New Orleans in Winter: What to Expect and Best Things to Do 

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Want to experience the best of New Orleans in Winter? 

Then this guest post by NOLA local, Ashley Bunge, has you covered! 

Hi there! My name’s Ashley and I’ve lived in New Orleans since 2011. My career for the last seventeen years has been scouting locations for feature films and tv shows so I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to explore the city and state extensively. I love to share my experiences and suggestions for those planning to visit the Big Easy.

Planning a trip? Use my favorite resources:

What to Expect During Winter in New Orleans

Let’s talk about my personal favorite season in New Orleans, winter.

Is New Orleans good to visit in winter? 

New Orleans is a fantastic destination for a winter visit! The summers here are brutally hot, humid and rainy, whereas winters are generally much milder, sunny and filled with great holiday activities. 

Is New Orleans cold in the winter? 

There are endless jokes amongst locals about the unpredictability of the weather in New Orleans, but generally, our coldest winter temperatures are around 40 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In my thirteen years here there have been a handful of times where we had an unseasonably cold winter, two times of which it snowed under an inch. It’s a fairly safe bet that temperatures won’t be too cold, especially for those traveling from the North, and it’s after our rainy season so plan for beautiful, clear skies.

Street view of Jackson Square Park in New Orleans

Best Things to do in New Orleans in Winter

New Orleans has oodles of wonderful activities in our winter season!

1. Celebration In The Oaks

By far one of the most popular draws to New Orleans in the winter for visitors and locals alike is City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks. It starts on Thanksgiving and runs until the New Year, featuring hundreds of thousands of lights throughout the botanical gardens and elsewhere around the park. 

Among the mossy oaks, you’ll also have access to the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and Storyland, an area for kids to play dedicated to classic children’s stories like Pinocchio and the Three Little Pigs. 

Hot cocoa is given out for free, as are marshmallows that can be toasted over a replica of a levee bonfire. The festivities begin nightly at 6pm but you could easily spend a whole day at City Park enjoying its putt putt golf course, two museums, and bike or swan boat rentals available on Big Lake.

2. Spend a Day at the Races

Thanksgiving day is the opening day for horse racing at the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots. It is a spectacle to behold for both the races but also, the fashion! Attendees typically don elaborate hats and fabulous funky ensembles to initiate the start of horse racing season. 

Don’t worry if you can’t make it on opening day; there are races every Thursday through Sunday from November to March. 

3. Visit the WWII Museum

The National WWII Museum in the Warehouse District is one of the most popular tourist destinations to visit in New Orleans, and for good reason. Since its creation as the D-Day Museum in 2000, it has expanded significantly into multiple buildings, showcasing various exhibits on different aspects of the war. 

There are halls dedicated to the European, Pacific and Home fronts, an immersive submarine exhibit, and a stunning 4D movie presentation. 

Be sure to reserve tickets and give yourself ample time for a visit, as it can take one to two days to fully experience all the museum has to offer! 

👉 Get Your Tickets to the National WWII Museum

4. Catch a show at the Saenger and Orpheum Theaters

Exterior of Orpheum Theater in New Orleans in winter, with Orpheum written in gold letters above the entrance

The Saenger and Orpheum Theaters, just a few blocks apart, are both historic theaters that were remodeled after Hurricane Katrina. Either theater boasts a gorgeous interior to catch a show at. 

The Saenger is the home to Broadway shows and high-profile comedians, while the Orpheum Theater hosts performances by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and a variety of musical performers. 

Whichever theater you choose to visit, you can expect to see a spectacular show in a grand setting. 

5. Explore the French Market and French Quarter 

It wouldn’t be a visit to New Orleans without taking in the beauty of the French Quarter! Every corner bursts with beautiful architecture and on many, you’ll hear some of the best live music in town. 

There are several tour companies offering different types of historic walking tours, while Royal street has blocks upon blocks of shops and art galleries to explore. 

Walk around Jackson Square to see local artists showcase their work, or hop across the street to Woldenberg Park and pass some time along the Mississippi River. 

