For a city that relies so heavily on the tourism industry, it’s impressive how much there is to do in the Big Easy for free.
Known for its festivals, music, food, booze, and unique architecture, New Orleans offers a little bit of all that (and then some) without having to spend a dime.
More than its tangible offerings, New Orleans provides a culture that speaks to its visitors and steals their hearts. Living the idea of laissez les bons temps rouler, which translates from French to mean “let the good times roll,” NOLA is all about having a good time and taking care of each other. Here are the best ways to experience that way of life at no cost.
Yes, the Crescent City is, well, a city, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of nature. First of all, it helps that it’s on the Mississippi River. Views of America’s second longest river can be enjoyed from free parks such as The Fly (Uptown), The Moonwalk Riverfront Park,Woldenberg Park (downtown), or Crescent Park (Bywater).
Further from the river, outdoor places like the Lafitte Greenway and Bayou St. John are great community connections throughout the city.
Uptown, across from the zoo, you’ll find the stunning Audubon park that’s just about as pristine as the million-dollar homes that surround it. Follow the concrete loop around its ponds, under its oak branches, and along the golf course for a great afternoon outdoors.
But the natural crown jewel of New Orleans is City Park. Its 1,300 acres include attractions from restaurants to museums, putt-putt, and even boating. Not all of these attractions are free, though entrance into the park is.
Related Read: The Absolute Best Times to Visit New Orleans
Ah, yes, the Birthplace of Jazz. What better place to listen to live music?
Throughout the year, free live music can be enjoyed at places like Faubourg Brewing Co. and the New Orleans Jazz Museum (Fridays at 2 pm). There are also some seasonal free live music events such as Jazz in the Park every Thursday in the spring and fall at Louis Armstrong Park and Wednesday at the Square every Wednesday during spring at Lafayette Square.
N’awlins doesn’t entertain with only music though. Free comedy shows are quite popular at various locations around town. Carrollton Station offers the “Think You’re Funny?” open mic night every Wednesday, while the Hi-Ho Lounge in the Bywater presents its own open mic standup shows on Sundays. These aren’t the only free comedy shows, so check around for places to go laugh it up for free while you’re in town.
3. Food & Drink
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Boasting celebrity and world-renowned chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Susan Spicer (to name a few), as well as being infamous for drinks like the Sazerac to the Hurricane, New Orleans is definitely a place where you will eat and drink well. The problem is there are so many things to try, it can be hard to pick and choose. Thankfully these free options will give you a sampling.
Le Bon Temps Roule offers free oysters every Friday at 7 pm (and they go fast) and some restaurants offer free food with a purchase of something else – At R Bar, for example, a purchased drink and tip for the chef will get you free crawfish or shrimp at their Friday night boils — and on Thirsty Thursday, taste free samples of wine and spirits at Grande Krewe (5:30 pm to 8 pm).
Related Read: 11 Easy Weekend Road Trips from New Orleans, Louisiana
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Several NOLA museums can be visited for free. The following do not include places that have free admission days for Louisiana residents, though those are offered as well.
Learn about the neighborhood that has been the slowest to recover and rebuild after Katrina at the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum. Then, explore NOLA’s financial history at the New Orleans Museum of Trade, Finance, and the Fed.
History buffs will enjoy the marriage of art, architecture, and history at the Historic New Orleans Collection, while both the artsy and the outdoorsy will appreciate the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park.
Over at the Tulane campus, admission is always free at the Newcomb Art Museum, which houses works by everyone from Andy Warhol to original Tiffany glass designs.
Like all cities, a great, free way to experience New Orleans is to look around! Take a stroll through different neighborhoods and admire the unique architecture. Though each neighborhood has its own beauty to offer, don’t miss the following areas for sure.
The famous French Quarter, including Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, and Bourbon Street, is steeped in history and Insta-worthy backdrops. Enjoy the wrought iron balconies, the old Spanish street signs, and historical haunts like the Lalaurie Mansion.
Uptown, the Garden District houses mansions and stunning gardens, as well as a picturesque public library. The neighborhood is bordered on one side by St. Charles Avenue, which itself is lined with jaw-dropping abodes and split down the middle by one of the city’s famous streetcar lines.
Last but not least, one of the most unique architectural elements of New Orleans is its cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea level, there’s no “six feet underground” to bury people, so all New Orleans cemeteries are above ground. Not all cemeteries are open to the public though, so be sure to check before entering.
6. Window Shopping
While walking around, consider shopping’s less expensive cousin: window shopping. Though for those who partake in this activity, good luck with the self-restraint needed to not buy anything.
Magazine Street is a must-visit, even if you don’t plan on shopping. Bungalow homes and historical buildings have all been turned into boutiques, art galleries, cafes, and antique shops. It’s a fun place to look around and explore.
And of course, there are always the markets! The French Market on the outskirts of the French Quarter is a combined flea market and farmer’s market that has been around for over 200 years, and the Crescent City Farmer’s Market pops up at different locations around town and hosts local small farmers, fishers, and food producers.
Outside the free museums, there are several other ways to experience art in New Orleans at no cost — though, again, sometimes it requires restraint while browsing.
To start, there are a few art markets: the nighttime Art Garden and Floating Gallery on Frenchmen Street and the daytime Arts Market New Orleans take place on the second and last Saturdays of each month. Art vendors also display their craft in the Quarter at Jackson Square every day.
For more refined art, check out Royal Street — in addition to its antiques, it’s also full of art. The street most famous for art though is Julia Street, nicknamed “Gallery Row”, in the Warehouse Arts District. On the first Saturday night of every month, galleries open up for free to the public.
On the more unique side, the New Orleans Glassworks & Printmaking Studio has free glassblowing demonstrations daily.
On average, New Orleans has a different annual festival every three days, and a lot of them are free, so make sure to check the New Orleans festival calendar while you’re in town. Some of the bigger, free festivals include French Quarter Fest, White Linen Night, Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, Southern Decadence, and, of course, the one and only Mardi Gras.
Keep in mind that there are typically free areas of the festivals and paid areas, or the festival itself may be free though there are items (like food and drink) for purchase.
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There are several free tours to partake in around New Orleans.
First, some tours come with a boozy treat: the NOLA Brewing Company and the Sazerac House both offer tours of their premises with free samples along the way.
There are also self-guided tours. It’s easy to find lists of murals, homes of famous writers, or musical spots to go explore. The earlier mentioned Historic New Orleans Collection has a French Quarter Tours app that will teach you all about the historic neighborhood.
If all else fails, walk yourself down Bourbon Street and simply look around. Pop into Music Legends Park if the mood strikes and enjoy the playful chaos that is New Orleans – and ultimately life.
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