Located in the Deep South of the States, Louisiana is renowned for its captivating Cajun and Creole culture, which is infused with Acadian, French, and Spanish influences. This intoxicating mix of music, cuisines, and even languages is best explored in cities such as Lafayette and Baton Rouge – its state capital. Not to be missed is New Orleans for its fabulous French Quarter, marvelous Mardi Gras celebrations and numerous other tourist attractions.
Things to do in Louisiana include exploring a diverse mix of history, culture, and heritage as well as its lovely landscapes: the mighty Mississippi River forms its eastern boundary as it courses to the warm waters of the glittering Gulf of Mexico. Its delightful delta is home to beautiful bayous, beaches, and barrier islands, with enormous alligators and pretty old plantations hidden among them. Offering up the perfect combination of history, nature, and culture, Louisiana’s countless charms and joie de vivre make it one of the best places to visit in the South Central United States.
12. Oak Alley Plantation
One of the most important and impressive historic sites in Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation can be found in the southeast of the state. Set in a stunningly scenic spot on the banks of the Mississippi River, it is particularly known for the charming canopy of trees that welcome you to the property.
It’s after this 240 meter-long pretty path that the plantation is named; the double row of oak trees was planted sometime in the early 18th century. At the end of these terrific towering trees is a magnificent mansion showcasing some delightful Greek Revival architecture, with a colossal colonnade and wraparound porch looking out over the gardens.
This astounding antebellum architecture and lovely landscaping masks a painful past, with enslaved people having toiled on the plantation for decades producing sugarcane. Visitors to Oak Alley can learn all about this and more by taking a tour around the National Historic Landmark. There’s also an excellent restaurant and cosy inn on the property.
11. Grand Isle State Park
Lying at the eastern tip of the beautiful barrier island of the same name is the gorgeous Grand Isle State Park, which is sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Set at the spot where the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico meet Barataria Bay and the bayous of the Mississippi, it has a range of exquisite outdoor activities for you to enjoy.
As it is home to wind-swept dunes, idyllic lagoons, and secluded shoreline, the park is a great place to go birdwatching, with many different species on show. It is, however, most well-known for its fabulous fishing: many people consider it one of the best places to go in the whole of the States.
Although it has been pulverized by numerous hurricanes in recent years and affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Grand Isle State Park retains its beauty and charm. On top of taking boat tours and going fishing and birdwatching, there is some superb sunbathing and swimming on offer, with canoeing also a popular pastime.
10. Steamboat Natchez
A wonderful way to explore New Orleans’ myriad of amazing sights is to hop on the Steamboat Natchez and take a cruise along the Mississippi River. As the city’s history is inextricably linked to the river that runs through it, there is no better way to experience its heritage and hospitality than from aboard the pretty old paddle steamer.
Remarkably, the first Natchez to transport people and goods up and down the river was built all the way back in 1823. The current model – often referred to as Natchez IX – boasts sparkling white steel sides and decks, which are based on earlier designs, with a radiantly red paddle spied at the stern.
Besides basking in the divine views on offer from its dashing decks, guests also learn fascinating facts about the boat and city as they pass through the French Quarter. In addition to sightseeing around the city, there are cruises where you can enjoy a delicious Creole dinner or listen to jazz as you go.
9. Laura Plantation
Just a short distance from Oak Alley Plantation is another of the Bayou State’s most important historical sites, the Laura Plantation. Included as part of the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, the large property can be found nestled on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
Founded in 1804, it flourished in the 19th century, with enslaved people (both Creole and American), harvesting the plantation’s sugarcane. Originally known as the Duparc Plantation, it has a recently restored Creole-style raised big house for visitors to explore, as well as several slave cabins and outbuildings.
As the property has been so well-preserved, visiting is like stepping back in time, with interesting and informative tours teaching you all about its former residents and the role of the plantation in the region.
8. Old State Capitol
Sporting a delightful and distinctive design, the Old State Capitol looks more like a castle than a historic governmental building. Located in the heart of Baton Rouge on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, it is one of the city’s standout tourist attractions.
Built between 1847 and 1852, the National Historic Landmark boasts a gorgeous Gothic Revival style: crenelations and towers are spied alongside a fantastic facade. Inside is just as striking, with a spectacular spiral staircase and stained glass dome lying at the center of many elegant halls and galleries.
After the state’s seat of government was moved to the current capitol building in 1932, ‘Louisiana Castle,’ as it is also known, was used by various veterans’ organizations for several decades. Nowadays, it hosts the marvelous Museum of Political History, which has various educational and interactive exhibits on the history, culture, and heritage of the state.
7. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Scattered across the south of the state are the six sites of the great Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Dotted about the Mississippi River Delta, they are delightfully different from one another, with some looking at Cajun culture and others preserving bayous and battlefields.
Established in 1978 to protect and promote Louisiana’s considerable cultural, historical, and natural riches, the park is named after the famous French pirate Jean Lafitte. This is because the smuggling privateer roved around the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter, made his way through the murky swamps of the Barataria Reserve, and fought on the Chalmette Battlefield.
