Things to Do in New Orleans for First-Time Visitors

Visiting New Orleans For The First Time?

The French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans, and home of the famous Bourbon Street. The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood of the city and is therefore enriched with history and culture. The best thing to do is just wander through the streets and take in all of your surroundings.

French Quarter

Many people come to the French Quarter (and New Orleans) with the sole purpose of taking advantage of the open door drinking policies and festivities that come with Bourbon Street. We made the mistake of heading into Bourbon Street on our first night in New Orleans and were rather overwhelmed and disappointed by New Orleans at first.

French Quarter

Bourbon Street

To be honest, Bourbon Street is not that great! As we made our way through the neon-lit street, we were met by loud, obnoxious drunk people, way too many strip joints, and an awful stench. Now I don’t mind a good party street but this was definitely a class of its own. That being said, there are many live bands and places to grab a drink, but there are also some other great places in New Orleans that are more enjoyable to go out to. It’s definitely a place to go and see, but just don’t revolve your entire trip around it – there is a lot more to the French Quarter than just this one street.

Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street

Now that’s out of the way, time to move on to the more interesting and enjoyable parts of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Jackson Square

The next day we began our walk at Jackson Square; the heart of the French Quarter. Amongst the crowded buildings and busy streets, this perfectly manicured park is a breath of fresh air. Behind Jackson Square stands the St. Louis Cathedral, which we had a brief look inside of. On either side of the cathedral are two almost identical buildings, the Cabildo and Presbyte`re, both buildings are museums. The other buildings surrounding the Square are the Pontalba Buildings, on the bottom floors are shops and restaurants, while the top level is apartments with a huge ten year wait period.

Jackson Square

We wandered down the streets amongst the heavily Spanish colonial influenced buildings, entangled with intricate wrought and cast iron. You’ll notice that all of the buildings whether they are businesses or homes, the entrance is placed right on the sidewalk and the courtyards are in the back – very different to the typical American architecture with the gardens at the front running along the street.

Calle del Maine museum

We were able to spot some of the old French colonial-style architecture amongst all of the Spanish architecture – the Calle del Maine museum. This building was built against the Spanish codes after one of the Great Fires of New Orleans. Plus, the courtyard is also one of the filming locations for the movie 12 Years A Slave.

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Decatur Street

We also made our way down Decatur Street, and of course made the obligatory stop at Cafe Du Monde to eat some of the French donuts, Beignets.

Cafe Du Monde
Cafe Du Monde

Royal Street

My favorite street to stroll down was Royal Street. During the day-time, it was enriched with art galleries, little quaint boutiques, and antique stores, and is home to the Court of Two Sisters cafe. The most photographed building in the city, the LeBranche Mansion, sits on Royal Street – famous for its beautiful cast-iron work. While it was lovely and artsy during the day, at night time the street was buzzing with street performers.

LeBranche Mansion

The next stop in New Orleans was the Garden District – a completely different vibe than that of the French Quarter.

Only a hop on a streetcar ride away from the infamous French Quarter, it’s hard to believe that the Garden District is actually a part of New Orleans. The differences in architecture and atmosphere leave you wondering if you have in fact gone to another part of the world after being within the buzzing and vibrant French Quarter, rather than just crossing over to the other side of Canal Street.

The Garden District

The Garden District is a gorgeous, relaxed district of New Orleans – complete with elegant American-style townhouses, delicate courtyards, and beautiful Oak and Magnolia trees. The streets of the Garden District are really something special, especially for someone like me, who loves to admire houses and spends way too much time on Real Estate websites with no intention at all to buy.

Garden District

Many of these magnificent mansions were constructed in the late 1800s. Their stunning architecture follows many different styles, although the most common is based on a Greek Revival style – which gives these beautiful structures a plantation-like feel.

The mansions in the Garden District are often owned by famous figures and celebrities, which is no surprise for such a nice, graceful area. Some of these include Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Mark Twain, Jefferson Davis, and Nicholas Cage. It has also been the filming location of many movies such as Django Unchained.

The best street to wander down and admire the houses would probably have to be 1st Street, there are some truly grand and gorgeous houses along there. Also, be sure to check out the oldest house in the Garden District Toby’s Corner with the white-picket-fence, which was built in the 1830s, and was home to the same family for six generations.

The Garden District is also home to the Lafayette Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. Despite being quite run down, beyond the overgrown weeds it has some extravagant above-ground gravesites.

New Orleans Swamp Tour

We had been driving for a while through what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. After a sharp little turn-off, we pulled into the entrance of our New Orleans swamp tour! The tour center consisted of a cabin for guest information and a souvenir shop, but what more so caught my eye were the hundreds of huge mosquitos and grasshoppers that had found their home on a log next to us. Patiently we waited until our boat number was called, and our group made their way onto the boat that would take us through the swamps of Louisiana.

baby alligator
The highlight of the tour was definitely at the very end, where we were each given the chance to hold an alligator. Although still small in size, this little one was actually 5 years old. Isn’t she cute?

As soon as everyone had taken a seat on the boat, there was a huge crackle of thunder and within minutes there was a huge storm brewing around us. It was bucketing down, and when I say bucketing down I mean that it was pouring so hard that you could barely see a few yards ahead of you. The beautiful blue skies of the morning had turned grey and miserable, in typical, tropical New Orleans fashion.

Swamp Tour in New Orleans

But we weren’t going to let a little rain stop us from seeing what we came here to see – an alligator, and we were not disappointed! As the rain calmed down around us, we set off down the river and the alligators came out to play. As we slowly cruised down alongside the swamp banks, many little alligators began to approach the boat. Our Swamp Tour Guide explained that these alligators were completely wild animals, and the reason that they approach the boats is that they recognize their sounds. As soon as the alligators hear the sound of a boat chugging along down the river, they leave the misty swamp shores and approach it – and they are rewarded for doing so with a marshmallow. Who knew that alligators liked to eat marshmallows?!

Throughout the entirety of the swamp tour, we saw plenty of younger alligators, as well as one alligator who was an absolute beast compared to the others. We also spotted a couple of raccoons along the swamp banks as we made our way around the hazy swampland.

We did this tour through the company The Old River Road Plantation Adventure. This was part of a combo tour Swamp Tour & Oak Alley Plantation Tour for $130

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