When you’re headed down to the Big Easy, you might not be sure what you want to do during your visit. But with its plethora of restaurants, great shopping spots, local attractions, and natural wonders, you’ll never run out of things to do.
Even better, there are literally dozens of free New Orleans activities, attractions, and even food samples out there to make your vacation not only lots of fun, but incredibly frugal, too.
Here are some things to do in NOLA without spending a dime.
1. Tour The Saint Louis Cathedral
One of the most iconic and beautiful structures you’ll find in New Orleans is the Saint Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter. The church is the country’s oldest continuously used Catholic cathedral, so it’s loaded with history and interesting details.
You can slip in anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to tour the interior for free. If you’ve got $1 to spend, you can pick up a self-guided tour brochure. Visitors can also attend Mass, which is offered daily at the cathedral.
2. Enjoy Some Amazing Live Music
New Orleans is home to some of the greatest live jazz and blues in the country. You’ll find musicians playing in the parks, on the streets, in the squares, and in restaurants and pubs around the city.
You can hear some of the best music free of charge by walking around the French Quarter at dusk or by heading to Jazz in the Park in the fall (September through November) and Wednesday at the Square in the spring (March through May). A free drum circle meets most Sundays on Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park, and Bon Operatit! offers a free opera concert each month.
Check out the Livewire Music Calendar to find other free music events in the Big Easy.
3. Pay Your Respects At One Of The City’s Historic Cemeteries
New Orleans is known for its historic cemeteries, all of which are free to visit, though only a few are frequented by tourists. Some cemeteries do not allow you to wander alone, so be sure to book a walking tour for the Saint Louis Cemetery #1. At most others, you can take a casual stroll through, reading the gravestones and learning about the history of the city by searching for charred markers, epidemics (large numbers of graves with similar dates), and other events that helped to shape the city.
4. Take A Walking Tour Of The City
New Orleans is an incredibly interesting and very walkable city. A few groups take advantage of that and offer free walking tours to visitors in a variety of locations.
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park offers a free hour-long ranger walk on New Orleans history. Entry to the park is also free. Spots are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, however, so aim to get to the visitor center in the French Quarter by 9 a.m. to get one of the 25 free tickets for the walk. The tour takes visitors along the levee across from Jackson Square.
Free Tours by Foot offers a wide range of free walking tours. Each tour is led by a local, licensed freelance tour guide. While the tours are free, it’s polite to give your guide a tip, if possible. The daily and weekly tours include classic French Quarter tours, cemetery and ghost tours, tours of the gorgeous Garden District, food and beverage tours, music tours, and tours of America’s first black neighborhood, Tremé.
5. Watch A Parade
New Orleans is a great spot to catch a parade at any time of year. Of course, the biggest and most famous is Mardi Gras, but all of the city’s parades are free and loads of fun.
During Carnival season in Uptown, there are parades nearly every night. You could spend hours watching the floats and colorful costumes as they make their way through the streets. The parades have different themes each year -- they’re chosen by the krewes, or parade hosts -- and the participants toss various items to the revelers lining the streets. The members of the Krewe of Muses, an all-female krewe, throw shoes to the crowd, and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club tosses hand-painted coconuts.
6. Peruse The Offerings At The French Market
The French Market has been a New Orleans institution for more than two centuries now. It’s just as worth a visit now as it was when it started, and it’s still free to visit. Technically, of course, you could spend a fortune on trinkets and souvenirs, food, antiques, and other goodies and gifts, but browsing won’t cost you a dime.
The French Market once served as a trading post for the Native Americans of the area. The site is the oldest market in the country and probably the oldest man-made feature of NOLA. You can still see some of the old art, layouts, and divisions -- retail in one section, flea market and restaurants in others -- that reflect this rich history.
7. Try Some Pralines
You’ve heard of beignets and gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish pie, but have you experienced the wonder of pralines in New Orleans? If not, grabbing some freebies should definitely be on your NOLA bucket list. Pralines are one of the traditional desserts of New Orleans. They’re sugary, they’re creamy, and they’re packed with pecans.
As you walk through the French Quarter and the other neighborhoods that feature boutique eateries, you’ll find loads of shops selling these delights. Most of these shops offer free samples of the delectable, gooey dessert. And while you can buy some as you make your way through the streets, we recommend just nibbling on samples -- you’ll get plenty to satisfy even the strongest sweet tooth -- and grabbing a package at the end of the day to bring home as a souvenir.
8. Visit The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum is probably one of the most unique museums you’ll ever visit. More than 60 of the residents have contributed generations of stories and experiences that are now presented in the museum’s exhibits.
You’ll learn about the residential area’s early days, when it served as a colony for escaped slaves in the 1700s. The museum also features fascinating exhibits on the Katrina and post-Katrina eras.
9. Stroll Through Louis Armstrong Park
New Orleans is a delightful melting pot of a town, and one of the best places to experience the rich and diverse culture of the city is Louis Armstrong Park.
The park is located in Tremé, an old neighborhood that Creoles, free people of color, and Caucasians alike called home. Long ago, the enslaved people of the area would gather in Congo Square on Sundays. They sold handmade goods, danced, played the drums, and sang. Many of those traditions carry on in the park today.
10. Wander The French Quarter
Wandering the French Quarter with no specific plan in mind is one of the absolute best things to do for free in New Orleans. You’ll find live music, interesting characters roaming around, beautiful architecture, and a certain thrilling electricity in the air.
Just keep two things in mind as you wander. First, while the French Quarter is absolutely amazing and deserves your time, the city has much more to offer, so be sure to explore other neighborhoods. And second, be careful not to stray too far from the Quarter without knowing where you’re going. There are a few neighborhoods nearby that aren’t the safest spots in town.
The French Quarter tops most visitors’ bucket lists, and for good reason. The best part about it, though? It’s 100 percent free to walk around and explore this beautiful neighborhood.
11. Check Out City Park
You might think that Central Park is the biggest inner-city park in the country, but you’ll soon discover that City Park of New Orleans is actually significantly larger. It’s home to lakes, rivers, the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, miles of walking trails, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and so much more.
The park itself is amazingly rich and green most of the year and makes for great walking and wandering. But throughout the year there are also loads of free events to participate in, so be sure to check the park’s event calendar before heading out for the day.
12. Sample Hot Sauces At The Pepper Palace
If you like a little spice with your adventure, pop into the Pepper Palace for some free hot sauce samples. Some of the sauces are mild enough that even kids can enjoy them, but the LD50, or the Lethal Dose -- which is made from habanero, ghost, reaper, jolokia, and scorpion peppers -- will set your taste buds on fire.
The shop offers literally hundreds of sauces to choose from, as well as some of the tangiest horseradish sauce you’ll ever try. Dribble a little on some tortilla samples, and you’ll have yourself a hearty, fiery little snack for free.