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It took me a few visits to warm up to New Orleans. Three, to be exact.
The first time I traveled to The Big Easy, it was a solo trip. And it was a BLAST, to say the least. There was so much to do in New Orleans!
But on that trip, I soaked up the party scene, literally. After, I felt it was a dirty city that had some rough edges.
The second time I visited, was four years later. This time, it was for a work conference and yet again, I was solo. My wild college days were behind me and I took in more of New Orleans’s ‘culture’ on this trip.
Finally, my most recent trip was this past holiday season. It was just for an overnight stop on my way back home to Virginia. My boyfriend (and our two dogs) were with me this time.
Something felt different on this most recent visit. Maybe I was just excited to show him this fun and unique city…
Or maybe, now that I was familiar with the city, I felt confident in visiting. Like visiting an old friend.
New Orleans Travel Guide
Traveling right now is uncertain. Please keep your safety (and the safety of others!) in mind at all times. If you feel comfortable with traveling, do so, but please travel responsibly and follow all regulations. Travel is at your own risk, always, and especially right now.If you do decide to travel at this time, here are my recommendations:
– Wear a face mask.
– Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis.
– Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses.
– Make sure to book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
What to Know Before You Go to New Orleans
Located on the Mississippi River in Louisiana, New Orleans is a melting pot of French, African, and American cultures.
Nicknamed the “Big Easy” and home to the world-famous Mardi Gras celebration, this culturally rich city is so much more than it’s 24/7 nightlife.
Why Visit New Orleans?
- The culture! New Orleans is such a culturally rich city. There is nowhere else in the United States like it! French architecture, southern hospitality, jazz music, and Cajun food… New Orleans is wonderful.
- The food! New Orleans has so many incredible places to eat. From upscale dining such as Bon Ton Café to hole-in-the-wall places such as Hobnobber’s Variety Bar & Restaurant. My favorite dishes are Po’ Boys, Beignets, and of course all the Gumbo I can get my hands on!
- To party! New Orleans is one of the best places in the world to come and party. There are no open-container laws, meaning you can drink in public! There are bars and clubs for every partier, endless cocktails such as Hurricanes and Daiquiris, and plenty of entertainment on Bourbon Street.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
When it comes to where to stay in New Orleans, the French Quarter gets all the attention. My recommendation is to not stay in this area. Especially if you’re hoping to get some sleep!
Instead, here are some of my top recommendations on where to stay in New Orleans:
- Warehouse District is only a few minutes away from the French Quarter and is a very popular place to stay if you’re looking to be close to the action, but not in it.
- Garden District is a gorgeous little neighborhood with stunning parks and museums nearby, plus lots of charming places to eat and drink.
- Magazine Street is my favorite area to stay. The accommodations are reasonable and you’re central to a lot of great attractions. Plus, this neighborhood feels so authentically New Orleans.
Overall, my advice is this: prioritizing what you want to see and do. Then, searching for accommodation that falls within your budget in one of the New Orleans neighborhoods above.
When is the Best Time to Visit New Orleans?
If you want to come during Mardi Gras… Well that’s a whole nother discussion! (For more information about visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras, read this very helpful post from The Blonde Abroad.)
Tip: Mardi Gras isn’t the only festival in New Orleans. Another huge event is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that happens every spring. For more information about events in New Orleans, visit this calendar.
If you don’t want to come during Mardi Gras… My advice is to come during spring or fall. The summer weather can get quite muggy in New Orleans. Make sure you watch for hurricane season as well.
What to Do in New Orleans – 3 Day Itinerary
Day 1 – Explore the French Quarter Neighborhood
Start your trip to New Orleans off on a good note and spend your first day exploring the historic French Quarter. The French Quarter is New Orlean’s cultural heart and is famous for its colorful buildings and cast-iron second-story balconies.
Start with beignets and chicory coffee for breakfast at Café du Monde. Try to get there earlier, cause the line is long, though fast-moving.
After coffee and beignets, explore all that the French Quarter has to offer: historic sites such as Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral, views of the Mississippi River steamboats, and of course: cemetery tours.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite head to the French Market Shops for lunch. Plan time to explore the six-block long shopping area and enjoy all of its delicious eats!
