Get to know the things to do in Baton Rouge!
There are so many things to do in Baton Rouge. You can celebrate Mardi Gras, eat great food, learn about over three hundred years of history, and so much more. The Capital City of Louisiana has so much to explore. Make sure to take a tour, see a country concert, visit the old or new state capitol, or try some incredible Cajun and Creole dishes! Baton Rouge, Louisiana is an incredible hub of entertainment, history, and culture.
1. Old Louisiana State Capitol
Our first place to explore is the Old State Capitol. The best place to visit here is the museum. Overlooking the Mississippi River is this structure that has fought all odds and is still standing today. Even 165 years later! Some of the exhibits here are the Medicine & Matters of State, one about The Presidential Hopefuls, and Russia and Fake News. Another great thing to check out here is the Ghost of the Castle show. This is about 12 minutes long. It is such an incredibly entertaining and educational show that it has won awards! This is absolutely a top thing to do in Baton Rouge.
In 1846, the state legislature in New Orleans decided to move the seat of government to Baton Rouge. As in many states, representatives from other parts of Louisiana feared a concentration of power in the state’s largest city. In 1840, New Orleans’ population was about 102,000, fourth-largest city in the U.S. The 1840 population of Baton Rouge, on the other hand, was only 2,269. On September 21, 1847, the city of Baton Rouge donated to the state of Louisiana a $20,000 parcel of land for a state capitol building. The land donated by the city for the capitol stands high atop a bluff facing the Mississippi River, a site that some believe was once marked by the red pole, or le baton rouge, which French explorers claimed designated a Native American council meeting site. New York architect James H. Dakin was hired to design the Baton Rouge capitol building, and rather than mimic the national Capitol Building in Washington, as so many other states had done, he conceived a Neo-Gothic medieval-style castle overlooking the Mississippi.
In 1859, the statehouse was featured and favorably described in De Bow’s Review, the most prestigious periodical in the antebellum South. Mark Twain, however, as a steamboat pilot in the 1850s, loathed the sight of it, “It is pathetic … that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things … should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place.” In 1862, during the Civil War, Union Admiral David Farragut captured New Orleans, and the seat of government retreated from Baton Rouge. The Union’s occupying troops first used the capitol building — or “old gray castle,” as it was once described — as a prison, and then to garrison African-American troops under General Culver Grover. While used as a garrison the building caught fire twice. This sequence of events transformed Louisiana’s capitol into an empty, gutted shell abandoned by the Union Army.
By 1882 the statehouse was totally rebuilt by architect and engineer William A. Freret, who is credited with the installation of the spiral staircase and the stained glass dome, which are the interior focal points. The refurbished statehouse remained in use until 1932, when it was abandoned for the new Louisiana State Capitol building. The Old State Capitol has since been used to house Federally-chartered veterans organizations, and as an office of the Works Progress Administration, among other things.Stained glass dome, as seen from the ground floor through the spiral staircase. Restored in the 1990s, the Old State Capitol is now the Museum of Political History. Most recently, the exterior façade has been refurbished with shades of tan stucco, in noticeable contrast to its former gray stone coloring. Numerous events are held there including an annual ball wherein the participants re-enact dances and traditions of French culture while wearing 18th- and 19th-century dress. The museum’s location downtown in Baton Rouge is within walking distance of the current capitol tower and of many culturally significant buildings. These include the Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion, the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, St. Joseph Cathedral, and the widely acclaimed Shaw Center.
In 2010, the Museum of Political History’s visitor experience opened, designed by award-winning Bob Rogers and the design firm BRC Imagination Arts, with attractions and exhibits showcasing the building as an architectural treasure and highlighting historic artifacts. Included is an interactive gallery featuring past state governors including infamous Huey P. Long. A key attraction, The Ghost of the Castle, is a one-of-a-kind multi-dimensional theatrical production, during which visitors come face to face with the ghost of Sarah Morgan Dawson (1842–1909), a young Baton Rouge resident who loved the castle and wrote about it in her book, Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman (originally published in 1913 under a different title). In the roughly 12-minute experience, Sarah’s ghost “conjures the building’s remarkable trials and tribulations through history,” showing “the determination of everyday Louisianans who have saved the castle time and time again.”
September 21, 1847, was the historic day that the City of Baton Rouge donated to the state of Louisiana a $20,000 parcel of land for a state capitol building, taking the seat of the capitol away from the City of New Orleans. The land donated by the city for the capitol building stands high atop a Baton Rouge bluff facing the Mississippi River, a site that some believe was once marked by the red pole, or “le baton rouge,” which French explorers claimed designated a Native American council meeting site. The state house itself is one of the most distinguished examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. Designed by architect James Harrison Dakin, its floorplan, towers, exterior stained glass windows and gables give it the appearance of a 15th-century Gothic Cathedral. Dakin referred to his design as “Castellated Gothic” due to its decoration with cast-iron, which was both cheaper and more durable than other building materials used at the time. The building design was so unusual and distinctive that its romantic, medieval appearance earned the Old Statehouse ridicule from the timelessly famous author, Mark Twain.
In 1862, during the Civil War, Union Admiral David Farragut captured New Orleans and the seat of government retreated from Baton Rouge. The Union troops first used the “old gray castle,” as it was once described, as a prison and then as a garrison for African-American troops under General Culver Grover. While used as a garrison the Old Louisiana State Capitol caught fire twice. This, in turn, transformed the building into an empty, gutted shell abandoned by the Union troops. By 1882 the state house was totally reconstructed by architect and engineer William A. Freret, who is credited with the installation of the spiral staircase and stained glass dome, which are the focal points of the interior. The refurbished state house remained in use until 1932, when it was abandoned for the New State Capitol building. The Old State Capitol Building has since been used to house federally chartered veteran’s organizations, and the seat of the Works Progress Administration. Restored in the 1990s, the former Capitol Building is now a museum.
