20 Cheap or Free Things to Do in New Orleans

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TAKE A SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF THE FRENCH QUARTER

Put on comfortable walking shoes and download a map from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau for a self-guided tour of the French Quarter, perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans. There's charming French-style architecture throughout, plenty of window shopping, and fascinating people-watching at the numerous shops, restaurants, and galleries along the way.

BIG EASY, SMALL BUDGET

Zesty seafood, live music, and elegant architectural gems converge in New Orleans. The city was battered in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina but has made a comeback, and tourists are again indulging in a vibrant culinary scene and the legendary annual Mardi Gras celebration, as well as everyday pleasures. Here are Cheapism's top 20 free or cheap things to do in the Big Easy.

MUNCH ON FRENCH BEIGNETS

Cafe Du Monde's coffee canisters are sold everywhere, but it's not a trip to New Orleans without a frozen cafe au lait ($4.50) and beignets (French fried doughnuts, which sell in packs of three for just over $2). Visitors have to hustle to grab a table at this crowded cafe, but waiters and kitchen staff are quick and so is turnover. Get an icy caffeine and sugar boost for less than $10.

WANDER AROUND CITY PARK

Walking around New Orleans (or partying on Bourbon Street) can be exhausting, especially in the heat. Head to City Park to recuperate and explore 1,300 acres of oak trees, lagoons, biking and walking trails, lakes, and green space. The park is open year-round, seven days a week, and admission is free.

CHOW DOWN AT POPEYES

When Al Copeland's restaurant looked like a flop within a few months of opening in 1972, he added more spice to his fried chicken recipe and delighted New Orleans residents. His rebranded chain, Popeyes, took off, and the rest is history. A meal of two pieces of chicken, a biscuit, red beans and rice, and a drink can be had for a little over $7.

DISCOVER THE ART OF GLASS BLOWING

Glass blowing is a meticulous, precise, and mysterious art. Head to GlassWorks in the city's Arts District, where the curious can buy a 30-minute mini-workshop or two-hour short course -- or view studios, works in progress, and daily demonstrations for free.
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ENJOY A FAMOUS HURRICANE

Gourmets can't visit New Orleans without stopping by Pat O'Brien's for an authentic sweet rum drink. The large souvenir glass for $8.50 is more than enough to split with a buddy. The staff will even pack the glass in a box to take home at the end of the night, or you can return it to get $3 back, Frequent live piano duels entertain patrons.

VISIT THE LOWER NINTH WARD MUSEUM

Hurricane Katrina devastated the levees of several canals in 2005, flooding most of the Lower Ninth Ward, and damage from the storm can still be seen more than a decade later. The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum makes the effect even more clear with walk-through exhibits and stories from the community. "This place should be a required stop for tourists to see the other side of New Orleans' rebirth," one visitor writes in a Yelp review. Admission is free.

GET A FREE ROUND OF CRAWFISH

Visit New Orleans during crawfish season, December through May, to enjoy crawfish boils -- heaping mounds of juicy, seasoned crawfish and plenty of hands-on nibbling. The Royal Street Inn Bar (also known as R Bar) throws free crawfish boils every Friday while the mudbugs are in season. There's a round of free crawfish at 6 p.m. and another an hour later.

SHOP CAJUN-STYLE AT THE FRENCH MARKET

It's easy to miss Cajun cooking on the return home, so take a stroll through the popular French Market before leaving the city. Among the snow cones (which locals call "snowballs" or "snoballs"), spiked smoothies, fresh seafood, and souvenir vendors, there are market stands selling shelves of Southern goodness. Bring home unique hot sauce flavors, gumbo mix, shrimp étouffée seasoning, or dirty rice mix at $2 to $3 a bag.

SHUCK A DOZEN OYSTERS AT HAPPY HOUR

Craving oysters and a well-made drink? Head to Lüe, which serves French and German food on mansion-laden St. Charles Avenue, called "The Jewel of America's Grand Avenues" -- but make reservations a few days ahead to take advantage of the happy hour specials. Every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., oysters are 75 cents each and wine and specialty cocktails are half off.

TAKE A FREE HISTORY TOUR

Follow a ranger from the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve on a riverfront history walk. Rangers share stories on the beginnings and history of New Orleans on these hourlong walks Tuesday through Saturday mornings. Twenty-five first-come, first-served tickets are given out at 9 a.m. at the park's French Quarter Visitor Center.
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SAMPLE A PRALINE

Make a sweet tooth happy by popping in to the city's numerous candy shops. Most sell pralines, a popular treat that originated in New Orleans but otherwise has an obscure origin. Pralines are made of nuts, sugar, syrup, and butter, although recipes vary. Try samples of bacon praline brittle at Leah's Pralines and see if the glazed pecans at Southern Candymakers match up.

SHOP AT THE CRESCENT CITY FARMERS MARKET

Every major city has at least one farmers market, and New Orleans is no exception -- but this one dates back to 1779. Shop for flowers, organic goods to snack on, or even fresh food to cook at the Crescent City Farmers Market, which runs every Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at different locations. There are often demonstrations and lessons in Southern cooking, some from famed local chefs.

DRINK WITH THE LOCALS

Bourbon Street can get loud, rowdy, and packed with inebriated tourists who've had one too many hurricanes. For a low-key dive bar, head to Le Bon Temps Roule. Reviews on Yelp call the bar a favorite among locals and highlight the live music in the tiny back room. The free oysters Friday evenings (typically gone by 9 p.m.) may be another reason to stop in.

WATCH A FREE CONCERT AT LAFAYETTE SQUARE

In the spring, catch the free concert series Wednesday at the Square. The Young Leadership Council, a nonprofit civic organization, puts on 12 three-hour concerts from March to June. In addition to hearing local bands playing jazz, rock, funk, swamp pop, and Latin rhythms, visitors can enjoy browsing the works of artists who set up nearby to sell their work.

TRY A PO' BOY AND FROZEN IRISH COFFEE BRUNCH

Instead of choosing between a second cup of joe and an early happy hour, head to Erin Rose, an Irish pub known for frozen Irish coffee with chopped espresso beans sprinkled on top. A small but well-regarded menu of po' boys includes a roasted sweet potato version for $9 and a market-price shrimp selection. Daily specials run early from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., including mimosas and screwdrivers for $3 and those frozen Irish coffees for $3.50.

LISTEN TO LIVE MUSIC

Banks Street Bar Grill has live music every night and never charges a cover. The kitchen turns out fresh seafood meals, but free red beans and rice might tempt visitors on Mondays, and Wednesday nights promise free BLT sandwiches.
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MARVEL AT ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL

St. Louis Cathedral, near the French Market and overseeing Jackson Square, is one of the oldest cathedrals in America still in operation; the site has welcomed worshipers since 1727. Venture inside to marvel at sculptures, painted ceilings, and stained-glass windows. (Be respectful when visiting; Mass starts at 12:05 p.m. daily.)

EXPLORE A VOODOO SHOP

The French Quarter is peppered with voodoo shops playing off the the tradition that originated with West African slaves and refugees from the Haitian Revolution. Stop by the small New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum for a quick tour and mention the museum's Facebook page to knock the $7 admission down to $5.

TAKE A SPIN AT THE CAROUSEL BAR

The Carousel Bar and Lounge, inside the impressive Hotel Monteleone, is a popular place to stop by for photos. The unique bar sits atop a merry-go-round and slowly revolves around the stationary bartender island. The elegant decor and glimmering bejeweled paintings in the lounge are also worth the visit. A spin at Carousel Bar doesn't cost too much; draft beers start at $5.50.