Mardi Gras is an experience, for sure, but what is a visitor to the Big Easy to do once the cheap plastic beads run dry? Here are some other things to do in New Orleans after you’ve recovered from all those Hurricane cocktails and washed at least some of the glitter and confetti out of your hair.
In addition to blackout-inducing cocktails and an odd affinity for plastic beads, New Orleans is also famous for its local version of voodoo known alternately as New Orleans Voodoo or Louisiana Voodoo.
Originally brought to the region by West Africans who’d been sold into slavery, the religion is rooted in Vodun, which is practiced in present-day Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo. On the plantations of Louisiana, it picked up elements of Catholicism and French culture, transforming it into the uniquely New Orleanian homebrew that is present-day New Orleans Voodoo.
The Voodoo Museum, founded in 1972, collects a range of artifacts and objects that tell this history and explore the tenets of the religion. From talismans and voodoo dolls to taxidermy and potions, it’s a captivating and eclectic display.
If the museum awakens a newfound fascination for voodoo, be sure to head over to the home of the city’s most legendary Voodoo Priestess, Marie Laveau. You’ll find Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo just up the street from this museum.
Backstreet Cultural Museum
Even if you’re skipping out on Mardi Gras, learning about the history and culture behind it and other processional traditions in New Orleans is still an interesting addition to your trip. At the Backstreet Cultural Museum, you’ll find the world’s most extensive collection of archival footage, artifacts, and recordings of Black New Orleanian’s tradition of masking and processions.
Learn about the cultural and historical origins behind the famous jazz funerals, Mardi Gras, and other masked celebrations. Then, see if you can catch one of the museum’s regular public performances of music and dance.
The historic Carousel Bar opened in 1949 and it’s been slowly spinning and serving cocktails ever since. As the name implies, the bar is an actual carousel. It’s been placed inside a hotel and the ring of horses has been replaced with a ring of bar stools.
Visitors can sip a cocktail at the bar and try to figure out how much of that the-room-is-spinning sensation is because they’re drunk and how much is because they’re sitting on a moving carousel.
While it’s worth a visit in its own right, the Carousel Bar also has a storied past with a long list of notable patrons running from Ernest Hemingway to Liberace. It’s still a popular destination for A-list celebrities today. So, grab a seat at the bar and try to spot a celebrity.
Tomb of the Unknown Slave
The giant iron chains in the form of a cross with medieval shackles draped along its length can be found outside the St. Augustine Catholic Church. The memorial was built in 2004 in honor of the countless people who died uncounted and in obscurity either on the slave ships or on the plantations during the centuries-long period of slavery.
The Church—which dates back to 1841, is the oldest African American parish in the United States, and is a landmark in its own right—was motivated to build the Tomb of the Unknown Slave in response to the fact that unmarked graves of enslaved people are accidentally unearthed in construction projects every few years in New Orleans.
The regularity of these accidental unearthings of burial grounds—most recently when Formosa tried to build an oil export facility over two Black cemeteries in St. Rosalie—is a constant reminder of America’s grim history. As the plaque mounted beside the monument states:
“The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgment, dignity, or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers, and deep worship of our Creator.”
The Faerie Playhouse
This bright pink cottage proudly standing on Esplanade Avenue was once home to Stewart Butler and Alfred Doolittle, a couple who turned their home into a meeting place for organizing LGBT+ civil rights movements throughout the 80s, 90s, and early aughts.
While both Butler and Doolittle have since passed away, the 1991 city council ordinance that officially banned housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexuality in New Orleans, the 1993 ordinance that extended those protections to transgender people, and the vibrant LGBT+ community that thrives in the city today live on as a testament to the couple’s achievements.
While the Faerie Playhouse is not open to visitors, you can still stop by and view the proudly colorful cottage from the street.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
Opened in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. While I’ve come to learn that my fascination with visiting local cemeteries wherever I travel is not as widely shared as I used to think, I still believe this one warrants a stop, no matter how morbid it seems to visit a cemetery on your vacation.
New Orleans was built on a swamp. The Spanish colonizers quickly realized that underground burials were impractical in swampy soil and so began the tradition of above-ground tombs. Those above-ground tombs became more and more opulent and expansive, often built to accommodate whole families so that they almost seem like small houses. So, St Louis Cemetery #1 is not your ordinary eerie field of headstones. Instead, it feels like walking through a residential community—except all the residents happen to be dead.
By far the most famous resident is Marie Laveau. The 19th-century Voodoo Priestess was actually a hairdresser by trade but became so renowned for her powerful magic—which included the enchanted charms and gris gris bags she sold to fellow New Orleanians. Her powers were so revered, in fact, that Voodoo practitioners and occultists still flock to her grave today to ask her to grant their wishes.
Nicolas Cage’s Pyramid Tomb
Nicolas Cage—the legend of eccentric performances that will leave you wondering whether the man is unhinged or actually kind of a genius—brought that unhinged genius into his real life in 2010 when he bought two burial plots in the St. Louis Cemetery and had this pyramid tomb built for himself.
No, he’s not dead yet—and if internet rumors of his immortality are to be believed, he never will be. So, the nine-foot pyramid remains empty. Adding further to the mystery, Cage refuses to explain his reasoning behind the purchase—but he apparently does visit his own tomb occasionally.
While the tomb so far remains nameless, the Latin phrase “Omnia Ab Uno” is engraved on it. The phrase translates to “Everything from one” and was popularized by the Rosicrucians, a community of mystics dating back to the early 20th century which claims to harbor ancient truths about nature, the universe, and the spiritual realm.
So, try to put that puzzle together while you’re at the St. Louis Cemetery.
Get Your Fortune Told At Jackson Square
This historic park in the heart of the French Quarter is the site where Louisiana was officially made a state in 1803. It was also the site of public executions of enslaved people who rebelled and the 1872 Battle of Jackson Square when a group of insurrectionists attempted to seize state buildings after their candidate for Governor, John McEnery, lost the election. (That doesn’t sound familiar at all, does it.)
Despite its associations with this unsavory history, the square eventually evolved into a meeting place for painters, musicians, artists, and practitioners of Voodoo who would gather there to perform their respective talents for passersby in exchange for tips.
Today, you can still get your fortune told via palm reading or tarot cards while listening to a medley of musicians play their songs. If you come by after dusk, you can hang out with the dozens of cats who take over the square each night when the humans leave.
Search for the Honey Island Swamp Monster
In a state full of swampland, Honey Island Swamp is one of the most iconic. Hop into a kayak and lazily row down Pearl River, letting the ancient cypress trees, dripping with Spanish moss, swallow you into an otherworldly landscape that seeps into your skin.
While the haunting landscape is ethereal enough in its own right, the Honey Island Swamp is also home to the legend of the Honey Island Swamp Monster. The cryptid is the descendent of a troupe of escaped circus chimpanzees and the local alligator population and features matted gray hair, piercing yellow eyes, and an imposing 7.5-foot stature.
Throw Yourself a Parade
Take a page from Hannibal Buress’s book and hire a second line—a brass band—to play at your very own parade.
Just as Burress points out in his bit, you really can throw yourself a parade for a few hundred bucks in New Orleans. The parades department will even help you plan your route, find a second line band to play, and block off the streets for your event—even if it’s just you and a couple of friends. Hell, even if it’s just you and the second-line band you hired.
You can stop in bars when you need to refill your drinks and just stroll down the street while a brass band announces your approach to everyone in earshot.