The French Market, near the northernmost edge of the French Quarter, is split in half, with one section full of vendors selling all types of souvenirs, and the other dedicated to local cuisine. It’s the first spot I fell in love with when I visited as a child and still holds a place in my heart. 

6. Sightsee on a Double Decker Bus or Streetcar

Trees in front of white building with three black turrets in New Orleans

While the French Quarter is certainly the most popular area of town to visit, the city also has many other picturesque neighborhoods to see. The Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour company offers tickets on a double decker bus and travels around the French Quarter, then into the Garden District. 

You can jump out along Magazine Street, brimming with unique shops and eateries, then walk around the neighborhood to view a multitude of historic homes, such as author Anne Rice’s, and hop on to visit another area at your leisure. 

The St. Charles streetcar line also ventures from the French Quarter all the way down to the Riverbend and the views along the way include beautiful homes, Audubon Park and both Tulane and Loyola campuses. 

There is also a streetcar line that travels from the French Quarter to City Park, where you can spend a day in the expansive park enjoying all the activities it has to offer. 

👉 Book a Hop-On-Hop-Off Unlimited Sightseeing Package

7. Listen to Live Jazz on Frenchmen Street

Frenchman street in New Orleans at night, a couple buildings with purple lights on

A visit to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without catching some live, local jazz! Frenchmen Street, beginning at the edge of the quarter on Esplanade Avenue, has two blocks filled with venues to see live music, from swing to big brass bands. 

While Bourbon street is also a great destination for live music and dancing, Frenchmen Street provides more options for seated performances and delectable meals while being serenaded by outstanding musicians. 

There is also a large art market on Frenchmen Street with interesting souvenirs and wares to shop for in between your melodic stops. 

8. Head Out of Town to See the Levee Bonfires

Orange flames of a bonfire set across a night sky with a full moon in top left corner

Lighting the way for Papa Noel (aka Cajun Santa Clause) on Christmas eve is a tradition that began in Louisiana in the 1800s. While the best spots to watch from are about an hour away from the city, it is a truly memorable experience and quite the spectacle, well worth the drive out. 

The town of Lutcher in St James Parish is a perfect spot to visit; the entire community turns into a block party, and it tends to have the largest amount of levee bonfires, oftentimes with more intricate structures, such as wooden alligators and John Deer tractors, constructed. 

Add this to your New Orleans itinerary for a wondrous kick off to holiday festivities!

9. Welcome the New Year in Jackson Square 

If you happen to be in New Orleans to ring in a New Year, join in on the festivities at Jackson Square! Forget the ball drop – here, it’s all about watching the symbolic Fleur de Lis descend to mark the start of a happy new year when the clock strikes midnight.

10. Join the Mardi Gras Festivities 

festive gold, green and purple payphone hanging on an exterior wall in New Orleans

Of course, we can’t discuss winter in New Orleans without talking about Mardi Gras! Carnival season kicks off January 6 each year, and there are plenty of ways to join in on the celebrations. Plan to catch a Mardi Gras parade, try a variety of King cakes, catch some beads, dance in the streets and more

No matter what time of year you visit, you can learn more about this well-known occasion by booking a Mardi Gras: Behind the Scenes tour. You’ll get to see where the spectacular floats are made, try on festival costumes and enjoy a slice of King cake as you learn all about the history of Mardi Gras.  

👉 Join the Mardi Gras: Behind the Scenes Tour

Where to Eat in New Orleans in Winter

It’s difficult to put the amazing array of delectable food options into just a few recommendations, so here are a few of my favorites. 

Breakfast: Elizabeth’s Restaurant

fried chicken atop a waffle on a white plate

Nestled in the Bywater neighborhood, Elizabeth’s is a delicious choice for a breakfast filled with Southern cuisine. The restaurant has comforting decor and its menu includes such tasty choices as a duck hash covered waffle, bananas foster, and biscuits and gravy, not to mention their famous praline bacon! 

There are healthier options available as well, and it’s a lovely spot to enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, situated right across from the “Rusty Rainbow” bridge that leads into Crescent Park. 

