SO many cheap things to do in New Orleans, if you know where to look. If you’re on a budget for NOLA let me show you the fun you can still have…
You can do a lot of activities in New Orleans on a budget. Time it right and happy hours are 12 dozen oysters for $3 and half price booze. There are also free museums, plenty to see outside and so many cool buildings and neighbourhoods that a lot of the things I suggest in my video are actually free.
I spent two weeks in the city, and so was desperate for cheap things to do in New Orleans to keep me busy. I’m happy to say, you can definitely pass the time without much money at all. Leaves you all the more to spend in the bars on the super-sized cocktails!
Oh, and the food. Make sure to check out my Top 7 Food Experiences in New Orleans – some of them definitely aren’t cheap though, unfortunately!
You can definitely get through a few dollars in New Orleans, as I did, but if you’re strict with yourself, and take note of my advice, you can see it on the cheap too.
Here are 15 thing you can do in New Orleans for $5 (£3.50) or less, or even better, free!
Watch me doing New Orleans on a budget here
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Cheap things to do in New Orleans
Here are all the best things to do if you’re in New Orleans on a budget. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a good time in NOLA!
1. Go for Beignets at Café du Monde ($2.95)
Beignets at Cafe du Monde are an absolute must in New Orleans. They’re one of the many iconic things to do in the city, and good for us, they’re pretty cheap too. Just seek out the green and white striped awning down by the New Orleans market towards the river and you’ll see tens, if not 100s, of people enjoying the powerdery dough bites.
Top tip, pick one up as if you’re about to eat it and then blow all over your friend. Always funny.
2. Walk down Bourbon Street (free)
Walking down Bourbon Street is one of the best free things to do in New Orleans. Do it a few times, at different hours of the day, to see how it changes as the days and night goes on.
You’ll see so many characters down here, it’s probably the best place in the city for making friends, and is the best spot for people watching. Of course, you’ll probably want to go in the bars as you go, but that will cost. Make the most of any drink deals you’re offered and remember that in New Orleans it’s perfectly ok to walk around with an open alcohol container, you can even carry them from bar to bar.
This means you don’t have to ‘drink up’ and spend loads of money. Winner!
3. Take the Streetcar ($3 day pass)
The streetcar is absolutely one of the best things to do in New Orleans on a budget. Not only will you get you from A to B, but it’ll also take you on an unofficial tour of the city so you can have a look around and get your bearings.
The streetcars are old school, a bit like an old tram. I loved these when I was in New Orleans.
4. People watch from a balcony ($5 a beer)
Invest a fiver and sit up on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. It’s a fantastic spot for people watching, and for resting your tired legs. There are always loads of deals going on in the bars of New Orleans, so go at a good time and pick a quality happy hour to get the most for your money.
Remember to tip a dollar when you get your beer, as is the American way, or guaranteed you won’t be getting another one.
5. Visit the Voodoo Shops (free)
New Orleans is known for its Voodoo vibe, and there are many shops and museums to celebrate it. I paid a few dollars to go to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (currently $7) which was totally worth it for the voodoo education. But, if you want to keep your time in New Orleans as cheap as possible then just stick to looking around the shops.
The Voodoo vibe in New Orleans is absolutely fascinating. You can go on tours and all sorts, but of course, that’ll push you over that all important $5.
6. Muffaletta on the Mississippi ($5 a quarter)
I dream of this sandwich. I’m not joking or exaggerating – I’ve had a lot of sandwiches in my life but this really stands out as one of the best (if not the, but I’m hesitant to make such a commitment).
You’ll find them all over New Orleans but on my food tour of New Orleans they told me that the best one was to be found at the Central Grocery near the French Market. This is basically what’s in it, but I think it was the obvious love I could taste in the putting it together that made it taste as absolutely sensational as it did.
- 1 10″ round loaf Italian bread with Sesame (or a soft round Italian bread)
- 1 cup Olive Salad
- 1/4 lb Genoa Salami
- 1/4 lb Capicola or deli ham
- 1/4 lb Mortadella (I omit this but the real thing has it)
- 1/8 lb Sliced Mozzarella (3–4 thin slices)
- 1/8 lb Provolone (3–4 thin slices)
I took mine down to the Mississippi River and ate on the river bank – as demonstrated in the video above.
7. Window shop in the French Quarter (free)
If you want inexpensive things to do in New Orleans then wandering around the beautiful French Quarter is a good shout. There are so many wonderful boutiques and little shops, you’ll have a great time. Also, plenty of food shops with tasters – always good for budget travellers like us.
Obviously, if you start buying things the budget will go well out of the window. Watch that credit card.
Wandering around the French Quarter is one of the best free things to do in New Orleans.
8. Watch the Natchez Steamboat (free)
I loved the Natchez Steamboat!
If you have the money then I’d definitely recommend a tour out on it to see how people used to travel the Mississippi, if not, then you can admire from the riverbanks as it noisily horns its way off into the distance. It’s one of the most iconic cheap things to do in New Orleans!
9. Hot Pepper Palace (free)
The Hot Pepper Palace is one of the most fun cheap things to do in New Orleans. It’s basically a big hot sauce shop, but you get to try the tasters – how far can you go on the Scoville scale?
They have a hot sauce in there, so spicy that you have to sign a waiver to try it. Errr, yeah I didn’t do that one but I did try a few that got me very hot under the collar!
10. Chill in Jackson Square (free)
Jackson Square is a historic park in the centre of New Orleans. Back in the day it provided an important setting for the agreement of the Louisiana Purchase that made it a US state. Today, it’s a perfectly manicured garden for the public to sit and relax.
