Hold onto your Benjamins by exploring some free things to do along with affordable events and activities in New Orleans this summer. Far from locking ourselves inside with fans and air conditioning on full blast (although you could do that), New Orleanians are always finding ways to enjoy the city.
Treat yourself to free and cheap festivals, museums, antique shops, or fine dining for less than usual—the proof is in these 10 cheap or free things to do this summer.
Summer Savings: Cheap and Free Things to Do
Satchmo SummerFest, a $6 festival celebrating the life and music of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (whose birthday is August 4), takes place from August 2-4 at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Favorite New Orleans bands and musicians are scheduled to perform throughout the weekend across three stages, and the festival offers an impressive food lineup as well.
Free Friday Concert Series at Tipitina’s
Tipitina’s (501 Napoleon Ave.) has been a local music hotspot since 1977. Following a change in ownership in 2018, new proprietor Galactic (a local funk band) continues the free Friday summer concert tradition with its Free Friday Concert Series. Every Friday through August 30, Tipitina’s offers free concerts for patrons ages 21 and up. Doors open at 9 p.m. with the shows beginning at 10 p.m. Bands include Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters, John “Papa” Gros, Honey Island Swamp Band, the New Orleans Suspects, and Big Sam’s Funky Nation.
The Orpheum Theater Summer Film Series
The Orpheum Theater kicks off their free summer movie series on June 27 with two documentaries on local female culinary legends: Chasing Dreams: A Leah Chase Story and Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table. July 10 features Bayou Maharaja by local filmmaker Lily Keber. On July 25, catch Girls Trip, which was filmed in New Orleans, and Down By Law on August 8. Doors open at 6:30, and movies start at 7:00 p.m.
The Historic New Orleans Collection
Cost: Ranges from free to $5
The Historic New Orleans Collection is a local museum and research center dedicated to preserving the history of New Orleans and the Gulf South. All of its locations, including the brand new exhibit space at 520 Royal Street, allow for free, self-guided (or smartphone) tours. Alternatively, for a small fee of $5 per person, visitors can receive a docent-led tour. Both the Royal Street Campus and Gallery and the Williams Research Center are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Royal Street Campus is also open Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Guided tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m.
Thursdays at Twilight
New Orleans City Park is best enjoyed at twilight during the summer, and the Thursdays at Twilight concert series takes place as the sun sets. Each Thursday (except July 4) beginning at 6 p.m., local and world-renowned musicians like Rocky’s Hot Swing Orchestra, Little Freddie King, The Yat Pack, and Tim Lauglin share their music in the beautiful Botanical Gardens. Food and beverages (including mint juleps) are also available for purchase.
M.S. Rau’s Secret Room Tour
Cost: Free (unless you buy a Monet)
M.S. Rau Antiques is an antiques and art showroom located at 630 Royal St. in the French Quarter. World-renowned for its fine selection and just as impressive as any museum, M.S. Rau also has a secret—a secret room, to be exact. To enter the secret room, simply ask. Once inside, marvel at art from Van Gogh and Monet, Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask, two paintings by Norman Rockwell, one by Winston Churchill, and a dinosaur skeleton. Don’t forget that M.S. Rau is an antique shop: the items are for sale, so the selection can change at any time. Keep your visit low-cost if you aren’t looking to buy, or take home something quite unique if you are. M.S. Rau Antiques is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Streetcar Tour of St. Charles Avenue
Cost: From $1.25
St. Charles Avenue is one of the best known streets in New Orleans. Home to the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, St. Charles is a must-see for both locals and visitors. Hop on the green streetcar that runs from St. Charles at Canal Street to S. Carrollton at S. Claiborne. A Jazzy Pass, valid for one day of unlimited public transportation uses, is just $3 and allows passengers to leisurely ride and hop off for lunch or to explore (download the RTA GoMobile app to purchase fares and view schedules). What better way to take in the Mardi Gras parade route (make sure to get a glimpse of the Mardi Gras beads hanging from trees and power lines), see the famous canopy of oak trees, and absorb the grandeur of the many historic homes that line the avenue?
Jazzy Passes can be purchased online and are also available from the conductor with exact change or on the RTA GoMobile app.
White Linen Night/Dirty Linen Night
New Orleans summer means it’s time to get your white linen clothes (and your iron) out of the closet. Hancock Whitney White Linen Night returns for its 25th anniversary on Saturday, August 3. Art galleries in the 300 to 700 blocks of Julia Street in the Warehouse District stay open long past their normal opening hours for a block party so the public, dressed in white linen (or just white outfits), can traipse in and out, wine or champagne in hand. The event, running from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., is free and open to the public and includes live entertainment. The Contemporary Arts Center also celebrates the premiere of its annual Open Call Exhibition, which features over 30 local artists. Food and drink is available for purchase from local vendors.
Dirty Linen Night, a play on Whitney White Linen Night, occurs one week later on Saturday, August 10 on Royal Street in the French Quarter. The public is asked to wear their “dirty” linen from the previous Saturday. The concept is similar to White Linen Night with art galleries opening their doors well into the evening and food and drink available for purchase. Dirty Linen Night, running from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. is also free and open to the public.
COOLinary New Orleans
Cost: From $20
Cool down during the month of August (1-31) by taking advantage of COOLinary New Orleans, a culinary celebration at dozens and dozens of restaurants citywide. While not free, COOLinary offers the limited opportunity to enjoy prix fixe brunch, lunch, and dinner menus at some of New Orleans’ best restaurants for as low as $20. Close to 100 restaurants will participate in COOLinary 2019, for its 15th anniversary, including Commander’s Palace, Bayona, and Maypop.
Scope out famous film locations
New Orleans, or Hollywood South as some call it, has been a prime setting for many films and television shows over the years. Go on a self-guided tour to find some of the locations of well-known films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Girls Trip, The Pelican Brief, and — oddly enough — Dallas Buyers Club. The mansion showcased in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2707 Coliseum Street), is now a popular point of interest for Garden District walking tours. And while the women of Girls Trip hit up a variety of tourist hotspots, it is hard to go wrong with a drink at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street).