There's no reason to go broke when visiting NOLA ... this fun guide has 45 free things to do in New Orleans that will keep you busy from morning until night!
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New Orleans is an exciting place to visit. Between the unique sights and nonstop activities, gorgeous architecture, and mouthwatering food, you'll never be bored ... that's for sure! But with so much to do, things can get expensive dangerously fast.
So you may be wondering: what can you do for free in New Orleans? The answer is a lot! Sure you can go all out and spend buckets of money in NOLA, but it's definitely possible to plan a budget-friendly trip, too.
To help you save a few bucks, I've rounded up all the BEST free things to do in New Orleans. There's something for everyone here, from art lovers to tattoo enthusiasts, history buffs, and even shoppers!
As a bonus, I've included a map, plus 14 extra ideas at the end, all of which are quite affordable. If you're counting, that's 59 total activities. Enough to keep you busy for a long time!
Keep reading for all the details and inspiration! And if you've never visited NOLA before, make sure to check out my New Orleans Travel Guide when you're done ... it has everything you need to know to plan an amazing trip!
Free Things to Do in New Orleans
Ready to start exploring this vibrant city? Here are 45 free activities in New Orleans that you're going to love!
1. Wander the Colorful Streets of the French Quarter
The French Quarter tops most visitor's bucket lists, and for good reason: it's absolutely charming and totally unique! The best part though? It's 100% free to walk around and explore this beautiful neighborhood.
2. Catch a Free Concert
One of the things New Orleans is most known for is its music. While shows can be pricey, it's possible to see amazing acts at no cost. Here are a few options:
- Wednesday at the Square - This popular annual concert series in Lafayette Square runs from mid-March to mid-May.
- Free Opera Performance by Bon Operatit! - Catch a live show on the second Wednesday of every month.
- Wednesdays on the Point - Cross the Mississippi for a free weekly concert in Algiers Point during September and October. Check the website for dates.
- Tipitina's - This free concert series is a way for the famed venue to give back to the community!
3. Go for a Walk in Crescent Park
Crescent Park, which hugs the Mississippi in the Marigny and Bywater, is the perfect place go for a walk or jog along the river. You'll escape the craziness of the nearby French Quarter, relax, and work off the calories from all that delicious food you've been indulging in!
4. Sample a Praline
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a traditional New Orleans treat that might just make your teeth hurt a bit (they're quite sugary). Sample one for free at one of the many shops selling them in the French Quarter and throughout the city. Bring a few dollars though, because you'll probably want to take some home with you!
5. Discover Black History in Louis Armstrong Park
This charming park honors jazz icon Louis Armstrong. It's located just outside the French Quarter in the Tremé, a historically diverse neighborhood where free people of color, Creoles, and Caucasians all settled. On Sundays, enslaved people would gather in Congo Square to socialize with music, drumming, singing, dancing, and to sell their homemade goods. Locals and visitors also came to enjoy the improvisational music, which eventually became known as jazz.
6. Go Window Shopping
Although cheesy souvenirs can definitely be found in abundance, New Orleans has some top notch shopping! Leave your wallet at the hotel, then check out the galleries and stores on Royal and Chartres streets in the French Quarter, or the stands in the French Market. Magazine Street (my fave shopping spot) runs through the Garden District and Uptown, and it has even more temptations. There are also tons of amazing bookstores in New Orleans (new and used). If you’re looking for touristy shops, you’ll find them on Decatur Street (and Canal, too). And there's even a mall, Canal Place, right by the French Quarter.
7. Get a Picture with a Jazz Great
Wanna get your photo with a Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, or Allen Toussant statue? Stop by the Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street to learn more about the eight musicians honored here. If you're lucky, you might even catch a free concert!
8. Spend a Day Exploring City Park
If you're looking for outdoorsy things to do in New Orleans for free, you'll want to visit expansive City Park. This beautiful park features a lush landscape with pretty lakes, playgrounds, miles of paths, and the largest collection of live oaks in the world. Fun fact: I got married in City Park under the McDonogh Oak Tree, which is over 800 years old … let me know if you spot the tree's plaque!
9. Explore the NOMA Sculpture Garden
While you're at City Park, make sure to stop by the New Orleans Museum of Art's free outdoor sculpture garden. You'll find a wide variety of art there, as well as a pretty landscaped garden.
10. Visit Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery
The U.S. and the British fought the last great battle of the War of 1812 here ... in 1815! Visit Chalmette Battlefield (part of the National Park System) to learn more about the war, and why the Americans took such pride in their victory. The battlefield is located just outside New Orleans, and you can easily drive there, take a bus, or visit via the Creole Queen steamboat.
