Lafayette is an American hidden gem. This Louisiana city and its surrounding small towns are in the heart of Cajun and Creole Country; rich in unique Zydeco music, flavorful cuisine, and warm hospitality. We just returned from an epic road trip exploring the many things to do in Lafayette, Louisiana, and we left wishing we could have stayed longer!
Whether you’re exploring the city of Lafayette or the surrounding areas, you’ll find a wealth of attractions in Lafayette. From its multicultural heritage to the outdoor adventures in bayous and swamps, I think there’s something for everyone in this special corner of southern Louisiana. Here’s my travel guide to visiting Lafayette + the important tips and things to know. ★ Look out for the ★ for my top recommendations!
I. Understanding the Region of Lafayette, Louisiana
Lafayette City is home to a thriving arts community with several music venues that showcase local talent. You can easily base yourself here as a launching pad. OR!
Lafayette’s surrounding towns offer a unique glimpse into the traditional way of life in rural Louisiana. Many of these communities have been around for centuries and have retained their strong sense of cultural traditions. Some top towns include Breaux Bridge, Arnaudville, New Iberia, and Opelousas.
II. Understanding Lafayette’s Cajun & Acadian Cultural Heritage
You’ll hear the terms Acadiana, Cajun, and Creole a lot. But what do they mean? And what’s the difference? Here’s a quick and easy breakdown!
Cajun Culture in Louisiana
Cajun culture is a rich and vibrant part of the fabric of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region of the United States. It is a blend of West African, Native American, French, and French-Canadian influences that developed over the centuries. Cajun culture is most famously recognized for its unique Cajun music and spicier cuisine.
It’s also important to note, as a local historian told us, a lot of Cajun history-telling often tries to be more Euro-centric, undervaluing the significant influence of Black and indigenous roots. For instance, the emblematic Tabasco sauce’s pepper? It came from Mexico! Gumbo, etouffee, and jambalaya are actually variations of West African dishes like jollof rice and eja odo.
Acadian Culture in Louisiana
Acadians are French descendants who settled in the region now known as Nova Scotia, Canada, in the 1600s. By the mid-1700s, many Acadians were forcibly removed from their homes by the British and dispersed throughout the British colonies, including present-day Louisiana. This event is known as the “Great Upheaval,” or “Le Grand Dérangement,” and it had a significant impact on the development of Acadian culture in Louisiana.
Distinctly, Acadiana refers to the region of Southern Louisiana, which comprises 22 counties (parishes), including Lafayette.
Cajun vs. Creole Culture in Louisiana
Cajun and Creole cultures are both rooted in the history and traditions of Louisiana, but they have some distinctions.
- Louisiana’s Creole culture is associated with the descendants of the earlier French and Spanish invasions and mixed with significant Native American and West African heritage. Creole culture tends to have more cosmopolitan and urban contributions.
- Louisiana’s Creole is also not to be confused with other types of creole definitions like Haitian Creole (language).
- Cajun culture distinctly also includes the heritage of the descendants of French-speaking Acadians who were exiled from Nova Scotia and moved to southern Louisiana.
While Cajun and Creole cultures have some differences, they have also influenced each other over the years and share many common elements.
III. Best Things to Do in Lafayette, Louisiana
Now that you have some background on the area, here are the best things to do in Lafayette, Louisiana + surrounding region. The star ★ means it’s one of our top recommendations!
1. Vermillionville Historic Village ★
Vermilionville is a historic village located in Lafayette, Louisiana, that celebrates the French-Acadian, Black, and Native American cultural heritage of the region. The village features a number of historic buildings that have been restored to their original appearance, including a blacksmith shop, a general store, and a schoolhouse. The village also has a gift shop and restaurant, where visitors can purchase souvenirs or grab a bite. We loved chatting with the historians at Vermilionville, who provided their insightful interpretations about the history of the region.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the village, attend workshops and demonstrations, and even participate in traditional music and dance performances. Book a guided tour here for just $11!
