Must see attractions in New Orleans

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Quarter

    Jackson Square

    Why you should go Whatever happens in the French Quarter usually begins here in Jackson Square, at Decatur and St Peter Streets. It's a gentle, carnivalesque scene, sprinkled with lazing loungers and surrounded by fortune tellers, sketch artists and traveling performers. Overlooked by cathedrals, offices and shops plucked from a Paris-meets-the-Caribbean fantasy, Jackson Square is one of America’s great town squares and the heart of the Quarter. Lovers lanes and trimmed hedges surround a monument to Andrew Jackson, but the real stars here are the magnificent French-style St. Louis Cathedral, flanked by the Cabildo and Presbytère. The former houses a Louisiana state-history museum; the latter a permanent exhibition on Mardi Gras. Nearby are steps leading up to the Mississippi River, where long barges evoke days of old. The prime time to visit is on weekends just after brunch. As you meander through the square, observing the street performers and artist booths, be sure to tip, even if it's just pocket change. That's why people perform here. Tarot card readers and fortune-tellers stay well into the evening, and some are open to bargaining when the foot traffic thins. History The square was part of Adrien de Pauger’s original city plan and began as a military parade ground called Place d’Armes (Place of Weapons). Madame Micaëla Pontalba, a 19th-century aristocrat, transformed the muddy marching grounds into a trimmed garden and renamed the square to honor Andrew Jackson, the president who saved New Orleans from the British during the War of 1812. In the middle of the park stands the monument to Andrew Jackson – Clark Mills’ bronze equestrian statue of the seventh US president, unveiled in 1856. The inscription, "The Union Must and Shall be Preserved," was added by General Benjamin Butler, Union military governor of New Orleans during the Civil War, ostensibly to rub it into the occupied city’s face. The gesture worked. Butler was dubbed "Beast Butler" by locals, and eventually his face was stamped on the bottom of city chamber pots. During his tenure as military governor of New Orleans, Butler instituted health quarantines that drastically reduced yellow fever outbreaks. Nearby hotels and restaurants Hop into Stanley, at the square's north corner; it's an iconic spot for brunch, lunch or drinks. Across Decatur St from the square lies Café du Monde, where you can grab a bag of beignets (square, sugar-coated fritters) to go and picnic on a park bench. Pigeon camaraderie is free. Prefer to sit back and people watch? Just across St Ann St from the Presbytère is Muriel's, a large restaurant with a pleasant balcony overlooking the square. Nearby hotels in the French Quarter include the gorgeous, deceptively spacious cottages at Audubon Cottages and the historic Soniat House Hotel.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mid-City, Bayou St John & City Park

