Things to Do in New Orleans
Once a great plantation and the largest undeveloped parcel of land in the area that is now Uptown New Orleans, Audubon Park is now one of the greatest expanses of open land in New Orleans. Home to sports fields, picnic and playground facilities, a golf course, a jogging and biking track, and lush lagoons that house native wildlife, Audubon Park is where locals and tourists head when they need a breath of fresh air, time to stretch their legs, or to simply marvel at the mighty Mississippi as it rolls by. Stretching from St. Charles Ave to the Mississippi River, also housed within the park is the famous Audubon Zoo and New Orleans most prominent rookery – Bird Island.
Ask any tourist about the Faubourg Marigny and you’ll likely be met with blank stares. Ask any local about the Faubourg Marigny, and you’ll hear about one of New Orleans’s most interesting and musically active neighborhoods. A triangular area between Esplanade and Elysian Fields Avenue, this historic New Orleans neighborhood spans only a third of a square mile but has a wildly disproportionate concentration of musical talent.
Long a local secret, national attention landed upon Faubourg Marigny when, after Hurricane Katrina, a new wave of interest in New Orleans began, and with the economic resurgence that filled the land the Marigny neighborhood entered the spotlight as a local place to be and be seen. Historically, the Faubourg Marigny was developed as New Orleans’ second suburb in 1806, and was the first recording neighborhood outside of the famous French Quarter.
New Orleans has been home to many famous artists and musicians over the years – none of them more famous than Edgar Degas. Master Impressionist, Degas’ influence on the art world can still be felt today in his sculpture, paintings, sketches, and drawings. His most famous images are, perhaps those he did of dancers – over half his work utilize these images, and they are what he is most often associated with. Degas successfully used old and new techniques that made his style his own, and for that, and his ability to render a certain sort of delicate beauty, he has become one of the most celebrated and remembered artists of all time.
Built in the Esplanade ridge neighborhood just on the outer edge of the French Quarter, The Edgar Degas House dates from the 1850s. Visiting his New Orleans home is easy, accessible and right on the cusp of the French Quarter.
This iconic street in the heart of New Orleans is home to some of the Big Easy’s best shopping, eating and drinking establishments, making it a top spot for tourists and locals any time of day. Street-side cafes with open-air tables offer some of the best people watching on an afternoon about the town, while nightfall sees the street's restaurants and nightclubs brimming with visitors eager to taste traditional Creole fare and boogie into the early hours.
Travelers who want to make the most of their time in New Orleans will find plenty of tour options for exploring this dynamic street as well as other parts of the city. Whether it’s a hop-on hop-off bus ride, a Segway, food or walking tour of the French Quarter, or a bike ride along the Big Easy’s most famous thoroughfare, Magazine Street offers visitors endless ways to join in on the Nola spirit.
Located in the heart of New Orleans' famed French Quarter, Preservation Hall is home to the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band and hosts a variety of the Big Easy's best jazz performers. Crowds pack this old time venue to relive the glory days of jazz and watch seasoned 70 and 80-year-old jazz veterans alongside upcoming musicians play some of that signature New Orleans sound.
Despite the dust and sweaty audience packed into this legendary hall, Preservation Hall is still the premiere place in New Orleans for live music. While you'll be surprised by the multitude of talented musicians on the street, there's nothing like hearing the Preservation Hall Band perform a New Orleans anthem, "When the Saints Go Marching In" in an setting small enough to hear that pure jazz sound perfectly without any sound equipment.
Even if you can’t visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, you can still learn all about the famous New Orleans tradition at the Presbytere. Part of the Louisiana State Museum, the Presbytere boasts an interactive exhibition that includes an impressive collection of Mardi Gras artifacts and memorabilia.
"Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana," documents the celebration’s extensive history, from its origins to present day traditions. Visitors also learn about Mardi Gras events in Louisiana’s rural areas.
The Presbytere building has a unique history of its own. It gets its name from its location. It is built on the site of the residence, or presbytere, of the Capuchin monks. It was designed in 1791 to match the Cabildo on the other side of St. Louis Cathedral. The Presbytere was used as commercial space and even served as a courthouse from 1834 to 1911 before becoming part of the Louisiana State Museum.
