New Orleans is known as a party destination, but don’t make the mistake of assuming this historic southern city is all party and nothing else. Between cocktails and dips into dive bars along Bourbon Street, make sure to explore the rest of NOLA, in all its historic, diverse and spooky glory.
Here are the 11 best things to do off Bourbon Street when you visit New Orleans.
1. People Watch in Jackson Square
Jackson Square is one of the most pictorial spots you’ll find in New Orleans. This square-meets-green-space-meets-historic-spot is quite often featured on marketing materials for the destination as well as in articles and guide books on New Orleans. To say the least, it’s one of NOLA’s most notable spots.
Historically speaking, Jackson Square gets a nod as the site where the Louisiana Purchase was made official in 1803. Now, it’s a perfect place to people watch, near some of the best other sights around the city.
Be sure to walk to the end of the square, opposite the cathedral, and climb up onto the raised platform, which gives you a stellar vantage point to snap some photos of the entire square.
2. Get Spooked on a New Orleans Ghost Tour
You can’t go to New Orleans without exploring the city’s spooky side. One of the most haunted cities in America, you can find walking ghost tours (complete with cocktails) from a ton of different vendors.
Depending on the tour you choose, your guide might focus on real historical characters, tall tales from NOLA’s past or even vampires and other fantastical creatures.
3. Wander New Orleans’s Many Cemeteries
If you’re not up for a ghost tour, but still want to see some of NOLA’s most notable spooky spots, as well as the final resting places of some of the city’s most famous faces, then head on to one of New Orleans’s many cemeteries.
The most famous are likely St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. The former is the oldest and most fascinating, but it does require a guided tour that must be booked in advance. If you’d rather explore at your own pace, visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, where you can walk right in and stay as long as you like.
Nancy Landry, Social Media Manager at Tripshock, expands, “The way the bury the dead in NOLA is unique, as all of the tombs are above ground. You can easily take a walking tour of the oldest and original cemetery in the city for the full overview, or you can explore any of the
other neighborhood cemeteries on your own.”
Landry continues, “just keep in mind that if you want to visit St Louis Cemetery No. 1, you are only able to do so with a licensed tour guide, as unsupervised visitors are strictly forbidden to protect the tombs inside from vandalism.”
4. Learn Some History at National World War II Museum
The National World War II Museum, a newer attraction in New Orleans, is already being called one of the best history museums in the entire country. This huge museum deserves at least a full afternoon or morning, but you could easily spend an entire day or two just looking at all of the amazing artifacts, reading the stories of those who lived World War II and immersing yourself in the incredibly well-designed, life-like exhibits.
5. Indulge Your Macabre Side at the Museum of Death
Whereas the National World War II Museum is expansive, the Museum of Death is just a few rooms and only takes about an hour to thoroughly see. Photography and all cameras are prohibited, lending this museum a mysterious side. For any true crime lover or just anyone who likes the dark and macabre, this museum is a must-visit. Artifacts to expect include the personal belongings of notable serial killers, taxidermy and historic death-related items, such as early embalming tools.
6. Chow Down on Beignets and Coffee at Cafe du Monde
If you still have an appetite after all those spooks and scares, then make your way to Cafe du Monde, the city’s most famous spot for beignets and chicory coffee. The cafe has indoor and outdoor seating, fast service and incredibly cheap prices. Just be sure to bring cash, as they don’t accept credit.
7. See New Orleans’s Best Eats on a Food Tour
Along these lines, consider booking a New Orleans food tour, or even putting together your own makeshift food tour, stopping at some of the city’s best eateries throughout your visit.
New Orleans is truly one of the best foodie destinations in the United States and you’ll want to be sure to try some of the city’s signature dishes, including jambalaya, po’boys, gumbo, red beans and rice, étouffée, muffuletta — the list goes on and on.
8. Shop for Souvenirs at the French Market
Avoid any souvenir purchases on Bourbon Street and instead head straight away for the French Market, a popular spot for shopping that expands over six blocks of the French Quarter. The market is historical, too, founded on the site of a Native American trading post that was established before European colonization, making it one of the oldest such markets in the entire country.
You’ll find typical souvenir trinkets, food, books, gifts and more.
9. Explore a New Religion at The Voodoo Museum
You’ll probably come across mentions of voodoo if you take a New Orleans ghost tour or a cemetery tour. If you want to learn more about this aspect of New Orleans culture, then visit the Voodoo Museum. Another small museum, this one is just a few rooms and can be explored quickly.
It’s stuffed to the brim with voodoo artifacts and art and will give you a full education on the history and traditions of voodoo.
10. Take in the Architecture in the Garden District
For a leisurely stroll, head to NOLA’s historic Garden District.
The historic and charming neighborhood is filled with stately mansions, well-manicured gardens, ancient trees, antique shops, yummy eateries and more.
The district is also home to Lafayette Cemetery, so you can enjoy multiple New Orleans experiences without going very far.
Kathryn Anderson, Health, Wellness and Travel Writer for Coffee & Mascara also adds that the Lafayette Cemetery is “one of the few you can freely walk without taking a tour.”
11. Check out the Floats at Mardi Gras World
Mardi Gras is a massive holiday in New Orleans. It can be very crowded for the parade and festivities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see all of the intricate floats!
Anastasia Iliou from Travel Goals Club adds, “this is a must-see for anyone visiting NOLA outside of Mardi Gras season. Getting a close up look at the amazing, intricate floats and pieces that go into Mardi Gras is truly something that you can't do anywhere else. There is a perfect mix of beautiful, weird, and incredible things in there.
Ready to See NOLA Beyond Bourbon Street?
Don’t stick to Bourbon Street if you want to see the real NOLA. There’s so much to do, see and enjoy beyond the parties and cocktails — so much that you might just find you need to make a return trip or two. Whether you’re interested in history, haunts, food or shopping, New Orleans can offer it all.
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