My New orleans city guide
New Orleans is a magical city. Drawn in by its beautiful, French-inspired architecture, historic charm, and chaos New Orleans stood out as a city like no other in the United States and I was hooked from my first visit.
Several visits later the city still captivates us with its charms, history, and culture. It’s wowed us with its beautiful parks full of Live Oaks, above-ground cemeteries, colorful shotgun style homes, and magical courtyards. It’s entertained us with jazz-filled clubs, parades, street performers, and some of the best people-watching you’ll find in the US.
Check out my New Orleans Photography Checklist to make sure you’re capturing all of the memories!
It’s also home to some delicious Cajun and Creole food, fruity cocktails, and let’s not forget beignets! Those puffy pastries presented on a pile of powdered sugar. Dreamy sigh. Most people know of my love for New Orleans so I’m often asked about what to do when visiting for the first time. I put together this guide of some of the obligatory New Orleans things to do. Enjoy!
The French Quarter, aKA Vieux Carré
The French Quarter, otherwise known as Vieux Carré, has a history as old as New Orleans itself. Founded in 1718, New Orleans was built around the French Quarter and has the largest amount of extant historical buildings from the time under Spanish rule in the late 1800s to after achieving statehood in the early 19th century. The entire area is a National Historic Landmark and a major tourist destination.
This is where you’ll probably spend a lot of time during your first visit to the city, and rightfully so. You’re going to find so many obligatory New Orleans things to do in The Quarter from experiencing the calm and chaos of Bourbon Street to the beauty of Jackson Square and the serene and curious above-ground cemeteries of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
Spanning 13 city blocks, Bourbon Street is generally what one thinks of when they think of New Orleans and Mardi Gras. During the day, the street is relatively quiet. At night, however, the street transforms and is packed so full of people you’ll often have to squeeze through them. Many people scoff at adding Bourbon Street to your itinerary but I feel it’s one of those places you need to see at least once, it’s a quintessential New Orleans thing to do.
It’s true, New Orleans has an open container law which means you can walk around the Quarter with your drink in a plastic container. There’s generally no set “last call” time, it differs between establishments with some going 24 hours a day. You can always get your drink in a Go Cup if you need to leave.
Use common sense while on Bourbon Street. Don’t drink too much, don’t wander alone into dark alleys, keep your personal belongings at a minimum and in your front pocket or in front of you. It’s a crowded street full of tourists and revelers and people will take advantage of you if you make yourself an easy target. Don’t be scared, just be smart.
What do to on Bourbon Street
Cafe Beignet While I’ve never been to this exact location I can vouch for how yummy their breakfast is and how their beignets are on the same level as Cafe du Monde (without the long waits!). The photo is of the location we always go to on Royal Street. Website | 311 Bourbon Street
Tropical Aisle Here’s where you’ll find the famously tall, neon green hand grenade drinks you’ll see people walking around with. They’re super cute but drink with caution as these drinks pack a punch! the grain alcohol used in this drink is masked with fruity flavors and this novelty drink packs a punch that will sneak up on you. Website | 721 Bourbon Street
The World’s Famous Cats Meow Fun & funky karaoke bar for the adventurous crews! There’s also a webcam placed outside the entrance where you can wave to your friends and family at home. Website | 701 Bourbon Street
Pat O’Brien’s If you ask me this is the home of the best Hurricane. Actually, don’t bother getting one anywhere else unless it’s a frozen DAQ. Their signature red color and fruit punch flavor differs from other establishments. The restaurant is gorgeous with dueling pianos, water fountains with fire, and the patio is always hoppin’. I suggest getting the New Orleans Trio, it’s sample sizes of gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans & rice. Three obligatory New Orleans dishes. Yum! Website | 600 blocks of Bourbon Street
Marie Laveau House of Voodoo Fun & funky karaoke bar for the adventurous crews! There’s also a webcam placed outside the entrance where you can wave to your friends and family at home. Website | 739 Bourbon Street
Big Easy Daquiris Fun & funky karaoke bar for the adventurous crews! There’s also a webcam placed outside the entrance where you can wave to your friends and family at home. Website | 216 and 501 Bourbon Street
Nearby Bourbon Street
Vieux Carré Pizza Open till around 3-4: 30 am, this is the spot to get a late nite slice to soak up all those fruity adult beverages you’ve been sipping on all night. You can get a slice or a whole pie and I believe they deliver, too. Their pizza is pretty darn good and they are constantly making it throughout the night so your slice is gonna be fresh. We stop here at least twice every visit to NOLA. Website | 733 St Louis Street
The Dungeon A dark, rock and roll bar that you just might miss if you weren’t looking for the tiny doorway sized entrance. Come in if you dare, but leave your cameras behind as you (technically) aren’t supposed to take photos. Website | 738 Toulouse Street
Café Fleur-de-lis We found this spot on a rainy morning strolling through the Quarter and decided to give it a shot. I had the King Cake french toast and it did not disappoint. Website | 307 Chartres Street
Boutique du Vampire Into vampires? This is your spot! A small vampire boutique with costume, history, gifts and other items in that genre. Website | 709 1/2 St. Ann Street
NCIS New Orleans Set If you’re into the NCIS franchise check out the set and you may get lucky and be there during filming. We caught some filming action on Bourbon Street one trip, you never know! 712-798 St Ann Street
A historic park the size of a city block, Jackson Square offers a place to take a break and enjoy the scenery and is surrounded by a lot of interesting things to do, see, and eat. From the spooky Pirate’s Alley to delicious beignets, you can get a real taste of New Orleans in the square. Also, be sure to check out the local artists who set up shop around the square and in full force on the weekends. A great place to get some local art which makes great souvenirs! There’s a lot going on in this area and nearby but here are a few recommendations below.
