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21 Awesome Things To Do On Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and Downtown New Orleans

An introduction and map of our exploration of downtown New Orleans

Downtown New Orleans, Louisiana, also known as NOLA or "The Big Easy", is one of my favorite cities in the USA to visit.

That wasn't always the case. The first time I went to downtown NOLA, I was less than impressed. But that's partly because I didn't know where to go! You won't have the same problem I did because I'm going to share what I've learned with you. I've been to New Orleans at least a half dozen times in the past 8 years or so, and I'm going to share some of my favorite spots in downtown New Orleans.

Here's my list of places you can't miss in your next visit to New Orleans:

21 things to do downtown New Orleans
21 things to do downtown New Orleans

Free Downtown New Orleans Attractions

  • Louis Armstrong Park
  • St. Louis Cathedral
  • Jackson Square
  • Washington Artillery Park
  • New Orleans Police Department
  • Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
  • Greenwood Cemetery
  • Lafitte Greenway
  • Holocaust Memorial

Restaurants in the French Quarter

  • Daisy Dukes French Quarter
  • Acme Oyster House on Iberville St
  • New Orleans Creole Cookery
  • The Ruby Slipper Cafe
  • Palace Café
  • Cafe Du Monde

Nighttime Downtown NOLA Attractions

  • Frenchmen Street Jazz at Night
  • Bamboula's Jazz Club
  • Steamboat Natchez
  • Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Close to the Quarter, Great First Impression

New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street

Located at 555 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

I've stayed in different hotels each time I've visited downtown New Orleans and the Marriott on Canal Street has, by far, been my favorite so far.

I think it started with the great first impression I had on my last stay in June of 2018. I arrived early - nearly 11am, and the front desk staff let me check into my room. They were all so nice and accommodating the entire trip.

The hotel and the room were fantastic as well. I was on the 32nd floor and had a fantastic view of downtown and the Mississippi River.

The price at the Marriott seems to be pretty reasonable as well. My rate for a week-long stay was about $160 per night.

Travel Back in Time

New Orleans RTA Streetcars

My absolute favorite way to get around downtown New Orleans, aside from walking, of course, is to take the streetcars.

The St. Charles Streetcar line was added way back in 1835, and runs all the way from downtown through the famous Garden District, past the Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo and Tulane University.

In all, there are five streetcar lines in New Orleans, with many of them running through or past downtown. The St. Charles and Canal Street lines are my personal favorites.

Visit the RTA Website

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DOWNTOWN NEW ORLEANS

Free Daytime & Nighttime Attractions

Traveling as a family means that you often have to stick to a budget on your trips. Here a list of our favorite free attractions within walking distance of downtown New Orleans. These are all places we have personally visited while on one of our numerous trips to "The Big Easy".

701 N Rampart St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Louis Armstrong Park

I had never even heard of Louis Armstrong park until my last visit to New Orleans. The park is named after THE Louis Armstrong, famous American trumpeter, composer, singer and occasional actor.

The park that bears his name is located only a short walk from the heart of Canal Street and downtown New Orleans. It's home to numerous works of art including many statues like the one you see pictured here.

If you time it right, you may even be able to catch some jazz in the park a few times a year as well!

615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116

St. Louis Cathedral

If you've ever been to New Orleans, or you've even Googled it, then you've probably seen the St. Louis Cathedral. The cathedral an icon of the NOLA skyline and is located just east of downtown, not far from the Mississippi River.

St. Louis Cathedral is a great area to explore during the day or at night. During the day you'll find artists and performers of all kinds, including palm readers and more.

Venture just across the street to Cafe Du Monde or Washington Artillery park unique views of the cathedral and Jackson Square.

700 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Jackson Square

Immediately outside the front doors of St. Louis Cathedral is Jackson Square. It's an iron-gated green space and plaza area that is a hub of activity during the day. They do close the gates.

According to the website, Jackson Square is open from 8am until 6pm in the summer and 8am until 7pm during Daylight Savings Time.

Also known as the Place d'Armes, Jackson Square occupies 2.5 acres and sees over 2 million tourists and locals each year. It received National Landmark status in 1960.

768 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Washington Artillery Park

Washington Artillery Park is adjacent to both Jackson Square and Cafe Du Monde, only steps away from the Mississippi River.

The best part about this "park" isn't the slides or swings, but the views. Especially at night, the views of both Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral are unmatched.

