This city was founded in 1821 as Vermilionville, and later renamed Lafayette in 1884. Its locals are known as Creoles and Cajuns as they have a mixed heritage, descendants of colonial French, African Americans, and Native Americans. More specifically, Cajuns originate from French immigrants who were forced to leave Canada and made their way down to Lafayette.
The Cajun culture is still strong in Louisiana, and there are several things to do in Lafayette that enable you explore its history. The city is also known for its delicious traditional food – if you’re a foodie you’re going to love Lafayette! The region is famous for its countless festivals where the rhythms of the popular Cajun and Zydeco music will have you up on your feet in no time!
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12. Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum
The University Art Museum was founded in 1968, though it has changed buildings a few times since then. The museum was renamed after Paul and Lulu Hilliard after they donated five million dollars towards the construction of the current museum, which opened in 2004.
The museum is owned by the University and forms an important part of the art faculty. During your visit you’ll spot students sketching and professors in thought amongst the various tourists. The museum runs educational programs for adults and kids and encourages everyone to get creative!
They have artwork from the 18th century through to the 21st century from Europe, America, and Asia in their permanent collection. They rotate their vast collection, and sometimes have travelling exhibitions. It’s a great place to spend a peaceful afternoon.
11. Children’s Museum of Acadiana
This non-profit organization in Lafayette has a hands-on approach to education and allows children to learn by doing. They have lots of themed rooms, where kids can try out different jobs and plan their future careers!
They can have a go at being a doctor, vet, scientist, dentist, chef, waiter, and just about anything else! The museum is great for families with young kids. There’s lots of other kids around they can socialize with, too.
The museum has a sensory area with an array of textures and colors little ones can explore. At the end of the trip, they can broadcast the day’s events from the museum’s make-shift TV station. The perfect place to spend a rainy day.
10. Rip Van Winkle Gardens
The Rip Van Winkle Gardens are just under a 40 minute drive away from the city. The property and gardens were built in 1870 by Joseph Jefferson, who played Rip Van Winkle in the silent black-and-white film.
He came to his home near Lafayette to hunt and paint, finding inspiration in his home’s silence and surrounding nature. Even now, you can see some of his paintings in the old mansion. The house is surrounded by beautifully landscaped semi-tropical gardens, full of exotic plants.
Once you’ve visited the mansion and gardens, head down to the lakeside and watch the sunset over Lake Pigneur. If you fancy it, you can also stay at one of the Rip Van Winkle accommodations and wake up in the colorful and exotic landscape that make up this unique property. There’s a café and gift shop on-site, too.
9. Take a Cajun Food Tour
Lafayette and the nearby towns are known for their delicious traditional food. The recipes brought into the area by French colonists are unique to Louisiana. You absolutely cannot visit without tasting at least three of the popular dishes!
There are many tours suited to a variety of budgets that you can do by foot or on board a tour bus. Along the way you’ll stop off at some of the most popular restaurants and diners in the area. Make sure you come hungry; you’ll need the extra space!
Sample a delicious pot of gumbo soup, try the famous boudin sausages and crawfish, then finish off with a sweet pecan pie. If you’re lucky you’ll get to try some alligator meat, one of the strangest dishes around.
8. Lafayette Science Museum
This educational museum is a perfect balance between learning and fun! They teach science, history, and technology to adults and kids in an engaging way, and there’s lots of interactive exhibits you can test out for yourself.
One of the most popular areas of the museum is the planetarium. Gaze up and find your favourite galaxies and constellations, then read all about the incredible planets in our solar system.
The Lafayette Science Museum is perfect for a family day trip, especially on a grey, rainy day when you can’t get out and about. There’s lots to keep kids and adults of all ages entertained.
7. Take a Swamp Tour
Lafayette is surrounded by bayou and swampland that make up the area’s unique landscape. The best way to explore this wet, boggy land is by boat. Once you’re in the water you can get deep into the bayou and explore the local flora.
