Travel

16 Festive Things to do!


New Orleans is one of our favorite cities in the US. We’ve visited it time and time again, and even managed to enjoy the fun of Mardi Gras with the kids!

At the beginning of our 12 month road trip in the US, we decided to do something a little different and see what Christmas in New Orleans was like. We’re no strangers to spending Christmas away from home, we’ve visited Christmas in New York, which was exciting but very different from New Orleans.

We wanted this Christmas to be something completely different, and hopefully a little warmer.

While you might not be thinking New Orleans at Christmas would be anything special, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. In fact, there are so many things to do in New Orleans at Christmas that we put it up there as one of the best cities to visit for the holidays.

Want to know why? Keep reading to find out.

Is New Orleans a good place for Christmas?

Celebrating Christmas in New Orleans was a lot of fun and it felt more like an Australian Christmas to me than any other place I’ve been. I think that is because of the strong catholic influence in New Orleans, which is my upbringing.

I love how they celebrate Christmas New Orleans style – morning mimosas are a good thing right?!

Mississippi River in New Orleans
The mighty Mississippi River in New Orleans

We loved looking at the Christmas decorations everywhere and attending the Audubon Zoo lights, Miracle on Fulton Street, Celebration in the Oaks in New Orleans’ City Park, and Christmas FEST at the Convention Center.

New Orleans goes wild at Christmas, which makes it a fantastic destination to visit for the holiday season.

Though full disclosure, accommodation prices are very expensive this time of year. We were road-tripping and looking for RV parks, which were eye-wateringly expensive.

I started fearing NOLA would blow our budget.

But thanks to more tips from our community, we ended up finding cheaper accommodation, which we will share with you below.

What is there to do in New Orleans on Christmas?

Now you know a little about what to expect from New Orleans at Christmas, it’s time to look at the top festive attractions in New Orleans!

1. Carols By Candlelight, Jackson Square

Carols in Jackson Square
Carols by candlelight in Jackson Square

As soon as we lit our candles and the girls eagerly grabbed the songbook to sing along to the lyrics I realized our choice to attend Carols by Candlelight in New Orleans was a good one.

This was a moment with my girls. Only days previously I spoke to them about what Christmas was really about. To them, it’s Santa Claus and presents.

Even though we aren’t of any particular religion, I do think if you are going to celebrate a religious tradition, you should understand the real meaning of it.

The carols by candlelight gave them a little connection to this. A space to talk about hope and peace and love.

Carols in Jackson square New Orleans
Beautiful setting for Carols in Jackson Square

It reminded me of how much I loved Christmas when I was little. I loved the carols – singing them at school events and watching them on TV. In Australia, carols by candlelight are a big tradition – we have the weather for it.

So it was lovely to be in that environment again with my girls. It was a moment with them we’ll remember for a long time.

2. Wander the French Quarter (walking tour)

French Quarter New Orleans LA
French Quarter, New Orleans

One of the best things to do on any visit to New Orleans is to wander the French Quarter.

It has an extra element of beauty during Christmas time with wreaths hanging off the balconies and galleries.

You can definitely walk around the French Quarter on your own, soaking up the atmosphere and appreciating the unique French and Spanish style architecture, pausing to listen to the jazz buskers on Royal Street as you are meandering. (Perhaps exploring Bourbon Street if you AREN’T visiting New Orleans with kids.)

However, a French Quarter walking tour is a fantastic way to learn more about the history of the first city of New Orleans.

Wandering through the historic homes in the French Quarter is a nice way to relax in New Orleans
Wandering through the historic homes in the French Quarter is a nice way to relax in New Orleans

This trip was the first time we dove a little deeper into the culture and history of the area on this tour.

I didn’t know much of it at all from my own wanderings. I wouldn’t have done this tour without the New Orleans sightseeing pass and I really enjoyed it.

We even went to areas I hadn’t been to before and noted places to go back and explore more.

3. Visit Audubon Zoo for the Christmas lights

Audubon Zoo Christmas lights
Audubon Zoo Christmas lights

I wasn’t sure if illuminated life-size replicas of zoo animals would be a thrilling New Orleans Christmas experience but I was wrong. Audubon Zoo did a fantastic job of creating a wild, glowing wonderland.

