We took a trip to New Orleans and spent an entire week exploring things to do in the Big Easy on a budget. We were EXTREMELY surprised (and pumped!) to find SO many amazing things to do in New Orleans for FREE!
That’s right. I said we found a TON of things (a long-weekend’s worth even) to do in New Orleans for free. It costs exactly $0. Less than a gum ball.
Now, of course, at many of these places you can spend money. And we encourage you to do so at a few places, because it is a blast and we’d feel bad about partaking in a few of these free things without at least buying a drink or two.
After all it is New Orleans. And if you splurge a few bucks on a daiquiri or a grenade then no one is going to judge you. You can even hit the streets with those in hand! As long as they aren’t glass. Plastic and cans – OK! Glass – Boo Hoo…
Okay, without further ado. Let’s plan an AMAZING long weekend in the Crescent City on a budget! A full Thursday to Sunday itinerary where it is not required to spend a SINGLE dollar.
Day 1 – Thursday
Flight (or van) arrives >> Frenchmen Street >> Frenchmen Art Market >> Take in some Live Music
Frenchmen Street is a BEAUTIFUL area of New Orleans, and one that is, in our opinion, too overlooked by tourists and adventurers. This area of New Orleans is incredibly vibrant and full-of-life.
We recommend that you bring a few beers in your pocket and explore the streets around Frenchmen. There will likely be some fantastic bands performing on the streets for tips, and you may see a few bars you want to stop in to for a quick cocktail.
Frenchmen Art Market
As you explore Frenchmen, you will pass an extremely beautiful, well-lit portion of the town that attracts many-a-visitor. This is the Frenchmen Art Market.
Absolutely free to enter, and fantastic to explore, the art market is a must-visit. If you care to purchase any art, you may have to break out your wallet, but just walking through enjoying the scenery? You are all good!
Our single favorite part of New Orleans is the live music. Jazz, R&B, Blues, all the above! And some of the best performers on earth in our humble opinion.
An amazing benefit of exploring New Orleans is that you can find these incredible performers at any one of 40 bars and restaurants in the city. Frenchmen has a few places that we stopped at for a quick drink, song, and dance.
We encourage (insist, even) that you carve out some time every single day to experience some live music. Your New Orleans experience (and every city for that matter) will be much better having enjoyed some live tunes!
Day 2 – Friday
Audubon Park >> Explore St Charles Avenue >> Brewery Tour >> Free Oysters! >> Explore Magazine Street
Day 2 will be an exploration of the beautiful Audubon and Touro neighborhoods of New Orleans. This day is pretty packed with activities, and in our opinion is our favorite day. If we were going to relive one day in New Orleans, this one is it!
FANTASTIC start to a day. Waking up (maybe a tad hungover…it is New Orleans after all), grabbing a coffee, and heading for a walk through a beautiful park is a great day starter.
If you want to explore the park on a bike, or even rollerblades, we would HIGHLY recommend that. You’ll see more and cover the entire park in an hour or two.
When we were there, we met a nice gentleman selling Italian taffy out of his HORSE-DRAWN-CARRIAGE! Not something you see every day. And something we NEVER saw growing up in the Midwest.
If you’re a fan of golf, Audubon Park is home to a beautiful course to play. We are terrible golfers, so we didn’t partake personally, and of course golf isn’t free, but still a great option not far from downtown!
Drive or Trolley St Charles Ave
St Charles Avenue is the street with all the stunningly picturesque houses in New Orleans. We personally drove our van down St Charles, which of course didn’t cost anything, but there are a few other great options if you are car-less:
First off, bike! You could rent a bike for pretty cheap. New Orleans has a few bike rental services, or they have bikes that can be rented by the minute parked intermittently throughout the city.
Second, trolley! This one costs money, unfortunately, but it looks to be a wonderful experience. It is a hop-on-hop-off trolley, so you won’t be beholden to a time schedule on your tour of St Charles.
Third, walk/jog! This is of course a free option, and is a great one especially if you are looking for a morning/mid-afternoon workout! It is a beautiful jog through a wonderful area of New Orleans, and you’ll get to see the trolley pass quite a few times on the route.
NOLA Brewery Tour @ 2:00
NOLA Brewing is a FANTASTIC place. We came for the tour, and stayed for the fun.
The brewery offers a free tour and tasting from 2:00-3:00 every Friday. Reservations are not required (or accepted) so all you have to do is show up!