11. Catch a Family Friendly Film
Check out the Orpheum Theater's Summer Film Series for free, family-friendly movies all summer long. They screen everything from classics to modern hits, and it's the perfect way to cool off on a hot day!
12. Attend a Mardi Gras Parade
Seeing a Mardi Gras parade is on everyone's bucket list, and it's totally free! Not only that, but you'll probably walk away with bags full of beads and throws (aka free souvenirs)! The weekend and days leading up to Fat Tuesday are a very expensive time to visit NOLA, so book your hotel far in advance. But the parades start well before Fat Tuesday (the first ones are on January 6). Skips the crowds and save a little money by checking out the smaller parades instead.
13. See the Mardi Gras Indians
Mardi Gras krewes were originally segregated, which meant African Americans couldn't participate. So they developed their own krewes (named after imaginary Native American tribes) and created their own way of celebrating Mardi Gras. You will only see these elaborately costumed krewes on Mardi Gras and Super Sunday, and their routes are never publicized in advance.
14. Visit a Mardi Gras Museum
Hidden above Arnaud's Restaurant, you'll find the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum which has a wonderful collection of elaborate gowns, masks, and other Mardi Gras memorabilia. It's free and open to the public during the restaurant's business hours.
15. Tour St. Louis Cathedral
The beautiful St. Louis Cathedral is the U.S.' oldest continually-used Catholic cathedral, and it's one of the most iconic sites in the French Quarter. You may visit the cathedral daily, from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, or attend daily mass at 12:05 PM. Self-guided tour brochures are available for a $1.00 donation.
16. Listen to a Street Musicians in the French Quarter
Music culture runs deep in New Orleans, so don't be surprised if you come across a street musician (or ten) on your trip. Although musicians often play throughout the French Quarter, you're sure to find them in front of St. Louis Cathedral and around Jackson Square. Listening is free, but don't forget to leave a tip!
17. Stroll Along the Mississippi River
New Orleans is set on a bend in the Mississippi River, hence the nickname Crescent City. On a sunny day, there's nothing better than strolling along the river in Woldenberg or Crescent Park, watching riverboats drift by, and doing a little people watching. You might even catch a dazzling sunset!
18. Learn More about Jazz History
Celebrate the music that made New Orleans famous at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. The park encompasses multiple sites, including the visitor center, Old U.S. Mint, Preservation Hall, and Congo Square. You might even catch a park ranger cranking out some tunes!
19. Discover the City's History and Traditions
Drop by the French Quarter Visitors Center for the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Through the exhibits here, you'll learn more about New Orleans history and what makes it one of the most interesting cities today at this free attraction. Great for kids and families, too!
20. Enjoy a Beautiful Sunset
Catching a stunning sunset is one of my favorite free things to do in New Orleans! Some of the best spots to see one are Woldenberg, Park, Crescent Park, the Fly (Mississippi riverbank) in Audubon Park, and Lake Pontchartrain (grab a bench on Lakeshore Drive). You might even be able to see one from your hotel room if you're on a high floor.
21. Attend a Free Art Opening
Check out the cultured side of New Orleans! On the first Saturday of the month, galleries in the Arts District open their doors for a free art walk. They hold other free events throughout the year, too. Another artsy area to explore is the St. Claude corridor, which has lots of street art, restaurants, shops, and more.
22. Take a Trip to the Bayou
Did you know that you could visit the bayou just 25 miles northeast of the French Quarter? Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge Center is the perfect place to see a more natural side of Louisiana. While there, you can walk a trail, view wildlife, and more.
23. Learn how to swing dance
I hope you packed your dancing shoes! The NOLA Jitterbugs hold free swing dancing lessons at different locations in the city ... check their calendar for details.
24. Visit a Cemetery
New Orleans is know for its cemeteries, where the dead are buried in above-ground family tombs, vaults, or society tombs. And with the exception of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (which you can only see with a tour), they're free to visit. If you want to walk around a bunch of cemeteries, take the Canal streetcar to the end. Or check out my guide to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District for a tour of my favorite Cities of the Dead.
25. Stroll down Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is alternately rowdy, tacky, and fun. And it's totally possible to walk down it without spending a dime, although you may be tempted! Check out the neon signs, ogle the Hurricane and Hand Grenade drinks, listen to music streaming out of the many bars, and do some serious people watching.
As you walk, keep an eye out for Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (a bar that's one of the oldest surviving structures in New Orleans), the iconic Galatoire's restaurant (which opened in 1905), the Old Absinthe House (another bar, this one dating back to 1806), Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo (a shop offering a touristy peek into the city's spiritual heritage), and Musical Legends Park (also mentioned above) where can snap a pic with a music icon.
