So you might be broke post-holiday season, or all your dough might be in the form of Starbucks gift cards, but that’s okay. From Uptown to downtown and on the side streets in between, you can get a taste, a listen, or a vision of New Orleans culture for no money at all. And you’re in luck, because Carnival season starts on Jan. 6, and it’s one of the biggest, best, free parties you’ll find.
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 Texas Longhorns 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 11th annual parade takes place on Sunday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. in the French Quarter. Jan. 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 Jan. 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 beer at a bar along the avenue.
Société Des Champs Elysée — The city’s newest Mardi Gras krewe, formally known as 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 Jazz to brass bands. Perhaps one of the best way 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 music on Fridays at 7 p.m. Show your support by tipping the band, 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. The 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 downtown view. 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.
King Cake Festival — On Sunday, Jan. 27 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., the Mercedes-Benz Superdome morphs into a sugary king cake heaven for King Cake Festival. Admission is free and includes live music, though cake samplings cost extra. It’s totally worth it, especially since proceeds directly benefit babies and children at Ochsner Hospital.
Street Art — In addition to live music, New Orleans is filled with free, 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. Read our post about some of the newer murals around town, and then go search and see for yourself.
Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden — The Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features over 60 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.
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 Newton Howard: Painter of the Sportsman’s Paradise, running through Jan. 13, which showcases marshy landscape paintings of South Louisiana. New Southern Photography is a broad scope of contemporary American South photography. BIG exhibits items in the museum’s permanent collection that are typically not visible to the public.
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 William Monaghan: I—Object, featuring industrial materials welded onto canvases, and Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick: Labor Studies, a photographic exhibition of laborers in Louisiana, including those at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
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 Jan. 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.