2. Live Zydeco & Creole Music ★
Lafayette has a rich musical history evolving from centuries of West African/Creole and Cajun settlers. Zydeco is a special southwest Louisiana genre, blending many forms of music: rhythm, traditional blues, Creole, R&B, jazz, gospel, and even Native American roots. Zydeco ensembles typically include washboards, accordions, guitars, percussion instruments, and keyboards.
Creole music can be traced to the early 1800s, including folk songs that originated from the slavery plantations across the south. The fiddle plays a big part in this style and embodies the African syncopated rhythms of the millions of enslaved people across the South.
Places for listening to Zydeco and Creole Music in Lafayette:
- Blue Moon Saloon: Located on the back porch of the Blue Moon Guesthouse, this is a premier venue for live Zydeco music, with dancing drinks.
- Artmosphere: This bar offers a nice stage and dancing space. You can dance with locals and learn some new steps!
- Brass Room: This black-owned dance and nightclub hosts late-night live Jazz shows with events posted on their Facebook.
- Hideaway on Lee: One of the newer musical venues in the area, with a full kitchen, two bars, and live entertainment from different local artists.
- Buck and Johnny’s Breakfast: They serve traditional Cajun breakfasts. And bonus points for the diversity in this spot (not just in the musicians but the locals)!
3. NUNU Arts & Culture Collective ★
Nunu Arts and Culture Collective in Arnaudville, Louisiana, is a special organization offering artists a space to create and showcase their art. This is a must-visit spot for art and culture enthusiasts. They feature a diverse array of artwork by local painters, sculptors, weavers, and more. But the best part? The artist community here! They were lovely to meet and connect with.
The collective also hosts various cultural events and workshops throughout the year, such as music and dance performances. Visitors can also take part in hands-on art-making workshops.
4. Visit Avery Island + TABASCO® Museum ★
Lousiana is the birthplace of the world-famous pepper sauce, made right at the TABASCO® plantation on Avery Island. By taking a self-guided tour of the TABASCO® Museum ($16 per person), you can take a deeper look into how the sauce is made from seed to table and learn about the MchIlhenny family that founded it. Don’t forget to sample some delicious Cajun dishes paired with TABASCO® sauce at restaurant 1868, right onsite.
The museum and factory are located on Avery Island, which is a natural wildlife sanctuary set on top of a fertile salt dome, with a fascinating ecosystem. The island is full of lush subtropical forests and flora, open for separate tours of attractions such as Jungle Gardens (listed below).
5. Jungle Gardens ★
Also on the beautiful Avery Island, Jungle Gardens is a stunning attraction for nature lovers that can be paired with your TABASCO® Museum tour. Jungle Gardens was founded by Edward Avery, an arctic explorer, conservationist, and naturalist. In 1895, he founded Bird City to protect the then endangered Snowy Egrets. In the 1920s, he converted his estate into Jungle Gardens, inviting the public to experience and appreciate the exotic beauty of Avery Island, expanding into 170 acres of tourist land. The favorite attractions include the Budda Statue, wildlife watching, the Monsurat tribute (the largest alligator taken from Avery Island), and the oldest bamboo groove in the country. Guided botanical and historical tours are available by reservation, but self-guided tours are available Monday through Sunday.
You can either walk the 3-mile trail or comfortably drive around Jungle Gardens. Please do not feed the alligators. With everything it has to offer and the surrounding area, Avery Island can easily be one of the best day trips from New Orleans.
6. Atchafalaya Basin ★
The Atchafalaya Basin is the country’s largest river swamp, surrounded by nearly one million acres of wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests–larger than the Florida Everglades! The beauty of this area is the conversion of the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico, creating a home for 65 species of reptiles and amphibians, 250 bird species, and the largest nesting area for bald eagles in the region. The basin is so full of life fishermen harvest nearly 22 million pounds of crawfish every year!
McGee’s Landing offers exceptional swamp and airboat tours in the Atchafalaya Basin, narrating the colorful history of one of the country’s most infamous swamps. This company has a reputation for being more eco-friendly.