When you're done exploring the park, you can also catch a horse and carriage ride at the bottom of the steps on Decatur Street.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

1 Collins Diboll Cir, New Orleans, LA 70124

When it comes to "art", most museums and installations can really be hit or miss for me. Sure, the preeminent museums like the Museum of Modern Art are pretty awesome, but sculpture art in New Orleans?

I ventured outside of downtown New Orleans just a bit more on my most recent trip and stumbled upon the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It's still easily within walking distance of most of downtown, or a short streetcar ride on line 48.

Part of the Gardens were under refurbishment when I was there in June of 2018, but there was still plenty to see and explore. Oh, and admission is free, too!

...the preeminent museums like the Museum of Modern Art are pretty awesome, but sculpture art in New Orleans?

Greenwood Cemetery

5190 Canal Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70124

Yes, a I'm recommending you visit a cemetery.

Hear me out for just a minute, because the cemeteries and above-ground mausoleums of New Orleans are pretty well known and unique to the area.

There are cemeteries all over the city, but the Greenwood Cemetery is one of the easiest to get to if you're staying in downtown New Orleans. You can take the Canal Street streetcar to where it turns around at the corner of Canal and City Park Avenue.

From there, it's just a short walk to Greenwood Cemetery, where you can explore the grounds with sites that have been there for hundreds of years.

Lafitte Greenway

N Prieur St New Orleans, LA 70112

Like many cities, New Orleans has made a concerted effort to introduce more green space areas into an urban environment.

The Lafitte Greenway runs mostly east and west between City Park to the north and downtown New Orleans to the south.

Lafitte Greenway is great if you're looking to get out and stretch your legs a bit, all while getting off the beaten tourist path just a bit.

Holacaust Memorial

River St, New Orleans, LA 70114

The New Orleans Holacaust Memorial is one of many landmarks and attractions located right down riverside, along the Mississippi River.

The memorial may not look it at first glance, but it really is a unique monument. The sculpture is composed of nine panels, each with different designs. As you view the scupture from different angles, the designs on the panels meld to form distinct images. Ten images come into view as you walk around the panels. Click a link on the left for an interpretion of each view.

New Orleans Police Department NOPD

334 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

I strongly recommend you visit during the day and not at night - the NOPD isn't open at night unless you're an "invited guest".

During the day, the doors to the NOPD office on Royal Street are wide open to anyone and everyone.

You could walk up and strike up a conversation with the desk sergeant, or you could just head over to the vending machines and purchase a souvenir t-shirt, benefiting the non-profit Citizen's Organization for Police Support (COPS).

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DOWNTOWN NEW ORLEANS

Affordable & Authentic Family Dining Options

One of the biggest draws to the city of New Orleans is, without a doubt, the food. Food in New Orleans is something that's cherished and revered and you'd be challenged to find overall better cuisine than this anywhere else in the world.

When you're traveling as a family, don't sacrifice this aspect of your trip. Here are our favorite family-friendly, affordable and authentically "NOLA" eateries we've personally tried in a past trip.

Cafe Du Monde

800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116

I'm sure you've probably heard of Cafe Du Monde. It's an iconic cafe near Jackson Square that serves coffee, but is known for its beignets.

What's a beignet? It's the French word for a deep-fried choux pastry.

Now before you go calling it a donut, just hold on a minute. If you've never had a beignet before, your first one should definitely come from Cafe Du Monde.

One tip is to be patient while visiting this ultra-popular, super busy establishment. Even when Cafe Du Monde isn't busy, it's still pretty busy. Avoid peak times for a more relaxing and enjoyable experience.

The Ruby Slipper Cafe

1005 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70112

Saying there are a lot of great places to eat in New Orleans would be a serious understatement.

Saying there are a lot of great places to enjoy an "adult beverage", even during the early morning hours would also be an understatement.

That's why, when you find a place in downtown New Orleans that...

  • has good food
  • has friendly staff
  • isn't too expensive
  • is centrally-located

...I recommend you give The Ruby Slipper Cafe, located at the corner of Canal Street and Burgundy Street, a try.

New Orleans Creole Cookery

508 Toulouse St, New Orleans, LA 70130

New Orleans Creole Cookery was one of the first restaurants I visited in my travels to the city, and it's one I try to get back to every time I visit.

