So you might be tight on your purse strings post-holiday season, or maybe all of your coins are in the form of Starbucks gift cards, but don’t worry. From Uptown to downtown and on the side streets in between, you can get a taste, a listen, or a view of New Orleans culture for no money at all. And you’re in luck, because Carnival season starts on January 6, and it’s one of the biggest, best, free parties you’ll find anywhere.
Sugar Bowl — The Sugar Bowl takes place every New Year’s Day in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome. While tickets cost a pretty penny, fans can still get in the spirit by tailgating at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Jam starting at 4 p.m. in Champions Square. Fan Jam, which is free and open to the public, features music by KARMA as well as food and drink for purchase. The game between the Baylor Bears and the Georgia Bulldogs kicks off at 7:45 p.m.
Joan of Arc Parade — The Krewe of Joan of Arc (or Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc) honors the “Maid of Orleans,” one of France’s patron saints, by celebrating Joan of Arc’s birthday and New Orleans’ continued connection to French culture. The 12th annual parade takes place on Monday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. in the French Quarter. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of St. Joan of Arc’s canonization, and the parade will feature a new St. Joan statue plus special doubloons and playing cards. January 6, also known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, kicks off the Carnival season, which lasts through Mardi Gras Day, ending on Ash Wednesday.
Phunny Phorty Phellows Parade — The Phunny Phorty Phellows Parade on January 6 at 7 p.m. is another festive event to ring in Twelfth Night. To call it a parade might be a slight overstatement (the group “parades” in a streetcar up and down St. Charles), but it’s a fun excuse to enjoy some King Cake and a libation along the avenue.
Société Des Champs Elysée — La Société Pas Si Secrète Des Champs-Élysées (The Not So Secret Society of the Elysian Fields) takes a lesson from the Mardi Gras playbook and the Phunny Phorty Phellows. Dueling for attention, Société Des Champs Elysée rides the downtown Rampart-St. Claude streetcar, starting at N Rampart Street and Elysian Fields Avenue, heading up N Rampart to Canal, and looping back to the end of the route at St. Claude and Elysian Fields avenues. The parade is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Live Music — New Orleans is well-known for its lively music scene—from soulful Jazz to funky brass bands. Perhaps one of the best ways to experience it is by stumbling upon it in the streets. However, you can also catch great live music at a local club any night of the week. Many local shows don’t have a cover. Le Bon Temps Roule, for instance, offers free live piano and free oysters on Fridays at 7 p.m. Show your support by tipping the musicians, if you can. Frenchmen Street is one of the city’s best places to wander for live music. For more ideas, check out our roundup of live music venues and be sure to see their calendars for free shows.
Crescent Park — Located along the Mississippi River in the Bywater is Crescent Park. This urban greenspace provides an opportunity to be close to the waterway that ultimately determined the founding of New Orleans. Enjoy some downtime by walking along the river or taking in the view of the city skyline. Crescent Park can be accessed from Chartres Street at either Piety Street or Mazant Street (it is handicap accessible). The park is free and open to the public from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Street Art — In addition to live music, New Orleans is filled with free and fantastic public art. Murals have been cropping up across the city for several years, adding color and enlivening streetscapes. Some murals are relatively neutral while others have a clear social mission. Learn about some of the newer murals around town, and then go search and see for yourself.
Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden — The newly-expanded Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features over 11 acres of sculptures by artists from around the world. The Sculpture Garden, located in City Park next to the New Orleans Museum of Art, is free and open to the public seven days a week (except holidays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Of course, once you’ve visited the sculpture garden, you’ll have the rest of New Orleans City Park at your disposal.
The New Orleans Museum of Art and Botanical Garden — The New Orleans Museum of Art is free to Louisiana residents on Wednesdays, courtesy of The Helis Foundation. While some special exhibits may not be included, it is worthwhile to explore the museum’s expansive collection of French, American, African, and Japanese art. The free admission for residents now extends to the Botanical Garden as well, on Wednesdays from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
Ogden Museum of Southern Art — The Ogden Museum of Southern Art provides free admission from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays. Current exhibits include Level Artists Collective running through March 1, which showcases works by artists of color with deep ties to New Orleans. You can also enjoy works by Louisiana artists plus a permanent collection of evocative southern art.
Contemporary Arts Center — The Contemporary Arts Center is free to Louisiana residents on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Exhibits running through January include Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, Meg Turner: Here and Now, Akodusa Adoma Owusu: Welcome to the Jungle, Femmes Feroces: Material Life X Femmes Noires, and New Orleans airlift: From New Water Music.
Battle of New Orleans at Chalmette Battlefield — The National Park Service’s Chalmette Battlefield commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans with events on January 8, 11, and 12. The events, which include craft demonstrations, cannon and musket firings, living history experts, and a wreath-laying ceremony, are free and open to the public.