Planning a Deep South vacation and looking for the best things to do in Louisiana? From exploring the French Quarter in New Orleans to touring the Tabasco Museum on Avery Island, Louisiana has numerous attractions and places to visit for everyone. Find the best things to do and the best things to see in Louisiana in this epic guide. You might also like our post on the Ultimate Louisiana Road Trip Itinerary.
Since we live in Texas, Louisiana is one of our favorite states to visit for a quick weekend getaway. Crescent City is just half a day away from Houston while Caddo Lake is just across the border.
While most visitors think a trip to Louisiana equals spending a long weekend in New Orleans; the state offers much more.
Louisiana has a unique culture – an interesting blend of Creole, Acadian, Spanish, and French traditions. Music and joyous celebrations are an intrinsic part of local life. In fact, we have always found ourselves in the midst of a festival or party while visiting the state.
Fun Fact: Louisiana is known as the Bayou State because of its marshy waterways and the Mississippi River delta.
Louisiana is famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations. While New Orleans French Quarter Mardi Gras is known for its wildness, you will find less raucous and more traditional Mardi Gras parades in the rest of the state.
Louisiana is also home to great architectural structures and a wildlife-rich ecosystem. We also love the unique Cajun and Creole cuisines and local delicacies such as crawfish and poboys.
Best Things to do in Louisiana
Louisiana has something for everyone and because of its mild weather, makes a great year-round travel destination. From kayaking in the bayous to touring the cemeteries, the state is full of unique attractions.
Here are our favorite things to do in Louisiana for all ages and types of travelers:
Fall in love with charming New Orleans
No trip to Louisiana is complete without spending a day or two in New Orleans. The Big Easy has a unique laid back vibe – an interesting blend of Louisiana culture, Cajun and Creole cuisine, and beautiful architecture.
New Orleans is Louisiana’s biggest city. Throughout the city, you will find grand mansions, tall towering tombstones, voodoo culture, jazz music, and a festive atmosphere.
The city also has a renown culinary scene, plenty of music clubs, and diverse museums to delight cultural visitors.
Whether it is a stroll in the historic French Quarter or dining on Magazine Street or a ride in the famous street cars or visiting the literary sights or a walk down the cemeteries in the Garden District, New Orleans has plenty of things to do for everyone.
We have been to the city several times and on every visit, have managed to find something new to fall in love with!
Attend the world famous Mardi Gras parades
Louisiana is famous for its legendary Mardi Gras celebrations. While most people know about the parties and parades in New Orleans, Mardi Gras celebrations are held all over the state.
The entire Carnival season from the Day of Epiphany to Fat Tuesday is filled with festivities and major cities including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and Lafayette take part in the fun with multiple parades and other activities.
The origins of Mardi Gras tie back to the French Catholics that settled in Louisiana and the religious tradition is followed even today.
Each city has its own style of celebrating Mardi Gras. New Orleans Mardi Gras is famous for its elaborate parades and masked balls with as many as 60 krewes participating in the event.
It is worth noting that the debauchery and raucousness associated with the Bourbon Street Mardi Gras events are not part of the actual tradition, and celebrations elsewhere in New Orleans and Louisiana are fun and family-friendly.
Lafayette has a pet parade while Alexandria has a children’s parade at the zoo.
Of equal interest are the Mardi Gras traditions prevalent in small towns and rural communities in the Cajun country. Courir de Mardi Gras is the highlight of Mardi Gras day where masked and costumed locals ride door to door on horseback asking for gumbo feast ingredients for a meal big enough to serve the entire community.
A must eat during Mardi Gras is the King Cake, an oval pastry decorated in Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. The Mardi Gras celebrations end with a feast on Fat Tuesday prior to the start of Lent.
Cruise down the Great Mississippi River
The great Mississippi River has shaped Louisiana’s natural habitats and landscape since centuries. The state’s history and culture are closely tied to the presence of the river.
Take a road trip down the Great River Road in Louisiana to understand the river’s importance. Major cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge are located on the river banks. The antebellum sugarcane and cotton plantations also prospered along the river.
