If you’re looking for a New Orleans travel guide, you’re in the right place! Minimize your planning time with this perfect 3-day itinerary.
The Big Easy is one of the most eclectic cities you’ll ever visit, with a magical melting pot of Creole, Haitian, Native American, European and African American culture. The city is truly a sensory overload – from its delicious food to its colorful buildings. Roaming the French Quarter, indulging in flavorful Cajun delicacies, spotting gators on the Bayou, swinging my hips to live jazz, and catching colorful beads from Mardi Gras floats are just a few beautiful memories that will stick with me forever. This seafood-slinging, party-bringing, necklace-flinging city stole my heart. Crescent City is so much more than the Mardi Gras parades and the bars on Bourbon Street (although, those things are pretty great too!). Here’s my ultimate New Orleans travel guide for your next trip.
Disclaimer: As part of a Pack Up + Go Surprise Vacation, they provide curated recommendations for each trip that let you explore your destination at your leisure! Thanks to the team at Pack Up + Go, I visited New Orleans as a Flight Crew member and drew inspiration from the curated recommendations provided.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Virgin Hotels New Orleans
With vibrant décor and fun vibes all around, the Virgin Hotel New Orleans is a gorgeous boutique hotel that opened last August. Located in the city’s Central Business District, the hotel’s location is only a short 10-minute walk from Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. Walking into the lobby, we were DELIGHTED by the color explosion and whimsical details that greeted us! The hotel includes several beautifully-decorated public spaces – grab a coffee in the Whisper Library, take a dip and view the skyline at the rooftop Pool Club, or enjoy global cocktails and cuisine at Commons Club. Our Chamber King room was spectacular (here’s a 3D tour), and don’t get me started on the “ergonomically designed” bed!
How to Get Around New Orleans
If you’re thinking of renting a car in New Orleans… don’t. The city has SO many affordable options for transportation. Not to mention, the infamous potholes make it likely that you’d damage your rental anyways. Check out these options for the easiest way to get around New Orleans!
Walk The City
New Orleans is very walkable in the main neighborhoods, which was super convenient! As I mentioned, we could easily walk to the French Quarter in about 10 minutes – and Canal Street in only five. Since those were the main areas for most of the trip, that was our primary method of transportation.
Take the Street Cars, Buses, and Ferries
Looking to venture outside of the French Quarter? No worries! Public transportation in New Orleans is ridiculously cheap. Just download the RTA GoMobile app and snag a 1-Day Jazzy Pass for $3.00 – it unlocks a world of unlimited rides on city buses, streetcars & ferries. When we headed out to the French Market, we used the streetcars that run every 5 minutes. It was quick, easy, and felt like a fun local experience too! All three of New Orleans’ streetcar lines provide service 24-hours a day – except during Mardi Gras when they stop service in certain areas dependent upon parade schedules.
It wasn’t until our last day that we discovered that the Blue Bikes in New Orleans are actually electric! The Blue Bikes fleet is comprised of hundreds of pedal-assist e-bikes that can go up to 20 miles per hour. It’s quick to grab a bike and convenient to drop it off at any Blue Bikes station when you’re done, or a pay a small fee to drop it off at a regular bike rack. We had so much fun zipping through city streets! Just be careful of the potholes and high trafficked areas.
Ubers & Rideshares
Ubers in New Orleans are very expensive, but they’re the most time efficient way to get from the airport to your hotel. Also, if you’re headed to the nature preserves for swamp tours, they’re a reliable way to get outside the city. I’d recommend keeping Ubers to a minimum, unless you’re headed someplace the streetcars don’t run.
Things to Do in New Orleans: Day 1
Brunch at The Ruby Slipper Café
Start your day off strong with brunch and delicious cocktails at The Ruby Slipper Café. Inspired by Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, the authentic spot is a MUST for breakfast lovers! The all-day brunch restaurant serves traditional breakfast favorites and cocktails with a New Orleans-style twist. Indulge in Fried Green Tomatoes, Bayou Shrimp Benedict, Sweet Heat Chicken & French Toast Bites, and more deliciousness.
Hot Tip: They don’t allow reservations before the day of dining, so be sure to join the waitlist online when you first wake up. The wait time on weekends is typically 1-2 hours, so this will help to cut down on remaining waiting time when you arrive! We only had about a 15 minute wait when we got to the restaurant.
Explore the French Quarter
Step back in time with a main character-esque stroll among the colorful buildings in the French Quarter. Lovingly referred to as the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, it’s the oldest neighborhood in the city. Since its establishment in 1718, it’s been a major town center and trade hub. From the liveliness of Bourbon Street to the elegance of Royal Street, you’ll find something worth exploring on every thoroughfare. Perhaps the most impressive part of visiting this area is the beautiful architecture and stunningly intricate wrought-iron balconies. Be sure to spend some time wandering aimlessly, popping into quirky shops, fancy boutiques, and art galleries along the way.
Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral
Jackson Square is one of the most easily recognizable landmarks in the French Quarter, nestled under the shadow of the St. Louis Cathedral‘s towering spires. Aside from the perfectly-manicured lawns and blooming buds, the National Historic Landmark was the site where the transfer ceremonies were held for the Louisiana Purchase – officially making the territory a part of the United States. Stop by and snap a selfie, gaze at the oldest cathedral in the country, support local artists and palm readers, or pop a squat and people watch.
Visit the Voodoo Museum
Voodoo is a large part of the cultural identity of New Orleans, with many locals practicing this faith. While the movie and media portray the practice in a certain light, spoiler alert: it’s not about casting spells and sticking pins in dolls! The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is a comprehensive museum in that details the influence voodoo has had throughout the city’s history. View numerous numerous cultural and historical artifacts, voodoo charms, memorabilia, and more. The self guided tour is only $10 for general admission.
Dinner at Creole House
The best restaurant I visited while in New Orleans was Creole House, hands down. While the wait can get a bit long, it was totally worth the extra bit of time to enjoy Cajun and Creole cuisine in the oldest existing building on Canal Street! We started off with the Sautéed Crab Claws, which were flavorful Fresh Louisiana crab claws sautéed in an olive oil and garlic vinaigrette, served with Texas toast. For entrees, I ordered the Blackened Chicken Jambalaya and Manny ordered the Jambalaya Pasta. Both were delicious, but his pasta was out of this world! Don’t forget to wash it all down with one of the city’s iconic drinks: the Hurricane – with Bacardi spiced, light rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and grenadine.
Live It Up on Bourbon Street
The ambiance of Bourbon Street during the day is much different than during the nighttime. What was once a daytime thoroughfare for souvenir shops and bars screams alive with people dancing in the streets, loud jazz and hip-hop music, and street performers galore. Neon signs flicker alive and the party gets started! What you’ve seen and heard in the movies is true: Bourbon Street is a hotspot for partying tourists, alcohol, and debauchery. If that’s a bit too much for you, consider going on a ghost tour of the city in the evening instead!
Important: Bourbon Street can get rowdy in the evenings and you can easily become a target for petty theft. Be sure to be aware of your surroundings – don’t bring valuables, never leave bags unattended, and don’t put items in your back pocket. #StreetSmarts
Things to Do in New Orleans: Day 2
Gaze at the Mississippi River at the New Orleans Waterfront
Crescent City is one of the many names that New Orleans goes by, and that’s because it’s positioned at a sharp bend in the Mississippi River. The New Orleans Riverfront is a great spot to see this body of water in all its splendor, people watch, and take a leisurely stroll. You can also take a two-hour steamboat tour on the famed Steamboat Natchez – or just watch as they pass by. We enjoyed taking in some fresh air on the boardwalk and flying the drone alongside the boats.
Enjoy Local Art and Photo Ops at JAMNOLA
Joy. Art. Music. That’s what the JAM in JAMNOLA stands for – and boy, does it deliver all three in abundance! The Crescent City-themed experiential pop-up brings the art of 20+ locals to one space. Take a stroll through the topsy-turvy cultural funhouse and get your selfie on! Explore the “Bling Bayou” with golden gators, or kick it in a life-sized crawfish pot where you’re bound to be cooked with a sprinkle of Old Bay. Take photos with larger-than-life busts of iconic musicians in the Garden of Legends. Feel the beat and experience the color of NOLA’s rich culture.
Shop (& Eat!) Local in the French Market
Settled along the Mississippi River, you’ll find a bustling open-air Flea Market that’s over two centuries old. The pedestrian plaza hosts several local vendors – including restaurants, drink stands, local artisans, and other makers. You can find everything from handmade earrings to fresh oysters at this one-stop-shop! Aside from the open-air pedestrian plaza, the surrounding six blocks of restaurants and commercial buildings are also a part of the French Market District. They host a treasure trove of products, food, and oddities just waiting to be discovered!
Beignets from Café Du Monde
Treat yourself to a New Orleans delicacy: beignets from Café Du Monde! These little babies are so good, the line to get your hands on them stretches down the block on most weekends. If you’ve never had beignets, they’re pillow-shaped pieces of dough that are fried and covered in powdered sugar. According to local lore, Café du Monde’s beignet recipe was brought from France by the Ursuline Nuns in the 1800s. The sweet treat comes in an order of three – pair it with their signature chicory coffee for the perfect mix. Be sure bring cash though, because they don’t accept card payments!
BONUS: Catch a Mardi Gras Parade
If you’re lucky enough to visit between February and March, Mardi Gras is a MUST! It’s one of the BIGGEST celebrations in the United States. A month’s worth of festivities lead up to Fat Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. Dancing, parades, colorful costumes, jazz, and A LOT of eating and drinking take place! Put on your stretchy pants, your green, gold, and purple garb, and let the good times roll! You’re likely to stumble upon the parades anyway, but the schedule can be found on the official website.
