17 Free or Cheap Activities in New Orleans and Tips for a Budget-Friendly Trip
The fun never stops in New Orleans, whether that’s because the drinks are always flowing or because it’s full of great things to see. No matter how you want to spend your time in the Big Easy, downing Hurricanes on Bourbon Street and throwing beads, or checking out historical attractions and beautiful architecture, all of that non-stop good time can add up very quickly. But worry not: If you know the right tricks, you can save hundreds of dollars on your trip — or use those savings to keep the fun going a little longer. Here’s how to enjoy New Orleans on a budget.
Free or cheap activities in New Orleans
1. Free: Visit Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserves
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserves is comprised of six sites, one of which are in New Orleans proper (the French Quarter Visitor Center) and are very easy to get to. The Chalmette Battlefield and the Barataria Preserve are only 15 and 30 minutes from Downtown New Orleans, while the other three (the Acadian Cultural Center, the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, and the Wetland Acadian Cultural Center) are over one hour away. All of them are free to visit.
For an immersion into the fauna and flora of Louisiana, get yourself to the Barataria Preserve, a 26,000-acre area comprised of bayous, swamps, marshes, and forests. You’ll see wildflowers, alligators, birds, and more enchanting native creatures and plants. There are free guided walk on a boardwalk trail Wednesday through Sunday at 10:00 AM, or you can take a self-guided tour — just make sure to stay on the boardwalk or designated trail.
Where: Barataria Preserve, 6588 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, Louisiana 70072
2. Cheap: Take a tour of the NOLA Brewing Company and sample the goods
Want to support a company that helps the community and gives back in charitable donations to help the planet and the community? NOLA Brewing Company does just that and a little more. Have a beer and take a free tour to learn about the brewing process. Tours are Friday between 3 and 4 PM and Saturday between 2 and 4 PM. Show up early because they do not take reservations.
Where: 3001 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70115
3. Free: Visit St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral is a beautiful landmark in Jackson Square. Since the eighteen century, New Orleans residents, and out-of-towners have admired the painted ceilings and stunning stained glass of this exceptional edifice. St. Louis Cathedral is open to the public from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM, during which time you can walk around at your own pace for free, but we recommend that you buy the $1 brochure inside to get details on the artifacts and historical structures. When available, volunteer docents give impromptu tours to visitors. The daily mass is held at 12:05 PM and open to all.
Where: 615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
4. Free: Attend a glassblowing demonstrations
Watch professionals in action turn a glass blob into a work of art and tour their workshops and galleries. Choose from New Orleans Glassworks & Printmaking Studio, or Rosetree Blown Glass Studio and Gallery. Please contact ahead and check the studio’s websites to find the hours for the daily glass blowing demonstrations.
- New Orleans Glassworks & Printmaking Studio, 727 Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
- Rosetree Blown Glass Studio and Gallery, 446 Vallette St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70114
5. Free: Check out the vendor markets
These markets contain local artists’ original crafts and retail options. Bring cash for better sales negotiation. Many vendors also accept credit/debit cards.
- French Market District: It is six blocks of retail shopping from storefronts to vendor booths and lots of restaurants and eateries. There is food for purchase and samples of Louisiana favorites like alligator sausages, gumbo, various hot sauces, pralines, and jambalaya. The hours of operations are from 10 AM to 5 PM, daily.
Where: 1008 N. Peters St., New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116
- Harrison Avenue Marketplace: Local vendors sell their homemade crafts, artworks, and foods. There are live music and activities appropriate for all ages. It is held the second Wednesday of the month between the hours of 5:00 PM to 8:30 PM.
Where: 801 Harrison Ave., New Orleans, Louisiana 70124
- Secondline Arts and Antiques: Over 150 vendors selling eclectic furniture, sculptures, jewelry, costumes, and artwork. It is open daily, Sunday to Thursday nights from 5:30 PM to 12 AM, and Friday to Sunday during the day from 10 AM to 5 PM.
Where: 1209 Decatur St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
6. Free/cheap: Visit a historical cemetery
Visit the resting places of local legends, New Orleans voodoo priests, and other historical luminaries. Many of the tombs (all above ground because of the flooding risks) provide historical details and stories about their residents. Enter for free and walk around the impressive tombstones at Saint Patrick Cemetery No. 2, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 , and Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3. To tour the very popular Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, it is mandatory to have a licensed tour guide with you — and it is well worth the trip. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 10 AM, 11:30 AM, and 1 PM, and Sunday at 10 AM. Admission is $20.
- Saint Patrick Cemetery No. 2, 5000 Canal St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70119
- Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, 1400 Washington Ave., New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
- Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3, 3421 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, Louisiana 70119
- Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, Basin at St. Louis St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
7. Free: Discover Saint Charles Avenue
Saint Charles Avenue is known for its oak trees and 19th-century grand mansions. Many of the mansions are converted into Bed and Breakfasts and the hosts are happy to share the history of their homes to those who stay there. The avenue is perfect for walking or biking to restaurants, historical churches, hotels, boutiques, Audubon Park, Loyola University, and Tulane University. When you need to rest, hop on the historic streetcar that runs along the avenue.