Personally, I’d recommend the slow boat tour over the airboats. Especially if it’s below 70 degrees or if you’re sensitive to the strong winds and loud noises, as the airboats can be intense. I had a blanket, ear muffs, a hat, and two layers of jackets, and the airboats still felt uncomfortable for me but my travel mate loved it. The planned stops were a sweet reprieve! In addition to learning about the local wildlife, connecting with my guide to chat about all things local living was my favorite part of the tour.
- This tour operator offers guided photo tours that look pretty epic! If you’re not afraid of canoeing, check them out.
- Photo Tour of the Giant trees of the Atchafalaya ★
- Book The Atchafalaya Experience Tour–
- $50 Adults, $25.00 Children
- Atchafalaya Wilderness Airboat Swamp Tour
- $55 Adults; $39.00 Children
Please note: The Atchafalaya Basin is not to be confused with the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge. The Atchafalaya Refuge is North America’s largest river swamp extending beyond Cajun Country and into the Mississippi, with over 15,000 acres of swampland, bayous, bottomland hardwood forests, and moss-laden cypress forests.
7. Hillard Art Museum
The Paul and Lulu Hillard Univerisity Art Museum (The Hillard Museum) is a catalyst connecting the community with art and education. Located at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, this art museum encourages visitors to explore and create in addition to admiring displayed works of art. They welcome aspiring artists to sketch in galleries (pencils only) and seasoned artists to discuss their featured work. Visitors with children will love the hands-on activities that allow young art lovers to express their creativity. The museum is only open Tuesday to Saturday, with easy transportation by bus or car and parking available behind the A. Hays Town Building.
8. Swamp Tour in Lake Martin Rookery ★
Lake Martin is a popular location for swamp tours, only minutes from Lafayette and with plenty of opportunities to spot local wildlife. This area is an avid nesting ground for alligators and a rookery for water birds such as the Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, and Roseate Spoonbill. Touring this lake by the water is an amazing experience, but you may have to look closely to spot alligators who camouflage on the swampy shores. You can book a Lake Martin Rookery: Cajun Country Swamp Tour ($25.00 per person) for a non-commercial swamp tour that is more than just a boat ride. The tours are conducted on environmentally friendly Cajun crawfish boats that won’t harm or disturb the local wildlife.
9. Le Museé De Kaplan
Kaplan is a city in Vermilion Parish about 40 minutes south of Lafayette, known as the “Gateway to Acadiana’s Coastal Wetlands.” The early town started off as a tent city in the middle of Cajun Country, formerly part of a large plantation, until the Southern Pacific Railroad finally came through. Le Museé De Kaplan is a themed museum that dives into the history and culture of Kaplan and the people who made the city the rich musical and culinary destination it is today. Visitors can explore permanent exhibits of photographs and artifacts demonstrating the life of the early settlers in the 1900s. You can also attend quarterly art shows showcasing pieces from local artists and the popular Coffee and Music event held the last Saturday of every month from March through October.
10. Take a Cajun Food Tour
Cajun food is a captivating mix of Native American, West African, Spanish, and French influences. These cultures blended over time–incorporating seafood found in the Gulf and bayous along the Mississippi–resulting in unique dishes iconic to the lower South.
Cajun food is famous for its one-pot cooking style, using a variety of seafood, meats, rice, vegetables, and spices. A great way to experience authentic Cajun cuisine is to take a food tour that will allow you to taste Cajun flavors while learning more about the cultures that developed these dishes. You can try this Cajun Food Bus Tour ($79 per person) to sample iconic Cajun dishes, including boudin, gumbo, etouffee, and more local favorites.
