Things to do in December in New Orleans
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.
These are by far the most popular activities in New Orleans during the month of December. Although some of these services are free, others will set you back as much as $30. Several of the festivities below are offered throughout the entire month, but others are only available on the weekends. Whether you want to sing carols or do some ice skating, there’s plenty of holiday cheer to go around in NOLA!
Think Christmas is celebrated a bit differently than in the rest of the U.S.? You would be correct. On this pay-what-you-wish tour, you will learn about the Papa Noel story, traditional catholic creole Christmas observations, Christmas bonfires. You will also learn what makes a Creole Christmas decoration, what constitutes a Revellion dinner and finish off with the option to enjoy a holiday spirit. This tour is also partly a history tour of the French Quarter. You will also hear a few non-Christmas related stories, learn about the distinct French Quarter architecture, the many traditions of the area, as well as hear about its general history. http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/french-quarter-creole-christmas/
2) Celebration in the Oaks
Every holiday season, New Orleans’ City Park wraps their famous oak trees up in lights. In addition to the wonderfully lit oaks, you’ll also see displays in areas such as their Botanical Garden and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. As if that weren’t exciting enough, they also offer photos with Santa every night through December 23rd! This event attracts more than 165,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most popular holiday activities in New Orleans. With that in mind, they actually recommend purchasing tickets well ahead of time. New Orleans’ City Park has much more to offer.
- Admission Prices: $9 per person | Kids under 3 get in free with parental guardian
- Ride Prices: $5 for Train rides | $4 per Amusement Park Ride | $18 for Unlimited Rides (includes Train ride)
- Duration: 6 PM – 10 PM on Mon-Thur | 6 PM – 11 PM on Fri | 5 PM – 11 PM on Sat | 5 PM – 10 PM on Sun
- Availability: November 24th – January 1st
- Click here for additional information
The Roosevelt New Orleans has a wonderful tradition of celebrating the holidays with an incredible display in the lobby every December. Although it’s not free to get a room, you are welcome to enjoy these festive displays in the lobby at your leisure. Santa Claus himself shows up for the lighting ceremony each year! If you want to have a little more fun, you can also stop in at the Sazerac Bar located in this historic hotel and enjoy a drink with your significant other. Alternatively, the Roosevelt also offers the family-friendly activity of Teddy Bear Tea during the holiday season. Check out the video.
TIP: If you’re looking for an adults-only activity, this is actually the first stop of our self-guided New Orleans Cocktail Drinking Tour. Enjoy this festive display while discovering the bar scene of NOLA!
If you’ve got gifts to buy, chances are you’re going to be doing some holiday shopping! Whether you live in New Orleans or you’re just visiting, this is a great place to find a special gift for all of the important people in your life. You can take part in the Merriment on Magazine Street sale on every Saturday in December. During this sale, stores stay open later and some will even offer drinks and refreshments. Alternatively, you can always visit The Shops at Canal Place to check out wonderful stores such as Saks on Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers, and J.Crew. As you can probably imagine, there are several excellent decorations and festive displays to see as pick out your presents.
In addition to this traditional holiday event, there is another special shopping activity in NOLA. In an answer to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans came up with the Miracle on Fulton Street – a festival to restore the city’s holiday spirit. Ever since 2007, this event has turned Fulton Street into a veritable winter wonderland. Activities include photos with Santa Claus, Christmas carolers, live bands and even pub crawls. Although it’s free to come and enjoy the spirit of the season and live entertainment, you are also welcome to enjoy festive food, drinks, and attractions at an additional cost. Miracle on Fulton Street takes place every Friday and Saturday leading up to Christmas.
TIP: Use the streetcar to get around in order to take in some of the most impressive lights and holiday displays in New Orleans.
The Preservation Resource Center offers a self-guided tour of up to half a dozen beautiful homes in the Garden District. Each house is decorated for the holiday season, and you may even have the opportunity to speak with the homeowners. All proceeds from this tour benefit the PRC, which is dedicated to preserving the unique and wonderful architecture of New Orleans. This is a great way to experience how an upscale neighborhood celebrates the holidays! Watch this video for a taste of what you will see. Admission is $30 (in advance) | $40 (day of the event) and takes place on December 9th and 10th from 10 AM – 4 PM Click here for additional information.
