Top Attractions in New Orleans

New Orleans is a little different than everywhere else. Culture here comes in the form of sequined and feathered Mardi Gras capes as well as stately historic houses, and the world marches to the compelling music of a second-line band. Y’all come.

Highlights
533 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Anyone interested in the city’s complex and vivid past—and if you’re still breathing, that should include you—would do well to make a stop at the Historic New Orleans Collection. This is a private entity with a public purpose: It was founded to both preserve French Quarter buildings and to amass and display some of the key documents and artifacts covering the city’s three centuries of history. The collection is housed in the impressive Merieult House, which dates back to 1792 and which underwent a Greek Revival makeover in the 1830s. Self-guided tours of the Williams Gallery downstairs and the Louisiana History Galleries upstairs are free; be sure to check out their exhibits on Louisiana’s culture and legacy.
3016 S Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA
Rock ’n’ Bowl is where to go to find sharps, flats, spares, and strikes all hanging out together. It’s a bit unclear whether this is a nightclub hiding out in a full-size bowling alley, or a bowling alley out enjoying a secret nightlife. Either way, it’s a very New Orleans destination, located near the upriver edge of the city. (It’s about a $15 cab ride from downtown.) After Katrina and a parting of the ways with his earlier landlord, the owner moved a few blocks down to this former paint store, installed new lanes, added a bigger stage, and hauled much of his original funky decor to the new spot. Check the website for forthcoming shows—there’s always plenty of space for dancing, which is especially fun during Thursday zydeco nights.
1115 St Mary St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
The first thing you need to know: It’s pronounced chop, and it’s named after Tchoupitoulas Street. The next thing you need to know: This maker of backpacks, bike bags, canvas wallets, and much more uses materials that it can source close to home or that it recycles—like nylon straps from the automobile industry, or old rice bags, or the fur of the nutria, an invasive rodent that’s tearing up the levees and marshes. Most products are simple, ecologically friendly, and remarkably durable; plus, they boast old-school styling that makes them perfect for those whose hearts draw them to the outdoors, but who remain anchored in a city.
934 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA
Well, of course New Orleans has a shop devoted to outrageous wigs in the middle of the French Quarter. (Mardi Gras doesn’t just happen, you know.) Fifi Mahony’s can be packed to the gills and short on stock as the big day approaches, but the rest of the year you can take your time to find the lime-green wig that perfectly complements your outrageous pantsuit. It’s also a mandatory stop for extravagant eyelashes and cosmetics to make you glow, in colors either natural or (more likely) not. It’s been making New Orleans fabulous since 1997, and it would be a shame if you left the city without becoming a little more fabulous yourself.
1113 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA
The Beauregard-Keyes House stands out in a neighborhood—the French Quarter—already filled with standout buildings. Built in 1826, it’s a superb example of the then-newly-popular Greek Revival style, with its bossy pediment and sweeping granite stairs, which displaced the more austere Creole style. It’s been home to an illustrious roster of residents, including legendary 19th-century chess player Paul Morphy (born here in 1837 and world champion before he turned 20) and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard after the Civil War. Next door and visible even if you don’t take the guided tour is a small, walled parterre garden, restored to the formal style of the middle 19th century.
Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA, USA
Some find this narrow, neon-lit French Quarter street appealing, others appalling. But it’s worth a stroll either way. It’s as if all the sins of mankind and then some were rounded up and corralled here—tawdry strip shows, cheap and potent drinks, the coveting of neighbors’ wives, petty larceny, big-ass beers, bad cover bands, and so on. (Bad cover bands were not technically mentioned in the Old Testament, but to many they’re the street’s most shameful sin.) The heart of the party zone stretches eight blocks from Iberville Street to St. Philip Street, with the thickest concentration of bars on the Iberville end. New Orleans allows alcoholic drinks outside, as long as they’re in plastic cups, or “go-cups"—meaning you can roam the length of Bourbon Street with your beer or hurricane in hand.
