The 17 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in New Orleans
Tuck into a jazz club, sip a flaming cocktail, and get ready for Mardi Gras.
Once fall and winter roll around, New Orleans is teeming with events and activities to take advantage of the cool weather after a sticky, swampy summer. A festival-packed fall—including a slew of Halloween celebrations—is followed by the holidays, when the city sparkles with decorations and festive seasonal offerings. Not to mention, New Orleans puts on quite a show for New Year’s Eve, with a fleur de lis drop, fireworks, and parties galore.
Despite all the celebration on December 31, New Year’s resolutions rarely last around here, as carnival season starts on January 6. Through it all, the city’s bars and restaurants still shine and all the bucket-list things to do in New Orleans remain in high demand, making this time of year one of the busiest in New Orleans. So clear your calendars—you're gonna need the space—and check out all the can't-miss things to do in New Orleans.
Things to Do in New Orleans This Fall and Winter
Art for Art’s Sake
Art for Art's Sake kicks off the fall arts season as more than 100 galleries and shops along Magazine Street stay open after hours. Enjoy wine, snacks, live music, special gallery openings, trunk shows, and more as you stroll along the six mile stretch of businesses. Beyond the premier event, mark your calendar for the first Saturday each month—that's the time to head to the Arts District for gallery openings along Julia Street.
The fall and winter bring a whole slate of festivals to the Big Easy. From Tremé Fall Festival to food-fueled celebrations like Po-Boy Fest and Crescent City Blues & BBQ Fest. But the colder months are when we really need a burst of fest energy, and New Orleans more than delivers with LUNA Fête. This dazzling celebration of light, art, and technology takes over the convention center’s Pedestrian Park during the second weekend of December. The hallmark of the festival is the work from local artists projected on area buildings and exhibited as over-the-top light displays, but the event also features a huge holiday market that’s perfect for last minute shopping. This year is the festival’s 10th anniversary, so it's sure to be an extra special one.
The city sparkles during the holiday season, with a mix of modern traditions and unique historic customs dating back hundreds of years. Hotels like The Roosevelt, Windsor Court, and The Ritz-Carlton dazzle with seasonal decor. City Park is aglow with thousands of lights for Celebration in the Oaks. Caroling in Jackson Square is an annual tradition beloved by locals and visitors alike, and the live music calendar is packed with special holiday performances, including traditional concerts in St. Louis Cathedral and genre-spanning concerts exploring the African diaspora at Ashé Powerhouse Theater. Restaurants around town participate in the Creole tradition of Reveillon dinners, offering special menus for the holidays, and holiday home tours in the French Quarter and Garden District will give you a glimpse of festive decor at some of the city’s most glorious homes. For a hot holiday tradition not found anywhere else, check out the Algiers Holiday Bonfire or journey along the river to witness Christmas Eve bonfires on the levee.
Mardi Gras isn’t just one day, it’s a whole season of parades, balls, parties, and plenty of king cake. Carnival season begins on January 6 (known also as Twelfth Night) and lasts until Mardi Gras (aka Fat Tuesday) which changes every year based on the date of Easter. The two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras feature parades almost every night. Elaborately decorated floats with costumed riders roll through the streets—most of the parades roll on St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street—joined by marching bands, dance troupes, flambeaux, and other fanciful figures. You can brush up on all the intricate details of Mardi Gras history and traditions, or just join the fun and see where it takes you. If you can’t make it to the Big Easy during Mardi Gras, visit one of the many Mardi Gras museums in town to get a taste of the action.
The Best Things to Eat and Drink in New Orleans
It goes without saying that visiting New Orleans’ best restaurants will be at the top of any visitor’s list of things to do in New Orleans, and fall and winter present the perfect conditions for enjoying some of the warmer, comforting dishes that the city is known for. For starters, a good bowl of gumbo will warm you up and fill you up when it’s chilly outside. Whether you go for seafood gumbo, chicken and andouille gumbo, or an innovative modern incarnation, you’re in for a treat. Must-try versions can be found at neighborhood joints like Liuzza’s by the Track, Lil’ Dizzy’s, and Neyow’s, as well as institutions such as Dooky Chase’s and Gabrielle.
