The Best New Orleans Tours

As you might have guessed, photogenic New Orleans boasts a slew of guided tour companies. One of the most authentic is Historic New Orleans Tours (various locations, 504/947-2120; hours vary; adults $25, seniors and students $15, children 6-12 $7, free under 6). Walking tours focus on French Quarter history, voodoo culture, the city’s jazz scene, the Garden District, and legendary hauntings. On the two-hour Garden District Tour, guides explain the history of the city’s American Sector, point out notable buildings (including the former homes of Anne Rice and Peyton Manning), and discuss their colorful heritage; you’ll also get the chance to explore the aboveground tombs within Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which has made notable appearances in such films as Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Double Jeopardy (1999). This well-respected company also offers swamp and plantation tours, plus van excursions through the city’s varied neighborhoods.

mule hitched up to a carriage for a tour of New Orleans
Tour options in New Orleans include a mule-drawn carriage ride through the Vieux Carré. Photo © Tashka/iStock.

For an intimate tour of the French Quarter, take one of the two-hour, narrated strolls led by the nonprofit Friends of the Cabildo (701 Chartres St., 504/523-3939; 9:30am-4:30pm Mon.-Fri.; adults $20, seniors, students, and active military $15.60). Conducted by licensed guides, these well-respected tours highlight the history, folklore, and architecture of one of the country’s oldest neighborhoods, known alternatively as the Vieux Carré. Tours depart from the 1850 House Museum Store (523 St. Ann St., 504/524-9118; 10am-5pm Tues.-Sun.) and are offered daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the Cabildo, a volunteer group that supports the Louisiana State Museum, which oversees such historic properties as the Cabildo and the Presbytère.

While strolling along Decatur Street in front of Jackson Square, you’ll surely notice the mule-drawn carriages waiting beside the sidewalk. Whether you’re a tourist or not, do yourself a favor and join one of these narrated excursions by Royal Carriages (Jackson Square, 700 Decatur St., 504/943-8820; 8:30am-midnight daily; cost varies) at least once. Whether you opt for a romantic ride in one of the smaller carriages or join one of the larger groups, you’ll remember this unique tour of the Vieux Carré. After all, there’s nothing quite like clip-clopping along these historic streets, relishing the architecture and curious characters through the eyes of a local guide.

steamboat sailing on the Mississippi River during sunset in New Orleans
Riverboat tours are a wonderful way to see New Orleans from a different perspective. Photo © f11photo/iStock.

Riverboat Tours

Launched by the New Orleans Steamboat Company (504/586-8777 or 800/365-2628) in 1975, the Steamboat Natchez (Toulouse St. Wharf, 504/569-1401 or 800/233-2628; hours and cost vary) is an authentic, steam-powered sternwheeler modeled after the Virginia and the Hudson, two sternwheelers of old. The Natchez offers two-hour harbor cruises (11am and 2pm Mon.-Sat.; adults $32, children 6-12 $13, free under 6), departing from the foot of Toulouse Street, just behind the Jax Brewery. While on board, you can visit the steam engine room, listen to live narration about the history of the port, enjoy a concert of the onboard, 32-note steam calliope, and opt for a Creole lunch (adults $44, children 6-12 $22, children 2-5 $9; price includes cruise). Alternatively, you can board a dinner jazz cruise (7pm daily; adults $48-81, children 6-12 $24-37, children under 6 free-$17.25), which features decent buffet-style dining, live jazz by the Dukes of Dixieland, and gorgeous views of the city. Although sightseeing on the deck is a highlight of any Natchez excursion, climate-controlled indoor seating is always available (and especially welcome on hot or rainy days).

For a memorable excursion along the Mississippi River, board the majestic Creole Queen (1 Poydras St., 504/529-4567 or 800/445-4109; hours and cost vary), an authentic paddlewheeler that, with its Victorian-style furniture and wrought-iron deck railings, harkens back to those of the mid-1800s. Operated by New Orleans Paddlewheels, Inc., the Creole Queen offers two daily historical river cruises (9:30am and 1:30pm; adults $34, children 6-12 $14, free under 6). You can also opt for the nightly three-hour dinner jazz cruise (6:30pm daily; adults $48-79, children 6-12 $24-36, children 3-5 free-$12), which includes a scenic river cruise, a Creole buffet, and live jazz music.

For all cruises, it’s a good idea to make reservations; you should arrive 30 minutes before boarding time.

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As you might have guessed, photogenic New Orleans boasts a slew of guided tours, from mule-drawn carriages to riverboats at sunset. Here are some of the top tours to check out while you're in town.