612 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA
New Orleans is noted for two kinds of voodoo: the historic kind and the trashy, touristy kind. The latter variety isn’t hard to find; look for kitschy dolls imported from China. But the historic voodoo—an expression of the city’s longtime links to Haiti—is more elusive and interesting. That kind gets some respect at Voodoo Authentica, which is owned by a practicing spiritualist. The shop has displays and examples of shrines, and also stocks a variety of goods, including locally handmade voodoo dolls, gris-gris bags, and essential oils. While it’s clear the staff doesn’t object to selling souvenirs to those with a more casual interest, the religion of voodoo is taken seriously here—and it is a religion, not just some spooky form of witchcraft, as you’ll learn.
2706 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
The Mardi Gras Zone sits in a residential part of the Marigny neighborhood, and started out as a Mardi Gras supply store—a place to get bulk boas and bulk beads. But after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the neighborhood’s chief grocery, it morphed into a shop selling basic commodities like milk and bread (at first) before expanding its inventory based on customer requests. The result? An eclectic selection of goods, from shiny beads to exotic juices and dried fruits. The on-site deli has expanded, and serves up prepared meals to regulars. It’s a great place to load up on provisions if you’re planning to explore by bike or on foot, and just walking in offers an excuse to marvel at the minor strangeness of it all.
2381 St Claude Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
This late-19th-century city-owned seafood market, which was by and large abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, was reborn as an upscale food hall several years ago. The dilapidated structure was spruced up and the navelike interior painted an austere, modern white. Then a dozen or so food vendors moved in, serving as a sort of incubator for those with an idea but no desire to go the food-truck route. It’s a great place to swing by for lunch or a casual dinner—you can get craft cocktails and spend some time at the oyster bar, then browse the other offerings, which include crab mac and cheese at Fritai and alligator-sausage hash at Elysian Seafood.
5631 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115, USA
BE A NEW ORLEANIAN. WHEREVER YOU ARE. read the ubiquitous bumper sticker in the years after Hurricane Katrina. It was a simple, direct, and on-target message—the sort that’s been perfected by this T-shirt shop, with stores uptown on Magazine Street and in the French Quarter on Royal Street. Among the things that make these garments stand out is that they’re often seen on locals—perhaps more than on tourists. Inside jokes are favored, such as shirts declaring NEUTRAL GROUND SIDE or SIDEWALK SIDE (which is how people describe where they’re standing during a parade). Another shows the more useful cardinal directions given by residents in a city that has a challenging relation with north and south: RIVER. LAKE. UPTOWN. DOWNTOWN.
421 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA
Louisiana Music Factory, an essential stop at both the beginning and the end of every trip to New Orleans, is an old-fashioned music store with a heavy emphasis on local acts. Come by early during your visit to sample the work of New Orleans groups at the CD-listening stations, then pick up one of the free publications to see if any your favorites are playing. At the end of your trip, return to grab CDs of resident artists you enjoyed at the clubs. (The store also hosts frequent, low-key concerts on weekends.) It’s conveniently located where Frenchmen and Decatur streets meet, near the city’s live-music nexus.
623 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
This Frenchmen Street landmark offers up a steady parade of remarkable local musicians from late afternoon until early morning, with an emphasis on foot-tapping traditional and swing jazz. Musicians play on a low stage against the front window; the curious wanderers outside press their noses up against the glass, providing yet another level of entertainment. Nobody comes here for elaborate cocktails—it’s more or less a beer-and-a-shot joint—but people do come here for music, and they come in droves. Plan to arrive early enough to nab a seat at the bar or along the wall, and you’ll have a good perch when things get going.
1332 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
The Garden District was developed in the middle 19th century, and is where the mercantile elite built their in-town estates. Unlike the narrow parcels of the French Quarter or surrounding neighborhoods, house lots here were divided up with just four houses per city block, allowing plenty of room for landscaping and greenery. (Hence the name.) While many of the original lots have been further subdivided and built upon, the Garden District—basically bounded by St. Charles Avenue, Magazine Street, Louisiana Avenue, and Jackson Avenue—is still possessed of an eerie, shady charm, ripe with examples of 19th-century architectural styles like Gothic and Greek Revival. It’s an easy excursion from downtown by hopping the St. Charles Streetcar, then disembarking around Washington Street and walking toward the river.