You can walk around to view the animals, as well as enjoy the twinkling lights strung up all through the trees and the park, and visit arts and craft tents, gift vendors, and live entertainment.

You can see more of how great it was in our video.

4. See the Christmas Decorations Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans

roosevelt hotel new orleans
Roosevelt Hotel Christmas decorations

One of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit is to wander through the elaborately decorated lobbies of some of New Orleans’ finest hotels.

The Roosevelt Hotel lobby was the most recommended hotel to see for the Christmas light display. The lobby is dazzling during the holidays with birch branches and Christmas trees with more than 60,000 twinkling lights.

If you’re visiting with kids, make sure to check out the Teddy Bear Tea at The Roosevelt. This is a dining event with good food and champagne for mom and dad, plus some keepsake gifts to take home. Best of all, Santa and his friends will be there to sign holiday books for the children. 

5. See the Decorations at The Ritz Carlton New Orleans Christmas

Probably my favorite of the Christmas-decorated hotels in New Orleans was the Ritz Carlton. Santa’s Toy Shop takes center stage at the Ritz-Carlton.

I especially loved the gingerbread streetcar with famous New Orleanians depicted as passengers and twinkling lights across the lobby ceiling.

 Holiday Teas can be experienced at places like The Roosevelt, Sonesta, and the Windsor Court Hotel.

6. Celebration in the Oaks, City Park

Celebration in the Oaks New Orleans
Celebration in the Oaks, City Park

Wrap up your Christmas holiday in New Orleans with an evening at Celebration in the Oaks, known to be pone of the most spectacular Christmas holiday light festivals in the country.

Enjoy wandering New Orleans’ City Park to experience the sparkling holiday light display that engulfs dozens of 100-year-old oak trees for Celebration in the Oaks each holiday season. 

On one side of the celebration are fun amusement park rides and giant smores by the fire. In the other are stunning light displays in the botanic garden with the city’s famous oaks swathed in twinkling lights.

We really enjoyed this unique Christmas experience in New Orleans that bought so much holiday cheer.

7. Miracle on Fulton Street

Miracle on Fulton Street, New Orleans
Miracle on Fulton Street

Miracle on Fulton Street is a short 5 min walk through a dazzling lighted boardwalk with a 30 foot Christmas tree and a gingerbread village.

It’s super pretty and one of my favorite (and easiest) things to do in New Orleans with kids at Christmas.

Be sure to stop into the German Biehouse next door first for some local craft brew. Time it for happy hour and you are looking at $4 21 oz.

Total bargain!

8. Ice Skate at NOLA ChristmasFest

new orleans christmas fest
Sisters who skate together

For some indoor family fun head to the NOLA Christmas Fest, a fun-for-all-ages family festival.

You’ll find New Orleans’ only ice skating rink, the Kringle Carousel, carnival rides, and inflatables, Santa and holiday characters, children’s crafts, decorated trees, dazzling lights, and more. 

One of our favorite family things to do at Christmas is going ice skating. Savannah still shares her memories of ice skating in NYC at Christmas as her favorite thing ever. So it was good to go for a skate at this festival while listening to Christmas music.

We also loved the Mardi Gras-themed decorated trees and the giant ice slide.

9. Visit Christmas at Houmas House Plantation, Louisiana

Houmas House Plantation
Houmas House Plantation

Houmas House in the New Orleans Plantation area was decorated beautifully with Christmas decorations. We’ve done tours of many Southern homes before and this was one of my favorites.

Those oak trees. I could have stayed all day staring at them (and cuddling them).

It was just a shame that it was raining all day. I’d love to see that sun shining through the branches of the giant oaks.

Houmas House Plantation
Houmas House Plantation, New Orleans

I just want this property and those trees for my own.

The Houmas House tour was part of our New Orleans Sightseeing Pass. We also had Laura Plantation and Oak Alley recommended to us. We plan to return to visit the New Orleans Plantations.

We also attended a theater production of A Christmas Carol at the Le Petit Theater which was wonderful.

Then we did a few other New Orleans attractions using our sightseeing passes, such as a French Quarter walking tour, a hop on hop off bus tour, Mardi Gras World, and a steamboat jazz dinner cruise. See more of what is included in the pass here. 

