For over 300 years, the city of New Orleans has been livening up coastal life in Louisiana with culture, music, food and celebration. Founded in 1718 by the French, and American by way of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, New Orleans is a city unlike any other. It has something for everyone – incredible cuisine, history, culture, music, and of course, Mardi Gras. Whether you’re visiting the Big Easy with family, your BFFs or stealing away on a romantic holiday, here’s how to spend an unforgettable weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana.
11 Things to do in New Orleans
1. Eat Beignets. There’s no sweeter way to begin a visit to this ‘little corner of France in America’ than with a beignet and café au lait breakfast. Cafe du Monde is the city’s most famous location for beignets (and bonus, it’s open 24 hours a day), and people watching. You can also find the decadent donuts at several Café Beignet locations throughout the French Quarter and Uptown. Need more caffeine? Grab a latte or a New Orleans Iced Coffee at local chain French Truck Coffee. Just look for the bright and cheerful iconic yellow and blue décor.
2. Stroll the grounds of National Historic Landmark Jackson Square Park in the French Quarter. The Square is directly in front of the Catholic St. Louis Cathedral, founded in 1720 and the oldest in North America. On the other side of the Cathedral is a large statue of Jesus with uplifted hands that, when lighted at night, look as if he’s celebrating a touchdown.
3. Ride the historic St. Charles streetcar from Canal Street through Uptown and past the Garden District’s collection of lovely oak-shaded streets lined with historic houses and mansions on route to lunch at Super Seafood & Oyster Bar. Riding a historic streetcar is a lovely and sedate way to see this NOLA neighbourhood and get a feel for the New Orleans of not so long ago.
4. If traveling with kids, grab an Uber to the Louisiana Children’s Museum in City Park. Children will love the interactive learning stations where they can dig into nature, play veterinarian and care for furry creatures, snuggle into the storytelling nest, and play in the wonderful outdoor areas of the park.
5. For the older set and those interested in history, the National World War II Museum is a must visit. The Museum has been designated by Congress as America’s official museum about World War II, and it does offer an American perspective on the war effort. From intense 4D movies to large exhibits about the wars in Europe and the Pacific, the Museum provides a powerful and educational opportunity to learn and remember so we can avoid such events ever happening again.
6. Take a cocktail walking tour. New Orleans’ cocktail scene is second to none. Dive into the world of Sazeracs, grasshoppers and the local spirit scene with a Doctor Gumbo Cocktail Tour. A knowledgable guide takes guests 21 and older through New Orleans’ historic and fascinating history of cocktails, with full-size tippling along the way. Belly up to the oldest stand-up bar in the country, find out where the decadent Grasshopper and Brandy Crusta were invented, get the real scoop on absinthe, learn the origins of the Sazerac and discover hidden gems where locals have been imbibing strong potions for centuries.
“The Sazerac is a spirit-forward punch in the mouth”, Lindsay, Doctor Gumbo Cocktail Tour
7. Enjoy Mardi Gras season 365 at Mardi Gras World. Take a tour of the largest float designing and building facility in the world. Here more than 80 percent of the floats that journey down New Orleans’ streets during the Carnival season are designed and built. Mardi Gras World provides visitors with the opportunity to don authentic Mardi Gras costumes and tour enormous warehouses filled with beautifully decorated floats. The tour includes a short video and a tour on Mardi Gras history and customs.
8. Take a Ghost Tour. No trip to New Orleans is complete without exploring the city’s incredible past with a cemetery voodoo tour of St. Louis cemetery with Historic New Orleans Tours. Established in 1789, this burial ground vividly reveals every aspect of New Orleans history, including its Catholic heritage, aboveground burial traditions, and tales of a voodoo priestess, Marie Leveau. FYI: You cannot enter the St. Louis cemetery without a guide.
9. Tour and tipple at Sazerac House. Opened in 2019 in a former hat shop at Canal and Magazine Streets, Sazerac House is a short stroll from the original 1850s era Sazerac Coffeehouse. The modern House has been beautifully renovated, offering a fascinating and immersive exploration of the spirited culture of New Orleans on three floors of the historic building, tastings included. The second level has four virtual bars where visitors can ‘order’ from holographic bartenders who create different cocktails with different spirits. It’s great fun and very interactive.
