Things to Do in Louisiana
The French Quarter, with its vibrant atmosphere and unique blend of architectural styles, is easily New Orleans’ most famous and most popular area to visit. It's also the city's oldest neighborhood, and its elegant streets are lined with an appealing mix of lively bars—especially along the legendary Bourbon Street—historic monuments, delicious restaurants, and inviting jazz clubs.
When in New Orleans, there's no better, more classic way to experience the mighty Mississippi than on a river tour aboard the Steamboat Natchez. The historic stern-wheeled steamboat makes its home on the riverfront next to the French Quarter, and slowly and gracefully plies the river for brunch, lunch, or dinner cruises with live traditional jazz on board.
New Orleans' Garden District is the epitome of Southern charm. Plantation-style mansions, which are among the most impressive in the city, feature wrap-around porches, verandas, and manicured gardens where there’s always something blooming. Streets are separated by stretches of green parks, and the historic cable car line runs along St. Charles Avenue.
The infamous Bourbon Street, also known as Rue Bourbon, conjures up images of endless partying, drinks of all shapes and sizes, bachelorette parties, and of course, Mardi Gras. Outside of Mardi Gras season, visitors flock to this playground of the South for its Creole restaurants, live music venues, souvenir shops, and well-known drinking establishments.
In the heart of the French Quarter lies Jackson Square, one of New Orleans’ most famous locations. A National Historic Landmark, it is home to St. Louis Cathedral and is often filled with locals and tourists who come to stroll the paths, catch the buskers and street performers in action, or just sit in the shade and watch the world go by.
A central character in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the mighty Mississippi River has long captured the American imagination. Originating in Minnesota and sweeping across 95 river miles (153 kilometers) south to New Orleans where it spits out into the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi is the largest river system in North America and has gained an almost mythical place in American history.
LaLaurie Mansion is not your regular tourist attraction. Also known as LaLaurie House, this French Quarter spot has a gruesome past involving torture, murder, and acts of brutality. The house is a regular stop on ghost tours of New Orleans and attracts visitors who want to learn more about the property’s spine-chilling history.
Back when apothecary was not an antiquated term alluding to potions and snake oil, the pharmacist was near synonymous with potion-maker, and it was anything but the hallowed profession it is today. All that changed in 1804 when the Louisiana governor Claiborne passed a law requiring licensure of Louisiana pharmacists. Sworn-in after a three-hour oral exam held in another famous New Orleans attraction – the Cabildo building – pharmacists were required to practice a fair and honest craft in the Unites States from thereon out. Louis Dufilho was the first licensed pharmacist in the United States, and the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum was once his proud shop.
Today, the building stands as a testament to how far the profession has come, and is filled with antiquated vials, scales, and a fun old-timey feel. Come learn about the history of administrative medicine and step back in time for a moment to discover all that this extensive collection and interpretive educational programs represent.
Famed for the 300-year-old allée of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss that flank its main entrance, Oak Alley Plantation has more to offer visitors than a quintessential view of a Southern plantation. Oak Alley also boasts numerous exhibitions exploring the complexities of Southern and Louisiana history, 1,300 acres (526 hectares) of grounds, and the historic house itself—all within easy driving distance of New Orleans.
Located in the heart of New Orleans’ vibrant French Quarter, the French Market is a grand bazaar that serves as much as a cultural meeting place as it does a market space. In addition to hosting stall after stall of vendors hawking handmade goods and artisanal foods, the market doubles as a venue for a daily flea market and a twice-weekly farmers market. The French Market boasts the superlative as the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the United States, making it a part of living Louisiana history.
More Things to Do in Louisiana
A prominent landmark on Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral (officially the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis King of France) stands tall and proud, beckoning French Quarter visitors to take a little time out from drinking and dancing to admire the oldest continuously used cathedral in the United States. The seat of the city's Roman Catholic Archdiocese, the cathedral was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1850, and today, its all-white, Spanish Colonial façade with three black spires is one of the most instantly recognizable landmarks in the South. The inside is just as beautiful.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. Built in 1833 and ripe with ghost stories and the graves of notable New Orleans residents, this Garden District graveyard serves as the final resting place for more than 7,000 people. The cemetery gets its name from the old city of Lafayette, now part of New Orleans.
The St. Louis Cemetery consists of three cemeteries, and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is New Orleans’ oldest and most famous resting place. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Roman Catholic cemetery was established in 1789, and most of the graves and vaults are above ground.
Located on the outlying border of the famous French Quarter, the Louis Armstrong Park is a lovely 32 acre haven, full of beautiful grassy knolls, lagoons, and cultural auditoriums and structures that are everything jazz.
In the southern corner of the park is the historic Congo Square, a cobblestone laden open space that was used in the 17th century as a gathering point, where African-American slaves came to socialize and make music, one of the earliest signs of African influence in jazz.
Behind the square lay a plethora of buildings such as the Mahalia Jackson Center for the Performing Arts, Jazz National Historical Park, and the recently renovated Perseverance Hall, where there is now a jazz exhibit and a line of scheduled performances throughout the year. All these places and more are a testament to Louisiana’s long and prospering music tradition in the face of oppression and hard times.
