Fine, fine go to the Garden District and hang out on Bourbon Street. Eat the beignets at Cafe DuMonde and then go to Preservation Hall. But if you don’t get off the beaten path in New Orleans, you’ll miss an opportunity to explore its quirky, contradictory culture.
This guide is full of offbeat, weird and unusual things to do in New Orleans which will help you find that contradictory culture and have a ton of fun doing it.
We’ve been to NOLA, but there’s so much do there that we haven’t yet cornered the market on offbeat New Orleans. So, we’ve teamed up with some of our other blogger buddies to pull together this list of ideas for you.
Why Offbeat New Orleans is Worth Visiting
New Orleans’ “…extreme setting suggests a deadly dance with the devil…making the most of the moment today, for tomorrow is another day, and maybe it won’t come at all.”
This quote is from a thoughtful Quora discussion on what makes New Orleans so special. The OP was calling out New Orleans’ unique position as an island, which sits drifting off of the southern coast of the US. It’s segregated by the Mississippi River, the coastal swamps, and the dykes and levees that (not so successfully) keep the water at bay.
New Orleans has more in common with Caribbean culture than the traditions of America’s Deep South. But it’s also often called the “Paris of the West”, because of the culture brought by the French Canadians.
New Orleans is light and friendly, with strangers willing to stop and pass the time of day. Good food and even better music fill up visitors to the city. At the same time, a dark shadow of the occult flitters through New Orleans. And no other city in America has such a vibrant ongoing relationship with its dead.
This contradictory version of New Orleans is the one that you should seek out. Find those unusual things to do in New Orleans that pair the Caribbean culture with the Parisian one. And then seek out some weird things that explore both the light and the dark sides of the city.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Most of the hotel inventory is in the French Quarter and you’ll find a wide range of places to stay in New Orleans through Booking.com.
That said, if you want offbeat lodging to go along with your offbeat itinerary, you may want to consider the Warehouse District for modern design or seek out some historical edge in the Marigny neighborhood. The Royal Frenchman Hotel & Bar in Marigny has traditional New Orleans balconies with live music in the courtyard, or try the Hotel Peter & Paul which is a converted church and school, they have a lovely site and a killer bar.
Off the Beaten Path New Orleans: The Dark Side
These offbeat New Orleans activities explore the dark side of the city. You know, the one where ghosts flitter through the city and the dead never really go underground.
Let’s start with the cemeteries.
New Orleans Cemeteries
New Orleans is known as the City of the Dead for good reason— there is a cemetery in nearly every neighborhood. Because the city is below sea level, the tombs are above ground and their architecture has been elevated to a high art.
Most of the city’s cemeteries are open to the public, generally from 8am-3pm Monday-Saturday with shorter hours on Sundays. So, if you spot one while wondering around, simply pop in.
Here are three cemeteries worth visiting:
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
This graveyard was founded in 1789 and was the first cemetery in New Orleans. It’s a crumbling jumble of over 700 tombs. It houses Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans and it also the future tomb (and futuristic pyramid) of actor Nicolas Cage.
This is a private Catholic cemetery and members of the public can only visit on a guided tour, which you can book here.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
This cemetery is great for art and artchitecture lovers. It’s one of the largest in the city and is covered in elaborate Masonic, Greek and Orthodox tombs. No. 3 is located near the southeast corner of City Park, which is home of the Singing Oak Tree (noted below).
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
This graveyard is located in the lovely Garden District. It’s a city cemetery with 500 wall vaults and 1,100 family vaults housing some of the first European settlers to New Orleans.
Lafayette is notable for being a popular filming location for shows and movies like: Interview With a Vampire, Double Jeopardy, NCIS: New Orleans and American Horror Story.
Take a cemetery tour and learn more about New Orleans’ macabre history:
- This cemetery and ghost tour gets special after-dark access to some of the cemeteries that are outside of the French Quarter. Book it here.
- This tour combines a garden district tour with a visit to Lafayette No. 1. Book it here.
Read more: You like cemeteries? We’ve got cemeteries! Check out the Pere Lachaise cemetery with our Paris itinerary, our Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh will tell you where Tom Riddle is buried or learn about the City Cemetery on our offbeat Key West guide.
Get a Taro Card Reading
(Suggested by Lindsey Puls of Have Clothes, Will Travel)
Having a Taro Card reading is one of the more unusual things to do in New Orleans— and you won’t have to look hard to find tarot card readers. From card tables on street corners to voodoo shops and even personal homes, the city is brimming with people who can read your cards.
