While we are wandering we are also budget traveling. We limit our eating out. Take advantage of free and cheap camping areas. Explore the many free activities available around the United States. While many of our adventures are far from civilization there were a few cities in the South we wanted to visit. One of these cities is New Orleans. We knew NOLA has a reputation of overindulgence. Or was it that we have reputations of overindulgence? Either way to offset some of the costs of eating our way through the city we found many fun, interesting, awe inspiring, and free things to do. We’ve compiled a list of our top 5 Free Things to do in New Orleans. Enjoy!
1. French Quarter
Let’s get the most obvious and arguably the #1 attraction out of the way. While every shop, bar, and tarot card reader is hoping to give you wallet shrinkage, take an hour or a day to just get lost in the French Quarter. This is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. Spend some time to walk the streets and take it in. Amazing architecture, street performers, and 300 years of history are at every turn. I am not saying you shouldn’t indulge in a Po’ Boy or a slushy (we sure did!), but there is much more than Bourbon Street in the Quarter.
2. Cities of the Dead
Everyone should take the opportunity to see the historic graveyards in New Orleans. Most are free to walk through and all surround you with ghosts of centuries past. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District is a personal favorite. Also, take the streetcar all the way to the end of the line to City Park Avenue. A cluster of large cemeteries including St. Patrick, Cypress Grove, and Greenwood truly live up to the Cities of the Dead nickname. Take in all the history and fill up your memory card with pictures of these amazing sites.
I do want to add that the closest cemetery to the French Quarter is the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. This is the cemetery featured in the movie Easy Rider. It is the supposed final resting place of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. Also, it is where Nicholas Cage purchased his pyramid tomb for his final resting place. Yes, these things may be cool, but all visitors must pay for a $20 tour to visit. If you really must see Nicholas Cage’s resting place, just do what I did and watch The Wicker Man—you’ll at least see where his film career died.
3. Garden District
A quick bus or street car ride from the French Quarter will take you to the Garden District. Many homes in the neighborhood date back to the 1820’s and some celebrities call this area home. Author Anne Rice lived here for many years and it was an inspiration for many dark novels. These well kept homes and mansions hide behind wrought iron gates. Travelers will line up to snap pictures between the bars. Hit some restaurants and shops if you feel the need or just enjoy the free views of this historic neighborhood. You will find the entrance to the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 here as well.
4. City Park
Grab the street car number 48. It will drop you at the 1,300 acre City Park. Established in 1854 it is one of the oldest urban parks in the US. In 2006 Hurricane Katrina left the park severely damaged and under water for over a week. However, you wouldn’t know by the look of it now. Community support and hard work repaired and improved it to its current beauty. Enjoy the day walking, jogging or biking down miles of trails. Take a nap in the shade of a giant oak. Relish creations of world renowned artists in the sculpture garden. Don’t miss out on this free treasure.
5. Street Music & Performers
It’s hard to walk through the French Quarter and not see street performances. Solo musicians, elaborate jazz bands, poets, and even painted human statues are plentiful as you weave through the Quarter. Two of the best places are Jackson Square and Frenchman Street. The former is usually a day and evening congregation of performers and street vendors. In the center of the square is a peaceful park with a great view of the St. Louis Cathedral. Frenchman Street has some of the best nightlife in the city. Take in music coming from numerous bars (many without cover charges). Enjoy the street performers at every corner. Join in impromptu parades. Just note while the nightlife is amazing, the day life is a drag. Things really start getting going around 10 pm.
To get the true New Orleans experience, realistically you will need to support the local economy of taverns, restaurants, and lodgings. However, these 5 Free Things to do in New Orleans provide everyone the opportunity to explore the beauty and history of the city while saving money for the grilled oysters and brews!
Please note: while not free, the New Orleans Street Car and public transportation allow you to explore all of the places listed below and more. It is definitely cheaper than a parking lot and less stressful than finding street parking. We used it all week and it was very easy and pretty fast to get around. Download the app and purchase passes at RTA.
Explore and enjoy! Do you have any other cheap or free things to do in New Orleans? What was your favorite experience in the Big Easy?