FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m obsessed with New Orleans. I went to college here, so I lived here for 4 years in a little student bubble attempting to explore the city, while also maintaining a student life. I learned the best things to do in New Orleans throughout the past 9 years. I have visited countless time since graduating, each time exploring new areas. I feel strongly about anyone who pronounces it wrong; saying “New Or-LEANs” instead of “New Or-lins”…so when you’re visiting, please use the latter. I went to NOLA for the first time in 2008, only 3 years after Katrina devastated the city. I never would have known how much a city can come together and rebuild.
I watched New Orleans struggle while also exponentially rebuild. I watched the New Orleans Saints win their first Super Bowl championship EVER in 2010. I watched New Orleans HOST their first Super Bowl ever in 2013; dubbed ‘Super Gras‘ as Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl were in the same week that year. I watched the city expand, diversify and formulate, while I simultaneously did the same in college. I still watch it do this each time I visit; there is a new building, a new high-end restaurant winning global awards, and more tourists than ever before. New Orleans is America’s most eclectic city in the country. When visiting, you don’t even remember you’re in America anymore; whether it be from the French sounding street names, from people walking with open cups of alcohol at all hours of the day on the streets or from the nicest people in the entire world living here.
So maybe I don’t have the true tourist experience in New Orleans, but that’s why this New Orleans travel blog guide is special as an insider experience. I learned NOLA as a tourist, a student, a resident and more. My guide below reflects these NOLA statuses all meshed in to one; it’s an insider New Orleans experience.
Disclosure: This New Orleans travel blog insider guide may contain affiliate links. I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As always, all opinions are my own and I would never post about something I have not personally used/verified.
- For all of my travel/packing essentials I bring on any trip compiled together, head to my influencer page on Amazon here for a complete list or my descriptive carry-on packing guide here!
HOW TO GET TO NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans has a pretty small airport (compared to other big cities) but is expanding each time I visit (code: MSY). Every major domestic airline flies there so it is easy to get there from anywhere around the country. They also do have a bunch of international flights that go there so it should be pretty easy to visit from anywhere! New Orleans, Louisiana is in the South of the USA so it’s extremely close to anywhere in Latin America too!
BEST THINGS TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS
Walk around the French Quarter:
Walk around the amazing and famous French Quarter. The French Quarter is an amazing, eclectic area (but very touristy) and you should get lost throughout the Quarter filled with random live music in the streets, bars that are always open, and boutiques lining the different streets. Make sure to ogle at the famous St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, which you can’t miss – take in the views from Decatur Street. Shop around the amazing artists that line the perimeter of Jackson Square, some of my favorite art pieces come from here… and the artists are more than happy to tell you their favorite NOLA story. Stop at the French Market to do some shopping for all the New Orleans trinkets and souvenirs you could think of. Don’t forget to stop for beignets at the famous, always crowded, Cafe Du Monde (more on that in food section)!
All the colorful cute houses and buildings you see in everyone’s New Orleans instagrams? They’re in the Marigny & Bywater areas. These areas are more downtown than the French Quarter and you can get their by walking through the Quarter past Frenchman Street, or take a quick Uber/Taxi. You can get lost in these streets staring at the colorful, bright houses that change on every block. Tired? Head to the edge of the Bywater to Crescent Park to relax and for amazing views of the French Quarter and Mississippi River. Hungry and in the area? Head to my favorite insider New Orleans spot; Satsuma, for amazing brunch/lunch!
There are a few streetcar lines but I suggest taking the St. Charles line to get to Uptown through the Garden District. It’s a long, slow, often hot, ride but it goes along the famous St. Charles Street where you can stare at the amazing, southern mansions along the way. I suggest taking it all the way to Carrollton Street at the end. Here, you can then go to the famous institution of Camellia Grill for brunch (see more in food section). After brunch, walk down to Audubon Park/Tulane University. They are across the street from each other a few blocks from Carrollton. If you’re interested, Tulane’s campus really is gorgeous (maybe I’m biased 🙂 ) with amazing Southern buildings and the famous Bead Tree on campus! Then, head into the gorgeous Audubon Park and walk around the park which is a few miles long and loops around the golf course. If you walk to the other side, cross the street (Magazine) and head to the Audubon Zoo or keep walking straight to “The Fly” which is the levee area where a lot of students and locals hang out, tan, and play sports along the Mississippi River. The sunsets are amazing here too.
One of the best Louisiana activities to do while visiting NOLA is to head out to the swamps in the bayou and do a Swamp Tour! Here you can take a tour on an airboat through the Bayou swamps, watch massive alligators around you and even feed them marshmallows. Any of the main hotels in the French Quarter will have brochures on the different swamp tour that you can book while you’re there, or, you can book in advance and secure your Swamp Tour spot here.
Another popular tourist activity is to take a Riverboat Cruise on the Steamboat Natchez down the Mississippi River in the French Quarter. It’s a nice boat ride with many departure times throughout the day that goes around the Mississippi, giving you another perspective of the city. You can book Riverboat Cruise tickets here.