A tarot card reading in New Orleans is a unique experience that should be part of your New Orleans itinerary, even if it isn’t something you necessarily believe in.
Tarot card readings in New Orleans are 10-30 minutes and can range in price from $10 to $50+. How much you pay depends on where you decide to go. For example, a tarot card reader on the street will charge around $20, where visiting a Voodoo shop such as Marie Laveau’s or Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop will be ~$50.
If you have the time and the funds, do a more expensive reading. But getting a reading on the street or a voodoo shop is also fun! It’s interesting to compare the readings and see how similar (or different) they are to one another.
Pro Tip: If you want to get into have a reading at a voodoo shop, be sure to call well in advance to book an appointment! Readings book up quickly, especially at popular places such as “Bottom of the Cup Tea Room.”
(Suggested by Kerry of Vegg Travel)
Unbeknown to many people, New Orleans has voodoo embedded in its history. Voodoo initially materialised in New Orleans when the enslaved West Africans integrated their culture and practices with the local Catholic religion. The best way to learn about how voodoo came to be so symbolic of New Orleans is to join a free walking tour.
The voodoo tour starts at Congo Square within Armstrong Park. Historically, the African slaves were only permitted to gather in this one square, and this is where they performed their voodoo ceremonies and practices. You will find statues that represent the African heritage throughout the park and a huge oak tree where people still leave offerings to the spirits today. If you visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras Carnival, then you will even see the colorful beads draped around the tree as special gifts.
Your voodoo tour guide will also take you to the beautiful street in the French Quarter where Marie Laveau, the infamous Voodoo Queen lived. You will learn all about why she was so central to the Voodoo movement and still respected centuries on. The tour will finish at Voodoo Authentica, an authentic voodoo shop where you can buy potions and gris-gris dolls made by people who still practice voodoo today.
Pro Tip: Best to book your tour in advance.
The Voodoo Museum
(Suggested by Natalie of Voyage Scribe)
Explore more of the occult by visiting the Voodoo Museum. It’s quite small, but if you’re interested in learning more about voodoo, you could spend a lot of time here, as there is a lot of information to be found.
This two-room museum is packed to the brim with voodoo dolls, voodoo altars and other unique artifacts. There are also detailed descriptions informing visitors of what each voodoo doll and artifact means, as well as educational texts about the history and practices of voodoo.
You could easily spend over an hour in the two small rooms if you want to read all the descriptions found within. Make sure to leave a wish and a prayer to Marie Laveau at the voodoo wishing stump before leaving.
The ticket price is $10 per person, so it’s not going to set you back much if you’re traveling New Orleans on a budget.
Pro Tip: The museum is open seven days a week from 10 AM to 6 PM, and it’s conveniently located in the French Quarter.
Museum of Death
(Suggested by Katie of The World on My Necklace)
One of the more dark and creepy things to do in New Orleans is to visit the infamous Museum of Death. If you like to spend hours watching true crime documentaries or listening to murder podcasts, then this museum is for you.
Just be warned, it is not for the squeamish or faint of heart – maybe don’t eat any decadent Louisiana food until after your visit!
The purpose of this interesting museum is to educate people on death, and it certainly does that. It began in San Diego in 1995 when JD Healy and Cathee Shultz decided to make studying death their life’s work. They noticed that there was a lack of death education in the United States and they wanted to change that.
The museum houses hundreds of items on display including the world’s largest collection of serial killer artwork, letters from murderers, graphic crime scene photos, Manson Family displays, mortician and coroners instruments, and antique funerary items and documents.
You won’t have seen half the stuff on display in this macabre museum before, and you could easily spend a couple of hours here.
Pro Tip: The museum is dark and twisty, so be sure to leave the kids at home for this one.
( Suggested by Alanna of Periodic Adventures)
One of the oddest things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter has to be the Pharmacy Museum. It’s perfectly strange and a perfect primer for first timers to New Orleans.
The museum is housed in the apothecary and home of the first pharmacist in the United States. The building itself was built in 1823.
There are two floors of medical devices, artifacts, tools, cosmetics, potions, prescriptions, and more! You’re guaranteed to see something strange. Plus, relax in the beautiful courtyard away from the Bourbon Street crowds.
This museum is a must-do because it is so unique. It perfectly captures New Orleans’ quirkiness, spooky history, and culture. It’s a wonderful exhibit that is well-curated and a total hidden gem in the middle of the bustling French Quarter.
