26 Best Cheap Or Free Things To Do In New Orleans

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Orleans street sign in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana
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BIG EASY, SMALL BUDGET

Zesty seafood, live music, and elegant architectural gems converge in New Orleans. The city was battered in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, but has made a comeback. Tourists are again indulging in a vibrant culinary scene and the legendary annual Mardi Gras celebration, as well as everyday pleasures. Here are Cheapism's top 26 free or cheap things to do in the Big Easy.

a Muffuletta At Central Grocery & Deli
Photo credit: Deanna W./yelp.com

DEVOUR A MUFFULETTA AT CENTRAL GROCERY & DELI

A New Orleans staple, the muffuletta is a sandwich you definitely have to try when you're in the Big Easy. The hearty sandwich is layered with mortadella, ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and an olive spread made with green and kalamata olives, garlic, capers, onions, red wine vinegar and spices. You'll find the best rendition at Central Grocery & Deli, a favorite spot since 1906.
Preservation Hall in New Orleans
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HEAR LIVE JAZZ AT PRESERVATION HALL

New Orleans is full of incredible music everywhere you turn, but Preservation Hall on St. Peter's St. in the French Quarter is the cornerstone of New Orleans jazz and a must-visit for everyone, especially traditional jazz lovers. Since 1961, the intimate venue has hosted acoustic performances from local legends and visiting greats nearly every night of the year. Nightly shows take place on the hour from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and general admission is $15 Sunday to Thursday, $20 on weekends. You can reserve "Big Shot" tickets online , from $35 to $50, if you want to guarantee a seat.
Hyatt Centric French Quarter in New Orleans
Photo credit: Courtesy of Hyatt Centric French Quarter

STAY AT THE HYATT CENTRIC FRENCH QUARTER

When visiting the Big Easy, you're going to want to stay in the thick of things and there's no better vantage point that being in the heart of the city's oldest and most popular neighborhood. The historic Hyatt Centric French Quarter is handily adjacent to NOLA's Central Business District and a short walk from many of the city's main attractions. There are even three restaurants and bars on-site including Red Fish Grill for casual New Orleans seafood, Batch, an upscale lounge with hand-crafted cocktails and locally sourced shared plates, and Powdered Sugar for grab-and-go salads, paninis and entrees. After a day of exploring Bourbon Street, should you feel the need to get away from it all, the hotel's courtyard is equipped with a pool and ample cabana space.

live music being played on Frenchman Street
Photo credit: Ilya T./yelp.com

LISTEN TO MORE MUSIC ON FRENCHMAN STREET

Escape the crowds and neon of Bourbon Street and head over to Frenchman Street, just outside the French Quarter, where locals and visitors-in-the-know go for live music and art. Along a three-block stretch you'll find legendary venues like The Blue Nile, The Spotted Cat, and The Apple Barrel Bar with exceptional musicians playing everything from jazz and blues to funk, rock and more. Admission to most places is typically cheaper than more touristy spots and you'll usually find plenty of free performances in the streets. Grab cheap, late-night bites at places like Dat Dog or 13 Monaghan.
Cubs The Poet
Photo credit: Courtesy of Cubs The Poet

SEEK OUT CUSTOM POETRY FROM CUBS THE POET

Should you happen to see a bespectacled man pecking at a vintage typewriter with the slogan "Poetry Still Matters" on a sidewalk in the French Quarter, do not hesitate to say hello to Cubs The Poet. Chat him up and he'll even create an impromptu poem about whatever topic your heart desires, standing and delivering the prose with poise.
The Presbyère in New Orleans
Photo credit: Kevin K./yelp.com

CELEBRATE MARDI GRAS YEAROUND AT THE PRESBYÈRE

For those looking to avoid the crowds and high prices of visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras, you can still learn about the vibrant history about the world-famous celebration at The Presbytère. Built in the late 18th-century on the site of the Capuchin monks' residence, this beautiful historic building is one the nine sites of the Louisiana State Museum. Here you'll find a colorful and informative exhibit dedicated to Mardi Gras, complete with parade floats, costumes and music, as well as another exhibit in honor of the losses suffered by Katrina and other hurricanes. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and free for kids under $6.
Haunted History Tours
Photo credit: Haunted History Tours/yelp.com