    City Park

    Live oaks, Spanish moss and lazy bayous frame this masterpiece of urban planning. Three miles long and 1 mile wide, dotted with gardens, waterways and bridges and home to a captivating art museum, City Park is bigger than Central Park in NYC and it's New Orleans ’ prettiest green space. In many ways, City Park is a near-perfect expression of a local "park," in the sense that it is an only slightly tamed expression of the forest and Louisiana wetlands (Bayou Metairie runs through the grounds) that are the natural backdrop of the city. Golf courses mar this narrative, but there's still enough wild to get lost in. Art- and nature-lovers could easily spend a day exploring the park. Anchoring the action is the stately New Orleans Museum of Art, which spotlights regional and American artists. From there, stroll past the whimsical creations in the Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, then check out the lush Botanical Gardens. Kids in tow? Hop the rides at the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park or climb the fantastical statuary inside Storyland. History City Park occupies the site of the former Allard Plantation; much of the infrastructure and improvements, including pathways, bridges and art deco flair, were built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. The arboreal life is magnificent and includes strands of mature live oaks – thousands of them, some as old as 600 years – along with bald cypresses, Southern magnolias and other species. During Hurricane Katrina, nearby canals flooded and inundated more than 90% of the park in up to 8ft of salt water. Though the ground has recovered, many priceless trees were lost. One tree that wasn’t was the Singing Oak (or Singing Tree), which stands festooned with chimes, some up to 14ft in length. Standing under the tree during the slightest breeze is pretty magical. New Orleans Museum of Art Looking like a vague cross between Lenin’s tomb and a Greek temple, the New Orleans Museum of Art is one of the finest art museums in the South. There’s strong representation from regional and American artists, but the work of masters, such as Edgar Degas, who have passed through the city is also prominent. Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden Three of George Rodrigue's "Blue Dogs" – in red, yellow and blue – await your arrival in the pleasant Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which sits beside the New Orleans Museum of Art. The garden opened in 2003 with pieces from the world-renowned Besthoff collection and today holds more than 60 pieces, dotted across 5 acres. Most are contemporary works by artists such as Antoine Bourdelle, Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois. The Botanical Gardens and Peristyle The Botanical Gardens have been the site of many a New Orleans wedding, and in their green depths you'll find examples of flora from both around the world and across the backyard of Louisiana. Overlooking Bayou Metairie like a Greek temple is the Peristyle, a classical pavilion featuring Ionic columns, built in 1907. Four concrete lions stand watch, while weddings, dances, recitals and curious tourists meander through. Theme Parks Anyone who doesn’t like the charmingly dated Carousel Gardens must surely have a heart of stone. The lovingly restored antique carousel is housed in a 1906 structure with a stained-glass cupola. In the 1980s, residents raised $1.2 million to restore the broken animals, fix the squeaky merry-go-round and replace the Wurlitzer organ. The results are spectacular in a tweedy, tinkly kind of way. You can board the tiny City Park Railroad here as well, plus a little Ferris wheel, bumper cars and a tilt-a-whirl. Storyland doesn't have rides, just fun statues of fairy-tale heroes and villains. If the characters seem strangely similar to Mardi Gras floats, it’s because they were created by master float-builder Blaine Kern. During the Christmas season it’s lit up like a Christmas tree and all very magical. Louisiana Children's Museum The Louisiana Children’s Museum recently built new digs in City Park. It's kind of a theme park for kids (albeit more educational). There’s giant bubble-blowing exhibits, play loading cranes, a book forest, a play shopping area, and plenty of other stuff that should appeal to any kid under 10. Couturie Forest The wildest section of the park is this scad of hardwood forest, where live oaks shade leafy underbrush and mushrooms peek out of the moist soil. Park your car in the lot off the Harrison Ave traffic circle, and you'll see a road that extends back into the forest; take any branching trail and get pleasantly lost. Popp Fountain The Popp Fountain is wonderful, and another impressive example from the Works Progress Administration. Promenades planted with perennials and 26 Corinthian columns surround the centerpiece of water erupting from a bronze base of cavorting dolphins. Tips for visiting City Park The best spots for parking in City Park include the area in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art and the lot near Morning Call. There are alligators here! If you're walking your dog or are near the water, keep an eye out. We're not kidding – local gators aren't common, but they're not unheard of. The waters in the park aren't suitable for swimming. See the above tip about alligators. Nearby restaurants A few steps from the sculpture garden, take a break for coffee, beignets and gumbo at Morning Call, conveniently open 24/7. Want a picnic lunch? Head to Canseco's on Esplanade Ave and grab something from their hot bar.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Quarter

