Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River is Baton Rouge, Louisiana‘s capital and the second-largest city in the state. It may not be as famous (and notorious) as its neighbor New Orleans, but Baton Rouge has spunk and soul all its own.
This city has a rich history that includes everything from pirates and civil war battles to voodoo queens and oil booms. Plus, there’s a museum for just about everything here!
Visit the LSU Rural Life Museum to learn about the state’s agricultural past, or check out the Old State Capitol to see where former Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long made his famous “Share the Wealth” speech. For a more hands-on experience, take a tour of the USS Kidd & Veterans Museum to learn about World War II naval history.
Baton Rouge is also a fantastic place for nature lovers. The city is home to several beautiful parks, such as BREC’s Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center and the LSU Hilltop Arboretum. And, of course, no visit to Baton Rouge would be complete without taking a leisurely stroll along the Riverfront.
Plus, it’s worth a trip to Baton Rouge just for the food alone! Cajun and Creole cuisine is king, and you’ll find some of the best gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets in the state here.
And if you want to party or let loose during your stay, the city’s nightlife scene is pretty hopping, too! Check out one of the many clubs and bars for a legendary Baton Rouge night on the town, or head to one of the many live music venues for some toe-tapping good times.
With so much to see and do, it’s hard to know where to start! To help you plan your trip, we gathered the best things to do in Baton Rouge for you. We threw in a bit of everything, from history and culture to food and fun, so you can get a well-rounded taste of everything this great city has to offer.
Fill your Baton Rouge bucket list with all of them or just a few, but definitely don’t leave without checking some of these essential Baton Rouge activities off your list!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Baton Rouge
1. Drop by Louisiana’s Old State Capitol
Rising above the Mississippi River is the Old Louisiana State Capitol, the former home of the state legislature from 1830 to 1932 until the current Art Deco capitol was completed. One look at the Old State Capitol, and you’ll realize how it got its nickname, “The Castle on the River.” Those turrets and towers are pretty distinctive!
The exterior of the building is certainly impressive, but it’s the interior that will really take your breath away. The stained-glass dome and winding spiral staircase are particularly striking. These days, the Old State Capitol is home to the Museum of Political History, where you can learn all about the state’s past.
Take your time exploring the various halls and chambers of the Old State Capitol. It’s amazing to think these are the same halls where famous Louisiana politicians such as Huey P. Long and Earl K. Long once roamed!
Out of all the things to do at the Old State Capitol, the best is undoubtedly the “Ghost of Castle” show. This 12-minute feature stars the spirit of Sarah Morgan. Morgan wrote The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, and she has some pretty interesting stories to share about the Old State Capitol’s past. During this show, you can follow Sarah’s ghost as she tells you all about it.
2. Walk the Decks of the USS Kidd
Stepping aboard the USS Kidd, a WWII-era destroyer, is one of the coolest things to do in Baton Rouge. First, it’s not just a gimmicky replica. It’s one of the most authentically restored battleships on the planet, and the USS Kidd and her brave soldiers fought in some of the biggest naval battles of WWII.
Second, the USS Kidd is moored right in the heart of downtown Baton Rouge, so it’s incredibly convenient to visit. You can even combine your USS Kidd experience with a visit to the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, which is right next door. If you’re planning to ride the free Capitol Park Trolley, the USS Kidd is one of the stops.
Once you’re on board, you can explore the various decks and compartments of the ship. You’ll see the officers’ quarters, the engine room, the sick bay, and more. Pop into the attached museum to see even more authentic WWII artifacts, including a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and scale models of various warships. There’s even a helmet worn by a real-life D-Day infantryman!
3. Go Back In Time at the LSU Rural Life Museum
If you want to get a feel for what life was like in Louisiana back in the 18th and 19th centuries, then you need to pay a visit to the LSU Rural Life Museum. This living history museum is located on the grounds of the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, so it’s already pretty picturesque.
The working plantation section includes several original and replica buildings, including the post office, blacksmith’s shop, overseer’s house, slave cabins, open-hearth kitchen, pigeon coop, and a huge collection of outhouses.
Visit the Folk Architecture section to see even more traditional Louisiana buildings, including a dogtrot house, shotgun house, log barn, log house, and jail. And be sure to check out the Pioneer’s Cabin, which has a potato house and a corn crib.