CONTEMPLATE THE AFTERLIFE WITH HAUNTED HISTORY TOURS

From historic grave sites to Second Line funeral parades, celebrations of the afterlife are a prominent feature of life in New Orleans. Learn about the numerous legends and myths of the city on one of the Haunted History Tours, which offers a range of options including a cemetary tour, a haunted pub crawl, and ghost and vampire tours. Those with an interest in the macabre -- and a strong stomach -- may want to also check out the Museum of Death.
pubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter, downtown New Orleans
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TAKE A SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF THE FRENCH QUARTER

Put on comfortable walking shoes and download a map from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau for a self-guided tour of the French Quarter, perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans. There's charming French-style architecture throughout, plenty of window shopping, and fascinating people-watching at the numerous shops, restaurants, and galleries along the way.
beignets topped with powdered sugar with a cup of coffee
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MUNCH ON FRENCH BEIGNETS

Cafe Du Monde's coffee canisters are sold everywhere, but it's not a trip to New Orleans without a frozen cafe au lait ($4.50) and beignets (French fried doughnuts, which sell in packs of three for just over $2). Visitors have to hustle to grab a table at this crowded cafe, but waiters and kitchen staff are quick and so is turnover. Get an icy caffeine and sugar boost for less than $10.
City Park Bayou Bridge in New Orleans, Louisiana
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WANDER AROUND CITY PARK

Walking around New Orleans (or partying on Bourbon Street) can be exhausting, especially in the heat. Head to City Park to recuperate and explore 1,300 acres of oak trees, lagoons, biking and walking trails, lakes, and green space. The park is open year-round, seven days a week, and admission is free.
glassworks glass manufacturing process
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DISCOVER THE ART OF GLASS BLOWING

Glass blowing is a meticulous, precise, and mysterious art. Head to GlassWorks in the city's Arts District, where the curious can buy a 30-minute mini-workshop or two-hour short course -- or view studios, works in progress, and daily demonstrations for free.
authentic hurricane drink at Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans
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ENJOY A FAMOUS HURRICANE

Gourmets can't visit New Orleans without stopping by Pat O'Brien's for an authentic sweet rum drink. The large souvenir glass for $8.50 is more than enough to split with a buddy. The staff will even pack the glass in a box to take home at the end of the night, or you can return it to get $3 back. Frequent live piano duels entertain patrons.
Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum in New Orleans
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VISIT THE LOWER NINTH WARD MUSEUM

Hurricane Katrina devastated the levees of several canals in 2005, flooding most of the Lower Ninth Ward, and damage from the storm can still be seen more than a decade later. The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum makes the effect even more clear with walk-through exhibits and stories from the community. "This place should be a required stop for tourists to see the other side of New Orleans' rebirth," one visitor writes in a Yelp review. Admission is free.
man's hand getting crawfish
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GET A FREE ROUND OF CRAWFISH

Visit New Orleans during crawfish season, December through May, to enjoy crawfish boils -- heaping mounds of juicy, seasoned crawfish and plenty of hands-on nibbling. The Royal Street Inn Bar (also known as R Bar) throws free crawfish boils every Friday while the mudbugs are in season. There's a round of free crawfish at 6 p.m. and another an hour later.
The French Market on Decatur Street in New Orleans
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SHOP CAJUN-STYLE AT THE FRENCH MARKET

It's easy to miss Cajun cooking on the return home, so take a stroll through the popular French Market before leaving the city. Among the snow cones (which locals call "snowballs" or "snoballs"), spiked smoothies, fresh seafood, and souvenir vendors, there are market stands selling shelves of Southern goodness. Bring home unique hot sauce flavors, gumbo mix, shrimp étouffée seasoning, or dirty rice mix at $2 to $3 a bag.
dozen oysters and a lemon on a plastic plate
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SHUCK A DOZEN OYSTERS AT HAPPY HOUR

Craving oysters and a well-made drink? Head to Luke, which serves French and German food on mansion-laden St. Charles Avenue, called "The Jewel of America's Grand Avenues" -- but make reservations a few days ahead to take advantage of the happy hour specials. Every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., oysters are 75 cents each and wine and specialty cocktails are half off. More oyster happy hours can be found on Eater.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans
Photo credit: JeanLafitteNPS/facebook.com

