When you travel to the Big Easy, you’re almost immediately bombarded by brochures and adverts hawking everything from strip clubs to steakhouses, swamp and cemetery tours, and also generally something to do with voodoo. Don’t get sucked in. There are about a thousand places in the 504 that will gladly take your hard-earned scratch and give you so little in return. On the other hand, there are a few well-known tourist destinations that, even for locals, are definitely worth checking out. Here’s a good way to get started on the great touristy stuff:
Cafe Du Monde
It’s iconic, a beloved New Orleans legend for decades. Serving hot, pillowy, beignets straight out of the fryer and covered in an avalanche of powdered sugar, as well as creamy cafe au lait -- not to mention that it’s open 24/7, probably the most important point for a native; the breakfast crowds will give you a hustled experience; instead, save this one for after dinner or for a late-night pick-me-up.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Nestled right at the river end of Canal St, the glass-encased exterior of the New Orleans Aquarium is hard to miss, hence it draws in scores of visitors. You should be one of them. Because there are really terrifying-looking piranhas, sharks, and, oh yeah, white freaking alligators.
Mardi Gras World
Central Business District
Sometimes the best way to experience a Mardi Gras parade is out of season. Head to Mardi Gras world to see where the magic happens -- this is the studio that, for half a century, has produced some of the most impressive floats Fat Tuesday has ever experienced.
Many know “Pat O’s” as the home and originator of the Hurricane cocktail, but there’s more to Pat O’s than sugary rum drinks. The patio is a lovely place to hang out when the weather is nice (plus: fire fountain!), and the dueling piano bar can be a hell of a good time.
Are there jugglers, fortune tellers, silver-painted living statues, portrait artists, street performers, brass bands, and a guy who wheels in a grand piano on his bicycle to entertain the crowds? Yup... Jackson Square is a spring-loaded, steel-toothed tourist trap. But it’s free, so long as you don’t get hustled, the historic architecture is incredible, there’s a lovely little park, and it’s probably one of the best people-watching spots in the whole city.
Grab a po-boy or muffaletta (perhaps at the Central Grocery, which tends to be a tourist trap in its own right), a six-pack of cold beer, and head over to the river for a picnic with a grand view of the mighty Mississippi River. Soak up some sun while you eat, drink, and watch the boats -- from cruise ships to cargo vessels and everything in between -- make their way along Big Muddy. Bonus: plenty of cool art and sculptures throughout its 16 green acres.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
A stone and wood cottage on Bourbon St, Lafitte’s is renowned as the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States (built around 1722 and named after the infamous privateer Jean Lafitte). They claim to stick only to candles for interior lighting, but the glow of the daiquiri blenders and video poker machines kiiind of cancel out that vibe. Go because it’s a neat mix of old and new, then stay for their frozen “purple drank” and a genial piano player who happily accepts requests.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe
Speaking of privateers, NOLA houses a historic pirate bar in a place called... you guessed it, “Pirate's Alley”. It’s actually a fun spot, so long as you don’t mind the occasional wasted tourist falling into his best Captain Hook or Jack Sparrow imitation. Don’t be that guy.
1. Café Du Monde800 Decatur St, New Orleans
2. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas1 Canal St, New Orleans
3. Mardi Gras World1380 Port of New Orleans Pl, New Orleans
4. Pat O'Brien's718 Saint Peter St, New Orleans
5. Jackson Square745 Decatur St, New Orleans
6. Woldenberg Park1 Canal St, New Orleans
7. Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop941 Bourbon St, New Orleans
8. Pirate's Alley Cafe622 Pirate's Alley, New Orleans
Originally established in 1862, Café Du Monde is the place to go for a quintessential pick-me-up in the form of a now world-famous beignet and a cafe au lait. The patio lined with a striped green and white awning is the perfect place for people-watching in the French Quarter. It can get busy during peak lunch and dinner hours, but because it is open 24 hours, you have plenty of opportunities to hit up this New Orleans landmark. There is also a quick-service window for take-out orders, but make sure to take some napkins because powdered sugar from the beignets can get everywhere.
Take a break from immersing yourself in beer, and immerse yourself in a world of underwater sea creatures instead at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Be sure to drop by the 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit while you're there!
Mardi Gras World makes it Mardi Gras year round, serving as a museum and offering tours of New Orleans' Mardi Gras scene.
What do you get when you combine a fun-loving Irish bar with the wildness of Bourbon St? Pat O'Brien's bar, of course. We also would have accepted "an inebriated evening" or "hungover the following day".
An iconic New Orleans locale since its construction in the mid-nineteenth century, Jackson Square is perhaps the most recognizable place in town outside of the Superdome. Originally designed as a military plaza, the city block-sized space is now awash with artists, musicians, performers, and street hustlers nearly 24/7. If the free-range circus gets to be a bit much, the small garden park in the center of the square provides an oasis amid bedlam. For an even calmer respite, bear in mind the square sits literally in the shadow of the steeples of St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the United States. Its soaring, ornate basilica, generally open to the public, is worth checking out regardless of your religious affiliation.
This lush riverside haven has a number of art and sculpture installations throughout, as well as terrific views of boats on the Mississippi River.
This tavern's located inside a building that was originally constructed around 1772, making it one of the oldest structures in NOLA. The cocktail selection's not bad either.
This historic French Quarter pirate bar might be tourist-heavy at times, but it doles out tasty eats and has a wide selection of booze, including a variety of absinthe bottles.