Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the Big Easy for great music, spicy Cajun food and of course, to party. New Orleans is a city with an old soul steeped in history and tradition — there's something unique to be found around every corner. Here's what to see and do to get the most out of a short trip:
The crowd at this year's Krewe du Vieux parade.
Upon arrival take some time to explore the French Quarter in all its glory — the uneven cobble stone streets, the intricate wrought-iron balconies and doors, gas lanterns and incredible architecture.
Love the detailing and color of these doors.
A closer look.
You'll find plenty of fleur de lis every where you look.
There are certain streets you'll want to focus on — the most obvious being Bourbon Street, which is typically pretty tame during the day (unless it's Mardi Gras or another festival), but at night it's a whole different story. While you're on the famous party street, pop into Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in the Crescent City for a drink or two.
Lafitte's was built in in the 1720s.
Tropical Isle should be your next stop on Bourbon — it's known for the strongest drink in NOLA — the Hand Grenade. What's in the tasty drink is a secret, but have one too many and you'll be on the floor (I may, or may not know this from personal experience).
Tip: You never have to stay in one place too long, New Orleans doesn't have open container laws, so you can always get your drink(s) to go!
Next — if you're still able to walk straight — head over to Royal Street for a little window shopping and a bite to eat. There you'll find impressive antique stores, art galleries, boutiques and a delicious meal in the scenic courtyard of The Court of Two Sisters. For an extra special treat, go during the restaurant's daily Jazz Brunch Buffet that runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Walk off lunch down Pirate's Alley (supposedly one of the most haunted locations in town) toward Jackson Square, where you'll find an eclectic mix of local artists, street performers, palm readers and fortune tellers. The historic square is absolutely stunning and anchored by the impressive St. Louis Cathedral.
Jackson Square looking toward St. Louis Cathedral.
The colorful jester that overlooks the square.
The famous Cafe Du Monde is right around the corner from the Square and an obligatory stop on your tour around the Quarter. There's typically always a line for their popular — and very messy — powdery beignets, but they're definitely worth the wait.
Tip: Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours — go during a random time to avoid the crowds.
Pat O'Brien's Bar is also nearby on St. Peter Street — if you want to order a Hurricane and knock another item off your Big Easy bucket list. Then meander through six blocks of vendors and local retailers at the French Market, where you'll find everything from hand-painted Mardi Gras masks and cheesy souvenirs to gator on a stick (seriously).
If you still want to see more of the area you can always find carriage tours waiting outside of Jackson Square — the guides are extremely knowledgeable and it's a fun way to take in the city's sights and sounds.
Hardest working tour guide in the city.
Make dinner reservations at Irene's Cuisine for delectable dishes like the Oysters Irene — oysters baked in their shells with romano cheese, pancetta and pimentos — lightly battered soft-shelled crabs and chicken rosemarino. Friend's who live in New Orleans introduced me to the restaurant on one of my first visits and it's become somewhere I look forward to going every time I'm in town.
Wrap up the evening at Preservation Hall — the ultimate Jazz venue with deep roots in the NOLA music scene. There are shows every day, but they often sell out, so get your tickets ahead of time. General admission tickets start at $15, you can purchase them here. If you can't get into Preservation Hall for a show, head down to Frenchmen Street (known as the local's "Bourbon Street") where you'll find all sorts of live music and fantastic art markets.
Get ready for another busy day — there's plenty more to experience in the Big Easy.
Fill up on a hearty breakfast at Brennan's Restaurant — fair warning, with choices like blackberry blintz, a baked apple crumble and vanilla french toast topped with peach and cherry compote — it will be tough to pick just one dish.
Venture out of the French Quarter and take in the sights from the famous St. Charles Streetcar, which you can catch at the edge of the Quarter on the corner of Canal and Carondelet. Here's a map of route, stops and times. It's my favorite way to explore — plus, the historic route dates back to 1835 and travels down gorgeous oak-lined streets, past stately mansions.
Tip: When you get on the street car tell the driver you'd like an all day pass — it's only $3 — instead of paying each time you get on and off. Make sure you have exact change.
Riding the St. Charles Streetcar is a must while you're in New Orleans.
One of the most vibrant houses you'll see from the street car. I call it the watermelon house.
On your route make a stop at Audubon Park — a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike — and take in the beauty of its ancient oaks, lagoons and an abundance of vibrant flowers.
Hop off the streetcar and spend some time exploring the beautiful grounds.
