New Orleans, a city gushing with culture and harboring a unique energy definitely worth experiencing. The community has stayed so true to it’s roots you can actually feel the age while wandering the streets and the locals are dedicated to sharing this cultural experience with you.
I have planned five days based on convenience of location and time ranges these activities would work best at to ensure you are taking advantage of every minute in NOLA. Base the days around your particular weather forecast, of course.
The first key thing to be aware of is New Orleans is most conveniently navigated via your own two feet. With walking being the quickest way to get around, you want to be located where most of the action is. That means staying in the French Quarter.
The boutique hotels are absolutely gorgeous and if you’re into spooky traditions, look into staying at the infamous Andrew Jackson Hotel or the Hotel Provincial. Check out all notoriously haunted places you can rest your head and don’t forget about a good old fashion bed and breakfast or Airbnb as your more cost efficient options.
Depending what time you land, you may want to just cruise on over to Bourbon St. Get a glimpse of the most infamous part of NOLA on the first day so you can feel out if that is an experience for you.
Even if you land in the a.m. or early afternoon-ish, you should totally go have a few day drinks on Bourbon. When you darty (day-party) in NOLA/on Bourbon it isn’t as intimidating. Go see what all the hype is about while the sun is still out.
On average, I spend two nights playing on Bourbon but I am the type that loves a proper turn up. This experience is exactly that. You will see, experience, and meet people that will honestly blow your mind. There’s the public, the drunk public, and the drunk public on Bourbon St. For example I personally refuse to get off the stage while at Razzoo’s.
There are not just bars on Bourbon either! Voodoo shops are a destination for any open minded individual. The most infamous is Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. I did end up having a Tarot card reading done here but unfortunately was not very impressed. I have had way better readings before, so it came off as a very commercialized tourist trap.
I did however, genuinely enjoy Voodoo Authentica on Dumaine. It’s fun to detour off of Bourbon. I also feel the souvenir shops on Royal are better as well. It is easy to explore the streets without getting lost because the main area of the French Quarter is based off a grid scale.
Pressure to try a ‘hurricane’ and a ‘grenade’ will be around every corner as you’re popping in and out of bars and other establishments. SHARE one of these signature drinks, just cause! I suggest to go halvsies on these classic NOLA cocktails because if you don’t like sugary beverages, it will be hard to avoid a headache after you’ve had a couple of these bad boys.
Another friendly tip: Do not, I repeat DO NOT, take anything from anyone. Especially the crack heads. If someone is trying to put beads around your neck kindly decline and keep on your merry way.
If you do start to feel some type of way… go grab a slice from the Big Easy. They probably put crack in their pizza, it’s fine. I hope for your sake they have the chicken and sport pepper one on the menu the day you stroll in. That is my joint! PHENOMINAL!!
I may be bias due to my Chicagoan taste pallet and love of sport peppers; but I have a feeling, if you’re a foodie, you’ll be happy with my suggestion. You will want it every night you play on Bourbon and satisfying this drunken craving is so worth every calorie.
If you’re feeling a little classier after your darty situation, before heading back to your hotel, stop and have dinner at Le Bayou. Hands down my favorite restaurant thus far.
I was shocked to find this culinary jewel right on Bourbon! Perfection. Absolute perfection. Now, I luckily have family that knows I’m a crazy foodie and nothing makes me happier than sampling. We are all always encouraging each other to try new things around a table and nothing tickles me more pink while on vacation with unique cuisine options. All items received two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Highly recommend the Crawfish Cakes, Jambalaya Pasta, Gumbo, and Corn & Crab Bisque.
On the day that is anticipated to have the most beautiful weather, plan to frolic around New Orleans City Park. It’s approximately 50% larger than New York’s Central Park , and Wednesdays are preferable because the Art Museum is free.
Enjoy a low key breakfast at Pj’s Coffee. I suggest a location off Canal St. because there are lots of shops and tour scheduling establishments available to wander into between observing the locals. If you enjoy people watching, NOLA is quite the city to do it.
After you are done with a morning stroll, taking in all the energy that is New Orleans, grab essentials for a picnic and head out on one of the streetcars that takes you directly to City Park. No, the streetcar will not be named Desire. That route no longer exists.
Also, perhaps forcing you to take a cab BUT… I have been told by multiple individuals that Cajun Seafood is the best and most authentic place to eat well, Cajun seafood. Grab craw fish or anything your little heart desires to accompany lunch; wine, a local brew. When you arrive at City Park veer right. Have your picnic while enjoying views of the fountain and indigenous birds.