TAKE A FREE HISTORY TOUR

Follow a ranger from the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve on a riverfront history walk. Rangers share stories on the beginnings and history of New Orleans on these hour long walks Tuesday through Saturday mornings. Twenty-five first-come, first-served tickets are given out at 9 a.m. at the park's French Quarter Visitor Center.
homemade chocolate praline with sliced pistachios
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SAMPLE A PRALINE

Make a sweet tooth happy by popping in to the city's numerous candy shops. Most sell pralines, a popular treat that originated in New Orleans but otherwise has an obscure origin. Pralines are made of nuts, sugar, syrup, and butter, although recipes vary. Try samples of bacon praline brittle at Leah's Pralines and see if the glazed pecans at Southern Candymakers match up.
flowers at Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans
Photo credit: Crescent-City-Farmers-Market/facebook.com

SHOP AT THE CRESCENT CITY FARMERS MARKET

Every major city has at least one farmers market, and New Orleans is no exception -- but this one dates back to 1779. Shop for flowers, organic goods to snack on, or even fresh food to cook at the Crescent City Farmers Market, which runs every Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at different locations. There are often demonstrations and lessons in Southern cooking, some from famed local chefs.
Le Bon Temps Roule in New Orleans
Photo credit: O N./yelp.com

DRINK WITH THE LOCALS

Bourbon Street can get loud, rowdy, and packed with inebriated tourists who've had one too many hurricanes. For a low-key dive bar, head to Le Bon Temps Roule. Reviews on Yelp call the bar a favorite among locals and highlight the live music in the tiny back room. The free oysters Friday evenings (starting at 7pm., typically gone by 9 p.m.) may be another reason to stop in.
Wednesday at the Square in New Orleans
Photo credit: Gavin P./yelp.com

WATCH A FREE CONCERT AT LAFAYETTE SQUARE

In the spring, catch the free concert series Wednesday at the Square. The Young Leadership Council, a nonprofit civic organization, puts on 12 three-hour concerts from March to June. In addition to hearing local bands playing jazz, rock, funk, swamp pop, and Latin rhythms, visitors can enjoy browsing the works of artists who set up nearby to sell their work. Look out for their 2017 schedule.
oyster po-boy sandwich with french fries
Photo credit: Darryl Brooks/shutterstock

TRY A PO' BOY AND FROZEN IRISH COFFEE BRUNCH

Instead of choosing between a second cup of joe and an early happy hour, head to Erin Rose, an Irish pub known for frozen Irish coffee with chopped espresso beans sprinkled on top. A small but well-regarded menu of po' boys includes a roasted sweet potato version for $10 and a seared gulf shrimp selection. Daily specials run early from 10am to 2pm, including mimosas and screwdrivers for $3 and those frozen Irish coffees for $3.50.
Banks Street Bar Grill in New Orleans
Photo credit: Danon H./yelp.com

LISTEN TO LIVE MUSIC

Banks Street Bar Grill has live music every night and never charges a cover. The kitchen turns out fresh seafood meals, but free red beans and rice might tempt visitors on Mondays, and Wednesday nights promise free BLT sandwiches. A quick Yelp search will also turn up plenty of bars with happy hours and live blues and jazz.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in New Orleans
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MARVEL AT ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL

St. Louis Cathedral, near the French Market and overseeing Jackson Square, is one of the oldest cathedrals in America still in operation; the site has welcomed worshipers since 1727. Venture inside to marvel at sculptures, painted ceilings, and stained-glass windows. (Be respectful when visiting; Mass starts at 12:05 p.m. daily.)
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
Photo credit: Stephanie L./yelp.com

EXPLORE A VOODOO SHOP

The French Quarter is peppered with voodoo shops playing off the the tradition that originated with West African slaves and refugees from the Haitian Revolution. Stop by the small New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum for a quick tour. Enthusiasts can join a name-your-own-price walking tour to explore more voodoo temples and learn more about its history.
The Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans
Photo credit: Katherine M./yelp.com

TAKE A SPIN AT THE CAROUSEL BAR

The Carousel Bar and Lounge, inside the impressive Hotel Monteleone, is a popular place to stop by for photos. The unique bar sits atop a merry-go-round and slowly revolves around the stationary bartender island. The elegant decor and glimmering bejeweled paintings in the lounge are also worth the visit. Cool down with a draft beer (starting at $7) or a specialty cocktail, like a refreshing Pimm's Cup, for $12.

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