New Orleans Travel Guide : Travel tips and top things to do in NOLA
When someone mentions “New Orleans”, I had always envisioned “Mardi Gras”, this insane event in New Orleans that involves lots of beads, flashing, and wild crazy partying. But not until after I experienced the city, did I find out that it’s actually a lot more than that. New Orleans is one of those places that you never forget because of the non-stop entertainment, delicious food and unique fun available to its visitors. From the intriguing architecture in the Frenchman quarter, to the live Jazz bands playing on the street, it’s for sure a lively city. The music in this city is one of its highlights, with influences of French, Caribbean, West African, Native American and Spanish cultures you can imagine what a unique identity New Orleans posseses. Read on to find out how to enjoy what this city has to offer in just 4 days. I researched and prepared well in advanced to make the most of my time there. I visited a friend on this trip (girls trip!!!) and couch surfed at her apartment, but I will still share some great accommodation options for you.
When to visit:
The optimal time to visit New Orleans in my opinion is either April or October, for the best weather and festivals. Try to avoid the summer months as it gets extremely humid and hot. Even though I didn’t visit during Mardi Gras, Bourbon street was still packed with people in October, the month I visited. The weather in October was amazing, not too hot, or too cold, but just perfect at around 70-75 degrees every day. Mardi Gras is usually in February or March, and it’s definitely an experience to be had once in your lifetime.
Booking Flights and Activities:
I usually book my flights way in advanced, but this was a spur of the moment type of trip, so I actually booked my flight in September, only 1 month in advanced (I like to book at least 6 months ahead). Even so, I still got an amazing deal through Spirit Airlines (89$ RT from FLL!), I was super happy! Spirit always has great deals on flights and since I’m a newly discovered “super light” traveler I have no problem just taking a book bag for a 5-7 day trip. I’ve never had a bad experience with flights as of yet so I will continue to use Spirit until then, you can’t beat the prices (specially if you can travel with a book bag as your sole baggage).
Booking activities depends on what your interests are. There are river cruises, haunted tours, bar crawls, concerts, and other activities. Groupon, Trip Advisor, or Viator is a good place to start.
Where to stay:
Deciding precisely where to stay in New Orleans depends on your interests and particulars of your itinerary. There are plenty of hotels New Orleans, from luxury to affordable. The most important thing to keep in mind is safety. Although New Orleans for the most part is not the most “unsafe” US cities, there are some questionable areas. So please make sure to research the area you will be staying in.
The French Quarter, the prime area for most visitors, is one of the best locations to stay at. Some higher end hotels there: Royal Sonesta, The Ritz, Hotel Monteleone or the W New Orleans. More budget options are: French Market Inn, The Frenchmen Hotel, The Bourbon Orleans Hotel, Hotel Le Marais, or Lamothe House Hotel. The Garden District is also an ideal area in New Orleans. Some options are: Pontchartrain Hotel, Historic Streetcar Inn, or The Quisby.
How to get around:
New Orleans is one of those cities where you can get by without renting a car, unless you are interested in day trips. The main method of transport I suggest is walking, and the historic cable cars/streetcars. For places that are further away, a taxi or Uber will do. That’s one of the things I loved about New Orleans, being able to walk and enjoy the city.
The historic trolley system is a lot of fun and brings a uniquely vintage aspect to the city.
Streetcars are very affordable, you pay $1.25 in cash when you board or you can also buy a Jazzy pass. These cost 1 day- $3, 3 days-$9 and 31 days- $55. New Orleans has five streetcar lines, the most famous line is the St. Charles. You can obtain tickets, maps and more information about the streetcar on the GoMobile app by the Regional Transit Authority. Just for fun, you can also hire a horse with carriage to tour you around specific areas of the city.
Where to eat:
The culinary experience in New Orleans is one of the most flavorful and delicious I have ever tasted in America. They are famous for several key dishes including Jambalaya, Chargrilled Oysters, Po’ Boys, Beignets, Muffuletta, and Gumbo to name a few. Every restaurant I visited did not disappoint, and there were many on my list that I didn’t make it to, sadly. But there’s always next time! Here’s a list of the best places I visited and some other of my recommendations:
1. Tito’s Ceviche and Pisco: I absolutely love a good ceviche, and this place has many! Peruvian food is also on the yummy in my tummy list, so if you’re like me, this place is IT! Loved the vibes, with outdoor and indoor seating. The cocktails are refreshing and delicious! To top it off, they have passionfruit in a lot of their dishes and cocktails, can you say “my type of heaven”. Everything I tasted was scrumptiously tantalizing to my taste buds. Perfection.
