Things to Do in New Orleans for Free – 18 Must-Try Activities

Freshly baked beignets, deliciously rich gumbo, and the lilting jazz of Louis Armstrong. The Big Easy truly embodies a spirit all its own. The land of Mardi Gras, live music, and more is well worth a visit. However, it’s no secret that a New Orleans getaway can add up quick.

Follow along to discover the best things to do in New Orleans for free.

From people watching and jamming out to world-class buskers on Bourbon Street to watching the barges cruise by on the Mississippi River, there are untold no-cost delights to uncover in NOLA.

Participate in a free festival or parade and earn some honorary beads, or soak in the stately facade of the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.

Whether you are a jazz hound, a museum maven, or a certified foodie, there’s no end to the free entertainment in the Crescent City.

New Orleans Hotels

Before you kick off your itinerary of things to do in New Orleans today for free you’ll need to lock down those lodgings. While we, unfortunately, have not found a way to score a gratis hotel suite, we can provide a wide array of  New Orleans Hotels.

From luxurious French Quarter lodgings with ghostly visitors to modern Arts District rooms featuring Lafayette Square views, we provide options for every budget and style. As always, book stress-free, knowing you are guaranteed our lowest rates online.

people sitting around the bar with drinks at The Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge inside Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, Louisanna, USAFree Things to Do in New Orleans

Save those pennies for a delicious Sazerac or perhaps a haunted carriage tour! Thanks to an abundance of art markets, free concerts, and festivals, visitors from all over can experience the thrill of the Big Easy without breaking their piggy bank.

French Quarter

There’s truly no place better to begin your free NOLA journey than the legendary French Quarter. Wander down the iconic Bourbon Street drink in hand, as you soak in stunning period architecture and the sounds of live music.

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Peek in at the quirky atmosphere of the Old Absinthe House Building or the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Those travelers looking for a more tranquil reprieve can make their way to the French Market to window shop or sample culinary creations.

Psst.. looking to widen your sightseeing scope? Delve into the picturesque mansions, opulent lawns, and cemeteries of the Garden District when you reserve a Glamorous Walking Tour.

Several musicians playing jazz music on the street in the French Quarter with color full buildings on either side of them and people walking by in New Orleans, Louisiana
photo credit: JoĂŁo Francisco via Facebook

The Historic New Orleans Collection

Need a hit of culture before you careen into your night of New Orleans debauchery? Soak in the homespun histories of New Orleans and the Gulf South when you visit the Historic New Orleans Collection. Located on Royal Street, this museum always provides free admission to its many exhibitions and galleries.

Admire paintings that depict the jazzmen of Preservation Hall, or dive back in time when you watch the immersive film: The French Quarter by Night, which showcases this Creole city’s evolution from a mosquito-infested swamp to a modern metropolis.

Free Festivals

Gumbo, Po-boys, and BBQ oh my! Work up that appetite because depending on when you plan your Big Easy visit you’ll be blessed with tons of free festival options. Groove out to local Louisiana music at the French Quarter Fest in April. Or, get ready to sing the blues and stuff yourself full of brisket, ribs, and pulled pork at the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival held in October.

Tourists heading to NOLA for a fall reprieve will be rewarded with both the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival and Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival in November.

Jackson Square

Named after the bronze statue of Andrew Jackson, this National Historic Landmark is instantly recognizable due to its appearance in Treme and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Jackson Square’s  2.5-acre public space is just beginning to be explored.

Take in the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral, or pursue the world of the open-air artist colony. Spare some pennies and get your portrait drawn, or opt to spend (a little) for a more than worth-it coffee and beverage from Cafe du Monde.

View of St Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square in the French Quarter in New Orleans Louisiana USANew Orleans City Park

Emblematic Oak trees, swinging moss canopies, and stone bridges decorate the 1,300 acres of New Orleans City Park. Approximately 50% larger than Central Park, this sprawling oasis of lush greenery intrigues millions of visitors each year. Enjoy more than 280 species of birds, playgrounds, fishing, nature trails, and more.

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Soak in the splendor of the Big Lake, or plan for a picnic at the Peristyle. Don’t forget to fire up that artistic appreciation when you stop by one of the city’s top art markets. Every second Saturday City Park hosts a bustling bazaar where locals and tourists congregate to show off various works ranging from jewelry to ceramics and paintings.

New Orleans Jazz Museum

No sojourn to the Birthplace of Jazz is complete without a little live music. While the New Orleans Jazz Museum does not offer free admission, music lovers of all ilks can still show off their love of blues, gospel, and more when they take advantage of free concerts at the museum. Seating is first come, first serve so show up early to snag a great seat.

Group of dancers and musicians performing at the Jazz Museum in New Orleans, Louisana
photo credit: New Orleans Jazz Museum via Facebook

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Witness art and nature in harmony when you spend a sunny morning soaking in over 90 works at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. This outdoor nirvana of welded bronze, metals, mirrors, and more has served as an artistic beacon for 20 years. Make your way through all eleven acres as you stumble upon works such as LOVE by Robert Indiana or Bear With Us by Frank Gehry.

Unlike many sculpture gardens, the Sydney and Walda is located within a bountiful landscape of pines, magnolias, and live oaks surrounding two lagoons. Snap photos of the towering Obelisk, or wander through the mirrored labyrinth by Jeppe Hein.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Put down that Hurricane and inject yourself with some culture when you reap the benefits of free admission to the  Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Every Thursday this Warehouse Arts District Museum is free for all Louisiana residents. Dedicated to showcasing the themes and works of the American South, the Ogden is chock full of thought-provoking exhibits, events, and programming.

