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From north Louisiana’s rolling hills to the bayous and swamps in the south, Louisiana is a nature lover’s paradise. Of course, Louisianians are known to know their way around the kitchen, too.
Whether you’re looking to join a few swamp tours or eat through the Pelican State by indulging in the finest authentic Cajun cuisine, this Louisiana travel guide will help you narrow your vacation to make it one you’ll never forget.
Best Things to Do in Louisiana
1. New Orleans
New Orleans is the most popular city in Louisiana, and for good reason. Of course, visitors to the Big Easy can get their fill on Creole cuisine, historic landmarks, and Mardi Gras parades, and there might be a bar or two to quench your thirst.
Still, few people realize just how close some of Louisiana’s most beautiful natural attractions are to New Orleans. Just 30 minutes north, you’ll be able to explore the Honey Island Swamp, one of the most pristine swamps in the country.
Thirty minutes south, you’ll find yourself at the front door of Barataria Preserve, a 30,000-acre nature preserve with endless boardwalk trails to enjoy. Plus, the entire city is sandwiched between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, so you’ve got plenty of options for seeing the natural side of New Orleans.
Louisiana’s largest city is divided into 73 neighborhoods, and you can easily spend an entire weekend taking tours of the French Quarter, the Garden District, the Treme, and many more.
2. Cajun Country
Cajun Country is the area in southern Louisiana that’s dominated by the Atchafalaya River Basin, the largest river swamp in the United States.
While its borders are fairly generous, most can agree that Cajun Country lies in the Greater Lafayette Area, including beautiful smaller towns like Breaux Bridge, Abbeville, and Ville Platte.
Many visitors to Cajun Country choose to use Lafyatte as a home base, giving you a central location to explore the Cajun culture further. From swamp boat tours to food tours, Cajun Country offers something for everyone.
No visit to Cajun Country is complete without spending some time in Breaux Bridge, the Crawfish Capital of the World. Not only will you find your fair share of local restaurants to enjoy, but taking a swamp tour around Lake Martin is one of the most popular things to do in Cajun Country.
Once you see those cypress trees in person, you’ll know! Lake Martin is also a great spot to watch wildlife, and you’re guaranteed to see at least one alligator while you’re there.
Between Cajun Country and New Orleans, Baton Rouge may be calling your name. Louisiana’s state capitol offers the best of both worlds while still carving out its unique culture separate from what you’ll find in Lafayette or New Orleans.
The Mississippi River provides the downtown area with plenty of things to do, and you can even take the historic Great River Road from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
This scenic route hugs the Mississippi River and is perfect for stopping off at some of Louisiana’s historic plantations, like Oak Alley and the Houmas House.
3. Northern Louisiana
Known as “Louisiana’s Other Side,” northern Louisiana offers a chance to explore a unique landscape not often thought about in the Bayou State.
In this part of Louisiana, you’ll be trading the marshes and swamps for rolling hills, though there are still a few lazy bayous and swampy areas to get your fix in. On the northeastern side, Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers 500+ acres of natural scenery to enjoy, and it’s perfect for wildlife viewing.
History buffs should add Poverty Point World Heritage Site to their to-do lists while in this part of the state. Built by the Poverty Point People over 3,000 years ago, this ancient civilization was added to the UNESCO list in 2013 and continues to baffle historians with its engineering marvels.
4. Central Louisiana
There’s no better place to be for nature lovers than central Louisiana. Much of the Kisatchie National Forest is found within central Louisiana, and it’s ideal for anyone looking for epic hiking opportunities. Alexandria-Pineville is a great area to call home for a few days while you traverse the endless labyrinth of hiking trails here.
The forest is home to the Wild Azalea Trail, the longest primitive hiking trail in Louisiana. This trail clocks in at about 24 miles and will take you through the rolling hills and dense forests of central Louisiana. Just on the border between central and northern Louisiana, Natchitoches is another scenic town you’ll want to visit.
Known for its elaborate Christmas display, Louisiana’s oldest town has an impressive 33-block Historic District you can stroll through, including stops at the iconic Steel Magnolia’s house, which movie buffs will instantly recognize.
While you’re in town, be sure to swing by Lasayone’s and treat yourself to a meat pie. Though not as popular as some other famous Louisiana dishes, Lasayone’s is where the meat pie started, and you won’t be disappointed.
5. Coastal Louisiana
Despite having nearly 400 miles of coastline, Louisiana isn’t considered a beachy place…until now! Coastal Louisiana is an underrated hidden gem, and one of the best ways to experience it is by taking the Creole Nature Trail. This 180-mile All-American Road starts in Lake Charles and takes you on a scenic drive through Cajun Country to the Gulf of Mexico.