This area is full of tourists and where I experienced one of the famous NOLA tourist scams where a stranger comes up to you and bets your money that they can guess where your shoes are from. You’ll never win this bet, and they will expect you to pay up. It’s best to just politely decline and walk away as soon as you recognize what’s happening. I’ve never been a victim of the scam as I’ve always just walked away but I did see them pull it off on people nearby. If they keep trying just tell them you’re local.
What to in Jackson Square
St. Louis Cathedral It’s the beautiful cathedral behind Jackson Square. The interior is open to self-guided tours when there isn’t mass or other events happening. There’s a statue of Jesus behind the church that gets uplighted at night and casts a long shadow onto the cathedral walls so check out the back at night. Website | 615 Pere Antoine Alley
The Cabildo Sitting to the left of St. Louis Cathedral is one of the most historically significant buildings in the United States. It’s past lives have included being the seat of government during the Spanish colonial period to being the location where the Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803, doubling the land of our young nation. In 1853 it became the headquarters of the Louisiana State Supreme Court where the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision originated in 1892. Now the building serves as a museum serving to educate the public about Louisiana history. Website | 701 Chartres Street
The Presbytère On the right side of St. Louis Cathedral is a building matching the Cabildo. Once home to monks, a commercial building, a courthouse and now it houses permanent exhibits on Mardi Gras and the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Website | 751 Chartres Street
Pirate Alley Some say it’s haunted, others tell tales of extraordinary history making this historic and legendary alley definitely worth a visit. Here you can find what may be one of the most photographed lamp posts in New Orleans halfway down the alley marking the intersection of Cabildo Alley. At night it can be downright spooky, especially if it’s foggy out. | between Chartres Street and Royal Street at Jackson Square.
Cafe du Monde Open 24 hours a day this is the place to get an order of delicious square-shaped pastries sitting in a mound of powdered sugar otherwise known as beignets. They are as New Orleans as eating red beans & rice on a Monday. Expect long lines, but you may get lucky and arrive at a downtime. We like to get a bag to go and split it while we stroll the Mississippi River and walk down to Woldenberg Park to relax and watch the riverboats go by. Website | 800 Decatur Street
The French Market Open daily, the French Market boasts six blocks of shopping. Part farmers market, part flea market, part boutique, part restaurants this place has it all. I’ve only experienced it a brief time but it’s definitely on my to-do list for our next visit. Website | 751 Chartres Street
Nearby Jackson Square
Louisiana Pizza Kitchen A cute little place we discovered walking along one night. They make Jambalaya pizza! It was delicious and highly recommended. Website | 95 French Market Pl.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 Great spot to get exotic drinks and Tiki cuisine. Website | 321 N. Peters Street.
Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria When you need a little break from all that Cajun and Creole food you’ve been eating check out Filipe’s for some quite yummy Mexican food. We always stop here at least once each trip. Website | 301 N Peters St.
Pharmacy Museum This is on my to-do list but I’ve always wanted to go. A museum that preserves the history of pharmacy and healthcare in Louisiana. I’m always fascinated by old-time medicines and such. Website | 514 Chartres Street
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Just a few blocks walk from Bourbon Street is one of New Orleans’ oldest cemeteries, St Lois Cemetery No. 1. Due to the city being roughly 15-18 feet below sea level they’ve had issues burying their dead below ground as the flooding that would happen from heavy rainfall and hurricanes would disrupt the gravesites. Now the dead are mostly buried in mausoleum type tombs that are above ground creating a unique cemetery setting making this a very New Orleans thing to do on your visit. I recommend St. Louis No. 1 due to its proximity to the Quarter and that it is home to two very unique tombs.
The first is the believed final resting place of famous voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau. You’ll spot her tomb by the triple x’s drawn all over her tomb and the offerings of beads and other miscellaneous items left at the entrance. The other tomb is of actor Nicolas Cage. You’ll notice this one right away, too, as it’s a very modern-looking pyramid with a Latin saying that has kiss marks across part of the tomb. As you can imagine many New Orleanians aren’t thrilled with the addition of his tomb and some people have decided to make it into a strange, cult-like mystery with the kiss marks.