Head to the Garden District
After sampling some local fare and picking up unique souvenirs, head over to the beautiful Garden District. Located in Uptown New Orleans, you’ll find grandiose Victorian mansions with trees full of Spanish moss. On Magazine Street, the southern border of the Garden District, you’ll discover several locally-owned boutiques and restaurants. If you can visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, you should – but right now at the time of this article it’s temporarily closed for renovations (updated 3/10/22).
Hot Tip: Getting from the French Market to Uptown can be about 40 minutes by public transit. To take a streetcar, take quick ride on a Blue Bike to the corner of Canal Street and Carondelet Street (or walk there) and grab a ride on the St. Charles line. This guide from TripSavvy is a great resource to learn which stops in the Garden District are worth hopping off for. The quickest way to get to the Garden District in this case would be to take a rideshare which is about 20.
Dinner at La Petite Grocery
La Petite Grocery is a neighborhood spot in a bistro setting with white tablecloths. Don’t let the innocent façade fool you, though – this Uptown gem has graced the “must-eat lists” of many local, national, and international outlets. What really adds to the charm of the restaurant is the history, as it used to be a grocery store in the late 1800s. Everything was delicious here and the service was great too! For entrees, I ordered the Roasted Lamb T-Bones with lemon polenta, chicories, roasted mushrooms & za’atar. The lamb was cooked to PERFECTION! Manny ordered the LPG Cheeseburger with house pickles, onion marmalade, arugula, whole grain mustard, aïoli, gruyère & hand cut fries. The dessert we ordered was just a special for the evening – a devil’s chocolate cake with mascarpone ice cream, pretzel crumbs, and strawberries. Divine.
Be Carried Away by Live Music on Frenchmen Street
Thinking of spending every night on Bourbon Street? Think again! While Frenchmen Street may not have the same recognition as the latter, it’s one of the most prominent streets in NOLA. In fact, the three-block strip has the highest concentration of live music in the city. Some notable music venues are Snug Harbor, The Spotted Cat, d.b.a., and 30°/-90°. While it’s nearly impossible to hit them all in one night, make your decision easier with this Livewire Music Calendar from WWOZ 90.7 FM. It’s an awesome resource to find out which bands are playing and when.
Things to Do in New Orleans: Day 3
Spot Gators on the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour
Did you really travel to New Orleans if you didn’t take a boat ride on the bayou? Located only 30 minutes from downtown New Orleans is the Jean Laffite Swamp Tour, where you can explore Louisiana’s backcountry. Spot alligators and different forms of wildlife on a pontoon boat as you careen through the murky waters of the meandering bayou at Barataria Nature Preserve. Not only will you see gators swimming in the water, they’ll also be perched along the banks sunbathing! On the way, your guide will also point out certain spots where movies were filmed in the local swamp.
Lunch at NOLA Po’boys
Do you know where the term “po’boy” originated? In 1929, the streetcar workers from Electric Street Railway went on a labor strike without pay. Moved by this, restaurant owners Bennie and Clovis Martin created a sandwich with French bread to give the workers for free. Anytime a worker would come into their restaurant, the owners would yell “Here comes another poor boy!” In true English language fashion, this eventually got abbreviated to po’boy. Now, the sandwich isn’t just being served the traditional way with roast beef and gravy. It’s being given all types of makeovers with shrimp, fried oysters, gumbo, and other delectable fillings! Head to NOLA Po’boys on Bourbon Street to have one of these historic sandwiches with a side of gumbo (or get the gumbo on top!).
Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
Get around the city the classic way! Horse-drawn carriages were once the primary way that people got around the unpaved streets and thoroughfares in New Orleans. Now, you can find them perched on the side of Jackson Square near Decatur Street, just waiting to carry you away on a tour. Royal Carriages, Charbonnet Carriages, and Good Old Days Tours are the primary companies offering these voyages starting at $40. If a carriage ride is a bit out of the budget, you can always put your imagination to work and ride in a local pedicab instead!
Jazz at Bourbon “O” Bar
If you’re still chugging along by this time, I commend you! Executing a jam-packed New Orleans travel guide is no joke. End your trip on a high note in the French Quarter at Bourbon “O” Bar, a candlelit watering hole with live jazz every night starting at 8pm. Try one of the charismatic craft cocktails or traditional signature drinks – like the Ramos Gin Fizz. Nod your head and tap your feet as the jazz music fills the air. Enjoy the last live performance of your trip.
And that’s all folks! You’ll munch on beignets, survive gator sightings, sip a hurricane, dance in the streets, and even learn about voodoo. I hope you LOVE your trip to New Orleans. Tag me in your selfies and let me know how you enjoy your adventure!