What Should First-Time Visitors Do in New Orleans? 10 Must-See Landmarks, Tours & MORE
June 8th 2021
New Orleans, Louisiana, is a lively city known far and wide for its rich history, diverse culture, Cajun and Creole cuisine, music scene, celebrations, notorious nightlife, awe-inspiring architecture, and a laundry list of unique experiences and fun things to do! There’s so much more to this spectacular city than just Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, as it provides a plethora of unique experiences, suitable for all ages and interests. From rolling down the river on a New Orleans paddlewheeler, to having a frighteningly fun time on a spooky ghost tour, the options are practically endless!
Seriously, the options are endless, which can sometimes make travel planning a daunting task, especially for New Orleans newbies. With so much to see and do in the bustling Big Easy, you may be wondering how one can know that they are experiencing the best of what the area has to offer, and making most of their time there? Luckily, TripShock has compiled a list of the 10 best activities for first-time visitors to do in New Orleans, to maximize your time, and take the stress out of planning an unforgettable vacation to the Crescent City!
Table of Contents
- Ghost Tours
- Garden District
- City Tours
- Try the Local Flavor
- Dinner Cruises
- Jackson Square
- Carriage Tours
- Frenchmen Street
- Audubon Zoo
- Mardi Gras World
Pictured above is a guided ghost tour in the French Quarter, and according to a recent TripShock Traveler Story, this is a great way to start your New Orleans vacation
What should first-time visitors do in New Orleans, you ask? Well, joining in on a thrilling and chilling ghost tour to discover the city’s history and hauntings is a great place to start! New Orleans consistently ranks among America’s most haunted cities, and with a rich and expansive history spanning over 3 centuries, it’s easy to see why.
The paranormal activity that takes place throughout the French Quarter, and beyond, is more than just tales of ghastly ghosts, too. Considered one of the best areas to find ghosts in the world, New Orleans has no shortage of spectral sightings. From the mysterious and mystical world of voodoo, to tales of plundering pirates from the 1800s, there are scores of spooky stories and secrets to uncover in New Orleans. Ghost tours come in all shapes and sizes, as well, making this a fun, affordable, and appropriate activity for all ages, interests, and budgets.
Pictured above is a massive and magnificent mansion located in New Orleans’ Garden District
With colorful houses and gigantic oak trees lining the streets, a trip to the gorgeous Garden District is definitely something first-time visitors should do in New Orleans! The Garden District is one of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods, and is filled with amazing art, architecture, historic homes and landmarks, world-class shopping and restaurants, and so much more. Some of the top things to do in the Garden District include the following:
- Shopping along Magazine Street
- Visiting Audubon Park and Audubon Zoo
- Touring Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
- Dining at the famous Commander’s Palace
- Sightseeing in a St. Charles Streetcar
- And MORE!
Another fun fact about the Garden District, is that it is also frequently featured in film and television! The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Originals are just two of the many instances where the Garden District appears on the big screen. With that being said, it probably comes as no surprise that there are many celebrities who call this part of New Orleans home, as well, so be sure to keep an eye out for your favorite silver screen stars when strolling through the stunning streets of the Garden District.
Trolley traveling through New Orleans during a city sightseeing tour
What should first-time visitors do in New Orleans as far as sightseeing goes? Take a city tour! Not only are they a ton of fun, but New Orleans city tours are also the most comprehensive way to explore this lively and diverse cultural center. This is also a great way to ensure a truly authentic experience, with a local and knowledgeable guide leading the way. Guided city tours come in all shapes and sizes, as well, from air-conditioned bus tours that can help you to beat the heat in the summertime, to taking in the sights and sounds of the French Quarter on a walking tour, there’s a city tour available for all types of travelers!
Try the Local Flavor
Spicy seafood gumbo, a New Orleans signature dish
If you’re wondering what should first-time visitors do in New Orleans that everyone in your group will enjoy, the answer is simply to eat! This is one place where when you go, you won’t leave hungry. New Orleans is truly a foodie’s most desirable destination, serving up the most delicious and iconic Cajun and Creole cuisines. Some of the legendary local fare you will definitely want to try when in the Big Easy include the following:
- Red Beans and Rice
- Bananas Foster
- Crawfish Étouffée
And that’s just to name a few! From grabbing a beignet at the iconic Cafe Du Monde in the French Market, to tantalizing your taste buds with all of the savory spices and seafood in a tasty New Orleans gumbo, delicious dining options are around every corner. If you’ve worked up an appetite, consider checking out one (or all!) of these famous and flavorful New Orleans restaurants:
The Natchez paddlewheeler, one of the top lunch, dinner, and sightseeing cruises in New Orleans
Dinner cruises are one of the best things for first time visitors to do in New Orleans! Not only are they a ton of fun, but they are also one of the most unique and best ways to see the city. Meandering down the mighty Mississippi River aboard a massive paddlewheeler allows visitors to experience the Big Easy in a whole new way, and witness this charming city from a whole new perspective. Spectacular sights you may see along the way include the following:
- New Orleans’ spectacular skyline
- Panoramic views of the Mississippi River
- Historic landmarks
- Breathtakingly beautiful sunsets
- And MORE!
