From the lively avenues of the French Quarter and the streetcars of the Garden District, to tasty Louisiana cuisine and the sound of jazz at every turn, this New Orleans itinerary is the perfect introduction to the city.
Welcome to New Orleans! One of the most distinctive of all American cities – everyone has an image of it in their minds. It’s a place that glows with neon and you can barely walk a block without hearing some evocative jazz music.
Rising from the ashes of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans is one of the hottest travel destinations right now, and it’s easy to see why. New Orleans is the place where French, Creole and Cajun cultures meet, producing some of the finest gastronomy in the United States. It’s a city steeped in history and culture, with wonderful architecture and plenty of impressive monuments to visit.
However, the city of New Orleans is best known for jazz music, and a trip here is sure to get your toes tapping.
There’s never been a better time to visit the Big Easy. To help you plan your trip and pick out the best things to do in New Orleans, I’ve put together this handy travel guide. It covers all the must-sees and as you read, you’ll be able to create your very own New Orleans itinerary!
Best Time to Visit New Orleans
Louisiana’s summers are notoriously hot, humid and sticky. Meanwhile, autumn can be plagued by thunderstorms, so the best time to visit New Orleans is in the spring.
Temperatures are warm and pleasant, usually over 20 degrees Celsius. It’s also the time when some epic New Orleans festivals take place, including Mardi Gras, the French Quarter festival and Jazz Fest.
If you’re really looking to avoid the crowds, however, plan your visit for winter when the major sights will be quieter.
New Orleans Itinerary
People Watching in Jackson Square
Start your New Orleans itinerary with a trip to Jackson Square, the heart of the city and the perfect place to get your bearings. It’s best known for the stunning St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest in the country.
Located in the centre of the French Quarter, Jackson Square covers 2.5 acres, and as you wander through it, you’ll feel like you’re passing through an open-air studio. There are lots of painters showing off their work next to the distinctive iron railings, with horse and carts waiting outside to take tourists on a little route through the historic quarter.
Across the street is Café du Monde, a New Orleans institution, and THE place for a coffee and a beignet. It’s open 24/7, always busy and a great place to watch the world go by.
Bite down on a beignet and watch as icing sugar covers you, the table, and the air around you. It’s all part of the fun!
Get Lost in the streets of the French Quarter
If you’re looking for atmosphere, charm, and a little New Orleans history, lose yourself in the streets of the French Quarter. This charming maze of narrow streets is filled with shops, bars, restaurants and historic attractions. Admire the colourful buildings and the intricate balconies – the architecture is seriously special!
If you’ve only got 2 days in New Orleans, you’re likely to spend much of your time in this district, soaking up the atmosphere, listening to music and sampling some fabulous New Orleans cuisine.
In particular, don’t miss the notorious Pirate’s Alley, Bourbon Street, or the bustling French market, where you’ll find local artists, craftsmen and producers plying their wares.
The French Quarter really is the heart of the city, and one of the most popular places to visit in New Orleans.
Enjoy Live Music on Frenchmen Street
Frenchmen Street is one of the best places in New Orleans to hear live music. The iconic street is lined with venues that put on shows by talented musicians every day of the week.
Head to venues such as the Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor and Blue Nile for the very best New Orleans jazz. This is an absolute must for any New Orleans itinerary.
Ride the Streetcars
Want to experience as much of the city as possible on a budget? For just a few dollars, you can ride the streetcars all around the city. Hop on board in the French Quarter, pass through the Garden District and head all the way to the Central Business District.
The vintage streetcars are filled with traditional fixtures and fittings, and ooze old world charm. They’re one of my favourite ways to see the city!
Hit the Shops on Magazine Street
Magazine Street runs all the way from Canal Street to Audubon Park, skirting the edge of the Mississippi River. It’s a great place to go for a wander and a spot of shopping, all while marvelling at the beautiful houses and architecture.
It’s a fab place for vintage lovers, with plenty of cool shops selling retro items. If you find yourself all shopped out, don’t worry – there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area serving up excellent New Orleans cuisine.
Eat Po’Boys at Parkway Bakery and Tavern
New Orleans cuisine is in a class of its own, with classics such as seafood gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp and grits, crawfish, po’boys, blackened crab and sweet beignets. Unless you can magically stretch your stomach, you might find it a struggle to squeeze in all these delights in one trip!