Plus, you’ll love how friendly the docents are here! They’re always happy to answer any questions you may have and provide some extra insight into life on a plantation.
4. Meet the Animals at the Baton Rouge Zoo
Home tо оvеr 2,000 animals, reptiles, and birds coming from all over the world, the Baton Rouge Zoo is one of the top Baton Rouge attractions for families in our book.
Make a beeline for the Lives of the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit, where you can see cool creatures such as alligators, snakes, turtles, frogs, and otters in their natural habitat. Another great exhibit is Animals of the Asian Forest, where you can meet tigers, red pandas, lemurs, and other amazing creatures.
Visit Monkey Island to see the zoo’s playful primates swing from tree to tree. Be sure to check out the KidsZoo, too. This special section of the zoo is designed specifically for kids 10 and under, and it has a petting barn, hands-on exhibits, a playground, and more.
Picnic spots and snack stands are available throughout the zoo, so you can make a day of it!
5. Peek Into the 19th Century at the Magnolia Mound Plantation
For history and architecture enthusiasts, a visit to the Magnolia Mound Plantation is a must-do in Baton Rouge. This plantation house was built in 1791 and is one of the best-preserved examples of French Colonial architecture in the United States.
Cottages on the property include a kitchen, main house, and carriage house, all of which have been restored to their 19th-century appearance. You’ll also pass by the slave cabin, which is a sobering reminder of the plantation’s brutal history.
Once you’re done exploring the structures, check out the butterfly garden on the beautifully landscaped grounds. Guided tours are available, but if you want to take your time, feel free to wander on your own.
6. Splash, Kayak & Picnic at Greenwood Community Park
The Greenwood Community Park is one of Baton Rouge’s largest parks, and it’s situated in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. With over 1,000 acres of functional land, you’re going to want to spend a whole day here!
There’s something for everyone at Greenwood Community Park. The kids will love splashing around in the sprayground, while the adults can enjoy a game of tennis, disc golf, or softball.
Other outdoor activities include fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and even horseback riding! The park also has an RV campground if you want to make a weekend of it.
And don’t forget to pack a picnic! Greenwood Community Park has several picnic pavilions, as well as grills for you to use.
7. Check Out the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum
Another Baton Rouge bucket list essential, the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum is one of the top museums in the entire state.
Housed in a renovated Art Deco railroad station, the museum has an impressive collection of art, science, and history exhibits. There’s also a massive IMAX theater where you can catch documentaries and educational movies.
The museum is always adding new exhibits, so there’s always something new to see. Recent additions include an exhibit on the Louisiana Purchase and one on the history of Mardi Gras.
Still, it’s the permanent exhibits that will make you want to return! The Solar System Gallery is unforgettable. You get to see actual space images from the Hubble Space Telescope, two interactive space stations, and a large overhead solar system model.
8. Grab a Po’Boy at Poor Boy Lloyd’s
Curious about what presidents love to eat when they’re in Baton Rouge? Head to Poor Boy Lloyd’s, a Baton Rouge institution, to check out where President Barack Obama dined during a trip to Baton Rouge in 2016.
This no-frills eatery has been serving up po’boys since 1922. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, especially if you get the classics like roast beef, shrimp, smoked turkey, and oyster po’boys.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try their alligator sausage po’boy. Either one you choose, you can round out your meal with other house specialties like gumbo, stuffed crab, and jambalaya.
It’s also worth mentioning that Poor Boy Lloyd’s has a full bar, so if you’re in the mood for a cocktail or two, they’ve got you covered.
9. Explore the Attractions at LSU
The vast Louisiana State University campus is located in the southern part of the city and is home to some of the best things to do in Baton Rouge. The grounds are beautiful, with live oaks, rolling hills, and manicured gardens. And within the university’s walls, you’ll find plenty of museums, art galleries, and other attractions.
One of LSU’s main draws is Mike the Tiger, the university’s live Bengal tiger mascot. The current Mike lives like a king, and you can say hi to him at his on-campus habitat.
If you can swing it, visit when there’s a game at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, aka Death Valley. That nickname wasn’t given lightly – this is one of the loudest and most intimidating stadiums in all of college football! Cheering with the locals is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Located on LSU’s Highland Road, the Hilltop Arboretum is a 4-acre park with a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Take in the views of the ravine from the lookout point or explore the tree canopy on one of the many trails.