26. Drop by a Free Exercise Class
Burn off a few calories from all that rich New Orleans food with a free workout:
- Crescent Park - The weekly Hip Hop Ya Brass (Tuesday) and Twerk Ya Brass (Saturday) classes at this cool park are fun and free!
- New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park - Enjoy free yoga (and other classes) while listening to live jazz music. Check the event calendar for dates.
- November Project - Workout with a group every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at different locations in the city.
- City Park - Join a free Zumba class every Saturday in City Park!
27. Attend a Free Festival
New Orleans is known for its festivals, and many of these events are free to attend. If you're visiting in mid-April, make sure to check out the French Quarter Festival, the largest showcase of Southern music in the world! You also won't want to miss the Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival in March, Cajun-Zydeco Festival in June, Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival in October, Central City Fest in November, and more!
28. Take a Brewery Tour
Love beer? Stop by the NOLA Brewing Co. for a free brewery tour and complimentary beer on Fridays ... signups start at 3:00 PM. Stick around after the tour for free live music and food (not free).
29. Go on a Garden District Walking Tour
If you like visiting beautiful neighborhoods, then you're going to adore the Garden District. It's filled with charming older homes, and you'll find Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 there, too. Check out my Garden District Walking Tour before your visit ... it's packed with helpful info, and I'll show you exactly where to find the best houses.
30. Scope Out Famous Film and TV Locations
Given how beautiful the city is, it's not surprising that New Orleans has been the setting for countless movies and TV shows over the years. Everything from A Streetcar Named Desire to The Real World has shot there, and you may even come across a production as you explore the city. Here's a great guide to the most iconic movie locations in NOLA if you want to plan a tour.
31. Kick Back and People Watch
One of the best things to do in New Orleans, whether you have wallet full of money or not, is people watch! From curious locals to goofy (and/or drunk) tourists, all you need is a good spot to check out the action. For the best people watching in NOLA, check out Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Frenchman Street, or basically anywhere in the French Quarter.
32. Discover the Historic New Orleans Collection
If you're like me, you love visiting museums. They can be so pricey though. The Historic New Orleans Collection, which encompasses 10 historic buildings in the French Quarter, is the perfect opportunity to learn more about this vibrant city. And it's totally free to visit!
33. Explore New Orleans Architecture
New Orleans has a wonderfully charming look, mostly due to the city's unique architecture. As you wander around the city, you'll find a wide variety of architectural styles, from Shotgun Houses to Creole Cottages to Townhouses (and more). Here's a fun guide to the 17 most iconic buildings in NOLA. Check it out, then let me know if you think anything was left off the list!
34. Listen to Live Music on Frenchman Street
If you haven't been to Frenchman Street, you need to go stat! It's one of the best places to listen to live music in NOLA. Many clubs have covers, but you can get into The Spotted Cat, Apple Barrel, and Café Negril for free. Just don't forget to buy a drink or two while you're there.
35. Learn About Tattoo History
Drop by the Tattoo Archive to learn about the history of tattooing in New Orleans. This unique museum is housed in a functioning tattoo parlor, so tattoo lovers may not be able to leave without getting some fresh ink!
36. Enjoy a Picnic in a Park
New Orleans is home to some amazing parks. If you want to escape the other tourists and chill out for a bit, round up some picnic provisions and head to the great outdoors. I'd recommend City Park or Audubon Park, both of which have plenty to explore once your meal is over.
37. Go on a Literary Walking Tour
For such a colorful, character-filled city, it's not surprising that a number of authors have lived in and / or written about New Orleans. Everyone from Tennessee Williams to Anne Rice (and many others in between), has darkened the city's doorsteps. Here's a great guide to 10 famous literary landmarks you'll find in the city ... you may even be inspired to grab a pen yourself after the tour!
38. Get Inspired by NOLA's Street Art
You can learn so much about a city from its street art, and New Orleans is no exception. While you won't find murals on every corner in NOLA, if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll find quite a few cool works. Some of my favorite murals are found along St. Claude Avenue, on the columns along N. Claiborne Street, and in the Marigny, Bywater, and Tremé neighborhoods. You can also visit the NOLA Mural Project to check out their map (it's missing quite a few murals though) and to learn more about the advocacy they're doing.
39. Visit the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
The Lower Ninth Ward was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and it has been very slow to recover. The small, but moving Lower Ninth Ward Museum celebrates the rich history of this area through exhibits, oral histories, cultural events, and more. They also offer programming for local kids.
