New Orleans is bursting with so much entertainment, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the festivals, celebrations, and parties. It can happen to travelers and locals alike. Sometimes you forget to slow down and take in some of the other attractions that the city has to offer – like museums, for instance.
In between the partying, take some time to visit the world-class museums New Orleans has to offer, all found within a few miles of each other. From listening to a local jazz band while surrounded by some of the greatest Southern fine art, to watching actual WWII footage while walking through a simulated exhibit resembling Normandy, you never know what you’ll discover inside one of these institutions. You won’t find it on Bourbon Street or at the bottom of that daiquiri cup, that’s for certain. Read below for some of New Orleans’s can’t-miss museums.
Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans (CAC)
Located along a row of art galleries downtown in the Warehouse District, the CAC has been an anchor for the New Orleans arts neighborhood. It opened in 1974 and the area has only grown since, as it witnessed locally-owned galleries and nationally renowned museums sprout. The venue hosts rotating contemporary art exhibitions, as well as lectures, performances, and events. Check the schedule online for a list of upcoming events, which includes music performances on the second Thursday of the month.
Admission: $10 general admission | $8 students and seniors | Free to members | Free to children and students grade 12 and under.
Hours: Gallery hours are 11 AM – 5 PM, Wednesday through Monday and vary for lectures, events and performances.
Bonus: Admission is free to Louisiana residents on Sundays, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art
The Ogden Museum is recognized for housing the largest collection of Southern Art, now with a collection that has grown to over 4,000 works since being founded in 1999. It was established based on a donation of over 600 works of art from art collector Roger H. Ogden. Now the extensive collection includes works of art from renowned Southern artists, including Walter Anderson Clementine Hunter, George Dureau, and George Ohr. Programming includes visual art exhibitions, lectures, film screenings, and concerts. The rooftop terrace on the third floor is open to museum visitors, giving spectators a unique view of the Warehouse District.
Admission: $13.50 adults | $11 seniors, teachers and students | $6.75 children (5-17) | Free to museum members, UNO community members (students, faculty and staff) and children under 5.
Hours: Open 7 days a week from 10 AM – 5 PM (except Thursday when it is open until 8 PM)
Bonus: On Thursdays, the museum is open until 8 PM for Ogden After Hours, which includes live music entertainment from local artists from 6PM-8 PM. Entry is free with proof of regular Thursday admission.
Added bonus: Admission is free to Louisiana residents on Thursdays from 10 AM – 5 PM, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.
The National World War II Museum
Formerly The D-Day Museum, The World War II Museum tells the narrative of one of history’s biggest and deadliest wars through multimedia exhibits that include video, artifacts, personal stories, photographs, and atmospheric elements. Using attention to detail, the interactive museum begins with the journey that led to the start of the war and takes visitors through battles along Europe and Japan to the eventual end of the war. Exhibits include The Road to Tokyo, The Road to Berlin, and The Arsenal of Democracy, which shows what life was like on the home front. Beyond All Boundaries is a 4D film that is exclusive to the World War II Museum, screening hourly everyday. The exhibits are supported by an expansive collection of artifacts that includes over 250,000 items and 9,000 personal accounts.
Admission: $28.50 Adult | $24.50 Senior (65 and older) | $18.00 Military, College Students and Children (K-12) | $7 for a second day pass with the purchase of a general admission ticket | WWII Veterans and children under 5 are free
Hours: Open daily from 9 AM – 5 PM
Bonus: Visitors receive a dog tag, which tells the personal story of someone who experienced WWII using kiosks implanted throughout the museum and exhibits.
The New Orleans Museum of Art
NOMA is the oldest and largest fine arts museum in New Orleans, housing a permanent collection of over 40,000 pieces of French and American Art, photography, and works from Africa and Japan. The growing collection, which began with only nine pieces when it was founded in 1911, includes works from Edgar Degas, Picasso, and Braque. The museum also hosts traveling exhibitions, most recently opening the doors to the museum’s first fashion exhibit – A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes. The gorgeous museum is positioned in New Orleans City Park, right next to where the flowers bloom for spring.
Admission: $12 Adult | $10 Seniors and Active Military | $8 College Students | $6 Children (7-12) | Children 6 and under are free
Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM, Tuesday – Friday (select Fridays open until 9 PM) | 10 AM – 5 PM, Saturday | 11 AM – 5 PM, Sunday | Closed on Monday
Bonus: Adjacent to NOMA is The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which recently underwent a six-acre expansion in addition to the five acres of land it sprawls in oak tree-lined City Park. The Sculpture garden is open seven days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM and admission is free.
Added bonus: Admission is free to Louisiana residents on Wednesdays, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.