    Cabildo

    The former seat of government in colonial Louisiana now serves as the gateway to exploring the history of the state in general, and New Orleans in particular. It’s also a magnificent building in its own right; the elegant Cabildo museum marries elements of Spanish Colonial architecture and French urban design better than most buildings in the city. The diverse exhibits include Native American tools, "Wanted" posters for enslaved Africans who escaped, and a gallery’s worth of paintings of stone-faced old New Orleanians. Give yourself at least two hours to explore. History Fire has played an important role in this building's story, both in its 1795 construction (after the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, which tore through much of the Quarter, cleared this site of its existing structure) and two centuries later, when the Cabildo was burned in 1988. Painstakingly restored, and returned to its original glory, the building is a treasure in its own right – not to mention the treasures that are on display inside its halls. Exhibits The exhibits do a good job of reaffirming the role the building and the surrounding region have played in history. Highlights include an entire section dedicated to the Battle of New Orleans, anchored by an enormous oil painting by 19th-century French artist Eugene Louis Lami; a historical Plan de la Nouvelle Orléans from 1744, showing a four-block-deep city; and the death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte. The magnificent Sala Capitular (Capitol Room), a council room fronted by enormous windows giving sweeping views onto Jackson Square, was the most important room in Louisiana for decades. Civic functions and legal action were conducted here; this was the courtroom where Plessy v Ferguson, the 1896 case that legalized segregation under the "separate but equal" doctrine, was tried. The Sala now includes a comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the Louisiana Purchase. American author William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It’s not even past." That quote only begins to hint at the troubled history of race relations in the South. The wing of the Cabildo dedicated to post–Civil War Reconstruction is as even-handed and thorough an attempt at explaining this difficult period and its consequences as we’ve seen, and should be of interest to both history enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. Tips for visiting the Cabildo Although the Cabildo is closed on Mondays, Friends of the Cabildo still offers walking tours, which are excellent. Be sure to take a peek at Jackson Square out of the large windows on the 2nd floor. Check online for current listings of events including concerts, yoga and more. Nearby restaurants Make a day of it and have brunch at Court of the Two Sisters, a few blocks away on Royal St. A little further on, grab a well-earned drink at Toulouse Dive Bar and shoot a game of pool.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Garden, Lower Garden & Central City

    Lafayette Cemetery No 1

    Of all the cemeteries in New Orleans, Lafayette exudes the strongest sense of subtropical Southern Gothic. The stark contrast of moldering crypts and gentle decay with the forceful fertility of the fecund greenery is incredibly jarring. It’s a place filled with stories – of German and Irish immigrants, deaths by yellow fever, social societies doing right by their dead – that pulls the living into New Orleans’ long, troubled past. The cemetery is divided by two intersecting footpaths that form a cross. Look out for the structures built by fraternal organizations such as the Jefferson Fire Company No 22, which took care of its members and their families in large shared crypts. Some of the wealthier family tombs were built of marble, with elaborate detail rivaling the finest architecture in the district, but most tombs were constructed simply of inexpensive plastered brick. Take a tour with the nonprofit Save Our Cemeteries, and the entire proceeds are used for cemetery restoration and documentation. Reservations are recommended because spots are limited, but tours need three people or more to depart. Tours meet at the Washington Ave entrance. During the summer months, don't underestimate how big the cemetery is, and how hot the area can be. Take some water with you. Editor's Note: As of this article's latest update in May of 2021, the cemetery is currently closed to the public while repairs and improvements are made. Call to check for details. History The cemetery was built in 1833 by the former City of Lafayette and filled to capacity within decades of its opening, before the surrounding neighborhood reached its greatest affluence. Indeed, not far from the entrance is a tomb containing the remains of an entire family that died of yellow fever. By 1872 the prestigious Metairie Cemetery in Mid-City had opened and its opulent grounds appealed to those with truly extravagant and flamboyant tastes. In July 1995, author Anne Rice staged her own funeral here. She hired a horse-drawn hearse and a brass band to play dirges, and wore an antique wedding dress as she laid down in a coffin. The event coincided with the release of one of Rice’s novels. Nearby restaurants Perched on the corner of Prytania St and Washington Ave, Still Perkin' is a great place to start or finish a visit to Lafayette Cemetery No 1. In addition to lattes and iced coffees, there’s a decadent selection of scones and other treats plus a few sandwiches and wraps. It’s in the Rink mini-mall. Or, consider the legendary Creole restaurant, Commander's Palace, which is just across the street. You could also wander up to the old-school Verret's Lounge for a quick drink.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Quarter

