There’s so much more to do in New Orleans than just partying on Bourbon Street. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
To get the most out of your visit to the Big Easy, you’ve got to experience New Orleans off the beaten path. See unusual attractions like alligator-infested swamplands, the Pharmacy Museum, the grave of a local voodoo legend, and haunted historic buildings.
This article groups the city’s under the radar spots under six headings: museums, tours, other attractions, neighborhoods, hotels, and food. If you’re like me and you try to seek out quirky and unusual spots while traveling, be sure to add most of these spots to your New Orleans itinerary!
Of course you should do the regular tourist stuff like grabbing beignets at Café du Monde, visiting Mardi Gras World, and seeing live jazz music on Frenchmen Street. But once you’ve done those, try some of these more adventurous suggestions. Here’s my guide to enjoying New Orleans Off the Beaten Path.
Interesting and Quirky New Orleans Museums
The Pharmacy Museum
The Pharmacy Museum is a slightly creepy but fascinating little establishment. It’s right in the French Quarter, but tourists often overlook it. Go inside and you’ll see all sorts of wacky exhibits, such as: Old bottles of heroin that were legally sold as a painkiller in 1898; a tank of leeches and text explaining how they’re used to treat diseases; and a chloroform inhaler, which was used during childbirth.
Basically, anything that falls into the “strange but true” realm of medical history can be found here. It’s a satisfyingly weird way to spend an hour!
Museum of the American Cocktail
Foodies take note: The Southern Food & Beverage Museum and the Museum of the American Cocktail can be found together on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. For $10.50, you can explore both museums, checking out displays about the culinary history of the region, and food and drink-related artifacts. Visitors can dine on-site at Toups South, a restaurant run by a former Top Chef contestant.
National World War II Museum
The National World War II Museum is an incredibly informative and in-depth recap of the second great war. But the museum is still very much off the beaten path when it comes to New Orleans attractions. A lot of people don’t even know it’s there.
That’s a shame, because the exhibits are expertly done. They have actual planes and tanks from the conflict, and interactive multimedia displays to teach you everything about this critical part of world history.
Museum of Death
This one seemed a little too dark for me, so I didn’t stop in. But if you’re interested in serial killer artwork, coroners’ medical instruments, Manson family artifacts, and crime scene photographs, you may want to give this museum a shot. It’s the sister location for the Museum of Death in Hollywood. Photography is not allowed.
Historic Voodoo Museum
The tiny little Voodoo Museum has been open nearly 50 years now in the French Quarter. The facility captures the history of voodoo culture in New Orleans, with skeletons, masks, beads, and other memorabilia. They pack a ton of stuff into a few small rooms. For just $7, why not make a quick stop inside?
Offbeat and Unique New Orleans Tours
Those interested in walking tours or more in-depth guided tours have a large number of options in New Orleans. Tour subjects range from voodoo to alligators to local food. Most of these tours offer free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.
Louisiana Bayou Swamp Tour
You can find lots of swamp tours in the New Orleans area. The Louisiana Bayou Swamp Tour from Cajun Pride Swamp Tours is one of the more affordable tours available, while still providing plenty of chances to see alligators. Have your camera, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent ready, and enjoy the journey through the swamp!
Ghosts & Vampires Walking Tour
If you’re looking for unique things to do in New Orleans, this one has to rank at the top of the list. The Ghosts & Vampires Walking Tour takes guests on a 2-hour walking tour through the French Quarter. Your guide will tell stories about the mysteries of the city, involving ghosts, vampires, and hauntings.
Day Cruise on the Mississippi River
Here’s a fun one: Spend two hours aboard the Steamboat Natchez on a Mississippi River Day Cruise! Learn about the history of the city and the river on the relaxing voyage. Definitely pay the few bucks extra to include the Creole lunch with your booking. For something more unique and musical, consider also the Evening Jazz Boat Cruise.
Whitney Plantation Tour
The Whitney Plantation Tour does a great job of providing historical perspective on the unfortunate history of slavery in Louisiana. The tour presents first-person accounts from people who lived and worked at this 262-year-old plantation. As New Orleans plantation tours go, this is one of the best, because they provide round-trip transportation from the city, and the tour lasts 5 hours, as opposed to some others which take up almost 8 hours.
