When most people think of a New Orleans getaway, some quality time in Downtown New Orleans doesn’t always make the to-do list. But for an above-and-beyond NOLA experience, a Downtown trip is a must.
For starters, figuring out where Downtown New Orleans begins and ends is tricky.
The idea of “downtown” has changed over the years. If you ask a historian, they may point you towards the Vieux Carré, now known as French Quarter, which was considered downtown in the city’s early days.
If you ask a born-and-bred local, who say downtown but mean downriver, they’ll tell you northeast towards the Faubourg Marigny, the Bywater, and the 9th Ward.
But in the last few decades, the idea and presence of a vibrant, bustling Downtown New Orleans has taken root in the Central Business District. And right now, it is in the middle of a cultural renaissance – it’s where the city’s freshest ideas, exciting attractions, and treasured landmarks thrive side-by-side.
Ready for your Downtown NOLA adventure? Here’s a few essential stops on your Downtown New Orleans tour.
The Downtown Audubon Institutions
Two of the most beloved institutions in New Orleans call Downtown home – The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
If it crawls, walks, or flies, you’ll find it in the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. This free-standing museum on Canal Street is the largest U.S. showcase devoted to every kind of bug known to science. It gives visitors an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the lives of selected members of the largest grouping of living, visible, mobile organisms on earth. Live insects, mounted specimens, and interactive exhibits make for a fascinating visit.
Just a few blocks away on the riverfront, the Aquarium of the Americas is a one of the top aquatic museums in America. Home to 15,000 sea life creatures that represent nearly 600 species living happily in a state-of-the-art facility, visitors can get an inside look into the unseen world below the waves. Be sure to talk a walk through the Caribbean Reef Tunnel, a 30-foot-long underwater walkway that brings you eye-to-eye with creatures of the deep.
Julia Street Art Galleries
Nicknamed “Gallery Row”, Julia Street lies in the heart of the city’s creatively renovated Warehouse Arts District. What was once the hub of New Orleans industry is now home to dozens of art galleries, museums, and showrooms. And a walk down Julia Street gives you the best glimpse into the vibrant NOLA art scene. The blocks between St Peters Street and Carondelet are packed with masterpieces.
Every corner of New Orleans has a must-try dining spot, and Downtown is no different. For starters, you can grab breakfast at Merchant, a modern coffee shop with crepes, pastries, and exceptional coffee in a sleek, modern space.
Exploring takes a lot out of you, so if you find yourself hungry along the waterfront at lunchtime, grab a light bite at St. James Cheese Company. Their downtown location on Tchoupitoulas Street serves gourmet cheese plates that are perfect for people watching while you recharge.
If you’re all about options, check out the Pythian Market. This “food hall for all” brings the best restaurants together under one roof, and takes its name from the Pythian Temple building it calls home, which was a cultural hub for black-owned businesses in the early 1990s. The iconic landmark has a long and fascinating history and played a key role in the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, two organizations that trace their founding to the Pythian Temple.
An evening in New Orleans calls for live jazz, and the Little Gem Saloon brings the band right to your dinner table. This revitalized, hundred-year-old jazz club is now a retro-style restaurant, serving refined Creole fare that’s music to your taste buds.
For a more intimate dining experience, CellarDoor can’t be beat. This brick-lined gastropub is housed in one of the oldest remaining residences in Downtown New Orleans, but their menu is on the cutting edge of Contemporary Southern cuisine. Whether you have a seat at the bar, in their gorgeous dining room, or on the picturesque patio, you’re in for a special treat.
Catch a Show
New Orleans proudly boasts some of the country’s oldest and most awe-inspiring theaters. And the cream of the entertainment crop is right in the heart of Downtown.
The Saenger Theatre dates back to 1927, with an atmospheric, Italian-baroque style design that is more than worth seeing in person. After multiple restorations and reopenings, it is now the go-to venue for the biggest touring acts in entertainment. Any show on their calendar is sure to be a wonderful time.
The Orpheum Theater is the Saenger’s friendly rival, which makes for a winning combo for New Orleans’ nightlife. Built in 1918, the iconic space—which is one of the few remaining vertical hall designs in the US—has hosted every show in the book. Vaudeville acts, films, plays, and concerts have made it a NOLA landmark. And the space’s world-renowned acoustics provide the perfect entertainment experience in every seat in the house.
Catch a Game
Home of the New Orleans Saints, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a modern marvel. 27 stories tall, the dome has hosted six Superbowls – more than any other facility of its kind. A game is more than a spectacle here – it’s an all-day affair that everyone can enjoy, even if you’re not a die-hard fan. When the season revs up in the fall, it’s one of the best attractions in New Orleans.
Catch the Streetcar
Located right in the center of the city, Downtown New Orleans is where every streetcar line converges. It’s the perfect place to start any NOLA adventure. You can head Downtown, hop onboard the city’s iconic transportation, and be whisked away to the sights in no time.
A ride on a dark green streetcar takes you down St. Charles Avenue, the oldest line in New Orleans. You can see some of the oldest mansions in the city on your way to Audubon Park.
Or climb inside the red and yellow streetcars to visit New Orleans’ historic cemeteries, the sprawling beauty of City Park, and the stunning collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
There are also streetcars that run along the riverfront with convenient access to the French Market, and a new line that leads into the quiet, quirky Faubourg Marigny.
No matter where you’re headed next, you can get there in true New Orleans style. Just catch any streetcar Downtown!
Experience Downtown Right Outside Your Door
With our central location in the heart of the French Quarter, Bienville House is the perfect place to experience everything Downtown New Orleans has to offer. Book your stay in a boutique oasis just a few blocks from Canal Street and the buzzing Central Business District – your one-of-a-kind NOLA experience awaits!