    St Louis Cathedral

    Why you should go One of the best examples of French architecture in the country, this triple-spired 18th-century cathedral is dedicated to Louis IX, the French king sainted in 1297. The St Louis Cathedral, located in the heart of New Orleans ' French Quarter overlooks Jackson Square. It's an attractive bit of Gallic heritage in the heart of an American city. Throughout the year, St Louis Cathedral hosts events that are at the core of New Orleans’ Catholic community. If you’re in town during any of the following holidays, try to attend. Christmas services are packed, including a 5 pm vigil on December 24 and midnight Mass on December 25 (doors open at 11:15 pm). On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), the transfixing Blessing of the Palms ceremony begins at 10:50 am. Come on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras; ashes, a symbol of mourning and penitence, are distributed at 12:05 p.m. during mass and in St. Anthony Garden from 2-3 pm. History In 1722, a hurricane destroyed the first of three churches built here by the St Louis Parish. The second was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire. Architect Don Gilberto Guillemard dedicated the present cathedral on Christmas Eve in 1794. Pope Paul VI awarded it the rank of minor basilica in 1964. Besides hosting African American, white and Creole congregants, St Louis has attracted those who, in the best New Orleanian tradition, mix their influences. Voodoo queen Marie Laveau worshiped here during the height of her prominence in the mid-19th century. Nearby Restaurants Head to Spitfire Coffee, on St Peter, for a jolt of joe that will keep you awake for the rest of the day. Or, duck over to Pirate's Alley Cafe, which is steps away from the cathedral and a nice spot for a beer or, if you're feeling adventurous, a sip of the "Green Fairy." Tips for visiting the St Louis Cathedral St Louis is a working cathedral, so be respectful when you visit. Loud noises and obtrusive picture-taking are frowned upon. Don't overlook the interior stained glass and French wall inscriptions, which offer a peek into New Orleans’ Catholic heritage. Get there early if you want to attend a ceremony on a major holiday.

  • Top ChoiceSights in French Quarter

    Royal Street

    Why you should go Royal Street, with its rows of high-end antique shops, galleries and potted ferns hanging from cast-iron balconies, is the elegant yin to well known Bourbon Street's debauched yang. Stroll or bicycle past Royal's patina beauty and fading grace; chat with locals as they lounge on their porches; and get a sense of the fun – with a dash of elegance – that was once the soul of the Vieux Carré (Old Quarter). Consider a guided walking tour to open your eyes to much of the area's hidden history. With blocks and blocks of the strip dedicated to antique stores and art galleries, Royal Street is a sort of elegant 19th-century (and very long) outdoor shopping arcade. From 11 am to 4 pm, most of the street turns into a pedestrian-only mall. Musicians, performers and other buskers set up shop; you may see some teenagers shill for pennies, or accomplished blues musicians jam on their Fenders. Either way, the show is almost always entertaining. Nearby hotels and restaurants Start off your Royal Street adventure with coffee and pastries at Croissant D’Or Patisserie. End your evening at the rotating Carousel Bar at the street's upper end. The revolving circular bar is located inside the historic Hotel Monteleone. Canopied by the top hat of the 1904 World’s Fair carousel, it's adorned with running lights, hand-painted figures and gilded mirrors. In 15 minutes, the 25-seat bar completes a full revolution. Other restaurants to consider are: Court of the Two Sisters Café Beignet And speaking of the Hotel Monteleone, it's perhaps the city's most venerable hotel, and also the Quarter's largest. Not long after it was built, preservationists put a stop to building on this scale below Iberville Street. Since its inception in 1866, the hotel has lodged literary luminaries including William Faulkner, Truman Capote and Rebecca Wells. You might also consider a stay at the Hotel Royal, a boutique hotel with lace-like ironwork balconies, gas lanterns and decorative topiaries – everything an 1833 New Orleans home should be. Other hotel options include: Nine-O-Five Royal Hotel Cornstalk Hotel

