When I was younger, I had a dream to move to New Orleans, open up a coffee shop, and live above it with our family of dachshunds. I love New Orleans. There’s really no place like it…the sticky, sultry air, the historic architecture, the music, the boisterous party atmosphere, the southern hospitality and bohemian gentility. If you only have a couple of days to spend there, here is the perfect guide to New Orleans!
What to See
One of the oldest urban parks in the country, City Park is 1300 acres of something-for-everyone, and unquestionably on the New Orleans must-visit list.
Check out the Museum of Art for one of the best collections in the south. Or take advantage of the pleasant weather year-round in the Besthoff Sculpture Gardens (open daily and free to the public), a unique sculpture garden incorporated into the existing park landscape.
Feeling a little less serious? Go on some rides at the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park (the namesake antique carousel, referred to by the locals as Flying Horses, is on the National Register of Historic Places),), learn to ride a real horse, play miniature golf, try to find Parker the Raccoon (the City Park mascot, who supposedly loves to be photographed) or just sit in the oldest (pushing 800 years!) grove of live oak trees in the world and people watch.
New Orleans is home to the United States’ official World War II Museum. The museum contains over 100,000 artifacts from the war, supported by oral histories and interactive exhibitions designed to show us the history through the eyes of those who experienced it. Go early on a Sunday and start your visit off with brunch at the Stage Door Canteen for a truly nostalgic experience, where you’ll be entertained by a harpist (who you might recognize from her violent death in Django Unchained) playing hits and lost favorites from the 30s and 40s, and stay for a murder mystery show.
As a tourist in New Orleans, you’ll most likely find yourself in the French Quarter, which means you’ll most likely find yourself doing some souvenir shopping at the historic French Market. But if you want to shop like a local (and see a little more of the city at the same time), head to Magazine Street, a six mile stretch of art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and a diverse array of stores. Clothes, jewelry, cigars, toys, furniture…it’s all there, spread out in a charming, main-street fashion all the way from the Central Business District to the Garden District and Uptown.
If you’re looking to experience more of where the locals congregate, check out our guide to New Orleans beyond Bourbon Street.
What to do
New Orleans is parked right in the middle of a beautiful lush system of waterways — lakes, bayous, marsh and wetlands.Launching from right in the city, Kayak-iti-Yat kayak tours will paddle with you through these dreamy, not-so-secret waterways exploring New Orleans’ history and culture, the challenges and benefits of Southern Louisiana’s rich ecology, and the aquatic life of the bayous. In the cooler months, take the Bayou Bienvenue Tour to observe a huge variety of migratory birds, and in the summer the longer Ponchartrain Paddle includes a cooling-off swim break in Lake Ponchartrain. For beginners and those looking for less of an athletic commitment, the two hour Bayou St. John Tour takes you through the charming neighborhoods along the bayou and focuses on community and the history of the area.
Take your tour on land with Confederacy of Cruisers, New Orleans’ original bicycle tour company. They offer bike tours like the History of Drinking tour and the Neighborhood Culinary ride, which cover 300 years of what New Orleans does best: drinking and eating. Local guides will make sure your entire stay in the city takes advantage of all New Orleans has to offer.
New Orleans is legendary for its spooky, scandalous and bizarre history. Haunted History Tours has it all covered: Their Ghost Tour takes visitors to French Quarter locations associated with real hauntings, the Garden District and Cemetery Tours (including a visit to the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, which is one of the most visited graves in the country), and a Scandal Tour of New Orleans, exposing the city’s most twisted and outlandish stories.
Between Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, nightlife and party culture in New Orleans aren’t exactly a mystery. Explore some of the many legendary jazz clubs but see the “real” New Orleans a few blocks out of the French Quarter to Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny quarter. Venture out to the 9th ward to Bacchanal Wine. This wine bar is focused on supporting the next generation of jazz greats, who get to play their own original music in the courtyard every night.
What to Eat
New Orleans is famous for its food, and is home to endless fantastic restaurants. Don’t miss the fabled beignets and chickory coffee at Café du Monde, or go back to City Park and visit Morning Call to decide for yourself who has the best version of the official state donut of Louisiana. If you’re the kind of person who prefers their donuts with holes in them, stop by District during your Magazine Street shopping adventure, where the made-from-scratch donuts come in simple, fancy, extra fancy, or croquenut.
The last time I was in New Orleans, I ate three days in a row at Sukho Thai in the Marigny neighborhood. My travel companion still mourns the distance between him and their Black Rice Pudding. I vote for the green curry. This local favorite is known for blending traditional Thai cuisine with local ingredients. Bonus points: as part of their 10 year anniversary sustainability project, they now only use recyclable materials and have their organic vegetable garden on the premises.
For something a little closer to New Orleans cuisine, visit the humble, quirky Green Goddess in the French Quarter. The food is ambitious and eclectic and the atmosphere is charming and unpretentious. Sit outside on Exchange Alley and try the Wild Mushroom Cheese Cake.
Where to Sleep
There’s no shortage of good things in New Orleans, and that rule naturally applies to hotels too.
- Spend the night in a Historical and potentially creepy plantation hotel.
- See a more modern side of New Orleans in an upscale hotel.
- These family-friendly hotels are sure to please people both big and small!