Visiting New Orleans is always on my mind and for good reason. I love the relaxed atmosphere, great food, and friendly people. And there are always things to do in New Orleans no matter what time of year you visit. With something for everyone in the family, New Orleans, or "NOLA", is certainly one of the great US cities. And I've been going all my life, which means I know a few things when it comes to finding fun things to do in New Orleans. To help you plan your New Orleans vacation, I put together this epic Louisiana girl's guide to visiting New Orleans. Use it to discover all the best things to do, see, eat, and experience in my beloved city.
Pssst... are you looking for Mardi Gras tips!?
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What Can You Do in New Orleans?
What you've heard about visiting New Orleans is true. Trouble is easy to find in the Crescent City (if that's your thing). But there's also plenty of innocent fun, too. And whether you are planning a honeymoon or a weekend getaway, visiting New Orleans is sure to be an experience you'll never forget. In fact, you might not want to leave.
Culture seeps through the cracks in the streets of New Orleans. You can find it strolling the French Quarter art galleries and boutique shops. It's there when you're gambling at the tables of the historic riverboat casinos. And you can taste it in the exotic flavors and spicy concoctions in the cuisine. You can't avoid NOLA's culture, which is part of the city's charm.
Hopefully, you're itching to learn more about what to do in New Orleans. Good thing I've made it super easy for you in this complete New Orleans travel guide. These are my very best suggestions of fun things to do in New Orleans!
pro tip: many of the links included in this post lead directly to YELP so you can bookmark your favs!
Where to Stay While Visiting New Orleans
As you might already know, there's plenty to see and do near the historic French Quarter. And many people choose to stay in The Quarter when visiting New Orleans. But it's important to know where to stay in the French Quarter. My one piece of advice for first time NOLA visitors: make sure you do your research on where to stay in New Orleans before booking anything!
New Orleans can be very walkable IF you plan your visit well. Stay close to Canal Street to position yourself close to the action. From Canal Street, you can easily access the historic trolley system to visit Uptown or hop in a quick cab to the Warehouse District or Frenchmen. The French Quarter is also only steps away.
Many of the larger hotel chains offer affordable digs on or near Canal Street. The Sheraton offers great rates for travelers and is well-located. But for a little more NOLA-flavor, consider staying at Royal Sonesta, the French Market Inn, Hotel St. Marie, or Hotel Monteleone.
Looking for More New Orleans Hotels?
catch a ride on a traditional NOLA Streetcar right outside the Sheraton
Read More of My Thoughts on Where to Stay in New Orleans -->
Getting Around While Visiting New Orleans
Flying into New Orleans is a breeze thanks to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Unfortunately, the airport isn't close to the action. Located in Kenner, you'll need a ride to the center of the city which is approximately 16 miles from the airport.
Thankfully, getting to the French Quarter from the airport is a cinch thanks to local taxis (flat rate of $36 for up to two passengers), hotel shuttle services ($24 per person one way, $44 per person round trip), or car services like Lyft.
There's no need to rent a car in New Orleans thanks to the many cars for hire and other more traditional transport options (streetcar, bus, horse-drawn carriage, rickshaw). But, if you're planning a few New Orleans day trips, consider a rental car. Trust Hotwire for an unbeatable deal from major car rental chains!
Pro Tip: If you're planning a short trip, opt to go car-free. Street parking is limited, and hotels can charge $25+ per day to park.
take a more classic approach to transportation
Never used Lyft? No worries!
Use this link to save $5 on your first trip in New Orleans!
Explore the Historic French Quarter
Obviously, this post highlights the French Quarter, and why not? The French Quarter is full of impressive art galleries, titillating bars, incredible restaurants, one-of-a-kind shopping, and fun people-watching. It's the most historic area in the city and deserves your attention and time.
To get a taste of all the French Quarter serves up, check out the list of handy (printable) maps at FrenchQuarter.com. For a more detailed shopping guide, check out my list of the best places to shop in New Orleans. Some personal favorites are UAL, Fleurty Girl, and Sweet Pea & Tulip.