  • Top ChoiceSights in CBD & Warehouse District

    Ogden Museum of Southern Art

    The South has one of the most distinctive aesthetic cultures in the US artistic universe, a creative vision indelibly influenced by the region's complicated history and deep links to the land. Few museums explore the throughlines of Southern art like the Ogden, which boasts lovely gallery spaces, an awesome gift shop and kicking after-hours performances. Although the Ogden Museum sits just a few steps away from the pedestal that once enshrined Robert E Lee, this vibrant collection of Southern art is not stuck in the past. It’s one of the most engaging museums in New Orleans, managing to be beautiful, educational and unpretentious all at once. The glass-and-stone Stephen Goldring Hall, with its soaring atrium, provides an inspiring welcome to the grounds. The building, which opened in 2003, is home to the museum’s 20th- and 21st-century exhibitions as well as the Museum Store and its Center for Southern Craft & Design. "Floating" stairs connect the different floors. Start at the top floor and work your way down to get the most out of the experience (and make it easier on your legs). History The collection got its start more than 30 years ago when Roger Ogden and his father began purchasing art as gifts for Roger’s mother. Ogden soon became a passionate collector and by the 1990s, the New Orleans entrepreneur had assembled one of the finest collections of Southern art anywhere. Today his namesake museum and its galleries hold pieces that range from impressionist landscapes and outsider folk art to contemporary installation work. The Ogden is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, giving it access to that bottomless collection. Nearby restaurants Grab a beautiful tropical meal at Carmo. For excellent cheese and sandwiches, head to St James.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mid-City, Bayou St John & City Park

    Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

    The sculpture garden that sits just outside the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park is a wooded quilt of streams, pathways, lovers' benches and, of course, sculpture, mainly of the modern and contemporary sort. During spring and summer, theatrical productions are often put on here, but it's a lovely spot for a stroll any time of year. Three of George Rodrigue's "Blue Dogs" – in red, yellow and blue – await your arrival in the garden, which opened in 2003 with pieces from the world-renowned Besthoff collection. Today, it holds more than 60 pieces, dotted across 5 acres. Most are contemporary works by artists such as Antoine Bourdelle, Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois. More to explore in City Park Art- and nature-lovers could easily spend a day exploring the park. Anchoring the action is the stately New Orleans Museum of Art, which spotlights regional and American artists. From there, stroll past the whimsical creations in the sculpture garden, then check out the lush Botanical Gardens.