New Orleans dinner cruises are fun for all ages and interests, with captivating narration, and live jazz music that will have you on your feet and dancing in no time. And let’s not forget one of the main highlights of a NOLA dinner cruise… the food! Dinner cruises are a great way to sample the local cuisine, and enjoy traditional dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and more.
The stunning St. Louis Cathedral located at Jackson Square in New Orleans, LA
When wondering what should first-time visitors do in New Orleans, consider visiting Jackson Square. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, this area has been the hub for business, socializing, art, and more, since the 18th century. In fact, Jackson Square is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and is home to historic churches, museums, the beautiful and historic St. Louis Cathedral, and the oldest apartment buildings in the country!
Jackson Square is a point of pride for residents of New Orleans, and they have not only just preserved the historic buildings and monuments there, but have maintained the area’s commitment to community, art, and local business. This is a great place to truly immerse yourself in the local culture when visiting New Orleans, as a trip here will yield local artists creating art and showcasing their work, lively and talented local musicians, performing arts, and so much more. Other popular things to do here include shopping, people watching, enjoying delicious food and drinks, photography, and taking part in awesome annual events and celebrations.
A mule-drawn carriage and its driver in New Orleans’ French Quarter
Carriage tours are another activity that first time visitors should do in New Orleans, as this is a charming and captivating way to explore the city, and see it from a whole new perspective! Participants will clip, clop, and trot through the scenic streets of the French Quarter, and enjoy informative and entertaining narration from a local and knowledgeable guide along the way. Not only that, this is a great way to give your feet a break from all of the walking that any trip to the French Quarter entails, and allows guests to truly ride in style.
Image of Frenchmen Street in New Orleans at night by Kent Kanouse via Flickr
Located just east of the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street is an essential part to any first-time visit to New Orleans. Frenchmen Street is lined with colorful buildings, delicious restaurants and bars, live music, amazing art, and good times galore, making it a popular spot for both locals and visitors alike. With that being said, one of the main allures of visiting the famed Frenchmen Street, is definitely the music.
Live music from spectacular local artists, specifically jazz musicians, floods Frenchmen Street on a daily basis. No matter if it’s a solo act from a sensational songwriter, or a lively jazz band that will have you on the dance floor in no time, you’re sure to enjoy the show and have a blast on Frenchmen Street. If you’re ready to dance the night away, consider checking out one of these notable music clubs in the area:
- The Spotted Cat Music Club
- Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro
- The Maison
- Cafe Negril
A giraffe at the Audubon Zoo’s African Savanna exhibit
New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo has been housing animals since 1884, entertaining families since opening in 1914, and consistently ranks among the top zoos in the country! With that being said, a trip to this famous and family-fun zoo is definitely something first-time visitors should do in New Orleans. This massive zoo encompasses over 50 acres, including their popular Louisiana Swamp exhibit, which houses the only naturally-occurring swamp in Uptown New Orleans.
This award-winning zoo offers educational programs, amazing animal encounters, animal chats and presentations, and exceptional exhibits featuring a wide variety of awesome animals. In fact, the Audubon Zoo strives to protect endangered species of animals, with many living, thriving, and successfully breeding in the zoo itself. Rare and endangered animals you may encounter at Audubon Zoo include the following:
- Western Lowland Gorillas
- Whooping Cranes
- Asian Elephants
- Malayan Tigers
- Sumatran Orangutans
- Amur Leopards
- And MORE!
Mardi Gras World
A colossal and colorful float under construction at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans
What should first time visitors do in New Orleans? Let the good times roll, of course! A great way to do this is by touring the magnificent and mesmerizing Mardi Gras World. These tours provide guests with an authentic Mardi Gras experience, and allow visitors to experience up-close what all it takes to turn this fantastic festival into a reality.
Upon entering this massive facility, guests will get to see art in motion, and watch as marvelous Mardi Gras floats are created from the ground up. History buffs will love learning about this city-wide celebration’s extensive history, while gaining a deeper understanding of what Mardi Gras is truly about. The whole family, however, will love exploring this 300,000-square-foot facility, checking out the colorful and creative floats, and witnessing the artists at work.
Pictured above is bustling Bourbon Street, which is full of unforgettable things for first-time visitors to do in New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana, is truly a destination full of magic, with a unique culture and flair that can’t be experienced anywhere else. From dancing the night away to some of the world’s best live music on Frenchmen Street, to trotting through the French Quarter and exploring the city by carriage, there are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle, and come home with memories that will last a lifetime! However you decide to spend your time in this charming city, you’re in for a treat, and with such an abundance of amazing New Orleans things to do, there are still plenty of awesome activities and attractions to explore when first-time visitors become repeat guests.
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