2. Saba: Mediterranean food is definitely one of my top picks, and this restaurant did not let me down. The lamb was perfectly seasoned and so soft it melted in your mouth. The hummus and other appetizers we enjoyed were some of the best!
3. New Orleans Creole Cookery: This is the best place for some late night snacks! There oysters and oyster shooters were delicious! After a long night in Bourbon Street we stopped at this delicious eatery to refuel. The seafood pasta was also great, creamy and fresh.
4. Cafe Beignet & Cafe Du Monde: You can’t come to New Orleans and not visit these famous spots, or have a beignet for that matter! Beignet done that! Cafe Du Monde is constantly packed, even at 9pm when we went. The Beignets are soft and deliciously sweet, they go great with coffee, specially late at night when you’re getting ready to continue partying. I even took home a cup as souvenir, such an unforgettable place. At Cafe Beignet you’ll enjoy an afternoon cocktail along with the beignets, and if you’re lucky they will have a live band playing that day.
5. The Bombay Club: OK!!! This place! For Brunch it is a MUST! They have the most scrumptious and unique options. The dishes are so aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, just a work of art. AND how can you beat the 10$ price for bottomless Rosé and Mimosas? This is really one of my favorite places we went to. Seating outside was my preference and their courtyard is just so welcoming.
6. Drago’s Seafood Restaurant: This is a bomb place for chargrilled oysters, so don’t miss it!
7. Bacchanal: I couldn’t believe how innovative and cool this place was. If you love live bands, wine, and tapas, then this is the place for you. You order your bottle of wine inside, along with charcuterie goods if you’d like those, and then you find a seat outside to enjoy the live Jazz band playing. They also have a menu with food options that were delicious. A very unique concept that I rather enjoyed.
8. French Truck Coffee: For a quick and healthy breakfast look no further then this little cottage style cute joint. Coffee connoisseurs will appreciate the baristas at this locale.
9. Apolline: The brunch at Apolline is one to be remembered, the food is very flavorful and the atmosphere is quaint. From the Spicy Bloody Mary to the bottomless Mimosas, you have to brunch it out here.
Others: Commanders Palace, Acme Oysters, Brennan’s, La Boulangerie, and Atchafalaya.
What to do:
1. French Quarter: The streets of the French Quarter will amaze you. From the cast iron balconies to the colorful buildings, the street entertainment and the many shops. It’s one of the best streets I have ever walked. Many talented performers and music lovers unite along the sidewalks to engulf you in a serenade like you’ve never seen before. The Spanish and French architecture on Frenchmen Street just brings it all together and you feel like you’re not in America, but in Europe. Visit Jackson Square and enjoy the art and street performers. And of course, the iconic St. Louis Cathedral cannot be missed.
2. Magazine Street: One of those streets where you can shop for hours and when you get hungry, good food is just steps away. There’s an interesting art gallery on this street and if you get the chance swing by to check out some unique art by Ashley Longshore. We had a little fun shooting in the many photo op locations on Magazine Street. Theres a flower shop with a beautiful lush green garden on this street as well, just what a girl needs to feel complete ( I love finding flower shops when I travel, and sometimes I even buy myself a bouquet or my husband does).
3. Bourbon Street/Nightlife: Ohhhh where the party at? Of course on BOURBON!!! We spent one whole day here and partied like it was 1999! I recommend starting your day around 3PM and continuing the party until just after midnight. This way you’re out of Bourbon street by 12:30am and can avoid the belligerently drunk and other dangerous encounters that happen around 1AM, but you still spent plenty of time there to indulge in all the festivities. Another option if you rather stay out of Bourbon, are Jazz Clubs on Frenchmen Street. The live music scene is tremendously invigorating in New Orleans and you won’t regret going out an experiencing it, places such as Blue Nile or The Maisons, will leave you wanting more. Frenchmen Street at night becomes a big Jazz party on the street. PSA: It’s allowed to consume alcohol at all times on the streets of NOLA! So grab a to-go cup and have some fun!
