If you want to learn about the “real” Crescent City, consider signing up for a tour. In the hands of a knowledgeable, entertaining guide, you can have a blast. As the following list shows, there are tours for just about every taste, from those who want to see the impact of Hurricane Katrina firsthand to outings for foodies, music lovers, ghost seekers and more. To save you time, we put in the research hours and came up with adventures by more than 20 top tour companies. To make things even more interesting, comments from actual clients, gleaned from Yelp, are included. These firms offer all sorts of tours, so if any strike your fancy, check their Websites for more info.
CITY & POST-KATRINA
Gray Line Tours
The scoop: The 3-hour Hurricane Katrina Tour is done respectfully, and part of the $48 ticket price is donated to relief efforts. The van drives by levees that breached, through affected neighborhoods such as Lakeview, Gentilly, New Orleans East, the 9th Ward and more. Also, there’s a Super City Tour for $43 adults. Contact: (504) 569-1401; (800) 233-2628; graylineneworleans.com.
The score: “It’s one of those experiences where you’re really watching a part of history, and it has a long-lasting effect.” - Mo, Upper Marlboro, Md., on the Katrina tour
The scoop: The City Tour includes some of the areas hardest hit by Katrina, as well as the French Quarter, Cities of the Dead, the Garden District and more. The 3-hour tour is $49 adults. Contact: (504) 587-7115; (888) 587-7115; celebrationtoursllc.com.
The score: “Our guide was professional and witty. The tour was filled with fascinating tidbits of local trivia.” - Ed, La Palma, Calif.
Tours by Isabelle
The scoop: The Post-Katrina City Tour is a thorough van tour through the French Quarter, past affected areas and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. The 3.5-hour tour is $65 adults. For a more traditional trip, there’s the City and Estate Tour, a 4-hour drive ($70) past famous landmarks, including stops for a guided tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 and the beautiful Longue Vue Mansion & Gardens. Contact: (504) 398-0365; (877) 665-8687; toursbyisabelle.com.
The score: “Our tour of Katrina damage/repairs was excellent. [The guide was] knowledgeable and willing to show us any area affected by the storm.” - Steve, Milwaukee
The scoop: For a leisurely view of the city, this is the way to go. Mule-drawn carriages line Decatur St. outside Jackson Square, 8 a.m.-midnight. You can take your chances and hope you pick a good guide — or check out these: Royal Carriages (504-943-8820; neworleanscarriages.com) is a 71-year-old, family-run enterprise. Horse & Buggy Sightseeing Tours (504-943-8820) offers historical factoids as it saunters around the French Quarter. Carriage Rides by Robin Coffey (504-715-9066) is a very popular ride.
The score: Vanessa of Houston says Horse & Buggy’s guide Sam is “funny, smart and very sweet.” Meanwhile, reviewers rave about Coffey. Typical is Corie of Houston: “Robin Coffey is the most entertaining, informative, wonderfully delightful driver we’ve experienced in New Orleans, and this is our third trip. You will love every minute.”
CUISINE & COCKTAILS
New Orleans Culinary History Tours
The scoop: The French Quarter Tasting Tour mixes history and food, walking to classic eateries such as Antoine’s and Tujague’s. The New Orleans Classic Drinks Tour does the same. Advance tickets required: tasting tour, $46; drinks tour, $58. Contact: (504) 875-6570; (800) 979-3370; noculinarytours.com.
The score: “We sampled eight native dishes. Three hours [for a tour] may sound like a lot, but time passed quickly.” - Nicole, San Jose
The scoop: This 3-hour walking tour stops at five French Quarter eateries to sample po’ boys, jambalaya, beignets and more. Buy tickets ($44) in advance. Contact: (219) 929-6648; tastebudtours.com.
The score: “Our culinary adventure was the highlight of the trip. All the restaurants we visited have been featured on Food Network shows.” - Julie, Philadelphia
Gray Line’s Original Cocktail Walking Tour
The scoop: This 2.5-hour tour winds through French Quarter bars and restaurants, where you can buy Hurricanes, Hand Grenades, Sazerac and more. Reservations recommended; $29. Contact: (504) 569-1401; (800) 233-2628; graylineneworleans.com.
The score: “A great introduction to the bar scene. An interesting historical tour is served up with a potent cocktail or two (or three).” - Jamie, Rancho Santa Margarita,Calif.
The Original Cocktail Tour
The scoop: This 2-hour trek stops at the French Market, Jackson Square, Port of New Orleans and more. Starting Fridays at 6 p.m., or by appointment, it doesn’t visit bars, but cocktails are included in the $45 ticket. Reservations required. Contact (504) 578-8280; thecocktailtour.com.
The score: “Being a local, I am averse to tourist-y tours, but this was different. It incorporates cocktails and corresponding landmarks into a vibrant narrative about how each came about.” - Maggie, New Orleans
French Quarter Phantoms
The scoop: Ghost & Vampire Tours are guided walks leaving at 6 and 8 p.m. There’s also a Cemetery Tour and a True Crime Tour. Tickets are $20 adults. Contact: (504) 666-8300; frenchquarterphantoms.com.
