The Big Easy. N’awlins. NOLA. The Crescent City. The City that Care Forgot.
It’s no surprise that a city as lively as New Orleans has so many nicknames. NOLA doesn’t have one identity. I think it’s the lovechild of half a dozen identities so having as many nicknames is probably fitting.
I’ve been to New Orleans 5 or 6 times I think. I LOVE this city. I tell my friends I’ve been to over a dozen countries and New Orleans is still my favorite city. It’s a mishmash of Cajun, Creole, Southern, French, Spanish, & African cultures, with a sprinkling of a few others, too. It doesn’t matter what kind of traveler you are. Foodies, partiers, architecture enthusiasts, history buffs, Bachelorette parties… there’s something for everyone.
First off, for where to stay: I’ve stayed both in and out of the French Quarter, and I very much recommend staying in the Quarter. Almost everything you will do will originate here or be close to here, so it’ll save you a ton on ride share costs. And absolutely don’t rent a car! There is no reason to be driving here, since almost everything will be in the French Quarter. Just relax and walk around. 🙂
One thing I recommend, however, is to find someplace just slightly off of Bourbon Street. You don’t want to be stuck over top of a bar that doesn’t shut down! Read the reviews before you book.
I don’t think a long weekend does New Orleans justice. There’s so much to see, do, and eat, so many different holidays and festivals. These are my favorite things to do in New Orleans, but I encourage you to explore and talk to locals and let the city take you where it wants.
Food & Drink
N’awlins may be a party city, but it has so much more to offer. I didn’t know I liked seafood until I visited here! I think half the reason to visit NOLA is to enjoy the world-class food.
Of course, no visit is complete without the Crescent City staples: beignets & cafe au lait, a muffuletta, and a po’boy.
Beignets can be found at Cafe du Monde. It’s located just off the Mississippi near Jackson Square in the French Quarter. It’s probably going to be packed, but you can avoid the crowds if you check it out later at night (and honestly, what sounds better after a night of drinking than some deep-fried dough covered in sugar?!) And a little pro tip: it’s seat yourself, so if you see a table open, take it.
The muffuletta can be found at Central Grocery, also in the French Quarter. A muffuletta is a sandwich served on muffuleta bread with olive salad, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortodella. And at Central Grocery, they are HUGE. Get one to share with a friend and you may still have leftovers!
Po’boys can be found just about anywhere, but the best po’boy I’ve ever had was at Kingfish, also in the French Quarter (seeing a trend yet?). Like I said, I grew up thinking the only way to eat seafood was if it was fried. This po’boy was made with BBQ shrimp and it was DELISH. NOLA BBQ shrimp is not made with BBQ sauce but rather butter and a lot of yummy spices. I’ve never found anything that came close to this tasty little sandwich. Bonus points, it came with gumbo!
And, speaking of gumbo, y’all gotta try some other classically Southern classics: jambalaya, red beans & rice, pralines, pecan pie, and bread pudding. Almost anywhere in the Quarter will have some or all of these options, so load up!
And, before I move on to drinks, I wanna give a shout-out to one of my new favorite restaurants, also in the French Quarter: Oceana Grill. This place will end up with a line out the door if you eat at standard dinner times. I went with my parents for early dinner two times, I think, and each time it was WON-DER-FUL. My mom does *NOT* like seafood but the waiter insisted we try some gator bites. We got half fried, half blackened, with remoulade sauce. Y’all. I could put that remoulade sauce on everything. It was delicious and you need to try it. I didn’t snag a picture because we were too piggy to pause. 🙂
New Orleans has a whole selection of cocktail tours to try, but I recommend instead that you follow this list to take a self-guided (meaning self paced!) tour. If you have to prioritize, I recommend Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, the Old Absinthe House, and the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.
Lafitte was a pirate and he was instrumental in the Battle of New Orleans. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is located at the far end of Bourbon Street where the crowds start thinning out. There’s no electricity and there’s a piano located in the back. Bonus, it’s famed to be haunted!
The Old Absinthe House is located off an alley near Jackson Square. It’s cash-only and they have a whole selection of absinthe. The atmosphere is awesome and they serve absinthe the traditional way: with water poured over a sugar cube into your glass. One glass will get you buzzed!
