Things to Do in New Orleans For Families: The Ultimate Vacation Itinerary!

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Destinations, Family Adventures, Romantic Retreats, South East, USA

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Often called the Big Easy, Crescent City, or Paris of the South, New Orleans lives up to those expectations with delicious food, lively jazz music, and big drinks! We were traveling with another family, and even with a fully packed itinerary, we didn’t come close to experiencing everything that NOLA has to offer. 

We enjoyed many museums, Mardi Gras festivities, and popular areas like Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, Canal Street, the Garden District, and the French Quarter. The state of Louisiana itself is packed with historical landmarks,  rich history, and cultural markets.  There are so many activities that it’s impossible to do them all in just a week. We also had to make reservations for some attractions months before our trip because some activities end up being fully booked. So, read on to learn which to reserve in advance! 

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best things to do in New Orleans, Louisiana with family. There is a lot to do – so don’t be surprised if you don’t get to everything on the list! 

 

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Enjoy Dinner on a Jazz Cruise on the Mississippi

New Orleans is right on the Mississippi River. One of the best ways to experience the river is aboard ships like the Creole Queen or Natchez. While each company offers different packages like sunset cruises or the brunch cruise, we ended up on the Mississippi Jazz Cruise aboard the Creole Queen. The jazz music in New Orleans is known for setting the mood for the evening. We did have to pay for drinks at the bar, but the food was included, the atmosphere was great, and the weather ended up being perfect that night. The Creole Queen is also a paddle boat, and it’s big enough that guests don’t feel it moving much, which is great for people who get motion-sick! 

 

View of the Crescent City Connection Bridge. Things to do in New Orleans.

We had a magnificent view of the Crescent City Connection Bridge and the New Orleans
skyline aboard the ship.
Photo Credit: Shane Kirk

 

Get Close with Critters at the NOLA Zoo and Aquarium

The Audubon Nature Institute owns the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium, Insectarium, and Park on Magazine Street in New Orleans. These attractions are near each other but visitors will need separate passes for each one. Guests can bundle tickets to 2 or 3 attractions to save money, and there’s also an option to pay for experiences like snorkeling with marine life, butterfly release, and encounters with black bears, alpacas, orangutans, jaguars, alligators, sea lions, giant tortoises, and penguins. 

 

 

While the aquarium and insectarium were under construction when we visited NOLA, the Audubon Zoo was a great time on its own. We saw New Orleans art and historic buildings that were scattered through the zoo while viewing more than 2,000 animals. It was easy enough to walk in about half a day, and when we finished, we had lunch at one of the picnic tables in nearby Audubon Park, surrounded by colorful flowers and ancient oak trees. Next time we will visit the immersive firefly entrance, butterfly garden, and honeybee exhibit at the insectarium and the marine life at the aquarium, too! Like I said, more to do than time to do it!

 

Learn About the Rich History of New Orleans with a Ghost Tour

The city of New Orleans has been through a lot. Despite Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and the French Quarter’s burning to the ground several times, it is still standing. With so much heartbreaking history, it’s no surprise that it’s considered the most haunted city in America. NOLA’s paranormal activities include ghosts, vampires, and burning buildings! And did you know that Nicholas Cage has a pyramid tomb in New Orleans? He’s already decided his final resting place in St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans!

Visitors will want to book a ghost tour to learn facts like this. Some tours even take guests through the cemeteries- something they won’t experience otherwise since many of them are closed off to the public because of vandalism. 

 

The infamous LaLaurie Mansion. Things to do in New Orleans.

The LaLaurie Mansion was home to one of the wealthiest families in New Orleans until it caught fire- a fire that revealed the LaLaurie family’s darkest secrets.
Photo Credit: Samantha Davis

 

Of course, ghost tours are only as good as the tour guide. We went on two ghost tours but Coby “not like the cheese” from New Orleans Ghost Adventure Tours was our favorite. His personality really made our Haunted Bar Crawl a great experience!

