While a weekend is never long enough in the Crescent City, sometimes you have to make do. The French settled the area now known as Louisiana in the 1700s, which is one of many influences still prevalent today. The port became a major player in the slave trade and later gained attention during the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans directly, which permanently changed the city. It has since rebuilt but there are many parts of town, particularly the Ninth Ward, which still look devastated.
New Orleans is separated into a number of neighborhoods, most notably the French Quarter, where most of the city’s tourist attractions are located. There’s also hip neighborhoods like the Bywater and Faubourg Marigny as well as Treme, the neighborhood depicted on the hit HBO show.
The city becomes fully booked for events like Jazz Fest, Voodoo Festival and Mardi Gras as well as major football games, so book in advance if your visit aligns with these dates.
What to Do
Mardi Gras World– For those who don’t want to brave the crowds and chaos of New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras festivities, Mardi Gras World allows you a firsthand look at what it takes to create the iconic floats. Blaine Kern Studios has been the most sought after float studio for years and you can see why. Explore warehouses of past floats, try on costumes and even see people working on next year’s designs. Finish your tour with a slice of king cake at the cafe. 1380 Port of New Orleans Place
The National World War II Museum– Named one of the best museums in the United States, the World War II Museum is a place you could easily spend all afternoon. The museum has extensive exhibits on the various points of the war, including a full length film narrated by Tom Hanks, planes used in battle and information on the Higgins boat, which was a type of boat used on the beaches of Normandy but created in New Orleans. 945 Magazine Street
The Cemeteries– A spooky aspect of the city is the above-ground graves used as flood protection. Each one has its own sordid history of scandal, murder and voodoo. Visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to see the grave of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and bring her an offering. St. Louis No. 2 is home to pirate Jean Lafitte, while Lafayette Cemetery, located in the Garden District, was once part of a plantation.
- St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, Basin and St. Louis Streets
- St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, Claiborne Avenue between St. Louis and Iberville Streets
- Lafayette Cemetery, 1400 Washington Avenue
Bourbon St– It’s the center of all tourist activity in New Orleans, where the historic buildings meet daiquiri bars serving all day. It’s packed with hotels and even some more adult establishments, so be careful which part you stumble down. Also watch your wallets as this crowded thoroughfare is a target for pickpockets. Bourbon Street between St. Philip and Canal streets
Frenchmen St– Further into Marigny is Frenchmen Street, a smaller version of busy Bourbon, but instead packed with jazz clubs like the Spotted Cat and a regular art market. There are also street performers, so you never know what you might see. There are also plenty of restaurants to try. Frenchmen Street between Dauphine Street and Esplanade Avenue
Magazine St– Another street worth wandering is Magazine Street, a section of boutiques and restaurants. In terms of shopping, I recommend checking out Buffalo Exchange, Fleurty Girl and Hazelnut for a selection of local brands, vintage clothing and home furnishings. Magazine Street between Felicity and Calhoun streets
Where to Eat
It’s all good in the Big Easy, so just follow your stomach. Here are a few of my very limited suggestions from my time there, but I will add to the list as soon as I get back down there. If you’re interested in more upscale dining, check out Gambit, the local weekly newspaper, for suggestions.
Café du Monde– The green and white striped awnings above this Jackson Square cafe may be more widely recognized than any other place in the city. Cafe du Monde, open 24 hours a day, is known for two menu items: chicory cafe au lait and beignets, a fluffy French style doughnut topped in powdered sugar. Be aggressive if you’re going in the morning as there’s no hostess and for goodness sake, don’t wear black! 800 Decatur Street, (504) 525-4544
Cake Cafe & Bakery– A friend tipped me off to this Bywater cafe, which serves much more than cake, although their desserts are delicious. Breakfast dishes come in indulgent or health conscious varieties and the sandwiches for lunch are equalled. The crab sandwich on challah is still one of the best I’ve ever had. 2440 Chartres Street, (504) 943-0010
Juan’s Flying Burrito– This Magazine Street burrito joint had a line out the door when my friend and I arrived and we soon discovered why. The burritos are large enough to be two meals, but try something unusual like the Al Pastor with pineapple or the Supergreen vegetarian burrito. 2018 Magazine Street, (504) 569-0000
Felix’s Restaurant– While nearby Acme’s may get all the fame, Felix’s is just as good with less hype. The 70-year-old restaurant looks like a diner but the specialty here is oysters, particularly chargrilled. Other options are po boys and fried alligator bites. 739 Iberville Street, (504) 522-4440
Johnny’s Po-Boys– You’re spoiled for options for po boys in New Orleans, but Johnny’s are massive and can easily be shared among friends. You can get nearly anything put on it, from standard shrimp or oyster as well as the more unusual alligator sausage or crawfish, put on a fresh loaf of Leidenheimer French bread. 511 Saint Louis Street, (504) 524-8129
The Praline Connection– There are many dining options in the Frenchmen Street area, but I was pleasantly surprised with the selection at Praline Connection, much more than desserts. I enjoyed the crawfish etouffee but they have a large selection of soul food favorites. 542 Frenchmen Street, (504) 943-3934
Sucré– When it’s time for dessert, seek out this Magazine Street bakery for macaroons, gelato and other delights. Their king cakes sell it way before Mardi Gras and they ship wedding cakes and desserts all over the country. Try the toasted almond gelato if they have it! 3025 Magazine Street, (504) 520-8311
Antoine’s Restaurant– Perhaps no restaurant has quite the legacy as Antoine’s, which has been a French Quarter staple for 175 years, hosting decades of sitting presidents, celebrities and even the Pope. Be sure to sit in one of the private rooms, which have history of various Mardi Gras krewes. The food is fantastic, as is the service. Go for lunch for only $20. 713 St. Louis Street, (504) 581 4422
Broussard’s Restaurant– Another old school favorite, Broussard’s was started by a former Antoine’s employee over 100 years ago. Their courtyard is the perfect setting for the French and Creole inspired food. 819 Conti Street, (504) 581-3866
Compère Lapin– Grab a seat at Nina Compton’s restaurant for small plates and entrées that combine Caribbean and New Orleans flavors. Don’t forget cocktails, which are both classic and modern. 535 Tchoupitoulas Street, (504) 599-2119
Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar– Head to the Garden District wonderland for seafood, where you can nosh on fresh oysters, barbecue shrimp, and po boys. The interior is as old school as it gets, with furnishings from Paris and New Orleans. 4338 St. Charles Avenue, (504) 293-3474
Where to Drink
Our weekend guides don’t typically come with bar listings, but when in New Orleans, laissez les bon temps rouler. Remember that if you want to bring a drink on the street you can, but you must ask for a “go cup.” You can still get kicked out of bars and arrested for public intoxication, so be careful.
