New Orleans is quite unlike anywhere else in the United States or the world! The Big Easy is on just about everyone’s bucket list, and for good reason.
It’s possible to spend a ton of money in New Orleans if you stay in an upscale (and probably haunted) hotel, eat exclusively at pricey restaurants, and only use rideshare. However, it’s totally possible to have fun, eat well and see all the quintessential New Orleans sites, even if you’re on a budget.
Here’s how to visit New Orleans on a budget-
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again- any time is the best time to visit New Orleans. If you’re traveling on a budget, look for the best deals before or after a big holiday. Be sure to avoid the dates of Mardi Gras (which changes every year but falls between Feb and march), the city’s busiest time of the year. Check out our New Orleans Travel Guide for tips on planning your trip! Here’s what to expect in each season-
Spring and Fall
Spring and fall are some of the best times for budget travelers to visit New Orleans, although September and October carry the potential of hurricanes and tropical storms. September, in particular, still feels like summer and is usually the city’s slowest month of the year.
Summers can be hot and muggy, which can get uncomfortable fast if this is something you’re not used to. If you do visit the Crescent City in the summer, prepare to do outdoor activities early in the day. Don’t expect to be bored- New Orleans has plenty of things to do indoors!
Winter in New Orleans is relatively mild (with an average low of 43F), especially if you’re coming from the Northern US. This is an excellent time to visit if you’re focused on finding the best deals on hotels and flights. Like many southern cities, December- February are the coldest months in New Orleans.
Most Expensive Times of Year
Typically, the busiest and most expensive times of year are Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday; dates vary), spring break, Jazz Fest (April or May), Halloween, and right before the annual Sugar Bowl football game on New Year’s Day.
Getting around The Big Easy can be pricey, and rideshare adds up fast. Fortunately, there are plenty of different ways to get from A to B. Here’s how to get around in New Orleans on a budget-
Nothing is more budget than free. While we suggest seeing as much of the city as possible, staying in The French Quarter means you’ll be able to walk to everything you need plus most significant attractions. Booking accommodation in The Garden District near the St.Charles Streetcar line is another affordable option.
Historic, charming, and budget-friendly, the St. Charles Streetcar has been the world’s oldest streetcar line since 1835. The St. Charles Streetcar connects The French Quarter with the Central Business District and The Garden District. The Canal streetcar runs through notable sites like City Park and the Bayou Saint John neighborhood.
Note: The streetcar is cash only, exact change unless you download the app. Tickets are $1.25 each way or $3 for the day pass.
Rent a Vehicle
Renting a car is the best choice for those visiting New Orleans with family, a bachelorette party, or a group of friends because you can split the cost. Another advantage of renting is that you can explore the swamps and plantations of Southern Louisiana with a fun day trip.
Uber, Lyft, and all major rideshare companies operate throughout New Orleans.
Known as the birthplace of culinary legends such as the Banana’s Foster and Oysters Rockefeller, New Orleans is a foodie destination. Must-eats in NOLA include the po’boy, gumbo, muffuletta, red beans and rice, and beignets.
World-famous eateries that require reservations of up to a month in advance, such as Brennan’s or Commander’s Palace, can eat up much of a budget. We suggest trying just one of the fine dining restaurants and, the rest of the time, dining less expensively at some of the local’s favorite places to eat.
Finding affordable New Orleans hotels is possible, and there are also Air BnB and hostel options. Here’s where to stay in New Orleans on a budget-
The French Quarter and Central Business District (CBD)
When you want to stay close to everything, from food to cemeteries, the streetcar, and Bourbon Street, opt for The French Quarter. This is the most expensive place to stay in New Orleans, but budget options exist. We like the historic Hotel St. Pierre or the Inn on St. Ann, a lovely guest house previously owned by voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Check out our guide to finding the Best Hotels in The French Quarter here.
While the French Quarter is closer to attractions, the CBD is (almost) as convenient at a lower price. We like the Ace Hotel or La Quinta Inn.
The Garden District
Less costly than the Quarter but still connected via the St. Charles Streetcar, The Garden District is a great budget option. The Quisby is awarded as one of the best hostels in the US; the St. Charles Coach House is a budget boutique hotel with easy access to the streetcar.
Metairie and the area near Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) have the most budget lodgings, but they are farther away from attractions and food, an option best for those renting a car. Two of our favorites are Sleep Inn and Suites Metairie and the Citrine Dream vacation home.
“Let the Good Times Roll” is the New Orleans motto, but it’s more than that- it’s a way of life. You don’t have to bring the big bucks to have fun in the Big Easy. Here are the best things to do when visiting New Orleans on a budget-
Artists, fortune tellers, street performers, and the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral make Jackson Square an experience of its own. While there are plenty of (cash-only) purchases well worth the splurge, Jackson Square can be enjoyed completely free.
Note: If this spot looks familiar, it might be because The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and shows like K-Ville and The Originals have all been filmed at Jackson Square.
Bourbon Street has entertainment options for every budget, with bars, balconies, food, strip clubs, and people. No Open container law means you can legally consume alcohol on the streets of The French Quarter! Stay on budget by grabbing cold beers and snacks while enjoying NOLA’s legendary street performers on Royal Street.
Note: Solo female travelers don’t skip Bourbon Street- read this instead!
Shopping (or window shopping!) on Royal Street is another iconic New Orleans activity that is entirely budget-friendly. Royal Street is a shopper’s paradise with family-owned art galleries, old-world antique shops, vintage stores, and themed boutiques. Also, keep a look out for spontaneous street performances! One of our favorite performers on Royal Street is Doreen, who plays a mean clarinet; Doreen is out nearly every Saturday on the corner of Royal and St. Louis outside the Rouses.
Cafe Du Monde
A perfectly budget-friendly spot for photos, beignets, and cafe au lait, Cafe Du Monde was established in 1862 and is a New Orleans icon. Beignets are a must-eat for anyone visiting New Orleans and an inexpensive breakfast. Cafe Du Monde is usually busy, so be prepared to wait in line. We recommend visiting in the early evening before going out for the night. Did you know Cafe Du Monde made appearances in many of Anne Rice’s novels? This stop is a must-do for Anne Rice lovers!
Take a completely free, self-guided walking tour of the French Quarter, the southern mansions of the Garden District, and other iconic NOLA experiences.
We also offer Free To Join “Pay what you feel like” walking tours of New Orleans. We think a guided tour can be a great way to explore New Orleans.
Live music in New Orleans is essential! You can’t visit the city and not hear soulful music, whether watching a show or walking down Frenchmen Street. You can catch Street performers in Jackson Square or on Royal Street for cash tips or head to one of the city’s many music joints. Our free live music self-guided tour will help you explore the iconic New Orleans music scene without breaking the bank.