Named for a legendary 19th-century pirate, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve includes six sites scattered throughout Louisiana that offer outdoor activities, history lessons, swamp tours, and more. See them on an airboat tour of Barataria Preserve in Marrero—a 26,000-acre (10,521-hectare) wetland rich in wildlife.
Royal Street often plays second fiddle to its more-recognizable bigger brother Bourbon Street. And while Bourbon Street has its place and charms, there is a lot more going on along Royal Street for those with a more casual disposition and a more discerning eye.
Known for its art galleries, restaurants, and curio shops, Royal Street is just a block away from the hustle of Bourbon Street, but retains all of the French Quarter character and charm. A shopper paradise, the casual explorer of Royal Street will note the French and Spanish architecture, while those with a photographer’s eye will likely fall in love with the wrought ironwork, the fern-filled courtyards, and the cobblestone and brickwork.
Royal Street has something for everybody, which is why many prefer it to Bourbon-just one block over, but a whole world of difference. Take a stroll down Royal Street to see why those that come to the Vieux Carrie fall in love with Royal Street.
With picturesque stone bridges, botanical gardens, art and sculpture, theme parks, hundreds of centuries-old oak trees, and numerous waterways, City Park in New Orleans offers myriad reasons to spend a day outside. Join locals on the trails, visit the New Orleans Museum of Art, enjoy the 100-year-old carved wooden carousel, and much more.
Came to New Orleans to get a taste of antiquity? Then look no further than the Old Ursuline Convent—the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. But that’s not all – built in 1752, the convent is also a treasure trove of religious antiquity which features, among other religious treasures, the famous Archdiocese archives.
Not just a documentary museum, this ancient antebellum mansion located in New Orleans Garden District also houses some of the best examples of opulent southern décor. Enter via the Chartres Street entrance and be met with the most beautiful manicured garden in New Orleans, while within the mansion, the first thing you’ll notice is a handcrafted cypress staircase followed by some of the most fascinating oil paintings featuring religious motifs. Other rooms tell the various histories of the Old Ursuline Convent—the building was once an orphanage, a makeshift hospital, and even a temporary residence for traveling bishops.
Come visit this amazing example of French colonial architecture (the oldest surviving example in the United States) and see why locals have, for years, called the Old Ursuline Convent the “treasure of the archdiocese.”
With interactive exhibits, plus an extensive selection of memorabilia and machines used in the D-Day landings, the National WWII Museum offers a fascinating insight into the USA’s role in the Second World War. Learn all about the planning that went into the landings and see what life was like for the men and women involved in the war.
At 630 square miles (1,632 square kilometers), Lake Pontchartrain is one of the largest bodies of water in the US. It’s beloved by locals as a place to fish, sail, and swim, and its shores and waters shelter a huge variety of wildlife and marine life, including blue crabs, Atlantic stingrays, pelicans, ospreys, and even bull sharks.
Technically, Lake Pontchartrain is not actually a lake at all. It’s an estuary that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever its official designation, it makes a fun day trip from the city of New Orleans, whether for a fishing excursion or pleasure cruise, as part of an airboat swamp tour, or simply for a shoreline picnic.
There are a number of lakeside beaches open to the public, including Fontainebleau State Park on the North Shore. The North Shore is accessible by a 24-mile (39-kilometer) causeway (one of the longest bridges in the world), which connects the shoreline communities with downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter.
Steeped in history, the Laura Plantation lies just outside of New Orleans. Originally built in 1804 by a French naval veteran of the American Revolution, the plantation was erected on the site of a former village of the Colapissa tribe. The Creole-owned sugar plantation is now known for its extensive exhibitions on slavery and the South.
Home to the New Orleans Saints football team, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (also known as the New Orleans Superdome) is the state's premier sporting and concert venue, regularly hosting the Super Bowl, college basketball Final Four games, and big-name music concerts.
Located in the French Quarter on the northern side of Jackson Square lies the unassuming yet stately Cabildo, part of the Louisiana State Museum. A powerhouse of historical relevance, many argue that the Cabildo is one of the most historically significant buildings in America. Built between 1795 and 1799 to replace a building that burned in the great 1974 fire, the Cabildo served as the seat of New Orleans government during the Spanish Colonial period.
It was here that the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803, almost doubling the size of the United States, and it was also here that the seat of the New Orleans City Council made residence, as well as the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1868-1910. Also here, in this very building, several landmark cases were tried, including the “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson in 1986.
Today, the Cabildo museum is one of the finest living examples of New Orleans’ rich history. Situated in the heart of the French Quarter, tours showcasing more than 1,000 artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries are available. To get a full sense of the history of New Orleans, a visit to the Cabildo is a must.
Bourbon Street may hog the spotlight, but in New Orleans, the real party is on Frenchmen Street. This little three-block section of the French Quarter is home to the numerous music venues and dance halls that have put New Orleans’ 7th Ward on the map. Order a drink “to go,” and pop in and out of a variety of venues like the locals do.
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