  • Sights in CBD & Warehouse District

    National WWII Museum

    One of New Orleans’ most distinctive tourism attractions has nothing to do with food, music, or having a good time. Rather, it is a museum dedicated to the contributions of the USA to the Allied cause in the largest armed conflict in history. The National World War II Museum, which takes up several blocks of the Warehouse District, was deemed the nation’s official World War II museum by an act of Congress in 2003. Enormous pavilions are filled with refurbished planes, tanks, interactive displays, cases of weapons, uniforms, and medals, movies, newsreels, and immersive recreations of bunkers, ship bridges, forests, and jungles. You’ll want to give yourself at least half a day to explore the whole campus. The Campaigns of Courage The museum is divided into several pavilions, themselves subdivided into different sections, but the main draw for most visitors are the two Campaigns of Courage exhibits, which focus on the European and Pacific theaters of the war - respectively, the ‘Road to Berlin’ and the ‘Road to Tokyo.’ The museum’s focus is aimed at American involvement in the war, and while some exhibition space discusses other Allied nations, the contributions of these countries is cast as strictly supporting the main American narrative. Highlights from the Road to Berlin include a recreation of the Tunisian desert, which includes sand, gravel, an actual 1943 jeep and a 105mm Howitzer. In another room you’ll enter the wintry Ardennes forest, the backdrop for an exhibit on the Battle of the Bulge, which precedes the bombed out cityscapes of Cologne and Hamburg during the final push into Nazi Germany. The Road to Tokyo includes a shark-faced P-40 Warhawk aircraft, a recreation of the bridge of the USS Enterprise, where visitors can learn about the naval combat and island hopping of the Pacific campaign, and a recreated jungle of towering palms meant to evoke the battlefields of Guadalcanal. The Arsenal of Democracy This section of the museum is devoted to the war outside of the battlefields. ‘Gathering Storm’ tells the saga of the geopolitical tensions that preceded the war, and explains how fascism was the ideological engine of the Axis cause. ‘A House Divided’ goes into the deep domestic divisions that split Americans between isolationists and interventionists. Other exhibitions explore the massive mobilization of resources that was required to fight a war on two fronts on opposite sides of the world.  ‘United but Unequal’ is a particularly powerful gallery that explores the racial tensions on the American homefront; even while fighting ethnic nationalists, the American military was segregated, and Japanese American civilians were rounded up into internment camps. The D-Day Invasion & Bayou to Battlefield Before it was the National World War II Museum, this was the National D-Day Museum. The core of the former museum’s holdings are now displayed in this space, dedicated to the Jun 6, 1944 landings that kicked off the liberation of France. Within the D-Day galleries visitors can find parts of the Nazi ‘Atlantic Wall’, sand from landing beaches, and reams of smaller artifacts sourced from in and around Normandy. So why was this museum originally the D-Day museum? And why is the National World War II Museum located in New Orleans? These two questions require one answer: New Orleanian Andrew Jackson Higgins and Higgins industries. Higgins was a boatbuilder by trade, and worked on shallow draft vessels for use in local wetlands. He was able to modify these designs into the Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCPV), the iconic landing boat used at D-Day landing and countless other operations. A restored LCPV is located on the museum grounds. Beyond All Boundaries & Final Mission Visitors will often begin their visit to the museum by watching this 45-minute movie experience, narrated by Tom Hanks and replete with the sort immersion the museum prides itself on: falling ‘snow’, seats that shudder under explosions, etc. In the same interactive vein is Final Mission. This exhibit recreates the final mission of the USS Tang, a submarine that was sunk by one of its own torpedoes following attacks on Japanese shipping lanes. Final Mission takes place in the US Freedom Pavilion, which is itself filled with resorted aircraft, tanks, and uniforms from the war. Art Wager /Getty Images" data-embed-button="images" data-entity-embed-display="media_image" data-entity-embed-display-settings="{"image_style":"","image_link":""}" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="19fda2b0-8ed4-4be1-b7a5-86ad535991dc" data-langcode="en" title="The National World War II Museum"> Tickets, dining & entertainment The National World War II Museum is located at 945 Magazine Street. There is dedicated paid parking at 1024 Magazine St, but if you are staying in the Warehouse District or Central Business District, you might want to consider just walking here. Hours are 9am-5pm daily; admission adult/student/under-5 $29.50/18/free. Beyond all Boundaries and Final Mission are $7 each. If you want to avoid crowds, try visiting on a weekday outside of summer. The museum can get very crowded on weekends. There are two restaurants located onsite: the Jeri Nims Soda Shoppe (8am-3pm, mains $7-11), which - as the name implies - goes for an old school soda fountain counter-service vibe, and the more traditional American Sector (11am-2pm Sun-Fri, to 3pm Sat, mains $8-13). Both serve sandwiches and similar fare, with the soda shop more focused on coffee and lighter meals. BB’s Stage Door Canteen puts on exceedingly peppy 1940s-era stage shows, which includes the female vocal trio the Victory Belles, who perform morale boosting songs from the era.

