New Orleans had been on my list for a long time as a top destination within the USA to visit. Music, history, culture, food, and swamps? Sign me up! We went for a long weekend in late May, and had a ton of fun packed into a short amount of time. While I think we got a great overview of the city and its offerings, I would definitely go back to New Orleans over and over again to try new restaurants, go to concerts, and dive more into the rich history of this city.
The Best Things To Do in New Orleans
Explore the Cemeteries
There are guided cemetery tours in New Orleans but you can also enjoy a long look through a chain-link fence to see some impressive tombs and headstones. If we would have had more time, a guided tour definitely would have been on the itinerary, as these cemeteries are vast and expansive, showcasing a long history of life and death in New Orleans. They are eerie but beautiful, a crucial part of the landscape of the city.
Ghost Tour with New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tours
Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, a ghost tour is a must-do while in New Orleans. Our tour guide was absolutely wonderful – she had grown up in the French Quarter herself and she could provide a vast expanse of knowledge of the history of New Orleans, mixed in with her own personal experiences from growing up here as a child. We learned about some of the atrocities committed in the haunted buildings by slave owners, (look up the LaLaurie mansion, American Horror Story fans) the history of massive fires that nearly leveled the city, and all sorts of other historical information that painted the full picture on how New Orleans came to be. Book a tour with New Orleans Ghost Adventures – it’s a great way to walk around the city and get your bearings on the French Quarter and the robust history of this city.
Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters
Want to get up close with some gators? Of course you do! A swamp tour is a must-do in New Orleans, and Cajun Encounters is a great choice for the all-inclusive service. Complete with transport from the city to Slidell, this tour experience was perfect for people visiting New Orleans without a rental car or personal transport. We saw the Honey Island Swamp with a very animated and interesting guide. Gators, birds, turtles, snakes, and big bugs were all around us as we cruised through brackish waters, surrounded by enchanting trees and mangroves. Swamps and wetlands truly are beautiful, and I’d argue that no trip to this part of the United States is complete without appreciating its nature firsthand.
Frenchmen Street Jazz Clubs
Another must-do in New Orleans is to spend some time absorbing some of the jazz scene. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz music and the clubs are full of incredible musicians, many offering shows without a cover charge. We stopped into Cafe Negril and Three Muses for drinks and enjoyed live performances. Don’t forget to bring cash to leave a tip for the band – their musical talents are truly exceptional and it’s amazing that the spirit of jazz is still so alive in New Orleans after so much time.
Mardi Gras World
If you’re visiting New Orleans during a time that is NOT Mardi Gras, you can still get a taste of the artist grandeur and party spirit of the parades with a visit to Mardi Gras World. It’s a giant warehouse where floats are designed and created for the festivities, and stored during the offseason. Enjoy a brief video overview of the history of Mardi Gras Parades, as well as get some insight from the float designers and artists on how they come up with ideas and bring them to life. After, enjoy a self-guided walk through the warehouse to check out dozens of super cool floats and statues. It’s the perfect solution to getting a taste of the Mardi Gras spirit if you visit at a time of year where they festivities are not ongoing.
Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo
A shop dedicated to all things occult, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo is worth stopping in if you’re in need of a psychic reading, some new tarot cards, incense, or any other supernatural goods.
Restaurants & Bars in New Orleans
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
If there is one restaurant you must visit while in New Orleans, I think Willie Mae’s would get my vote. Wander outside the French Quarter a little ways to savor this soul-food spot. The line is long and chaotic, the staff is overwhelmed but hospitable, and the food is phenomenal. We shared a fried chicken sandwich and a variety of sides, including green beans with gravy and rice (not something I’d usually order, but it was soulful and delicious), mac and cheese, and fries. No alcohol is served so opt for a sweet tea and enjoy this no-frills staple of New Orleans. Every second we had to wait was worth it, and every bite was absolutely delicious.