Hurricane Katrina Recovery Tour
It’s hard to believe that so many years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005. The storm flooded 80% of the city and killed more than 1000 people. It especially hit the Lower Ninth Ward hard. This Hurricane Katrina Tour takes visitors to some of the areas hit by the storm to see how they have recovered in the years since the hurricane, including Lakeview, Gentilly, and St. Bernard. The educational tour gives guests a closer look at how the city was able to bounce back from the disaster.
French Quarter Food History Tour
New Orleans has more unique local foods than just about anywhere in America. How can you possibly sample them all? A food tour is a good place to start! The 3-hour French Quarter Food History Tour gives you a chance to try dishes like seafood gumbo, brisket with Creole sauce, read beans & rice, and turtle soup (specific food offerings may change daily.)
Voodoo & Cemetery Tour
Haunted tours and voodoo tours are a big thing in the Big Easy. The Voodoo & Cemetery Tour run by New Orleans Ghost Adventures takes guests to St. Louis Cemetery #1 and a local voodoo shop, providing context on the history of voodoo practice in the city.
More Under the Radar Attractions in New Orleans
Carousel Bar is just what it sounds like. It’s a merry-go-round style bar that rotates while you sip your cocktail. How cool! The piano bar holds 25 people and it’s quite popular, so you may want to visit during weekdays to avoid the crowds. If you’re only here for a weekend trip in New Orleans, come before 4 pm for the best chance of grabbing a seat.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
New Orleans is known for its above-ground cemeteries. The water table is so high here that burying someone underground is difficult, so 90% of burials in the city are above ground.
Among the many famous cemeteries is St. Louis Cemetery #1. It’s especially noteworthy because that’s where you’ll find the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. People often leave trinkets at the spot where this notorious “Voodoo Priestess” was laid to rest.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
Did you know there are two national historical parks right in the heart of New Orleans? One, Jean Lafitte National Park & Preserve, describes the history of the Mississippi River Delta. The other is New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, which covers four acres in Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood. Stop by the visitor center to learn about how jazz music shaped New Orleans. You may also catch a performance, as the park brings in musicians several days a week.
LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop
This place wins the prize for “most deceptive business name ever.” It’s not a blacksmith shop – it’s a bar. In fact, it claims to be the oldest bar in the country, though no one has been able to verify that claim.
Built in the 1770s, the structure is one of the oldest in New Orleans, and it’s a National Historic Landmark. The place gets busy, so if you actually want a drink here, come earlier in the day.
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
This one’s just for the loonies like me who love anything with the title “world’s largest…” In this case, Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest bridge that continuously stretches over water in the world.
The 24-mile-long bridge connects New Orleans with the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. There’s no compelling reason to drive on this bridge, except to say that you drove on a Guinness World Record-holding bridge. The cash toll for those without a toll tag is $5.
Simon Bolivar Monument
This is a weirdly unexpected find in New Orleans – a monument to former Venezuelan president and military leader Simon Bolivar. Though Bolivar never visited New Orleans, his work in helping to free several Latin American countries from Spanish rule in the early 1800s inspired subsequent generations. The 7-ton granite statue was gifted to New Orleans by Venezuela in 1957. Find the 12-foot monument at Canal and Basin Streets.
Dos Jefes Cigar Bar
If you’re searching for a place to hear live music away from the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street, Dos Jefes is a solid option. The cozy Uptown bar offers live music each night with no cover charge. Expect to hear something in the jazz, folk, or blues realm. Keep in mind that it’s a cigar bar, so smoke will be in the air, along with good music and good vibes.
Off the Beaten Path New Orleans Neighborhoods
Faubourg Marigny and Bywater
I really believe that you haven’t fully experienced New Orleans unless you’ve spent some time in the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. This is where you’ll find blocks and blocks of brightly-colored, adorably cute houses.
There’s an area of Frenchmen Street located within the Marigny that is known for its live jazz music. You’ll definitely want to stop by there. Aside from that little section, the rest of these neighborhoods are farther away from the hustle of bustle of the tourist district, which is nice. If you have at least 3 days in New Orleans, this is a great place to consider booking an Airbnb.
Ok, the Garden District isn’t as much of a secret as it once was. Many visitors now make a detour here to see the mansions from the 1800s and the funky shops and eateries on Magazine Street. Hop on the St. Charles streetcar and spend a couple hours here. Or stay all night and do some bar hopping once you’ve tired of the French Quarter.
Algiers is extremely overlooked by tourists, but if you want an off the beaten path neighborhood in New Orleans, this is it. It’s right across the river from the French Quarter. All you have to do is take a short ferry ride over there.
