06 Jul

Is it going to be your first time in New Orleans? This post is your ultimate guide to experiencing the city’s unique blend of jazz rhythms, cultural diversity, and culinary delights.

From strolling down the historic streets of the French Quarter to savoring iconic dishes like gumbo and beignets, prepare to be enchanted by the vibrant energy and rich heritage of the Big Easy.

Join us as we uncover the top 10 must-do activities to ensure your inaugural visit to this iconic Southern gem is nothing short of unforgettable!

When considering your travel destination, be sure to keep Louisiana on your radar. New Orleans is a dynamic city that offers a one-of-a-kind experience for those visiting for the time. 

Its blend of music, cuisine, and relaxed vibe makes it a popular choice for travelers. Having visited New Orleans times myself I can confidently say that I am always captivated by its history and diverse cultural offerings. 

The locals truly know how to enjoy life to the fullest and have a great time. 

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of exploring the enchanting atmosphere of New Orleans and are looking for sights, activities, and flavors to indulge in, this article will unveil all the top must-see destinations in The Big Easy, serving as a guide for first-time explorers.

Things To Know Before You Go To New Orleans

First Time In New Orleans: Top 10 Things To Do

Situated along the Mississippi River in southeastern Louisiana, New Orleans boasts a distinct architectural style like the gorgeous Hotel Monteleone. The neighborhoods are filled with colorful buildings, wrought-iron balconies, and beautiful courtyards.

The town has a rich history in the evolution of the South and reveals a captivating narrative of the conflicts between the northern and southern US states.  

Here are some important things you should know if you are planning to visit New Orleans for the first time.

The Best Time To Visit New Orleans

First Time In New Orleans: Top 10 Things To Do

I visited New Orleans for Spring break, Summer, and Fall vacations. I enjoyed it most when the temperatures were cool.  

There is not a bad time of the year to visit because of the year-round celebrations that occur. However, I found the summer months too hot and humid which made it uncomfortable for walking.  

If you find yourself experiencing a rainy day in New Orleans, don’t let it dampen your spirits. But if you are set on visiting during a certain time of year for a specific event or festival, here is what you can expect.

Spring (March-May)

The temperature range is average highs of 70-80°F and lows of 50-60°F.

The mild weather is perfect for strolling through gardens and outdoor festivals.

Look for major outdoor events like the French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest in April/May.

Summer (June-August)

Expect hot and humid weather with average highs of 85-95°F and lows of 70-75°F.

There may be afternoon thunderstorms during the day, and there will be heavy rain in August. 

The advantage of this season is that tourism might not be as high, but the nightlife is still lively, and cultural events are held in the city. 

Fall (September-November)

The temperature has average highs of 75-85°F and lows of 55-65°F.

I visited in October during one of my trips and found comfortable weather and smaller crowds after Labor Day.

During the Fall season, join in the Halloween celebrations and festivals like Voodoo Fest in October.

Winter (December-February)

The temperature has average highs of 60-70°F and lows of 40-50°F.

The weather will feel mild, and you can be assured of some sunny days. However, the nights will be colder, and you’ll need a light jacket.   

During the holiday season, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are in full swing. In February, festivities kick into gear for Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras.

In short, the most pleasant weather is in the spring and fall, but New Orleans offers plenty to do year-round. 

Summers are hot and humid, but the city is still energetic. Winters are mild and perfect for strolling through town when the French Quarter is decked in festive decor.

How to Get from the Airport to Downtown New Orleans

I have always taken a taxi or Uber from the airport to the hotel. It’s stress-free, and the ride is about 40 minutes long on a good day without traffic.  

While you could save money by taking public transit, it would require transfers at station stops, and the commute would take over an hour. That is not time well spent, especially if you have luggage in tow.  

Take my advice, get a hired car, and get ready to let the good times roll!

Getting Around New Orleans

If you are in the French Quarter, almost everything that you’ll want to see and do is within walking distance.

During a girl’s trip, we used a hired car (Uber) once because it was too far for us to get to visit Mardi Gras World.

To visit the Garden District and the New Orleans Museum of Art, we caught the streetcar on Canal Street.  

Taxis and ride-sharing services are readily available, but if you want to take your time and soak in the local vibes, take advantage of the city’s bike-share program to explore at your own pace.

The Most Popular Neighborhoods Of New Orleans 

During each of my visits to New Orleans, I took time to explore the various neighborhoods and find hidden gems. I think it’s worthwhile for first-time visitors to know about the most popular neighborhoods, what is unique about them, and why they would be a good area for you to stay.

Garden District

Wrought Iron Gate Fence Decorations Colonel Short's Villa Mansion Garden District New Orleans Louisiana. National Historic District built in the 1800s

My favorite neighborhood to visit is the Garden District. The area is home to beautiful mansions, lush gardens, and quiet streets. The best way to tour the section of New Orleans is by taking the St. Charles Avenue streetcar.  