11. Acadian Cultural Center
The Acadian Culture Center is one of six sites part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, all of which explore the rich culture and history of the area. The cultural center has permanent and specialty exhibits visitors can pursue with artifacts and historical materials. Rangers can teach you about the Acadian culture, language, and customs and how this group eventually became the Louisiana Cajuns. Additionally, visitors can join the Cajun Dulcimer Society on the first Saturday of every month to experience authentic Cajun music, folk songs, and hymns–bring your own acoustic instrument if you want to join! The Acadian Culture Center is located just minutes from the Vermillionville Historical Village.
12. Visit Cypress Lake
Cypress Lake is a gorgeous 2-acre swamp at the heart of the University of Louisiana that originated from a prehistoric bison wallow. Flooding during WWII turned this former grove of trees into a water reserve saved to put out fires in the case of air attacks. Since then, alligators, turtles, bullfrogs, birds, and hundreds of fish species have made a home among the moss-draped cypress trees. There are no boat tours through these parts, which makes for a quiet and serene walk for visitors and students on campus. If visiting on the weekdays or while classes are in session, you may have to pay for parking. Early evenings, weekends, and during school breaks are the best times to visit.
13. Visit the Lafayette Farmers and Artisan Market
The Lafayette Farmers and Artisan Market is open every Saturday, rain or shine, and is located at the breathtaking Horse Farm, also known as Moncus Park. For 100 years, the land has been used for agricultural and educational purposes as a part of the Unversity of Louisiana. Transformed into a world-class park in 2005, visitors can now peruse fresh produce, hot food, local art, desserts, and more. Sales go back to the Acadian community and support local growth.
14. Bayou Teche Brewing
Bayou Teche Brewing & Beer Garden in Arnaudville is an easy stop between your Lafayette travels. Their foundation was built on crafting beers and dishes that complement the Cajun and Creole cultures of the lower South, with live music on the weekends.
Guests can enjoy a fresh draft or bottled beer in the Tap Room or Beer Garden, Thursdays through Sundays. Grab a bite to eat at their Cajun Sauver Pizza, offering Neapolitan-style, wood-fired pizzas on the same days the brewery is open but with different hours. Bayou Tech Brewing is family-friendly and dog-friendly and offers brewery tours to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process.
15. Go Shopping in Breaux Bridge ★
Breaux Bridge offers several unique shops and boutiques, where visitors can find handmade crafts, souvenirs, and local delicacies. The town is also home to several antique shops and boutiques that are filled with a wide variety of vintage and antique items such as furniture, jewelry, and collectibles. Visitors can find unique items from various periods and styles, from Victorian and Edwardian to Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern.
16. Buck & Johnny’s Zydeco Breakfast ★
Set your alarms early on Saturday morning for Buck & Johnny’s Zydeco Breakfast in Breaux Bridge. This culturally meaningful restaurant hosts hundreds of people for an early breakfast with live Zydeco music. Enjoy a Cajun breakfast while listening to traditional Lafayette tunes and learning some new dance moves. We also loved to see the diversity in both the clientele and musicians!
17. Go Kayaking
If you’re brave and experienced, you can kayak through the bayous of Louisiana to spot cypress forests, alligators, and other Southen wildlife. Pack & Paddle offers canoeing, backpacking, kayaking, fishing, and more. Hikers can choose from different routes: Waterfall Hike at Clark Creek, Hiking the Backbone, and a 4-day Backpacking Tour to Eagle Rock. Their experiences include swamp tours, bayou brewery tours, and even photography tours.
18. Jefferson Island
Jefferson Island was named after the former actor Joseph Jefferson, who made more than 4,500 appearances as Rip Van Winkle on stage in his lifetime. Jefferson built a hunting lodge on the island in 1870, which now serves as a tourist destination for visitors to Lafayette and surrounding areas. Located on the island is the Joseph Jefferson Mansion, surrounded by 350-year-old oak trees and full of period paintings, French and American antiques, and family heirlooms. You can tour both the house and the Rip Van Winkle gardens on the property. Jefferson Island is also home to more than 260 species of birds that migrate and nest at Rip’s Rookery, particularly the Spoonbill Roseate.
20. Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia
Hosted by the Iberia African American Historical Society (IAAHS), Shadows-on-the-Teche is a former working sugar cane plantation spanning over 3,750 square feet of historical grounds. Built in 1834, the property enslaved hundreds of individuals whose stories shaped the history and legacy of the plantation. Visits to the house and gardens will explore the stories of the enslaved members, the workings of the plantation, and the American Indians who settled in the Bayou lands before its time.
Group tours are available to explore a deeper history of the home and property, and food and beverage tours are also available to extend your stay. You can also check out their full schedule of events, including book signings, arts and craft fairs, and painting competitions.
21. Go on a Hike Near Lafayette
Here are some of the top hiking trails in Lafayette, Louisiana. Please do not feed alligators if you see them. Here’s why.
- Lake Martin Levee Trail– Located right on the Cypress Island Reserve near Breaux Bridge, this route is an easy 5.2-mile loop that takes about 1hr and 30 mins to complete. This is a great trail for bird watching but can be subject to closures due to alligator nesting.
- Moncus Park Trail- Easy Hike– This is the perfect, easy hike for a quick bout into nature, only 0.9 miles out-and-back and taking 17 minutes to complete. Popular among bird watchers and fishermen, the trail can get busy and hot with zero shade but provides plenty of water stations for hikers and pets.
- Girard Park Outer Loop– Girard Park is a beautiful historic park in the Downtown area, minutes from the University of Louisiana. The Outer Loop takes about 23 minutes to complete the easy 1.3-mile hike. (Note: Parking may be limited when the park has large festivals throughout the year)
- South to North Landing Trail: This moderately challenging 8.3-mile out-and-back hike is set near Ville Platte, taking about 2h and 50 minutes to complete. You can catch beautiful views of Lake Chicot along the trail, but some spots get a little uneven due to elevated roots.
22. Get a Tour by Jay Steiner ★
Jay Steiner is one of the most beloved tour guides in Lafayette. He works as a blacksmith in Vermillionville, a city tour guide, and a trivia master at Hideaway on Lee. So you can meet him in Vermillionville for history or through Cajun Food Tours for food. On the Cajun Food Tour, you can hop on a bus to 5 different locally owned Cajun eateries and learn all about the history of the culture while sampling fabulous dishes. Bonus fun fact: We heard that Jay also speaks fluent Mexican Spanish!
23. LARC’s Acadian Village
LARC’s Acadian Village is a living museum preserving 19th-century Cajun Life. The early Acadian heritage is a vital part of the culture of Lafayette. The grounds span nearly 32 acres and recreate a typical 1800s Cajun village with a bayou running through the heart. Visitors can tour eleven buildings, seven of which are authentic 19th-century homes donated by local families, moved piece by piece, and restored for the village. Self-guided tours range from $5 to $10 from Monday to Saturday, except during December when the village is open every night for their annual Christmas light event: Noel Acadien.
24. Visit Acadiana Center for the Arts
Acadiana Center for the Arts (AcA) is a nonprofit organization created to foster Acadian art and culture. You can start by perusing the galleries and exhibitions featuring new and traditional artwork from local and national creators. Next, catch one of many live performances at the theatre, which offers multiple music genres, comedy shows, and visual arts performances. You can take a break at the AcA Café with specialty crafted coffees and espressos.
The AcA plays an essential role in the community, serving as the anchor of the Lafayette ArtWalk. This event takes place the second Saturday of every month Downtown, showcasing multiple museums and independent galleries promoting Acadian art across the city.
25. Secret Supper Events at Maison Madeleine
Located on Lake Martin, Maison Madeline is a Bed & Breakfast that hosts Secret Suppers Series for food and music lovers. Our dinner took place inside a renovated 1840s French Creole cottage surrounded by the Southern wilderness. Dinner guests are provided with a curated menu of Southern dishes prepared by award-nominated chefs. GRAMMY-nominated musicians accompany these meals.
We were primarily drawn to this experience to connect with other locals in an intimate setting over food and music. We appreciated the concept, the host’s personalized efforts, the beautiful grounds, the Cajun music, and that each experience will be uniquely distinct.
