5 free things to do in New Orleans

New Orleans

It's expensive to be a tourist in a town that's hosting two of the biggest events of the new year _ Mardi Gras and the NFL Super Bowl _ but New Orleans has plenty of free things to do.

The nearly 300-year-old French city has walkable neighborhoods and scenic public parks dotted with centuries-old oak trees draped in Spanish moss, along with a free ferry and historic market.

MARDI GRAS AND BOURBON STREET

New Orleans is perhaps best-known for hosting one of the biggest free parties in the world: Mardi Gras. The Carnival season includes parades with costumed riders, marching bands and decorated floats, but it only lasts a few weeks. But visitors can get a taste of the madness and revelry of Carnival any time of year on Bourbon Street, the city's most famous thoroughfare, where scantily-clad women beckon patrons from strip club doorways and beads are flung from balconies to revelers down below year-round. It's also a hot spot for live music, which spills out onto the street from clubs with doors and windows flung open. Bourbon Street is also the one place where a costume can be flaunted any time of year.

JACKSON SQUARE

Artists painting on canvas, clowns making balloon animals, street performers and jazz musicians are among the free entertainment to be found in Jackson Square, a one-block section of the French Quarter anchored by a lush green space with benches set amid gardens and grand oak trees. The square is bordered by pedestrian-only walkways with restaurants, storefronts and upper-level balconies boasting decorative ironwork. Benches allow visitors to take in the architecture of the square's historic buildings, including the Cabildo and Pontalba Apartments, believed to be among the oldest apartment buildings in the country.

Visitors are also welcome at St. Louis Cathedral, a place of worship for Catholics since the 1720s. Its towering white facade with three steeples fronts the Mississippi River. Inside are religious mosaics, colorful stained glass and a small gift shop. Masses are held daily and free concerts are held regularly.

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