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Best Local Things to Do

Affordable Activities in New Orleans

Do whatcha wanna while not fretting over your bank account with some of our favorite free and cheap activities.

Sometimes a $3 Pabst Blue Ribbon is just as satisfying as a $6 brew. Even more satisfying? Saving a few dollars here and there. Whether you are you are paying off student loans, saving up to buy a house, or just want to enjoy life on the cheap, New Orleans has plenty of options from music to museums. Do whatcha wanna while not fretting over your bank account with some of our favorite free and cheap activities occurring throughout 2017:

Le Bon Temps Roule. (Photo: Paul Broussard)
Le Bon Temps Roule. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Free (and cheap) things to do all year long

Eat like a king

Le Bon Temps RouleEvery Friday at 7:00 p.m. this little music club and bar on Magazine Street offers free oysters and live music, typically a piano player. You can’t go wrong.

Vietnamese restaurants — Local food is bursting with the flavors of Vietnam, thanks to Vietnamese who resettled in New Orleans after the fall of Saigon. Dozens of local Vietnamese restaurants are scattered across the city — including Dong Phuong in New Orleans East, Pho Tau Bay on Tulane Avenue, and Lilly’s Cafe on Magazine Street — and offer many affordable lunch and dinner options. Perhaps the least expensive, no-frills option is Eat-Well Food Mart, where a twelve-inch Banh Mi sandwich is $7.25, and a bowl of chicken pho is $5.99.

Pizza DeliciousAt Pizza Delicious, you can eat cheap with their pizza by the slice. A slice of cheese which will run you about $2.25, while the priciest slices are the Hawaiian and Peppadew & Local Arugula, both of which cost $3.25. If you are careful, you can eat a filling meal for under $10.

plum street snowballs
A few of the many syrups at Plum Street. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Snowballs Nothing beats a cool treat in the hot, humid New Orleans heat. If you haven’t had a true New Orleans snowball, you haven’t lived. Snowball stands are traditionally open from March through October and serve flavors from strawberry and spearmint to Thai Basil and Orchid Cream Vanilla for only a couple bucks. Favorite local snowball stands include Plum Street Snoballs, Pandora’s Snowballs, and Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls.

Toast champagne taste on a beer budget

Ms. Mae’s One of the least expensive and best-loved bars around, Ms. Mae’s is a 24/7 establishment. It is a dive bar with no frills about it, except for the foosball and air hockey to keep yourself entertained through the long night.

Bar Tonique Whether you are looking for a drink after a long day’s work or are on vacation, New Orleans has plenty of happy hour deals that won’t leave you wondering what happened to all your money the next morning. Bar Tonique, on N. Rampart Street, offers happy hour from noon to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday with $5 specials including Pimm’s Cups, Sazeracs, and Moscow Mules. If you are coming from work and can’t make it by 5, they offer a select $5 drink each day of the week. Or, as I like to do, just order a PBR anywhere you go. Check out other great happy hours here.

Solo Espresso. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)
Solo Espresso. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Coffee New Orleans tradition almost begs for a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. But break out of that tradition and spend a few dollars as a fly on the wall in one of the many other neighborhood coffee shops. Order an espresso and rooster-watch (literally) on Poland Avenue at Solo Espresso. Or head to Mojo Coffee Roasters, where you might catch a “barista throw-down,” a competition to make the best cup of espresso.

Music artifacts at the Old U.S. Mint. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)
Music artifacts at the Old U.S. Mint. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Explore cultural treasures on a dime

Historic New Orleans CollectionThirsty for knowledge? The Historic New Orleans Collection’s exhibits focus specifically on local and regional history. Current and upcoming exhibits include Clarence John Laughlin and His Contemporaries: A Picture and a Thousand Words (running through March 25), which highlights a Louisiana-born surrealist photographer, and Storyville: Madams and Music (opening April 5), which highlights Storyville, New Orleans’ bygone red light district. Visits to the Historic New Orleans collection range from free (with the Louisiana History Galleries smartphone tour) to $5 (docent-led).

Old U.S. MintThe home of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, the Old U.S. Mint is part of the Louisiana State Museum System. Admission is free and includes exhibits featuring Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong as well as famous Louisiana musicians’ instruments– including Fats Domino’s grand piano.

The New Orleans Tattoo Museum & Studio This unique museum (and full-functioning tattoo parlor) promotes and preserves the history of tattooing in New Orleans. Learn interesting tidbits such as why there is a ban on tattoo parlors in the French Quarter. Visiting the museum is free.

The St. Charles Avenue streetcar is as affordable as it is romantic. (Photo: Paul Broussard)
The St. Charles Avenue streetcar is as affordable as it is romantic. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Engage in urban tourism

Streetcar — Take advantage of inexpensive public transit fares while enjoying a ride through New Orleans. The St. Charles streetcar, the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, is the most popular. St. Charles Avenue, with its stately mansions and oak trees centuries old, always makes for a magical ride. The Canal Streetcars go to both City Park and the cemeteries in Mid-City, and the Rampart-St. Claude Streetcar, which opened in 2016, provides access to the Treme and Marigny. These shiny red streetcars make for equally enjoyable rides.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. (Photo: Ann Marshall Thomas)

Cemeteries New Orleans is world-renowned for its cemeteries: small, above-ground mausoleums lined give them their moniker, “cities of the dead.” The most famous and frequented, of course, are St. Louis No. 1, which houses the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and Lafayette No. 1 across the street from Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. Interested in going off the beaten path? Pay your respects at these cemeteries that don’t get as much love, including Holt Cemetery, the city’s “potter’s field,” where indigent families buried their loved ones, and the Masonic Cemetery.