Lunch: Lil Dizzy’s Cafe  

green building with pointed ceiling like a house with a sign saying Lil Dizzy's on it

Lil Dizzy’s is a local favorite for soul food on the Northernmost edge of the French Quarter. Their menu features mouthwatering Po-Boy sandwiches, fried seafood plates with sides of mac and cheese and okra, and of course, gumbo. 

They also have daily specials like the traditional Monday Red Beans and Rice that make it popular for tourists and locals alike. 

Dinner: Mister Mao

warm up with a hearty meal at Mister Mao in New Orleans in winter

There is no shortage of choices for Creole and Cajun meals in New Orleans, but the city also holds a vast culinary scene with enticing global influences. 

For a bit of funky flare, check out the self-proclaimed “tropical roadhouse” at Mister Mao in Uptown. Its maximalist and spunky decor fit perfectly with its constantly rotating menu of Asian fusion flavors. 

On the weekends, the restaurant also hosts a trendy and tasty brunch, usually with a DJ spinning beats in the background. Ready your cameras for an instagrammable and unforgettable meal at Mister Mao! 

What to Pack for New Orleans in Winter

view of a road in New Orleans with a streetcar driving off in the distance

A perk of visiting New Orleans in the winter is that it’s fairly simple to pack for. Here are a few things to be sure to bring: 

  • Comfortable walking shoes: this is a small and walkable town, and winter is the best time to wander around on foot. 
  • A heavy sweater: while I’ve acclimated to this climate and usually need a winter coat in the winter temperatures here, for the most part visitors can get away with just a thick sweater to keep warm. 
  • Cash: if you plan on riding the streetcar around town, it only accepts cash at $1.25 a ride and can get you from the French Quarter to Uptown and Mid City.
  • Mask, wig, or something sequined: I know this sounds silly, but there is usually some event that could require a level of dress up and it’s fun to join in with a costumed crowd! There are, of course, several places to purchase said items within the city as well. 

Insider Tips for Visiting New Orleans in Wintertime

a man riding a bike along a street in New Orleans lined with horse head poles

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when planning your trip to New Orleans during winter: 

  • First, and most importantly, check the weather! There’s no telling if winter in New Orleans will feel like summer in other places, or if we randomly are reaching temperatures of 30 degrees. 
  • Be prepared to layer your clothes. It could feel chilly in the morning and quickly warm up on a sunny day. Layers are the local’s best friend. 
  • An entire visit can be wonderful in just the French Quarter, but every edge of the city has something beautiful to offer, so don’t limit yourself to just that neighborhood! 
  • Stay hydrated: Yes, this is a heavy drinking town and it’s easy to over-imbibe quickly and regret it for the following days. You can also easily dehydrate without realizing it because of how walkable the city is. Be sure to drink plenty of water on your visit. 
  • I have to mention this simple rule that is very important: take practical precautions for your safety. I don’t bring this up to inspire fear, I say this because the safety of the city is a common question from tourists, yet at the same time I’ve witnessed many visitors throw caution to the wind thinking the French Quarter is the Port Orleans resort at Disney World.

    This is a metropolis and I’d suggest the same common sense and caution that you would display in any new city. Keep an eye on your alcohol intake, don’t venture out by yourself late at night and make sure someone knows where you are at all times. 

Final Thoughts: New Orleans Winter Trip

New Orleans truly lives up to its popularity with an astounding backdrop of unique architecture, a fabulous culinary scene, music pouring out from all corners and lots of holiday events in the winter! 

Whatever activities you choose for your visit, you’re bound to have an exquisite time and enjoy all that the city and its wonderful community have to offer. I can’t express my love of this city enough, and hope you venture here to discover for yourself all it has to offer.  

About the author: Ashley Bunge is a film and tv professional, working on such features as Girls Trip and Spinal Tap 2, as well as Showtime’s Your Honor and Apple’s Black Bird miniseries. Her passion for adventure led her to New Orleans, and when she’s not working on set, you can find her crafting costumes or journeying to a new foreign place for more unforgettable stories.