The arboretum also hosts a number of events throughout the year, including educational programs, concerts, and family-friendly activities, so be sure to check their website before you visit.
10. Shop for Local Goods at the Red Stick Farmers Market
Red Stick Farmers Market is the place to go for fresh, local produce, meats, cheeses, flowers, and more. Plus, you can visit the market and its 100+ vendors any time of the year!
This is where Baton Rouge’s freshest produce is sold. Bring a bag with you, because you’re going to want to buy everything! We’re talking honey just out of the hive, tomatoes plucked from the vine, bread fresh out of the oven – you get the idea!
There’s also a terrific selection of prepared foods, like jam, pickles, sauces, and more. And if you need a break from shopping, there are plenty of food trucks on site serving up authentic Southern delights such as BBQ, beignets, and pralines.
11. Get Your Culture Fix at the Shaw Center for the Arts
Overlooking the Mississippi River, stopping off at the Shaw Center for the Arts is one of the best things to do in Baton Rouge if you need a break from all that sightseeing.
This beautiful building is a multi-purpose facility that houses a museum, art gallery, performance hall, and movie theater. The center also has a rooftop garden with views of the river and downtown Baton Rouge.
Built in 2005, the Shaw Center for the Arts has become a cornerstone of the city’s cultural scene. The facility also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including concerts, theatrical performances, movies, and art exhibitions.
Many of these are free, so don’t forget to check their site before you go!
12. Shop at Quirky Government Street
Strolling down Government Street is one of the most unique things to do in Baton Rouge. The name is quite ironic because this street is anything but stuffy!
This historic downtown thoroughfare is packed with quirky shops, art galleries, antique stores, and more. It’s the perfect place to find a unique souvenir or piece of art to take home with you.
Government Street is also known for its antique shops, including The Market at Circa 1857 and The Pink Elephant Antiques. Stop off in these gems because you never know what you might find!
13. Try Some Boudin Balls at The Chimes
The Chimes is another beloved Baton Rouge institution that’s been serving Louisiana-style comfort food for more than 30 years. You’ll find it just south of downtown Baton Rouge, near the LSU campus.
Everything here is a hit! Definitely order the boudin balls on your first visit, though. It’s one of the tastiest and most unique dishes you’ll try in this city. Boudin balls are balls of rice, pork, and spices that are deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce. The boudin balls at The Chimes are so popular that they’re even sold by the dozen to go.
In addition to boudin balls, The Chimes serves up a variety of other Louisiana classics, including gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp and grits, and red beans and rice.
Remember to enter their “Beer University,” where you can study beers to earn a “degree.” There are different levels, starting with “Freshman” all the way to “Ph.D.!” Expect one tipsy, but tasty, evening.
14. Go Bar Hopping at Historic Third Street
Located in the heart of downtown, spending a night letting loose on Third Street is one of the most fun things to do in Baton Rouge if you’re looking for a lively night out on the town. The street is lined with bars, clubs, and restaurants, many of which are housed in historic buildings. Be sure to bring your camera to take advantage of all the photo ops!
Depending on what kind of experience you’re looking for, you’ve got tons of options on and around historic Third Street. If you’re looking for a place to dance the night away, head to Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s for drinks, dancing, and live music.
For a more laid-back atmosphere, check out Happy’s Irish Pub for a pint on their outdoor patio. The Bengal Tap Room is another Third Street favorite. This bar has a casual atmosphere, with a pool table and darts, plus a taproom with over 40 beers on tap. It’s the perfect place to mix and mingle with your friends!
15. Take a Swamp Tour
Located just outside of Baton Rouge, the Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the United States, and taking a swamp tour is one of the most unique things to do in Baton Rouge.
The Atchafalaya Basin is home to alligators, turtles, snakes, herons, and more. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s an experience you’ll remember forever! You’ll have the chance to cruise through the swamp on an airboat and get up close and personal with some of Louisiana’s most fascinating wildlife.
There are a number of companies that offer swamp tours in the Baton Rouge area. They’ve been doing this for decades, so while the swamp is full of surprises, you can rest assured that you’re in good hands.
Aside from airboats, you can also explore the Atchafalaya Basin on a kayak or canoe. You’ll get an even closer look at the wildlife this way, and it’s a great workout, too!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Baton Rouge. What’s your favorite thing to do in Baton Rouge?
Planning a trip to Louisiana? Check out our favorite NOLA books and travel guides!