There are lots of things to see in the neighborhood, so be sure to read our post on things to see and do in the Garden District.
Every December, the St. Louis Cathedral holds a series of concerts to celebrate Christmas. Over the course of several nights, local musicians perform free concerts for the public. In addition to more traditional fare, you can also expect a mixture of Jazz, Cajun, and Latin holiday music. These performances typically start at 6 PM and last for approximately one hour. If you’re looking for free activities, this will definitely be one of your best options. Check the Holiday Concert Schedule for more information.
Instead of listening to a live performance, you can actually take part in some Christmas caroling of your own! Join the crowds of cheerful visitors singing Christmas carols by candlelight in Jackson Square. This event takes place roughly one week before Christmas each year and it is open to the public. Song sheets and candles are provided to all who choose to participate in the holiday gathering. Caroling will begin promptly at 7 PM on December 17th. Check out this video of the event by GoNola TV.
TIP: If you’re looking for more to do in the area, check out our Jackson Square self-guided tour!
8) Visit a Plantation
Louisiana plantations go the extra mile with attractions such as bonfires, live music, and historic decorations. Notable estates such as Oak Alley, Houmas House, and Laura Plantation celebrate the holidays with these fantastic festivities. For more information on visiting these locations, make sure to check out our post about New Orleans Plantations.
When parades and caroling just aren’t enough, the NOLA Christmas Fest should do the trick. This festival includes a variety of family-friendly activities including ice skating, carnival rides and even snowball fights. Children can also enjoy a Gingerbread House exhibit and take photos with Santa Claus! In addition, you’ll find a display of professionally decorated Christmas trees for everyone to enjoy.
Although admission isn’t free, ice skating and carnival rides are included in the price of each ticket. Only food, parking, face painting and pictures with Santa will cost extra. You’ll find the NOLA Christmas Fest at New Orleans Convention Center. Check out the video. Tickets are $20 per person. Children under 24 months are free w/ parental guardian. December 21st – 23rd | 26th – 31st from 11 am – 9 pm. Christmas Eve at 11 am – 5 pm. Christmas Day from 2 pm – 8 pm. New Years Day from 11 am – 5 pm Click here for more information.
Christmas may be over, but NOLA doesn’t stop celebrating until they ring in the new year! There are several different events held on this night, but the New Year’s Eve Gala might be one of the biggest and most exciting parties of them all. Featuring 9 different acts and 9 different places to party, there will be plenty to do and see during this gala. Did we mention that they offer an open bar all night long?
If that’s not your type of celebration, you can also participate in Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve! Although this event is typically held in New York City, they have since expanded the countdown to New Orleans. When it’s time for the Central Time Zone to celebrate, live segments will be shot in NOLA with an exclusive performance from the Allstate Fan Fest. The countdown will begin just outside of Jax Brewery on Decatur Street and the show will include footage from the fleur-de-lis drop on top of the brewery.
The holiday season is all about celebrating a spirit of giving, so it makes sense that there are quite a few free festivities in New Orleans. While some of these activities are as simple as enjoying lights and displays, others include concerts and movies. With that said, it’s important to note that most of these opportunities take place outdoors, so it will be important to wear comfortable and warm clothing. In addition to the activities listed above, here are a few opportunities from our Top 10 list that are also free, including the Winter Wonderland at the Roosevelt Hotel, the St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series, Jackson Square Caroling, and Holiday Movies on the Mississippi.
Holiday Window Shopping
If you’re celebrating the holidays, chances are that you’re going to be looking for gifts at some point. What better way to get gift ideas than by doing a little window shopping? Thanks to events such as the Merriment on Magazine Street and the Miracle on Fulton Street, holiday shoppers are made to feel more than welcome in New Orleans. In addition to longer hours and discounts, you can also expect to enjoy a lot of wonderful store displays along the way.
Krewe of Jingle
It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a parade in New Orleans! The Krewe of Jingle goes off without a hitch each December thanks to The Roosevelt Hotel and the Downtown Development District. Watch as fun, festive floats and marching bands roll down Canal Street during this yearly holiday event. Although this can be a family-friendly activity, it’s worth noting that some visitors can get pretty rowdy. The parade starts at 1 PM on December 2nd, but you might want to arrive early in order to get a good spot!
