The Big Easy is known across the world as a party city, home to the iconic Mardi Gras and nonstop music, and after sunset is when the spirit of revelry truly takes over. During the day, the city is one thing, but a night in New Orleans is something else entirely. When the neon lights of Bourbon Street flicker into life and the sound of jazz echoes down Frenchmen Street, locals descend in droves and you know the night has begun.
Certain NOLA nightlife attractions are obvious, like sitting down for an authentic Cajun dinner or heading to a jazz club, but some are a little more obscure. The best things to do in New Orleans at night don’t just revolve around parties and festivals – local interests are much broader.
We’ve put together a list of top nightlife spots in NOLA to keep you entertained from sunset to sunrise. The nightlife scene, understandably, has taken a dip during COVID-19 restrictions, but these locations are slowly returning to normal. Either way, be sure to do research into each place before planning to drop by and don’t forget to read up about New Orleans’ COVID-19 restrictions for updated travel information.
Jazz up your night
Low-lit, atmospheric jazz clubs with music vibrating through the city streets are ubiquitous in NOLA, and it’s no surprise the jazz scene is a must-have experience of New Orleans nightlife. Jazz molded this musical city, and nighttime is when it comes alive. If you think you’re not a fan of jazz, you just haven’t heard NOLA’s take on it. From the traditional sound of frenetic trumpets to rhythmic, soulful acid jazz, there’s a jazz club to suit your style. Head to the intimate Fritzel's European Jazz Pub, a Bourbon Street fixture since the ‘60s, for the quintessential jazz experience, or simply duck between the doors of one of the many clubs lining the city center’s buzzing streets. You’re in NOLA, after all!
Explore Bourbon Street
Speaking of Bourbon Street, why not just hang out here for the entire night? Bourbon Street is a New Orleans icon for a reason: the fun, quite literally, does not stop. At night, when the neon lights buzz into life and locals ready for a good time descend, NOLA’s reputation as a party city becomes instantly palpable. From historic buildings to famous restaurants to unassuming local haunts, a stroll down Bourbon Street is one of the best things to do in New Orleans at night because it encompasses everything that makes the city such a one-of-a-kind destination. Come hungry (and thirsty) and bring your stamina – because once Bourbon Street sucks you in, it can be difficult to leave.
Head to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
At Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, you can forge a couple of new tools for your workshop… no, we’re totally kidding. Despite its name, this iconic NOLA hotspot happens to be one of the oldest bars in the city, serving up beers and cocktails since the 1700s. Back in the day, it was a hideaway for pirates, and rumor has it that today the ghost of French privateer Jean Lafitte haunts the historic building. Popping into this legendary piece of the city’s past for a drink is one of the best things to do in New Orleans at night, whether you’re a local or just passing through.
Try the local cuisine
When you’re in NOLA, you can’t possibly miss out on homegrown Cajun and Creole cuisine. Originating in Louisiana, the cuisine took pages out of the books of French, West African, Spanish, Haitian, and even German and Italian food to form flavors that don’t exist anywhere else. When dinner time rolls around in the Big Easy, it’s the perfect excuse to experience the city’s food scene to its fullest. Some of the best-loved restaurants are Cochon, a beacon of traditional Southern cooking and a local favorite, and the colorful Jacques-Imo’s Café, where you could try creative local specialties like alligator cheesecake (yes, seriously) and panned rabbit.
Photo credit: neworleans.com/listing/mid-city-lanes-roc
Dance the night away
“Cajun” isn’t just a style of cuisine – it’s also a style of dance. Authentic Cajun dance halls are scattered throughout the city, packed to the rafters with French locals who like to two-step the night away. Many New Orleans locals have learned the dance style from their parents and grandparents, and today the tradition continues as soon as the sun sets over the Mississippi River. It won’t be long before you’re stepping around the dance floor to French music with a fun local crowd. Head to Mid-City Lanes Rock ’n’ Bowl for dinner, dancing and even a bowling alley!
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Night_on_
Stroll along Frenchmen Street
The famous French Quarter’s Frenchmen Street is the place where Louisiana’s musical spirit truly comes alive. Impromptu curbside concerts and the distinct sound of a trombone signal that the night has begun – and it won’t be ending anytime soon. Follow the sounds of jazz, blues, rock and reggae echoing from the live music venues lining the street, and pick one that suits your musical taste. Hungry after all that festivity? Frenchmen Street is filled with late-night dining options, from quick bites to sit-down meals.
Photo credit: noma.org/event/hot-couture-late-night/
Visit museums and galleries
Looking for the best things to do in New Orleans at night that are less about hedonism and revelry? You could also opt for something a little calmer at one of the cultural institutions that often stay open long after sunset. Plan your trip just right, and you can experience Ogden After Hours at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art – one night per week when the museum features local musical acts after hours. Every first Saturday of the month, the Arts District stays open late for self-guided tours (and free cheese and wine!). Then there are Friday Nights at NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art, where you could even catch a film screening. Can you think of a classier night out?
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