26. Visit a Bar or a Pub
There’s nothing like a craft beer made with locally sourced ingredients made specifically to pair with the unique seasonings of Southern dishes. Around Lafayette, there are more than a few noteworthy bars and pubs both Downtown and just right outside the city that are perfect stops in between other attractions:
- Parish Brewing: Only a short 15-minute drive south of Lafayette, this brewery is in the heart of Cajun Country with the simple goal of making amazing craft beers. You can visit the colorful taproom and try a mix of ales, pilsners, and sour beers.
- Jefferson Street Pub: This pub offers a full menu, 30 beers on tap, cocktails, and lively nightlife. All menu and business hour updates are posted on the pub’s Facebook page, along with events they host throughout the week, like comedy shows and live music.
- The Wurst Biergarten: This establishment is Louisiana’s first family and dog-friendly, open-air beer garden! They feature local and regional craft beers, local kombucha, seasonal options, and a host of food trucks.
27. Lafayette Science Museum
The Lafayette Science Museum is a great stop to add to your Downtown Lafayette itinerary, set right next to the Children’s Museum of Acadiana, down the street from the Acadiana Center for the Arts, and in walking distance of several restaurants. This museum is playful and interactive, with tons of lively exhibits exploring marine biology, paleontology, space, geology, and more. On the second floor of the museum is an all-digital planetarium with videos of real-time space and other stellar playbacks of the night sky. You can visit the museum from Thursday to Sunday, and admission prices are a bargain for the amount of entertainment you receive.
Where to Eat in Lafayette, Louisiana
- Spoonbill Watering Hole ★: Hands down, our FAVORITE restaurant in Lafayette. There was not a single plate we didn’t enjoy, from the seafood to the salads. The cuisine served is a mix of traditional Southern dishes of the Gulf area.
- Vestal ★: This cocktail bar/steak restaurant offers a cool atmosphere and ambiance with all types of plates. The prices are higher, so if you’re on a budget, I recommend sharing plates to try more for less.
- The Little Big Cup: If it’s warm, guests can sit outside to have gorgeous water views. Ask for the lower deck seating. Almost all of the dishes are heavy or fried, so if you’re traveling with health sensitivities like me, then I recommend this place as a spot to share small bites with friends in between adventures.
- Scratch Kitchen: Farm-to-table cuisine created by produce from local farmers with breakfast and lunch options. Located in Downtown Lafayette.
- Pop’s Poboys: This restaurant has many po’boy options, both classic and unique twists on Lousiana’s favorite sandwich. Wonderful casual eatery in a hip-cafe setting.
- Prejean’s Restaurant Carencro: We kept hearing they have some of the best gumbo in town.
Where to Stay in Lafayette, Louisiana + Area
- The Potter’s Cottage: This peaceful and serene cottage is run by a local pottery artist.
- Springhill Suites by Marriot: Springhill Suites by Marriott is a newly renovated hotel close to many attractions in the area. They provide a daily hot breakfast buffet, an outdoor pool, and easy access to travel around the city, set less than 5 miles from the train. You can choose one of two suites: King or Two-Queen, both with modern amenities and warm decor.
- Maison Madeleine: Maison Madeleine is a bed and breakfast in the heart of Lake Martin. It’s built within an 1840s French Creole cottage–listed on the National Register of Historic Places–and is one of less than 50 surviving 19th Century structures in the area.
Our Other Louisiana Travel Guides
Lafayette is only 2 hours from New Orleans. So if you’re visiting Lafayette as a day trip from NOLA, consider staying in one of these cute boutique hotels in New Orleans. And don’t miss our other Louisiana travel guides:
- Fun & Unique Things to Do in New Orleans for Culture & History
- Best Museums in New Orleans + Hidden Gems
- Most Stunning Boutique Hotels in New Orleans
- Fun & Easy Day Trips from New Orleans
- New Orleans Itinerary