NOLA – How to See New Orleans in Style for Less $$

NOLA ornate iron lace porch railingsNOLA (New Orleans) planning was an important part of our 13 state 4 month trip. While planning, I learned that NOLA can be quite expensive. I checked out hotels on Booking.com, Airbnb, and checked RV campground prices (since we now have an RV). Compared to the other cities we visited, New Orleans accommodations looked to be more than twice as expensive. In addition to lodging, there are tours to see everything you can imagine in NOLA; at first glance, it looks like everything one might want to see costs money. While you could spend a fortune, there are many ways to see NOLA without spending a lot.

NOLA Accommodations

Like any place, hotels are cheaper off-season, which is June through September in NOLA. Unfortunately, our trip is in high season. However, even in high season I found reasonable rates for AirBnb stays. We have had wonderful experiences staying in AirBnb accommodations throughout the world.  Check out our accommodation preferences.

Airbnb in NOLA at high season offers rentals from entire houses, condos, or sharing someone’s residence all at reasonable prices. Airbnb accommodations are available in high season for areas in and adjacent to the French Quarter, or in the quieter neighborhoods like Garden District, Mid City, Faubourg Marigny, or near Tulane. Accommodations range from $61 – $179/night with private apartments or small houses starting at approximately $85/night.

For first-time Airbnb guests, sign-up for our blog and receive a $40US off discount code for your first Airbnb stay.

NOLA RV Parks

Since we traveled in our RV, we elected to stay in an RV park near NOLA. There are a dozen RV parks not too far from the French Quarter, but only one within reasonable walking distance.  The French Quarter RV Resort, while convenient, is in the middle of the noisy city and in a location that did not feel safe to me. Additionally, it is over $100 for a site, which is quite high for a campground site.

I chose Pontchartrain Landing, an RV Park and Resort on the lake with a restaurant and full amenities, and sites starting at $39. Pontchartrain Landing has a shuttle for guests that runs into and back from the French Quarter 3 times a day for $6 pp. I felt safer staying out of the city in our RV, and it’s a lot cheaper. If you go by RV, we liked staying at Lake Pontchartrain RV Park. It’s also nice to have the waterfront after being in the city all day.

We did quite a lot in just two days. There is plenty to do and see in New Orleans. To save money, I recommend that you explore, see some of the sites, and take part in some of the activities on your own.

Make the Most of Your Stay

A great way to save money and enjoy NOLA is to buy an all-day bus/trolley Jazzy Pass. With a Jazzy Pass for $3/pp, you can see much of the City by riding the trolley, and we did just that. And for seniors (65+), each ride is only $0.40. Take the Riverfront trolley on the Jazzy Pass for a quick view of the waterfront or walk it instead. Experience the historic St. Charles Streetcar by riding out through the Garden District to see the gorgeous architecture, homes, Tulane and Loyola Universities, and go back to Canal Street for other activities.

 

Take the trolley or bus to City Park; walk the Sculpture Garden – it’s beautiful and has famous artists’ works throughout, and it’s free.  The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is at City Park also. Some museum memberships can get you in for free. Our NARM membership (National Association of Reciprocal Museums – a terrific membership if you like local museums) gained us free entry.

Another free activity is the private Mardi Gras costume gallery upstairs at Arnaud’s Restaurant. If they are not busy, ask to see their Mardi Gras gallery. They will give you a short tour for free. Or if you eat there, ask to go upstairs to see the museum. If you eat at NOLA’s oldest restaurant,  Antoine’s, or have drinks there, ask for a tour. Antoine’s Restaurant is filled with New Orleans’ history.

Tours

Everywhere you turn in NOLA someone is looking to take your money, from tours forming in the streets, to the carriage drivers, to the tour offices and operators on every street.  You’ll have a much greater appreciation of NOLA if you have a guide. The vast variety of tours include city, French Quarter, history and heritage, garden district, cemetery, ghost, voodoo, haunted, arts and music, swamp and bayou, plantation, culinary, and cocktail tours, and riverboat cruises. There are all types of guides, too – those who truly know the facts and can answer your questions, and those who make up stories. Prices generally start at $20 per person and go as high as $250 or more, with the average walking tour costing $20-30 per person.