  • Sights in Garden, Lower Garden & Central City

    Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

    There is no holiday more quintessentially New Orleans than Mardi Gras, the culmination of a two and a half week window of revelry known as carnival. And there are few images more closely tied to Mardi Gras in the public imagination than enormous floats packed with masked riders trundling through the live oak-shaded streets of the city. For decades, the lead designers on those floats have belonged to the Kern family, led by their patriarch, the late Blaine Kern. Today, a massive (300,000 square foot) warehouse complex known as Mardi Gras World serves as a permanent home to some of the Kerns’ most beguiling creations, all a testament to the sheer wonder that is unleashed during Mardi Gras. Behind the scenes in a world of dreams The Kern family dominates the float-building business in New Orleans and operates Kern Studios, an entertainment design studio that, along with floats, has also produced installations for Walt Disney and the National Football League. But it was Mardi Gras floats that put the Kerns on the map, and it is the Mardi Gras floats that take center stage at Mardi Gras World (imagine that). The Kerns may have created floats for other institutions, but these often lack the whimsy that is so commonplace on the streets of New Orleans during carnival season. The main draw of Mardi Gras World is the ‘float den’, the space where the Kern team creates its floats, which change year by year based on the thematic needs of the city’s ‘krewes’. In New Orleans (and a few other parts of the Gulf South that celebrate a Catholic carnival), krewes are the local parading societies. You could say the krewes march during carnival, but the preferred term of the trade is ‘roll’ or ‘ride’, verbs that owe their existence to enormous floats that can accommodate dozens of krewe members. Each float must not only hold the krewe riders, but bags of ‘throws,’ which can range from cheap plastic beads to stuffed animals - it’s a time-honored New Orleans tradition to stand on the sidewalk on a chilly February evening and scream your head off for the chance of catching a throw off a Mardi Gras float. A visit here consists of a self-guided tour, which usually takes around an hour. Kern floats are both enormous and eye-catching, a blend of fantastical design and a size footprint that can almost feel intimidating. There is a definite through the looking glass vibe in the float den, as visitors wander around a warehouse stuffed with sculpted giant fish, dragons, fairies, chimeras, neon flowers, pastel butterflies, and depending on the year, political or pop culture icons. History When French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles south of New Orleans in 1699 on the eve of Mardi Gras, he named the location “Pointe du Mardi Gras”. The holiday and the city have been inextricable ever since. In early New Orleans Mardi Gras parades were eclipsed by grand balls, but grand processions became more of the norm as the holiday evolved from the 1830s to the end of the 19th century. Still, well into the 20th century, Mardi Gras floats were basically wagons hitched to mules. This all changed in 1932 when sign-painter Roy Kern and his son, Blaine, began building floats. Blaine Kern founded the studio that bears his family name in 1947, and using his creative talents and sheer force of personality, began to dominate the local float building scene. Blaine Kern learned many of his float-making techniques in Europe. He grafted the colorful float art of that continent with an American penchant for supersizing and motorized processions, and in the process irrevocably changed the entire aesthetic of Mardi Gras. It was Kern’s influence and artistic style that paved the way for the giant ‘tandem floats’, flashy lighting, and even animatronics that are now the norm during many carnival parades. Indeed, Kern’s relentless self-promotion included selling floats to smaller and suburban krewes, the end result being a carnival season that showcases, compared to what came before, a more diverse slice of greater New Orleans. While Mardi Gras World has been around as a tourism attraction since 1984, it has occupied its current space by the convention center since 2008. Blaine Kern himself passed in 2020, although the business remains controlled by his family. Tickets, parking, & getting there Mardi Gras World is located at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place, adjacent to the Convention Center. Parking costs $20, but if you’re staying in the Warehouse District or Central Business District, you should consider just walking here. A free shuttle service also connects Mardi Gras World to central New Orleans locations. Open 9am-5:30pm daily; admission is adult/child/student & senior $22/14/17.

  • Sights in Mid-City, Bayou St John & City Park

    New Orleans Museum of Art

    Inside City Park, this elegant museum was opened in 1911 and is well worth a visit for its special exhibitions, gorgeous marble atrium and top-floor galleries of African, Asian, Native American and Oceanic art. Its sculpture garden contains a cutting-edge collection in lush, meticulously planned grounds. Other specialties include Southern painters and an ever-expanding collection of modern and contemporary art. On select Friday nights, the museum is open until 9pm.