The river delta was historically responsible for the development of trade and commerce in the region and the development of New Orleans as a hub of economic activity. Today fisheries, oil and gas refineries, and influence the fortunes of the river delta.
While there are many places in Louisiana where you can see the Mississippi River, for a memorable experience, visit the Riverfront Park in New Orleans. Here visitors can see the port activity, shipping containers, ferries to Algiers, and tourist boats on the river.
Cruise down the Mississippi either on the Steamboat Natchez or the paddlewheeler Creole Queen. Both the boats offer unique experiences and have brunch, dinner, jazz, as well as fireworks cruises.
Listen to jazz music on Frenchmen Street
Bourbon Street may get most of the fame, but for a chilled-out and delightful night on the town in New Orleans, consider heading over to Frenchmen Street.
With a vibe less about rowdy bars and more about the joy of music, Frenchmen Street is the perfect place to find a cozy spot, grab a few drinks, and enjoy listening to some live music.
While it is quieter than Bourbon Street (what isn’t?), don’t mistake it for being dead: music clubs operate all week long, and you can virtually always find a show to suit your mood on Frenchmen Street.
Whether you’re looking for a chance to get dressed up and enjoy a bit of a fancier evening or a casual night out with a few beers, Frenchmen Street has a music venue for you. The variety doesn’t stop at the formality: some venues serve full meals, others have snacks and a few only drinks. Some are small and crowded, some are large and more ornate.
Be sure to do a little research before hitting Frenchmen Street to figure out which clubs and musicians have what you’re looking for. Just a short walk from the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street’s most popular section is a mere 2 blocks long… and yet, it holds around a dozen different music clubs!
Jazz is the most popular, of course, and the first kind of music that people think of when planning a trip to the Big Easy, but if you’re in the mood for a little variety, reggae, blues, and beyond are also options at just about any night of the week.
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Tour the famous Antebellum Plantation Homes
The Great River Road between Baton Rouge and Louisiana is known as the Plantation Alley. Along this 100-mile long stretch, you will find some of Louisiana’s famous antebellum plantations.
Touring these historic homes of the Deep South and seeing the house museums is a great way to learn more about the pre-Civil war era. One of the popular and educational tours is that of the Laura Plantation.
Laura Plantation is a Creole sugarcane plantation located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The home has been restored to its former glory and visitors can see it on guided tours.
Louisiana Creoles are a distinct ethnic group recognized by three things – they are born in Louisiana, they speak French, and they are Catholic. The tour guides are excellent at narrating the history of this plantation run by three generations of Creole women.
The Creole style house was built by the Duparc family in 1804. The property contains the main house and six slave cabins, two of which remain today. It consists of over 12,000 acres of land.
The plantation is home to many original artifacts including period furniture and clothing worn by the owners. In the museum, you can read about stories of enslaved Africans and their life at the plantation.
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See the Louisiana State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge
Did you know that Louisiana has the tallest state capitol in the country? Located in downtown Baton Rouge, this modern building was built in 1932. It has 34 stories and an observation deck on the 27th floor.
Begin your visit at the Capitol Park Visitor Center – here you can go on guided tours or pick brochures for self-guided tours. The capitol grounds are also beautiful for a stroll.
Also must visit is the Old State Capitol, also located in Baton Rouge overlooking the Mississippi. This magnificent structure is built in the Gothic-Revival style of architecture and is fabulous to see.
The building resembles a castle. Today, it is the sight of a political museum and has many interesting artifacts about Louisiana.
Kayak in Louisiana’s swamplands
Louisiana is known as the Bayou state and has many marshes and swamplands.
While visitors can take swamp boat tours and go hiking over the boardwalk trails in the marshes, one of the best ways to experience them and see the unique bayou wildlife is by going on a swamp kayaking tour.
The popular swamp area for kayaking is less than an hour away from New Orleans and can be easily done as a day trip from the city. There are many operators who conduct swamp kayaking tours and some even provide pick up from popular hotels.
When you go kayaking, it’s usually in a small group, and you can paddle along canals and small waterways that motorboats can’t enter. You can hear the soft sound of your paddle hitting the water or the quick splash of a gator.