2. Atchafalaya Basin
Did you know The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest river swamp in our entire nation? The Mississippi River is greatly involved with making up the basin. This Basin is larger than that of the Everglades in Florida, which is shocking considering the attention The Florida Everglades gets! There are over 250 types of birds and 65 types of reptiles and amphibians. Add in the 100 types of fish as well! True to the character of Louisiana, there are about 22 million pounds of crawfish in this Basin. This basin is significant. As a visitor, you need to check out the incredible bridge in order to get the full experience of this Basin.
The Atchafalaya Basin and the surrounding plain of the Atchafalaya River is filled with bayous, bald cypress swamps, and marshes, which give way to brackish estuarine conditions, and end in the Spartina grass marshes where the Atchafalaya River meets the Gulf of Mexico. It includes the Lower Atchafalaya River, Wax Lake Outlet, Atchafalaya Bay, and the Atchafalaya River and bayous Chêne, Boeuf, and Black navigation channel. The Basin, which is susceptible to long periods of deep flooding, is sparsely inhabited. The Basin is about 20 miles (32 km) in width from east to west and 150 miles (240 km) in length. The Basin is the largest existing wetland in the United States with an area of 1,400,000 acres (5,700 km2), including the surrounding swamps outside of the levees that historically were connected to the Basin. The Basin contains nationally significant expanses of bottomland hardwoods, swamplands, bayous, and back-water lakes. The Basin’s thousands of acres of forest and farmland are home to the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus), which has been on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service threatened list since 1992.
The Atchafalaya is different among Louisiana basins because it has a growing delta system (see illustration) with wetlands that are almost stable. The basin contains about 70% forest habitat and about 30% marsh and open water. It contains the largest contiguous block of forested wetlands remaining (about 35%) in the lower Mississippi River valley and the largest block of floodplain forest in the United States. Best known for its iconic cypress-tupelo swamps, at 260,000 acres (110,000 ha), this block of forest represents the largest remaining contiguous tract of coastal cypress in the US. The Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1984 to improve plant communities for endangered and declining species of wildlife, waterfowl, migratory birds and alligators.From 1830 to 1953, the community of Bayou Chene thrived as a center of logging, hunting, trapping, and fishing in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin. Now buried underneath at least twelve feet of silt, Bayou Chene is one of several abandoned communities in the midst of the basin.
The earliest settlers of the Bayou Chene region were the native Chitimacha tribe. Several villages important to the Chitimacha were located around Bayou Chene including the Village of Bones or Namu Katsi and the Cottonwood Village known as Kushuh Namu in the Chitimacha language. One of the earliest written accounts of the Bayou Chene region comes from French explorer C.C. Robin who, while paddling through the Basin in 1803, wrote: “After long sinuosities which form innumerable islands, among which the inexperienced traveler would require the thread of Ariadne in order not to wander forever, the river opens suddenly into a magnificent lake of several leagues extent. The sudden light surprises the traveler and the beauty of the water, set about with tall trees, forms an enchanting sight.” By 1841, between fifteen and twenty families were farming along the banks of “Oak Bayou” or Bayou Chene. The population rose quickly over the next twenty years, as the United States Census of 1860 counted 675 residents in the community. By the 1870s, a majority of those living along Bayou Chene were involved in logging bald cypress, tupelo, and other bottomland hardwoods in the basin.
By the early twentieth century, Bayou Chene was the center of the Atchafalya Basin’s cypress and fur industry and housed many of the 1,000 full-time fisherman who fished the swamp’s shallow bottoms. Writing about her family’s experiences in the region, Gwen Roland describes how the community relied upon the basin’s waters for everything, including transportation. “Out here on the Chene our skiffs flare out on the sides so they float high like an acorn cap; it makes them quick to steer with an extra push on one oar or the other. This skiff floated deep and straight like a water trough or a coffin.” The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 nearly demolished the community. Rising seven feet above natural levees, the floodwaters inundated Bayou Chene for weeks. Local folklore says a village goat survived in the Methodist Church during this period on hymnals and wallpaper.
The Great Depression hit the residents of Bayou Chene hard, but many former residents look fondly on the massive flood control projects promulgated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that provided gainful employment during the period. As a result of the 1927 flood, the entire Atchafalaya Basin was designated an official floodway and a series of man-made levees were built that would permanently alter flooding patterns in the region. Further flooding in 1937 encouraged many residents to move their homes to higher ground, but even these measures were not enough to protect the community from annual flooding. After years of rising waters, the community came to an end with the closing of the United States Post Office at Bayou Chene in 1952. Most of Bayou Chene’s former residents relocated to the fringes of the basin in towns like New Iberia, St. Martinville, and Breaux Bridge. Today, little remains of the swamp community buried underneath the murky waters of the Atchafalaya.
3. Raising Cane’s River Center
This center is a leading entertainment and arts center in Downtown Baton Rouge. This area is for all types of artists to display their abilities. There are so many things to do in walking distance as well, from restaurants to museums to hotels. If you are going to be in Baton Rouge, you will not want to miss seeing a show here. From music to theatre, to even ballet’s, there is always a show to see here. Be sure to check out their events calendar to buy your tickets beforehand!
Explore nature, heritage, and amazing grub in Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge has so much to offer. Many of the things it is known for are its roots in Cajun and Creole heritage. There is so much to do if you want to see wildlife and the great outdoors, or if you want to explore some incredible man-made structures like the old capital building. There are things to do in Baton Rouge for everyone!