Are you looking for fun and quirky things to do in the French Quarter? New Orleans is a unique city with many off-beat things to do. On any given day you might:
- Watch a parade
- Be in a parade
- Meet a Voodoo priestess
- Eat a half pound of confectionary sugar
- See a tree dripping in jewels
- Visit an above-ground grave
- Have your fortune told
- Find a baby in a cake
- Eat a turtle
A weekend in the French Quarter could easily be filled with activities that range from unusual to bizarre. Here we’ll explore attractions that will bring New Orleans to the top of your must-visit list.
While planning your trip, don’t miss this post about the amazing food to eat while you are in New Orleans.
And if you haven’t found the perfect hotel in New Orleans yet, check out this guide.
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Parades in New Orleans
It doesn’t take much to drum up excitement for a celebration in The Big Easy. There is no other city that embraces parade culture like New Orleans.
The evidence of these parades can be found in the trees where purple, gold, and green beads hang alongside the Spanish moss.
If you have ever visited the French Quarter during Mardi Gras you have seen many wild parades. Outside of Mardi Gras season, it is safe to say you could potentially see a parade almost every day of the year.
Each time I visit, I get such a kick out of seeing the parades amble down Bourbon Street or through Jackson Square. The festive energy is contagious and makes you want to join right in. So do it! Part of the joy is the sense of community it inspires.
These smaller, seemingly spontaneous parades are called second line parades. Second line parades were historically derived as a social support system in the African American community during funerals. Today they have evolved to celebrate weddings, births, and many other events.
A brass band leads the line and then people join in behind and become the “second line”. Traditional dancing, costumes, umbrella spinning, and handkerchief twirling all contribute to the atmosphere.
If you want to guarantee the chance to witness an authentic second line check out WWOZ New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage station. They post events and parade route sheets in a helpful PDF format.
So here is your chance to organize your own quirky thing to do in the French Quarter with friends. Have your own parade! This is a hands down, cool thing to do in New Orleans.
If you are interested in creating a second line parade for your friends, family, or event, it is possible. Firstly you will need to hire a brass band to lead the way.
Secondly, you must have a police escort and apply with the city to get a parade permit.
You just never know who might join in your second line.
Creepy and Haunted New Orleans
High up on the list of quirky things to do in the French Quarter is to embrace the spookiness.
New Orleans is a city with a rich and sometimes dark history, and as such, it is known for its many haunted places and ghost stories. In popular ghost lore, some believe that spirits can pass through the water more easily than air. Therefore, a watery city such as New Orleans is a place filled with ghostly happenings.
On one visit, we stayed at the lovely Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Unknown to us when we booked, it is considered one of the most haunted hotels in New Orleans.
The over 200-year-old building once hosted an opera house and ballroom, and later a convent and orphanage. Stories of sightings of a confederate soldier, a ballerina, and nuns and children walking the hallways are common. The pool in the courtyard is lovely and was once the play area for the young orphaned girls.
We didn’t witness any of these things during our stay, however, the key to one of the rooms we were staying in kept deactivating. Every time we tried to enter it did not work. We kept having to go to the lobby and get a new key. This happened for three straight days and the front desk had no explanation for it.
Hotel Monteleone is another historic hotel in the French Quarter, with many claims of ghost sightings and strange occurrences being reported.
New Orleans is known for its haunted history, and there are several ghost tours available that will take you through the city’s most haunted places, including the LaLaurie Mansion, where a notorious serial killer once lived.
We’ve twice taken tours to hear the stories of ghosts, vampires, and zombies that are rumored to inhabit the city.
I highly recommend you go after dark when everything feels a bit more creepy. Check out this Ghost, Crime, Voodoo, Vampire Tour.
My favorite quirky thing to do in the French Quarter was a tour we took where we were led around by an amazing storyteller and authentic Voodoo priestess.
New Orleans is also home to several historic cemeteries, including St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest and most famous cemetery in the city. Not only is the Famed Queen of Voodoo buried here, but Nicolas Cage has also purchased a tomb here to be buried in the future. Check availability to tour St. Louis Cemetary No.1.
Due to the high groundwater levels, the tombs are above ground. If this was not the case the coffins would float right back up to the surface. Can you even imagine?
On past visits, we have explored Lafayette Cemetary No.1 in the Garden District. It is located along the same street as the Commander’s Palace restaurant. So we would hop on the street car heading down St. Charles, have lunch snagging ourselves a couple of the famous 25¢ martinis, then wander around the cemetery reading the inscriptions of the people who rest there.
