starting at 6pm in season. But make sure to have your head-sucking, tail-pinching game on point, because they go fast. 

GET FREE OYSTERS!!!

Cheap oysters are a point of pride in NOLA, but we can do one better by charging you all of NOTHING. At Le Bon Temps Roulé, every Friday starting at 7pm, it’s gratis bivalves until they run out. And, naturally, there’s always the cheap drinks and killer live music to enjoy. Yeah, New Orleans is pretty much the best.

Eat up every Saints Sunday

Football not only brings people together -- it gets the bars to bring out free food. Nosh on sliders and partake in pudding shots for every Saints touchdown at the Upper Quarter, release some anger and eat gratis snacks on the barber's chair at R Bar, and/or check out the bar bites at Holy Ground. It's a Who Dat win-win (even if the Saints lose).

People United for Armstrong Park

Head to Jazz in the Park

Check out your favorite brass bands at Armstrong Park and prepare yourself for yet another terrific festival: Treme Crab Fest, a celebration of soft-shell crab and music kicking off the Jazz in the Park Thursday concert series.

Learn about colonial architecture

The home that got its name from George Washington Cable's "Tite Poulette" is actually a three building complex, which includes the main residence, the kitchen, and cook's quarters, and a two-story guest building. Madame John's Legacy shows what Dumaine St and most of New Orleans used to look like when it figuratively rose from the ashes in 1788 after the previous building burned down -- and somehow survived the great fire of 1794 that destroyed much of the French Quarter. The humble, olive-colored abode is open for tours, with pottery on display and scavenger hunts available for kids.

Get to know the “real” French Quarter

The Historic New Orleans collection offers free events that include lectures on what really happened to make the Vieux Carré what it is today, plus galleries of historic pieces by Louisiana artists that illustrate how the Quarter went from French to Spanish to French to American. HNOC also offers a free jazz series at its Merieult House, built on land that's been in use for nearly 300 years straight. Make sure to check out the organization’s other three locations to get the full experience.

Flickr/Infrogmation of New Orleans Follow

Sweat it out at SummerFest

FQF's other festival, Satchmo SummerFest, could not come at a better time when the slow season's got you down. Shake off those warm-weather blues with great music from some of your favorite New Orleans artists at this annual August event.

Catch some comedy

You can check out free comedy almost every night of the week. There’s Local Uproar's Thursday night show at the AllWays Lounge and Saturday’s version at Sidney's Saloon. Or you can check out -- and try out some of your own material --  at Carrollton Station's Wednesday "Think You're Funny?" open mic. Also on Wednesdays is the House of Blues’ Comedy Gold, which occasionally hosts nationally touring acts.

Frenchmen Art Market

Wander through the Frenchmen art market

Frenchmen art market expanded from a market next to the Apple Barrel to a full-blown artistic collective with its own venue space on St. Claude. Check out either location to admire (or buy) some works from local vendors, or just chill out and listen to the live music.

Sign up here for our daily New Orleans email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Big Easy.

April Siese is unabashedly in love with free bar food. Tell her where to mooch next on Twitter @ayetalian.

Scott Gold is a writer in New Orleans. Follow him on Twitter

Clickbait

close

Learn More