Given the variety of perspectives available in the city of New Orleans, a package tour can be a good option, especially for first-time visitors. Highlights will likely include the French Quarter and Riverwalk, with daytime visits to spots like Audubon Zoo, the Garden District, and possibly a plantation or swamp tour.
Several local tour companies give two- to four-hour city bus tours that include the French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown, and the lakefront. Prices range from $30 to $70 per person. Both Gray Line and New Orleans Tours offer a longer tour that combines a two-hour city tour by bus with a two-hour steamboat ride on the Mississippi River.
New Orleans Tours leads city, swamp, and plantation tours and combination city–paddle wheeler outings. Tours by Isabelle (the oldest tour company in New Orleans, operating since 1979) runs city, swamp, plantation, and combination swamp-and-plantation tours.
For visitors interested in seeing the scope of the impact of the 2005 storm and keeping the local economy in motion, Gray Line and Tours by Isabelle both offer tours of Hurricane Katrina damage and recovery. For the more personal experience, choose Tours by Isabelle.
Full-day plantation tours by bus from New Orleans, which include guided tours through three antebellum plantation houses along the Mississippi River, are offered by Gray Line and New Orleans Tours.
Tours by Isabelle includes a stop for lunch in its full-day plantation package that traces the history of the Cajun people. The cost of lunch isn't included. Also available is the Grand Tour: a full-day minibus tour that includes a visit to one plantation, lunch in a Cajun restaurant, and a 2-hour boat tour in the swamps via either a speedy airboat or a peaceful bayou pontoon boat with a Cajun trapper and raconteur.
The New Orleans Steamboat Company offers narrated riverboat cruises and evening jazz cruises up and down the Mississippi on the steamboat Natchez, an authentic paddle wheeler. Ticket sales and departures for the Natchez are at the Toulouse Street Wharf behind Jackson Brewery.
New Orleans Paddlewheels has a Mississippi River cruise aboard the Creole Queen. Highlighting the port and French Quarter, this cruise leaves twice daily from the Riverwalk. There is also an evening jazz dinner cruise from 8 to 10 (boarding at 7 pm, which is also when the band starts playing and the cash bar opens); tickets are available for the dinner (a Creole buffet) and cruise, or just the cruise and live music. The company also offers a cruise to Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans, which provides an opportunity to learn about the 1815 battle and tour the battlefield, the Malus-Beauregard House, and the Chalmette Monument. The ticket office is at the Poydras Street Wharf near the Riverwalk.
Macon Riddle's Let's Go Antiquing offers personalized shopping itineraries of the city's antiques stores, galleries, or boutiques based on your interests and preferences (not all tours are about antiques). The number for appointments is her residence; don't be afraid to leave a message.
The New Orleans School of Cooking, in the heart of the French Quarter, offers classes on Cajun and Creole cuisine. Visit the website for details about class schedules and rates.
Exploring an exotic Louisiana swamp and traveling into Cajun country is a highlight for many visitors. Dozens of swamp-tour companies are available. You can check at your hotel or the visitor center for a complete listing. Full-day tours often include visiting a plantation house.
Free one-hour walking tours along the Mississippi River levee, with a discussion of the interaction between the river and the city, are given daily at 9:30 am by rangers of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Tickets are available at the Jean Lafitte Parks French Quarter Visitor Center starting at 9 am on the morning of the tour. Check the National Park Service website for details. Tickets are free, but tours are limited to 25 people. Two-hour general history tours, beginning at the 1850 House on Jackson Square, are given Tuesday through Sunday at 10 and 1:30 by Friends of the Cabildo.
Several specialized walking tours conducted by knowledgeable guides on specific aspects of the French Quarter and the Garden District are also available; Tours by Isabelle and Historic New Orleans are reputable companies.
The cemeteries of New Orleans fascinate many people because of their unique aboveground tombs. Save Our Cemeteries conducts guided walking tours of St. Louis No. 1 as well as Lafayette No. 1. Reservations are generally required.
Voodoo- and spiritual-themed tours are popular in New Orleans, and several companies, including Haunted History Tours, Historic New Orleans Walking Tours, and New Orleans Spirit Tours all have spooky options to choose from.
Friends of the Cabildo (504/523–3939. www.friendsofthecabildo.org.)
Gray Line (800/233–2628 or 504/569–1401. www.graylineneworleans.com.)
Haunted History Tours (888/644–6787 or 504/861–2727. www.hauntedhistorytours.com.)
Historic New Orleans Walking Tours (504/947–2120. www.tourneworleans.com.)
Honey Island Swamp Tours (985/641–1769. www.honeyislandswamp.com.)
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve: French Quarter Visitors Center (419 Decatur St., French Quarter, New Orleans, LA. 504/589–3882. www.nps.gov/jela/french-quarter-site.htm. daily 9–5.)
Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours (800/445–4109 or 504/689–4186. www.jeanlafitteswamptour.com.)
Let's Go Antiquing (504/899–3027. www.neworleansantiquing.com.)
New Orleans Paddle Wheels (800/445–4109 or 504/529–4567. www.creolequeen.com.)
New Orleans School of Cooking (800/237–4841 or 504/525–2665. www.neworleansschoolofcooking.com.)
New Orleans Steamboat Company (800/365–2628 or 504/586–8777. www.steamboatnatchez.com.)
New Orleans Tours (504/592–1991. www.notours.com.)
New Orleans Spirit Tours (504/314–0806. www.neworleanstours.net.)
Save Our Cemeteries (504/525–3377. www.saveourcemeteries.org.)
Tours by Isabelle (877/665–8687 or 504/398–0365. www.toursbyisabelle.com.)