The problem with New Orleans, in my opinion, is that all you’re going to want to do while you’re there is eat … and drink … then eat and drink some more. I totally endorse this method of travel, by the way, especially when visiting the South’s most delicious city. But as you might guess, there’s far more things to do in New Orleans than drink your way through the sophisticated cocktail scene and extensive culinary playground
This was post was last updated in May 2023.
In fact, it would be a shame to vacation at such a cultural hotbed and not try all the other things to do in New Orleans—think: swamp tour in the bayou, jazz cruise on the bayou, voodoo tour of the French Quarter.
So next time you’re visiting New Orleans, put these activities on your itinerary as a means to get your heart pumping—or simply to stave off a food hangover and prepare room in your stomach for the next meal.
Take a Walking Tour of the Garden District
We touched down in New Orleans on a Monday morning and right off the bat headed to the Garden District—a historic neighborhood formed shortly after the Louisiana Purchase for the new Americans who didn’t want to live in the French Quarter—for lunch and a walking tour of the Garden District. I recommend doing this on your first day in town as it will allow you to get your bearings and learn more about the city’s storied past.
Ours started off like all good NOLA tours begin: in a cemetery. I was having flashbacks to Ashley Judd being locked in a tomb in Double Jeopardy and told Sheila as much—to which she said, “well funny, they actually filmed that scene in this very cemetery.” Parts of Interview with the Vampire were also shot there.
New Orleans may be known for vampires and voodoo, but you don’t get that creepy feeling while going on a walking tour during daylight. Sheila showed us several notable tombs and gravestones in Lafayette Cemetery, and I learned that much like in Tennessee, yellow fever claimed the lives of many of NOLA’s early inhabitants.
From there, we wandered down Coliseum Street and wove in and out of the district, as Sheila pointed out who lived where: Sandra Bullock, there; John Goodman, over there; and Anne Rice, here and there and there (it seems that at one point or another, Anne Rice lived in every stately home in New Orleans!).
Interested in New Orleans’ creepier side? Check out this haunted NOLA tour by bus.
We also got a crash course in New Orleans architecture, from the old-school shotgun houses to the ornate-style Italianate homes, and we even saw a house that could almost be a doppelgänger for my own 1800s beauty: a mash-up of a Queen Anne and Greek Revival.
Pro tip: Come for the history; stay for the three-martini lunch at Commander’s Palace, a Garden District icon. After walking around in the Southern humidity, you’ve earned it. You can save your feet and take the St. Charles streetcar back to your hotel.
Mix Up a Hurricane on a New Orleans cocktail tour
Who doesn’t want to learn to shake it up like a pro? I confess that while I consume a lot of cocktails, I don’t do much mixology at home other than adding a bit of tonic to my gin or ginger beer to my bourbon, so it was interesting to learn how to make New Orleans’ signature cocktail—the Hurricane, of course—the way the pros do it on a cocktail tour of New Orleans.
Situated above Victory, New Orleans Drink Lab explores the cocktail culture that fuels the city, as well as how many of its iconic drinks came to be. We had a crash course in cocktail culture while sipping on a glass of champs and manning our own bartending stations as we prepared our drinks for consumption. Newsflash: I actually like Hurricanes when made properly (with real, homemade passionfruit simple syrup). Who knew?
Keep your eyes peeled for Drink Lab’s monthly prohibition parties; they also offer two-hour classes several days a week, as well as cater to groups like birthday parties or bachelorettes.
Bust a Move with Bounce Ya Brass
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to take Bounce Ya Brass class when I showed up. It was the end of a long day, I hadn’t been sleeping well, and I’d consumed a particularly gluttonous lunch so was feeling rather lethargic. But as Alex, Angie and I walked up to Crescent Park where Shanda, one of the teachers at Move Ya Brass, had already started her class, I heard her whoops and her “love yas!” and I immediately dropped my belongings and jumped right in to join the fun.
