The lovely Presbytère building, designed in 1791 as a rectory for the St Louis Cathedral, serves as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras museum. You’ll find there’s more to the city’s most famous celebration than wanton debauchery – or, at least, discover the many levels of meaning behind the debauchery. There’s an encyclopedia’s worth of material on the krewes (parade marching clubs), secret societies, costumes and racial histories that comprise the complex Mardi Gras tapestry, all intensely illuminating and easy to follow.

There are also rotating special exhibits on local life, and a permanent exhibition explaining Hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans. The Katrina exhibit tackles the issue of how the city survives (and thrives) within the hurricane zone. Multimedia displays, stark photography, several attics' worth (literally) of found objects and a thoughtful layout combine to create a powerful experience.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby French Quarter attractions

1. St Louis Cathedral

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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…

2. Rodrigue Studio

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The late Cajun artist George Rodrigue’s gallery is the place to see examples of his unbelievably popular ‘Blue Dog’ paintings. The iconic dog became his…

3. Jackson Square

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Whatever happens in the French Quarter usually begins here in Jackson Square, at Decatur and St Peter Streets. It's a gentle, carnivalesque scene,…

4. Cabildo

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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…

5. Gallery Burguieres

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Ally Burguieres' artwork demonstrates plenty of technical skill, but there's also a lot of heart in her paintings and sketches, which focus on animals and…

6. 1850 House Museum

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The 1850 House is one of the apartments in the lower Pontalba Building. Madame Micaëla Pontalba, aristocratic daughter of Don Andrés Almonaster y Roxas,…

7. Hemmerling Gallery of Southern Art

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William 'Bill' Hemmerling was a self-taught folk artist who incorporated wood, debris and found objects into a powerfully vital body of work. This gallery…

8. Lucky Rose

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Cathy Rose blends wonder, whimsy and ethereal aesthetics; her art has whiffs of Chagall, if you can picture him on the Mississippi. Rose uses mixed media…