Magazine Street is a great street that stretches from downtown to uptown with tons of cute boutiques, restaurants and bars lining the way. The houses and buildings are so cute and always decorated and it’s a great street to stroll around when you are looking to just walk around, explore, shop and eat.
The World War II Museum in New Orleans is a must-see. It is the perfect rainy day or too-hot weather activity. The museum is put together extremely well and gives an in depth tour through WWII. People come from all over the world to see this museum as it is one of the top in the country.
New Orleans, and Louisiana as a whole, LOVE their Saints. They are crazy about football and their team and going to a game at the famous Superdome is no different. If they are playing at home while you are there I highly suggest getting tickets and experiencing it! If they are playing away, you will see every single bar packed with screaming fans.
WHERE TO EAT IN NEW ORLEANS
The food scene is outrageous in New Orleans and is growing extensively. The nicest restaurants are affordable (at least comparable to New York City) and unbelievably amazing… I plan my visits to NOLA around my favorite restaurant recommendations. Unfortunately I can’t list everything or it would take days so I kept it to my top restaurants in each category to talk about. The foods here ARE the best things to do in New Orleans.
At the very least, you must try a New Orleans brunch (always with a french Southern flair), beignets at Cafe Du Monde, Po-boys, a nice dinner at some of the best restaurants in the world, and snowballs for dessert.
- Ruby Slipper: 3 locations, all extremely solid. Ruby Slipper is a great NOLA brunch spot. It is always packed so make a reservation beforehand. Insider Tip: Use the app “NoWait” to put yourself in line virtually for brunch when you wake up! They’ll text you when your table is ready. PS: One time I sat next to Alec Baldwin here, so you know it’s good 🙂
- Willa Jean: Fairly new brunch spot by a famous NOLA chef that has taken over the city. This is a new must-hit spot for brunch when you’re visiting New Orleans. Definitely make a reservation beforehand – it is always packed. Insider Tip: Get the cookies!
- Camellia Grill: An institution in Uptown New Orleans. Camellia has been around for over 100 years and has so much history. It lived through Katrina and the servers are there to tell the stories. The food is outrageously greasy and yet so good. Be prepared to wait for a seat but I promise it is worth it. Insider Tip: Get the Pecan Pie (and make sure you pronounce it pe-CAN (not pee-can) and ask them to fry the bottom of it. You will not be disappointed.
- Atchafalaya: This is a nicer brunch spot with a full-out Bloody Mary Bar. It’s in the Garden District and it is a really good Southern brunch, with obviously amazing bloody marys. Go here for a nicer brunch and make a reservation beforehand.
- Commander’s Palace: Commander’s is Uptown and is an extremely famous restaurant in New Orleans. The food is really great and eclectic. You must make a reservation as well as dress nicely! Best part for brunch? Their 50 cent martinis.
- Satsuma: One of my favorite insider New Orleans spots, Satsuma has 2 locations in the Bywater and uptown. It is an amazing healthy brunch spot with a Southern flair.
- Mahony’s Po-Boys: A great, always packed, po-boy spot uptown on Magazine Street.
- Domilises Po-Boys: Another great well-known spot uptown known for their massive po-boys.
- Hansen’s Sno-bliz: Snowballs are an amazing ices dessert and Hansen’s is notorious for the best. It is uptown on Tchoupitoulas.
- Dat Dog: People love love Dat Dog for its amazing hot dog creations. There are a few locations around the city but its most frequented spot is late night on Frenchman street.
- Cafe Du Monde: The famous Cafe Du Monde. A must, must, must go. Enjoy the sugar powdered dough with frozen coffee. Unfortunately you will wait on an extremely long line to get a table, since it’s the most popular spot in NOLA. It’s right off of Jackson Square so at least you get a good view while waiting in line! Insider Tip: Go late night; it closes at 2AM!
- Shaya: A relatively new restaurant (less than 3 years) pioneered by the famous Israeli Chef Alon Shaya. It won one of the best new restaurants in the country last year. Must. Go. All the plates are unreal.
- Domenica: Another one of my favorites, I cannot not go to Domenica when I visit. Must get the cauliflower and the kale chips. Their pizza is also amazing. They also have a very good Happy hour deal with half off pizzas and drinks from 4-6pm! Domenica is perfect for any kind of dietary restriction.
- GW Fins: Another top-rated, amazing restaurant in the city right off Bourbon Street.
- Peche: Another one of John Besh’s new restaurants that lives up to his hype. Peche is also relatively new and I finally went there for the first time last month – incredible.
- Port of Call: This is a great restaurant when you want something casual and good for big groups. Port of Call is an amazing burger spot on Esplanade (which separates the French Quarter and the Marigny so it’s a perfect location.
- Luke: Best burger in the city. They’re also known for their $1 oyster happy hours. Go for the burger, though. Better than any NYC burger I have ever had.
Special NOLA snacks/drinks you should have: Abita Beer, King Cake (Mardi Gras season), Voodoo flavored Zapps Chips, Crawfish, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Po-boys, Snowballs, Daiquiris & Hand Grenades.