Unfortunately, due to frequent vandalism, the cemetery is now only accessible by tour groups. At the time of this writing, Lafayette No. 1 is closed for repair and renovation. Double-check with the NOLA city website before making plans to visit.
Take this tour for an unforgettable visit to a New Orleans cemetery at night.
Voodoo was brought to New Orleans years ago through its West African inhabitants and remains a part of its spiritual culture today. Since many people do not know what Voodoo is they have spun tales of dark and sinister rituals and beliefs. The practice of Voodoo is said to be a combination of African healing arts and Catholicism. Visit the practicing Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center to learn more.
Additionally, you could also visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
According to their website they “take all the mysteries, the secrets, the history, and the folklores of rituals, zombies, of gris-gris, of Voodoo Queens and all that jazz, and put it all in one place at the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter.”
It is small inside, but an interesting and educational way to spend an hour or two.
Voodoo has a long and rich cultural history and these two locations are great places to delve deeper into it.
Marie Laveau, a voodoo priestess, is known as the New Orleans Queen of Voodoo. A devout Catholic, she is buried in St. Louis Cemetary No.1. Read about her fascinating life in this book: The Magic of Marie Laveau– Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.
Have your fortune told down at Jackson Square where the tellers sit waiting to enlighten you. Or schedule a more formal reading at Bottom of the Cup Tea Room. Four of us scheduled appointments together and we all agreed it was interesting and fun.
Quirky things to eat in the French Quarter
The food scene in New Orleans is unique and different from the standard American food culture. Spending any amount of time in the French Quarter is sure to help satisfy your foodie travel obsession. Taking a food tour to appreciate the culture and stories behind the food is a must-do.
Here are some quirky and iconic New Orleans foods to try when you visit.
Beignets are square french doughnuts that are fried and then covered in powdered sugar. When I say covered I do not mean dusted, I mean buried.
There is no more iconic place to eat beignets in the French Quarter than at Cafe Du Monde. The cafe sits at the corner of Jackson Square along the Mississippi River. Since 1862 they have been serving chicory coffee and beignets. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
So why not have a bit of beignet with your confectionary sugar? If you have not eaten a beignet at Cafe du Monde, then you have not been to the French Quarter.
Eating king cake is a beloved tradition in New Orleans. During the springtime, this iconic food can be found all over the city.
The pastries were originally a French tradition brought to Louisiana in 1870. It is celebratory representing the three kings’ discovery of baby Jesus on January 6th. Starting in January, you can find king cake everywhere, right up until Ash Wednesday when lent begins.
A king cake is a sweet, bready type of cake baked into a ring. It is covered in icing and three different colored sugars. Green, gold, and purple, which represent faith, justice, and power. Some people will superstitiously only eat from one color. Which color would you choose?
Every king cake is baked with a little plastic baby inside. If you are the lucky one to receive the baby it is said that you will have good fortune in the coming year. Of course, it also means that you are required to buy the next king cake.
Turtle meat is a common protein that has traditionally been inexpensive and readily available in the south.
Turtle soup is a creole dish that can be found in many French Quarter restaurants. It is a tomato-based soup made with turtle meat. Some restaurants replace turtle meat with veal, so if it is truly turtle that you’re looking to taste, make sure to ask in advance.
A few famous places to eat turtle soup in the French Quarter are Galatoires or Brennans.
The Crescent City has endless layers of history and culture. This glimpse into quirky things to do in the French Quarter is a small sampling of all the unique and interesting things New Orleans has to offer. It is a place worth visiting on multiple occasions. I have been there many times and still, I can’t wait to go back.
Beyer, Scott. “The Quirks Of New Orleans Culture: Second Lines.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottbeyer/2016/02/02/the-quirks-of-new-orleans-culture-second-lines/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.
Parks, Shoshi. “Our Taste For Turtle Soup Nearly Wiped Out Terrapins. Then Prohibition Saved Them.” NPR, 18 July 2019. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/07/18/742326830/our-taste-for-turtle-soup-nearly-wiped-out-terrapins-then-prohibition-saved-them.
“Takin’ It To The Streets.” WWOZ New Orleans 90.7 FM, 29 Feb. 2016, https://www.wwoz.org/programs/inthestreet.
The Second Line – New York Times. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/fodors/top/features/travel/destinations/unitedstates/louisiana/neworleans/fdrs_feat_110_9.html?n=Top%252FFeatures%252FTravel%252FDestinations%252FUnited+States%252FLouisiana%252FNew+Orleans. Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.