Fat, salty oysters from the Gulf—whether raw, charbroiled, or fried and stuffed in a po’boy—are a true regional specialty, especially when they’re at their peak during the cooler months. You’ll find oysters on menus all over town, but certain spots stand out. Order a dozen raw oysters at Felix’s or Pascal’s Manale for a classic experience and be sure to witness the skill of the shuckers who pop open the fresh bivalves at an incredible pace. At Cooter Brown’s, you’re guaranteed a fresh platter, with dozens of beers to match. Stop by Luke for its popular oyster happy hour and pair with a crisp white wine or a glass of bubbles. Restaurants like the stunning Chemin a la Mer and the petite Sidecar Patio and Oyster Bar offer raw oysters from other regional sources, including Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Not a fan of raw? Drago’s is the spot for charbroiled oysters. Or try a fried oyster po’boy at Parkway, a po’boy-like oyster loaf at Casamento’s, or Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, where the rich dish was invented.
The cocktail was invented in New Orleans, and the best bars in town carry on a legacy of magnificent mixology. As temperatures drop, cocktail menus shift towards stronger, darker concoctions and hot drinks to warm you up. The boozy namesake cocktail at Sazerac Bar is a perfect winter drink to warm you up from the inside out. You can find a hearty bourbon milk punch at various brunches around the city, or try a flaming Café Brûlot at Arnaud’s. Erin Rose will set you right with a hot Irish coffee, and several bars put their spin on a hot toddy once the cold weather comes around. Keep an eye out for the Miracle Pop Up Bar around the holidays, as well as Latitude 29’s transformation into a tiki-themed tropical Santaland.
Generations of locals have their favorite po’boy spots, and trying this iconic sandwich should be on every visitor’s bucket list. Get a classic roast beef po’boy with debris or an overstuffed fried shrimp po’boy—dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles—and you’ll be in heaven. Top spots include Parkway Bakery (famous for its Thanksgiving version), Domilise’s, R&O’s, and Killer Poboys, which has a location tucked in the back of beloved dive bar Erin Rose. As massive as they are, they’re entirely portable, so you can take yours to go and enjoy with a cold beer on the river, lake, or park. In November, try po’boys from restaurants around the city, both classic and creative, all in one spot at the Po-Boy Festival.
Where to See Live Music in New Orleans
Music is everywhere in New Orleans, from street musicians and second lines to neighborhood music clubs and renowned theaters. As the birthplace of jazz, the city is teeming with musicians that come from a long line of innovators. The music calendar is packed every night of the week, and you can find a great band spanning genres like jazz, blues, funk, zydeco, Cajun, rock, reggae, and even experimental bands. Get the low-down and dirty experience dancing shoulder-to-shoulder to a brass band in a neighborhood joint; iconic venues include Tipitina’s, Kermit’s Tremé, Le Bon Temps Roule, and the list goes on. Or settle in for a laid-back night of music at Preservation Hall, a famed French Quarter spot with a strict no-phones policy.
Frenchmen Street was once a hangout for locals, an escape from tourist-heavy Bourbon Street and its surroundings. Now Frenchmen is known as one of the best places to see live music in the city, with multiple bars and clubs hosting music every night—all within walking distance of each other. From the upscale Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro to the funk, soul, and reggae spot Cafe Negril, you can get a taste of the variety of music you can find in the city. Head to d.b.a. to enjoy a fine selection of craft beer and whiskey before catching the likes of John Boutte, Tin Men, Cha Wa, or other local bands on the intimate stage. Dance the night away at Spotted Cat, or catch Kermit Ruffins, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, or a brass band at Blue Nile.
