New Orleans is a fairy-tale city, with its colorful beads, weekly costume parties and daily music wafting through the air. The same flights of fancy and whimsy that give this city such appeal for poets and artists also make it an imaginative wonderland for children, especially creative ones.
Need to Know
When traveling with kids in New Orleans, it helps to be aware of a few lessons.
- Pack From April until October it can be oppressively hot and humid. Bring cool, airy clothes and, if you have young ones susceptible to rashes, pack Gold Bond powder or topical creams. Whenever you head outside, take liquid for hydration.
- Stroller stress New Orleans' ill-maintained sidewalks are often horrible for strollers – you'll want to bring one that is both maneuverable and durable.
- High chairs Most restaurants have high chairs and booster seats and are happy to accommodate kids. Call ahead to make sure, as some places with liquor licenses cannot have patrons under 21.
Best Animal Encounters
- Exploring the Audubon Zoo
There’s wildlife from around the world in this attractive zoo, but the main attraction is the excellent showcasing of local critters in the form of the Louisiana Swamp. Out in this cleverly landscaped wetland, your kids will get a chance to mug next to a genuine albino alligator, as pretty as freshly fallen snow in a bayou.
- Undersea Adventures at Aquarium of the Americas
Dip a toe into the waters of marine biology at this excellent aquarium, where the aquatic habitats range from the Mississippi Delta to the Amazon River Basin. Kids and adults will marvel at rainbow clouds of tropical fish, and guess what? There’s a white alligator – ‘Spots’ – living here, too.
- Bug Out in the Insectarium
You’ve got to love a museum dedicated to New Orleans’ insects, where one display focuses on cockroaches, and another is sponsored by the pest-control business. Yet this isn’t a museum that focuses on the ‘ick’ factor. Rather, you’ll get a sense of the beauty and diversity of the entomological world, from gem-colored-beetle displays to the serenity of the Butterfly Garden.
- Wander Through City Park
The largest green space in New Orleans is undoubtedly also its most attractive. City Park has plenty of big trees for shade, lazy waterways filled with fish (and sometimes small alligators!), a model train diagram of the city built entirely of biological materials, and a wonderful carousel and sculpture garden that will be of interest to older kids. Plus Storyland – a nostalgic minipark with more than two-dozen storybook scenes reproduced on a life-size scale.
- Barataria Preserve
This green gem in the national-park crown is located just south of the city. Toddlers to teenagers will enjoy walking along the flat boardwalk, which traverses the gamut of Louisiana wetlands, from bayous to marsh prairie.
- Let’s Go Ride a Bike
Cycling in New Orleans is pretty easy for fit kids. Younger ones can be taken on short rides through the French Quarter or the Garden District. Older kids should be able to swing bike tours like the ones offered by Confederacy of Cruisers, which take in the city’s older Creole neighborhoods on big, tough, comfortable cruiser-style bicycles. Avoid riding through the traffic-congested CBD.
- Crescent Park
Need to run off some energy? Might as well do it with a front-row view of the greatest river in North America. The Crescent Park runs through the Marigny and Bywater, and follows the bend – or crescent – of the Mississippi. Watch ships ply their way up and down the mother of waters, and grab a picnic lunch from Pizza Delicious while you're out here.
- Jackson Square & the River
Jackson Sq is essentially a constant carnival. Any time of day you may encounter street artists, fortune-tellers, buskers, brass bands and similar folks all engaged in producing the sensory overload New Orleans is famous for (and kids go crazy over). The square is framed by a fairytale cathedral and two excellent museums, and nearby are steps leading up to the Mississippi River, where long barges evoke Huckleberry Finn and the Mississippi of Mark Twain. Drop by Café du Monde for some powdered-sugar treats.
History & Culture for Kids
- Under the City’s Skin
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is a good intro to the region for toddlers, while older children and teenagers may appreciate the Ogden Museum, Cabildo and Presbytère. Little ones often take a shine to the candy-colored houses in the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Uptown. The Latter Library on St Charles Ave has a good selection of children’s literature and is located in a pretty historical mansion. The city’s cemeteries, especially Lafayette Cemetery No 1 in the Garden District, are authentic slices of the past and enjoyably spooky to boot.
- Festival Fun
The many street parties and outdoor festivals of New Orleans bring food stalls and, of course, great music. Children will love dancing to the beat. Seek out festivals held during the day, such as Bayou Boogaloo (www.thebayouboogaloo.com).
- Mardi Gras for Families
Mardi Gras and the Carnival Season are surprisingly family-friendly affairs outside of the well-known boozy debauch in the French Quarter. St Charles Ave hosts many day parades where lots of krewes roll and families set up grilling posts and tents – drinking revelers aren’t welcome. Kids are set up on ‘ladder seats’ (www.momsminivan.com/extras/ladderseat.html) so they can get an adult-height view of the proceedings and catch throws from the floats. The crazy costumes add to the child-friendly feel of the whole affair. See www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/mardigras/mgfamilies.html.