10. Explore the city’s Warehouse Arts District, anchored by Julia Street. This rejuvenated area is packed with independently owned art galleries, museums and eateries, making it a popular part of town to explore. Popular galleries include: the Arthur Roger Gallery, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Martine Chaisson Gallery, and the Octavia Art Gallery. There’s also a satellite location of the Louisiana Children’s Museum here.
11. Pop into the free Historic New Orleans Collection Museum on Royal Street in the heart of the French Quarter. Learn about the aspects of city life, including its historic architecture, sports history, industrial heritage and musical culture. And please! Skip the chachkas and cheap trinkets. The Shop at the Collection is the perfect place to find unique and high-quality gifts made by local artisans, as well as food, books, accessories (mini alligator bow tie!) and jewellery to bring a piece of New Orleans home.
Take a day trip detour and visit The Best New Orleans Plantation Country Tours
Where to Eat in New Orleans
The food scene in New Orleans is incredible. From oysters Rockefeller to creole gumbo, fried oyster or shrimp po’ boys and Bananas Foster, NOLA has created, invented, and merged food cultures in divine ways that deserve an entirely separate article. Obviously, our where to nosh list could be miles long. We’ve highlighted some of our personal favorites to wet the taste buds.
Antoine’s – Enjoy lunch at the oldest restaurant in New Orleans. Serving up French-Creole cuisine since 1840, this historic dining spot is on its fifth-generation relatives of its original founder, Antoine Alciatore. Oyster fans: This is the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller.
Cafe du Monde – We already covered the importance of eating beignets and café au lait at Cafe du Monde. It is the city’s most famous location for beignets but you can also get your fix at various Café Beignet locations in town. For more hipster coffee choices, grab a latte or a New Orleans Iced Coffee at local chain French Truck Coffee.
Carousel Bar – This is more of a where to drink recommendation. But if you can grab a seat at the rotating Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, jump on it. This beautiful bar built in 1949 is the city’s only rotating bar, and yes, it’s completely Insta-worthy and therefore crowded 24/7. So just forgo the photo and enjoy your French 007 or a classic Sazerac cocktail and enjoy the show.
Super Seafood & Oyster Bar – This well-known restaurant offers authentic Louisiana seafood and Creole-inspired dishes at an affordable price. The menu offers something for every taste, but as its name suggests, specializes in delicious seafood and Creole dishes ranging from po-boys to crawfish mac and cheese, seared scallops and shrimp and grits.
SoBu – This modern fine dining Creole saloon, located south of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez prepares Louisiana street food-inspired small plates like tuna pops, gumbo, and grilled seafood to pair with creative cocktails, if you can still handle them post-tour.
True Food Kitchen – Need to break up the steady diet of deep-fried southern favorites? Head here for fresh vegetarian and vegan cuisine, including flatbreads, bowls, wraps and non-veg sustainable options of chicken and salmon.
Couvant – A modern French brasserie located in the stylish Eliza Jane Hotel. Partake of cocktails, and menu classics like oysters, salade Lyonnaise, duck confit and steak frites. Enjoy drinks in their chic courtyard Bisous wine garden in the spring and summer months.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – Built in the early 18th century, this dark and mysterious bar shop is purported to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. It is a wildly popular hangout, particularly in the wee hours of the morning. The gas light lamps make for a distinctive presence on Bourbon Street.
Go listen to Jazz at Preservation Hall
If you’ve spent any time walking in the French Quarter, and along Bourbon Street in particular, you’ll have heard live music coming from every direction. For an evening of jazz that will knock your socks off, reserve tickets for an unforgettable performance at historic Preservation Hall.
New Orleans’ Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to honor one of America’s truest art forms, traditional New Orleans Jazz. Operating as a music venue, a touring band, and a non-profit organization, Preservation Hall is a cornerstone of New Orleans music and culture.
Located in the heart of the French Quarter on St. Peter Street, the Preservation Hall venue presents intimate, acoustic New Orleans Jazz concerts over 350 nights a year featuring ensembles from a current collective of 100+ local master practitioners. It’s a simple interior where you’ll sit on benches or even on the floor while local legends riff and play complex jazz music for 45 minutes. It’s magical.
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Note: Some New Orleans bars, restaurants and attractions remain closed or temporarily shuttered due to the Covid pandemic. Check before traveling to the destination.
Disclosure: The writer was the guest of Tourism New Orleans and Louisiana Travel. As always, her love of beignets, ghost tales and jazz and honest and her own.