You can take a thrilling airboat tour or opt for a bigger and slower boat. You’ll be guided by a friendly local who knows the waterways like the back of his hand. If you want to try something a bit different, there are kayaking and fishing tours on offer too!
Keep an eye out for native wildlife! The area is riddled with birds, alligators, turtles, and slithering snakes; if you’re lucky you’ll spot one from onboard. You’ll also get the opportunity to learn about crawfishing, which has been practiced for generations in Lafayette.
6. Acadian Cultural Center
On your visit you’ll find out about the history of the Acadian people, and how they found themselves in Lafayette and became Cajun after they were expelled from Nova Scotia in Canada and set up their homes in Louisiana.
The center has displays of old and new artifacts that illustrate the historical and contemporary ways of life of Acadians. The French colonists brought with them music, stories, and delicious recipes that are still an important part of Lafayette’s culture.
The half-hour long documentary at the center will tell you all you need to know about the hardship and prosperity of the Acadians. They also have a little gift shop, full of local crafts.
5. Lake Martin Rookery
Just twenty minutes away from Lafayette by car, there is a local wildlife hotspot, the Lake Martin Rookery. The destination has a lake and rookery and is famous for birdwatching. The ideal stop-off for an afternoon walk.
You can go kayaking or boating on the lake, another great way to explore the area. There are lots of oaks and tupelo trees around, these beautiful trees add to the fairy-tale appearance of the rookery.
Keep an eye out for blue herons, egrets, and ibis on your visit. The birdwatching is especially good in spring when the birds come to the rookery to nest. It’s estimated that 60% of the US bird species can be spotted here! It’s not rare to spot alligators either!
4. Acadian Village
The Acadian Village is on the outskirts of the city. This quaint neighborhood has many of the city’s oldest and most historically significant homes. The oldest house in the village is the Bernard House, that was built in 1800 and is full of art that depicts the journey of the Acadians from Canada to Louisiana.
You can also visit the home of Lafayette’s first resident dentist and explore the replicas of the old blacksmith and chapel. Once you’ve done that, head over to the Castille House that was pillaged during the Civil War, but is still in remarkable conditions.
This is the perfect destination for a short stroll that you can combine with getting to know about the Acadian way of life, architecture, and décor!
3. Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
The old cathedral was built in 1916 in the Dutch Romanesque Revival style. The exterior was constructed in red and white brick – it’s quite the large and spectacular structure. You can hardly walk past and not notice this unique building.
The cathedral is open to visitors and worshipers. Come in and learn about the building’s history and faith in the area. The colorful stained glass windows and life-like religious statues inside are just as impressive as the building’s exterior.
The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is in downtown Lafayette and it’s a popular destination amongst tourists and locals alike. If you’re religious you should attend a mass, it’s a unique way to experience a community and city.
2. Visit Avery Island
Forty-five minutes’ drive away from Lafayette is the magnificent Avery Island. The island sits on a salt deposit that extends for thousands of miles into the Earth. The deposit is thought to be left over from an old sea that once would have covered this stretch of land.
Avery Island is still home to the Tabasco sauce factory, so if you’re a fan of nature, geography, and Tabasco this is a must-see for you! The island is covered in breathtaking subtropical gardens and moss-covered trees that you can take a gentle walk through.
Once you’ve seen the gardens and factory, head over to the island’s bird sanctuary and get up close to the local birds that are kept and looked after on the island.
Hop in your car for a short ten-minute drive from the city center and you’ll be at the Vermilionville Historic Village. The name of the attraction is the same as the historical name of Lafayette, which gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect!
The village is full of period houses, decorated with traditional furnishings and brought to life by friendly staff in traditional clothing playing music and re-enacting the daily activities carried out in a typical 18th century day. You can watch them spinning, carving, and dancing.
The village has a little restaurant that serves delicious Creole and Cajun food, a trademark of Lafayette. Make sure you try the gumbo before you leave! Vermilionville takes you on a journey into the past of this city, when Native Americans and French colonists lived here.