Creole Cookery combines a unique mix of authentic atmosphere and food that are what every culinary visitor is trying to achieve, but isn't always able to accomplish.

It's off-the-beaten-path location means that it's usually not the busiest restaurant in town, but don't let that fool you. You'll be more than satisfied with all aspects of this restaurant.

Oh, and one insider tip - large parties weren't allowed to split the tab on to multiple credit cards, so be sure to bring some cash if you have more than three people on separate checks.

Palace Café

605 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

The Palace Café may actually be one of those restaurants that's easy to just pass right by. It's on a main road - Canal Street, in a pretty bustling area right next to the Marriott Hotel.

On the outside, it actually looks a little bit retro glam. It's big; it's bright and it's busy.

But don't let any of that deter you. The Palace Café is a unique experience that everyone should try at least once on a visit to NOLA.

The Palace Café combines unique chef creations with distinct flavors of southern cooking. My favorite dish from my last visit? I'd have to say the crabmeat cheesecake. It's probably not what you think it is. Give it a try!

Daisy Dukes French Quarter

121 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Daisy Dukes was the very first restaurant I visited on my last trip and also one of the last.

It's right around the corner from many of the larger hotels on Canal Street, and didn't have a wait for lunch on my first day there in June of 2018.

Don't get me wrong, Daisy Dukes likely won't make many "best of" lists when it comes to restaurants in New Orleans. But that doesn't mean it's not a good restaurant. It's nothing fancy, but it's a consistently good experience, with good southern comfort food, reasonable prices and good service.

Acme Oyster House

724 Iberville St, New Orleans, LA 70130

I visited Acme by recommendation from someone that had been before. A small group of us decided to give it a try on a recent visit.

Now, I'm not much of a drinker, but one unique drink they had on the menu just begged me to try it - a raw oyster shooter. Essentially, a tasty raw oyster (not my thing, but good) dropped into a shot glass filled with likely cheap vodka.

I can't say that it went down smooth, but the flavor was unique and I'd definitely try it again, but next time with better liquor.

Acme is known, not surprisingly, for its oysters. We tried a few different dishes, including an appetizer and oyster and shrimp po boy. Both had fantastic flavor and the bread on the po boy sandwich really was surprisingly good.

DOWNTOWN NEW ORLEANS

Things to do at Night in The Big Easy

Nighttime in NOLA is really the main reason most travelers visit the city. It's known for its nightlife, from restaurants and bars to the world-famous jazz clubs, there's no shortage of things to do at night in downtown New Orleans. Here are just a few of my personal recommendations.

Steamboat Natchez Dinner Jazz Cruise

Another icon of the city resides on the river - the Steamboat Natchez is hard to miss when visiting NOLA.

One of the best times to be out on the river is at night for the Natchez dinner jazz cruise.

The food is okay, but the views and music are the reasons to go. You'll never see the city the same way again after sailing the Natchez at night.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

The Superdome really does mean a lot to the city of New Orleans. It's served as the home of the New Orleans Saints for decades and is a source of pride for the city.

More than that, though, it's also served a deeper purpose as well. It was a shelter for many thousands of people after hurricane Katrina struck.

When you think of downtown New Orleans, it's hard to imagine it without the Superdome.

516 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Bamboula's Jazz Club

How do you pick which jazz club to go to while visiting New Orleans? Well, you can do what I've done and wander around the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street for a few hours. That's actually pretty fun!

Or, you can check out a place on a recommendation from someone.

Bamboula's is a club that has expectedly great jazz music, a friendly bar and service staff and a totally authentic NOLA jazz vibe.

Are these qualities totally unique to Bamboula's? Well, no. But I've visited Bamboula's no less than three times, and each and every time I've had a blast. I think you will, too.

Live Jazz Exploring Frenchmen Street

As mentioned, one of my favorite things to do at night in New Orleans doesn't cost a dime.

I love to just walk around and explore the French Quarter in general, but Frenchmen Street is really something special.

What makes it unique are the impromptu gatherings of brass bands and random playing in the streets. People with instruments just congregate together and start playing!

This sounds like something that would occur only rarely, but it's really quite likely in the evenings and at night in the French Quarter and on Frenchmen Street. Go check it out!

What do you think? What's your favorite thing to do while visiting New Orleans? Do you have a favorite restaurant or attraction that we just can't miss?

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