In addition to the Christmas Tree, you’ll find at the French Market, several homes and businesses in the French Quarter also decorate to celebrate the holidays. In particular, the displays on Royal Street and Chartres Street are often very beautiful. The sun goes down around 6 PM, and it’s definitely best to see the lights after dark. We recommend wearing warm clothing and bringing a cup of hot chocolate for your stroll around the neighborhood.
The holidays are all about family, but some festivities are aimed more at adults. With that in mind, we’ve decided to make a list of activities designed specifically for families. These events range from classic ballet to acrobatic cats. Several of the following attractions are indoors, so you might not need to wear warm clothing for all of them. That being said, you will want to bundle up for any outdoor activity. Expect to spend at least $20-$40 per person on average. In addition to the items detailed below, other things mentioned previously in this post are also family-friendly, including the St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series, Celebration in the Oaks, Holiday Movies on the Mississippi, NOLA Christmas Fest, Jackson Square Caroling, and Miracle on Fulton Street.
We also have a guide to New Orleans with kids for more family-friendly ideas for any time of year.
This beloved ballet is a holiday tradition, and you can catch it this December in New Orleans. The Nutcracker will be performed five times at the New Orleans Ballet Theatre between December 16th and December 22nd, providing audiences with several opportunities to see and hear one of the greatest stories ever told. At almost $40 per ticket, this is definitely one of the more expensive options on our list, but it’s also one of the nicest. Purchase your tickets ahead of time to avoid sold-out performances.
- Ticket Prices: From $38-$78 per person depending on seat selection
- Performances: Dec 16th at 2 PM | Dec 16th at 7 PM | Dec 17th at 2 PM | Dec 22nd at 2 PM | Dec 22nd at 7 PM
- Click here for additional details
If you want to shop for Christmas decorations, there’s no better store than Santa’s Quarters. This store is dedicated to celebrating the holiday spirit with a plethora of unique and wonderful decorative pieces. Even if you don’t intend to purchase anything, it’s still a lot of fun to walk in and look at the various baubles and ornaments that they have for sale. Visiting a festive store like this could even become a family tradition!
TIP: There’s a good chance that you’ll spot something you simply can’t live without. In the event that you find a must-have decoration, make sure to bring some money along to purchase it! Santa’s Quarters is located at 1025 Decatur Street. https://www.santasquarters.com/
The Amazing Acro-Cats
Although we can’t promise that they’ll definitely make their way to NOLA every holiday season, it’s worth noting that this group of acrobatic cats will be performing in New Orleans from December 1st – 17th in 2017. For the month of December, this group will perform their “Meowy Catmas” special. The Acro-cats are well trained and capable of more than a few incredible feats. Not only has this feline group played the Puppy Bowl, but they’ve also performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert! Check out a video of the troupe.
- Ticket Prices: $24 for General Admission | $20 for Seniors/Children | $34 for VIP Seating
- Performances: Dec 1st at 7 PM | Dec 2nd at 4 PM & 7 PM | Dec 3rd at 4 PM
- Dec 7th & 8th at 7 PM | Dec 9th at 4 PM & 7 PM | Dec 10th at 1 PM & 4 PM
- Dec 13th & 15th at 7 PM | Dec 16th at 4 PM & 7 PM | Dec 17th at 4 PM
- Click here for more information
New Year’s Eve at Noon
If you’re looking for a family-friendly New Year’s Eve activity, we can help. On December 31st, Audubon Zoo holds what they call Zoo Year’s Eve from 10 AM – 1 PM. Rather than celebrate the new year at midnight, they hold a countdown at noon after a few hours of music, games, and prizes. Pepsi is substituted for champagne, ensuring that the kids have something sweet and bubbly to drink as they ring in the new year! This event is complimentary with admission to the Audubon Zoo.
Alternatively, you can also visit the Louisiana Children’s Museum and celebrate a similar event from 9:30 AM – 2:30 PM. Once again, they hold the celebration at noon instead of midnight, giving children a fun and exciting opportunity to experience a New Year’s Eve party. In addition, to live music, kids will also get to participate in making party hats and noisemakers. Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for non-members. It is recommended to register for this activity well ahead of time.