Besides these three superb sites, there are also the excellent Arcadian Cultural Centers at Lafayette, Eunice, and Thibodaux to stop by. Through interactive and interpretive exhibits and displays, these offer a fascinating look into the people and places that have shaped the culture and identity of the state.
6. Lafayette Cemetery No 1
Known for its attractive and atmospheric tombs, mausoleums, and grounds, Lafayette Cemetery No 1 can be found in the gorgeous Garden District of New Orleans. Not to be confused with the second such named cemetery that is unkempt and unmaintained, it is a very popular and picturesque place, with lots of fantastic photos to be had of its striking statues and crumbling crypts.
Opened in 1833 in what was then a suburb of the city, its plots were quickly filled in the following decades. Some sections contain entire families, as deadly yellow fever outbreaks struck New Orleans. Many of its mausoleums date to this era; their decadent designs now look wonderfully worn and weathered among the lush undergrowth and greenery.
A place of great architectural, social, and historical importance, it has featured in numerous films and music videos over the years. In addition, author Anne Rice famously emerged out of a coffin in the Lafayette Cemetery No 1 when promoting her novel Memnoch the Devil in 1995.
Nestled away in the northwest of the state is the small city of Natchitoches, which is most known for its handsome historic district. Full of beautiful old buildings with lots of arresting architecture and plantations on show, it is the oldest settlement in the whole of Louisiana.
Founded as a French outpost all the way back in 1714, the city lies on the banks of the charming Cane River and is named after the indigenous Natchitoches people. Due to its origins, it boasts lots of lovely French and Spanish colonial-era architecture. Its well-preserved historic center is very reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Strolling peacefully around the scenic city really is a treat, with its standout sights being the fabulous Fort Saint Jean Baptiste and its numerous historic plantations. Besides this, it also has lots of quaint B&Bs and boutiques dotted about, with cosy cafes and excellent restaurants also on offer.
4. Whitney Plantation
Set just 70 kilometers upriver from New Orleans is the Whitney Plantation, the only museum in Louisiana to focus exclusively on the lives of enslaved people. This is in stark contrast to most other plantation tours, which instead focus on the ‘big house’ and the slave-owning families.
Fascinating to explore, the sprawling property has barns, a blacksmith shop, and slave quarters to wander around, as well as a fantastic French Creole raised-style main house that was built in 1803. Through interesting exhibits and a moving memorial, visitors learn about the legacy of slavery and the painful past of the people who lived on the plantation.
Whitney Plantation is so well-preserved that parts of Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained were shot on the property to give it an authentic look and feel. Included as part of the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, it is not to be missed for the invaluable insight it provides into the region’s history and heritage.
3. Jackson Square (New Orleans)
Lying in the historic heart of the French Quarter, Jackson Square is one of the most popular and picturesque places to visit in the whole of New Orleans. Full of interesting and impressive historical sites, it is widely considered one of the greatest public spaces and town squares in the States.
Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, it was in this pleasant park that the famed Louisiana Purchase took place. Fitting of such a monumental moment in history, its lovely landscaped lawns are lined by fetching facades, with the phenomenal Pontalba Buildings and the spectacular Saint Louis Cathedral overlooking its charming confines.
At its center is a superb statue of the seventh president of the US, Andrew Jackson, after whom the historic square is named. Lively yet laidback, the square is always full of street artists and music performers. Cafes, shops, and restaurants can also be found in the beautiful buildings lining the square.
2. Avery Island
Situated just 50 kilometers or so to the south of Lafayette is the attractive Avery Island, which is renowned around the world for being the birthplace of Tabasco sauce. Located just inland from Vermilion Bay, the isolated and idyllic isle is actually a vast salt dome, surrounded by bayous, marshes and swamps.
Due to its secluded and serene setting, flocks birds are attracted to its wonderful wilderness, and there is a great bird sanctuary for visitors to check out. In addition, it has a gorgeous Jungle Garden to explore; this is home to many subtropical plants, with peaceful paths winding amidst the undergrowth.
One of the main reasons people visit is for the terrific Tabasco factory, where you can learn all about how the spicy sauce is produced. After having taken a tour and visited its museum, you can sample some of the fiery hot sauce before heading off to see the rest of what Avery Island has to offer.
1. Mardi Gras
Every February or early March, the colorful and chaotic carnival of Mardi Gras is held throughout the whole of Louisiana. The most famous place to experience the mesmerizing mayhem is in New Orleans, where parades, balls, and costumed celebrations take place over the course of two weeks.
While foreigners and tourists take Mardi Gras to be the two weeks of festivities held in the run-up to Lent, locals only consider ‘Fat Tuesday’ to be the last and largest day of the carnival. This is its chaotic climax when raucous revelers in colorful costumes take to the streets alongside fabulous floats and elaborate parades.
Although the celebrations in New Orleans can certainly get quite wild, lots of fun, festive yet family-friendly versions take place throughout other cities and communities in the Cajun country. Not to be missed out on, the magnificent Mardi Gras really is one of the best times of year to visit Louisiana.