We found the trolley stop on Canal and made a dash inside the Walgreens for snacks before boarding. We paid $2.50 per person for a roundtrip fare. The ride itself was comfortable, but seeing the homes felt like a quick drive-by. I had wished the pace was a bit slower. 

However, the homes are incredibly stunning, and the ride is a peaceful break from the busyness of downtown. 

Business District

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA CBD skyline at night

This area is more modern and business-centric, with offices and a convention center. The Business District is a good spot to admire some of the city’s major attractions, such as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Smoothie King Center, Harrah’s Casino, and the National WWII Museum. 

You can find luxury hotels, restaurants, and bars in this neighborhood; however, most visitors choose to visit the French Quarter for entertainment and food.


Colorful old house in the Marigny neighborhood in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana

If you love exploring on foot, I highly recommend walking through the Marigny neighborhood. This eclectic area is near the French Quarter and has a hip, bohemian vibe.

The homes are small and quaint. There is a nice mix of these color cottages, art galleries, boutiques, and spots for live music. I could tell that this area was a hub for local artists and musicians.

While exploring, I found a couple of B&Bs that would make the perfect stay for a girl’s getaway.  

French Quarter

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: French Quarter

This historic district is the most well-known neighborhood of New Orleans. The streets are lined with buildings that feature wrought-iron balconies and the nightlife on Bourbon Street is wildly engaging.

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: French Quarter

The best landmarks to see are places like Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Royal Street is the best place to shop and dine. You can also sign up for vampire, ghost, and voodoo attractions.  

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: French Quarter

The French Quarter embodies the city’s French and Spanish colonial roots. 

There is a lot to see and do. If you are short on time, consider this itinerary for how to spend one day in New Orleans.  

Now, let’s look at the best things to do in New Orleans!

Top 10 Things To Do In New Orleans 

1. Bite Into A Beignet At Cafe Du Monde

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Cafe Du Monde

If you haven’t tried a beignet, then you are in the right city to try one. The most popular place where visitors like to go for a beignet is Cafe Du Monde. There are different locations but the one near the Farmer’s Market is a favorite spot with travelers.  

Another great place for delicious Beignets is along the riverfront at Cafe Beignet. It’s hard to choose which tastes best so decide for yourself. Visit both cafes and have a taste test! 

No matter which you prefer, no trip is complete without grabbing hot, powdered sugar-dusted beignets and café au lait at Café Du Monde – that’s NOLA 101 right there!

2. Bourbon Street

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street puts on quite a different face after dark, so plan accordingly if you’re with kids. 

During the day, the architecture shines – those iconic wrought iron balconies and neon signs look so cool in natural light. Take time to appreciate the vivid buildings and lively street scenes before the craziness begins! 

Once night falls, things start getting a little wild. Let’s just say there’s lots of risqué behavior, flashing, and general rowdiness you may not want the young ones exposed to. 

But for adults, it’s a blast! The party rages into the night with live music pouring onto the streets from raucous bars and colorful characters keeping things entertaining. 

Bourbon Street comes alive at night with a sensory overload – noise, lights, music – but certainly not for the faint of the heart. 

Experience its charm and exuberance by day, then let your inhibitions run away into the night!

3. Marvel At Mardi Gras World

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Mardi Gras

As someone who loves parades, I highly recommend checking out Mardi Gras World. This gigantic warehouse gives a behind-the-scenes peek at the creation of Mardi Gras parades. 

The tours are timed. So when you arrive, you are free to browse the gift shop until the tour begins. The first stop is a room where they place a video to fill you in on the history of Mardi Gras and how these floats and costumes are made. After the movie, we sampled a slice of King Cake. It is commonly eaten during Mardi Gras. 

Then comes the best part – you’re free to wander through the warehouse and workshops at your own pace to see how the floats were built and the costumes are made.   

We saw artists working hard on next year’s floats, bringing all the crazy characters to life. You can check out massive float sculptures of jesters, angels, and animals. The details are unbelievable. 

We loved it because there were plenty of photo ops. You’ll easily spend over an hour exploring it all. It’s a must-see for parade fans to discover what makes Mardi Gras so spectacular.

4. Admire The Garden District

The Garden District is a must-do for first-time visitors.

We caught a St. Charles Streetcar near our hotel. The round-trip fare is less than $3. We rode it to the end of the line, and there was a 10-minute wait before the return trip began.    

From the streetcar, we saw moss-covered trees and stunning mansions with perfectly manicured lawns. We also took note of a few restaurants and shops that we wanted to return to during our stay.

