New Orleans is such an enticingly interesting city. There are so many things to do that planning a visit itinerary can be a little intimidating. To help you enjoy more of the city’s essence in as little as a weekend, ensure you consider these favorite New Orleans tours and attractions.
Audubon Nature Institute
More often thought of as a place for taking young children, the New Orleans Audubon Zoo is also a relaxing, entertaining and educational option for adults. In particular, unique exhibits of over 1500 animals of 360 species – including albino alligators and white tigers – add interest to the more than 50 acres of pathways and boardwalks accented by sculptures, lush foliage, Spanish moss, flowers, historic trees, bamboo and boardwalks. Chirping of birds, fresh breezes and the rustle of leaves can be a welcome diversion to a hectic touring schedule, particularly when the leisurely pace bodes well for working off some of the region’s gourmet indulgences.
The zoo is located on an 18th century sugar plantation and the site of the 1884 World Exposition. It features the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit, the world’s only urban swamp that showcases South Louisiana animals such as Louisiana black bear, bobcats, foxes and albino alligators. Other options within the Audubon Nature Institute’s organization are the Aquarium of the Americas, IMAX Theatre, parks and other educational and research centers. 6500 Magazine Street; www.auduboninstitute.org.
Located only three blocks from the Mississippi River, Preservation Hall is the ultimate New Orleans music experience. Originally a private residence circa 1750, the Hall has housed music legends since 1961 as part of an effort to preserve the authenticity of original New Orleans Jazz. Always crowded and lively with the sounds of both young and veteran musicians, the venue never disappoints. Go prepared to tap your feet and open your heart to the real sound of the South. Louis Armstrong said, “Preservation Hall. Now that’s where you’ll find all of the greats.” All ages are welcome for nightly shows. 726 St. Peter Street; 888.946.JAZZ; www.preservationhall.com.
On board the Steamboat Natchez, one of only six remaining historic steamboats on the Mississippi, enjoy an authentic river cruise while live jazz is played by the ship band. Sights include Chalmette Battlefield, where Jean Lafitte and his buccaneers joined Andrew Jackson’s forces to defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans. Truly an experience reflective of the days of cotton plantations and gentility on the mighty river, Natchez never disappoints.
Have a traditional New Orleans breakfast of beignets and chicory coffee at the Café du Monde first (you’ll end up wanting to do that every day), enjoy the paddlewheel river tour that embarks just steps from the Cafe, then stop into the Jax Brewery for some light shopping after your cruise while you regain your land legs. Boat tour reservations should be made one day prior and the cost is approximately $50 per person, including two-hour cruise and onboard Creole lunch. Gray Line also offers a variety of other tours, including swamp boats, ghosts & spirits tours and many more. 800.535.7786; www.graylineneworleans.com.
“Cities of the Dead” Cemetery Tours by the Save Our Cemeteries, Inc
A very worthwhile and surprisingly low cost affords a tour of either famed Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 or St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, hosted by a highly knowledgeable and engaging local volunteer. New Orleans has buried its dead in a very unique manner for centuries. These deeply historic cemetery settings provide for peaceful, quiet mid-morning walking tours remembered for a lifetime. This is a must-do for lovers of history, religion, forensics, culture and society. Tours begin at midmorning on particular days, so do research and make arrangements either prior to departure for Nola, or early in your stay. Don’t forget your comfortable shoes! 504.525.3377; www.saveourcemeteries.org.
Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours
Both Royal Carriage Tours and Good Old Days Tours offer mule and horse-drawn carriage rides around the French Quarter. As often as you might pass by one of these within other cities, New Orleans is a city in which the cost is definitely a worthwhile expenditure. A personable and colorful guide will route your carriage slowly and artfully through the Quarter’s historic streets pointing out shops, galleries, historic sites and other places you’ll want to note. You can yell, “Stella!” as you pass the Tennessee Williams house where the famed “Stella!” Annual Shouting Contest takes place. The tour also passes sites visited by Napoleon, lush courtyards, iron-lace balconies and so much more.
Our lovely guide even stopped at a historic pub, whistled for a server and ordered beverages for us. They were served while we remained comfortably relaxed upon our tufted velvet seats. Be prepared to be social during your ride. It seems everyone wishes to say “hello” and converse with you as you clip-clop down quaint streets. No reservations needed. Simply approach a parked carriage and driver. Across from Café du Monde, perhaps another hint to have more beignets and chicory coffee, Decatur Street at Jackson Square; 8:30 a.m. to Midnight daily, weather permitting; www.neworleanscarriages.com.