Dive into Modernism and Expressionism with works by Fritz Bultman, Dusti Bongé, Sam Gilliam, and Ida Kohlmeyer. Or, trace the journey of Southern Art from academic transitions in landscape through portraiture of the 19th century.

stone bridge over water surrounded by mossy trees in City Park in New Orleans, Louisanna, USANew Orleans Museum of Art

African art, antiquities, and sculptures oh my! Brush up on your Art 101 when you swing by one of NOLA’s oldest and most revered art museums. The New Orleans Museum of Art was created from humble beginnings in 1911, with just nine works. Today, this respected institution is home to a permanent collection of over 40,000 works, objects, and artifacts.

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Stand-out collections include the NOMA’s African and Japanese works, in addition to their French and American art. Appreciate colorful textiles, quilts, and tunics, or enjoy stunning black and white photography from Harry Callahan. Achieve inner peace when you take in Japanese Zen paintings and ceramics or pop into the cafe for a caffeine refresher and croissant snack.

Free Kid-Friendly Things to Do in New Orleans

Woldenberg Riverfront Park

Little ones getting antsy in the Big Easy? Let your cranky tots blow off some steam as they take in the ships cruising by on the Mississippi River. Sublime Woldenberg Riverfront Park offers an ideal fresh air refuge for children of all ages. Sprawl out on a blanket for a cozy family picnic or bike along the river path.

Opened before the World’s Fair in 1984, today this green space is ideal for traveling families thanks to its accessible wide, bricked walkways, and lush natural landscape. Also known as a hub for street performers, it’s not uncommon to catch a spirited serenade or magic show. Indeed, Woldenbuerg is also home to the free French Quarter Festival every April.

Close up of trees and plants in Barataria Preserve National Park Service in New Orleans, Louisanna, USA
photo credit: Visit Jefferson Parish via Facebook

Audubon Park

Three playgrounds, and miles of paved walking, biking, and rollerblading trails not to mention the stunning lagoon make Audubon Park a go-to for harried families. Come early, as you’ll want to enjoy the stately Oak and palm trees dripping in Spanish Moss before the heat and humidity kick in.

Watch your toddler take off their training wheels, spy the alabaster swans swimming, or pack up a homemade picnic to enjoy on the Fly. After your free park adventure don’t forget to check out the onsite Audubon Zoo.

Catch a Parade

While the mention of Mardi Gras may not immediately conjure images of family-friendly fare, many of New Orleans’ most famous parades and festivals are actually suitable for kids.

If you plan on hitting up NOLA during Mardi Gras you can easily avoid the debauchery of Bourbon Street by enjoying instead the kid-approved parades from the Krewe of Rex or the Krewe of Elks, featuring fantastically outfitted trucks. In addition, during All Hallows Eve, you can witness magnificent costumes, revelry, and more with the famous Krewe of BOO! Parade.

Wide shot of a street full of people wearing green and a giant parade float throwing beads that the St Patrick's Day Parade in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
photo credit: Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade via Facebook

Louisiana Children’s Museum

Laughter, literacy, and STEM. Somehow the Louisiana Children’s Museum manages to marry together education and entertainment. Wrangle your gang of rugrats and prime yourselves for hours of immersive experiences and galleries that tackle everything from sustainability to health and wellness. Explore the symphony of the city from Soundscape and Jackson Square or build up your own beats in the Jammin House.

Discover how your favorite foods get from the field to your dinner table, or learn all about the mighty Mississippi by splashing around in the museum’s replicable, 100-foot-long water table. Thanks to the Helis Foundation Art For All program, you and your brood can take advantage of free admission to the Louisiana Children’s Museum on the second Sunday of every other month from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Please note that tickets are limited and must be reserved in advance.

Crescent City Farmers Market

Don some sunglasses and get ready to have your munchkin’s mouth water as you sample the goods and stroll the stalls of the many vendors at the Farmers Market. NOLA loves keeping things fresh, and the Crescent City Farmers Market is proud to hold three separate markets throughout the week.

Head uptown on Tuesdays, meander by Mid-City Thursdays, or stock up on produce, flowers, and more on Sundays at City Park. While window shopping is free, we guarantee you won’t be able to resist the allure of Isabel’s tamales or a fresh cream-filled donut from Paw Paw’s.

Exterior view of the French Quarter with gardens and large tree in New Orleans, Louisiana, USAThere’s just something about that Bayou that sinks into your bones. From mouth-watering creole flavors to the whispers of Voodoo magic, it’s all too easy to fall under the spell of the Big Easy.

However, there’s no reason your NOLA vacation needs to break the bank. With a little pre-planning and some internet sleuthing, it’s more than possible to craft a completely free New Orleans itinerary.

Enjoy browsing artistic bazaars in City Park, or wrangle an incredible date night without spending a dime, when you watch a world-class performance at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

Admire Pre Columbian art at the NOMA, or catch multi-colored beads as you participate in a Krewe experience with your kids.

Leisurely picnics, museum days, and heaps of soulful jazz performances will make your free NOLA trip feel like a million bucks!

Tell us, What Are Your Favorite Free Things to Do in New Orleans?

Did we miss any of your go-to’s?

Leave a comment below!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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