Storyville was established in 1897 when the New Orleans City Council, under orders from councilman, Alderman Sidney Story, set out to regulate prostitution with the aim to restrict the red light district to a controlled area. The district was soon nicknamed Storyville after the councillor, and for the next 20 years the streets of North Basin, North Robertson, Iberville, and St. Louis on the edge of the French Quarter were filled with brothels, saloons, and other businesses. It is said that jazz and swing music originated within the saloons and dance halls of Storyville during this time, with musicians such as Tony Jackson and Jelly Roll Morton performing in the area.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is home to more than 60 sculptures created by artists from all over the world. Located adjacent to the museum in City Park, sculptures are spread throughout approximately five acres of park space, tucked in a landscape that includes mature pines, magnolias and live oaks. NOMA offers a free audio tour. Ask at the entrance to the Sculpture Garden for information on accessing the tour from your cell phone.
This small pocket of outdoor space on Bourbon Street is dedicated to the renowned musicians of New Orleans. Stop in to listen to jazz music daily from 10am to close. The stage is small, but the setting and music make for a great place to sit and listen for a stretch. Tables and chairs are mixed in among statues of musicians, and Café Beignet calls the back of the courtyard home. Plan on snacking on warm beignets or order up a Cajun specialty for breakfast, lunch or dinner while listening to local musicians do what they do best.
More Things to Do in New Orleans
A product of the art visionary Roger Ogden, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in the Central Business District of New Orleans. It contains an impressive collection of over 4,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, and photos, all displayed as part of the mission to further the appreciation of Southern art in the United States.
From the likes of Kendall Shaw, and William Grenier, and Robert Tannen, any New Orleans-goer looking for a finer appreciation of this unique and proud culture should not miss out on this expansive and informative museum. In collaboration with the Smithsonian and a part of the University of New Orleans, you will want to visit the Ogden’s exhibits, which have featured the famous photographs of David Rae Morris, and the sculptures of Martin Payton. For an exceptionally special evening, attend the museums Thursday night after-hours, at 6 pm, where a variety of southern jazz, funk, and folk musicians perform for you.
How to unwrap the culture and history of Louisiana, the Gulf, and the Mississippi river delta flood-plane? This rich cultural system of Creoles, Cajuns, French Arcadians, Spanish, French, Haitian and Afro-Caribbeans make a rich stew of culture – a culture closely tied to its environment, and its preservation is vital to the enduring legacy of the region. Enter the Historic New Orleans Collection. It is the Historic New Orleans Collection’s job to maintain it all, to record and preserve for mankind the incredibly diverse traditions of New Orleans and the Gulf South region. Through a collection of historic French Quarter buildings, the Collection operates museum galleries and walkthroughs which showcase some 35,000 artifacts, manuscripts, photographs, and prints shedding light upon Louisiana’s multifaceted and extensive past.
The only mint in existence to hold the designation of printing both U.S. and Confederate coinage, the Old U.S. Mint has a story all its own. Built in 1835 and a product of Andrew Jackson’s “Bank War,” the Mint was built in the Greek Revival style and houses the history of 1838 until 1909 when minting ceased. Visitors can walk the mint exhibits and then the much applauded New Orleans Mint Performing Arts Center where new Jazz is made and the history of the art form is preserved. Located at the brink of the French Quarter and bordering the now famous Treme district, the Old U.S. Mint is a welcome reprieve from sometimes long days on your feet exploring the nuances of the Quarter, and even houses some great Jazz shows itself.
Built in 1826 for a wealthy auctioneer, this house is named for two people who once called it home. New Orleans native and Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard was in command when the first shots of the Civil War in South Carolina were fired at Fort Sumter, in April 1861, and he lived in the home from 1866 to 1868.
Nearly a century later, Frances Parkinson Keyes called the house home from the 1950s until her death in 1970. The author of more than 50 books and short story collections, she wrote many of her books, including Dinner at Antoine’s, The Chess Players, Madame Castel’s Lodger and Blue Camellia, while living in the home. The Beauregard Chamber contains original furnishings belonging to the general and his family. Keyes’ collections of antique dolls and tea pots are also on display in the house.
The Upper and Lower Pontalba Buildings were built on Jackson Square in 1850 by Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba. The first floor housed businesses and offices, but the second floor was dedicated to elegant residences for middle class families affluent enough to afford the rent that came along with one of New Orleans's most fashionable locations.
The 1850 House has been re-created by the Louisiana State Museum to look as it would have when it was newly finished, using furniture and pieces that reflect styles popular in the 1850s. Along with paintings by French-trained artists, visitors can see Old Paris porcelain and New Orleans silver on display. Guided tours provide history and insight for visitors not familiar with the property’s background, but self-guided tours are also possible. In 1921 the Pontalba family sold the Lower Pontalba Building to philanthropist William Ratcliff Irby, who donated it to the State Museum in 1927.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas focuses on the aquatic life of both North and South America. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River on the edge of the French Quarter, it is run by the Audubon Society and is one of the United States’ best known aquariums.