 

DON’T MISS! Spooky Slumbers: 9 Most Haunted Hotels in the US

 

Check Out the Mardi Gras Festivities or Festivals

New Orleans is known for its Mardi Gras celebrations that take place during Carnival season, the period of time between Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras Day changes every year, but you can find the dates all the way up to the year 2050 on the tourism board’s website. Celebrations start on Lundi Gras (or Fat Monday) with the first Mardi Gras parades. These parades have beautifully designed floats, live music, and stunning costumes and they last all through the Carnival Season (see the parade schedule here). 

 

Elaborate Mardi Gras parade costume. Things to do in New Orleans.

Elaborately designed costumes, live bands, and parade floats make up the spectacular Mardi Gras parade.
Photo by Carol Highsmith’s America on Unsplash

 

Visitors during Mardi Gras should also stop by the Mardi Gras World Art Museum, eat Mardi Gras King Cake, shop for a Mardi Gras mask or other souvenirs at the French Market, or check out the parade after-party on Bourbon Street. For those not visiting during Mardi Gras, you can still get a taste of New Orleans at one of dozens of festivals during the year. Each festival is a way to experience incredible live music, local artists, and local culture. And, guests visiting NOLA at the end of April should be sure to check out the annual Jazz Fest

 

Shop for Souvenirs At The French Market

New Orleans is separated into several districts. The French Market District starts at Jackson Square where visitors can appreciate the stained glass windows and historical architecture of St. Louis Cathedral. Then, stroll through the Craft Bazaar, Farmers & Flea Markets, shops of the Colonnade, and shops of the Upper Pontalba that make up the French Market District. It has been the heart of commerce in New Orleans since 1871, despite facing natural disasters so many times. And don’t forget to stop in at Cafe du Monde – their beignets and cafe au lait are legendary! This popular spot sometimes has lines out the door. 

 

Beignets and coffee. Things to do in New Orleans.

The beignets at Cafe du Monde are served with a side of strawberry or chocolate dipping sauce.
Photo by Carol Highsmith’s America on Unsplash

 

Visit a Themed Escape Room

While guests can find escape rooms all over the United States, our group spent a half day completing four different rooms – two at Clue Carre and two at The Escape Game. Each location has several themed escape rooms to choose from, ranging in difficulty. My favorite had to be the Vampire-themed room at Club Carre. 

 

Our group after an escape room in New Orleans. Things to do in New Orleans.

We deactivated the nuclear bombs and saved the world in this escape room!
Photo Credit: Samantha Davis

 

Take a Swamp Tour 

Several companies offer airboat tours of Louisiana swamps around New Orleans. Visitors get the chance to get up close and personal with Louisiana wildlife. While guests are completely safe aboard the boat, they should keep their eyes peeled for gators, snakes, birds, wild hogs, and raccoons. 

 

Alligator in Louisiana bayou. Things to do in New Orleans.

You’ll be completely safe from critters like this aboard the air boat!
Photo by Scott May on Unsplash

 

Another more active option is a kayak tour. We explored Manchac Swamp, the third-largest cypress swamp in the US, on a two-hour guided tour with NOLA Kayak Tours.

Bring your camera for this serene experience, which surrounds families in the vibrating greens of vines and trees.

For visitors who want to spend more than 2 hours exploring the swamps, consider the 8.5 hour Oak Alley Plantation and Spooky Louisiana Swamp Tour

 

Visit the Botanical Garden

The New Orleans Botanical Garden, which spans 10 acres, features more than 2,000 kinds of plants from all over the world. Walking through the grounds is incredibly peaceful. You can also explore the Helis Foundation Enrique Alferez Sculpture Garden, Historic New Orleans Train Garden, Conservatory of the Two Sisters, and Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden. Get the FlexPass to save money on this and other popular attractions.

 

The Bather at the New Orleans Botanical Garden. Things to do in New Orleans.

You’ll find statues like “The Bather” tucked into the beautiful greenery, giant trees, and colorful flowers at the botanical garden.
Photo Credit: Samantha Davis

 

Check Out Art Galleries, Museums, and History

In a city rich in art and culture, one could expect the many art galleries and museums to be the city’s masterpieces. Some of the largest art galleries in NOLA are the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden but visitors will find smaller galleries all around the city. Some other notable attractions include the Tulane Museum of Natural History, Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans Jazz Museum, Studio Be, and Backstreet Cultural Museum

 

A statue outside of the NOLA Museum of Art. Things to do in New Orleans.