WHERE TO PARTY
- Bourbon Street: Ah, the famous Bourbon Street. Can’t go to NOLA and not party here. Any night of the week it will be a crowded, crazy night, but especially on the weekends. Make sure to definitely hit the Piano Bar in Pat O’Briens and get the famous hurricane to start out or end the night; it’s an institution and full of tourists and locals alike. Other fun, notable spots on Bourbon are Fat Catz, Cat’s Meow and Gold Mine (a block off Bourbon known for their flaming Dr. Pepper shots), but really, all spots on Bourbon are fun. Make sure to take the time to try a hand grenade & hurricane drink and just walk around Bourbon with them in hand and watch the chaos unfold outside.
- Frenchman Street: My FAVORITE area to bar hop in all of New Orleans. Frenchman Street is in the Marigny right past Bourbon and is a long stretch of bars with live music, in and outside. Some of my favorite bars are Maison, Cafe Negril, Spotted Cat, and d.b.a, but you really can’t go wrong in any of them. It is the most NOLA vibes ever and is fun any night of the week. There are always random people performing on the street and they’re always amazing too. Frenchman is a must-go, especially to get the real, NOLA, non-tourist feel of the city vibes.
- Carousel Bar: A trendy off Bourbon Street that’s perfect for pre-dinner drinks. The actual bar is literally a carousel that rotates in circles!
- Sazerac Bar: A nice bar inside the Roosevelt known for their drink, the Sazerec! Just get it.
- Le Bon Temps: A well-known bar in New Orleans that is uptown on Magazine. A very good NOLA band, The Soul Rebels, play here weekly and it is an extremely fun, NOLA vibes spot.
- Tchoup Yard: This is a relatively new bar that just opened on Tchoupitoulas Street which is a totally different concept for NOLA. It is a massive outdoor spot in an old parking lot with lots of bars, tables and games.
- Bacchanal: Another amazing, true NOLA spot. Bacchanal is far, far downtown in the Bywater and rarely has tourists. You have to take a cab here from the Quarter but it is so worth it. Bacchanal is a wine bar with a massive outdoor area and live music many nights of the week. It’s amazing and a must-hit if you like wine, locals and live music 🙂
- Tipitina’s: A fun concert hall known for its live music. Different bands play here all the time and it’s always a fun spot. Always check the schedule to see if you want to see anyone while you are visiting. I’ve seen some great New Orleans & famous musicians play here and I love the venue.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN NEW ORLEANS
For New Orleans hotels, generally, tourists usually stay on or near Canal Street in the French Quarter and I highly suggest this. Everything downtown is walkable and it’s a great, lively area. There are plenty of chain and boutique hotels around that are perfect for staying at for any budget. I recommend the Marriott New Orleans, Roosevelt New Orleans, Windsor Court New Orleans or the new and trendy Ace Hotel (with an amazing roof). If you want to stay away from downtown, I highly suggest the cutest, Southern boutique hotel on the fancy St. Charles Street, The Columns Hotel. If you are looking for hostel/budget options you can search here.
AIRBNB New Orleans: There are also so many cute apartments in downtown New Orleans with extra nice hosts. They are generally cheaper than hotels so if you like the Airbnb route or are with a big group I definitely recommend it in New Orleans. Also, if you use my Airbnb link you get $40 off your first stay!
WHEN TO VISIT NEW ORLEANS: An Insider’s Opinion
My favorite insider New Orleans tip is to visit New Orleans more than once; I always tell people to visit on a random weekend to really get to see the city, and to also visit for a certain event.
Anytime Except The Summer:
The weather is New Orleans is almost always amazing…if you take out their 100 degree humid summers and their random downpours throughout the year with some hurricanes. Besides that, you’ll often get an amazing 75 degrees, especially when it’s freezing in the Northeast. NOLA continues to be an ever-changing, lively, eclectic city and there is so much to do and see that doesn’t revolve around a festival. Just avoid the summertime weather, it’s unbearable, unless you like cockroaches, humidity and 100 degree weather :).
Mardi Gras New Orleans:
I don’t think Mardi Gras needs any introduction. Mardi Gras is truly one of the most cultural yet insane events I have ever experienced. New Orleans totally shuts down for 4 days and it becomes wild. The whole city is celebrating together in ways you never thought was possible. The parade decorations, costumes, beads are put together a year in advance and everything is perfected. You have to experience it for yourself to understand. Just make sure you know what you are in for – drinking all day every day, total debauchery, and the most fun, interesting characters you have ever seen. Everyone should visit for Mardi Gras at some point in their life. PS – No, you don’t have to do anything stupid to get beads thrown at you – they throw them at everyone 🙂
New Orleans Festival Season:
After you visit for a different weekend and learn the real New Orleans, make another trip down here for a festival. The best time of year to visit New Orleans? My answer would be April. New Orleans in April means the best weather, and more importantly, festival season. It will be worth it. New Orleans is notorious for its different festivals. The festivals are some of the best things to do in New Orleans. It’s most popular are French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest. French Quarter Festival New Orleans is a huge festival with lots of food and music stands all throughout the French Quarter & Jackson Square. Jazz Fest New Orleans spans two weekends in April and May and brings down thousands of visitors along with top-notch music performances. Jazz Fest consists of over 10 stages of music across all genres with lots of food vendors. It’s an amazing experience!
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