However, if you’ve only got 2 or 3 days in New Orleans, make sure you visit Parkway Bakery and Tavern to sample one of their fabulous po’boys. This local institution has been serving up the traditional Louisiana sandwich since 1911.
I had no idea what a po’ boy was before I arrived, but everyone told me that I just had to try it! It’s a chunky sandwich made with a New Orleans crusty baguette, then stuffed with a generous helping of meat, fried shrimp or fish, plus salad, tomatoes, pickles and mayo.
The name? Well apparently it comes from a the 1929 streetcar conductor strike when owners of a coffee stand in the French Market gave out free sandwiches to workers. When people turned up, they used to say ‘here comes another poor boy’.
At Parkway Bakery and Tavern, you can pick from ingredients including roast beef, oysters and seasoned shrimp. It may be messy to eat it, but you’ll feel like a New Orleans local when you do.
I loved eating my way around this city, so be sure to read my post about the other New Orleans foods you can’t miss.
Visit a Plantation
Like many parts of the Deep South, New Orleans’ history contains some dark elements. The legacy of slavery still looms large here, and one of the best ways to learn about the ways in which the trade shaped Louisiana’s society is to visit a plantation.
Vast mansions and estates line the Mississippi River, and I’d recommend including a day trip to visit the area on your New Orleans itinerary. Oak Alley Plantation is one of the most attractive and known for its beautiful oak trees. Meanwhile, Whitney Plantation presents the sad tales of the slave trade, and its impact on the region.
Go for cocktails at the Carousel Bar
New Orleans’ most famous drinks are the sazerac and hurricane. Hurricanes are a sweet rum drink with fruit juice and syrup, not dissimilar to a Caribbean rum punch. The birthplace of the drink was Pat O’Brien’s but I had a great one at Pierre Masperos on my first night.
Meanwhile, the sazerac may well be America’s oldest cocktail. Containing cognac and bitters (or sometimes whiskey) it’s very strong and definitely a sipper! My favourite spot for cocktails in the city was the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone. Yes – just like a fairground carousel, it rotates!
Stay at a Luxurious Hotel in New Orleans
For the ultimate luxury hotel experience, you can’t go wrong at the Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street. Perfectly located, moments from the French Quarter, it’s within walking distance of all you could need in the city.
With elegant period décor, a swanky spa, regular live music concerts and complimentary seafood gumbo, the Ritz-Carlton is a great place for first time visitors looking for a smart place to relax.
Step back in time and immerse yourself in Louisiana’s history with a stay at this beautiful complex of historic Creole cottages.
Located in the heart of the French Quarter, with an atmospheric courtyard lit by traditional gas street lamps and framed with wrought iron balconies, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Each room features unique decor, period furnishings, and the service is attentive, warm and friendly.
If you’re looking for flair, style and bags of character, Maison de la Luz is the New Orleans hotel for you! With classy Beaux Arts décor, sumptuous furnishings and a beautiful grand staircase, this luxury hotel is sure to get your heart beating a little faster.
Add to this an incredible bar (complete with a secret room hidden behind a revolving bookcase!) and you have the ideal base from which to explore New Orleans in style. When the city calls, you can simply step out of the door and on to one of New Orleans’ iconic streetcars.
Search for other hotels in New Orleans using this handy map
Tours in New Orleans
New Orleans is one of the United States’ most walkable cities, and there are plenty of tours on offer. With a knowledgable guide full of local information, it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the city’s history and culture.
This Ghosts, Vampires and Voodoo Walking Tour is one of the most popular things to do in New Orleans, providing an eerie insight into some of the occult beliefs and stories that haunt New Orleans’ history. Visit spooky houses in the French Quarter, and learn about the legends of witchcraft and voodoo that have shaped the city’s culture.
The history of New Orleans has also been shaped by water, with the Mississippi River running through it, and the delta creating some interesting habitats. What better way to gain a greater understanding of the region than on a New Orleans swamp tour?
This swamp tour takes you deep into the Bayou, where you can learn more about Cajun country, crawfishing, the area’s biodiversity and the local cultures that sustain it. You might even catch a glimpse of an alligator!
Enjoyed this post? Pin it for later…