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Best Local Things to Do

Thrifty Fun: Free Things to Do in May

New Orleans has always been known as a culturally rich city full of a diverse range of experiences to enjoy. Sometimes, however, you might want to seek new experiences without spending a lot of money. You’re in luck: New Orleans is also widely known as a budget-friendly city. Exercise wallet restraint with completely free activities, from art exhibits to outdoor concerts, that you can experience throughout May.

Free Things to Do in May

Stroll Down Frenchmen Street

This two-block entertainment district just on the other side of Esplanade Avenue from the French Quarter contains a dozen live music venues, most of which ask for no cover. A popular spot with locals, Frenchmen Street allows you access to live music from jazz to reggae to blues every night of the week. If you can muster it, bring cash to put in the tip jar it’s the preferred way to show your appreciation. An open-air arts market on the street is also free to browse.

View Rare Works from a Famous Artist

The Woldenberg Art Center at Tulane University’s exhibit, Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, is free and open to the public through May 24. The exhibit features prints, drawings, photographs, and letters from the iconic impressionist Edgar Degas. Shedding light on both the personal life and aesthetics of the noted Impressionist, the exhibit also includes works on paper from many other famous artists whom Degas counted as friends. Among them? Paul Cezanne, Mary Cassatt, Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, and Gustave Moreau. Exhibit hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Explore A Musical Village

Through May 10, Roving Village Residencies in City Park near 1055 Harrison Ave. gives visitors the chance to explore a musical village filled with ramshackle houses that create an aural and visual experience. The village features “instruments” that are part of each house, creating music from the very brick and mortar of this interactive art installation. Play the houses during free public hours on weekends from noon until 6:00 p.m., or attend the closing orchestral concerts (tickets are $15) on Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9.

The New Orleans Museum of Art at dusk. (Photo courtesy Cheryl Gerber)

Tour the New Orleans Museum of Art

On Wednesdays, Louisiana residents receive free admission to NOMA, the state’s oldest fine arts museum. If your driver’s license calls another state home, you’ll still pay just $10 (even less for seniors, students, and children) to explore a multitude of works in a variety of artistic mediums from all over the world. Current exhibitions include Kongo Across the Waters, exploring historic and artistic connections between Central Africa and the American South, and Self/Reflection, highlighting select modern photography from the museum’s permanent collection of nearly 40,000 items.

Dance at Wednesday at the Square

The Youth Leadership Council presents this 12-week concert series in the heart of the Central Business District. Every Wednesday through June 10, Lafayette Square hosts Wednesday at the Square, a free, al fresco concert series that features musicians like Earphunk, Irma Thomas, and Marc Broussard. Food and drinks are available for purchase, but you can satisfy your appetite for music without spending a penny. The concerts start at 5:00 p.m. and run until about 8:00 p.m.

Hear More Music at Jazz in the Park

Another free concert series, Jazz in the Park, takes place just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter in Armstrong Park every Thursday starting at 4:00 p.m. With a second line kicking off every Thursday’s festivities, the lineup of musicians for May includes Preservation Hall Jazz Band, James Andrews, Glen David Andrews, and Wild Magnolias. A concurrent offering, Treme Art Exhibit, is on display at the park as well and offers a glimpse into the history and culture of the Treme neighborhood via paintings from local artists.

Enjoy Lake PontchARTrain

On May 9 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., head to the New Canal Lighthouse for the Lake PontchARTrain Craft Fair and Summer Water Safety Day. This arts and crafts fair will host more than 30 vendors, including local artists, jewelry-makers, photographers, and more. You can also learn more about fishing safety, swimming safety, general wellness, coastal issues, and water quality in Lake Ponchartrain.

Celebrate Mom on Magazine Street

Magazine Street hosts its annual Mother’s Day Champagne Stroll on Saturday, May 9, from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. The popular street’s shops and galleries stay open late for the event, which features music and complimentary champagne. The stroll is an excellent opportunity to see what New Orleans boutiques and artists have to offer (and maybe pick up a last-minute gift for mom).

Ponder Your ‘Do at (De)tangled

(De)tangled: A Living Salon is a multi-platform exhibition from Pelican Bomb magazine that explores the politics of race, gender, sexuality, and beauty as they relate to hair. The exhibition at the UNO St. Claude Gallery is interactive — indeed, visitors are the works of art as artists on site will sketch their hairstyles — while Pelican Bomb’s website and art review will include additional materials. The opening reception is Saturday, May 9, from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. with public hours on weekends from noon until 5:00 p.m through June 7.

Boogie at Bayou Boogaloo

This Mid-City festival, celebrating New Orleans art, cuisine, music, and recreation, is now in its tenth year. Check out works by local artists and listen to live music at the edges of the beautiful city bayou. The boogaloo kicks off on Friday, May 15 and runs all weekend (hours vary).

Slurp at New Orleans Oyster Festival

New Orleans’ French Quarter is sometimes known as the Oyster Capital of America, and this festival celebrating the restaurateurs and farmers of the Louisiana Gulf Oyster is also a fundraiser for coastal restoration. The sounds of jazz and rock, the sights of the French Quarter and Mississippi River, and the smell and taste of just what New Orleans chefs can do with the oyster will be sure to please. At Woldenberg Park, the festival runs from 10:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. on May 30 and 31.

If You’ve Got Cash to Spare…

There are other events happening throughout the month that require a small admission fee, but that you can still attend without breaking the bank. The Contemporary Arts Center’s Birdfoot Festival celebrates classical chamber music; EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean explores carnival culture of the Caribbean; Audubon Zoo’s Mother’s Day Celebration is fun for kids (with free admission for mothers); and New Orleans Greek Festival sates a craving for Mediterranean food, drink, and culture.

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