This post provides details about some of the most fun and interesting activities in New Orleans during the month of December, including a top-10, free things to do, nighttime activities and family-friendly options. There are a lot of different traditional and modern festivities to consider, including a few that aren’t directly related to Christmas. If you are coming at the end of the month, you might want to read our guide to January.
This article provides an overview and self-guided tour of the French Market, the oldest market in the United States and features a long row of shops, restaurants and flea market vendors that runs along the edge of the French Quarter. We’ll address its essential history, suggest places to visit today, and list the historic sites along its length.
The French Market has been a destination for New Orleans visitors for over two centuries. Besides offering food, souvenirs, and local color, the French Market is also the oldest market in the country and arguably the oldest man-made feature of New Orleans. Long before the founding of the city in 1718, the site of the market was home to a Native American trading post.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the French Market lay along one of the busiest ports in the world. That era’s visitors left behind many accounts of the sensory overload the market delivered. Every kind of New Orleans resident sold wares there, from new Sicilian immigrants selling fruit to Choctaw women sitting on palmetto mats selling herbs and baskets, to free women of color selling coffee. Vendors shouted or sang about their goods in many languages, fighting for attention.
19th-century accounts also dwell on the market’s filth. John James Audubon, the artist famous for painting American birds, explored the market in 1821 looking for fowl he could use as models, and was surprised to find, among the more typical game poultry, a large dead owl for sale; afterward, he described the French Market as “the dirtiest place in all the cities of the United States.”
Both sadly and fortunately, only a small portion of the market today at all suggests this former intensity. The market’s history, however, is still evident in its essential purpose, its art, and its layout. Different portions of the 19th-century market were designated for selling meat, fruits, vegetables, and dry goods, as well as specific areas for black and Native American vendors; the divisions you can see today – retail here, restaurants there, flea market there – reflect these old boundaries. And while today’s buildings were primarily constructed by the WPA in 1936-7, some of the 19th-century structures are still present.
Even beyond the French Quarter, small markets were once fixtures and organizing points for many New Orleans neighborhoods. Some are gone without a trace – one that ran along the median of Poydras Street, for example, now the hub of the city’s skyscrapers – while others, like the St. Roch Market, still function in some form. Of all of them, the French Market has been the most durable.
City Park is one of New Orleans’ hidden gems, offering a mixture of nature, food, art and entertainment. Here we offer a self-guided tour you can use to explore the park by foot, bike or car. City Park has been a public space for New Orleans residents and visitors since 1854, when the land, formerly belonging to the Allard Plantation, was given to the city. Most of its better-known attractions cluster near the southern corner of the rectangle – the part closest to the French Quarter. The tour focuses on that portion, with some notes on further-flung sites added at the end.
The park preserves a sense of south Louisiana’s natural state, conveniently located in the middle of the city. Natural highlights include: Bayou Metairie, which captures the ambiance of local wetlands; the Botanical Gardens, which feature a wide variety of regional plants and garden styles; and the Couturie Forest, a nature preserve. Louisiana’s distinctive greenery is everywhere – huge Southern live oaks with their drooping Spanish moss, bald cypress trees with their unusual prominent roots we call “knees,” and fan-shaped saw palmetto. Birders love the park for the variety of waterfowl and other rarely seen birds it attracts. Many parts of the park include identifying placards to help you understand what you’re seeing, in terms of both animal and plant life.
Art is also heavily featured in the park, with the city’s largest art museum (the New Orleans Museum of Art), the free Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and an assortment of 1930s sculptures and statues added by the WPA. The Museum and the Morning Call Coffee Stand located beside it both host live music on some occasions. Morning Call also adds a food and drink dimension to the park, as do restaurants located inside the museum and amusement park. Other forms of entertainment, like a theme park for kids, a miniature train ride around the park, and an annual December lights display can add to the fun.
This post is a review of San Francisco Plantation with info on tickets, tours and an online review analysis. Known for its distinctive variation in architecture, San Francisco Plantation is a spectacle on the Great River Road. Spectators have described it as a giant layered cake or a Mississippi riverboat from a distance. The land was first owned by a free man of color before being sold off to multiple buyers throughout history. Today San Francisco Plantation is a National Historic Landmark frozen in its golden days and serves as a museum and event facility.
This post is a review of Houmas Plantation with info on tickets, tours and an online review analysis. Considered the “Crown Jewel” of Louisiana’s River Road, Houmas House features 8 buildings and one main structure across 38 acres of land. The plantation was first established in the 1700’s just outside Burnside Louisiana. Notably referred to as “The Sugar Palace”, at its peak the plantation produced a monumental 20 million pounds of sugar each year. There is even a tour that starts from New Orleans.
