When it comes to the spooky, the otherworldly, and the bizarre, there are few states in the US that can hold a candle to Louisiana. This fascinating and intriguing southern state is most famous for New Orleans, the jazz and voodoo capital of the country, but there are plenty of unusual and off-the-beaten-track attractions across the length and breadth of the state.
Full of odd and alternative places to visit and things to see, almost everywhere in Louisiana has a macabre story to tell. The home of Atakapa, Caddo, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma, Natchez, and Tunica tribes for thousands of years, the area was colonized by the French in 1682.
It has had a troubled past, with numerous wars being fought over its territory and control being passed around between the French, Spanish, and British empires, and it became the 18th state of the Union in 1812 with the Louisiana Purchase.
Part of the reason Louisiana is so full of the unusual and the macabre is its long history of slavery. From the first French arrivals to the Civil War, slavery played a huge part in the story of Louisiana. This has contributed to the focus on death and voodoo that the state is infamous for and plays a large part in many of the myths and legends associated with places and events all across Louisiana.
From roadside attractions and voodoo museums to haunted plantations and mysterious cemeteries, Louisiana is bursting with the peculiar and the unnatural and is the perfect destination for adventurous travelers looking for alternative experiences.
Here are some of the best, weirdest, and creepiest attractions to discover in Louisiana.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
A visit to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without learning a little about the city’s dark past and its associations with voodoo. If you are cruising from New Orleans and want to explore the macabre side of the city, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, which is dedicated to the history and beliefs of this fascinating religion, is the perfect place to start.
Located in the heart of the historic and beautiful French Quarter, the museum was once the home of the (in)famous voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. It currently houses a stunning and occasionally spine-tingling collection of artifacts, books, and other paraphernalia associated with voodoo.
Regular tours are offered of the house and the museum, and there are even workshops and classes on the deeper mysteries of voodoo, for the bravest of visitors!
Jazzland was once a thriving theme park in New Orleans, built on the site of the old Six Flags park and opened in 2000. The park was dedicated to the pulsating, vibrant history of jazz that makes the Big Easy such an exciting city to visit.
However, the park was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and never reopened.
These days it is almost entirely underwater, with rides and buildings poking out of the brackish swamp, and is a tremendously eerie and atmospheric place. Visits can be challenging, but it is an amazing place for urban exploration and modern ruin photography.
Marie Laveau’s Tomb
The history of New Orleans is intertwined with the history of voodoo, and there is no figure in the history of voodoo more prominent or more important than Marie Laveau. This powerful, famous, yet ultimately mysterious woman exerts a powerful influence on the perception of New Orleans, and remains revered and almost worshipped to this day.
Not a lot is known for certain about her life or her death, but her final resting place is a must-visit for tourists, amateur occultists, and anyone interested in voodoo. Her tomb lies in St. Louis Cemetery No.1, and although some scholars have cast doubt on whether her body is genuinely inside the atmospheric mausoleum, it is a great place to visit.
Believers still visit the grave and mark it with an X, in the hope that Marie’s influence extends beyond the veil and she will grant them a wish, although this practice doesn’t seem to conflate with any known voodoo practice.
Even if this macabre and intriguing tomb holds no interest, New Orleans’ gorgeous cemeteries are a fantastic attraction all by themselves, thanks to the intricate centuries-old tombstones and characteristic above-ground internment.
The Singing Oak
For an altogether different experience, head to New Orleans City Park to discover the Singing Oak, one of the most charming and relaxing auditory art installations you are likely to discover anywhere. This 300-year-old live oak tree is carefully hung with wind chimes, which means the tree ‘sings’ at different tones at different times of the day.
The soft, magical sound creates a wonderfully relaxing ambiance and makes sitting under the branches of the tree an exquisite way to get away from the faster pace of city life.
As with so many places in New Orleans, the tree was once used for voodoo ceremonies, but these days it is pure peace and tranquility.
Honey Island Swamp
Journeying beyond the city limits of New Orleans opens up a whole range of different, yet no less amazing and unusual experiences for the adventurous traveler.
The first port of call for explorers should be Honey Island Swamp, a 40-mile-long stretch of wetlands just outside of the city, which is a haven for alligators, water moccasins, all manner of birdlife, and nutrias.
However, the most fascinating aspect of Honey Island Swamp is one of its more fantastical purported residences. Legend says that the swamp is home to a mysterious, ape-like creature with gray fur and bright yellow eyes.
Some tellings of the myth claim that it is the offspring of an unnatural coupling between a local alligator and a chimpanzee that escaped from a nearby zoo! No confirmed sightings have ever been reported, even by the most dedicated cryptozoologists, but numerous wild animals have been found mangled and mutilated, supposedly victims of this otherworldly creature.
Regardless of your feelings about US monster lore, a tour through the swamp is a delightful experience. It is also a superb chance to understand a little more about the Cajun way of life, as almost all of the local tour guides grew up in communities next to the bayou and are more than happy to regale you with tales of their upbringing, traditions, and culture.