Pro Tip: Tickets cost $10 per person or $7 for students, seniors, and active military. The Pharmacy Museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 12 pm to 5 pm.
Exploring Nature in New Orleans
The city center is cool alright, but as a city surrounded by water, there are also some pretty cool things to do in New Orleans that feature fresh air, greenery, and no small amount of alligators.
Here are some New Orleans off the beaten path nature excursions:
(Suggested by Elizabeth of The Fearless Foreigner)
When you are planning your New Orleans itinerary, you’ll want to step off the beaten path in New Orleans and plunge into the bayou, which are low-lying swampy areas typical of southeastern Louisiana.
While many visitors choose to go on a guided boat tour in the bayou, you should try something different and go kayaking instead. Bayou Paddlesports rents kayaks along Bayou St John, which is right in the city.
If you think you won’t see much wildlife in the middle of the city— think again! You will be kayaking alongside turtles, many types of birds and alligators. Yes, you read that right you will most likely kayak right past a gator! They are known to lurk in the waters and even take a sun break on the lawns of local bayou residents.
The staff at Bayou Paddlesports will help you get started and even give you a few paddling tips if you are new to kayaking.
Pro Tip: After working up an appetite dodging the alligators, head over to the nearby Parkway Bakery & Tavern. It’s a historic restaurant known for po’boys.
(Suggested by Slavka of On 2 Continents)
If kayaking among the gators isn’t enough to get your heart rate up, how about walking among them?
The Barataria Preserve is a unique place where you can walk among wild alligators. The Preserve belongs to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park which is only 30 minutes by car from New Orleans. It’s easily reachable from the main road and there is no admission fee.
This place is fascinating because you get to walk on a long boardwalk trail with no rails or barrier from the swamp and you can walk very close to real, wild alligators. But don’t panic, it’s quite safe. If you don’t provoke the animals and just peacefully walk by, they will ignore you. If you come with children, make sure they stay on the path and close to you. Alligators don’t bother attacking large prey if they know they cannot swallow it in one bite (because, fun fact, gators don’t chew).
The Preserve is amazing not just for its wild alligators and other animals, but also for its beautiful dense forest.
Pro Tip: When you come, bring a bottle of water as it gets rather humid. Always stay on the trail and don’t stick out your arms above alligators.
The Singing Oak
(Suggested by Tanya of My Right Sock)
If you’re in City Park, chances are you will hear the Singing Oak before you see it.
The branches of the Singing Oak, or the Chime Tree in New Orleans, are embellished with melodious wind chimes that produce whimsical music to charm passers-by. The expansive shade of the towering oak also offers a reprieve from the Louisiana summer sun, which makes it an excellent picnic spot for Sunday afternoons.
The Singing Oak is an art installation by local artist Jim Hart. The chimes are in motley sizes, with one of them reaching 14 feet. All the chimes are painted black to blend in with the natural shadows of the oak. This lends the tree a surreal, magical air. It’s almost like the Singing Oak sits enveloped in a mystical spell, contrasting squarely with the rest of City Park.
Part of the charm of the Singing Oak is to simply locate it. City Park is filled with several giant oaks, so here’s a hint: The Singing Oak is on the east side of Big Lake, next to the Reunion Shelter. And if you still can’t find it, just follow your ears.
Pro Tip: City Park is huge and it also houses the New Orleans Art Museum (with sculpture garden), a botanical garden and the dueling oaks.
Offbeat New Orleans Eats and Drinks
Bypass the slushees on Bourbon street and check out one of these unique drinking establishments:
The Famous Carousel Bar & Lounge
(Suggested by Julia of The Cure for Curiosity)
Take your unique New Orleans adventures to the Hotel Monteleone to visit the city’s only revolving bar— the Carousel Bar & Lounge. Located on the ground floor of the hotel, you don’t need to be a hotel guest to stop in and give the carousel a whirl! (Just to be clear though, it does take 15 minutes to rotate, so you won’t exactly get dizzy on this ride.)
Offering only 25 seats at the carousel itself, you may find there is a bit of a wait to sit at the revolving bar, but there is additional seating in the bar’s lounge while you wait. Since guests typically come and go after one or two specialty cocktails, there is constant turnover and many opportunities to snag one of the coveted revolving seats.
This fabulous Carousel Bar has been around, and spinning, for over 70 years serving cocktails to everyone from the rich and famous, like Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway, to the average Joe. As a fun fact, it is also the only carousel you need to be 21 to ride! Adding to the fun, some nights you’ll even find the bar comes alive with live music.
