Whether you are looking for a quick spring getaway, planning a bachelorette party, planning to get caught up on the craziness of Mardi Gras, or just want a relaxing romantic weekend away, New Orleans should be high on your list for your next trip in the U.S.
In fact, I have been to New Orleans for all of the reasons mentioned above! Having been to New Orleans close to a dozen times, I never tire of it.
I feel my worries slip away the minute I step onto Canal St, swaddled by the beautiful architecture, serenaded by moody jazz tunes, and soothed by the laissez-faire attitude of the locals.
In a world changing constantly, New Orleans seems like a pin has been stuck in it so it doesn’t move along at the same pace of the country. Rooted in a deep and tumultuous history, this town is as resilient as it is unique and there is no better time to visit it.
There is no bad way to experience New Orleans, but here is a list of my top 8 things to do to make the most of your time there!
1) SAMPLE CAJUN CUISINE
Experience the delectable local Cajun cuisine with its French, Spanish and Caribbean influences. Try the jambalaya at the hole in the wall Coop’s Place, po’boys at Killer Po’boys, gumbo at The Gumbo Shop, and piping hot beignets dusted with sugar at Cafe du Monde.
Head over to the French Market to sample a bit of everything (for vegans, there is a great place called Heart Cafe that serves up vegan gumbo!). I always visit the hot sauce bar to stock up on hot sauces and spices to bring a bit of New Orleans home with me.
Sample more than just Cajun cuisine; the restaurant scene in New Orleans continues to burgeon with hot new chefs cooking up innovative gastronomic delights.
Shaya, a modern Israeli cuisine restaurant, is high on that list. Other local favorites of mine are Felipe’s Taqueria for delicious Mexican food and Latitude 29 for creative Hawaiian food, including the to-die-for pineapple bread.
2) BAR HOPING ON BOURBON STREET
Spend one night sipping hurricanes and bar hopping on Bourbon Street. Let’s face it, if you are the partying type, Bourbon street has all the vibes for you along with countless bars, generally playing the same music, and typically a few years behind what you might hear in other parts of the country.
Some tips for the ladies: don’t bother with the heels because you will be doing a lot of walking, watch your wallets in the crowds, and plan ahead for a hangover cure if you are going to have more than one hurricane; they are sky high in sugar! It’s just part of the Big Easy vibe.
For more bar and restaurant tips, be sure to read our Ultimate City Guide to New Orleans!
3) VISIT THE BARS AWAY FROM BOURBON STREET
Spend every other night far, far away from Bourbon Street. Truth be told, one night on Bourbon is about as much as I can handle. And more to the point, New Orleans has a lot more to offer than just the grungy, sloppy nights on Bourbon.
Check out some classy bars on Royal Street; Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone, and Sylvain’s, a cozy gastropub, are some favorites. Frenchmen street is great for checking out live jazz music which brings me to the next point.
For a special experience, you can even book a unique Airbnb with a balcony overlooking Bourbon !treet!
4) LISTEN TO THE FAMOUS NEW ORLEANS JAZZ
Jazz is the sound of New Orleans and embedded in every alleyway and street corner. It exploded in the bars of New Orleans back around 1900 and was there to stay.
You don’t have to go far to hear a local musician playing, but if you are interested in planning your night around it, head over to Frenchmen street for a lovely night out. Spotted Cat is a favorite as is d.b.a.
I also highly recommend heading to Preservation Hall at least once for an intimate experience at a venue that has been around for over 50 years as a hallmark of the New Orleans jazz scene. You can either reserve tickets online for a slightly higher rate or you can line up outside to get tickets there.
Note that the lines are long, but with a drink in hand it goes by faster and the experience is well worth it. The space is small and it can definitely get warm in there on a typical humid New Orleans night so bear than in mind.
Finally, if you are lucky you might get to spot a second line; a procession led by a brass band that involves dancing on the street with parasols or handkerchiefs in the air. This parade was traditionally done after funerals and has its roots in Creole culture.
You are more than welcome to join in if you see one!
5) TAKE A GHOST TOUR
Take a ghost tour to not only hear grizzly stories of hauntings, but also to get a peek into the deep and sometimes grim history of this city.
The tour guide will tell hair-raising stories while taking you through French Quarter locations such as cemeteries, haunted hotels, and courtyards. Even if you are not one for tales of paranormal activity, it’s a fun history lesson with an edge.
For a different twist, a take a voodoo walking tour. Voodoo is as engrained in the culture in New Orleans as jazz and has its roots in African and Haitian spiritual beliefs and practices.
6) STAY IN A BEAUTIFUL HOTEL OR AIRBNB
Stay somewhere fabulous. Given the stunning architecture with its Creole cottage and filigree cast iron balconies that abound the French Quarter, it’s not hard to find a beautiful place to stay in the city.
My hands down favorite place to stay in New Orleans is this gorgeous Airbnb house owned by a lovely local couple in the Treme district. This place has a gorgeous Roman inspired bathroom that is to die for with a jacuzzi.
You can also check out some of the best Airbnbs for each neighborhood in our complete guide.
If you want to stay right in the heart of the French Quarter, within walking distance to everything, check out the Bourbon Orleans hotel. The Q&C hotel is a hip, boutique hotel at a reasonable price close to Lafayette Square.
7) TAKE A WALK AROUND THE CITY
Wander around the streets taking in the architecture and distinctly New Orleans vibes.
Over the course of time and history, New Orleans has seen a lot: French rule, Spanish rule, slavery, Hurricane Katrina. All of these events and more are steeped in every alleyway, nook and doorway of the city.
The resulting Creole culture is infused with Spanish and French influences, but has its own distinct aura and vibe. Take in the architecture, stop by colorful doorways and quaint alleyways, and soak in the vibes of New Orleans.
Everything runs slower here; you feel like you are lost in a reverie walking through the streets. Enjoy it and laissez le Bonne temps roulez; let the good times roll!
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