AOL PICK from our Editors
You could easily spend a month or more in New Orleans and still discover something new everyday. Flush with museums, historical sites and art galleries, you could easily spend a couple of weeks here bouncing around between the best things to do in New Orleans. The city is also home to a world-class zoo and aquarium. There’s an entire warehouse dedicated to Mardi Gras props and then there are dozens of cemeteries which are so old and full of stories that they’ve become attractions in their own right. When it comes to simply having a good time, the nightlife of New Orleans is second to none. There are dozens of clubs where you can drink and dance until dawn to some of the country’s top musicians. There are also dozens of festivals where residents devote an entire weekend to celebrating everything from Creole tomatoes to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Most of the best things to do in New Orleans are located in the downtown or Uptown area making it easy to take in many in one day. And you can walk, especially in the Garden District. Visitors say some of their most memorable moments come just strolling down Decatur Street in the French Quarter, hanging out at a streetcar stop or waiting for a table at a restaurant.
Neighborhood: French Quarter
Originally known as the Place d'Armes, Jackson Square has served as a public square since New Orleans was founded in the early 1700s. Today it still serves as the de facto center of the French Quarter and is one of the city's main landmarks. Visiting the square is one of the top things to do in New Orleans for a glimpse back in time. Travelers can get a strong sense of the city's history at the St. Louis Cathedral, Cabildo, Presbytere and the Pontalba buildings. Our favorite time to visit is on the weekend, when the square comes alive with an open-air artist colony where painters display their works. Musicians, mimes and other street performers can be found entertaining visitors around the perimeter of the square.
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One of the top zoos in the country, the Audubon Zoo features exotic animals in more than 58 acres of natural habitats. Founded in the early 1900s, the zoo has grown to be an integral part of the city and it is uniquely New Orleans. One of the most popular stops is the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit where visitors stroll through a real swamp very close to alligators, nutria and black bear. It gets pretty packed during alligator feeding times in the spring and summer. The Audubon Zoo is one of the best things to do in New Orleans if you're traveling with kids; it will keep you occupied for hours. At the Cypress Knee Cafe, visitors can dine on local specialties on a boardwalk overlooking the swamp. Other popular exhibits include Jaguar Jungle, African Savanna, Asian Domain and the Komodo Dragons. The St. Charles Avenue streetcar is a great way to get to the zoo from downtown.
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Neighborhood: French Quarter
Okay, so Bourbon Street lives up to its stereotype: it’s rowdy, raunchy, wild and sometimes tacky. But to come to New Orleans and not at least take a walk down Bourbon at night would almost be a crime. On any given night, thousands of people party into the wee hours of the morning. There are dozens of bars and clubs, ranging from quiet classy establishments to rowdy, frat house-style dance clubs. Bourbon also has a seedy side and is home to a number of strip clubs and adult novelty shops. Even if you're not into the clubs—drink prices can be high—you can still buy a "Big Ass Beer" and have plenty of fun people watching. It's legal to walk around the street with alcoholic beverages in open containers and there's always something to look at whether it's street performances, exposed breasts, or even a fight. Strolling Bourbon Street is one of the best things to do in New Orleans - as raunchy and tacky as it may feel, the laissez-faire attitude of this city is exemplified here. A few notable places include: Pat O'Briens (home of the famous Hurricane), Tropical Isle (known for its "Hand Grenades") and Cat's Meow (karaoke bar).
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Neighborhood: Arts District
Dedicated to telling the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world, the National World War II Museum is the only museum of its kind in the country. World War II buffs can happily spend the entire day here, and anyone with the slightest interest in the war will find it fascinating to wander around for a few hours. The massive museum encompasses more than 70,000 square feet and features include mini-theaters, oral history stations, Higgins landing craft, vehicles, weapons and more than 6,000 artifacts. The new Victory Theatre features WWII films in 4-D technology (3D plus physical effects and movement). WWII-era music and dance productions are performed at the Stage Door Canteen and there's even a full service restaurant.
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Neighborhood: Uptown/Central Business District
Since they started service in 1835, the streetcars of New Orleans have been an integral part of the city. There are lines on Carrollton Avenue, Canal Street, St. Charles Avenue and along the Mississippi River. The most scenic route is the St. Charles Avenue line which runs from Canal Street in the Central Business District down St. Charles Avenue through Uptown. It's a great way to see the city and you could easily spend a day hopping on and off the streetcar to visit shopping centers, restaurants and attractions such as Audubon Park, Lee Circle and the city's antebellum mansions. You can ride as much as you want if you buy a Visitour Pass ($5 for 1 day, $12 for 3 days, $20 for 5 days).
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If you ever wanted to take a peek behind the scenes at Mardi Gras, you can do it here year-round. Mardi Gras World is the largest float building facility in the world and creates more than 80 percent of the floats in New Orleans' parades. Come for one of the daily tours that run from 9:30AM to 5PM and take you through a massive warehouse filled with hundreds of props ranging from giant heads of celebrities to gargantuan animals. You can even walk beside the world’s longest float, the 240-foot S.S. Endymion, and the 140-foot Leviathan, a float designed to look like a sea monster. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glimpse of some of the artists at work with paint and paper mache preparing for the Mardi Gras season.
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Neighborhood: French Quarter
Developed in 1984 around the time of the World’s Fair, Woldenberg Park is a great place to spend a beautiful afternoon in New Orleans. The park stretches from the back of the French Market to the Aquarium of the Americas and features 16 acres of grass, benches and walkways along the Mississippi River. Lounging in Riverfront Park is one of the top things to in New Orleans for a relaxing morning or picnic lunch. New Orleans is a busy port and this is our favorite place to come to watch ships from around the world glide up and down the river. A streetcar runs along the back of the park and the steamboat SS Natchez leaves from behind the Jax Brewery building. The park is safe by day but it’s not a good idea to wander here alone late at night.
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Neighborhood: Central Business District
Perched on the banks of the Mississippi River at the end of Canal Street, the aquarium is one of New Orleans most popular attractions. There are more than 15,000 creatures here ranging from 15-foot sharks and gargantuan grouper to sting rays, otters, turtles and some critters so small and fast you'll miss them if you blink. Start with the most impressive exhibit—the 400,000-gallon, 17-foot-deep Gulf of Mexico section, which depicts the underbelly of an oil rig and is filled with some of the biggest fish in the aquarium. The other must-see is the 30-foot long tunnel that takes you through a Caribbean reef and an Amazon rainforest filled with some of the giant fish and creatures that inhabit the Amazon River.
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Neighborhood: French Quarter
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Since New Orleans was founded in 1718, it has always had trouble keeping the dead underground. As heavy rains and floods often unearthed corpses, the city eventually adopted Spanish-style wall vaults to keep the dead underground. With hundreds of towering tombs resembling buildings they were soon nicknamed “Cities of the Dead.” There are more than 40 known cemeteries in the city but St. Louis #1 is the most popular with visitors. Opened in 1789, it is the oldest in the city and home to a number of famous tombs housing notable New Orleanians like the city’s first black mayor, the inventor of craps and Homer Plessy, the plaintiff from the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case that approved “separate but equal” laws that kept restaurants, waiting rooms and rest rooms in the South segregated until the 1960s. St. Louis is also home to the tomb of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. You don’t need to be scared of ghosts here but you do need to be cautious of criminals. St. Louis is right next to one of the city’s most crime-ridden housing projects so don’t visit alone and definitely don’t wander around in the wee hours of the morning.
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