One Great Weekend: Your Guide for What to do in New Orleans
New Orleans, there is no other city in the world quite like it. Take a mix of French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean influences; add in some of the world’s best food, and a lively music scene and you get one of the most distinct cities in the United States. While one can never fully know NOLA, I’ve included my best New Orleans tips so you can make the most out of your weekend trip to New Orleans. New Orleans is the kind of place that stays with you, once you’ve experienced her joie de vive you’ll be longing to return again. Now as they say “laissez les bon temps rouler!”, or let the good times roll!
This post contains affiliate links, when you make a purchase or book a hotel through these links the Casual Travelist receives a small commission that helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I was graciously hosted by Visit New Orleans however all opinions remain my own. This post was updated January 29,2018
New Orleans Hotels
The belle of the French Quarter, the Hotel Monteleone has welcomed guests with its warm elegance since 1880. The Hotel Monteleone also pays homage to New Orleans’s literary traditions with 5 themed literary suites. The Montelone’s renowned Carousel Bar (complete with a carousel-turned-bar that actually rotates) is popular with both locals and visitors alike.
The Roosevelt New Orleans
The grand lobby, rooftop pool and classic styling have attracted travelers to the Roosevelt New Orleans for over a century THe Roosevelt has justly attracted celebrities and musical greats such as legends Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles. The Roosevelt’s Sazerac Bar may be the best place in New Orleans to sip its namesake cocktail.
Dauphine Orleans Hotel
Located a block from Bourbon Street the Dauphine Orleans Hotels remains one of the most charming hotels in the French Quarter. Start your day with a cup of cafe au lait in the Dauphine’s breakfast room, where noted birder John James Audobon stayed whike working on his seminal work Birds of America.
Maison du Puy
Set back within the residential Vieux Carre section of the French Quarter, the Maison DuPuy is an independent historic hotel with a casually gracious sense of hospitality. The Maison DuPuy is located just 2 blocks from Bourbon Street, making it close enough to party while being just enough out of the way to be quiet and relaxed.
Things to Do in New Orleans
The unique architectural style of the French Quarter is reflective of its history and heritage. The Creole style that dominates the French Quarter is a result of Spanish and French architectural styles blended with Caribbean influences; narrow streets flanked by colorful townhomes with lush greenery languidly draped over cast-iron balconies. While Bourbon Street may best be known for drunken revelry; I recommend bypassing that and exploring the boutiques and art galleries of Chartres Street and the quiet elegance of Royal Street. Artists, musicians, tourists and locals all can be found enjoying Jackson Square and the Spanish colonial beauty of St. Louis Cathedral.
New Orleans Garden District
Uptown the grand mansions of the Garden District comprise the country’s largest collection of antebellum architecture. Lavish gardens, grand mansions and effuive Southern charm are the hallmarks of this uptown neighborhood. Stroll past the sumptuous and often whimsical antebellum mansions and be sure to explore Lafayette Cemetery for a look into how New Orleans honors its past.
Music in New Orleans
More than any other city music is woven into the very soul of New Orleans. Best known as the birthplace of jazz and Louis Armstrong, New Orleans more recently has inspired decades of soul, funk, rock and hip hop artists. Street musicians of all genres can be found on nearly every corner while brass bands(along with second line revelers) accompany traditional funerals and weddings. Get your jazz fix at Preservation Hall, a New Orleans institution that has been central to the promotion of traditional jazz since 1961. The Faubourg Marigny neighborhood is home to some of New Orleans most popular live music venues; some of the best can be found along Frenchmen Street including The Spotted Cat Music Club, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, and Blue Nile.
Go on a Swamp Tour
Just beyond New Orleans’ city limits lies a completely different but equally fascinating world, where gnarled cypress laced with Spanish moss frame the silent waters, the gator is king and where time changes little. The swamps near New Orleans are home to a plethora of wildlife including alligators,turtles, black bear, snakes, nutria, and a variety of birds. There’s even been rumor of a Bigfoot-like beast roaming these Southern marshes. The folks at Cajun Encounters lead New Orleans’ top rated swamp tour and they will even pick you right up at your hotel.
It’s a well known fact that New Orleans will celebrate just about anything. Decorations and costumes are out for the traditional American holidays- Christmas, New Year’s and Holloween; but every February New Orleans throws one of the best parties in the world-Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the culmination of New Orleans Carnival season which starts on January 6; I recommend you get your party on during one of the many smaller local parades throughout January and February. Miss Mardi Gras season completely but still want to be a part of the festivities? Stop by one of New Orleans’ several Mardi Gras museums including Mardi Gras World, The Backstreet Cultural Museum and The Presbytère .
Cafe du Monde
A stop at Cafe du Monde is a must for any visit to New Orleans. The original cafe, located near the French Market, has been operating since 1862. Known for two things – beignets, square doughnuts covered in powdered sugar, and coffee laced with chicory served black or au lait. Lines to get your beignet fix can be long but move quickly. Take your beignets to go or grab a table and enjoy your bites of fried, airy deliciousness with a view of Jackson Square.
Stanley, located near Jackson Square, serves up elevated American and Creole comfort food. Since the good times in New Orleans roll long into the night Stanley offers its signature breakfast menu all day. My favorite? The Beaux Bridge Benedict, French bread topped with housemade boudin, gooey American cheese and two perfectly poached eggs.
Square Root/Root Squared
New Orleans is justly known for its traditional cuisine but the past few years have seen a new wave of chefs unafraid to test New Orleans’ culinary limits. Chef Philip Lopez who pioneers with a modernist take on local flavors at his Magazine Street restaurants Square Root and Root Squared. At Square Root serious foodies clamor for one twice nightly seatings for a 9-15 course tasting menu with full view of the chef and his team. The food here is refined and technical but also has a bit of whimsy. The same passion can also be found in a more casual setting upstairs at Root Squared where locals and in the know visitors relax with artful cocktails and housemade charcuterie.
There is no better place to get your fix for New Orleans’ classic po’boy sandwich than Johnny’s. Serving their signature sandwiches since 1950 you can choose from a wide variety of fillings; go traditional with chicken or roast beef, or be adventurous and try the softshell crab or alligator sausage. Johnny’s is a no frills kind of place where you’ll find both celebrities and regular Joe’s waiting their turn for these iconic sandwiches.
Perhaps New Orleans’ most well known restaurant, Commander’s Palace has stood watch on the corner of Washington Avenue and Coliseum Street since 1880. Recognized as the grande dame of “haute Creole” cuisine by both locals and international press, Commander’s Palace does not rest on its laurels with offerings like chicory coffee laquered quail and bread pudding souffle finished table side. The 3 course prix fixe lunch and Commander’s 25-cent martinis continue to be one of the best dining values in town.
Where to Drink in New Orleans
While the cocktail wasn’t invented in New Orleans as widely believed,the Crescent City is lays claim to creating several classic cocktails, most notably the Sazerac. The combination of rye whiskey (or bourbon), absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters and sugar was named New Orleans’ official cocktail in 2008. Another New Orleans cocktail classic is the hurricane, a heady mix of light and dark rum, passionfruit, lime and orange juices finished with a splash of grenadine. Pat O’Brien’s, a legendary piano bar in the French Quarter invented the hurricane and remains the best place to enjoy this sweet coctail that packs a category-5 punch. While New Orleanshas no shortage of places to enjoy an expertly crafted drink, some of my favorites that I personally recommend the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone , the Sazerac Bar, Cure and Bar Tonique.
Do you have any other suggestions for what to do in New Orleans? Please share in the comments!