The towering cypress trees full of Spanish moss complete the picture and you can’t help but fall in love with Louisiana’s natural beauty. We recommend choosing an ecologically responsible company like Lost Lands Tours to take you kayaking deep into the swamps of Louisiana.
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See ospreys, pelicans, alligators, and more
Louisiana is an excellent place to see wildlife. South of New Orleans, the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico and forms a wide delta of coastal wetlands and marshes.
These marshes are home to a variety of swamp wildlife including alligators, swamp rabbits, turtles, crawfish, pelicans, ospreys, and more.
You can either walk on guided trails to observe the wildlife or go on swamp airboat tours to see them. We generally recommend against visiting gator farms or touching baby alligators as these types of encounters can be unethical.
Some of the popular places to see wildlife include the Lake Pontchartrain or the Atchafalaya Basin or the Jean Lafitte National Preserve. All of these natural areas are located close to New Orleans and can be easily visited on a day trip.
Enjoy a traditional Cajun crawfish boil
The Bayou State is famous for its crawfish or mudbugs. While many people tend to think of crawfish as seafood, they are actually freshwater shellfish that live in the swamp mud.
The crawfish and the Acadians have an interesting legend; Cajun beliefs mention that crawfish are Nova Scotia lobsters that followed the Acadians to New Orleans.
The Cajun people pay homage to their Canadian origins by including the crawfish in their staple diet. Crawfish boils, where crawfish are boiled together with cajun spices, potatoes, and corn, have a special place in the Louisiana culture.
Louisiana’s crawfish season is from February to June and Cajun crawfish boils are held all over the state. These crawfish boils are highly social and informal meals, enjoyed by families in their backyards.
Visitors can enjoy the Cajun crawfish boils at several restaurants in New Orleans or attend special crawfish festivals held during the crawfish season.
The Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is especially famous and Breaux Bridge is known as the Crawfish Capital of the World. Here you will find a variety of crawfish boils and also crawfish etouffee, Po boys, and more.
Eat boudin sausage and other local delicacies
Apart from the crawfish, Louisiana is also famous for its unique mouthwatering cuisine. Whether you are trying Creole or Cajun food, iconic dishes such as boudin sausages and poboys will leave you wanting for more.
Boudin is a type of seasoned pork sausage while poboy is a sandwich on a hard crusty bread. You can either go for a traditional roast beef poboy slathered in gravy or for a shrimp or oyster po boy.
Other state specialities include gumbo, rice and beans, spicy fried seafood, bread pudding, and beignets. Around Mardi Gras, you can also try the king cake. In northern Louisiana, you can eat the famous meat pie.
Explore the history of Tabasco sauce on Avery Island
Did you know that Louisiana is home to everyone’s favorite spicy condiment, the Tabasco sauce? It was created at Avery Island, approximately 140 miles west of New Orleans.
Avery Island is definitely one of the best things to do in Louisiana for those who enjoy the Tabasco hot sauce.
Avery Island is actually a salt dome surrounded by the marshes. Original red Tabasco sauce was created here in the late 1860s by Edmund McIlhenny. Visitors can tour the Tabasco factory & Museum located on the island.
Arriving at the Tabasco homestead with its large trees and historic buildings, makes you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time!
The Tabasco Museum narrates the story from the earliest days of settlement of Avery Island to the modern-day changes in the factory. You can see how Tabasco products have reached the world over, through products and advertisements.
Visitors can also tour the factory and see the bottling and packaging process. The bottling line is open only from Monday to Thursday, so plan your visit accordingly.
After visiting the museum and the factory, you can take an easy self-guided tour through the grounds by following the numbered signs. One of the most interesting places on the tour is the Barrel House. Here, the hot peppers are mashed and placed in white oak barrels to age for three years.
Seeing so many barrels of pepper mash waiting to be turned into the sauce is a unique experience. It shows the vast quantities of Tabasco produced in this small town.
