New Orleans Travel Guide
New Orleans is a hard city to put into words. It’s definitely unique and full of history, culture, scandal, and personality. LOTS of personality. But it was on my travel bucket list for two different reasons. Food and music. Since we weren’t taking any international trips this year, it seemed like a great time to explore a city that was closer to home. If you’ve never been, or are looking for some new recommendations, this New Orleans travel guide is packed full of everything we did, saw, ate, and sipped!
With so much to do and see (and eat), this list doesn’t cover everything New Orleans has to offer, but only the places we enjoyed over a long weekend. Hopefully it gives you some ideas and must stop places for your next (or first!) trip to NOLA!
Where to Stay –
We were traveling as a group of 4, so we needed a little bit of space (and bathrooms) to accommodate everyone. I also knew that I didn’t want to stay on Bourbon Street. During the evening that place is wiiiillllld. If you’re not into the party scene (or drunk people), I’d recommend touring Bourbon Street during the day and avoiding it for a hotel location. It’s still a little bit rowdy during the day, but nothing like the craziness of the evenings. It also seems to mellow out a tiny bit more during the week. It’s still a party, but gets elevated to a different level once the weekend rolls around.
We ended up booking this airbnb, which allowed everyone to have a bed and it had THREE bathrooms, which was sooo nice when everyone was getting ready in the morning. It was spacious and perfect for a group. The beds were really comfortable and the location was right in the middle of everything, so it was an easy walk to most spots. There is a clock tower at a church down the road, so the chiming could possibly be a deterrent, but half of our group slept right through it. The elevators were a little bit slow, but for the location and the space it was well worth it.
Where to Eat –
I think part of the challenge of this trip was trying to fit in as many food spots as possible without having to roll ourselves home. There were waaaaaay too many places that topped our lists, so we tried our best to eat our way through it. I will say that we didn’t have a single bad meal in New Orleans. Everything we had was delicious and some of it was possibly some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. You can’t go wrong with food in New Orleans, I happily found out.
Paladar 511 – This little warehouse gem is located in the Marigny area. The space is spacious, but cozy and has brick walls and tall exposed ceilings. We made reservations for brunch here and were not disappointed at all. We ordered the Huevos Rancheros, eggs benedict, and lamb sausage and chickpea ragu, which were all beyond delish, but I also recommend ordering the farm egg pizza and splitting it like we did. They also serve dinner and I’m still regretting the fact that I didn’t order a slice of the Mississippi blueberry pie with honey-lavender ice cream.
Broussards – This was our first dinner stop on our trip and it definitely set a high expectation for the rest of it. It was elegant and felt fancy, but not stuffy at all. My stand out favorites were the fried oysters, the french onion soup (one of the best I’ve ever had, and I don’t even like onions), and the rabbit pot pie. But I honestly don’t think you could go wrong with anything on this menu. The drinks are also delish and the cocktails on the menu commemorate a different decade for each one the restaurant has been in service. Located in the french quarter.
Sylvain – This restaurant looks unassuming from the outside, but once you step inside and get a view of the adorable little back alley patio, you’ll be glad you made reservations. Not to mention that the food and cocktails are outstanding. We shared the fries and the cast iron cornbread, which was fantastic. The crispy pork belly was one of our favorites of all time but the burger and the pappardelle bolognese were also up there on the list too. We finished with the house made hand pies and the banana pudding. If you only go for the pork belly alone, it’s worth the trip. Located in the french quarter.
Cochon – We stopped here for a later dinner after a night at the jazz bar. I will always remember this place as the one where I tried fried alligator. Only in New Orleans, haha. They’re known for their pork dishes, but make sure to order the mac and cheese casserole and the rabbit & dumplings. You won’t be disappointed!
Commanders Palace – This was a fancy night out for us and the experience didn’t disappoint. I think we each had our very own waiter and our water glasses never had a chance to get less than half full. No request was too small and they accommodated them all without question. We shared the turtle soup and the creole gumbo (which they split and served to us each in our own small vessels), which were both delicious. All of our entrees were also great, but the experience definitely took precedence here. Kim Cattrall (from Sex & the City fame) was also dining at the restaurant at the same time as us, which was a fun little surprise. The restaurant is located in the garden district and reservations are required if you want to grab a table.
Cafe du Monde – If you’ve never been to New Orleans before, this spot is a MUST. It’s been around since 1862 and still has lines that wrap around the building waiting to get their hands on a bag of warm powdery beignets (which were seriously next level). The chicory coffee was also amazing. I got mine iced, but heard that the hot coffee was just as good. To save yourself some time, don’t wait in the front line. Head around to the back of the building to find another lesser known window that usually has a very short line. Yes, the beignets are worth the wait and you can plan on wearing some powdered sugar while you eat them too.
