New Orleans has many nicknames: Nawlins. The Big Easy. Crescent City. Mardi Gras City. The Birthplace of Jazz.
No matter what you call it, there’s no question that New Orleans is a popular destination. After experiencing it myself, I can see why.
Since it’s been on my bucket list for quite awhile, I was really excited to have the opportunity to finally see it for myself.
I have to admit that before my trip, my perception of New Orleans was limited to what’s shown in movies: the French Quarter. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the city has a lot to offer visitors and residents alike.
Wherever I go, I like to experience as much as possible without breaking the bank. Here are my suggestions for how you, too, can “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler” (let the good times roll) without spending a lot.
9 WAYS TO EXPERIENCE NEW ORLEANS ON A BUDGET
1. EXPLORE THE CITY
New Orleans is a very walkable city. You can get maps of the various neighborhoods (or “districts” as they refer to them) at one of the Visitor Centers, hotels, and even online. Walking around allows you to stop and peek into the many interesting stores, courtyards, bars, and more at your leisure while getting some exercise. Win-win!
Streets are well marked and can be identified by the signposts on the street corners as well as on tiles inlaid into the sidewalk shown in the picture above.
- To find and purchase discounted tickets for guided walking tours, click here.
FROM A STREETCAR
Don’t want to walk? Take a streetcar instead. New Orleans’ colorful streetcars run all over the city and are a very affordable way to get around. If you’re going to be doing a lot of sightseeing, a day pass is the best deal.
There are 3 lines that run throughout the city:
- St. Charles
- Canal Street
- The Riverfront
Passes can be purchased from a ticket machine (check the Regional Transit Authority website for locations). If the machine isn’t working, simply give the fare to the driver. There’s also a free app you can download and use to pay your fare via your cell phone.
Costs: Per ride: $1.25; Jazzy Passes for Unlimited Rides: $3 (1-Day Pass), $9 (3-Day Pass), or $55 (31-Day Pass)
2. ADMIRE THE BEAUTIFUL ARCHITECTURE
THE FRENCH QUARTER
One of the things that the French Quarter is known for is its architecture, which blends Spanish, French, Creole, and American styles.
Perhaps the most iconic feature of the city’s oldest neighborhood are the 2- or 3-story Creole townhouses (such as the one pictured top right and bottom left above), adorned with beautiful cast iron-skirted balconies which are often decorated with lush plants and flowers.
The exteriors of these homes are typically brick or stucco; many also boast private hidden courtyards.
THE GARDEN DISTRICT
The architecture in the Garden District is very different from that of the French Quarter, but it’s no less interesting and beautiful.
On any given street, you may encounter a mixture of architectural styles including Greek Revival (full-height porches with round columns and a short wall running the length of the roof), shotgun houses (long and narrow), and double-gallery houses (2 stories with 3 openings across the front and deep-set porches on both floors).
Homes are often surrounded by mature trees with long, thick, gnarled limbs (sometimes dripping with Spanish moss); tropical palm trees; and intricate landscaping.
Several famous people have lived in the Garden District including Anne Rice, New York Times best-selling author of “Interview with the Vampire” as well as other books. Rice is a New Orleans native and the French Quarter was the setting for the book, which was adapted into a movie starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Kirsten Dunst.
Cost: $0 (unless you take a guided tour)
- To find and purchase discounted tickets for guided tours, click here.
3. WALK AROUND ONE OF THE CITY’S FAMOUS CEMETERIES
New Orleans has quite a few cemeteries that draw thousands of visitors each year. As you can see from the photos above, these cemeteries are different from those most of us are used to seeing.
What makes them different? The way the dead are buried.
Since the water table in New Orleans is so high, most of those interred have been laid to rest in mausoleums or stone crypts. The crypts look like little homes, which is why the cemeteries have been nicknamed “Cities of the Dead.”
A few of the city’s most famous cemeteries include Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (Garden District; pictured above) and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (near the French Quarter/Downtown area). Visitors can tour the cemeteries alone or with one of the many popular guided tours offered; ghost tours are really popular for obvious reasons.
Cost: $0 (unless you take a guided tour)
- For a complete list of cemeteries, click here.
- To find and purchase discounted tickets for guided daytime or ghost tours, click here.
4. ENJOY SOME LIVE MUSIC
Music is synonymous with New Orleans, especially jazz, and can be heard throughout the city.
Among the most famous and popular places to enjoy authentic live music is Frenchman Street. The Spotted Cat is a favorite of tourists and locals alike.
Live music can also be found being played by talented musicians on street corners, in parks, and popular tourist areas.
Cost: $0 when listening outdoors (tips are greatly appreciated!); cover charges at bars vary
- For a complete list of music venues, click here.
5. DISCOVER A NEW ARTIST AT AN ART GALLERY
New Orleans has a vibrant art community which is evident by the multitude of galleries that can be found throughout the city.
If you like contemporary art, head over to Julia Street. The galleries there showcase art created by a variety of local and internationally renowned artists. Royal Street (or “Rue Royale”) also offers art galleries such as Rodrigue Studio New Orleans (known for the blue dog paintings) and Gallerie Rue Royale (the pink and red painting shown above caught my eyes as I walked by).
Some artists have their own studios/galleries and if you’re lucky, you can meet one in person. I was fortunate enough to meet artist Adrian Fulton and his dog/sidekick, Abigail, at Adrian Fulton’s Fine Art Gallery at 618 Conti Street.
You may also come across some beautiful art displayed by the artist in the Jackson Square area.
