Must-Visit Museums in New Orleans
Whether you’re a regular museum-goer or you’re just looking for something to do on a rainy day, New Orleans’ many museums won’t disappoint. And we’re not just talking about art. New Orleans is home to a variety of fascinating collections, from surgical artifacts at the Pharmacy Museum to slave narratives at historic plantation homes. Of course, if it’s art you’re after, the NOMA has you covered. We mean it when we say there’s a NOLA museum for everyone…there’s even a Museum of Death! Find your favorite below.
The National WWII Museum
The top-rated tourist destination in New Orleans (and #2 in the country), the National WWII Museum is a must-visit attraction that draws visitors from all over the world. Millions of people have toured its halls since it opened in 2000. Poignant exhibits covering the industrial efforts on U.S. soil as well as first-person oral accounts from the front lines illustrate the lasting legacy of the “war that changed the world.” History lovers will surely appreciate the chance to immerse themselves in these emotional stories of the war.
The museum features cinematic experiences, the Union Pacific Train Station, vintage aircraft and tanks, boats, and other relics of WWII. Learn about the Brown Shipbuilding company and their massive wartime construction efforts, or discover the cultural differences and logistical challenges that the American military faced in Asia and the Pacific. With exhibits on Normandy, Berlin, and the U.S. Merchant Marine, the National WWII Museum offers enough fascinating artifacts and narratives to keep you occupied all day.
New Orleans Museum of Art
Dating all the way back to 1911, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), inspires and engages various cultures through its exhibits. When it first opened its doors, it only had nine pieces of art – today, over 40,000 artworks line the halls. Exhibits include African, Japanese, French, and American art ranging from photography to glass work and paintings. Since the museum is always acquiring new pieces, every visit is a unique experience. You may get to see a stone monolith from Nigeria or examples of contemporary photography.
The experience isn’t contained within the walls of the museum. One of NOMA’s most popular attractions is the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, 11 acres of over 90 works in a picturesque setting with pines, magnolias, live oaks, and lagoons. Situated in City Park in the Mid-City neighborhood, NOMA and its sculpture garden are considered one of the most impressive art collections in the South.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
If fine art isn’t really your thing, try a visit to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Located in the French Quarter in an 1823 Creole townhouse on Chartres Street, the museum is a treasure trove of pharmaceutical artifacts like hand-blown apothecary bottles, prosthetic devices, and old surgical instruments.
Once home to America’s first licensed pharmacist, the museum transports its visitors back in time through a series of exhibits on two floors. Expect to see Voodoo potions, microscopes, old wheelchairs, jars of leeches, physicians’ bags, and even a reconstruction of a 200-year-old pharmacists’ work area.
Plantation Home Museums
The grand plantation homes located outside of New Orleans are like a portal into the past. Discover the impressive drawing rooms, architecture and gardens, as well as the living memories of plantation slaves at Oak Alley and Whitney Plantations.
Both of these historic homes offer tours of the grounds, including restored buildings, memorial artwork, and first-person narratives that paint a picture of the everyday life of slaves. Beyond the gorgeous live oaks and sprawling grounds, these plantations offer a powerful testimony to the history of the Antebellum South and the lessons left behind.
Get out of the city for the day and tour some of New Orleans’ storied homes.
Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture
Not in town during Mardi Gras? No problem! Get a taste of the festivities at the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture. View exhibits from the largest personal collection of Mardi Gras costumes in New Orleans, including those from Cajun Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, Carnival ball royalty, and more. Learn about the origins and traditions of Mardi Gras and how New Orleanians spend all year preparing for everyone’s favorite festival. You can even visit the costume closet to get decked out in glamorous gear and take photos with your friends.
Museum of Death
Finally, a place for true crime lovers and those with macabre curiosities. The Museum of Death might not be for everyone, but it’s one of the quirkiest New Orleans museums that’s well worth a visit. See exhibits on serial killers, spooky art, skulls, and morgues. Artifacts include body bags, crime scene photos, artwork and photos from famous serial killers, relics of cannibalism, and much more. It probably goes without saying, but this museum is recommended for mature audiences only.
The Cabildo is a grand old building in Jackson Square with Spanish arches and a beautiful interior. The site of the Louisiana Purchase, the Cabildo houses many rare artifacts of American history. See planes from the Golden Age of Aviation, an exhibit dedicated to Hurricane Katrina, a 42-foot shrimp trawler, and a Civil War submarine. From the days of early explorers to Native American culture, the Cabildo’s exhibits cover every aspect of New Orleans history.
Backstreet Cultural Museum
Planning a visit to the Tremé neighborhood? Stop for a tour of the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a residential house with exhibits dedicated to New Orleans’ African American culture. Inside, you’ll find a collection of Mardi Gras costumes, exhibits on jazz funerals, films, social aid and pleasure clubs, and other significant materials that celebrate the creative achievements of African Americans in New Orleans. Enjoy access to a robust film collection, objects associated with Skull and Bone Gangs, Carnival baby dolls, and more.
Looking for more cultural experiences in New Orleans? Browse our history and culture tours.