Since my last visit, the rules have changed. Unfortunately, due to excessive vandalism, you are no longer able to freely visit this cemetery unless you have family laid to rest here or are on an official tour. This saddens me because it’s such a relaxing time to explore and honor the deceased with curious respect while admiring the unique circumstances of cemeteries in New Orleans. So remember if this is on your agenda to research tours and the dates and times they are available so you don’t miss out. Also, as with any cemetery, proceed with respect for the dead. Do not vandalize, remove items, or cause damage to the tombs.
Nearby St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Other Nearby Notable Neighborhoods
Marigny / Bywater
An artsy area where locals are known to hang out to escape the chaotic tourist-filled French Quarter. Lots of jazz-filled clubs along Frenchmen Street, historic Creole homes, a chill vibe and so much more. Be sure to check out Dat Dog and Port of Call if you’re hungry. Keep an eye out for the Frenchmen Art Market (Art Garage). On the way to Frenchmen Street, keep an eye out for Secondline arts & Antiques such a cool space with lots of unique things to see. It’s one of my favorite antique shops in NOLA. Stop in The Maison and The Spotted Cat for a night of jazz and live music. There’s even a toilet-themed pub called The John… it’s not as gross as it sounds.
Garden District / Uptown
Hop on the trolley at St. Charles Line and take it into the Garden District. Look at the beautiful antebellum-style homes, take a stroll through Audubon Park and hug a Live Oak tree. Stroll down Magazine Street for some boutique shopping. Take a tranquil stroll through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Get some donuts at District Donuts and if you are hungry, stop by the famous Commander’s Palace for a bite to eat. Many people like to take self-guided tours through the Garden District.
Central Business District
This is where New Orleans starts to feel like other major cities with its tall buildings and a downtown feel. Not to say there’s nothing worth visiting in the CBD, but you won’t find as much of the charm of New Orleans and the French Quarter here. You can visit Harrah’s Casino if your feeling lucky, check out an event at The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, get some shopping done at upscale and well-known brand retail spots. If you are looking for a place to stay, check into the ACE Hotel and if you get hungry check out popular spots such as Domenica, Mother’s, and Drago’s.
Hotels and Lodging
Prince Conti Hotel
We’ve stayed at this hotel several times and while it’s not the fanciest or trendiest hotel, it is affordable, clean, and within walking distance of many French Quarter attractions. There are also several restaurants next door and nearby.
The Jung Hotel & Residences
Another on Canal street. Lots of marble, beautiful and modern.
The Eliza Jane (a Hyatt Hotel)
On Magazine Street and looks gorgeous and moody inside.
B on Canal
Gorgeous decorated hotel in the CBD.
It’s an ACE. If you’ve ever been, you know they can run a little pricey and your room is a little on the small side but the design is impeccable, it’s very photogenic, and the lobby decor is gorgeous. The attached restaurants are on my to-do list.
The Pontchartrain Hotel
On St. Charles Ave in the Garden District. Everything about this place begs you to take a picture!
Gorgeous facade, rooftop pool, vintage decorations, and that carousal bar!
On Bourbon with a great balcony. Pretty looking courtyard and pool area and nice looking rooms.
The French Market Inn
There is a pool and lots of brick walls and it feels like a vintage but cool loft
Gorgeous hotel with a classic look that doesn’t feel dated. This is definitely a luxury hotel.
Well, there you have it!
I hope this guide helps get your planning started! Remember that there is a lot to New Orleans than just the obligatory tourist stops. While they are all worth a visit be sure to explore and see what the city has to offer, once you leave Bourbon Street there’s a whole city to explore. Enjoy!
New Orleans on the blog
What To Know Before You Go
Safety: Unfortunately due to being a major tourist hotspot, there’s going to be petty crime and occasionally violent crime. While it’s impossible to ward off all crime, using common sense will help you a lot. Don’t get too drunk, don’t leave your drink alone where someone can add something to it. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk down dark scary alleys. Keep your belongings where you can see them, use your front pocket or keep your purse in front of you. Read up on tourist scams so you don’t fall for any. This makes New Orleans sound like a scary place, but in the 7 times I’ve been here, I have never once been afraid.
Parking: I don’t know why you would drive in New Orleans proper, most people cab/ uber/ pedicab everywhere. There are the occasional parking garage and street park, it really depends on the area.
Weather: It’s the South so dress appropriately. I suggest bringing layers in the Spring and Fall, in summer you’ll want to dress light. You won’t find me visiting during summer months, I hate the heat!
Peek season: Mardi Gras will be one of the more busier seasons, however, there are a lot of events and conventions held in town. Be sure to check if any are happening when you plan to visit as that can cause a spike in hotel prices and beyond.