Battered but not beaten, New Orleans is a city that has risen from Hurricane Katrina and the pandemic and is welcoming visitors with gusto. What you’ll find in 2022 is a city dedicated to celebrating the joy in life with infectious jazz rhythms, soul warming gumbos and rainbow bright decor. NOLA can be pricey, but there are plenty of free things to do to stretch your vacation budget for worthy splurges. Here are SheBuysTravel’s favorite FREE family-friendly things to do in the Big Easy.
New Orleans has a party atmosphere that appeals to visitors of all ages. Though the Bourbon Street cocktail bars are off limits to children, it’s still fun to see New Orleans with kids. The frequent celebrations – parades and festivals can be found most weekends – make NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) a fun family destination – and you can watch them all for free! In addition to all the fun free things to do in New Orleans, if your kids are adventurous eaters, you will find all sorts of food to introduce to them, from spicy Cajun cuisine to sweet beignets.
New Orleans’ nickname, The Big Easy, translates into easy vacation planning. The year round festive atmosphere makes NOLA a great place for a family vacation. Watch out though: hotel prices rise during huge annual celebrations like Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. But the abundant free street performances year round mean plenty of no-cost family friendly fun. Even eating in a cafe can offer free entertainment, particularly if you choose an outdoor table for people watching.
Summers are extremely hot and humid, which also means lower hotel prices. One thing to keep in mind. There are no beaches in the city; you’ll have to take a short drive to a beach near New Orleans. Winters are mild and spring and summer can offer picture perfect days. Just be prepared for rain, which can strike at any time.
Fun Things to Do in New Orleans – for Free!
1. City Park
The 1,300-acre public City Park has many paid attractions, including its historic carousel, but also several that are free: two playgrounds, the five-acre Besthoff Sculpture Garden and wide open spaces where kids can just run around. The park boasts the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world, some more than 800 years old. You can hike through the forest trails for free, along the Louisiana Nature Trail. Look for the Singing Oak, a musical tree filled with wind chimes by a local artist.
City Park truly shines in winter; there is a huge holiday light display of Christmas decorations, and nightly live music, all free.
2. Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum
The Mardi Gras extravaganza may be too overwhelming for families with young kids, but you can see wild masks, costumes and vintage photos at Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum, inside the French Quarter restaurant, Arnaud’s.
Germaine Wells, daughter of the namesake restaurateur, presided as queen of over 22 Mardi Gras balls from 1937 to 1968 and many of her elaborate gowns are displayed. The museum is open during restaurant hours and it’s one of the best free things to do in New Orleans with kids.
3. Crescent City Farmers Market
The Crescent City Farmers’ Market, held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at different locations, has free cooking demonstrations by local chefs and entertainment by local musicians. The markets are ideal for picking up affordable picnic items, and sampling the best of local foods.
4. Jackson Square
New Orleans is a city of squares, and historic Jackson Square, in the French Quarter, is one of the best known. A National Historic Landmark, Jackson Square is home St. Louis Cathedral, the famous statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback and local artists who display their work in free open-air galleries. Musicians also perform frequently this lively setting; there are concerts during winter holidays, and performances throughout the year.
5. St. Charles Avenue
The grand boulevard, St. Charles Avenue, is lined with historic 19th century New Orleans mansions. Instead of paying for the streetcar, stroll the residential street for free and see the houses up close. You can walk from downtown to Uptown to get a look at the gorgeous architecture and huge oak trees. Depending on your stamina, you might choose to splurge for a (low cost) one way trip back on the St. Charles streetcar.
6. White Linen Night
Bring your white clothes and join the free annual White Linen Night, held the first Saturday evening every August. The huge block party, centered in the Warehouse District, features streets closed to cars, three stages with live entertainment, and gallery doors open to the public. There are food vendors, but you can enjoy the party without spending any money. Note: White attire is encouraged, but not required.
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7. Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve has six sites around Southern Louisiana, with wetlands, bayous, swamps and marshes. Jean Lafitte was a pirate and a smuggler, born in France, who lived in New Orleans in the early 1800s. You can look for wildlife, learn about Cajun history and music, and hike the nature trails.
8. Walking Tour of the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery
New Orleans’ Garden District is a world away from the party atmosphere on Bourbon Street. Southern mansions are semi-hidden behind shady magnolia trees. It’s worth visiting while you’re in NOLA.
Free Tours by Foot conducts daily walking tours. The 2 hour tours are pay as you wish for groups under 6 in size. The tour schedule can be accessed here.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The famous New Orleans cemeteries, including Lafayette and St. Louis Cemeteries, may or may not be open to visitors. A paid, guided tour is your best opportunity to view them at this time. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Official Tours is one of the most popular.
9. Stroll Along the Mississippi River
The Moonwalk is a mile-long esplanade along the Mississippi River. What’s with the name? The development of the walkway was led by NOLA Mayor Moon Landrieu.
It connects several famous New Orleans French Quarter landmarks, including Woldenberg Park and Jackson Square. It’s one of the few places to catch a breeze when the Louisiana humidity settles in.
10. Play in Audubon Park
Although the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium are paid admission attractions in New Orleans, the Audubon Nature Institute also operates Audubon Park. It spans an area from St. Charles Avenue to Magazine Street to the mighty Mississippi.
You’ll find playgrounds, a labyrinth and more, including the Tree of Life. It’s a massive oak, perfect for climbing, and, in just the right spot, you can peek at the giraffes in the Audubon Zoo.
11. Check Out the NOMA Sculpture Garden
You’ll have to pay to see the art inside the New Orleans Museum of Art, but the museum’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden is free to explore, seven days a week.
12. Window Shop ‘Til You Drop on Royal Street
I adore popping in and out of antique shops while visiting a city to get a glimpse into the way folks lived, back in the day.
If you like this sort of thing too, head to Royal Street for antiques and art galleries. And don’t forget to look up. The street’s balconies are some of the most photographed.
13. Listen to New Orleans Jazz for Free
The city is known as the birthplace of jazz, so catching a live jazz performance is a must-do when visiting New Orleans. Many of the city’s restaurants feature live music, so you can pair your paid meal with free tunes. Traveling with teens to New Orleans? Stroll Frenchmen Street, before the club scene swings into high gear at 10 pm. The music spilling out of the famous Marigny clubs like the Spotted Cat and Blue Nile will get you dancing in the streets.
If you’re in town March 25-27 in 2022, head to the Treme neighborhood and Louis Armstrong Park for the free combined Congo Rhythms and Gumbo Festivals. Sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, both the music and the food will be hot, hot, hot!
14. Check out the French Market
It’s free to wander the French Market that stretches from Cafe du Monde near Jackson Square to the end of Esplanade Avenue. This area was a trading post back around 1800. Today, you’ll find food stands, artists, a flea market.
Want to Splurge? These Paid Attractions in New Orleans are Worth the Price.
- Carousel Gardens is an amusement park in City Park, named after its historic carousel.
- Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Zoo are consistently ranked as top animal attractions in the US.
- Want a kid-friendly Mardi Gras activity? Head to Mardi Gras World, home to the famous colorful floats.