At the end of your visit comes the best part – the Tabasco Country Store. It is full of many unique souvenirs and products. You can purchase bottles of sauce, eat Tabasco ice cream, and buy Tabasco coffee mugs!
While you are there, don’t forget to see the Jungle Gardens, a beautiful botanical garden and bird sanctuary filled with birds, animals, and blooming flowers.
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See the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point
Poverty Point National Monument, in northeast Louisiana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can see the earthen monuments created by American Indians who inhabited this part of the North American continent centuries ago.
Touted as an engineering marvel, the monument was constructed over 5 million man-hours. It is a complex structure of concentric ridges, reaching as high as 5 feet, with 6 rows forming a semi-circle that spans to ¾ of a mile wide at the broadest point.
Visitors can learn more about the structures at the on-site Interpretive Museum. Tram tours are offered Wednesday to Sunday, 4 times a day, from March through October to see the mounds.
The purpose of the earthwork is not fully known but archeologists propose that the site functioned as a dwelling structure, trade center, and religious complex.
Artifacts found at the site reveal a trading network that spanned thousands of miles, from the Ozarks in the west to Appalachia in the east. The ingenuity of the prehistoric structures and objects reveals a very sophisticated society of hunter-fisher-gatherers.
The complex is exceptionally well-preserved. Poverty Point is definitely one of the most underrated gems in Louisiana and well worth a visit.
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See the Steel Magnolia filming locales in Natchitoches
Natchitoches, located in the northwestern part of the state, is famous as the filming locale of Steel Magnolias. Seeing the Steel Magnolia House and other sites such as the St. Augustine Church and the American Cemetery is a major attraction of the town.
This is also the oldest permanent settlement in the region. The historic downtown has beautiful wrought iron French Creole style architecture and is a charming place for a stroll.
The Cane River National Historic Park and the two cotton plantations of Okaland and magnolia are also must see attractions. The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum are both excellent to visit.
In December, the town lights up with over three hundred thousand lights and is beautiful to see. It has been ranked among America’s top festive towns for Christmas and is excellent to visit during the holidays.
Admire the Horace Wilkinson Bridge
On our road trip from Houston to New Orleans, we always drive across the Horace Wilkinson Bridge in Baton Rouge. The I-10 crosses the Mississippi along this beautiful bridge, also the highest in Louisiana.
Horace Wilkinson Bridge is a large steel truss cantilever bridge and considered to be one of the finest bridges in the country. We love taking photos while crossing the bridge. The bridge also photographs beautifully at night when it is lit up.
In fact, taking a photo of the bridge with Baton Rouge in the background is one of the popular things to do in Louisiana for photographers.
Learn about the Acadian culture at Vermilionville
Located in Lafayette, the Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park is one of the best places to learn about Louisiana’s Acadian culture. You can also learn about the Creole and Native American cultures that developed here in the past.
Over the 23 acres space that functions as a living history museum, you will find period homes, costumed tour guides, live music, arts & crafts, dance, and Cajun and Creole cuisine. Visitors can tour the historic village and workshops to understand about the historic traditions.
Attend the oldest Zydeco music festival in Opelousas
While New Orleans is popular as the birthplace of Jazz, southern Louisiana is more famous for another type of music, Zydeco music.
Native to the southern part of the state, Zydeco is a unique blend of French Acadian accordion music and lively Creole beats. The music genre evolved in the early 20th century in rural parts of the state.
Louisiana has many famous Zydeco musicians and the music genre even has a special Grammy awards category.
Zydeco music is perfect for dancing and weekends spent in the countryside eating Cajun-creole food and listening to Zydeco are a great Louisiana tradition.
Opelousas, a small town in the Southeastern part of the state is known as the Zydeco capital of the world and hosts the biggest Zydeco music festival.
The festival features live performances by leading bands and zydeco musicians, parades, arts and crafts festival and highlights the Creole culture.
Other places to enjoy Zydeco music include New Orleans Jazz festival and music clubs around major cities in southern Louisiana.
We hope you like our post on the best things to do in Louisiana. The state has many other underrated attractions including charming small towns, festivals, museums, and more, and is worth a visit while in the Deep South.