Travel can be expensive but sometimes the most enjoyable activities are free or nearly so. We have been going to New Orleans ever since our honeymoon in 1981 and I can honestly say that our favorite things to do there are free or low cost. Well, except eating. 😉
Dee’s Favorite Free or Low Cost Things To Do in New Orleans
1. Sit by the river and watch the ships.
New Orleans was founded as a trading camp on a curve in the Mississippi River and became a thriving city because of its location. The Port of New Orleans is the sixth-largest port in the United States and has the longest wharf in the world. Watching the river traffic is fascinating. We like to pick up a muffaletta to split (they are HUGE) at Central Grocery or Frank’s on Decatur and eat by the river.
2. Take the ferry to Algiers Point.
For only $2 you can board the ferry at the foot of Canal and take it across to Algiers Point. It’s a pleasant way to relax for a bit and you’ll get a nice view of the French Quarter from Algiers Point. While there, pop in to The Crown and Anchor, an authentic English pub just steps away from the landing for a cool drink and a bag of imported English “crisps”.
3. People watch in Jackson Square.
I can absolutely guarantee an entertaining people-watching experience in Jackson Square. Check out the artists, street musicians and fortune tellers or just sit and watch the people.
4. Tour St. Louis Cathedral.
After some people-watching in Jackson Square why not tour the lovely St. Louis Cathedral? It’s the oldest Catholic church in continuous operation in the United States. From 8:30 to 4 p.m., the Cathedral is open to the public. Daily Mass is at 12:05 p.m. Self-guided tour brochures are available in the entrance for a $1 donation.
5. Ride a streetcar.
There are three streetcar lines in New Orleans – St. Charles, Canal Street and Riverfront. For $1.25 each way you can ride one of these historic cars and enjoy the sites along the way. There are one and three-day passes which will save you a lot of money if you plan to use streetcars to get around during your trip. But even if you aren’t using them for transportation purposes I highly recommend taking the St. Charles streetcar just for fun. The 13 mile trip from Carondelet on Canal Street through the uptown area, including the famed Garden District, is one of my favorite things to do in New Orleans.
6. Stroll the French Quarter and listen to the street musicians.
Put a few dollar bills in your pocket and then start walking. You’ll find musicians on many street corners. Stop and listen awhile. Maybe dance along with the crowd. Toss a dollar in an open guitar case and move along to the next outdoor concert. You could easily spend an entire afternoon doing this.
7. Do some window shopping on Royal and Chartres in the French Quarter.
You’ll find shop after shop of exquisite antiques, art, jewelry, and other fascinating items. I’ve been offered shop tours by knowledgeable employees which were on a par with a museum experience.
8. Cafe Du Monde
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a beignet and a cup of coffee with chicory. For less than $5 you can enjoy this delicious treat under the green-striped awnings of Cafe Du Monde. It’s open 24 hours a day.
9. Live music for the price of a drink
All along Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street and numerous other locations around the city you will find countless bars and clubs with live music. Many don’t even have a cover charge so for the price of a drink you can enjoy anything from zydeco to jazz to rock to, well, you name it, somebody’s playing it.
10. Self-guided walking tours.
There are many guided tours available and if you don’t mind the cost these can be quite entertaining and interesting. But there’s also something to be said for the leisurely pace of a self-guided tour. And it’s free! Check out this site for numerous GPS tour options:
If you take my suggestion in #2, you might want to do the Algiers Point Walking Tour while you’re there. It’s on my to-do list!
11. Tour the Old Ursuline Convent.
The oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, the Old Ursuline Convent is considered to be the finest surviving example of French Colonial architecture in the country. Located at 1112 Chartres Street in the French Quarter, the convent is open for self-guided tours Monday through Friday from 10-4 (last admission at 3:15) and Saturdays from 9-3 (last admission at 2:15).
12. Enjoy free live jazz every Thursday at Armstrong Park during Spring and Fall months.
Enjoy local bands, live painting and art displays, food vendors and more. This free event is from 4-8 p.m. Click here for more information.
13. Free Wednesday afternoon concerts in Lafayette Square.
This Wednesday at the Square spring concert series takes place each Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. Food booths and concession stands are set up around the perimeter offering local specialties.
14. Free opera performance
If you find yourself in the city on the second Wednesday of the month you can enjoy a free performance of Bon Operatit! at the Sheraton on the corner of Toulouse and Bourbon, the former site of the French Opera House, from 7-9 p.m. in the hotel’s Puccini Bar.
15. Bluegrass Jam Session at the Hi Ho Lounge
For something a bit out of the ordinary, take a cab to the Hi Ho Lounge on St. Claude’s on a Monday. From 8-10 p.m. area musicians join up for a “Bluegrass Pickin’ Party”. Enjoy this jam session along with $2 red beans and rice for a quintessential New Orleans experience.
16. French Quarter Festival
The largest free music festival in the South, French Quarter Festival features four days of music on 23 stages throughout the French Quarter. The event is free but be prepared to enjoy the food offerings, as well. Many of New Orleans’ finest restaurants have booths set up in various locations offering specialties sure to tempt you. This is actually a fairly inexpensive way to try a few New Orleans dishes from restaurants such as Tujague’s, Galatoire’s, Court of Two Sisters, Antoine’s, K-Paul’s and many others. FQF runs from April 7-10 this year and I can’t wait!
Just start walking (being mindful to stay in well-lit, populated areas). Listen. Do you hear some music? Go find it. Does something smell delicious? Follow your nose. Talk to people. Be open to new experiences and you just might end up having the time of your life.