  • Sights in Faubourg Marigny & Bywater

    Frenchmen Street

    The ‘locals' Bourbon St’ is how Frenchmen St is usually described to those who want to know where New Orleanians listen to music. The predictable result? Frenchmen St is now packed with out-of-towners each weekend. Still, it's a ton of fun, especially on weekdays when the crowds thin out but music still plays. Bars and clubs are arrayed back to back for several city blocks in one of the best concentrations of live-music venues in the country.

  • Sights in Uptown & Riverbend

    Audubon Zoo

    This wonderful zoo contains African, Asian and South American landscapes and fauna, as well as the ultra-cool Louisiana Swamp exhibit, full of alligators, bobcats, foxes, bears and otters. During the summer months, part of the zoo becomes a dedicated water park for the kids.

  • Sights in French Quarter

    Historic New Orleans Collection

    A combination of preserved buildings, museums and research centers all rolled into one, the Historic New Orleans Collection is a good introduction to the history of the city. The complex is anchored by its Royal St campus, which presents a series of regularly rotating exhibits and occasional temporary exhibits. Artifacts on display include an original Jazz Fest poster, transfer documents of the Louisiana Purchase and utterly disturbing slave advertisements.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tremé-Lafitte

    Backstreet Cultural Museum

    Mardi Gras Indian suits grab the spotlight with dazzling flair – and finely crafted detail – in this informative museum examining the distinctive elements of African American culture in New Orleans. The museum isn’t terribly big (it’s the former Blandin’s Funeral Home), but if you have any interest in the suits and rituals of Mardi Gras Indians, as well as second-line parades and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs (the local African American community version of civic associations), you should stop by.

  • Sights in Tremé-Lafitte

    Lafitte Greenway

    This 2.6-mile green corridor connects the Tremé to City Park via Bayou St John, traversing the length of the Tremé and Mid-City along the way. It's a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly trail that follows the course of one of the city's oldest transportation paths – this was originally a canal and, later, a railroad.

  • Sights in Mid-City, Bayou St John & City Park

    Bayou St John

    Back in the day, this was a true bayou – an overgrown morass of Spanish moss and prowling alligators. Native Americans, fur trappers and smugglers would use the waterway as a natural road that led over the dark wetlands to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Today, the bayou has been partially dredged and beautified into a narrow green space that makes for a breezy, altogether pleasant green ribbon that snakes across the center of the city.

  • Sights in Tremé-Lafitte

    Louis Armstrong Park

    The entrance to this massive park has got to be one of the greatest gateways in the US, a picturesque arch that ought rightfully to be the final set piece in a period drama about Jazz Age New Orleans. The original Congo Sq is here, as well as a Louis Armstrong Statue and a bust of Sidney Bechet. The Mahalia Jackson Theater hosts opera and Broadway productions. The park often hosts live-music festivals throughout the year.

  • Sights in Faubourg Marigny & Bywater

    Crescent Park

    This waterfront park is our favorite spot in the city for taking in the Mississippi. Enter over the enormous arch at Piety and Chartres Sts, or at the steps at Marigny and N Peters Sts, and watch the fog blanket the nearby skyline. A promenade meanders past an angular metal-and-concrete conceptual 'wharf' (placed next to the burned remains of the former commercial wharf). A dog park is located near the Mazant St entrance.

  • Sights in Mid-City, Bayou St John & City Park

    Esplanade Avenue

    Esplanade is one of the most beautiful streets in New Orleans, yet barely recognized by visitors as such. Because of the abundance of historical homes, Esplanade, which follows the ‘high ground’ of Esplanade Ridge, is known as the Creole St Charles Ave. Both streets are shaded by rows and rows of leafy live oaks, but whereas St Charles is full of large, plantation-style American villas, Esplanade is framed by columned, French Creole–style mansions.