We took ‘Free Tours by Foot,’ where you pay what you think the tour and the guide are worth. If you don’t think the guide is any good or if you don’t believe the stories, you tip accordingly. Tom and I did 3 tours and we spent $70 for the of us – that’s not bad. Our French Quarter history and heritage tour guide was terrific so we tipped him nicely. We were not enamored with our evening ghost tour guide so we gave him a small tip and left early.

We also did a Cemetery and Garden District tour, and enjoyed the house, garden, and architectural portion of the tour the most. We liked touring this way since we could pay based on the value of the tour to us.

St. Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans' most notable landmarksIf time allows, go to the Louisiana State Museum on Jackson Square for $6/pp or $5/pp for seniors; it’s next to St. Louis Cathedral. Walk Royal Street to visit galleries, antique stores, and listen to street bands.

 

It’s easy to spend several days in NOLA – take tours, see the whole area and spend a lot or follow my suggestions for adventures for less.

Music

It’s everywhere!! On the streets, stop to listen to the bands. Outside of Rouses Market in the French Quarter, you’ll often find great musicians and bands – it’s all free. They hope you like it enough to tip them.

Everyone who goes to NOLA has heard about Bourbon Street and is curious to experience it. I suggest walking Bourbon Street in daylight only; you’ll get to see it and hear some street music. At night it gets a bit seedy. Instead, go to Frenchman Street for music at night. You’ll also find music at happy hour and evenings on Frenchman Street.  Know that some places with music have happy hour specials with reduced pricing on some food and drinks.

Preservation Hall in the French Quarter of New Orleans

If you like jazz and are into Jazz history, don’t miss a music set at Preservation Hall. It was founded in 1961 to protect, preserve, and perpetuate traditional New Orleans Jazz. It’s a basic environment with wooden benches, floor seating, or standing room. This historic experience costs $15. As a jazz lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

One of the biggest draws to NOLA is the music scene, so make sure to experience it.

 

 

Food

Beignet - The classic deep-fried pastry at the famous Cafe du Monde in New OrleansEat breakfast in to save money especially if you are staying at an AirBnb. However, don’t miss the famous Cafe du Monde for coffee and 3 beignets for $5.50. It can be your breakfast, or maybe lunch. We had it as a late morning snack and did not need to eat again until our happy hour dinner.

We also carry protein bars and fruit so we don’t need to stop touring at lunch time. The one day we ate lunch out, I thought it was expensive for an average meal. Sorry, I have no good lunchtime recommendations, but I know you’ll find plenty of restaurants to choose from. Just ask to see menus before choosing a restaurant.

A wonderful way to experience NOLA food for less is to eat dinner at happy hour when prices are reduced. Make sure to ask what is on the happy hour menu, since menus are often limited at this time of day. Happy hour generally occurs between 3-7, but times vary. Get oysters for as little as $0.50 each at some places; we did on Frenchman Street. We had another great dinner during happy hour, at 3-6 pm, at the elegant Luke Restaurant, generally a pricey and lovely restaurant. If you like oysters, raw or cooked, they are often lower priced at happy hour, and we enjoyed them both nights.

Listen to music on Frenchman Street at happy hour and enjoy food and drink specials. I am sure there are many more places to enjoy at happy hour; as part of the NOLA experience, wander around the bars on Frenchman or Bourbon Streets, and choose a place that fits your preferences.

While we didn’t eat at either of these places and they are expensive, the two top restaurants that were recommended to us are Commander’s Inn in the Garden District, and Antoine’s in the French Quarter. Both look lovely, and if you are interested in treating yourself, check them out.

