There are plenty of reasons why you should visit New Orleans, the biggest metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana, USA. First, the city has a string of colorful annual festivals, including Mardi Gras, which has been celebrated by locals since the French colonial era. It is also known as the Birthplace of Jazz, making it one of the best places in the United States to catch a music performance or two. Of course, there’s the local cuisine too, with a wonderful mix of American, Creole, French, and Caribbean food influences.
Although it is a huge and sophisticated city, The Big Easy also offers activities and experiences which won’t require you to break the bank. Consider this as your guide if you’re planning a budget trip in New Orleans!
1. Visit an art gallery
If you live and breathe art, you’ll be delighted with what New Orleans has to offer. For those who are on a budget, there are a couple of art museums within the area offering free admission. One of them is the Collins C. Diboll Art Gallery and Visual Art Center located at Loyola University. Aside from the revolving exhibitions, it offers free lectures and workshops to the public. Another must-see is the Williams Gallery of the Historic New Orleans Collection, which has a huge collection of art depicting the local history.
2. Attend a free concert
If music is your cup of tea, check out the free concert series at Lafayette Square from April to June. Running for a total of 12 weeks, performances happen every Wednesday from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm. There are a number of impressive bands playing here, including the Honey Island Swamp Band, The Soul Rebels, Flow Tribe, and Kermit Ruffins. Don’t forget to bring your own chair and snacks!
3. Snap photos with statues of musical legends
Another must-see for music lovers is the Musical Legends Park located on Bourbon Street. It was built to commemorate and celebrate the history of jazz that started in this city, as well as legends including Pete Fountain, Fats Domino, and Al Hirt. Here, you can snap photos with the statues and enjoy the live jazz music performances from 10:00 am onwards. The park, both a recreational and educational venue, is open from Monday to Sunday. Entrance is absolutely free.
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4. Take a stroll in picturesque streets
There’s nothing more practical than sightseeing by foot. If you love taking long walks, head to the French Quarter of New Orleans and enjoy traversing the picturesque streets lined with interesting buildings. Bourbon Street, for example, is home to a unique hotel building dating to 1721. It stands out among a string of lively clubs and party venues, making it an even more interesting sight to behold. Meanwhile, at Royal Street, there are buildings with iron-lace balconies, as well as beautiful outdoor patios.
5. Join a free walking tour
If you’re not comfortable taking a stroll on your own, here’s some good news: you can join a free guided tour offered by different organizations in various parts of the city. At the French Quarter, there’s a free tour offered by the National Park Service located at 419 Decatur Street. They will walk you through the city’s cultural hub and tell you interesting stories about its every nook and cranny. Some groups, like Free Tours by Foot and Nola Tour Guy, offer walking tours in the Garden District and the local cemetery. The tours are generally free, but you can give tips to the tour guides as you deem necessary.
6. Visit the country’s oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use
New Orleans is home to the oldest Catholic cathedral in the United States. The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, simply known as the St. Louis Cathedral, was built in the early 18th century. It is still used as a worship place at present, although some parts of it were destroyed in a fire in 1788 and then restored in 1794. Visitors are free to explore the church and, if you’re lucky, you might even chance upon a free concert at the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center.
7. Spend the night at Frenchmen Street
Even at night, New Orleans doesn’t run out of interesting places and scenery to check out. There’s Frenchmen Street for instance, an entertainment district spanning two blocks where many locals like to hang out. There are no glitzy neon signs on the doors because what makes a walk on this street interesting is the good music you will hear from the bars. If you wish to stay, it’s good to know that many clubs like Spotted Cat and Cafe Negril don’t have cover charges. In case you like crafts too, don’t forget to drop by the Frenchmen Art Market.
8. Find a good picnic spot at Jackson Square
In the heart of New Orleans lies a historic park where both locals and foreign visitors go to enjoy a picnic. Jackson Square, formerly known as the Place d’Armes, has a wide green space surrounded by a throng of beautiful buildings including St. Louis Cathedral and the Louisiana State Museum. Don’t forget to bring your own picnic blanket along with your favorite New Orleans food. If you have some dollars to spend, you can have your fortune told by one of the psychics in the area or have a portrait painted by an artist.
9. Appreciate nature and history
The Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve has six sites scattered in the state of Louisiana, some of which are located in the heart of New Orleans while some are only a few miles away from The Big Easy. One of the sites is the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, where you will find the graves of Civil War veterans. Meanwhile, at the Visitor Center in the French Quarter, you will see life-sized murals and interactive displays about the history of New Orleans. A visit to the 20,000-acre (8039-hectare) Barataria Preserve is also recommended for those who like hiking and canoeing.