Taking a spin on the Carousel Bar isn’t the only adventure that awaits you in New Orleans. Plan a fun-filled road trip from Raleigh to New Orleans to see the best, and offbeat, of the southern states!
Pro Tip: The hotel is only a few blocks from the Museum of Death (noted above). So you can shake off the shivers while spinning around the bar.
The $.25 Martini Lunch at Commander’s Palace
(Suggested by Nick of the Traveling Wheatleys)
Commander’s Palace is located in the Garden District, across the street from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. This famous restaurant has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893 and is a popular place to enjoy Creole specialties. And with a “dirt to plate within 100 miles” policy, you know that all of their ingredients are super fresh and local.
And while Commander’s Palace is a great place to enjoy dinner, that’s not why it made this list of offbeat things to do. It’s one of the only restaurants where you can get a traditional “three-martini lunch” with each cocktail priced at only $0.25. Yep, you read that right, just a quarter for each of your three lunchtime martinis (unfortunately there is a limit of 3 per person).
Getting dressed up for a boozy lunch at a fancy restaurant will be a welcome change of pace from the electric blue slushy drinks and mardi gras beads of Bourbon Street.
You’ll have to order an entree to get the martini special, but believe us you’ll need something in your stomach or you’ll be stumbling out of the restaurant when you’re done.
Pro Tip: Be sure to snap a photo in front of the iconic “Commander’s blue” awnings out front before heading off to other adventures around New Orleans!
Offbeat and Artsy New Orleans
Art and music play an important role in balancing New Orleans’ dark side with some lightness. There is literally music in the streets and lots of museums and galleries to check out. Here are a few suggestions:
The New Orleans Jazz Museum
(Suggested by Agnes of The Van Escape)
New Orleans is a city of jazz. You can hear live music in almost every bar, at the famous Bourbon Street and Jackson Square. But how was jazz born in New Orleans? What were its origins, and what is its story? You will find out about it by visiting the New Orleans Jazz Museum.
It is located in the city center at the intersection of the French Quarter, and the Frenchmen Street live music corridor.
In the New Orleans Jazz Museum, you can celebrate and learn the history of jazz, in all its forms, through dynamic and interactive exhibits, educational programming, and musical performances.
The collection includes the world’s largest collection of jazz instruments, prized artifacts, photographs. You can admire instruments owned and played by important figures in jazz- trumpets, cornets, trombones, clarinets, and saxophones. The greatest ones played on these instruments such as Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Edward “Kid” Ory, George Lewis, Sidney Bechet, and Dizzy Gillespie.
There are many recordings in various formats, posters, paintings, prints, and sheet music from the late 19th-century to the 1950s. It’s amazing to experience hearing old jazz recordings in this museum.
Moreover, the museum houses a collection of costumes from the famous annual Mardi Gras carnival, the biggest festival in New Orleans.
Pro Tip: The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday: 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM. Monday is closed. The admission ticket costs $8.00 per adult and $6 per kid over 6 years old.
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
(Suggested by Victoria of Get Your Guide Travel)
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is located in the heart of New Orleans and should be at the top of your list if you’re visiting the city. This isn’t some generic art museum, but rather it has an incredible collection of art pieces from the southern states including photographs, paintings, sculptures and much more.
The museum is mid-sized, not too large but also not tiny. Exhibits are distributed over five different floors so there is plenty to see in this beautiful museum. Some exhibits rotate and change during the year so there is always something new. You can easily spend an afternoon here or even a full day if you really want to enjoy every single exhibit.
Pro Tip: Open every day from 10:00 am to 17:00 pm. Tickets cost $13.50 per person for adults, $11 for seniors and $6.75 for children
NOLA Art Walk
We are all about the street art here at Wayfaring Views (be sure to check out our article on the best street art cities in the world). So, of course, you can’t go off the beaten path in New Orleans without seeking out some aerosol paint.
The NOLA Art walk is hosted by Carlos, a photographer, craft beer enthusiast and the author of a book on NOLA street art. He runs a tour that skirts the eastern edge of the French Quarter that features graffiti, murals, a Banksy and some local’s-only tips on where to eat and catch music.
Pro Tip: Book it on Airbnb experiences.
In the words of musician Ellis Marsalis “In New Orleans, culture doesn’t come down from on high, it bubbles up from the streets.”
True that Ellis. And hitting those streets is the best way to explore New Orleans. Have fun and happy trails.
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