You’ll get an awesome tour of the entire grounds, some awesome facts about beer brewing, and be able to ask any question your heart desires. Oh, and beer. You’ll get a free beer!
After the one free one, we highly encourage you to stay for a couple more. The brewery is FULL of games to play, including shuffleboard, board games, and a giant projection on the wall of XBOX Kinect (basically Nintendo Wii) for you to play tennis, bowling, boxing, and so much more.
What’s more? They have live music after free tour Fridays! Stay for a live performance for an awesome local band, and munch on some delicious food prepped on site as you do.
Le Bon Temps Roule – Free Oysters @ 7:00
When we learned about this, we were 100% sure someone was pulling our legs. Straight up lying to us. Nope! This is legitimate. FREE oysters. No fine print.
Here’s how it works. At 7:00pm, an employee behind the bar begins shucking oysters. Once he shucks an entire tray, he brings them to the bar and sets them down.
A short line will have formed (for us it was never more than 2-4 people in line) awaiting the oysters. Each person, in an orderly fashion, prepares a plate of oysters with hot sauce, crackers, and lemon juice loaded on top.
This process repeats itself until the oysters are gone. This typically lasts until 9:00-10:00pm or so. It really is that simple.
Now, this is a place we highly encourage you to buy a few drinks, and definitely tip the oyster shucker. After all, what pairs better with oysters than a few beers! Maybe even some beers brewed at the NOLA brewery you just visited…
Magazine Street is the street on which Le Bon Temps Roule is located. So you basically have to walk out the door and you’re there!
The street is a very lively and fun area of New Orleans. Less well known than the French Quarter, but still a fantastic time if you are looking to let loose.
We strolled up and down Magazine for a few hours, stopping at any place that struck our fancy. We checked out a few bars and restaurants that had live music, and had the time of our lives dancing and jamming to local musicians.
Don’t stay out too late on Friday night, though. We have a BIG day planned for Saturday.
Day 3 – Saturday
City Park >> Sculpture Gardens >> Fair Grounds Horse Racing >> Royal Street >> Jackson Square >> Cafe du Monde >> Bourbon Street
In case you haven’t gotten the theme yet, we love hitting an awesome park right away in the morning. It is a fantastic place to start your day, sip a coffee, and get your bearings.
You and your party can talk about all the fun you had last night, and chatter expectantly about all the fun you are about to have! While strolling, you will see one of the most beautiful areas of New Orleans.
The park itself is HUGE. You likely won’t be able to explore all of it, but that’s perfectly fine. Stroll down some stunning sidewalks for an hour or so, and then hit the Sculpture Garden…
The New Orleans Sculpture Garden is located in the heart of City Park. It isn’t a huge area, will maybe take a half hour to explore the entire thing.
However it was an extremely fun half hour for us. The artwork is so cool, we had a blast being fake critics and judging the merits of each sculpture.
The garden is free to enter, and there is a Cafe du Monde food truck right outside the entrance, if you’d care to partake in a beignet or three…
Horse Races at Fair Grounds
Upon leaving City Park, it is time to head to the Fair Grounds. We are by no means experienced gamblers, especially on horse racing. However, that didn’t stop us from having a rootin’ tootin’ heckuva good time at the races!
The grounds are free to enter (and pro tip – there is free coffee in the casino area) and races begin at 12:30pm on Saturdays (unless otherwise noted, best to check ahead before you go).
Here’s how we had the best time at Fair Grounds. Grab a coffee and head to where you get to meet the horses before the race. Fall in love with one or two horses each, and then go find a great spot in the stands.
When those horses are up, cheer your little heart out for your favorite. Take it personally if they win (or lose). Bet someone else in your party a drink (or a beignet, whatever) on the results.
After you’ve had your fill of races, and hopefully won a few drinks off your friend, it is time to head to…the famous French Quarter.
Running adjacent to Bourbon Street is an extremely colorful, vibrant area: Royal Street. Think of Royal Street as the Scottie Pippen to Bourbon Street’s Michael Jordan. Sure, Michael is the greatest of all time, but Pippen has 6 rings as well, and the Bulls don’t win those rings without him.
Royal Street has an endless number of fun shops, art studios, bars, restaurants, and fun little stops to check out. As with many streets in New Orleans, we recommend strolling down the street and stopping at any place that looks interesting to you.
There is such a variety of places that 1 (or 10) are SURE to catch your eye. If nothing else, you will at least have a gorgeous walk and be able to see some beautifully colored homes and shops.