Cost: $0 to look around
- For a complete list of art galleries, click here.
6. ENJOY THE OUTDOORS AT A PARK
The parks and squares throughout the city provide beautiful, sprawling spaces where everyone can enjoy the outdoors.
Some of the most popular parks in New Orleans include City Park (Lakeview/Lakefront), Crescent Park (Faubourg Marigny & Bywater), and Jackson Square (French Quarter).
- For a complete list of parks, click here.
7. VISIT ONE OF THE HISTORIC CHURCHES
I love architecture and one of my favorite things to do when I travel is explore churches and cathedrals. The architectural details never cease to amaze me, from the soaring ceilings, the colorful stained glass windows, and the multitude of decorative details.
New Orleans has quite a few churches and cathedrals worth checking out including St. Louis Cathedral (French Quarter), Christ Church Cathedral (Uptown/Garden District), Church of the Immaculate Conception (Central Business District/Downtown), and St. Patrick’s Church (Central Business District/Downtown).
Cost: $0 (Donations accepted)
- For a complete list of churches and cathedrals, click here.
8. INDULGE IN SOME LOCAL CUISINE
In my opinion, one of the best ways to truly experience a new place is through the cuisine that it’s known for. New Orleans is no exception.
Food lovers will delight in the flavorful Cajun and Creole cooking and decadent desserts that can be found throughout the city. There are tons of great places where you can indulge in one or more of these foods.
If you want to enjoy some food while sticking to your budget, check out a happy hour at one of the area restaurants/bars. Oftentimes, you can sample some delicious appetizers if you buy a drink or two.
I ate at a variety of places during my trip. Here are a few of my personal recommendations.
Breakfast – Check out The Ruby Slipper Cafe, an award-winning restaurant with several locations throughout New Orleans. The prices are affordable and the food and service are good.
I recommend the Chicken St. Charles, their version of Eggs Benedict…with a twist: Fried chicken breast served over a buttermilk biscuit, topped with two poached eggs, finished with a pork tasso cream sauce. O.M.G. was it delicious!
LUNCH/DINNER – If you want to splurge a bit and enjoy some amazing food, check out these 2 restaurants. The food is amazing and they will accommodate special dietary needs if you have them.
Achafalaya (pronounced a-CHA-fa-lie-ya) – A small, rustic restaurant in the Garden District that serves delicious New Orleans cuisine with a contemporary spin. Since it’s a small restaurant, reservations are recommended.
I had the American Red Snapper. It was delicious!
Commander’s Palace – A New Orleans landmark (also in the Garden District) since 1893, Commander’s Palace is known for its high-quality food and great atmosphere. A visit to New Orleans is incomplete without dining here.
- Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner.
- There is a dress code so be sure to check out the details before you go to make sure your attire is acceptable.
- The prices are a little higher than some other dining options, but the food and service make it worthwhile. To save money, you can order a la carte or dine there at lunch instead of dinner. Consider ordering one of the lunch and/or drink specials that are both affordable and amazing.
Another great feature of Commander’s Palace: they will cater to any special dietary restrictions you may have. When I dined there, I was with a friend who cannot eat dishes made with dairy or gluten. The waiter was very sensitive to her needs and took the time to help her choose dishes that already suited her needs or could be prepared to do so. When she received her food, she was delighted.
I enjoyed the Turtle Soup, Corn Crusted Des Allemands Catfish, Mixed Berry Sorbet, and Summer Sangria.
Decadent, Flaky Beignets (pronounced ben-yays) (pictured above)
- Cafe Du Monde – Established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market, Cafe Du Monde is the most famous place for beignets and their dark roasted chickory coffee. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week except Christmas. Beignets, beignet mix, and their delicious coffee are available online as well as at various stores throughout the city.
- Cafe Beignet – Featured on the show “Best Food I Ever Ate” on the Food Network, Cafe Beignet has 3 locations throughout New Orleans. In addition to the flaky beignets, they offer a full breakfast menu available all day, New Orleans specialty foods, pastries, coffees, a full-service bar, and live music during happy hour.
- Pralined Pecans – Loretta’s Authentic Pralines (they also make beignets with pralined pecans inside – is your mouth watering yet?!)
Cost: Varies by restaurant
Other ways to enjoy New Orleans’ food and drink scene is to take a food or drink tour. Cooking classes are another popular option.
- For a complete list of New Orleans restaurants, click here.
- To find and purchase discounted tickets for food or drink tours or cooking classes, click here.
And last but by no means least, NO visit to New Orleans is complete without a…
9. WALK DOWN BOURBON STREET
You can’t leave New Orleans without at least a walk down infamous Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
This street is overflowing with restaurants, bars, and burlesque clubs, making it a magnet for bachelor and bachelorette parties and other types of celebrations. Jazz and other lively types of music drift into the street, enticing passersby to go inside and investigate further.
Bourbon Street has become synonymous with New Orleans since it’s been featured in so many movies. However, its worth a visit even if its just so you can say you’ve been there. It also has a past rich with history.
Cost: $0 if you just walk around; prices range if you eat or drink at one of the restaurants/bars
[su_gmap height=”300″ address=”New Orleans, Louisiana”]
Get a list of DC's FREE Museums
With more FREE museums than probably any major city in the U.S., Washington, DC, offers locals and visitors alike a budget-friendly way to enjoy art, history, and culture.
Get a list of DC's free museums (complete with their address and links to their websites) so you can plan your 1st - or next - visit to Washington, DC!