There are over 10,000 animals from more than 530 species on display, including sea otters and African penguins. Exhibits are grouped by habitat, including a Gulf of Mexico section with a 40,000-gallon tank showcasing the sharks, rays and turtles of the region. There is also an Amazon River and rain forest exhibit complete with a greenhouse; a colorful Caribbean reef area with a glass tunnel to walk through; and a Mississippi River gallery featuring area wildlife such as catfish, paddlefish and the famous white alligator. Whichever area you visit, you will be immersed in the underwater world.
The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is an entomology museum home to more than 50 live, interactive exhibits. Inhabiting a space of more than 23,000 square feet, it is the largest freestanding museum dedicated to insects in the United States.
Walk through an oversized underground gallery full of giant animatronic insects to get a “bug’s-eye view” of the world; see termites eating through a wooden New Orleans skyline; learn about the stages of insect life in the Metamorphosis Gallery; or see some of the world’s largest, most fascinating insects preserved within the Hall of Fame. There is also area called “Bug Appetit,” in which guests can see and taste the creation of meals using insects. Don’t miss the Louisiana Swamp Gallery, complete with local, aquatic animal life, or the famous Butterfly Gallery, a garden home to hundreds of different colorful butterflies.
The Audubon Nature Institute is a family of museums and parks dedicated to exploring all aspects of nature. It consists of the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas, Woldenberg Riverfront Park, Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, the Audubon Insectarium, and even an IMAX theater.
Among the country's best zoos, the Audubon Zoo contains the ultracool Louisiana Swamp exhibit, full of alligators, bobcats, foxes, bears and snapping turtles. The zoo has added some hi-tech attractions, including Safari Simulator Ride which allows passengers experience the sensation of joining a jungle mission through a gorilla habitat. The same simulator is also used to create virtual experiences like "H20 Odyssey", in which passengers experience life as a raindrop, among other themes.
The second oldest park in New Orleans and still one of the city’s best venues for a day outside in the sun, Lafayette Square has etched a name for itself into the collective psyche of all who experience an outdoor festival in this beautiful community square while visiting downtown New Orleans.
Home to numerous outdoor concerts and festivals throughout the year, this compact urban park has played host to numerous inaugurations, civic events, and even the steeple which housed the bell used to ring curfew during the occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War. A true historical park, the park features a bronze statue of Henry Clay in the center of the park, and statues of John McDonogh and Benjamin Franklin on St. Charles Avenue and Camp Street, highlighting some of New Orleans most revered forefathers. Designed in 1788 by Charles Laveau Trudeau, there are few parks in the US with more history, and few as easily accessible as Lafayette Square.
Little else sits as entrenched in the collective American history as the history of the Civil War. The history of the American South and its role in the greater United States is rooted in this war, and its fascinating history. The Confederate Memorial Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting authentic historical material of the Civil War. In an ongoing effort to maintain egalitarianism and diplomacy, the Confederate Memorial Museum presents its information in a non-ideological way, instead educating and entertaining visitors with the stories of courage, valor, courage and patriotism that these soldiers maintained. Artifacts include weapons, flags, uniforms, and introspections into the daily lives of the Confederate soldiers and the organization of the southern confederate as a whole.
The New Canal Lighthouse has, like many things in New Orleans, a long history behind it. Originally built when Congress issued a $5,000 grant towards the construction of lighted pathways along the “new” New Orleans canal, the New Canal Lighthouse was built to guide vessels navigating this once expansive waterway that stretched into the very heart of the city.
Today, however, the canal has been filled in, as has the water that once ran under the lighthouse. Thanks to the Lake Pontchartrain basin reclamation efforts, the New Canal Lighthouse now stands on solid ground in the popular Lakefront Park. Unfortunately, in 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita proved damaging to the ancient structure, but thanks to New Orleans’ signature spirit and commitment to things they love, the New Canal Lighthouse has been restored to its original glory – built “new” again.
Walking up the steps and through the imposing Doric columns and impressive classical façade, you wouldn’t know that the New Orleans Museum of Art began over 100 years from very humble origins. First erected in 1911, the city’s oldest fine art museum then housed only a paltry nine works of art. What is now one of the greatest art collections in the American South, today the New Orleans Museum of Art houses almost 40,000 objects on permanent display and is heralded for its impressive collection of French, American, African, and Japanese art, as well as its extensive photography showings, and glass works. The grounds themselves are part of the display, and visitors can stroll the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden where they’ll find over 60 sculptures situated on beautifully landscaped footpaths strewn with ancient live oak trees and rippling lagoons.
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