When we hear “New Orleans,” we immediately think of distinctive Spanish architecture and French culture, food, jazz, and of course, Mardi Gras.
Located on the Mississippi River, this city boasts an eclectic mix of neighborhoods, from the well-known ones like The French Quarter and Bourbon Street to areas outside of the famous Quarter like Bywater and Marigny.
Whether you’re planning a first trip to New Orleans or you’ve visited several times, you’ll be surprised to find that in the ‘Big Easy’, as New Orleans is nicknamed, there’s always something new for you to discover.
And that is exactly what I want to share with you in this New Orleans off the beaten path guide.
A Quick History of New Orleans
This iconic city, the largest in the state of Louisiana, is known for its unique heritage and intriguing history.
In 1718, the city was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. However, in 1736, with the Treaty of Paris, France lost this new colony to Spain. Eventually, in 1802, the control of this region was given back to France.
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, this region, along with its surrounding areas, were sold by Napoleon to the United States. From there, the city slowly grew, playing an important role in international relations when it was developed into a large port.
Having experienced changes that come with the times, New Orleans still holds on to its rich historical past, the vestiges of which are still very much evident today.
The best way to explore any city is with an open mind. If you’re up for an adventure, then you might want to check out the hidden gems that NOLA has to offer, from nature adventures to specialty museums.
Off the Beaten Path in New Orleans
1. Explore the “Cities of the Dead”
New Orleans is rife with cemeteries, known as “cities of the dead” that shed light on the city’s history. NOLA’s tombs are known for their distinct placement above ground.
If you want to hear the city’s haunted history or if you want to know more about its fascinating local past and contribute to cemetery preservation at the same time, you can always find a cemetery tour that’s right for you.
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is recognized as NOLA’s oldest city of the dead and houses the tombs of many notable people. This including the final resting place of Marie Laveau, a powerful voodoo priestess who lived in New Orleans in the 19th century.
Metairie Cemetery is well-known for its unusual track contours, architecture, and funeral sculptures.
Although cemetery tours have become popular, so you could argue this is not truly off the beaten path New Orleans, it’s a great way to learn more about the fascinating history and voodoo culture of New Orleans.
So while you’re here, don’t miss a spooky afternoon at one of NOLA’s most famous cemeteries!
2. Get Outside
If you want to enjoy the scenic route, you can navigate sections of the city by bike.
Get to see the New Orleans swampland and marsh vistas by taking the Tammany Trace, a well-known bike and hiking trail.
Have you always wanted to spot wildlife? Aside from its gorgeous hiking trail, Barataria Preserve offers a free guided tour with a park ranger, which comes in handy if you’ve always wanted to look for alligators, snakes, and turtles, among other wildlife.
Note: Canoeing and kayaking have been favorite Barataria Preserve activities in the past. Unfortunately, most waterways are currently impassable due to several years of heavy growth by aquatic vegetation. The National Park Service is working to secure funding for longterm waterways management.
At Audubon Park, you should get a photo op with the most famous oak tree in Louisiana, the Tree of Life. It’s a sprawling, beautiful oak tree that dates back hundreds of years. Sit underneath and stare up into the beautiful branches for a moment of rest and relaxation during your adventure.
3. Get Cultured and Inspired
New Orleans has a wide range of museums.
From the Historic Voodoo Museum, the Museum of Death and the Pharmacy Museum to a WWII Museum, an African American museum and many more.
You can find a full list of museums here and depending on how off the beaten path you want to go in New Orleans you can go for one of the major museums or pick one of the small, less-visited ones.
Getting lost in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden might be one of the best ways to experience New Orleans. After exploring the adjacent New Orleans Museum of Art, take a stroll through this outdoor space, and enjoy all its quirky and wonderful installations.
4. Change Your Point of View
Experience New Orleans from the water for a different view of this beautiful city.
There are several boat tours you can choose from. For example this evening Jazz boat cruise down the Mississippi. Or go on a swamp boat tour to explore New Orleans’ surrounding swamp and wetlands. Or what about a high-speed airboat ride?
Ok, maybe this isn’t really off the beaten path New Orleans but it’s definitely a different way to see the city.
5. Get Musical
When you’re in the Big Easy, the birthplace of jazz, you don’t want to miss out on the music.
You can find live music almost anywhere in New Orleans, from jazz clubs to free concerts in the parks.
Check out Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge, which is a lively bar with cheap drinks that’s loved by the locals.
Head on over to the Musical Legends Park to see statues of jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, or visit the New Orleans Jazz Museum to learn more about this musical art.
Enjoy New Orleans Off the Beaten Path & the Must-Do’s
Now that you know a few ways to go off the beaten path in New Orleans, don’t forget to do the touristy stuff.
Of course don’t miss the French Quarter, one of NOLA’s most historic neighborhoods.
Try the chicory coffee and beignet scene at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, a purely NOLA experience you shouldn’t miss. Be prepared for a short wait, as it’s one of the city’s most enduring dining institutions.
Have your tarot read at Jackson Square, or try your first gumbo (a thick, stew-like soup and famous Louisiana dish).
Tip: if you plan to enjoy several attractions or tours in New Orleans, get the New Orleans Pass. It saves you a lot of money on things like museums, city tours, the zoo, bike rental, etc.
And check out these tours and attractions for some more inspiration for things to do in New Orleans. From popular tourist attractions to tours helping you see more of off the beaten path New Orleans.
Enjoy off the beaten path New Orleans!
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