Shanda’s energy and positivity are infectious, and even if you’ve never danced a day in your life, it doesn’t matter—no one cares, no one is going to laugh at you, heck, no one will even be looking your way as they’re all paying attention to the teacher anyway and trying not to trip over their own two feet. While Move Ya Brass founder Robin Barnes’ classes may be based on NOLA dance moves backed by recorded tunes from a brass band, they’re mixed with aerobics and rather formulaic—after a couple measures, you’ll find your groove. In the summer New Orleans humidity, I was sweating hard by the third song; it helped to justify that second dessert for the day I’d have later that night.
There are free Bounce Ya Brass classes beneath the Mandeville Shed at Crescent Park. Move Ya Brass also offers other classes like hip hop and stretching throughout the week.
Pro tip: After you’re nice and sweaty, stick close to the Bywater neighborhood where you can have a drink at the Country Club and cool off in the pool before moving onto St. Roch Market for a casual dinner in a food hall environment.
Bowl a Strike at Fulton Alley
On my last day in town, we had a few hours of downtime to rest, during which Alex texted me, “wanna go bowling?” And while all I really wanted to do was take a nap (a lot of late nights and cocktailing led me to this point), I wanted to throw a strike a lot more than I did snooze. So off to go bowling we did!
And Fulton Alley was the cutest boutique bowling alley we ever did see, too. We booked a lane for half an hour (they’re available to rent in 30-minute increments), which was just long enough for us to bowl two games and order a round of cocktails before dinner.
I love this trend of swanky lounge-meets-bowling alley that’s been popping up across the United States. In addition to its 12 lanes—and full food and drinks menu—Fulton Alley also has Bocce ball, shuffleboard, foosball and other games, but we only had an hour to spare (no pun intended) and stuck to bowling this time around. (price: $30/hour per lane)
Paddle Bayou St. John with Kayak-iti-yat
Does it seem like everywhere you go now has a kayaking tour as an option? I must say, I love this shift to fitness-based travel. Still, whether you’ve done one kayak tour or a dozen, I guarantee you’ve never been on one like what Sonny and Sara offer at Kayak-iti-yat.
Kayak-iti-yat’s tours tackle New Orleans from both a historical and ecological perspective, exploring the placid waters of Bayou St. John. Located just outside of City Park, Bayou St. John is the oldest part of New Orleans’ with many buildings dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s on this formerly bustling trade route.
A trained marine biologist, Sonny led our three-hour tour through the bayou—which started in a district that was part commercial, part residential, and wound its way through a waterfront community where we saw mansions and bungalows galore—during which he also gave us the backstories on the first settlers in the area and Louisiana’s fragile eco-system. And yes, we even spied one lazy alligator bobbing in the water, but no fear—he was more afraid of us than we were of him as he drifted out of our path.
Kayak-iti-yat offers tours every day of the year provided there are at least two kayakers signed up.
Pro tip: Head to Parkway Bakery for lunch or dinner after your paddle. There, you’ll find the best po-boys in town and a plethora of local brews on tap to sample, too.
For more New Orleans travel tips start here:
- A Couples’ Guide to New Orleans
- Where to Eat in New Orleans
- Swap This for That: Where to Eat and Go in New Orleans
- Planning a Bachelorette Weekend in NOLA
Now, tell me: What’s your favorite way to get out and enjoy New Orleans?
The kayak experience looks like a perfect way to break up all the eating and drinking. It’s like fitness, but you also get to sit. I approve.
I mean, you KNOW I love me some eating and drinking. But then I get severe gluten hangovers, so I’ve gotta pace myself 😉 #GettingOlder
New Orleans looks like a cool city. Nice to know that besides the great food scene, there’s lots of culture and history to discover. Plus, it seems to me a perfect city for aimless wandering.
If you base yourself downtown, you can easily walk everywhere with no need for a car. Plus, the street car is super fun to ride, too!
I could wander the Garden District for hours! Would love to try this tour next time I’m there to learn more about the city. Can’t wait to try kayaking and that dance class so I don’t feel as guilty about all of the food and beer I consume down there.
Same, girl! Such a gorgeous city. Have you found any good beer there? I didn’t see many breweries when we were there, shockingly.
Yea there aren’t as many here. I really liked Courtyard Brewing. They only have a 3 barrel system but really good saisons. They have several guest taps too and food trucks. I really like NOLA brewing. Haven’t been to the brewery but their beers are all over the city.