8. Free/cheap: Experience City Park
City Park is a 1,300-acre self-supporting public park and it is one of the biggest and oldest parks in the country. Dating back to the 1850s, its beautiful landscape includes 600-plus-year-old oak trees, ponds, and more. Stop by the New Orleans Botanical Gardens to see over 2,000 plants from around the world ($10); get a treat at the City Park snoball stand for a couple of dollars; and visit the New Orleans Museum of Art ($15). Visitors will need one or two days to enjoy everything in the park. Although concessions accept debit/credit, we recommend bringing cash to purchase from the vendors. Comfortable walking shoes are a must for the various terrains.
Where: 1 Palm Drive, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124
9. Free: Admire the street performers on Jackson Square
In front of St. Louis Cathedral and across from the iconic Café Du Monde, is Jackson Square. It is home to artists showcasing their talents from artworks to music and is a never-ending stream of live entertainment.
Where: 701 Decatur St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
10. Free: Enjoy live music on Frenchmen Street
Frenchmen street is full of live music performances in the bars, clubs, and lounges. The best places to check out are The Spotted Cat, Apple Barrel, and they do not have a cover fee. If the venues are full, the sounds can be enjoyed from the street.
- The Spotted Cat, 623 Frenchmen St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
- Apple Barrel, 609 Frenchmen St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
11. Free: Take a private tour of Antoine’s Restaurant
Antoine’s is a French-Creole restaurant opened in 1840. This fine dining restaurant has 14 dining rooms, each with its decor own story to tell. We recommend asking the waiter for a guided tour of the restaurant during slower hours. Don’t fight the urge to dine.
Where: 713 St Louis St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
12. Free: Spend a day in Audubon Park
Located in the historic Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, Audubon Park is accessible by Magazine Street and Saint Charles Avenue public transportation. It’s a great place to spend a sunny day outdoors away from the urban environment. The park has a 1.8-mile jogging path, a golf course, picnic areas, a lagoon, tennis courts, a pool, and more.
Where: 6500 Magazine St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70118
13. Free: Visit Faulkner House Books
Not only does this French Quarter bookstore carry author William Faulkner’s collection, it also used to be his residence. Faulkner House Books is almost hidden in Jackson Square alley, and carries fine literature, selected signed hardback editions, and rare editions.
Where: 624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
14. Free: Experience Louis Armstrong Park
Louis Armstrong Park, also known as Congo Square, is a 31-acre park in the Tremé neighborhood. This historic site is where the slave population gathered on Sunday to sing, dance, and trade. Take the time to read the informative plaques along its river walk. We recommend that you visit in the daytime unless you are attending a special evening event. If in New Orleans during the week, check out Jazz in the Park, a free event, on Thursday evenings.
Where: 835 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
15. Free: Watch the sunset at The Fly
This is the locals’ favorite spot to watch the sunset over the Mississippi River. The Fly is a park located along the waterfront behind the Audubon Zoo. On the weekends, it’s a popular place for barbecues and pickup games at the numerous fields. Sitting can be limited, so bring a blanket and a chair. It is a great location for a relaxing picnic, to read a book, and marvel at the big world.
Where: Exposition Dr., New Orleans, Louisiana 70118
16. Free: Attend festivals
Louisiana has more festivals than days of the year, and on most weekends you’ll have more than one festival to choose from. Many festivals have free admission and offer a chance to sample food and drink from dozens of local restaurants at pretty fair prices. French Quarter Fest is the crown jewel of free festivals, but Satchmo Summerfest, Poboy Fest and an ever-growing list of food-specific festivals (Fried Chicken, Oyster, Creole Tomato, Beignet) are all worth your time.
17. Free: Window shopping
There are shopping options in New Orleans other than Canal Street and the mass production souvenir shops.
- Located near the French Quarter, Royal Street is known for antiques and art galleries. Don’t forget to ask for a guided tour and viewing of sword-canes at M.S. Rau Antiques.
- Locally known as Gallery Row, Julia Street is the place for fine and expensive art. Try participating in the First Saturday Gallery Openings for free every first Saturday of the month.
- Parallel to St Charles Ave, Ortha Castle Haley Boulevard is known for culturally diverse arts and crafts from local artists.
- Freret Street has high-quality merchandise from art galleries, upscale boutiques, and other specialty shops.
- Located between Poydras Street and Lafayette Street, Fulton Street has a pedestrian-only outdoor mall.
- Between Loyola and Tulane universities, Maple Street is known for consignment shops, affordable boutiques, and bookstores.
- Near the French Quarter, Chartres Street is known for art galleries, antiques, and boutiques.
Tips to save money in New Orleans
1. Drinking on the streets is legal — bring a roadie when you’re going out
Drinks in New Orleans are not especially expensive, but even $2 beers can add up when you’re drinking enough of them. It is perfectly legal to drink on the streets in New Orleans and the Go-Cup is a way of life (just no glass please). So fill in your cup with your beverage of choice at your accommodation and enjoy the sights of the city with a mild buzz.
2. Use public transportation
If you didn’t come with a car, don’t rent one. Parking rates downtown can be astronomical and public transportation is widely available. While buses offer more coverage, don’t miss a ride on the streetcar, which is an experience unto itself. Purchase a Jazzy Pass from your driver when you board and ride for $3 all day.
3. Stay in an Airbnb close to the action
There are plenty of amazing Airbnb in New Orleans that will help you save money on accommodation — especially if there is a group of you. Check out the best Airbnbs for Mardi Gras and near the French Quarter.
A version of this article was previously published on August 4, 2017, and was updated on January 25, 2022, with more information.