4. Tours: There are several tours you can purchase on Viator. Specifically haunted and voodoo tours. New Orleans has a lot of history and much of its past is considered eerie. If the unknown and ghostly interests you, then this is one of the best places to take in such a thing. Other tours available are Swamp Boat Tours, Steamboat Cruise, Walking Food Tours, and many others. With the “experiences” on AirBnB there are so many new things to do in the city, you can even do a photo tour.
5. Museums: The museums in NOLA are great and vast, specially for history buffs.
The National WWII Museum is one of the top museums if you like history. It tells the Americans story on the war that changed the world. The exhibits are pretty amazing, with a total of four buildings covering all aspects of WWII, from the European and Pacific fronts to the Louisiana home-front. There are all types of war artifacts from tanks to weapons, submarines, planes and the like. You can really feel like you belonged in that era and how it was to be a part of those times.
If you love art then the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art or the Contemporary Arts Center is where you should spend an afternoon, they even host events in evenings. If you’re interested in NOLA history then visit The Historic New Orleans Collection museum or the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. If you are a fan of music and jazz, then I suggest The New Orleans Jazz Museum, where they often times host concerts as well.
6. Bars: OKKKK! There is always a fun bar to hit up when in NOLA. There are so many spots. From classy to crazy to the in between. I loved them all! Theres entertainment in a lot of the bars on bourbon street. Either live music or a show. Honestly there’s no way to be bored on bourbon. If people watching doesn’t entertain you then I’m sure grabbing their signature cocktails like the hand grenade, hurricane, sazerac, and many more. You’re surely to have a good time. Here are my top 4 bars I visited!
Hot Tin: I loved it because of the views and their French 75!
Carousel Bar: Adored the. concept of a moving bar, order their French 007
Tropical Isle: Just one half grenade and you’ll be singing all night long, great place for live music.
Chicken On the Bone: Had so much fun here it’s illegal!
7. Parks/Others: There’s several other scenic/outdoor activities to do in New Orleans. You can take a ride on a steamboat, walk at City Park, picnic at Audubon Park, or visit the local zoo.
What to pack:
Depending on what time of the year you go, packing essentials may differ. For the most part NOLA is pretty casual, fun, and diverse. But here is a list of the main items I’d consider if traveling for 3-5 days.
2 Mini dresses
1 Maxi dress
1 Pair of jeans
1 Pair of comfortable/loose pants
2 Comfy/Pretty Blouses
1 Pair of sandals and heels
1 Pair of comfy shoes/sneakers/flats
1 Pair of ankle boots
1 Pair of shorts (summer trip) or a jacket (winter trip)
1 Wide brim or stylish hat
2 Pairs of sunglasses
1 Cover up
NOLA is pretty affordable in my book. Depending on where you stay and how fancy you like your dinner. The vast majority of your budget is likely to go to alcohol (if you drink). I have now been to NOLA 3 times, and on each occasion I spent a different amount. The first trip I was able to stick to a 600$ budget thanks to lodging with my friend. On my second and third trip I wasn’t so lucky and spent closer to 1200$.
-From what I hear, NOLA can be smelly, but I didn’t notice all that bad, so don’t let that deter you.
-Mardi Gras is insane, and things sell out quick and become pricier by the day, so book super in advanced if you want to attend.
-Try not to pay any attention to street salesmen or anyone asking you about your shoes. Keep to yourself and your party.
-Always try to stay where it’s crowded and lighted.
-You’ll get beads no matter what you do or don’t do!
-July and August are brutally hot, try to avoid.
-Never leave your drink unattended. You can take your drink anywhere and everywhere in NOLA its permitted. Bartenders will gladly give you to-go cups.
I hope you have a blast if you decide to go to NOLA and if you follow any of my tips, let me know how it went!
“We only have one life, make it fun, make it different, make it yours.”
Disclaimer: Prices are approximate. Recommendations are my personal opinion and do not guarantee positive results. Travel bug may be contracted and trip results may vary.