When I was there part of the French Quarter Festival was set in there, allowing the public to enjoy the music for free.
Another wonderful spot in New Orleans to watch the locals, enjoy a picnic and take some pics.
11. Rocket Fizz Shop (free)
Hands up if you like sweeties…
The Rocket Fizz Shop is a huge sweet shop designed to help you try some of the local cuisine, in candy format. It’s free to look, and only a few dollars for a pick up. This is where you learn to go beyond Swedish fish and Sour Patch in American candy.
12. Watch the street performers (tip)
Street performers are the backbone of New Orleans’ entertainment scene. There are pitches all over the city for the buskers to set up. I watched a fantastic performance featuring a saxophone and keyboard, which you can see in the video above, and also a not so fabulous performance by a guy with a guitar who I’m not entirely sure he actually knew how to play it.
Performances are technically free but you should tip, and you absolutely, definitely need to if you’re taking pictures or doing a recording of any sort.
13. Louis Armstrong Park (free)
Another wonderful park in New Orleans, the Louis Armstrong Park is a central meeting point of the city. This is where many of the city’s festivals are held, and has an important role in the city’s history. It’s where slaves used to be traded before the abolishment in 1833.
Now you can wander around and admire the ducks and statues. So many lovely open spaces for you to enjoy for free in New Orleans!
14. 12 Oysters at Pelican Bar ($3)
SUCH a bargain. I loved the Pelican Bar, especially as it was just around the corner from my hostel.
Time it right for happy hour and you could enjoy 12 oysters for $3. I mean, absolute dreams. You need to get there in time for the happy hour though, or book, as understandably the place gets very busy.
Get there just at the right time for one of the best cheap things to do in New Orleans.
15. Find a Street Party (tip)
And finally, on this list of cheap stuff to do in New Orleans – the humble street party. I mean, things totally hammed up around the New Orleans Jazz Festival, but still, street parties in NOLA were totally an every day occurrence.
You can join in the fun, but make sure to give the person holding out the hat a few dollars for the entertainment value
16. Visit the St Augustine’s Church on a Sunday
I really wanted to visit a gospel church when I was in New Orleans. As well as being a fascinating cultural experience, it also proved to be a great thing to do in New Orleans on a budget.
I visited the semi-famous St Augustine’s Church (damaged in Hurricane Katrina, star of Shake the Devil Off film) which was just up the road from my hotel. I decided it would be an interesting anthropological study for me, to see how they do Catholicism here.
The church was beautiful from the outside. Judging by the tour buses lining up outside it’s definitely a ‘thing to see’ in New Orleans. Inside the windows were stained glass, the altar super fancy, the usual pews and religious statues lined the room… and there was a full band on stage, saxophonist and all.
I pulled up a pew at the back, with quick access to my escape, until a few seconds before it started and a couple came and pushed me up to box me in.
So the Sunday service at St Augustine’s goes like this: the saxophonist brings it, the lead vocalist is going for it with every space in her lungs and the front row, and randomly dotted others, have brought their arms up in praise reaching to the heavens. I find myself swaying to the song too, feeling the music through me.
And then, an amazingly fast two hours after it started, the service was over. The young priest, super cool with sunglasses and all, was stood outside waiting to shake our hands.
FAQ about cheap things to do in New Orleans
If you have any questions about exploring New Orleans on a budget, let me know in the comments below.
How much should I budget for a trip to New Orleans?
I was on a very tight budget in New Orleans. I was backpacking through the USA for three months and had a lot of ground I wanted to cover. If you’re doing New Orleans super cheap, I’d say an absolute minimum of $60 a day. This is $25 for your hostel, $10 for some food, $15 for an activity and $10 for tips. I’d definitely recommend you budget more than this though, but if you want to do New Orleans as cheap as possible, that’s what I’d account for.
Are there any cool road trips to New Orleans I can do?
Well, I’m glad you asked!
I’ve written an itinerary for an Austin to New Orleans road trip, and one for a Chicago to New Orleans road trip too. Both have amazing views along the way, and some cool stops along the route. Doing a road trip in the USA is a right of passage, and if you can include a stop in New Orleans on it, then even better!
Oh, and if you need a few tips on how to save money on your USA road trip, click this link.
Is New Orleans expensive?
As you can see from these budget tips for New Orleans, there are definitely ways to save money in NOLA. I didn’t find New Orleans to be any more expensive than the other American cities I visited.
However, it’s not cheap.
Visit New Orleans and you’re visiting one of the biggest and most popular cities in the USA. Of course it’s not cheap. Coming from England, one of the biggest financial worries was that the prices you list are never the prices you pay. You also have tax and tip to add on the top and it can be confusing.
Good for us budget travellers though, there are lots of things to do in New Orleans for free which balances out what you’ll pay for food and drink.
“Generally speaking, New Orleans is one of the cheaper of the major tourist cities in the United States, except for Mardi Gras week when hotels understandably double or triple prices. The rest of the year this is a city that provides great value for visitors, with great meals available even in lower price ranges.”PRICEOFTRAVEL.COM
Free things to do in New Orleans
See, loads of cheap or free things to do in New Orleans for your NOLA holiday!
New Orleans is such a fascinating city that you’ll find you can walk around for hours for free, just admiring the architecture, the people and the history. It’s free to look!
It might not be free to photograph though – get your camera out and you’ll be expected to tip. You have been warned!
PIN THESE CHEAP NEW ORLEANS TIPS FOR LATER