These beautiful statues are the first thing visitors will notice at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Photo Credit: Samantha Davis

 

While the Sazerac House is great for events, visitors traveling without kids can stop in and try some of the cocktails or wines while learning about New Orleans’s history. It has interactive exhibits, and guests can chat with a virtual New Orleans bartender about making cocktails. 

 

 

Finally, as visitors travel around New Orleans, consider participating in a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour or the St. Charles Streetcar. As guests ride along, a local guide will point out each historical landmark as they describe history and local lore. 

 

See the National World War II Museum in the United States

Whether you consider yourself a history buff or not, the National World War II Museum is worth a visit. Visitors will need at least half a day to explore all the exhibits. In addition to the many exhibits on display, the museum uses news clips, videos, and themed areas to really submerge visitors in the experience. Guests can even choose a dog tag associated with a person from World War II.

 

Army vehicles from World War II. Things to do in New Orleans.

Military vehicles like these are some of the first things you’ll see inside the National World War II Museum!
Photo Credit: Shane Kirk

 

As they explore the museum, there are stations to scan the dog tag and learn more about that person’s experience during the war. Depending on how into it your group is, there are activities to keep everyone busy for a couple days. We also saw an exhibit on Disney during the War (it’s so secret that we weren’t even allowed to take pictures!).

 

DON’T MISS! 8 Ways to Raise Kids Who LOVE Museums!

 

Take a Cooking Class Or Food Tour

During our trip, we also booked a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. An older Creole gentleman taught us how to make jambalaya, gumbo, and bananas foster with all the flavor that you don’t find anywhere except New Orleans. Gumbo is now a monthly staple on our house’s menu and we even buy our spices direct from the New Orleans School of Cooking, too! 

 

Photo at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Things to do in New Orleans.

We make the same gumbo we learned to make in New Orleans every 3-4 weeks!
Photo Credit: Samantha Davis

 

Not into cooking but love to eat? Try a food tour instead! On the Dr. Gumbo Food Tour, we learned so much about New Orleans’s history and sampled cultural food and cocktails!

 

 

 

When You Go

 

 

Where To Stay In New Orleans

A high-end, luxury option is the Maison de la Luz, a 67-room boutique hotel with 15 suite options. They have valet parking so families don’t have to fuss with finding a place to leave their car in the middle of the night. Kids stay free here and pets are welcome. There are two restaurants and bars in this Warehouse area hotel. When the kids go to bed, check out the famous Bar Marilou there for creative craft cocktails.

A high-end but affordable stay is at the Higgins Hotel, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. This Art Deco masterpiece is right across the street from the National WWII Museum and has decorations that match the spirit. See a depiction of Rosie the Riveter commanding the lobby area over the front desk. Other art pieces are strewn around the hotel, an activity worth wandering to appreciate. There are two restaurants and a speak-easy type bar. We loved staying here during one visit and enjoyed breakfast on the rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

Don’t be fooled by the low price of the Super 8 By Wyndham Hotel. This pastel-colored throwback has a pool, free breakfast, and gives guests free wifi and parking. Feel free to bring your furry friends to this French Quarter area palace conveniently located by Bourbon Street and the Superdome.

 

Getting to New Orleans From Los Angeles 

New Orleans has an airport less than 15 miles from the city, making it easy for visitors from Los Angeles to travel by plane. Nonstop flights from LAX take just over 3.5 hours and are offered by several airlines, including Delta, Spirit, Southwest, American, and United.  

 

How To Save Money On Your Trip To New Orleans

An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!

If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find crazy cheap discounts. Some can even be booked with points.

 

Protect Your Family And Your Trip

To save time (and because we travel so much), we got an annual travel insurance policy for the whole family from this site. They have affordable policies for individual trips too and tools to make picking one easy.

 

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Samantha Davis is a mom to two rambunctious boys, a pittie named Ursula, a cat named Avo-Cat-o, and a bearded dragon named Cotton-Eyed Josie. When she isn’t writing and juggling her crazy life, Samantha loves traveling with her sons, partner, and sometimes the dog, too!