The ‘hood is mostly quiet and residential, so it’s a good spot for a relaxing stroll and perhaps a nice lunch. Architecture lovers will enjoy the abundance of old houses. There’s also a Jazz Walk of Fame with a statue of Louis Armstrong.
A surprising number of tourists skip City Park, which at 1300 acres is far bigger than New York’s famed Central Park. City Park has been a New Orleans institution since 1854. This park is so old that there’s a section that used to be known for its frequent dueling around 200 years ago. Duels!
In addition to lakes, picnic areas, and 600-year-old oak trees, City Park is home to a miniature golf course, the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, and the Carousel Gardens amusement park.
Quirky and Cool New Orleans Hotels
It didn’t take long for the Ace Hotel to become the coolest hotel chain in the U.S. Ace has roughly a dozen locations, including one in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. The hip factor is through the roof on this property, which resides in a 1928 Art Deco building. In addition to its funky rooms, the Ace Hotel has six places on site to eat or drink, as well as the Three Keys music venue. Check Ace Hotel prices and availability.
Yes, it’s really called Haunted Hotel. New Orleans is home to a number of supposedly haunted hotels, and the one on the edge of the French Quarter called Haunted Hotel caters to travelers who are into ghost sightings. The hotel’s own website brags that it’s the “home of many murders dating back hundreds of years… many guests can’t stomach staying an entire night.” If that sort of thing is up your alley, click to check Haunted Hotel prices and availability.
India House Hostel
For the budget traveler, India House Hostel is a good option. It’s located in Mid-City, one of the city’s emerging fun neighborhoods. You can get dorm beds for as little as $17/night and private rooms for around $45. I stayed at India House a few years back and enjoyed the hostel and its location. It’s far enough away from the French Quarter to avoid the craziness, but close enough that you can get there via a 10-minute streetcar ride. Click to check India House Hotel prices and availabilty.
If you want to go upscale, then don’t even research any further – just book a room at Hotel Monteleone right now! This huge 570-room property was built in 1886, and has hosted legends like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. The aforementioned Carousel Bar is inside this hotel, so you don’t even have to leave the property to visit one of the coolest bars in the city. Check Hotel Monteleone prices and availability.
Why just drive past old New Orleans mansions when you could stay at one? Magazine Mansion has six different offerings for all budgets, ranging from a king suite with a spa bath to a studio room with a sofa bed. Book early and you could stay here for less than $100! Check Magazine Mansion prices and availability.
These are just some of the cool and unusual hotel properties in the city. If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans and want to consider some other hotels, check out the booking.com map below.
Off the Beaten Path Food Options
You can’t talk about New Orleans without talking about food! It’s tough to write about, though, because there are literally hundreds of places to eat in New Orleans. I certainly haven’t tried them all – no one has!
Of course, there are a million places in the city to try gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, po’ boy sandwiches, fried chicken, shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, and various Cajun and Creole foods. Most of the cuisine I ate in New Orleans was in this vein. You can’t walk 10 feet without bumping into a place to try these foods if that’s what you’re after.
I highly recommend that you stick to these foods, since they encapsulate so much of the culture and spirit of New Orleans. But since this is an off the beaten path article, I’ll offer a couple of other modest suggestions.
In the Garden District, try District Donuts & Sliders. Their food is creative and delicious, like the fried chicken slider and waffle fries. But make sure to try the desserts! Their cinnamon rolls and donuts were amazing. I could eat here everyday.
District now has multiple locations around the city. So does Dat Dog, which offers unusual hot dogs. That should be your destination if you’re craving an alligator hot dog or a duck sausage.
There’s an acclaimed place called Jacques-Imo’s that serves up Creole soul food. I didn’t get a chance to visit, but I will definitely stop by now that I know they offer one of the quirkiest dishes in New Orleans: a shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake!
I’m an ice cream junkie, so I made sure to visit Angelo Brocato in Mid-City. They’ve been serving up scoops since 1905! How many ice cream shops can say they’ve been around that long? They make tasty gelato and ice cream of numerous different flavors.
And finally, I’ll mention Muriel’s, which some call one of the most haunted restaurants in America. The place is said to be haunted by the ghost of the former owner, who committed suicide in 1814 rather than give up the building, which he had lost in a game of poker. Some theorize the place is also haunted by the ghosts of slaves who were held on the property three centuries ago. If you can still eat a nice meal with those thoughts in your head… go for it.
Got any other tips for how to explore New Orleans off the beaten path? Leave a comment with your suggestions!
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