Fort Proctor might look like some sort of Arthurian ruin, but it is actually a 19th-century fortification designed to protect the Louisiana coastline and New Orleans from maritime attacks.
Despite its ruined appearance, crumbling into the swamp on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, it never actually saw action in either the War of 1812 or the Civil War. It was completed too late to play a part in the former, and hurricane damage saw it abandoned just before the latter began.
These days visitors can take a kayak tour and paddle around the fortifications, which is a wonderful way to get up close and personal with the history of the place.
Abita Mystery House
Standing like some sort of monument to American roadside kitsch, the Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs is one of the most eccentric attractions that Louisiana has to offer. It is essentially a life-size cabinet of curiosities, filled with all kinds of oddities and weird artifacts, from two-headed calves to shrunken heads.
Originally built by John Preeble, a Louisiana artist, as somewhere to store his expanding collection of outlandish items after it outgrew his own living quarters. These days visitors can explore the house and the collection for a fascinating insight into the mind of a collector.
Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum
Rogues, rascals, and even straight-up villains occupy an interesting and slightly unusual space in the collective imagination of American folklore. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two of the most famous and most beloved outlaws ever to have run riot in the US, met their fate in an ambush in Gibsland, Louisiana, and this museum is dedicated to them.
Telling their story through a collection of artifacts related to Bonnie and Clyde (including the car they were killed in and Bonnie’s red hat), this is a uniquely American attraction, and well worth a visit.
English country gardens are famous the world over, but you’ve probably never heard of a Louisiana swamp garden! Jungle Gardens, located on Avery Island next to the Tabasco factory, are the only example of their kind in the world, a surprisingly beautiful and carefully curated bayou garden, and bird sanctuary.
The gardens were originally built by Edward McIllhenny, the son of the inventor of Tabasco sauce, as a private wildlife preserve on his own land, and were opened to the wider public in 1935. The gardens are home to egrets, herons, and ibises among other bird species, as well as alligators and turtles. A self-guided tour takes you through the charming natural beauty, past a 9-century-old statue of Buddha, and a butterfly house.
The Tabasco factory next door is also open to the public and is well worth a visit if your tastes run to the hotter side of life!
Rayne Frog Festival
The title of Frog Capital of the World might not be the most highly contested accolade around, but it is one that the citizens of Rayne, Louisiana are mighty proud of. Every year in April, the city of Rayne plays host to the Rayne Frog Festival, an eccentric but incredibly exciting event dedicated to the consumption of frogs.
The Festival features a frog legs eating competition, as well as a frog-themed parade, and an excellent carnival full of rides, all of which are, you guessed it, frog-themed.
Touchstone Wildlife & Art Museum
One of the least-known attractions in the whole of Louisiana, this fascinating museum located just outside Shreveport is a real secret jewel. Dedicated to the ‘preservation’ of wildlife as art, it features a collection of over 1,000 taxidermied animals, as well as a delightful gallery of artworks by local artists.
As mentioned earlier, slavery is sadly a large part of the history and heritage of Louisiana. This is most starkly demonstrated by the many historic plantations scattered around the state, most of which are architecturally stunning if tragic in atmosphere.
Many of the former plantations offer tours, but Myrtles Plantation is unique, as it is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the United States. A visit to this site is a must for anyone with an interest in the supernatural, and ghost hunters, occultists, and casual visitors alike have all reported spooky sightings.
One of the most infamous ghosts that haunt the grounds is Chloe, a slave girl who was murdered by her owners after she was caught eavesdropping on their conversations. Sightings of Chloe have even been caught on camera on various occasions.
Bonfires on the Levee
If you are lucky enough to be spending the holiday season in Louisiana then a visit to St. James Parish for Christmas Eve is absolutely mandatory. The local festive traditions of this Cajun community are truly mindblowing, a month-long preparation culminating in an explosive denouement on the night before Christmas.
Throughout December, residents of the parish build bonfires along the levee, traditionally in the shape of a pyramid, but more recently in a variety of shapes and sizes that reflect current affairs or pop culture.
One of these bonfires is lit every night until Christmas Eve, when they are all packed with fireworks and set on fire, all at once. This explosion of fire, lights, and noise illuminates the night sky for miles around and makes for a truly remarkable and somewhat pagan backdrop for the arrival of Papa Noel, the Cajun Father Christmas, on his sleigh pulled by alligators. This marks the beginning of Christmas and is a truly unique experience.
All too often when travelers think of Louisiana they only consider New Orleans and its main attractions. And the Big Easy is undoubtedly an incredible place to visit. But sticking to the main tourist trail and avoiding the more unusual sights and experiences, both in the city and further afield, misses the point of this fantastic state.
Louisiana is bursting with weird attractions, bizarre traditions, and fascinating, unique cultural experiences, and it is well worth going beyond the normal to find what truly makes this state special.
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