The McKenna Museums
The McKenna Museums have helped preserve of the distinct culture found within the African American community of Louisiana. With two distinct museums, Le Musée de f.p.c. and The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art collects, interprets, and preserves the visual aesthetic of people of African descent in North America and beyond. The McKenna Museum seeks to make African Diasporan fine art accessible to visitors of all ages. The institution identifies and presents emerging artists alongside well-established fine arts masters.
The McKenna Museum of African American Art is located in the Central City neighborhood in Uptown. It’s open to the public by appointment only. Tours last about an hour. Group tour pricing is available for groups of 15 or larger. Le Musée de f.c.p. is located on beautiful Esplanade Street. Scheduling your tour is strongly recommended.
Admission: $15 Adults | $12 Student/Group
Le Musée Hours: By appointment only Tuesday through Friday 1 PM – 4 PM | Saturdays 11 AM & 12 PM | Sundays PM & 2 PM
McKenna Museum Hours: By appointment only Thursday and Friday at 11 AM
Bonus: Both museums are located in beautiful, historic neighborhoods that are walkable and offer plenty of sights to see.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum
The New Orleans Jazz Museum is housed inside the Old U.S. Mint and pays homage to the connection of music in the city of New Orleans and the world. The museum has acquired, collected, archived, and displayed various artifacts that contribute to further telling that narrative. The exhibits include anything from art, created both by musicians and contemporary artists, to recordings and musical instruments from some of the greatest musicians and Jazz influences. Live music performances are also a big part of what the museum had to offer. Daily performances begin at 2pm from Tuesday – Saturday, and a schedule of weekly evening performances can be found on social media or on the website’s calendar. Performances are streamed online to share with Jazz and music enthusiasts from around the world.
Admission: $8 Adults | $6 students, seniors and active military | children under 6 are free
Hours: 10 AM – 4:30 PM, Tuesday – Sunday | Closed on Mondays
Bonus: The museum’s courtyard hosts about 15 annual festivals, which includes French Quarter Festival and Satchmo Summerfest.
The Presbytere and The Cabildo
The Presbytère and the Cabildo are part of The Louisiana State Museum’s collection of institutions, and are both located in matching Spanish Colonial buildings on either side of The St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. The Cabildo documents the Battle of New Orleans using historical artifacts, documents, and images to tell its story. Other rare items include Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask and an 1839 self-portrait of Julien Hudson, a free man of color during the Antebellum period. To the right of the cathedral is The Presbytere, which hosts two permanent exhibitions. Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time showcases the annual celebration of revelry with parade floats, costumes and historical throws to highlight how it has changed and become an essential part of New Orleans Culture. The museum’s other exhibit, Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond, tells the story of what caused such destruction and city’s resilience through artifacts, footage and images in the interactive exhibit.
Presbytère Admission: $7 Adults | $6 students, seniors and active military | children under 6 are free
Cabildo Admission: $10 Adults | $8 students, seniors and active military | children under 6 are free
Hours: 10 AM – 4:30 PM, Tuesday – Sunday
Bonus: Visitors receive a 20% discount on tickets purchased for both museums
The Historic New Orleans Collection
The Historic New Orleans Collection is an institution that serves as a museum and research center focused on preserving the unique and extended history and culture of New Orleans. All together the institution is made up of 10 buildings within two different campuses in the French Quarter – one is on Royal Street and the other on Chartres. The main museum galleries are headquartered on Royal Street and feature a rotating exhibition in the Williams Gallery as well as two permanent installations – The Louisiana History Gallery and The Williams Residence. The Williams Residence showcases the brick townhouse of the museum’s founder, complete with meticulous details and artifacts to highlight the traditional architecture and culture of The French Quarter. The museum is located in the middle of all the action in the French Quarter and is great place to cool off, slow down, and take in the cultural parts of New Orleans that might otherwise be overlooked.
Admission: Admission is free | Guided tours: $5 per person
Hours: 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM Tuesday – Saturday | 10:30 AM – 4:30 PM on Sunday | Guided tours are 45 minutes long and occur daily at 10 AM (except Sunday), 11 AM, 2 PM, and 3 PM
Bonus: The Shop at The Historic New Orleans Collection sells New Orleans memorabilia, books, art and items by local artists and vendors.
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
A must-see for locals and tourists alike, Mardi Gras World is the 300,000 square foot warehouse where parade floats are created. The vast facility gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how Mardi Gras comes to life. Guests also have the opportunity to learn about the history of the annual celebration, as well as try on costumes, and meet the artists behind the majestic floats. Tours are offered seven days a week, run every 30 minutes starting at 9:30AM, and run 90 minutes long.
Admission: $22 adults | $17 seniors and students | $14 children ages 2-11
Hours: Open seven days a week, 9 AM – 5:30 PM
Bonus: A free shuttle service from about 20 destinations downtown is offered with the purchase of a ticket.
Added bonus: Each guided tour includes a slice of King Cake.