After a light lunch, start to make your way toward the Sculpture Garden. If you prefer the extremely scenic route, opt to paddle boat or canoe through Wheel Fun Rentals . Do not be fooled by the cute little paddle boats. That is a work out and a half. You might not enjoy this on a hot humid day, the canoe is much easier. The path by water is a more breath taking way to tour the sculpture garden but you will work for it.
Spend the rest of your afternoon strolling through the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park and also venture into the Botanic Gardens. Check into the evening lighting display the Botanic Gardens may have at the time. You can stay here through the evening if preferred, and the park also has a mini golf area. Options are clearly endless.
Grab a quick sandwich from Buffa’s on your way back to the French Quarter. You’re welcome. You’ll need food in your tummy while ending your day of authentic NOLA culture as you potentially are about to stand in a line for three(+) hours, but I promise you it will be one of the highlights of your trip.
As soon as possible, get in line for the most authentic New Orleans traditional jazz performance the city has to offer. Five intimate shows are hosted nightly at Preservation Hall . And yes, that is the end of the line curving around Royal St.
It’s as if the venue that started in 1961 has frozen in time and you are thrown into the rawness that created the vibe of New Orleans. And God damn can those boys work their instruments! I had to make myself stop crying a handful of times, the energy was just unreal.
I would suggest just paying the extra money just to avoid the line if possible. We waited three hours with out exaggeration; keep your eye out on Group-on or Living Social for early bird deals.
Pat Obrien’s next door has an amazing out door patio to enjoy a drink while you’re coming down off the excitement from the show!
Oh my goodness PLEASE tour the shit out of some swamps. I know I’m a big ‘opt outside’ person but pop a Clariton D in your mouth and feel the wind in your hair as you fly across the merky, alligator infested water! You will have a blast!
I went during slow season and still saw five alligators in their natural habitat! They use marshmallows to lour birds near the water and then the birds attract the alligators!
I felt so National Geographic. I was completely in my zone, beaming with happiness just taking in all the beautiful, mossy aesthetics of these swamp lands. If you’re lucky, they end the adventure with the opportunity to hold a REAL LIFE ALLIGATOR!
Pro tip: hold the little baby raptor directly out in front of you for a more dramatic angle, showing off the full length.
You should most definitely pay extra for the tour bus pick up and drop off. Uber or cab services are a nightmare when you get out of urban areas. You’re basically off the grid near the water and it will be pricier in the long run to do personal transportation.
Don’t be fearful of motion sickness either; the way the boat glides across the water you truly don’t feel any choppiness for those of you weary of weak sea legs.
Go home and clean up for an early dinner and cocktails. You’ll want to look saucy for Frenchman St.
Potential restaurants for dinner and menu favorites…
- Drago’s $$$ (Charbroiled. Oysters.)
- Royal House Oyster BarRoyal House Oyster Bar $$$ (Fresh oysters!)
- French Market $$ (Seafood Broil is so on point here.)
- Deanie’s $$ (Went way too hard on some shell fish.)
- Oceana Grill $$ (First place I tried Alligator!… Great PO boys as well.)
- Yo Mama’s $ (Bull fighter is beyond mouth watering.)
- Coop’s Place $ (Gumbo is fire.)
Now, music lovers.. Bourbon St. is poppin but Frenchman St. is EVERYTHING! You must not neglect Frenchman St. Some of my favorite live band experiences happened in New Orleans because of this strip of bars, only second to Broadway in Nashville.
Spotted Cat is my jam!! It’s where I once met a saucy Australian named Figgers. We spent the night on the dance floor together; absorbing the rhythm of the bass, melting into the trombone and twirling with the fluttering of the trumpet. Still the biggest sucker for a saxophone.
I also REALLY love the Blue Nile, Bamboula’s and Apple Barrel, despite it’s size. The vibe at every bar is unique and sometimes the band is so good you won’t want to leave the dance floor; but I promise it is so worth grabbing a beer at a few bars just so you can truly get engulfed in the live music jazz culture that New Orleans has to offer.
The first time I was on Frenchman, we accidentally wandered into a street art festival. I believe that where ever you are in the world, you should ALWAYS take advantage of street fests, art and music festivals. Especially when it happens simply by coincidence. Stumbling into a creative atmosphere is the ultimate example of serendipity for me; it really just warms my heart. Here’s a website that you can reference for your stay in NOLA so you can intentionally reach one of these destinations and dive right in!
