Louisiana’s top tourist attractions are in and around New Orleans, the center of Creole culture and full of things to do. This excitement-filled city is best known for its annual Mardis Gras celebrations and excellent entertainment. Another great city for sightseeing is the state capitol, Baton Rouge, where you can tour the old Capitol Building, which is rumored to be haunted. Tourists also come to Louisiana to see the historic antebellum plantations that can be found throughout the state, as well as its numerous museums that explore the complex and sometimes painful past of this southern state.
1 New Orleans’ French Quarter
The French Quarter is New Orleans’ oldest and most famous neighborhood. Its beautiful buildings date back as far as 300 years, many with wrought-iron balconies that extend over the tourist-filled sidewalks below. Visitors flock to the French Quarter for sightseeing, shopping, dining, and entertainment, and the area is packed during the annual Mardis Gras celebrations. The best-known area is Bourbon Street, which is alive year-round with throngs of tourists and live music. North Rampart Street is less crowded but has many historic buildings and good restaurants, while Decatur Street is a popular hangout for hipsters. Jazz clubs line the pedestrian-friendly Royal Street, which is also known for its antique shops and art galleries. Louis Armstrong Park is another popular tourist attraction, home to the historic Congo Square, where the city’s African-American community once socialized before gaining freedom. The park covers 31 acres and includes trails, fountains, and a huge statue of jazz legend Louis Armstrong.
2 National WWII Museum
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans gives visitors an in-depth look at every aspect of the conflict, from the ground war in Europe to the challenges of battle at sea and in the air. One of the most impactful exhibits is “Road to Berlin,” where visitors have the opportunity to be immersed in the past while seeing fully recreated battle zones complete with the sights and sounds. Other exhibits include an exploration of the obstacles overcome by the Seabees and Merchant Marines in supporting the troops, a look at how vital support from the home front was to the effort, and details about the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The museum’s displays employ a variety of media and interactive technology that bring history to life. Exhibits are also full of personal stories and photos, as well as a large collection of artifacts, including soldiers’ personal items and even a shark-faced P-40 Warhawk.
3 Mardi Gras
The biggest event on Louisiana’s annual calendar is the Mardi Gras celebration that takes place in New Orleans. This colorful event is a huge undertaking with a parade, balls, and street celebrations like none other. Mardis Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but celebrations begin on the weekend leading up to Tuesday. The event draws huge crowds who come to join in the celebrations and watch more than 1,000 floats go by on dozens of parade routes. To see the floats up close, tourists can visit Mardis Gras World, where you can watch artists and craftsmen build them. Nearly half of the celebration’s floats, costumes, and props are created in this workshop. For even more information on this famous fiesta, stop by the Mardis Gras Museum, one of the top attractions in Lake Charles, in the southwestern part of the state.
4 Melrose Plantation
The Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches was first known as Yucca Plantation when it belonged to Marie Thérèse and Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer freed slaves. Yucca House, found on the grounds, was built in the 1790s. The Big House is a West Indies Creole plantation house with early Greek Revival details. At the turn of the century, Melrose became the home of John Hampton Henry and his wife Camie, a patron of the arts. Mrs. Henry enlarged the garden and preserved the buildings. Many writers and artists were guests at Melrose over the years.
5 Old State Capitol
The Gothic-Revival-style Old State Capitol makes a dramatic impression on visitors passing by and is equally impressive on the inside. Two huge towers flank the main entrance, and the roof is crenelated. The building, which resembles an old castle, is set on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge. This historic landmark building now houses a political history museum, which includes artifacts, documents, and interactive exhibits that explore the state’s long history. Visitors can also learn about the building’s history and significance in the “Ghost of the Castle” presentation, a 4-D experience that is hosted by the apparition of Sarah Morgan.
6 Laura Plantation
The Laura Plantation in Vacherie has been open to the public since 1994, allowing visitors to tour the 1805 building and property that was a sugarcane plantation for 180 years. The home contains original period furniture, as well as exhibits highlighting the memoirs of Laura Local. The most remarkable feature of the plantation, however, is its large exhibit dedicated to the lives and personal stories of those who were enslaved on the farm. The exhibit explores the complex relationships between the owners and the slaves, as well as various aspects of daily life, from health to religion. Collections include rare photos and documents that shed light on all-but-forgotten African-Americans who lived and worked on this Creole farm, as well as other slaves in the state.
Vermilionville, in Lafayette, exhibits the traditions and heritage of the Acadian settlers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At this living history museum, costumed craftspeople and historians demonstrate skills and folk crafts that have been preserved and handed down from previous generations. Artisans can be found throughout the 23-acre site, which is home to restored original Acadian homes and authentic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. The property also includes exhibits that are featured on a rotating basis and explore the lives of Louisiana’s indigenous peoples, the struggle to maintain the Acadian culture and language, and a look at black history from early slavery to the civil rights movement. Other exhibits include a fascinating look at the differences in Mardi Gras traditions in cities versus rural areas.
8 Sci-Port Discovery Center
Sci-Port Discovery Center is a science and entertainment center featuring science, math, and space exhibits; an IMAX Dome Theatre; and the laser SPACE DOME Planetarium. Located in Shreveport, the center is targeted mainly towards youth, and is a popular family attraction with a strong educational component, featuring hundreds of interactive exhibits. The center’s newest addition is the Power of Play Children’s Museum, which encourages children to learn through hands-on play.
9 USS Kidd and Veterans Memorial
Visitors can climb aboard a decommissioned destroyer at the USS Kidd and Veterans Memorial, located in Baton Rouge. The ship was active during WWII and has since been used in films and TV productions. Information on the ship, as well as nautical items and memorabilia, are on display in the museum. The USS Kidd is named for Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, Sr., who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
10 Rosedown Plantation and Gardens
The Rosedown Plantation is a State Historic Site known for being one of the most well preserved domestic Southern plantations. It offers a look at the lifestyles, both plantation owners and slaves, during the mid 19th century in the South. On the grounds are camellias, azaleas, and rare shrubs and trees. The Rosedown Gardens were created by the owners, Daniel and Martha Turnbull, in 1835. The Turnbull family occupied the mansion for more than 120 years.
11 St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church
St. Martin Catholic Church was established in 1765 in St. Martinville. The present structure was built in 1836 and has an 1883 replica of the Grotto of Lourdes. In the left-wing of the church is the grave of Emmeline Labiche, thought to be the heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline. A statue of Evangeline stands in the churchyard.
12 DeQuincy Railroad Museum
The DeQuincy Railroad is located in the old Kansas City Southern Depot, which was built in 1923. This grand old building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, now contains a variety of railroad equipment and related memorabilia. Exhibits also include an impressive collection of museum quality Gauge 1 model steam and diesel engines created by master model craftsmen. Outside, visitors can admire the museum’s 1913 steam locomotive and a 1947 Pullman passenger coach, as well as two cabooses. This is also a great spot for train lovers to simply relax and watch the trains go by from the train-watching platform or any of the several viewing areas.