Jackson Square & St Louis Cathedral
Jackson Square is right in the heart of the French Quarter, so it will not be a long walk from Royal Street. This is the area with the street performers you’ve probably heard about.
Some of the performers are very talented and are a blast to watch. We stopped for a few minutes, but didn’t stay long.
One thing to be wary of: there are a few popular scams in New Orleans that people will try and pull on tourists. For instance, a guy tried to bet us $5 he could tell us where we got our shoes. We didn’t partake in the bet, but afterwords Googled the scam and found out that the answer is ‘you got your shoes on your feet!’ Very clever…
Cafe Du Monde
If you didn’t grab a beignet from the food truck in City Park, we implore you to try one from the source: Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter. These French donuts are absolutely TO DIE FOR. Julie made us stop no less than 4 times on our stay.
These are of course not free, but they are only $3 for a bag of 3 beignets, so it won’t break the bank. There is typically a very long line for a table here, so we recommend grabbing them ‘to go’.
Also, we found the coffee and other menu items to be over-priced, so we stuck with beignets only on our ventures to Cafe du Monde.
Finally. We made it to Bourbon Street. And on your Saturday night no less. Time to party.
The best way to describe Bourbon Street in one word: alive. This is the most alive section we’ve ever stumbled across, on earth really. They say New York City is the city that never sleeps. If that is true, Bourbon Street is the street that doesn’t even take a nap.
This place is full-go all-day every-day 100%. Just as we did, you’ll have an incredible experience just walking up and down the street.
Our best advice to conquer Bourbon Street is very similar to how we experience most cities and streets: don’t make a detailed plan and ask advice from the locals.
Head to Bourbon Street with a loose idea of what you want to see and places you’d like to stop at. Don’t hold yourself too rigorously to that plan, though, because it may change throughout the night.
Whenever you strike up a conversation with a New Orleans local or a Bourbon Street veteran, ask them their advice on best places to go. They will likely know of some live music you need to see or some festival going on in town while you’re there.
Regardless of what you do, as long as you keep your mind open to having some fun, you’ll have a blast on Bourbon Street! Make sure to have a plan to get home safely and don’t get too drunk on your visit, because we have a great day planned for Sunday!
Day 4 – Sunday
Bywater District >> Crescent Park >> Woldenberg Park >> Head Home
The Bywater District of New Orleans is a trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood. We felt a very laid-back atmosphere on our trip through this part of town, and therefore believe it is perfect for a Sunday, especially if you’re a bit hungover from Saturday night.
Just walking around the neighborhood is great, but we recommend getting brunch at any of the great restaurants in this neighborhood. We personally loved visiting Bacchanal, as there was a live music performance going on at their outdoors patio, and we loved soaking up the sun and the music.
Another cool part about Bacchanal is that you choose a bottle of wine from their storefront, and then serve yourself your drinks throughout your time there. A different experience for sure, and a good way to cut costs by selecting a reasonably priced bottle and not paying for a server.
The best part about Crescent Park is that it offers a beautiful panorama of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans skyline.
On top of that, the park is dog friendly. Outside of the pups and their owners, the park is mostly inhabited by bikers and joggers getting their daily exercise while soaking up the beautiful view.
We recommend taking a stroll down the park from Bywater towards downtown, as you’ll experience the entire park while also making your way towards the last stop on your weekend adventure.
Note: Google Maps doesn’t show a bridge over the train tracks at the West edge of Crescent Park, but there is one! You do NOT have to retrace your steps to get from Crescent Park to Woldenberg Park.
Woldeberg Park is also a park along the riverfront, however it has a different vibe that Crescent Park. Much more developed, and a bit busier, but still beautiful nonetheless.
Woldenberg Park is close to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans, so if you’d like to grab one last beignet, a big ol’ burger, or even one more daiquiri, feel free to do so.
Whatever you do, make sure you soak up the beautiful weather and the gorgeous ambiance that is New Orleans!
Unfortunately, we have reached the end of your journey in New Orleans. A time where we can look back at the AMAZING adventure you packed into a long weekend trip from Thursday to Sunday!
Now, make sure to check your phone and take care of any embarrassing photos you may or may not have from your trip. Not that that’s what we did…
And of course, thank you SO much for letting us be your guide on your New Orleans adventure! We hope we saved you some money while making sure you had a fun-filled vacation in the Crescent City.
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