Start your morning at Jackson Sq. You’ll be able to see the oldest cathedral in the United States. St. Louis Cathedral was built in the 1700’s, and the Renaissance architectural detail is something to be admired. The street vendors and performances start on Decatur St. here too. Keep walking in the direction of north-east. Once you see aqua doors and the sidewalk covered in powdered sugar, you will have reached the pastry promise land.
Cafe Du Monde beignets are fluffy, fried nuggets of perfection. The warm, sweet dough literally melts in your mouth. I am also a fan of the chicory brewed coffee. There’s a history behind the original flavor combination that dates back to the civil war; so I’m a sucker for trying anything that’s survived generations.
I prefer to enjoy my coffee and beignets while over looking the Mississippi River; although I will admit sometimes I’m too excited to wait and start demolishing the tasty deliciousness like the ravenous hungry, hungry hippo that I am. If you have self control unlike me, just walk around the back of Cafe Du Monde, and up the stairs to grab a seat on a bench right off the river.
After wiping off your clothing from all the powdered sugar, continue to walk towards the French Market. There will be plenty of things to grab your attention while headed to your next destination. Street performers and unique shops are every step of the way.
You may have noticed that I love to eat. Eating is my favorite, second only to dancing. When I reach the French Market, it is on like Donkey Kong. The corn, and coconut shrimp, and the po’ boys, and the oysters! Uh! I’m drooling and crying writing this! If you’re down for entertainment while enjoying broiled craw fish straight out of the Gulf, post up at J’s seafood Dock. I hope the individual serving you is Chet. He’s one bad mother-shucker.
My favorite place to get my souvenir shopping done is also at the French Market. My go-to table is always the voodoo dolls designed after your favorite characters. They’re so adorable and make perfect gifts! There are so many unique hand made items and every day there are different vendors. Spend time wandering around and talking to the artists!
If you’re still looking for a meal after your day of non-stop snacking, go to a dinner at an establishment that has been suggested while crossing paths with people or eat at one of the restaurants from the list earlier in the post. But I have a feeling you’ll want to walk off all the food rather than eat more.
Because of this I vote you get liquored up…GO ON A GHOST TOUR!!!! French Quarter Phantoms Ghost Tours does an absolutely amazing job! And there is a ‘Buy one, get one Free’ Hurricane special at the Voodoo Lounge where the tour begins.
Everything they tell you is based on actual events. These guides aren’t afraid to get into character, sharing the dark history in the most entertaining ways. Some people may be skeptical due to the ‘ghost’ aspect, but the horrific happenings that occurred, leading to these infamous ghost stories are all insanely scary REAL LIFE tragedies themselves. Even if you don’t personally believe in the haunted details, it is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the one of a kind history that is NOLA.
If this is your last night, do as you please! I would hit up Frenchman street again personally, but there is always the option of ending with a bang on Bourbon.
Another classic and low key option is having a sazerca cocktail at The Sazerca Bar. It is infamously tucked inside The Roosevelt Hotel, and has become a New Orleans staple.
This day you may need to play by ear depending on your specific travel times. Try to fit in some type of early morning group tour. Be mindful of tour times and your flight. I always allow two hours at the airport for leisurely travels.
Craft breweries never fail to be a favorite way to spend a relaxing afternoon. NOLA Brewery Company has a lively and fun tap room to enjoy these hand crafted local and amazing flavor combinations.
I have yet to try any of the plantation tours, but people drool over them. I really enjoyed the general city tour where they take you into the above ground cemeteries and the 9th ward. It provided a glimpse of the devastation that came when the levee broke during Hurricane Katrina. The imagery of the water levels leaving there mark basically at roof lines made for a scary realization of the crippling affect a natural disaster of this magnitude can have on a community over a decade later.
Additional options that are currently on my ‘To-do” list next time I’m in New Orleans…
- Museum of Death
- New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
- 25 cent lunchtime cocktails at Commander’s Palace
- Louis Armstrong Park
If you have a full day left to explore, make a reservation to have dinner and enjoy a live jazz band on the Mississippi river boat, Creole Queen. I was warned they book fast so this may be something you schedule prior to your arrival to ensure your spot!
Just remember the number one thing I encourage everyone to do, no matter the destination, is to always ASK LOCALS!!! If you’re vibing with a cab driver ask him his favorite place to get Gumbo. Love your server? Find our her favorite bar on Frenchman. These types of suggestions never fail and leave you with intimate, divinely timed memories you will cherish for a lifetime.
Have the MOST fun enjoying the city of New Orleans, my precious kittens!
Until next time…
Xxx & O’s