The Big Easy Made Even Easier
There are so many things to do in New Orleans that narrowing it down by opting for the freebies is a good idea. The French Quarter is the most scenic part of the city; colourful house after pretty balcony after cobbled street await your Instagram, and you could spend hours wandering the streets, gratis.
If you want to see the grandest houses of them all, you can take the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue, but that’s $3 for a day pass, which totally breaks our budget. If you can spare the dollars I’d definitely recommend it, otherwise walk it. Just don’t miss it.
Here are just a few completely free things to do in New Orleans.
1. Walk down Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is the number one stop for most travellers. This ‘main strip’ of New Orleans comes complete with tacky bars, tacky T-shirt shops and the opportunity to buy the traditional Hurricane and Hand Grenade drinks in serving sizes bigger than your head. But, we don’t have the money ($12) for those, and walking down the 13 blocks of Bourbon Street is enough entertainment if you do it right.
Go by day and you’ll see wanderers clutching their drinks – there’s an open container policy here – and street performers doing their thing. Go by night and you’ll find absolute carnage, music blasting from every bar, people throwing mardi gras beads from balconies until they cover the floor, street bands parading and gathering people as they go and some of the craziest outfit choices you’ll ever see.
2. Praline samples hunt
Pralines are just one of the many traditional foods you need to work your way through to say you’ve really ‘done’ New Orleans. The Louisianans are very proud of their sugary, creamy, pecan delight. And, lucky for you, many of the shops in the French Quarter give away samples for free. Just beware of that Cajun spice one. Hawt.
3. Taster of Hot Pepper Palace
But if you like that tingling on your tongue, I’d recommend the Hot Pepper Palace. Here, if you sign a disclaimer, you can try the Flashbang, the hottest sauce ever made from the four hottest peppers in the world, the Habanero, Ghost, Moruga Scorpion and Reaper.
They also have nasal napalm, the strongest horseradish you’re ever likely to try. Beware addingthat to your Sunday roast. If you don’t feel the need to set your mouth on fire, you can try one of the other hundreds of sauces, rated from 1-10 in spiciness. Squirt it on a tortilla, have enough of them and you’ve got yourself a free snack.
4. Explore Saint Louis Cemetery No 1
Graves are built in tombs above the ground in New Orleans. The traditional six-feet-under idea isn’t a good plan round these parts, where most of the ground is between one and two feet below sea level. Any bout of bad weather – and there’s a lot – would bring those bodies back to us, floating around the city.
There are quite a few above ground graveyards in the city but Saint Louis Cemetery No 1 is possibly the most interesting. Keep an eye out for Nicolas Cage’s prepaid pyramid tomb, and Marie Laveau’s (the Queen of Voodoo in New Orleans) right near it. It’s said he bought her house years ago and has considered himself cursed ever since. For some reason he’s decided that lying near her in death will lift that curse. Ok, Cagey, whatevs.
5. Walk around Treme
Treme is America’s oldest black neighbourhood and is at the centre of most of the significant economic, cultural, political, social, and legal events that have shaped Black America for the past two centuries. The history here is varied and vast.
Just as one pointer, it was the first place in the US where slaves could buy property, while other slaves were still in confinement. Check out Armstrong Park here, a memorial to Louis Armstong – the ‘Wonderful World’ man and a New Orleans resident.
6. Visit the Grave of the Unknown Slave
The St Louis Hotel in the French Quarter was once the site of the biggest human slave market in the USA. The slave history in New Orleans and the nearby vicinity is impossible to ignore (if you do have a bit of cash go and check out the old sugar plantations).
To mark the thousands of slaves that lived in and around New Orleans the Grave of the Unknown Slave was marked just outside St Augustine’s Catholic Church in Treme. If you have time I’d recommend St Augustine’s Catholic Church for Sunday Mass, it’s an amazing experience whether you’re religious or not.
7. Hang out in City Park
New Orleans’ City Park is 1300 acres, 50% bigger than New York’s Central Park. There are lakes, rivers, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and walking trails all set in a stunning green space. There are often free events here too, so keep an eye on the New Orleans calendar before you go.
8. Stroll the Mississippi Riverwalk
There’s a whole walkway set up between the Mississippi River and the city. It stretches for miles, so depending on how far you want to walk, you can go as far as you like.
Staying in the main city area you’ll see the Riverwalk Marketplace Mall shopping area, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Entergy Imax Theater lining the route. The most interesting landmark for me though was the Monument to the Immigrant, by sculptor Franco Allesandrin. The engraving on it reads:
“MONUMENT to the IMMIGRANT
Dedicated to the courageous men and women who left their homeland seeking freedom, opportunity and a better life in a new country”
Festivals take place here year round, including the annual free French Quarter Festival set up every spring.
9. Find a street party
Walk around the avenues of New Orleans long enough and you’re sure to find a street party. I was quietly eating a hot dog on the balcony of Dat Dog on Frenchman Street (one of the most highly acclaimed hot dog places in the city) and just noticed a brass band setting up on the street corner. Within about five minutes the small gathering became a full on street party stretching down the street and stopping the cars passing through. We scoffed the last of our Dat Dogs and went down to join them. And that’s the exact moment it was confirmed I have no rhythm or dance skills to speak of.