If you’re traveling by plane, you can order beignet mix and cans of coffee to your house on their website, to avoid trying to find room in your suitcase. A lot of other grocery stores chains also carry the coffee on their shelves too. (Harris Teeter and World Market to name a couple). If you forget to snag some, the New Orleans airport also has a takeout counter where you can get more merch and more warm beignets and coffee too. Just one more bag for the road, right?
Central Grocery – If you’ve heard of a muffuletta, this is the home of the original. The store dates back to 1906 and was founded by Sicilian immigrant, Salvatore Lupo. If you’ve never heard of a muffuletta it’s an amazing sandwich that’s stuffed with ham, salami, mortadella, swiss, provolone and a signature briny marinated olive salad filled with Kalamata and green olives and other tasty pickled veggies. In other words, it’s amazing. The store also usually has a line, but it moves quickly. You can also purchase some sandwiches classics and hard to find ingredients while you’re waiting in line.
The sandwiches are large and you can choose to have it cut into halves or quarters. The quarters were still big and a full sandwich can definitely feed a group. There’s a little counter with stools in the back if you want to have your sandwich there, or keep it wrapped and take it with you.
The Pelican Club – We actually found this little gem while we were waiting for everyone to finish their tarot card readings, but fell in love with the cute little courtyard it was nested into. The outdoor seating area was cozy, but the inside looked large and nice too. We snacked on appetizers including the escargots en croute and the baked oysters, which were both great. We picked glasses of wine from the wine list, which was pretty decent and included some well known brands and a few unique ones. Prices were decent and everything was great!
Where to Grab a Drink –
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – This spot is right in the middle of Bourbon Street and is one of the oldest structures used as a bar in the United States. It’s also known for being haunted, but once you’re inside you’d never know any better. The inside is packed and the outside is equally just as packed. The bar offers various drinks, but they’re known for the “Purple Drink”. It’s a frozen concoction that is better to just order and drink without reading what’s it in, or you may change your mind. I don’t recommend ordering more than one. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a staple on any New Orleans travel itinerary.
Mr. B’s Bistro – Ok, technically this is a restaurant, but we stopped here for drinks and were pleasantly surprised by the ambiance and quality of the food and drink menus. We sat up at the wooden bar and it felt a little like we’d stepped back in time. All the drinks were good and the staff were also great. I’d definitely go back and try the restaurant next time, had I known. (The garlic truffle fries looked INSANE).
The Carousel Bar – It’s not every day that you can say you took a ride at a bar on a carousel, but at the Carousel Bar and Lounge, located inside the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, you can do just that. The legendary bar has been around for over 70 years and is still a top destination when visiting New Orleans. And did I mention that the carousel actually moves while you’re seated?!
If you want to sang a seat at the moving bar, you’ll have to arrive early or be prepared to wait for people to leave their seats (because there are only about 30 or so). Due to high drink prices, you shouldn’t have to wait too long, but once you’re seated it’s hard to leave. The actual carousel opens in the afternoon, but the line to get in formed at least 30 minutes before the doors opened. If you don’t want to sit at the carousel itself, the line to be seated elsewhere in the lounge is usually nonexistent. They also feature daily entertainment and bar bites too, if you get hungry.
The Sazerac Bar – This little gem is located inside the Roosevelt Hotel and is named after the iconic drink that was one of the world’s first cocktails. A mix of Sazerac rye whiskey and local bitters, it’s a must to try when visiting New Orleans. The decor is very art chic with glittering chandeliers and wall lengths murals. The space is small, but we were able to get a table without any issues. We got dressed up and had drinks here first before heading to dinner at Commander’s Palace.
What to Do –
See a Jazz Show – This was one of the main reasons why we took a trip to New Orleans. I’m a big jazz lover and I HAD to cross this off my list. There are a lot of places in NOLA that play jazz, but for the ultimate experience I recommend taking a stroll down Frenchman Street in the evenings. It’s not as well known as Bourbon Street, but if you’re coming for music, this is the spot. The whole street is full of jazz bars and crowds eager to hear some amazing musicians. You might even catch some playing outside too!
There are a few different favorites, but we snagged tickets to an indoor show at The Spotted Cat and the cutest outdoor patio show (complete with overhead string lights and adorable balconies) at the Royal Frenchman Hotel & Bar. I’ve also heard great things about Blue Nile too, but it was closed when we visited.
You can check out their websites to see what upcoming shows they’ll have and snag tickets in advance.