Conclusion

Beautiful Garden District home in New OrleansWhile some people told me NOLA is sleazy, we enjoyed it immensely; however, we spent mostly daylight hours experiencing the city. While I can see how some might have a dim view of NOLA, we did not. There are a lot of older buildings filled with history and culture. If you do the Garden District Tour and go to the NOLA Museum or Sculpture Garden, there is no way you’d be left with a negative impression. Perhaps at night when the drunks come out in the French Quarter, NOLA seems sleazy. To avoid them stay away from Bourbon Street at night. Go to Frenchman Street just outside of the French Quarter for music at night.

We packed in many diverse activities in 2 days’ time, and were glad we did. There is much more to do than we had time for, and we would have preferred 4 full days. Our plans included may other stops so we said goodbye to NOLA after 2 full days.While we could have spent a fortune on excursions, meals and activities, we didn’t because we employed all the NOLA travel tips that I mention here. You can certainly have a great experience in NOLA on budget.

20 thoughts on “NOLA – How to See New Orleans in Style for Less $$

  1. Thanks for sharing your NOLA travel tips. We were in NOLA quite a number of years ago and loved it. As it was a sponsored visit, we ate and drank very well. 🙂 But I agree with you that on the whole, it can be quite expensive in the French Quarter where tourists go.

  2. thanks soooo much for your wonderful/incredibly informative discussion about your visit to New Orleans! I was fortunate to be able to visit NOLA
    ~ 20 years ago with my wife and daughter, Marisa, when she was a high school student and was considering attending Tulane University.
    thank you again for updating all of us about this very unique, entertaining, and historical area of our country. your vivid description of your trip has definitely instilled in me a desire to travel there again.

  3. Lots of great money saving tips here. Cheap Beignet and coffee breakfasts, leveraging happy hour specials and free tours by foot are excellent money-saving tips. Time to get back to New Orleans!

  4. I am all about savvy savings tips, especially with regards to the trolly (which is SO cute!) There’s no point in exhausting yourself walking in order to save a few dollars on public transit – only to then need a pricey cab or you collapse at a chain restaurant for an expensive drink or snack when all you really need is an easy way back home.

  5. I love NOLA! It’s such a fun city and you can really do it on the cheap without much sacrifice. You’ve given my some new places to check out next time I’m in the Big Easy. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Wow! Tours where you could pay the guide accordingly depending on your satisfaction! Seems like a good deal! I love the tip on bringing protein bars so you won’t have to stop and go lunch and disrupt the tours.

    • Yes, I have found that waiting for a table and sitting to have a leisurely lunch takes too much time out of time I could spend seeing more or taking part in more activities when touring. I recently had a friend meet us on a trip and she was all about this restaurant and that restaurant and going out for meals. In the end, she liked the extra time it gave us by carrying our lunch food and enjoying it in a beautiful outdoor setting.

    • I often focus on finding fun free activities in our travels. Then I write about them here since our focus is ‘Adventures in Style for Less.’

  7. I love the money and time saving tips! I also want to make the most out of my travel and see everything I can in my limited time. Thank you for this!

  8. I think these are very valuable tips for visitors to New Orleans. When we stay in Airbnb , we like to get a place that allows some basic cooking which takes care of the Breakfast. The tip on trolley pass is a gem and is cheap, especially in the US as many parts do not have a proper public transport.

  9. Seems that there is plenty of things to do in NOLA. And your travel tips are just perfect for a first timer for me. Not just about managing your budget with these penny saving tips but where to eat, stay and more. Well done with those

  10. Love NOLA! Cafe du Monde is one of our favorite places to eat there! We were there every day (and sometimes twice a day for our beignet fix). Commander’s Palace is good but I think it’s a bit overrated. Can’t wait to go back to NOLA and check out places that we missed such as the Sculpture Garden.

    • I am glad that I inspired you to go to the Sculpture Garden. It is attached to the museum but we didn’t have time for the museum too. I have heard that I missed a gem, so I want to go back to see the museum and try the beignet place near it (it’s supposed to be much better than Cafe du Monde).

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