Sugar Bowl Parade
In celebration of the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, the Sugar Bowl Parade will be held on New Year’s Eve. This parade begins at about 2:30 PM at the intersection of Elysian Fields Avenue and Decatur Street. With a wide variety of floats, bands and other participants, there will be plenty to see and do during this event. They’ll even be passing the Allstate Fan Fest on Decatur street, where the parade will be broadcast from 3 PM – 5 PM. Even if you’re not interested in football, this should be a fun family activity!
TIP: The parade will be traveling down Decatur Street in the French Quarter. We recommend finding a good spot somewhere between Conti Street and St. Philip Street.
We also have a guide to New Orleans with kids for more family-friendly ideas for any time of year.
When the sun goes down, the soft glow of Christmas decorations begins to fill the street as families head out to see all of the light displays and experience a little holiday spirit. This may be one of the most popular nighttime activities in December, but New Orleans has a lot more to offer than decorative lights. Take a break from the typical seasonal attractions and enjoy a more interesting night on the town with one of the following services. For additional nighttime activities in New Orleans, consider some of the following events from our top 10 list, including the St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series, Celebration in the Oaks, Holiday Movies on the Mississippi, NOLA Christmas Fest, Jackson Square Caroling, Miracle on Fulton Street, Holiday Lights in the French Quarter, New Year’s Eve events and the Nutcracker Ballet.
This is just one of many New Orleans traditions dating back to the 1800s. Every Christmas, the Creoles celebrated the season by having a big family feast after returning home from midnight mass. In modern times, several local restaurants serve up large meals of their own in honor of this wonderful custom. Although some of these locations stick to the traditional fare, others experiment with new and different kinds of food. No matter which establishment you choose, Réveillon Dinners are an excellent way to celebrate the holidays. Prices range from $30-$60 per person.
French Quarter Ghost Tour
If you’ve had a little too much holiday cheer for one year, perhaps you’ll be more interested in a spooky trip through the history of New Orleans. Believe it or not, Free Tours By Foot actually offers a pay-what-you-wish ghost tour in the French Quarter, covering a variety of subjects including Pirates Alley and Hotel Montelone. Discover the often twisted history of NOLA with the help of our professional tour guides. In addition to this walking tour, we also offer the following spooky trips:
Everybody loves to watch classic holiday films during this time of year. Thankfully, New Orleans hosts an event known as Holiday Movies on the Mississippi, providing outdoor showings of flicks such as Elf and The Polar Express. If you’re interested in this activity, head down to The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk on Friday, December 8th and 15th. Holiday movies start promptly at 6:30 PM.
TIP: Considering that these movies start in the evening, we recommend bundling up to prepare for cold weather.
The Running of the Santas
I’ve heard of the Running of the Bulls, but this is just ridiculous! Every year, the city of New Orleans celebrates the holiday season by giving Santa a run for his money. Although they only run a few blocks, it’s definitely a sight to behold. This activity includes live music, a costume contest, and great drink specials. A portion of each ticket goes to charity, allowing you to have fun while supporting a good cause. The Running of the Santas will take place on December 9th, 2017 Tickets are $10 for general admission and $75 for VIP Ticket (only 200 available). Hours: Outdoor Party at 3 PM | Santa Run at 5:45 PM | Live Music at 6 PM | Costume Contest at 8 PM. All proceeds go to charity. Click here for more information.
In a city as unique as this, it’s no surprise that residents and visitors are sometimes left wondering whether or not they can expect the celebration of certain traditions. With that in mind, we’ve done our best to answer some of the most common questions about holiday activities in New Orleans. Please let us know if you have any other questions so that we can continue to update this section with important information.
Is there a Christmas Tree in the French Quarter?
Like most major cities in the United States, New Orleans celebrates the holiday season with a large and beautiful Christmas Tree. You’ll find this 27-foot tree in the French Market at 749 Decatur Street. This location is also very close to the spot where they play Holiday Movies on the Mississippi!
Do Garden District Residents Put Up Holiday Lights?
Yes, you can and will find holiday lights and decorations throughout the Garden District. As a matter of fact, you can even tour some of these homes and see their fantastic ornaments up close. In addition to these displays, the Merriment on Magazine Street event provides a wonderful opportunity to finish up some Christmas shopping. Alternatively, you will also find light displays in the French Quarter and New Orleans City Park offers a Celebration in the Oaks which includes a lot of fantastic decorative pieces.