Most of Audubon Park is postcard-worthy.
One of the many majestic oaks you'll find.
Gorgeous flowers are everywhere.
Next stop — Magazine Street, another popular part of town that you'll want to spend plenty of time exploring. The picturesque street offers six miles of countless specialty shops, clothing boutiques, antique stores, jewelry shops, museums and art galleries. Some favorites include Fleurty Girl, Leontine Linens and NOLA Couture. You can easily lose track of time wandering around Magazine.
Because the more you know: Magazine Street is named after an ammunition magazine and not the kind you read.
Between shopping, grab a quick lunch at Dat Dog, a local hot dog joint that serves up sinfully good food and beer. This place takes a regular hot dog to a whole new level with every type of topping you can think of.
Nothing beats a hot dog, a side of loaded fries and a cold beer.
Top off lunch with a sweet treat from Tee Eva's, a local gem that serves up old fashioned pralines and pies — they're the best in town! Pralines are $3 each and they only accept cash.
You'll definitely want to order more than one.
Another great place to get your sugar fix is Sucre, which is located a little further up on Magazine Street. They're known for their colorful French macarons and artisan chocolates, but you really can't go wrong with anything you order.
Sucre macarons are a great option to buy as gifts. | Image: Sucre
While you're in the area you'll want to make your way to the Garden District, which has become one of the most coveted neighborhoods in America, for its pristine gardens and Antebellum mansions. You may even run into a famous celebrity like Sandra Bullock, who calls the Garden District home. The intersection of Prytania Street and Washington Avenue is a good place to start exploring.
On the way back into town, stop by the historic Columns Hotel for a cocktail and bite to eat. The porch provides the ideal setting for an enchanting evening outside and the food is divine. They're known for their Crawfish Monica Mac — baked penne pasta smothered in a fontina parmesan creme sauce — and it does not disappoint.
The historic restaurant overlooks St. Charles Street.
If you're looking for something a little different, take your pick between a haunted history or cemetery tour, where you'll learn about the city's harrowed past that's full of violence, Voo Doo and pirates. Even if you're not into ghosts or the supernatural, the tours provide an insightful look into the darker side of New Orleans.
Tip: Groupon typically has great deals on top rated tours — similar to this one that's 50% off.
Hard to believe the beautiful (even in the rain) LaLaurie Mansion is one of the most haunted places in the country. You're sure to go by it on a tour, if not, you can find it at 1140 Royal Steet.
I always recommend keeping the last day of your trip schedule free — that way you have time to go back to an area you wanted to spend more time in or visit somewhere new that you discovered earlier in your trip, but didn't have a chance to experience, whether it be a small cafe, store, museum or just an interesting part of town. These relaxed days with a loose schedule can often turn into your favorite part of the trip!
Though, there are a few places you might want to pencil in to visit at some point during the day.
The Grove Street Press, a stationary shop in the Quarter was one of the places I was grateful to have extra time for.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how the spectacularly colorful Mardi Gras floats are made, take a tour of Mardi Gras World. The tour starts with a short film about the history of Mardi Gras floats that date all the way back to the 1800s, then a guide will take guests to the workshop where all the magic happens. On the tour you'll get to see the artists and makers as they're creating their masterpieces as well as float designs for the upcoming year, before they roll down the streets of the Big Easy. Once the guided tour is over, you're free to walk around and explore — it's amazing to see how large the floats are in person and standing beside one will make you feel extra small.
Tip: Groupon frequently offers discounts on admission to Mardi Gras World like this one. You'll want to take the complimentary shuttle that the museum offers — otherwise it's $15 to park.
Side note: The artists at Mardi Gras World also design the big Chick-Fil-A cows you see on billboards.
Jester's from a former float.
This float's a showstopper!
A sneak peek at some of the floats for the upcoming Mardi Gras season. Looks like this year will include some of our favorite childhood cartoon characters.
The National WWII Museum is another great option to consider visiting on your last day (or a rainy day). There you'll find numerous exhibits, multimedia experiences and an impressive collection of artifacts, dedicated to those who fought for our freedom. Tickets are $27 for adults. You can purchase them here.
Three days only gives you a small glimpse of all that NOLA has to offer, so be prepared to plan a trip back as soon as possible — there's plenty more to see and do — and we'll have an itinerary for that trip, too.
Click here for a three-day itinerary for "America's Finest City" — San Diego.
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