This post is a self-guided tour of things to see and do in Jackson Square in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter. In this post, we address food, lodgings, entertainment and other activities available in the Square, as well as a short self-guided tour. Jackson Square is covered on our daily, pay-what-you-like tours of the French Quarter.
One of the best ways to explore New Orleans is on a bike. We’re a small city, with most of our visitors’ favorite neighborhoods within a short distance of each other, so you can see a lot without having to go too far. And particularly in areas like the French Quarter, where parking a car can be difficult and expensive, riding a bike can make getting around affordable fun instead of an expensive hassle. Below, we’ll share a few bike shops that we think offer the best convenience, quality and value for both rentals and tours.
New Orleans is a fantastic city to explore on wheels! While more costly than walking tours, bike tours tend to be longer (typically three hours), more comprehensive, and smaller in terms of group size (usually with a maximum of 10-12 people). Because of the faster means of travel, a bike tour can also go where a walking tour can’t – which makes for a couple of common routes that you’ll see repeatedy.
Most companies offer a tour that spends most of its time in what’s called the “back of town” area – the part you enter when you leave the French Quarter going away from the Mississippi. New Orleans is famously shaped like a bowl, and while the French Quarter is on the rim, the back of town drops gradually into the famous below-sea-level area. Tours in this area typically pass through the Treme (a neighborhood known for its preservation of West African heritage, especially through music), Esplanade Ridge (a long row of mansions for wealthy 19th-century Creoles), St. Louis Cemetery #3, and City Park. Sometimes the Marigny, a Bohemian neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter, is also included.
Another common tour route goes to the Garden District, the neighborhood of wealthy 19th-century Americans, and the other American-influenced areas between, especially the Business/Warehouse/Arts District and the Lower Garden District.
Some companies offer other, less common tour concepts. Buzz Nola offers a tour combining the French Quarter and Garden District. Confederacy of Cruisers and Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours both offer a culinary tour with stops at several restaurants, and Confederacy even has a cocktail tour. On an as-requested basis, Flambeaux Bike Tours and Confederacy of Cruisers can take your group to the Lower Ninth Ward. Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours also mentions a nighttime ride on its website – at the time of writing this tour is not available, but if you’re interested, it’s worth making a call to them. Read more »
This article provides ten ways to get the best musical experience out of your time in New Orleans, including free options. Music is New Orleans’ greatest gift to the world, and the city is in a golden age in terms of both quantity and quality. We’ll cover ways to find the best music in and out of the French Quarter, indoor and outdoor, recorded and live, traditional and innovative. The video below is for our New Orleans Music, Art and More Tour, a tour that provides participants tips and inside knowledge of New Orleans music and art scenes as well as historical context.
This post is a review of Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, which take place in a privately-owned wildlife refuge and is unique in comparison to other swamp tours in that their swamp is completely private. They guarantee a swamp experience that won’t be disturbed by the traffic of other boats. Located a convenient 25 miles outside of New Orleans, Cajun Pride claims tours are both an authentic and educational experience that captures the natural beauty of Louisiana. Because the location is not in central New Orleans, Cajun Pride offers a great feature for those who do not have a car. For a modest additional cost, they provide pick-up/drop-off service from most New Orleans, Metairie, and Kenner hotels.
While their swamp tours are what they are known for, they also offer two plantation tours, one to the historical Oak Alley and one to lovely Laura Plantation. You can book just a plantation tour or, for an all-around experience, why not book a combination tour and see beautiful architecture and wild alligator all in the same day!
This post is a review of Cajun Encounters Tours, a family-owned New Orleans area business, specializing in swamp tours, but also offering bus and walking tours. This outfit strives to give tourists an authentic Louisiana experience. Tours are led by local, licensed guides with deep passion for New Orleans. Guests visit some of the city’s most famed landmarks and districts. These tours are designed to give participants both a fun and historical experience embodied in the city’s beauty and fascinating. Whether visiting for a short period or an extended stay, Cajun Encounters has a tour or package that will fit your desired New Orleans experience.
Overall, reviews of Cajun Encounters are quite good. They have earned a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and 4 out of 5 stars via the Yelp community. While reviews suggest that all of the tours offered are worthwhile, the majority of praise comes from participants of the Plantation and Swamp Tours. There are thousands of reviews that rave about the tour guides. Not only are they given praise for the abundance of history and fun stories they tell, but are consistently complimented on their friendliness and overall passion for New Orleans. Read more »