10 Free (or Cheap!) Things to do in New Orleans
It can be difficult to save money when you’re traveling solo, as you’re paying for hotels and transit on your own. But not to worry! There are a lot of fantastic experiences to have in New Orleans when you’re on a budget.
#1 Free Walking Tours
Walking tours are a great way to see New Orleans, with its historic neighborhoods and beautiful architecture. It’s also a great way to meet fellow travelers. The company Free Tours by Foot offers a variety of walking tours focusing on history, architecture, voodoo, cocktails, and music, all completely free (hence the name). Nola Tour Guy also offers free tours of the French Quarter, Garden District, and several of the cemeteries. With either company, you’ll need to book in advance and make sure you tip your guide well.
#2 Enjoy free music
New Orleans’ famous music scene is not just to be experienced in the clubs. The music spills out onto the streets of the French Quarter and surrounding areas. LA Times travel did a fantastic article talking about some of the well-known musicians that can be found performing along Royal Street (tip them well, of course). Another option is to wander down Frenchmen street at night. Many of the music venues have no cover, and most of them have doors or windows open to the street so you can hear the sounds of the bands from the street. If you’re enjoying it, head in and drop a few dollars in the hat for the musicians, and potentially get a cocktail to go.
#3 Take part in a 2nd line parade
Be a part of one of New Orleans many traditions - parades! A second line parade, done for weddings, funerals, holidays, and just for special occasions, consists of a jazz band up front setting the pace, and the rest of the parade-goers dancing or strutting behind them. New Orleans ‘social clubs’ host them in different areas of the city on Sundays. You can check WWOZ’s site for a list of second line events happening that Sunday. Second lines are often seen in the French Quarter on weekend evenings, particularly if there’s a wedding or a specific holiday being celebrated that day. Note: Celebratory second lines can be joined by one and all, although be mindful of what your fellow parade-goers are doing. Funeral parades should not be joined.
#4 Lafayette Cemetery #1
Of the above-ground cemeteries that New Orleans is known for, St. Louis Cemetery is the more well-known, and requires an entry fee. The beautiful, ethereal Lafayette Cemetery is open to the public. Bordering the Garden District, in Lafayette Cemetery you’re able to wander the rows of family crypts and tombstones on your own. There are audio guides and maps that will point out some of the more famous and infamous residents. Lafayette Cemetery #1 is open 7am - 2:30pm during the week, and 7am - noon on Saturdays.
#5 Have a drink overlooking Jackson Square at Muriel’s
Muriel’s Restaurant overlooks the park and activity of Jackson Square, right in the heart of the French Quarter. The building housing the restaurant dates back to the late 1700’s, with a colorful history fitting of New Orleans. One of the best views over the Quarter is to get a drink at the bar, then take it up to the 2nd floor balcony. From there, you can watch the fortune tellers and performers in Jackson Square, view the other buildings along Chartres Street, all while enjoying a delicious cocktail (or two!). Check out the seance room while you’re there. Keep in mind the balcony closes after dark.
#6 Visit the Pharmacy Museum
Medicine was an often grisly business in past centuries, and this small museum in the French Quarter has the displays to make you grateful you live in a post antibiotic world. Historical surgical instruments, rudimentary ‘medicines’, voodoo remedies, and an old soda fountain can all be found in the museum’s collection. The building itself is the home to one of the very first licensed apothecaries in the United States. If you go, plan on being there in time for the complimentary 1pm tour to get the added stories and possibly a demonstration. Our guide claimed he’s had at least one person faint per week on the tour. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday with the entry price of $5 for adults.
These delicious, powdered sugar-covered balls of fried dough goodness can be found at many shops in New Orleans, but most famously at Cafe du Monde. An order of three freshly-fried beignets will cost you $2.73 plus tax at their takeout windows. It’s recommended to get them with either cafe au lait or a hot chocolate. Good to eat any time of day. Cafe du Monde’s main location in the French Quarter is open 24 hours a day to aid with your beignet fix.
#8 Window shop along Magazine Street
Funky, fun Magazine Street is home to some fantastic shops, bars, restaurants, and colorful homes. To get away from the tourist crowds, take a stroll down Magazine Street through the Upper and Main Garden District, and possibly even further, all the way down to Audobon Park! You’ll find interesting boutiques, book stores, donut shops, antique stores, and more. If it’s sunny out, possibly start by St. Andrews Street and pick up a parasol at Bella Umbrella for some added shade.
#9 Garden District Tour
Didn’t sign up in time for one of the free tours? Don’t worry! Free Tours by Foot also offers both an audio guide ($1.99) and an interactive map of some of the tour locations. I downloaded their map of the Garden District and was able to see it at my own pace, walk past a few less interesting homes, and making a longer stop at for a coffee/bathroom break at Still Perkin’ on the corner of Washington and Prytania.
#10 Take a ferry across the Mississippi
Why pay for an expensive riverboat cruise when you can get out on the Mississippi River for the price of only $2? The ferry travels between Canal Street in the French Quarter to the historic Algiers neighborhood on the south side of the river. Ferries depart every 30 minutes, so need to worry about scheduling how long you want to spend on each side. Just relax and enjoy some of the best views of the city from the water!