Despite Cafe du Monde being the more famous location for beignets, I have to say I think Cafe Beignet is actually better. Start off your day with a heavy, greasy breakfast of fried dough dusted in powdered sugar, a croissant breakfast sandwich, and iced coffee. What could be better? There are many locations of Cafe Beignet’s around the city, and I’d highly recommend at stopping at least once on your New Orleans adventures.
Beignets at Cafe du Monde
And despite what I’ve just said about Cafe Beignet being the better option, you still must go to Cafe du Monde. If not for the beignets (which are still excellent, by the way) it’s for the experience – this open-air cafe has been in operation since 1862. It’s such a staple of the city that when it announced its reopening after Hurricane Katrina, it was taken as a sign that the city of New Orleans was recovering from the storm and would be okay. Get a coffee and beignets here – just be sure to shake the bag so that the powdered sugar gets adequately distributed – we were total amateurs and didn’t realize this was the trick until after we had finished ours and saw other people shaking their bags vigorously.
Jimmy J’s Cafe for Breakfast
An observation I made during our jaunt around New Orleans was that this is a city that will wake up early and wait in long lines for food. For breakfast on Saturday, we opted for Jimmy J’s and after waiting in a long line outside and down the block, we were not disappointed! It’s a super cute spot that would be great for nursing a hangover or fueling up for a big day of touring.
The Famous (or infamous, perhaps?) Hurricane cocktail at Pat O’Briens is quite literally a tropical storm for the liver. These red drinks may look like innocent cups of fruit punch, but their booze content is much more sinister. These babies are strong! We dipped into Pat O’Briens during a brief rainstorm on our first night in New Orleans, which seemed a fitting choice. It was a great drink, but I would stop at one. The bar offers vintage pub feels, with both indoor seating and an outdoor patio to enjoy on a sunnier day.
Step into the haunted atmosphere of Lafitte’s and order yourself a purple drank! This cocktail is also called a Voodoo Daiquiri and is a grape slushy infused with Everclear and and bourbon. Don’t be fooled by its resemblance to a slurpee from 7/11 – these are so strong! Sip one while you admire and enjoy the eerie atmosphere of this bar, one of the oldest drinking establishments in the United States, dating back to 1772.
This place is loved for the carousel bar in the lobby, which, as you can imagine, has a line out the door of people hoping to sit at it. Some of the guests of the actual hotel seemed to be ornery with all the tourist “outsiders” stealing spaces at the stagnant merry-go-round, and there was much chatter and debate between bystanders regarding which line was for the normal seating area, and which was to be sat up amongst on the actual carousel. We opted to be sat in the lounge area instead, and enjoy the view of the coveted seating area without standing in a queue for an outrageous amount of time.
Laura and I shared a charcuterie board and a salad, I sipped their French 007 cocktail which was light and refreshing. It was a great place to start the evening and definitely a worthwhile place to check out if you’re visiting New Orleans.
Muriel’s Restaurant New Orleans
For a more upscale dining experience, stop at Muriel’s for dinner. Right in Jackson Square, this restaurant is a gorgeous establishment with delectable food to boot. I had a spicy margarita and shrimp & grits for dinner, and every single bite was out of this world. I wanted to eat it again 3 times. While this was a girl’s trip and we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere here, Muriel’s would be the best spot for a date night if you were visiting New Orleans on a trip with your partner. The staff was also great, and while the menu boasts some pricier items, it was worth every penny.
Creole House Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Want to try all the Creole classics that everyone told you about in preparing you for your trip? Go to Creole House on Canal Street and try it all! Here we had a Muffaletta, fried alligator, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and jambalaya with their “Taste of New Orleans” platter. This spot is an excellent way to try all the top favorites of the city in one place, and it was great to share everything.
Cafe Fleur de Lis
Another breakfast stop that is worth checking out is Cafe Fleur de Lis. The wait was long but it was worth it – everything was unbelievably delicious, including my peach bellini, which is a very underrated breakfast cocktail.
New Orleans was an incredible city to enjoy on a quick visit. I’d go back again and again just to eat, drink, and soak up the soul and music of the city.