Sporting Events in New Orleans
Saints and LSU football
Football is huge in New Orleans, and catching the fever is fun even for those normally indifferent to the gridiron. Who Dat Nation, the devoted Saints fans who stick with the Black and Gold through thick and thin, gather every week at bars around the city to cheer on the team, and they welcome all to join in (except maybe Falcons fans, who can expect to be heartily ribbed). A game in the Superdome is something that everyone should experience—the sound can be deafening, and the superfans are a sight to behold—but if you can’t get a ticket, the tailgating scene outside the dome is a party worth attending on its own. College football is as popular as the NFL, and Saturdays are for LSU (and to a lesser extent, Tulane) games. Keep your eye out for Tiger fans in purple and gold to join the fun. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, New Orleans hosts the Bayou Classic, between historic rivals Southern and Grambling. Much more than a football game, the event brings parties, parades, and a must-see Battle of the Bands.
Art and Culture Events in New Orleans
Museums like The National World War II Museum and New Orleans Museum of Art get a lot of attention, but take some time to dig into a collection that couldn’t be found in any city but the Big Easy. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art focuses on works from 15 Southern states and Washington DC. You can explore one of the most unique aspects of New Orleans—African American cultural experiences like second lines, social aid and pleasure clubs, and Mardi Gras Indians—at the Backstreet Cultural Museum. The Historic New Orleans Collection presents exhibits covering the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South, offering insight into what makes the city so unique.
Spend a couple of hours taking in the weird and wonderful installations at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is part of the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s a world-class collection that underwent an expansion in 2019, doubling the number of works on view and carving out a pretty amazing pathway that’s as much of an experience as the artwork it meanders past. It’s free to visit, and there are plenty of spots to rest and take in the beautiful views. When the weather is pleasant, as it is this time of year, taking a stroll through the colorful gardens can be an invigorating break from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter.
Arts Market New Orleans
If you’re looking to bring home something special from your visit to the city, be sure to stop by the Arts Market New Orleans. The twice-monthly open-air market features dozens of local artists showcasing their works, from painting and ceramics to jewelry, home decor, photography, and more. The market is held in City Park on the second Saturday of every month and Uptown in Harmony Park on the last Saturday of each month. The November and December markets are the perfect spot to shop for all your holiday gifts. Plus, each market features live music and food vendors.
Things to Do Outdoors in New Orleans
Don’t let the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain deter you—it’s worth the drive to spend a day exploring the many facets of the Northshore. Make it an outdoor day with a visit to the Northlake Nature Center and Fontainebleau State Park, or bike the Tammany Trace from Covington to Abita Springs. Make a stop at the weird and wonderful Abita Mystery House/UCM Museum to see a massive collection of vintage arcade machines, odd folk art, crypto-taxidermy, and other weird junk. Abita Brewery offers tours and tastings, or head out even further to Wild Bush Farm + Vineyard in Bush (check their calendar for outdoor music concerts and other events). Having too much fun? Opt for a staycation at the Southern Hotel in Covington and enjoy a meal at gems like The Gloriette, Lola, or Del Porto, then spend the next day shopping and gallery hopping in the historic downtown.
Picnic in a park
Our compact city has a number of notable greenspaces, all prime spots for spending a full day outdoors. Audubon Park, with its canopy of oak trees, extensive green space, lagoons, picnic shelters, and workout stations, is a great place to exercise or relax. City Park is packed with majestic oaks, walking paths, lagoons, mini golf, tennis courts, and a gorgeous location of Cafe du Monde. Lafitte Greenway is a 2.6-mile linear park stretching from City Park to the French Quarter, an urban oasis dotted with native landscaping, art, playgrounds and easy access to coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants. Crescent Park is another linear park along the river from the French Quarter to the Bywater, offering plenty of views, picnic spots, and the now-iconic Rusty Rainbow bridge.
Kayak or paddleboard in the bayou
Fall (and even winter, given New Orleans' mild temps) can be a great time to get out on the water, and there are plenty of options not far from the center of the city. Check out Bayou Paddlesports, which offers kayak rentals in Bayou St. John, or opt to book with Kayak-itti-Yak, which leads tours around the bayou.