Once you get to the coast, you can enjoy local attractions like Holly Beach and Rutherford Beach, known for great sea shelling opportunities. You can also drive right onto both beaches and even camp on them, which means no more long hauls from the car to the beach with all your beach gear!
Where to stay in Louisiana
Whether you’re looking to be in the heart of all the action or a secluded, quiet little spot, plenty of hotels in Louisiana will make you feel right at home. Here are some of the most unique places to stay in Louisiana:
- Hotel Bentley: This historic hotel in Alexandria offers 4-star accommodations and puts you right in the center of downtown with beautiful views of the Red River and within walking distance of many of Alexander’s most popular attractions, including the Alexandria Museum of Art and the Alexandria Zoological Park.
- La Pavillon: Nestled on the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans, this historic hotel is centrally located to all of the major tourist attractions in New Orleans.
- Hilton Garden Inn: Located in the shadows of the Lafayette Convention Center and Cajundome, you can’t beat the location of this hotel.
- Margaritaville Resort Casino: This Shreveport staple is your one-stop shop for a memorable vacation in north Louisiana. Though technically in Bossier City, you’ll quickly find both cities have plenty to offer, and the beautiful views of the Red River are just mesmerizing.
- Courtyard by Marriot Baton Rouge Downtown: This family-friendly hotel in downtown Baton Rouge offers free breakfast, free bikes for rent, modern amenities, and spacious rooms to relax in. Whether you’re visiting Baton Rouge to see the Tigers play or enjoy the sights and sounds of Red Stick, the Courtyard is in a great location for all your adventures.
How to Get Around in Louisiana
Once you arrive in Louisiana, you’ll need to rent a car to get around. Of course, you could take ride-share options, but renting a car in Louisiana is truly the best way to get around.
New Orleans’ historic streetcar system is worth a ride, but if you want to explore other destinations and have more freedom with your itinerary, rent a car.
Remember that Louisiana’s major cities are at least an hour’s drive away from each other. Major airports like the New Orleans International Airport offer rental cars that you can pick up directly from the airport.
Travel Tips for Visiting Louisiana
Once you’ve decided what regions of Louisiana you want to visit, booked your hotel, and maybe even called in a reservation at one of the best restaurants in the French Quarter, what’s next?
Take it from a Louisiana native. These travel tips for visiting Louisiana will make your vacation go much smoother:
Watch the Weather
One of the major perks about visiting Louisiana is that we don’t experience very harsh winters; for the most part, Louisiana can be enjoyed year-round. Keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June 1 – November 30, and typically, the most action occurs between August and September.
Even if you’re not visiting during hurricane season, it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella with you, as Louisiana is one of the country’s rainiest states. Afternoon showers are just part of life down in the bayou! Don’t worry. They usually move through quickly.
If you’re coming to Louisiana to explore the wetlands, you’ll want to have some bug spray on you. Mosquitos love Louisiana, and when you’re out in the middle of the Atchafalaya basin, getting eaten alive by mosquitos can damper the experience.
This is also true if you’re visiting Louisiana for a fishing excursion! Anytime you go on an outdoor adventure, you’ll want some bug spray handy.
Try the Food
Few other states can compare to the unique culinary scene you’ll find in Louisiana. No matter where you are in the state, you’ll find authentic Cajun cuisine on the menu, as well as Creole dishes.
From boudin to beignets, Louisiana has some of the most incredible foods you’ll ever taste, and even if you don’t prefer spicy foods, give the gumbo a try. You might find your new favorite dish!
Speak to the Locals
You might not even have a choice with this tip. Southerners are generally known for being pretty chatty. You could walk into a gas station to pay for fuel and walk out with a new best friend.
Louisianians are friendly, social, and, more than anything, love to tell tourists about the hidden gems in their towns. From the best fishing spots to the best bars in the French Quarter, locals will point you in the right direction.
Seek out live music
Louisiana does two things better than most: food and music. Most people know that New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz, but Cajun Country is the birthplace of Zydeco, and there are few things more memorable than experiencing a fais-do-do (Cajun dance party).
From Bourbon Street to Bossier City, you’ll have no problem finding a venue with live music, so be sure to carve out some time to listen to some of Louisiana’s most talented musicians.
- About the Author
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Jacks is a New Orleans native passionate about exploring the Arctic region. She’s a frequent writer and contributor to Only in Your State. A mediocre ukulele player, photographer, and artist, she thrives on spontaneous solo adventures and encourages everyone to follow the deal, not the destination. When she’s not traveling, she’s feeding the neighborhood crows, squirrels, and bluejays that have befriended her, much to the dismay of her cat, Tugger.