10. Eat a Reveillon Dinner – A NOLA Christmas tradition

No one should need much persuading to eat out in New Orleans. It has the best food in the country – each dish has a story to tell.

It’s no different at Christmas time with Réveillon dinners, a New Orleans Christmas tradition that began in the early 19th Century.

Reveillon comes from the word ‘awakening’ and was a meal families traditionally served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

Many of the New Orleans restaurants bring out a special Christmas 4-course Revililon menu each year and typically starting after Thanksgiving Day. The feelings of togetherness and good cheer, coupled with the memories of all that great New Orleans food, will stick to the palate of your memory forever.

This is a true New Orleans-style Christmas experience.

Some of the best Reveillon prix fixe dinners in New Orleans for Christmas include: Arnaud’s (813 Bienville Street) Bayona (430 Dauphine Street) Broussard’s (819 Conti Street) Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal Street) Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse 

11. Try Dining at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau: Reveillon

Yummy scallops and duck at Dickie Brennan's Tableau
Yummy scallops and duck at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau

It’s so good that Kalyra knows the Brennan family and their restaurants (legends of New Orleans food) and when we found out we were going to dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau in the French Quarter she screamed, skipped and leg-kicked.

We enjoyed a Reveillion experience at our favorite New Orleans restaurant, Tableau.

You can read our best places to eat in New Orleans for ideas. From cajun classics to fresh oysters to traditional gumbo, you must make sure to try all the Southern dishes during your visit (yes, even at Christmas).

12. Watch the Christmas Show at the La Petit Theater

We timed our meal at Tableau with a performance of A Christmas Carol at the LA Petit Theater next door. Watching the story of the Miserly and menacing moneylender Ebeneezer Scrooge learn lessons about love, generosity, and redemption was a wonderful way to get into the Christmas Spirit.

Another Creole tradition that’s stuck around through the years is the annual Levee Bonfires of St. James Parish, which is about an hour’s drive from New Orleans. The bonfire lighting is traditionally done on Christmas Eve.

13. Drink Hot Chocolate at Cafe du ‘Monde Beignets

Beignets & coffee at Cafe Du Monde
Beignets & coffee at Cafe Du Monde

There is no worthy visit to New Orleans that does not include beignets.

Café Du ‘Monde in New Orleans is famous for the beignets. We enjoyed several over our week-long stay. And they are super cheap – only $2.95 for three.

They pair nicely with their equally cheap black chicory coffee. The cooler Christmas vibe suits this NOLA tradition.

14. Have Breakfast at Cake Cafe and Bakery

Cake Cafe & Bakery, New Orleans
Cake Cafe & Bakery

We were due to leave New Orleans on the 21st but found out friends were coming into town the next day.

Can you stay an extra day so we can see you for breakfast?

Sure. That would be awesome! We ended up having breakfast at Cake Cafe & Bakery – don’t miss their crab omelets and specialty cupcakes – great local spot!!

The rush to get moving that I felt only hours ago disappeared as I realized the value of this lifestyle we have now chosen.

I have no constraints, no demands, no schedules. I can move at a whim. I can decide to stay an extra day if it means connecting with people I care about and having those richer experiences.

15. Enjoy a St. Louis Cathedral Concert

Jackson Square with christmas decorations New Orleans LA
St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans

Church in New Orleans is unlike anywhere else. Having a huge catholic community means the cathedrals and churches are the places to be over the holidays as they are alive with joy, festive fun, and positive vibes only.

St. Louis is the oldest cathedral in New Orleans and its festive concerts have become somewhat legendary during Christmas in New Orleans.

The choral concerts take place in Jackson Square, as well as inside the historic church. You can watch free concerts hosting musicians, choral choirs, jazz singers, and gospel and pop singers.

If you plan your visit right, make sure to add this to your itinerary!

16. See the Bonfires Light the Way for Papa Noel

A Christmas tradition in New Orleans is to light bonfires along the Mississippi River on River Road. The bonfires are said to light the way for Papa Noel to navigate his way through the swamp and find his way to homes to deliver his presents.

This tradition has lasted hundreds of years and thousands of people travel all over the country to watch the bonfires light up on Christmas Eve.

