The 9 top things to do in New Orleans

Want to get the best from your time in New Orleans? Read on to find out what to eat, drink, see and do in the home of jazz and voodoo.

1. Listen to some live jazz

Saxophones shining in the coloured stage lights

Well, of course! From its brass band parades to its smoky lounges, what could New Orleans be more famous for than its live jazz? The jazz brunch is something of an institution in New Orleans, and it happens daily at the Court of Two Sisters at 613 Royal Street. Bag a seat under the wisteria in the pretty courtyard and soak up the vibes over a bowl of traditional turtle soup. In the evenings, serious jazz fans should make for the Candlelight Lounge on North Robertson Street, a simple cinder-block with a row of chairs to mark the stage. Or for some old-fashioned liveliness – and if you don’t mind smoke – try The Spotted Cat music club on Frenchmen Street where the local swing dancers take centre stage on the dancefloor.

2. See a Louisiana witch doctor

Voodoo is to New Orleans what tango is to Argentina – a quintessential part of the experience. In the city’s above-ground cemetery, you’ll find the grave of the ‘Voodoo Queen’ Marie Laveau, 19th-century spiritual leader. But head down to 612 rue Dumaine in the French Quarter to get a personal taste at Voodoo Authentica, where practitioners offer readings using a variety of methods, including tarot. Here you can also buy voodoo dolls, potions, medicinal herbs and gris-gris (mojo) bags that promise to attract love, health and good fortune - with not a pin in sight. Now there’s an unusual souvenir.

3. Shop for vinyl

Music is everywhere in New Orleans, spilling out from the bars and clubs, marching down the streets and playing in all the shops. So why not take some home with you? Mushroom Records is the oldest independent music shop in the city, and has a phenomenal collection of good old-fashioned vinyl to happily lose yourself in for an hour or two. Find it on 1037 Broadway Street.

4. Taste Louisiana oysters

Louisiana oysters on a plate

Grown in the Gulf, the sweet, lightly chewy texture of the Louisiana Oyster makes it one of the world’s most special seafoods. And for the best in New Orleans, head to Superior Seafood at 4338 Saint Charles Avenue, which is consistently rated #1 for its oyster bar. Try them chargrilled for something different, with a side of crawfish bread – it’s the stuff of legend.

5. Take a ghost tour by horse-drawn carriage

Discover the most unusual residents of New Orleans on a horse-drawn carriage ghost tour of this haunted town! On your 30-minute tour, a guide will reveal stories of ghosts, vampires (really) and the voodoo arts of the French Quarter, which some consider one of the most haunted neighbourhoods in America! Head to the 700 Block of Decatur Street at Jackson Square and look for the red shirts of the Royal Carriages company.

6. Catch a streetcar

Interior of a tram car in New Orleans, with 1960s-style plush red leather seating.

The iconic trams of New Orleans are by far the easiest way to get around. Running along five routes across the city, you can travel from the French Market on the Mississippi river through the French Quarter, Garden District and up to the cemeteries with a one-day pass that will set you back a grand total of $3. And you can also use it on the city buses.

7. Eat like the Obamas

Want to try a sandwich worthy of a president? Head to Parkway Tavern at 538 Hagan Avenue where, back in 2010, Barack Obama and his family dropped in for an unscheduled takeaway and took the owners completely by surprise and delight. On an official visit to New Orleans during the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the family shook hands with all the other customers while waiting for their po’boys with fried shrimp, salad and dressing, with sides of fries and turkey-alligator gumbo. Obama bought a bottle of Parkway Hot Sauce to go, saying he’d put it on Air Force One. Now there’s another unusual souvenir idea.

8. Walk through City Park

Standing proudly since 1854 through hurricane, flood and depression, this beautiful 1300-acre oasis is a perfect spot to sit and relax – perhaps with your Louisiana po’boy. Much of its Botanical Garden has been replanted and rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina, but the world’s largest collection of centuries-old oak trees and ancient moss groves still remain, stirring a little natural magic in to the city’s heady occult mix.

9. Attend a year-round Mardi Gras

It may not be Mardi Gras time when you visit New Orleans, but there’s no reason to miss out. Mosy on over to Henderson Street in the Central Business District to Mardi Gras World and get up close and personal to the world’s most audacious carnival floats. Take a tour and see the paper mache pieces being crafted, meet the artists and learn all about the fascinating history of the Mardi Gras.

Discover New Orleans with Cosmos