1 Collins Diboll Cir, New Orleans, LA 70124, USA
This is the oldest and grandest art institute in a city that’s long captivated artists. The Neoclassical building sits amid the greenery of massive City Park (conveniently at the end of the Canal Streetcar Line). It’s an especially good destination for admirers of Edgar Degas, who spent an extended vacation in New Orleans visiting relatives in 1872; a number of his works are displayed here. Just outside the museum is the beautifully landscaped and well-curated five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which perfectly melds the old and new. Some 60 sculptures are arrayed amid reflecting lagoons and 200-year-old live oaks.
1116 Henriette Delille Street
The Mardi Gras American Indian culture is one of the lesser-known elements of New Orleans life, but it’s been part of the African American experience in the city for well over a century. How it began remains the subject of debate. (“Masking” as an American Indian was said to honor them both for their assistance to runaway slaves, and for their fierce resistance to European settlement.) The astounding feathered and beaded costumes are each painstakingly handmade by those who wear them only two or three times a year—usually on Mardi Gras Day and often on Super Sunday, which is the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day. Ever year Indian chiefs make a new suit; some of the once-used suits end up at the Backstreet Museum in the heart of Treme. Stepping through the door is a bit like walking into a Technicolor Oz, with education.
2438 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
Royal Street is to antiques and fine art what Bourbon Street is to booze. This elegant urban thoroughfare is not only home to some of the best examples of the city’s early-19th-century Creole town houses, but is also loaded with high-end antiques retailers. These feature mostly ornate 18th- and 19th-century European sculptures and paintings, early furniture, chandeliers, and dinnerware used by the upper crust. Most of the inventory has a decidedly Continental air to it. Among the better-known shops are Waldhorn and Adler (343 Royal St.); Ida Manheim Antiques (409 Royal St.), run by the same family since 1919; and haute-upscale M.S. Rau (630 Royal St.), with its warren of hidden back rooms open only to serious customers.
New Orleans, LA, USA
Frenchmen Street is, more or less, the local-music version of Bourbon Street. It also has its share of tourists trundling about with go-cups in hand, but they’re drawn more by the music than the drink. Plan to spend an evening (things start to pick up around 8 p.m., earlier on weekends) along a three-block stretch of small, informal clubs where there’s often no cover (give generously and give often when the bucket comes around), or at most $5 or $10. Notable clubs include the Spotted Cat, the Maison, Blue Nile, D.B.A., the Apple Barrel, and Snug Harbor. Earlier in the evenings, there’s often an impromptu brass band at the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen. Between sets, take a moment to browse the night art markets, the largest of which is next to the Spotted Cat.
6500 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA
Audubon Park sits on the site of a former sugar plantation—the only plantation in the city that wasn’t subsequently developed for homes or businesses. It’s about 25 minutes via streetcar from downtown, but feels a world apart, with its spreading live oaks hung with Spanish moss and its lagoons that serve as sanctuary—appropriate given the park’s name—to egrets (great, cattle, snowy), herons (green, blue, night), ibises, and the black-bellied whistling ducks. A loop around the paved walkway/bikeway, which boasts a public golf course at its center, runs 1.75 miles; alternatively, trek to Magazine Street for a visit to the Audubon Zoo, then catch a bus downtown along the city’s best shopping thoroughfare.
945 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Plan on spending the better part of a day at the National World War II Museum, even if you profess limited interest in history. This fine, sprawling museum—formerly the D-Day Museum—is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, and was established here because of the role the locally made Higgins landing craft played on D-day. Don’t expect the usual repository of static artifacts, like machine guns and airplanes—although you will find those on display. It’s more about gathering stories, from film and oral histories, and from all sides of the conflict. The museum was the idea of Stephen Ambrose, noted author of books about WWII, who wanted to share with the public the interviews that didn’t make it into his books. It’s grown massively since its humble beginnings, and does a remarkable job of capturing the era through both a microscope and wide-angle lens.