The festival is now known as the Festival of the Bonfires, and is followed by live music and entertainment. Listen to gospel music, as well as songs by a New Orleans legend, Louis Armstrong, as the bonfires are set alight!

Where to Stay in New Orleans, LA

If you’re looking for places to stay in the ‘Crescent City’ during the month of December, you need to be prepared and book in advance to get better prices.

If you leave it to the last minute, prices will soar, especially if you plan to visit on a Saturday or Sunday.

If you can, stay in the French Quarter as this is where most of the festivities happen.

The French Market Inn is a good all-round hotel that offers comfortable rooms with French-inspired decor. It’s located in the heart of the French Quarter near where all the fun and excitement happens.

Campgrounds in New Orleans

Finding a campground in New Orleans was not easy. Most are not family-friendly and are in unsafe neighborhoods (as the reviews say).

There are a lot of unsafe neighborhoods in New Orleans. Don’t panic, you’ll be fine here, just stick to the main tourist areas.

The campgrounds are also expensive.

There are some state parks across the river recommended to us by several of our community, They sounded great, but there was no internet connection and we’re behind in work and need it.

Steamboat docked at our campsite on Lake Ponchatrain
Steamboat docked at our campsite on Lake Ponchatrain

We ended up choosing Pontchartrain Landing, now known as New Orleans RV Resort and Marina, as seeming like the best of the rest for what we needed.

It’s on the lake and marina. The gravel sites are clean and level.

Apart from that, it’s waaaaaayyy overpriced. $80.99 a night and possibly even more on the weekend.

The internet is non-existent and there is only one shower stall in the one bathroom, which has been so dirty each time we’ve visited.

We get it. It’s a camping lifestyle. We know campground bathrooms well.

But at $62 a night I want something as great as what we just got at the State Park in Huntsville for only $35 a night.

It’s all comparative and relative, but I just want you to know. Camping in New Orleans is doable but you’ll pay for it!

It’s about a 15-minute drive to the French Quarter which is pretty good. You do drive in on a bit of a goat track and through a dodgy-looking area to get to the campground. Full of abandoned warehouses on the water – looks like the setting of a CSI New Orleans episode.

Tips to Save Money in NOLA

Before you visit New Orleans at Christmas, I have just a few words of advice for you to help keep costs down.

Sightseeing PAss New Orleans
  • Park at The Basin Welcome Center. $5 for 10 hours, $10 for 24. Absolute bargain.
  • Be sure to download the parking app. Soooo handy. You can easily top up from wherever you are instead of racing back to top up. I also loved how you could come and go out of this parking lot. It helped us maximize our time and reduce our costs. However, when we went to park there on a Friday night the price had doubled. I couldn’t find at what time the prices change. See if you can and use your app to book your parking time before that changeover!
  • Happy Hours. We’ve randomly stumbled upon them. We were able to get 21 oz drafts at the German Biehouse for $4 when we visited – that’s local craft brew. Happy hours also extend to food. We had $3 gourmet tacos at The Rum House on Taco Tuesday in the Garden District. They were some of the best tacos I’ve had. And wait for this one, $1.50 pints of craft brew at Theo’s Pizza place on Magazine Street on a Tuesday. Yes. That’s local IPA. Pair it with a delicious pizza on a Tuesday and you’ve got a happy traveler.
Tacos at The Rum House
Tacos at The Rum House
Theo's pizza and beer Magazine street nola
Theo’s pizza & beer on Magazine Street
  • The Sightseeing Pass – we work with the Sightseeing Pass often as they are so great for saving money. They gave us passes to use in NOLA. If you intend on visiting a lot of attractions here, like Mardi Gras World, WWII Museum, and A French Quarter walking tour, it will save you money.
  • Entry to the Science Museum in Birmingham was free thanks to our reciprocal museum annual membership we purchased through Marbles – our local Raleigh Kids Museum. (The ASTC Travel Passport Program)

Before You Go

So there you have it, those are the best things to do in New Orleans at Christmas and as you can see, there’s a lot of fun to be had!

Whether you’re visiting with kids or as a couple, you’ll never run out of festive fun in this vibrant city.

Before you go, remember to book accommodation early so you don’t run into any last-minute jacked-up prices.

Apart from that, have the best time exploring this incredible city over the holidays!

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