From the Mississippi River waterfront to the biologically diverse systems of Louisiana’s swamps and bayous, the waterways surrounding New Orleans are as crucial to its character as jazz music or Mardi Gras. If you’re looking for different things to do in New Orleans, try experiencing the historic city from the water for a new perspective. We’ve picked out some fantastic ways to discover the heritage of the Mississippi, find gators in the bayou, or just enjoy the river from the heart of New Orleans itself.

Canoe tour of Louisiana swamp

Cruising Down the Mississippi River

Since the start of the 19th century, the Mississippi River has been an integral part of American and New Orleans culture. Thanks to the revolutionary invention of the steamboat, which allowed for the transportation of freight and passengers both up and down the river, New Orleans became a booming port city. The city’s waterfront was once crowded with boats that carried commodities from the interior of the country and far-off lands. Today, you can experience the river for yourself as you step back in time on a classic steamboat ride accompanied by jazz music. Gray Line New Orleans also offers evening cruises on the legendary Steamboat Natchez for a more magical ride down this fabled waterway.

Natchez paddleboat on Mississippi river

Into the Bayou

The Mississippi River Delta is home to New Orleans’ famous bayous and swamps, significant for their flourishing wildlife and unique ecoystems as well as their cultural importance to the Cajun and Creole people of southern Louisiana.  Immerse yourself in the diversity of the marshes by venturing to Honey Island Swamp with Cajun Encounters, who give you an up-close look at water fowl, alligators, and dense flora. For a look at the culture of the region, join Cajun Pride Swamp Tours and explore the Manchac Swamp as a passionate guide educates you about the history and heritage of the Cajun people. You can get an even more personal and intimate experience of New Orleans’ wetlands by climbing aboard a canoe or kayak and setting off on a trail blazed by the pros at Canoe and Trail. Airboats, such as the ones from Tours by Isabelle in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, are another popular way to discover the area as they whisk you over the water at high speeds.

Airboat ride through New Orleans swamp

Waterfront New Orleans

While it may not be in the water itself, the French Quarter—the oldest neighborhood in the city—sits just steps from the banks of the Mississippi itself and offers a number of waterside things to do in New Orleans. Taking a walk down Woldenberg Riverfront Park, a 16-acre (6.5-ha) waterside promenade, is a beautiful way to experience both the Mississippi and the French Quarter’s colorful vibe. Get a taste of the history of the place at restaurants like Tujague’s, a riverfront eatery that has served authentic Creole dishes to seamen and port workers since 1856. You can also encounter Louisiana’s marine life without entering the wetlands at all by visiting the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Presented by the Audubon Nature Institute, which aims to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, the aquarium showcases local wildlife like white alligators, sturgeon, and paddlefish, along with exotic animals from the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

Group tours Louisiana swamp

Which New Orleans experience will make a splash with you?