40. Explore the Dark Side of New Orleans
From voodoo to vampires to ghosts, New Orleans has had its share of creepy history and residents. You can explore this dark side (if you dare!) by touring a City of the Dead (aka cemetery), dropping by Anne Rice's former home in the Garden District (it's supposedly haunted), shopping at the Boutique du Vampyre, visiting voodoo queen Marie Laveau's house (it's allegedly located at 1020 St. Ann Street), and more!
41. Take a Free Voodoo Walking Tour
If you really want to dive into the dark side, take a Voodoo Walking Tour with Free Tours by Foot. On this guided tour, you'll learn about everything from voodoo's roots in West Africa to the modern day temples found in the French Quarter. This is a "name your price" tour, so pay what you can afford.
42. Explore Audubon Park
Escape the craziness of the French Quarter in tranquil Audubon Park. Located in Uptown, this beautiful park is a natural haven. While you're there, walk or jog the 1.8 mile path, explore the lagoon and bridges, seek shade under an ancient oak tree, or take your kids to one of the playgrounds.
43. Go Stargazing at Gretna Observatory
For something that's free and totally unique to do in New Orleans, head to the Gretna Observatory to view and learn about the night sky! The observatory, which is the largest in the area, is open on Monday and Wednesday evenings. It's about a 20 minute drive from the French Quarter, although you can get there by public transportation or Uber, too.
45. Visit the Crescent City Farmers Market
The Crescent City Farmers’ Market is held at three different NOLA locations throughout the week. If you're staying at an Airbnb, the market is the perfect place to stock up on fresh produce. If not, head there to spend a little time outside, sample fresh food, enjoy a delicious snack, pick up picnic provisions, or maybe catch some free music or a cooking demonstration.
45. Attend a Free Event
There is always something going on in New Orleans, and usually locals have the inside scoop. It never hurts to ask your concierge (or Airbnb host) if they know of any free activities, and I always recommend checking out local event calendars, too. You never know what you might discover!
Cheap Things to Do in New Orleans
Now that we've talked about free stuff to do in New Orleans, let's talk about cheap and inexpensive activities!
For just a few bucks, you'll find tons of affordable attractions in NOLA:
- Enjoy a 25 cent martini with your lunch at Commanders Palace! While you'll pay a pretty penny for your entree, this is a fun way to visit one of NOLA's most iconic restaurants while saving a few bucks.
- Take the ferry to Algiers Point. River cruises can be expensive! This ferry won't take you too far, but it only costs a few bucks, and you can explore laid back Algiers Point when you arrive.
- Enjoy beignets and a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. One of my favorite affordable treats.
- Visit the Pharmacy Museum. It only costs $5 to get in, and it's awesome! The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is also affordable and fun.
- Tour the city on a streetcar. A 24-hour Jazzy Pass is only $3, and it's good for streetcars and buses. Download the app to make things super simple.
- Take the fam to Storyland in City Park. Kids under 36" are free, and everyone else pays only $6!
- Treat yourself to a delicious meal during COOLinary. Every August, some of New Orleans' best restaurants offer pre fixe menus at the great price.
- Check out Satchmo Summerfest. This annual festival is held at the New Orleans Jazz Museum and costs just $5 to attend.
- Cool Off with a Snowball. Shaved iced is a NOLA tradition and the perfect way to beat the heat on a steamy day. Try Hansen’s Sno-Bliz or Williams Plum Street Snowballs.
- Bike the Lafitte Greenway. You can rent a Blue Bike almost anywhere, and they're an affordable way to get around and explore a new (to you) part of the city.
- Take a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. While not dirt cheap, these bus tours are a great way to see a lot of sights for a relatively low price (and no navigation hassles).
- Split a Muffaletta with Friends. A full-size muffaletta from Central Grocery can serve two to four people, depending on how hungry you are.
- Check out one of my fave vegetarian-friendly restaurants! Most of them are budget-friendly.
- Visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. This famous cemetery is located right by the French Quarter, and you can only visit with a tour (it's worth it!). While there, you'll see voodoo priestess Marie Laveau's grave, as well as Nick Cage's pyramid shaped tomb.
Free Activities Map
I created a Google map with most of these free activities included. Click anywhere on the image below to open the free map, then use it to help you navigate the city.
More Things to Do in New Orleans
I hope you enjoyed reading about all these free things to do in New Orleans! I'll be adding to this list on future visits, and I'd love to hear your ideas, too. So tell me, what is your favorite free or cheap NOLA activity?
Looking for more activities and ideas? Start by reading my New Orleans Travel Guide ... it has everything you need to know to plan an awesome trip!