Public/street artSome of New Orleans’ beauty is found in its grit and in its rough edges. And its public art is truly beautiful. The Marigny, Bywater, and surrounding neighborhoods have perhaps the highest density of street art, particularly murals. Go see one of Banksy’s last remaining stencil murals in the Marigny (corner of Kerlerec and N. Rampart streets) or Brandan “Bmike” Odums’ mural on Royal Street at the Press Street railroad tracks. New murals pop up all the time; currently one pays tribute to Carrie Fisher with Princess Leia gazing out from Castillo Blanco art studio at passing traffic on St. Claude.

The New Movement theater. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

See live performances on the cheap

Nerdlesque — Most people are familiar with the performance art of burlesque. Nerdlesque, on the other hand, is a sub-genre that you may have not yet been introduced to. Drawing its name from burlesque with the incorporation of nerdy pop culture and fan fiction (think Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Nightmare Before Christmas), nerdlesque is also known for its comedic leaning. Visit the Dragon’s Den on Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m. for “Talk Nerdy to Me,” presented by The Society of Sin for just $10.

Burgundy Picture HouseThis isn’t your average outdoor space. Get a taste of art house, horror, and foreign films for free. Films are typically screened biweekly on Tuesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. BYOB or $1 beers.

Comedy — The New Movement Theater in the Marigny presents multiple comedy and improv shows nightly for free or $5. Ranging from student talent to professionals, there is sure to be plenty of belly laughter. There is also an in-house bar with drink specials.

San Fermin en Nueva Orleans. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Get your fill of free festivals

Wednesdays at the SquareFrom March through May, the Young Leadership Council puts on Wednesdays at the Square. Set in Lafayette Square from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, this free event showcases well-known local musicians. Browse the artist village or order a drink or snack from one of the many vendors.

San Fermin in New OrleansEvery Summer, the Running of the Bulls takes place in the French Quarter with members of ladies roller derby teams (including the Big Easy Rollergirls) playing the role of the bulls. Register or show up wearing white garb with a red belt and scarf to be chased by the bulls. Run fast, because they will whack you with plastic bats. The 2017 run is scheduled for Saturday, July 8.

Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival Another free festival that takes place in Lafayette Square, the Blues & BBQ Festival is presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The festival runs for a full weekend, from Oct. 13-15, 2017, with acts such as Charmaine Neville and Tab Benoit, plus food from the likes of Blue Oak BBQ and Bratz Y’all.

A float from the Endymion parade. (Photo via Flickr user Philippe Leroyer)
A float from the Endymion parade. (Photo via Flickr user Philippe Leroyer)

Parade away

Jim Monaghan’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day Molly’s at the MarketAnnually, on the Friday of local St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Molly’s at the Market on Decatur throws its own walking parade where anyone can join in. Marching bands, dance troupes, and riders in carriages, all with an Irish theme, make for a very fun parade (Friday, March 10, 2017 at 6:00 p.m.).

Mardi Gras Not to brag, but Mardi Gras is the greatest free show on earth. Parades that span from Twelfth Night on Jan. 6 to Mardi Gras day (on Feb. 28 in 2017) are all free to attend.

Get outside

Lafitte Greenway The Lafitte Greenway was previously a railroad corridor, and prior to that the Carondelet, or Old Basin, Canal, used for shipping from the late 18th century to the 1920s. Now a 2.6-mile urban bicycle and pedestrian trail connecting the neighborhoods between Armstrong Park and City Park, the Lafitte Greenway is a fantastic, free opportunity to get outside and see New Orleans.

Lafitte Greenway is a trail for both pedestrians and bicyclists. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)
Lafitte Greenway is a trail for both pedestrians and bicyclists. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Gardens — New Orleans is full of gardens of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park is one of the last remaining public garden designs from the Works Progress Administration, and it features more than 2,000 plant species (adult admission: $6; free for Louisiana residents on Wednesdays). Also in City Park, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features dozens of sculptures punctuated by oak trees, Spanish moss, and birds (free).

Parks — Parks are perfect for strolling. New Orleans’ major parks, Audubon and City Park offer oases to get away from the hustle and bustle. Ponds, ducks, oak trees, and a little peace and quiet are somehow within the hubbub of the surrounding city.

Emily Ramírez Hernández is the child of New Orleans natives whose families have been in the city for generations. Emily's earliest memories of New Orleans include joyful car rides over bumpy streets, eating dripping roast beef po-boys at Domilise's, and catching bouncy balls during Mardi Gras parades with cousins. An urban planner by day and freelance writer by night, when she is off the clock she enjoys biking around town, belly dancing, and catching nerdlesque shows.

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