10. Marvel at different kinds of architectural styles
When you’re in New Orleans, you won’t have to spend tons of cash to enjoy the atmosphere of the city. If you want to see 18th-century architecture, there’s no need to pay for museum admission. Just head over to Magazine Street, a six-mile (9.65-kilometer) avenue filled with postcard-perfect views of Victorian cottages and Greek Revival structures. It also features popular antique shops and art galleries, as well as outdoor cafes and restaurants. If you’re visiting during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations or during Mardi Gras, this is one of the best spots to witness such festivities.
11. Visit just in time for Mardi Gras
Speaking of festivities, Mardi Gras in New Orleans begins from the day of Epiphany (January 6) and lasts until Ash Wednesday (date varies each year). The celebration itself has become one of the city’s most popular attractions and the best part is that you can participate without spending a dime. You can attend parades, which last for two or more hours and are usually held in the uptown area. Marvel at the assortment of colorful floats and enjoy the free music by the marching bands. If you’re lucky, you might even get a freebie from the parade hosts!
12. Learn more about Mardi Gras in a museum
Can’t go during Mardi Gras? You can still learn about the colorful traditions during the rest of the year when you visit the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum. Located at Arnaud’s Restaurant, it contains dozens of Mardi Gras costumes, vintage photographs, carnival masks, and faux jewelries. The oldest costume in this gallery dates back to 1941. Viewing of the collection is free to the public during the restaurant’s opening hours.
13. Discover stories from "Cities of the Dead"
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can visit one the many above-ground tombs in New Orleans. The city has a high water table which has forced the residents to build tombs above the ground instead of burying the caskets of their departed loved ones. There’s St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, for example, where the remains of popular locals were laid. Each tomb has a story, which might be elaborated on if you join a guided cemetery tour.
14. Enjoy jazz music
While you’re in New Orleans, you will surely gets loads of opportunities to enjoy and learn about jazz music. In the neighborhood of Treme, there’s the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park, a 4-acre (1.61-hectare) public area built in 1994 to celebrate the rich history of jazz in the city. It has a visitor center, where you can get a copy of a walking tour map and even audio files to enrich your sightseeing experience. They also conduct free concerts and music workshops for kids.
15. Jog at Audubon Park
Keeping yourself fit while on a vacation? Wear your fitness clothes and head to Audubon Park, a 300-acre (121-hectare) green space that has a 1.8-mile (3-kilometer) jogging trail. Located between Loyola and Tulane Universities, it is dotted with lagoons and beautiful oak trees that add to the already peaceful vibe of the park. Imagine being in a green oasis in the middle of a big city!
16. Check out a historic neighborhood
Forget the busy streets for a while and ride a ferry from Canal Street to Algiers Point. Kids below two years old can ride for free. Although the ride is not free for adults, the fee only ranges from 1 to 2 USD. From Algiers Point, you can walk straight to Algiers Main Street, a historic neighborhood filled with old churches and the homes of prominent local personalities, including jazz icon Bill Matthews. There’s also Mardi Gras World, a warehouse where actual Mardi Gras floats are prepared for the parade.
17. Watch the sunset at The Fly
Instead of visiting the touristy areas, the best way to know a particular city is to find out where the locals love to hangout. In New Orleans, there’s The Fly, a park along the Mississippi River. Big groups of locals flock here during weekends, enjoying activities such as picnics, frisbee, and other games. This is also one of the best places in the city to witness the sunset. Imagine the sun sinking over the calm river. It’s a spectacular sight!
18. See a cooking demonstration
If you’re on a budget but you want to learn about New Orleans’ cuisine, you can go to the Crescent City Farmers Market instead of joining an expensive cooking class. The market has two branches, one in the New Orleans uptown area, which is open on Tuesdays, and the other in the downtown area, which is open on Saturdays. The one in downtown is where you will find a chef station offering cooking demonstrations as well as cooking tips. There’s no entrance fee and you can visit all year round. Local musicians also perform here every other Saturday.
19. Catch a glimpse of the Louisiana Superdome
Louisiana Superdome, also known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, is the largest fixed domed structure in the world. Located at the Central Business District of New Orleans, this sports and exhibition venue has a capacity of 73,000 to 76,000 people. It is home to the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints and has been a host of the Super Bowl several times. Game tickets need to be purchased but you can visit here and take a photo at the facade even during an ordinary day.
20. Leave a calling card at the Old Absinthe House
There’s a local belief that started in the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. It says that “everyone you have known or ever will know eventually ends up at the Old Absinthe House.” To prove this belief, a wall inside this bar has been devoted to a display of calling cards. Everyone is open to leave their own and also to check if they happen to know someone who has already visited here. You can stay for a few drinks, but leaving your calling card at this historic bar is absolutely free. Do you believe in fate? Come and give it a try!
Life and art in New Orleans
Filled with life and art, a visit to New Orleans is guaranteed to send you home with a better view of the world and, of course, a spirited vibe. The city itself is a hodgepodge of culture, and if you know where to look, you will realize that it is not hard to love The Big Easy!
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