Where to Eat While Visiting New Orleans
With SO many places to eat in New Orleans, how do you even decide? The truth is it's easy to find great food in New Orleans. Stumble out of your hotel and you're likely to find something yummy on every street corner. But if you really want an authentic New Orleans meal, check out any of these places to eat!
For a traditional French Quarter experience, consider Royal House for reasonably priced regional fare. And do yourself a favor; request a balcony table upstairs for some prime-time people watching.
Red Fish Grill has amazing seafood not to be missed. And Galatoire's serves some of New Orleans' finest since 1905. Muriel's is another NOLA institution with plenty of grace and charm, just don't expect to get away without spending more than a few bucks.
Our favorite place to eat in New Orleans is Dick and Jenny's. The eatery serves home-style cuisine with a modern twist in a charming Creole cottage. I promise it will not disappoint. The cornbread alone is worth the trek (taxi or Lyft required).
Or maybe you want to step out in style? If so, suit up and head over to Arnaud's or Antoine's. These NOLA standards have been serving delicious dinners to locals and travelers for decades. Cocktail attire isn't required but why not?
New Orleans has its fair share of really fantastic restaurants and world-class chefs, too. If it's a Michelin-star experience you seek, consider Herbsaint, Commander's Palace or Cochon. Just be sure to make reservations ahead of time!
Breakfast & Brunch
Start your mornings off right with a traditional NOLA breakfast: Café au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. If the lines too long, or if you want to try something new, head over to Cafe Beignet for even more sugary goodness. If it's brunch you seek, why not check out Stanley (is worth the wait, I promise) or Mr. B's (cutest little jazz brunch on Sundays).
The Court of Two Sisters has a marvelous brunch buffet served in a beautiful New Orleans courtyard. It's the perfect place for an Instagrammable brunch. And if you want something a little more low key, stop into Daisy Duke's for a basic brunch with giant bloody marys!
While the stakes may not be as high when compared to dinner, lunch is still a great time to find great places to eat in New Orleans. If you're in the French Quarter, check out Acme Oyster House (less crowded for lunch), Jimmy J's, or K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen.
Exploring the Central Business District (Ogden Museum, WWII Museum area)? No worries! There's good food there, too. Mother's is a New Orlean's institution. Lucy's Retired Surfer Bar is always a good idea.
Pro Tip: Be sure to stop by Parkway Bakery and Tavern on your way to City Park for the BEST po-boy in town!
Fun Things to Do in New Orleans
Looking for more of a cultural experience while visiting New Orleans? Lucky for you NOLA is full of unique tours and cultural opportunities. If you're looking for a fun tour to take, consider one of the many New Orleans activities and tours available from Viator.
My personal favorites include St Louis Cemetery #1 and a few of the Mississippi River plantation trips: Destrehan, Oak Alley, and Evergreen. The history of the city and the area is palpable when you're walking those hallowed grounds.
If strolling the streets isn't your thing, consider one of the many great museums like the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in the Central Business District (CBD). Or maybe you should hop on the Canal Streetcar (City Park Line) and head to City Park. There you will find several great options to while away your day, including the fabulous New Orleans Museum of Art and (outdoor) Sculpture Garden.
Pro Tip: Don't worry about transportation for the plantation tours. Most reputable companies pick up at local hotels or designated shuttle spots.
Where to Drink While Visiting New Orleans
Iconic Bourbon Street is a must for anyone visiting New Orleans for the first time. There's plenty to see, drink, and do on this famous party street. Be sure to check out Cat's Meow for some karaoke fun. Also, head to the courtyard at Pat O'brien's for an upscale cocktail in an authentic NOLA-style courtyard. Free jazz is included.
You'll also want to spend some time exploring the nooks and crannies of the historic French Quarter. Look for local dive bars like Chart Room, Erin Rose, or Bar Tonique. Day drinking is permitted just about anywhere in New Orleans, and so is the "to-go" cup! Grab a drink to go from just about any bar to enjoy while exploring the streets of New Orleans. My go-to to-go drink spot is the Corner Oyster House right next to Jackson Square!