Go on a Swamp Boat Ride – The group consensus was that this was the favorite things that we did on the trip. If you’ve never experienced an airboat before, I highly recommend it! You glide right over the top of the water and get to explore nature and the outdoors in a different way. We did a tour with New Orleans Airboat Tours. They are about a 30 minutes ride away from downtown New Orleans, but you can pay a little bit extra when you call to buy your tickets and they’ll arrange a car service for you. If you don’t have a car I’d recommend this option, because there are no ride sharing options once you get out there! They also allow you to bring any canned beverages you want for the boat. (They’ll even provide you with a cooler and ice!) The wildlife and the scenery is amazing, plus you get to see some alligators up close. If you could only do one thing on your trip, I’d recommend this. (Also, don’t forget to wear sunscreen on the boat. After only a couple of hours on the water, I got fried!)
Get a Tarot Card Reading – Whether you are into it and believe in it or not, if felt like something we had to do while we were in New Orleans. With a rich voodoo history and a spiritual and spooky vibe, it felt like a good place to embrace the ambiance.
I did some research online and the location that came the most highly recommended was Earth Odyssey. There are a lot of different shops that offer tarot card readings, but they definitely felt super cheesy and not quite as private. Earth Odyssey is located in the French Quarter and also specializes in stones, rocks, and crystals. There are a few different physics that do the readings. We had ours done by Mary. The actual reading itself was about 20-30 minutes. You can ask your own questions of just get a general reading. Overall, all of us felt good about our readings and Mary did clue into some things that we were surprised about. The verdict is still out on the results. We’ll have to wait a few years to see if she was right. 😉 The reading itself was under $50, so even if you aren’t a true “believer” it was still a fun and entertaining way to spend an afternoon!
Ride a Streetcar – Streetcars have been operating in the city for over 150 years and they’ll still a fun way to get around today. There are 4 different lines that all start downtown and can take you to different parts of the city including the french quarter, the riverfront line, and the Rampart line, which travels right by one of the oldest and most famous cemeteries in New Orleans. The cost to ride is $1.25 (which has to be paid in exact cash) but you can get an unlimited pass for the day for $3.
Go on a Ghost Tour – Again, this felt like a MUST when visiting New Orleans. With such a crazy and rich history, you know there have to be some ghosts floating around in this city 😉 We booked the 4-in-1 tour here, but I was a little disappointed. The tour was filled with more true crime stories than ghost stories which left me wanting more. Also, we were definitely not the only people thinking that a ghost tour sounded like a good idea. We spent the whole tour dodging other groups and trying to hear our tour guide over the noise. I do think that the company giving the tour was entertaining and fun, but I’d probably recommend a one on one tour, versus going with a big tour group. Still an entertaining way to spend an evening, but I was expecting a little more.
Shop – There’s no lack of shopping in New Orleans, although we didn’t have time to do much of it (we were too busy eating). But a few of our favorites that we stumbled upon included Faulker House of Books, the French Market open air shopping center, and Hex, an old world witchery.
Also make sure to check out the Frenchmen Art Market that only takes place at night and the Little Flea NOLA outdoor flea market that takes place in the garden district on bi-weekly Saturdays.
Explore the Cemetery – Sounds creepy, but the cemeteries in New Orleans are also hauntingly beautiful too (some date back as far as 1789!). Because the city is below sea level, burying a body six feet under is not really an option, since caskets will literally float back up, so New Orleans developed above ground tombs to house the deceased. There are numerous options to check out, including the St. Louis Cemetery and the Lafayette Cemetery, but check to see which are open right now due to covid. (The two biggest are still closed). You can book a guided walking tour, or visit on your own, but I’d highly recommend stopping and taking a stroll through at least one while you’re there. (The City Tour below also includes a cemetery stop on their tour).
Take a City Tour – It sounds cheesy, but sometimes a city tour is a great way to get a feel for the layout of a city and see things that you may have missed on your own, plus it takes place in an air conditioned bus. We booked tickets on this tour and did it on our first day, and I’m glad we did. We learned a lot of history and saw areas of the city that we weren’t planning to visit. It was also so interesting (and sad) to hear about Hurricane Katrina and drive through the 9th ward. If you’re interested in this tour, it also makes a stop of one of the famous city cemeteries and Cafe du Monde, which crosses multiple things off of the list in a single morning or afternoon. They offer different tour times and will pick you up and drop you off right at your hotel. Definitely recommend.
Catch a Burlesque Show – I’m still sad that things were still closed when we visited and one of the things we missed out on was going to a burlesque show. There are a variety of options in NOLA, but I really wanted to pay a visit to the Burgandy Bar inside the Saint Hotel on Canal Street. Decked out in retro bordello decor and moody lighting, you can sip one of their famous cocktails, named after the seven deadly sins, while watching a show. Right now shows are cancelled due to covid, but hopefully they’ll be back up and running soon!
As you can see, we packed A LOT into one long weekend!
Let me know your NOLA favorites and what we missed so I can add it to the next New Orleans trip and travel guide for next time!