And, finally, the Carousel Bar. I suspect it’s one of the most popular bars in the French Quarter. Try and get a seat at the Carousel Bar, but be warned, it’s a functioning (albeit slow-moving) carousel! I recommend just asking the bartender to make whatever he wants. My parents and myself did that and we got 3 wonderful cocktails. From left to right we have the Goodie, Milk Punch, and a French 75.
If this list makes you think eating & drinking is one of the Big Easy’s main attractions, you’re not wrong. But there’s a lot to do while you’re digesting & waiting for your next meal, and this is a short list of my favorite activities.
Things to Do
For here or to go?
Just wait until you order a drink and the bartender asks you, “for here or to go?”
It still takes me by surprise. But open containers are welcome in the Crescent City, so take that badboy to go and wander the French Quarter! That’s one of the best ways to pass your time, honestly: just explore, check out the different nooks and crannies, and find what you find. It doesn’t hurt to have a cocktail in hand.
May I recommend a Mango Mango daquiri?
Ride the Saint Charles Streetcar
The Saint Charles streetcar will take you from the French Quarter all the way down Saint Charles Ave towards the zoo, Tulane, or Magazine Street. If you want to see the the oldest continuously-operating street car in the world while checking out the beautiful houses of the Lower Garden District, I recommend you spend an hour checking it out.
Get your fortune read by a Voodoo Priest(ess)
Voodoo, vampires, and pirates, oh my!
The Big Easy offers all of it, and if you have half an hour and ~$45 to spend, I recommend checking it out. I had never done anything like this and it was really interesting. I’m still not sure I buy into it, but Voodoo Authentica in the Quarter is pretty neat. You can check out their wares, like gris-gris bags and juju guardian dolls. I did the tarot reading, but I believe they also offer palm reading and other such services.
Take a cemetery tour
There are cemeteries with above ground tombs all over New Orleans, but the most popular one is Saint Louis Cemetery #2, just outside the French Quarter. You can’t wander around it without a tour group, but that’s fine, because the tours are awesome. You’ll learn so much about the entombment process and considerations.
I recently did the “Dead Sexy Tour” through Two Chicks Walking Tours and it was awesome. It’s a tour that combines the cemetery and its associated history with the history of prostitution & Storyville. Our tour guide was a lot of fun!
Meander around Jackson Square and check out local art
Jackson Square is an icon of the Crescent City. You could walk by every day and something different would be going on each time. Street performers, protests, political rallies, fortune tellers – all of that is there and more. Local artists line the perimeter, so check it out and see if there’s anything you want to take home! I recently bought this adorable painting of jazz puppies. I have nowhere to hang it now, but I can’t wait until it’s on display – it’ll be a conversation piece and a souvenir.
Take a ghost tour!
But check out reviews first.
The ghost tour you want is one that tells true creepy stories of New Orleanians, not one that says “if you stare at that window long enough, you may see an orb.”
NOLA has a deep & seedy history, so I promise you’ll be plenty entertained with true-to-life stories of the Lalaurie’s and the boyfriend who brutally murdered his girlfriend after Katrina. Grab a cocktail and enjoy the stories!
Pro tip: http://www.travelzoo.com often has sales on tours like this. Check it out and maybe save some $$!
And y’all know I love a good bike tour
It wouldn’t be one of my blog posts without referring to a bike tour. 🙂 I did the Lower Ninth Ward Rebirth bicycle tour a few years ago and I can’t say enough good things about the tour. The Lower 9th Ward was ravaged during Katrina and this historically poor neighborhood was devastated. People don’t venture into this neighborhood often, so this is your chance to get up close and personal with the darker side of New Orleans politics.
That company linked above has a few other tours that sound fun, too. Anyone up for a tipsy cocktail tour on a bike?!
Check out Frenchman Street and enjoy live jazz
Bourbon Street has live music, but it’s so much better (in my opinion) on Frenchman Street. Jazz is what they’re known for, but there are many different options depending on the night. I’ve been to, and recommend, the Blue Nile. Snug Harbor and the Spotted Cat are also famous venues! Be sure to get a Hurricane, but be warned, they are STRONG!
Let’s be honest, this list is waaaay more than you can realistically do in a long weekend in New Orleans. But the city is so wonderful that I promise you, you’ll want to go back. 🙂
What are your favorite things to do in the Crescent City?