Haha, your first sentence made me laugh as all me and my friend did was pretty much eat and drink whilst we were there! We managed a walking tour but I do wish we’d got slightly out of the city, perhaps on the water. I absolutely loved the city and can’t wait to go back so I’ll have to put some of these ideas into practice next time! Great post 🙂
Oh girl, me too, ha! But then we all started to get food hangovers and other activities were necessary 😉
The architecture of the city is so beautiful! I’ve always had in my head that I would like to do an architecture tour there and a swamps tour. Are there swamps close to New Orleans or am I just making it up? 🙂
No, you’re totally right! We were signed up for one, but then our kayak got rained out the first day so we canceled our swamp tour and rebooked the kayak instead. I think it’s about an hour outside of NOLA.
I love the architecture of New Orleans, and that kayak activity sounds really nice to break up with all the drinking and eating
Me, too! The architecture is so dreamy.
The kayak tour sounds fun, that’s nice it is led by a marine biologist. Always good to learn something new.
So informative! And also just really fun =)
These all sound great. The cemeteries in Nola are just so unique, would love the chance to explore them more! I would also love the crash course on architecture. I love the old buildings there.
Me, too! I learned a lot I didn’t know from previous visits to the city.
Wow. did not know much about the city. the cemeteries looked fascinating! Wonder when I can visit this beautiful country of yours!
I would love to mix in kayaking and then some drinking! Saved this post for future reference.
Your photos are beautiful I haven’t been to New Orleans yet, but I’ve definitely heard it’s such a foodie city. The cemetery tour looks so neat!
So. Much. Good. Food! Luckily, there are plenty of activities to help you work it off, too 😉
I absolutely adore New Orleans, but always eat too much! I love this post – can’t wait to test out the more active side of Nola 🙂
You and me both! It’s one of the tastiest cities I’ve ever visited, so I don’t regret it 😉
Wow – it looks like you had an amazing time in this amazing city! Thanks for sharing your experience
Love the idea of the bounce ya brass classes (and they’re free?!) and the bowling alley looked super cute. Great pics as always too 🙂
Free!!! I know. I thought it was a scam! But I think she got some sort of arts grant from the city.
That walking tour through the garden district sounds awesome. Love that they go in to the architecture too. And kayaking is always a win!
Sometimes I get a bit bored with standard kayak tours, so I loved that this incorporated history and ecology and was so very different!
This is so lovely Kristin!
I recognised the Lafayette Cemetery from TV, and even some of the houses. I would definitely be going on an architecture walk. Yep!
And then, I’d do “something” on the water. Probably basking in my case! And afterwards, lead me straight to the cocktails!
Gosh! I’m an academic so I don’t know how to do anything! My husband makes the cocktails in our house, and he’s very, very good!
Can I tag along for that perfect NOLA day? 😉
It seems like a wonderful adventure, and I enjoyed so much reading it tho! New Orleans is on the top of my bucket list for a year or now so, and I’m so excited to go somehow!
I love love love this post. You highlight off the beaten track of NOLA so well. Great pictures and I can totally think back to the scenes of Double Jeapordy now. Man, love that architecture too!
Isn’t that just the BEST movie? I feel the need to watch it again now after going there! That and Sandra Bullock’s The Net were two of my favorite films as a teen =)
I’d love to go on that architectural tour — I just love those houses! The kayak tour looks so cozy, too! New Orleans is just so charming <3
Yeah, girl! And the kayak tour actually combines architecture with cardio, too =)
I’ve done the Garden District tour(I totally swooned over Sandra Bullock’s gingerbread house) but would love to do the mixology class and the kayak tour. Call me next time 🙂
Sandra’s house was the prettiest! And done 😉
Love the recommendation to start off with a walking tour. That’s such a great way to get your feet wet in a new place. The dance class sounds like a blast, too!
I wasn’t expecting it to be as fun as it was! Definitely a good way to clear some stomach space before dinner and more cocktails 😉
thank you, kristin. I am planning to visit with my sister and nephew. Definitely, those information will be helpful for me 🙂
Great pics in the article! I would also recommend a Segway tour. Informative and fun tour of the French Quarter and the Treme