The score: “I thought it would be a cheeseball experience, but it wasn’t. It was one of the highlights of my trip.” - Tracie, Kapolei, Hawaii, on the ghost tour
Haunted History Tours
The scoop: The Ghost Tour includes a stop at a haunted French Quarter bar. The Vampire Tour also visits a “vampire” tavern. The New Orleans Cemetery History Tour focuses on St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Tours are $20. Contact (504) 861-2727; (888) 644-1444; haunted
The score: “You will never look at New Orleans the same again, nor think of vampires the same.” - Hayley, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Bloody Mary’s Tours
The scoop: Bloody Mary is a Creole and an ordained voodoo priestess. She offers the Tour of the Undead, a walking tour of ghost, vampire and voodoo sites; Haunted Pub Crawl Tour; Moonlight Graveyard Tour; and more. By reservation only. Contact: (504) 523-7684; bloodymarystours.com.
The score: “[Bloody Mary] knows how to wow a crowd. We liked her so much, we took three of her tours. The nighttime Tour of the Undead is the best.” - David, Rosyln,N.Y.
Spirit Tours New Orleans
The scoop: The Cemetery & Voodoo Tour visits St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, a voodoo temple and more. The Ghost & Vampire Tour delves into the haunted side of the French Quarter. Tours are $20 adults. Contact: (504) 314-0806; (866) 369-1224; neworleanstours.net.
The score: “We took the nighttime ghost tour and it totally rocked.” - Greg, Brentwood, Calif.
Free Tours By Foot The scoop: Yes, a free, tip-supported walking tour company does exist. Its 2-hour Ghost Tour runs Friday-Sun., 7:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Contact: (504) 222-2967; freetoursbyfoot.com.
The score: “The guide was charismatic, funny and seems to know a lot about … stuff. I would do this again if I came back.” - Charmaine, Denver.
MUSIC & MOVIES
Historic New Orleans Walking Tours Inc.
The scoop: Jazz lovers are in for a treat. The Preservation Hall/New Orleans Music Tour starts at the legendary Hall. Other notable stops on this 2-hour walking tour include the site of the Old French Opera House, Basin Street Station, Louis Armstrong Park and more. Tickets are $20 adults. Contact: (504) 947-2120; tourneworleans.com.
The score: “Our great experience was the direct result of the knowledge, passion and friendliness of our tour guide.” - Nick, Long Island, N.Y.
New Orleans Steamboat Co.
The scoop: If jazz cruises on the Mississippi sound like fun, make a beeline for the steamboat Natchez. You can sign up for a 2-hour daytime cruise, with or without lunch ($37-$26, adults) or the nighttime cruise, with or without dinner ($70-$42). Contact: (504) 586-8777; steamboatnatchez.com.
The score: “You should do it at least once in your life. It is one of the only steam-powered paddle-wheelers in the U.S. that’s not docked and being used as a casino.” - Deno, Dallas
The Original New Orleans Movie Tours
The scoop: Snack on popcorn and view clips on the van’s monitors while visiting the actual filming locations. The 2-hour tour is $39 adults; must buy in advance. Contact: (504) 520-9747; (800) 979-3370; nolamovies.com.
The score: “Our tour included a visit to an active movie set. This was the highlight of our trip.” - Ed, San Francisco
PLANTATIONS & SWAMPS
The Old River Road Plantation Adventure
The scoop: This award-winning tour firm’s guides are experts in antebellum life. Each van tour visits two plantations — the iconic Oak Alley Plantation and one other. Tickets are $75 adults. Contact: (504) 671-8687; (866) 671-8687; plantationadventure.com.
The score: “Oak Alley — wow, amazingly beautiful, breathtaking! The Laura is a Creole plantation with a very unique history.” - Jessica, Manhattan, N.Y.
Cajun Encounters Tour Co.
The scoop: Besides the Plantation Tour to the Laura and Oak Alley mansions ($79 adults), there are combo tours that pair plantations with either a swamp, city and/or cemetery ($120 adults). Contact: (504) 834-1770; (866) 928-6877; cajunencounters.com.
The score: “We [took the] plantation tour in the morning and a swamp tour in the afternoon. Very knowledgeable tour guides, and we saw alligators!” - Tiffany, Newark, N.J.
Jean Lafitte Swamp & Airboat Tours
The scoop: Cajun guides explore the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve daily by boat. Ticket price for the 1.5-hour tours depends on whether you drive or require transportation to and from the park. Swamp boat, $25-$39 adults; airboats, $54-$90. Contact: (504) 689-4186; jeanlafitteswamptour.com.
The score: “We [took] the speed boats, which was more fun.” - Emmie, Milpitas, Calif.
Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour
The scoop: These 2-hour boat tours in the pristine Honey Island Swamp are led by native guides daily; $23 adults; reservations required. Transportation ($22 extra) is available to and from New Orleans hotels. Contact: (985) 641-1769; honeyislandswamp.com.
The score: “ We saw gators, owls, blue herons and turtles. Cool experience!” - Kate, Chicago.