For those spending time exploring the art galleries of the Central Business District, check out Circle Bar for fine spirits and lively conversation. And for even more novelty, don't miss the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone!
Looking for Live Music?
If you're looking for live music, be sure to check out the schedule at House of Blues New Orleans and the more private venue upstairs, The Parish. One Eyed Jacks is another standout spot for catching live music acts in the French Quarter. The Howlin' Wolf, Tipitina's, and Preservation Hall also host traveling artists and offer travelers a taste of local New Orleans.
Pro TIP: For my complete list of places to eat and drink in NOLA grab your copy of The ESSENTIAL New Orleans Checklist!
As the sun begins to set, don't miss Jackson Square for picture-perfect street shots and cool street vendors selling one-of-kind art. If you are lucky, you will find your fortune waiting for you at one of the many fortune tellers tables. Afterward, sneak down Pirate's Alley for a cocktail at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop.
If you're looking for something a little different, then book it to Frenchmen Street. Catch a quick Lyft to the corner of Decatur & Frenchmen, then trek north up Frenchmen Street for some fabulous jazz cafes, live music pubs, and throwback fun at the Blue Nile's 90's dance party (Thursday nights only).
While exploring Frenchmen Street, be sure to stop by d.b.a. for a killer beer list and some sweet tunes. The Spotted Cat Nightclub and Cafe Negril are two top-notch jazz clubs known for supporting local talent.
Don't Miss the Charming St Charles Ave
For a more locals-only experience, hop on the St Charles Avenue Streetcar and head toward Uptown and the Garden District. The streetcars are quintessential NOLA, very picturesque and authentic.
Many locals still use the streetcars as day-to-day transportation. Seeing the oak-lined streets and the magnificent mansions from the streetcar is truly like stepping back in time.
While you're there spend some time exploring the residential streets in search of your favorite Queen Anne Victorian home. If you find yourself outside Superior Grill (streetcar stop #21) you may as well stop in for a lively lunch. This superior (pun intended) spot is super fun and convenient. It serves as a great pit-stop for Mardi Gras, too.
Pro Tip: Take one of Superior's potent frozen margaritas TO GO. It's perfectly legal to bring a cocktail on your stroll in New Orleans.
Don't Miss My NOLA Shopping Guide!
Head Uptown for More Local Fun
Looking for an oyster bar to belly up to? Check out Cooter Brown's at the end of St Charles (streetcar stop #43). This place is exactly what you imagine a local oyster bar to be like, complete with plate lunch and blue-collar patrons.
Oak Street is an up-and-coming arts district in Uptown that offers up some unique eats, some fine coffee shops, and boutique shops. The highlight of the area is Jacques-Imo's. This institution has been serving "real Nawlins food" with style for many years.
Pro Tip: The Oak Street Po-Boy Festival is not to be missed if you are visiting New Orleans in late November.
Don't Miss Magazine Street
Magazine Street is one of the cultural hearts of the city and a personal favorite of mine. Known for eclectic shops, unusual characters and lively pubs, this is a MUST see for those who have the time. For those of you (like me) who love to shop local when you travel, be sure to visit Magazine, where you'll find tons of vintage and artisan boutiques.
Spend the day zigzagging down Magazine Street to truly experience the NOLA vibe. Munch on a snow cone from SnoWizard or Imperial Woodpeckers if the weather's hot. Or pop into Dat Dog for a crazy good hotdog, a slice of pizza at Reginelli's, or a burrito at Juan's Flying Burrito. All these local favorites are sure to please travelers who visit Magazine Street.
Need a beverage to wash it all down? Head over to The Bulldog, a local institution. With TONS of beers on tap, you are sure to find something to write home about, or at least Tweet about. Be sure to have an Abita beer for me! Now that you're stuffed, order a Lyft back to the French Quarter or keep exploring some of the local shops featured in my NOLA shopping guide.
Don't Miss My Other New Orleans Posts!
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