5. Join A Swamp Tour

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Swamp Tour

A swamp tour takes you into the heart of Louisiana’s wetlands for an adventure in mother nature.

On the tour, everyone will have a close look at alligators, turtles, and other wildlife.

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Swamp Tour

Both young and old will be engaged in spotting wildlife while learning about the daily survival of wetland life in their natural swamp habitat. 

It may be far from the bright lights of Bourbon Street, but a swamp tour brings to life the rich ecology of the Louisiana Bayou.

6. Shop The French Market

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: French Market

The French Market in New Orleans is one of the best places to get great deals on souvenirs and New Orleans-themed buys. It’s right next to Cafe Du Monde.  

This open outdoor market has a roof, so it’s also a good place to visit on a slightly rainy day. You can find everything from magnets to jewelry to CDs, books, and artwork.  

Some of the vendors will even entertain negotiations, so brush up on your haggling skills! At the market, you also find fresh seafood, smoothies, fried alligator, and all the Southern Comfort foods that you can imagine.

7. Discover The St. Louis Cathedral

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: St. Louis Cathedral

The cathedral is directly across from Jackson Square. The pointed rooftops draw your eyes directly to the building which has been visited by Pope John Paul II.

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: St. Louis Cathedral inside

Inside, the vaulted ceiling directs your eyes upwards to admire its graceful and elegant arches.  

On one side of the cathedral, we found the Mardi Gras Museum, which provided respite from the hot weather.

8. Visit The Audubon Aquarium

Who says New Orleans is not for kids? The Audubon Aquarium is just one of several family-friendly things to do.  

The aquarium gives you an inside look at marine life. Everyone will enjoy the penguin and jellyfish exhibits. Plus, there are opportunities for you to touch stingrays and starfish in the touch pools.  

9. Explore Jackson Square

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Jackson Square

Jackson Square is a cool place to visit because it’s very picturesque and it’s located near the Riverfront. You can walk around the perimeter of the square to see works from local artists, catch a horse and carriage ride, or just sit in the park and enjoy being in nature. 

Historically, Jackson Square is a place d’armes, or military square, where parades and drills were performed. It is also the site that celebrated the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France and from France to the United States.  

Jackson Square, where you can meet other visitors for a free walking tour. At the end, you tip your tour guide any amount that you wish. It’s a great way to see the French Quarter and learn about its history from a local enthusiast.

10. See The Grave Of Nicolas Cage

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: The Grave Of Nicholas Cage

A graveyard may seem an odd vacation detour, but when it holds quirky claims to fame, it becomes a must-see attraction. Take St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, for instance. 

Among the weathered tombs and statues rests an empty, pyramid-shaped tomb boldly purchased by actor Nicolas Cage before his death. 

There is an admission fee to the cemetery. We didn’t purchase tickets, but the guard stood aside so that we could take a peek at it. It’s easy to view because it’s the first plot at the cemetery entrance.

It’s unlikely that you’ll brush with the celebrity, though visiting this legendary future tomb is the next best thing. 

More New Orleans Travel Tips For First-Time Visitors

First Time In New Orleans - Top 10 Things To Do: Colorful Houses

  • Want to experience live music in New Orleans? Try Frenchmen Street, which is lined with bars, Tipitina’s (501 Napoleon Ave), or Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter), where you can hear top-notch jazz, blues, or zydeco. 
  • For those on a budget, this is the best activity that is easy on your pockets. To save money, join a complimentary walking tour. It starts in Jackson Square. You can also take advantage of happy hour deals for inexpensive eats and drinks, too.
  • Like most other cities in America, New Orleans has its share of crime. Avoid deserted areas at night, watch your valuables, and don’t wander around while inebriated.  
  • If you want some off-the-beaten-path attractions, explore the Marigny or Bywater neighborhoods for colorful Creole cottages, art galleries, and eclectic shops. Or hop on a streetcar that takes you along the Mississippi River’s edge for amazing views. 

Final Thoughts On First Time In New Orleans

New Orleans is an incredible city to visit, and it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

When you think about the culture, the history, and the food that the city has to offer, it is a dream destination for those who want to experience southern hospitality.

From the bustling streets of Bourbon to the tranquil beauty of the Garden District, New Orleans invites you to discover its unique charm.

Now that you know all the top things to see, pack your bags and immerse yourself in the magic of the Big Easy!

About The Author Of “First Time In New Orleans: Top 10 Things To Do In The Big Easy”

The Author Of "First Time In New Orleans: Top 10 Things To Do In The Big Easy", Tanya Taylor

Tanya from Travels & Treasures has lived in Chicago for over 30 years. Her deep knowledge of cities and hidden gems is acquired through personal exploration, making her articles a treasure trove for travelers and families. She has visited 43 States and seven countries.  

Thanks for stopping by!



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