Having just returned from my New Orleans vacation, here are my top 10 things to do to make the most out of your time in the Big Easy!
1. Stay in the French Quarter- The French Quarter is a bustling neighborhood filled with great restaurants, shops, bars and plenty of street art and curbside jazz. We stayed at a hotel called The French Market Inn on Decatur Street. A stone-throw away from the Mississippi River, this hotel was great! With heavenly beds, very helpful staff and a prime location in the heart of the French Quarter what more could you ask for? Highly recommend!
TIP: If you are planning to stay in the French Quarter, be prepared to do plenty of WALKING. Everything is close enough to experience on foot so taking an Uber or hailing a taxi ends up being pretty pointless (and costly). Make sure you pack comfortable shoes and stock up on water! February was a perfect month to visit in terms of weather, with only one day during our stay being extremely humid. Not to mention all of the excitement going on during the month in honor of Mardi Gras!
2. Walk (or ride) the Mississippi Riverfront- Just a 5 minute walk from our hotel was the beautiful Mississippi. We walked the riverfront and experienced some amazing views of the bridge and Riverboat Natchez. If you feel like relaxing, take the Riverfront Streetcar that runs all day alongside the Mississippi, as well as other locations through out the city. Purchase a Jazzy Pass depending on how many days you prefer!
3. Take a Stroll Through Jackson Square- Having been the historical site where Louisiana was declared U.S. territory, it was re-named Jackson Square after the General who led the American’s to victory in the Battle of New Orleans. The square was later deemed a national historic landmark in 1960.
Aside from it’s rich history, the square is large and relaxing and perfect for a picnic or a nap under the shade. Surrounding the square are the Pontalba Apartments, the oldest apartment buildings in the United States. Close by is the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square: 700 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116.
TIP: Visit the Square during the earlier part of the day to see local artists paint portraits, draw caricatures and display their work on the square’s surrounding iron fence.
4. Get Your Sugar Fix at Café du Monde– Located right across the street from Jackson Square is home to the infamous beignets you hear all about! They actually are worth the hype and the cafe is open 24 hours so you can squeeze a pit-stop into your schedule at any time.
Keep in mind this place is self-seating and it is always busy so snag a table if you can. Or, you can do what we did and place an order at their to-go window, find a curb and enjoy your warm beignets and chicory coffee while you listen to some live street jazz! Café du Monde: 800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116.
5. Visit a Voodoo Store– There are plenty of Voodoo stores scattered throughout the French Quarter. I would recommend stopping by two that are located on Bourbon Street. The first is Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. Here you can see the famous Voodoo Queen’s shrine surrounded by an eclectic selection of personal objects left behind by tourists and locals alike who have hopes to find good fortune with the Queen. You will also find an extensive selection of prepackaged spells, incense, voodoo dolls, altars and can even get a psychic reading. Merchandise can be more on the pricier side but the experience alone is worth it! Marie Laveau House of Voodoo: 739 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70116.
The second store we visited was called Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo. This store was smaller than the previous but every square inch from floor to ceiling was filled! In my opinion, this store had a more extensive selection of creepier voodoo dolls and shrines, books, charms and artifacts. Keep in mind the store upholds a strict “no pictures” policy and employees are constantly watching and waiting to reprimand you even at the sight of your camera or phone being lifted! Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo: 723 St Peter St, New Orleans, LA 70116.
6. Hold a Gator on a Swamp Tour- You will find no shortage of swamp tours in Nola as it is surrounded by swamp, marsh, or water in just about every direction you travel! Most tours offer transportation from and to your hotel and I came to find that all tours run for more or less the same price. Save time and ask your hotel or hostel to plan your tour for you or grab some pamphlets and call a few to see who offers the best deal.
TIP: Try and book your tour during the warmest day of your trip and during the part of the day when the sun is strongest. Alligators and wildlife love to bask out in the sun so you will have a better chance for photo ops when the sun is out!
7. Get Spooked on a Plantation Tour- We rented a car and drove the 2 hours to Myrtles Plantation- deemed one of America’s most haunted homes. While nothing too crazy happened on our tour, I did have a very spooky encounter in one of the bathrooms. (Let’s just say that I felt the immediate need to get the HECK out of there!) Either way, it is a beautiful plantation that is worth a visit.
I do recommend renting a car as opposed to planning a tour pick-up and drop-off as that ends up being pricier! On the way back, take a break from Cajun food and stop at Al Aqaba in St. Francisville for some delicious Mediterranean cuisine! Myrtles Plantation: 7747 Highway 61, PO Box 1100, Saint Francisville, LA 70775
8. Take a Cemetery Tour- Skip out on a pamphlet booked tour and just show up at the front of Cemetery No. 1 before 3pm like we did! You will find a bunch of local tour guides waiting out front for way less money and a little more character! While inside, you will have plenty of photo ops including the tomb of the infamous Queen of Voodoo as well as Nicolas Cage’s future burial site!
TIP: Bring a hat and water!
9. Walk Bourbon Street and Visit the Oldest Bar in US– You will probably receive a lot of mixed reviews regarding Bourbon Street. Some people love it while I have heard others liken it to a “frat house” or a “tourist trap.” Yes, it could seem like a tourist trap in the sense that, after a few drinks, you can easily lose your mind (and your money) and end up drinking your night away at the endless supply of bars.
A few bars though, are definitely worth a stop and most run til 4 or 5 in the am! Make sure to check out Saint Lawrence, Old Absinthe House, Carousel Bar inside Hotel Monteleone, Erin Rose and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. The street isn’t just filled with bars as you will come to find that there is no shortage of street entertainment, unique art galleries, shops and plenty of karaoke joints! In my opinion, Bourbon Street is worth the experience and how else do you plan on securing some colorful Mardi Gras beads??
TIP: Skip ordering a “grenade” or any other mixed drink from the outdoor drink vendors. They are poor quality and pure sugar! Order one from inside a restaurant and get it in a to-go cup!
10. Eat your way through the French Market- We visited the French Market on our first full day in Nola and I would recommend you do the same! The French Market originated as a Native American trading post given its prime location along the Mississippi River. Since then, it has grown into a mecca of New Orleans culture. Spanning five blocks, you get a taste of everything in the market from Cajun and Creole food vendors to fresh, local produce.
Snag a table or eat right at the counter as you enjoy freshly made jambalaya, gator sticks, Po’ boys and shrimp and grits. Don’t forget to pick out some local seasonings and chicory coffee to bring back home with you. As you continue your way through the market, you will find a large selection of locally made arts and crafts, soaps and body products, as well as touristy t-shirts, Mardi Gras masks and other souvenir collectibles. The French Market is within walking distance from just about any location in the French Quarter. French Market: 1235 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116.
Have any questions about your upcoming trip to the Big Easy? Leave me a comment below!