This year has been up and down for many of us, and while our personal travels have slowed significantly, we’ve sprinkled in city breaks here and there as we felt it was safe to do so. As a vaccinated traveler who continues to mask up, I feel confident exploring cities that have implemented safety and public health procedures, and there are many things to do in New Orleans that put Louisiana’s cultural hub on my list as places to visit this fall.
Featured image is a mural by Miami artist Ivan Roque along the St. Claude corridor.
Visiting New Orleans right now
New Orleans is open for business, and Louisiana currently has a state-wide mask mandate in place. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell recently announced a mandate that all residents and visitors must show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative PCR test to go inside restaurants, bars and other indoor venues, including the Caesars Superdome, effective now. Reference this page for up-to-date information on traveling to New Orleans right now.
Ultimately, it’s up to every individual traveler to decide when you feel comfortable traveling again, but cities taking enhanced safety measures like New Orleans definitely rise to the top of my personal recommendations of where to go right now. And if you don’t feel ready to travel this fall, it’s never too early to start dreaming of a trip to New Orleans for next spring or summer.
And whether you have a trip booked right now or not, please get the vaccine if you are able and have not done so already. It’s imperative we reach herd immunity as the virus continues to mutate so that we can get back to normal sooner rather than later. And even if you are vaccinated, mask up when you travel—it’s the law in airports, of course, but it’s the common courtesy for everyone you’ll come in contact with. Plus, it diminishes the need to wear makeup, which I see as a huge bonus!
Things to do in New Orleans
My favorite time to visit New Orleans is in the early to mid-fall when the temps start to cool down and the kids go back to school (can you tell I don’t like crowds, even in the before times?). Plus, one of the great things about a city like New Orleans is that much of the fun exists in the safety of the outdoors.
You could literally walk miles through the shaded streets of the Big Easy for days and never grow bored. I’ve traveled to this coastal Louisiana city on many occasions over the past two decades, and here are a few of my favorite things to do in New Orleans that you can put on your list for right now—or save for later.
See NOLA’s public art
The great thing about public art is not only is it free to consume, but it’s a safe activity no matter where you’re visiting. And New Orleans has a ton of murals, many of them by talented local artist Brandon Odums while others the brainchild of outside artists that NOLA Mural Project has brought in to paint.
mural by Craig Cundiff
Here’s a great map of New Orleans murals to use as your guide.
Odums’ Studio Be, a 35,000-square-foot warehouse gallery in the Bywater, is also worth a visit if you can catch it when it’s open (Wednesday through Saturday, 2 to 8pm). The inside is brimming with murals, social commentary, 3D installations and other artistic marvels.
And up in City Park, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art is one of my favorite places in the entire city. Best of all? It’s free and open seven days a week.
Stay cool indoors at these museums
You won’t find a shortage of museums in New Orleans, many of which have implemented timed entry and are recommending advance reservations. My favorite of them all is the New Orleans Museum of Art attached to the sculpture garden.
Other museums worth visiting include The National WWII Museum, Ogden Contemporary Arts and The Contemporary Arts Center, many of which are free to visit throughout August as part of the annual Museum Month. Masks required.
Wander through the cemeteries
If you’re unfamiliar with Louisiana culture, this may seem like a weird one, but New Orleans cemeteries are at the heart of the city’s charm. Because New Orleans was built below sea level, burying the dead was a challenge the earliest residents of the French settlement had to conquer, so they settled on entombing the deceased in elaborate, above-ground marble chambers worthy of royalty.
The result is haunting beauty in the form of perfectly manicured cemeteries, framed beneath the ancient oaks. These cemeteries are frequent centerpieces in movies and TV shows set in New Orleans—Double Jeopardy anybody? how about Your Honor?—and some, like St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, only allow entrance with a licensed tour guide, though many you can visit on your own (though note that one of the most popular cemeteries, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, is closed until further notice for repairs).
Take a New Orleans architecture tour
If you want a knowledgeable guide to show you the lay of the land, you can book a tour with licensed guide Sheila Ferran, who can point out the notable tombs and gravestones in these very cemeteries while also giving you an overview of the history of New Orleans, its architecture, its early inhabitants and much, much more.
OF special interest to me was the New Orleans architecture, from the old-school shotgun houses to the ornate-style Italianate homes, as well as plenty of Queen Anne beauties and majestic Greek Revival marvels sprinkled into the mix. Inquire about Sheila’s private tours here.
Go for a paddle down the bayou
One of my favorite outdoor activities I’ve ever done in New Orleans is to take a kayak tour with Sonny and Sara offer of Kayak-iti-yat. Our three-hour tour through the bayou wound its way through residential communities along the water where we peered into the backyards of a mishmash of Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired homes, stately mansions and modest bungalows.
A trained marine biologist, Sonny regaled us with facts and stories about Louisiana’s eco-system as we paddled along, a curious alligator popping up here and there to eye us passersby. Inquire about private and group kayak tours here.
Experience New Orleans jazz
Whether you decide to do indoor activities right now is completely personal preference, but it’s comforting for me as a traveler to know that New Orleans does require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test in order to visit indoor venues.
The French Quarter, of course, is an obvious place to see music, though Frenchmen Street, the main boulevard passing through the Marigny neighborhood, is my personal favorite area to go after hours. For a full list of live music venues, check out this page.
Go for a bike ride
My favorite way to explore New Orleans other than by foot is by two wheels. Confederacy of Cruisers offers several biking tour options—from culinary to cocktails to Creole culture—but if you’d prefer being on your own schedule, you can also rent bikes via the Blue Bikes bicycle share program and follow one of these New Orleans by bike itineraries.
Where to stay in New Orleans
What vibe you want when you visit New Orleans will determine what neighborhood you stay in. You can search all hotels via the New Orleans & Co. website to gauge availability, as well as browse by neighborhood, price point, and hotel or B&B.
My favorite NOLA neighborhoods:
The French Quarter
If it’s your first time to visit New Orleans and you’ve never experienced the vibrancy of its cultural heart, you might enjoy staying in the French Quarter where many of the cobblestone streets are pedestrian only and you don’t have to wander far to find a great bar or restaurant.
The Central Business District
While a business district may not seem primed for tourists, New Orleans’ Central Business District, which abuts the trendy Warehouse District, actually is: It houses so many of my favorite New Orleans hotels like the International House Hotel, the Ace, Selina Catahoula and the Eliza Jane.
The CBD is also a stone’s throw from the French Quarter and extremely walkable to almost everything you’re going to want to do in New Orleans (or a short car ride away).
The Garden District
While it’s a bit out of downtown—and you’ll likely want a car if you stay here—the Garden District is where to stay if you want to feel like a New Orleans local. It’s personally my favorite neighborhood to explore, though I’ve yet to stay there myself (though don’t think I haven’t already picked out the home I’d like to buy!).
Find more New Orleans travel tips below:
- The Big Easy for Two: The Ultimate Couple’s Weekend in New Orleans
- The best bars in New Orleans: a comprehensive cocktail guide
- 5 ways to get out and about in New Orleans
- Planning the ultimate girls’ trip to New Orleans
- Swap this for that: Where to eat in New Orleans