514 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Little-known fact: New Orleans was the first place in North America to license pharmacists (starting in 1769, when the city was still under Spanish rule). After Louisiana became a territory, the U.S. governor extended the requirement, also decreeing that pharmacists take a three-hour licensing exam in order to practice. And no wonder illness got such attention—the city was arguably the least healthy place to live on the continent; it was riddled with yellow fever, malaria, and dysentery. This dark but fascinating history is explored in this atmospheric 1822 town house, which was once the home and shop of Louis J. Dufilho, the first licensed pharmacist in the city—and hence in the country. Exhibits include apothecary jars, tools of the trade, and leeches. (Yes. Leeches.)
726 St Peter, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA
Preservation Hall occupies a worn Creole town house that was originally built as a home in the early 19th century, and that had evolved into an art gallery and performance space by 1961. (It was founded by a man of philanthropic bent who fretted that the great, aging New Orleans musicians no longer had a place to play.) It hasn’t changed much since the ‘60s—audiences cluster on benches or stand along the back wall to hear whomever is playing that night. Among the glories of New Orleans is traditional jazz, which is still very much alive here and never feels as if it belongs in a morgue—or even an intensive care unit. Check the schedule for upcoming acts, but don’t get hung up on specific performers; every night offers something worth stopping by for, and everyone leaves in a better mood than when they arrived.
Crescent Park Trail, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
New Orleans’s newest public park lies along about a mile and a half of the Mississippi River—a lovely retreat reclaimed from industrial squalor. The main entrance is near the foot of Esplanade Avenue, marked by a boxy footbridge (with elevator) over the railroad tracks, which divide the park from nearby low-slung neighborhoods. While walking along the water, note how the powerful Mississippi’s twists and currents require dexterity from a river pilot, as the huge passing barges slide past sideways angling for the bends. At Piety Wharf—a former warehouse location converted into a massive sculpture that invites contemplation—you can cross a steeply arched span (designed by noted architect David Adjaye, and locally dubbed the Rusty Rainbow) into the Bywater neighborhood for a walk back to the French Quarter.
120 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
LARGEST HAT STORE IN THE SOUTH proclaims the sign in front of Meyer the Hatter, just off Canal Street on St. Charles Avenue. In truth, it actually doesn’t feel all that big inside. That’s in part because it’s so packed with hats, but also because it’s often crowded with customers trying on fedoras and porkpies and jockeying for mirror space. New Orleans has long been Hat City: Thanks to the relentless summer sun, hats never fell completely out of fashion among men. (And Meyer, it should be noted, has traditionally been a store for men—bonnet seekers should keep seeking.) The shop carries a wide range of headgear suitable for any occasion and (almost) any head shape.
600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
Why is a wine shop in a raggedy building at the far edges of a downriver Bywater neighborhood such a buzzed-about stop? Step out the back door and you’ll get your answer. The spacious if scruffy backyard—festooned with string lights over clusters of wobbly tables and cheap plastic chairs—features a low stage and a take-out window. On the stage, some of the city’s finest musicians (mostly jazz of the traditional, gypsy, and swing varieties) perform nightly and, at that window, you can order up surprisingly sophisticated fare. The process is straightforward: Walk in, select a bottle of wine (glasses provided, as is a bucket of ice, if needed), and find a place to sit. If it’s raining the music moves to an upstairs cocktail-and-wine lounge.
610 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Located in the French Quarter for nearly three decades, Lucullus stocks what it terms “culinary antiques": objects that glorify gastronomy. You can browse finds from the 17th through 19th centuries—everything from handblown-glass rolling pins and silver punch ladles to French damask linens and gold-accented tea sets.
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