Pat O’Brien’s– Perhaps no bar is quite as quintessentially New Orleans as Pat O’Brien’s, one of Bourbon Street’s most famous spots. While there’s a classy restaurant and piano lounge, most folks come in for a drink to go. Skip the souvenir glass and save your money for another round. 718 St. Peter Street
Drink to Try: Hurricane– The story of the invention of this drink has many versions, but whatever one you choose, the name is based on a hurricane vase, not the frequent force of nature in the area. It’s made with Pat’s signature mix with rum. The mix is some version of fruit juices, usually grapefruit, pineapple and grenadine.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop– Located right beyond Bourbon Street, Lafitte’s is named after a pirate and was built in the 1700s, making it the oldest building to be used as a bar in the United States. 941 Bourbon Street
Drink to Try: Purple Drink– I couldn’t even tell you what exactly is in this frozen beverage, but it tastes much like frozen grape cough syrup. It sounds bizarre, but must be tried.
Carousel Bar– Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar brings in visitors who want to see firsthand the revolving bar. Seats are hard to come by, especially after 5 pm, so grab one of the 25 if you can.
Drink to Try: Sazerac– This drink was created in New Orleans, so it’s only fitting that you try it once. Cognac was once used but it has now been replaced almost exclusively by rye whiskey, with absinthe or Herbsaint and Peychaud’s Bitters.
Celebration Distillation: Old New Orleans Rum– Take a tour of this Ninth Ward distillery who survived Katrina and have become the longest running rum distillery in the state. Tours cost $10 and include pickup from the French Market.
Drink to Try: Rum– Obviously their specialty is rum and you’ll be greeted with a cocktail made with their selections. Also try the Gingeroo, a unique ginger rum soda product.
Where to Stay
There’s no shortage of rooms in New Orleans and they range from the luxury of top-name hotel chains to historic inns to budget-friendly hostels. There is also a range in quality, but be sure to check which neighborhood your desired accommodation is in before booking.
On my most recent trip, I stayed at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, a historic property owned by the New Orleans Hotel Collection. All of their properties come highly recommended.
For those on a budget, there are a few hostels you can check out on Hostelworld, including India House Hostel and AAE Bourbon House Hostel.
Renting a room or apartment is another great way to experience New Orleans’ Southern hospitality firsthand. I booked through AirBnB, where I stayed in a shotgun home in Marigny. You can choose your neighborhood and whether you book the whole house or just a room.
Some of my activities in New Orleans were sponsored by the New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, but all opinions are my own.
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When arriving into town, you will be in one of three places. Armstrong International Airport is around 30 minutes drive from the French Quarter in Kenner. Highways 10 and 61 get you around town and to the airport. If you’re taking Megabus, you’ll arrive with the Amtrak and Greyhound routes arrive at the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal north of Armstrong Park. From there, you can catch a bus or streetcar further into town.
Practically anywhere you want to see in New Orleans can be walked within 25 minutes. The only times I would say not to walk are to certain neighborhoods at night. If you’re in the French Quarter, you’ll be
fine. My friend and I stayed in Marigny a few years ago and walked back to our AirBnB every night through Bourbon Street and down Frenchman Street.
The city is also popular with cyclists and it’s the preferred method for many people. You can even take bike tours of the French Quarter. New Orleans doesn’t yet have a bikeshare program like Miami or Charlotte. The American Bicycle Rental Company, based in the French Quarter, offers cruiser rentals for $10 per hour or $39 for the whole day. Other companies, like Bike Nola, offer similar rates. If you’re renting a bike in New Orleans, make sure the rate includes a lock, helmet and light for night riding.
As with many other cities, New Orleans can be seen without a car. If you’re driving into town, you’ll have to consider whether or not your accommodation includes parking. The only time you might want to have a car is day trips from New Orleans like the swamp and plantation tours or a visit to Avery Island. Alternatives to having a car in the city are going on tours or renting one when you get there. The standard rental car agencies exist at the airport.
On some occasions, you’ll want to take a taxi, whether it’s from the airport or after a night out on Bourbon Street. Lyft and Uber now exist in New Orleans. Taxis are plentiful and can be found in all neighborhoods. Here are just a few of the companies recommended by the New Orleans visitor’s center. Pedicabs are more popular in the French Quarter and can be more expensive than standard taxis. You can pick one up in touristy areas like the French Market or Jackson Square.
Getting from one side of town to the other is easy by NORTA, which includes both buses and streetcar lines. There are three streetcar lines which run down St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street and on the Riverfront, which costs $1.25 each way and you must have exact change. Buses run all over the city and cost the same amount. The Jazzy Pass is the best way to pay for both buses and streetcars at $3 per day. There are also ferries that link up to go between Canal Street and Algiers for $2 each way.