Tip: When it comes to cemetery tours in New Orleans, avoid the tourist trap booking booths. Instead, head to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and pay $20/person to jump on one of their tours with a licensed tour guide registered, more information here.
Night 1 – Let Loose on Bourbon Street
I’m not one to be all about doing the mega-touristy stuff, but I make an exception for New Orleans’s Bourbon Street. It is, in my opinion, one of the best entertainment districts in the world.
Tip: There are a lot of scam artists and vagabonds on Bourbon Street. It’s unfortunate to say, but my advice is don’t stop to talk to strangers on the street. If you can ignore them, you’ll be fine!
When it comes to drinking on Bourbon Street (which is also located in the French Quarter), you will quickly notice every one drinking in public. Don’t judge them, join them!
Here are a few of my “can’t miss” places to drink on Bourbon Street:
- Pat O’Brien’s is the birthplace of the delicious Hurricane rum cocktail.
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar has been open since the 1700s! When you go, order a frozen Bourbon Voodoo Daiquiri
- Golden Lantern is Bourbon Street’s (cash-only) gay bar and offers draft beer, cocktails as well as drag shows, all in a snug, brick-lined space.
Day 2 – Visit New Orleans’s Breweries and Distilleries.
New Orleans has a growing craft beverage scene and you can see some cool parts of the city on day two by visiting them.
If you were out the night before, partying on Bourbon Street, you definitely need some southern food in you to recover. Stop at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater Neighborhood. The menu features southern classics served in a bustling space filled with local art, plus a bar for a little hair of the dog…
Once you’re refueled, head to nearby Parleaux Beer Lab, a funky microbrewery known for their sours, mix fermentations, and fruit beers. To continue on, work your west along the Mississippi River.
Here are some more of my favorite New Orleans Breweries and Distilleries:
- Urban South is a great neighborhood brewery with a long, long list of beers.
- Second Line Brewing is a bit north of the ‘main’ New Orleans area, but is not one to be missed.
- Courtyard Brewery has tons of impressive IPAs.
- Roulaison Distilling Co. for rum!
- Brieux Carré Brewing has a cozy little taproom (and several delicious beers) located right off on Frenchmen Street.
- BONUS! Broad Street Cider is next door to Roulaison Distillery and is 110% worth a visit
For all the details on the breweries and distilleries in New Orleans, visit my brewery guide here.
Night 2 – Listen to Live Jazz on Frenchmen Street.
Right next to Bourbon Street is a little three-block area that very few visitors to New Orleans know about… And it’s my favorite place in the whole city!
Frenchmen Street has several great venues and bars to listen to local Jazz music. A night out here is more relaxed, refined, and how do you say– sophisticated. :)
My favorite bar is hands down the Spotted Cat Music Club. I can’t visit New Orleans without a stop at this charming Jazz club. Here are some other good bars to visit as well:
- Preservation Hall is a historic music venue with a mission to preserve the spirit of New Orleans Jazz.
- Cafe Negril is a funky little spot to come if you’re looking to dance.
- D.b.a is for the craft beer lovers looking for live Jazz in New Orleans.
Day 3 – Get Cultured with New Orleans’s Museums and Gardens
Then head off to central New Orleans and get cultured with the great museums and attractions the city has to offer.
My two favorites are the New Orleans Museum of Art and the neighboring Sydney Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Bonus Things to Do in New Orleans
For beer lovers, find the secret beer stash at the back of Stein Market and Deli on Magazine Street. (above)
See where the floats of Mardi Gras are made with a tour at Mardi Gras World. More information here.
Test your luck with a visit to Harrah’s Casino, a 115,000 sq ft casino with approximately 2,100 slot machines, over 90 table games, and a poker room, plus several places to eat ranging from buffet to upscale options.
Enjoy an afternoon under the oak trees covered with Spanish moss at the 32-acre Louis Armstrong Park.
Situated between Bourbon and Royal Streets in the heart of the French Quarter is the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, a small museum dedicated entirely to the world of Voodoo art. More information here.
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