New Orleans has been on my radar for a few years. After moving to the East Coast, I’ve wanted to explore much of the American South. Being as Type-A as I am, most of my 2019 travel was planned out well before the end of 2018… Except my New Orleans itinerary! I had been thinking about it casually for months but didn’t decide to start really planning until New Years Day. Since I was already using most of my vacation time for the Croatia and Panama trips later in the year, I wanted to keep my New Orleans trip rather short so I wouldn’t need to use much more PTO.
I visited over Presidents‘ Day weekend and felt it was a perfect time to visit! The city was gearing up for Mardi Gras and festive with decorations everywhere. There were plenty of tourists but not so much that I felt overwhelmed. The weather was not great the 2nd and 3rd day but I still managed to have a fabulous time.
New Orleans is a popular tourist destination in the United States. My travel style is usually to explore off-the-beaten path activities and destinations. However, I felt that really wasn’t necessary here! Many call New Orleans ‘The Northernmost Caribbean City‘ and I absolutely agree! The locals are extremely friendly and eager to share their city’s rich culture and history with anyone who will listen. Because of this, popular tourist attractions don’t feel hacky, sanitized or manufactured.
The vibe in New Orleans is sort of contradictory. It’s so lively and I’ve never encountered a city that parties so much. Frankly, I think ‘The city that never sleeps‘ slogan is more fitting for New Orleans than New York. However, on the flip side of that, the pace is very slow and casual like anywhere in the Caribbean. It’s a sublime combination that makes this city perfect for nearly any kind of tourist!
While the weather wasn’t on my side, and I was still nursing a torn meniscus in my right knee at the time of my visit, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I didn’t get to see quite as much as I wanted but I adopted the culture of going-with-the-flow and left fully satisfied with my time in The Big Easy.
If you have a few days to spend, my New Orleans itinerary should be easy to follow. It will be a helpful guide for having a blast whether by yourself or with others.
New Orleans Itinerary: Day 1
My first day of my New Orleans itinerary technically isn’t a day but a night… My flight from DC arrived in MSY around 7:30 PM, Saturday, February 16th.
Since I arrived on a Saturday and in the evening, I took a Lyft from the airport to my hostel. There is a shuttle (E2) and bus (202) that go to and from the airport. However, both have limited schedules. You can track their times on the Transit app or the RTA app. I used both while traveling and found both to have frequent errors and glitches. Make sure NOT to load your fare for transit on the RTA app. A lot of errors have been reported about this in the app store. It’s best to just pay cash. The buses are $2 and street cars $1.25 for a single ride or $3 for a day pass.
With the convention center in town, A LOT of conferences from large corporations all over American happen in New Orleans. I would recommend checking the convention center schedule before going. That way you’ll have an idea of the traffic to anticipate, both on the roads and going to/from the airport.
Once I arrived at my hostel, I was greeted by a friendly, professional (and absolutely gorgeous) young woman named Vee. She booked my swamp tour, showed me a map of all the must-visit places, and toured the hostel for me.
Aubuerge actually does nightly events for those staying, which I thought was really cool. The night of my arrival, everyone was already out for the parade, then going out for drinks in the French Quarter. I had plenty of energy so I headed for a bar with great reviews called Hot Tin just a few blocks away.
Hot Tin is on the rooftop of a swanky hotel with fantastic views of the city, hip decor, and professional mixologists behind the bar. If you manage to make your way there, I would recommend the Champagne Safari drink.
Afterwards I meandered in to Lucky’s Bar. A 24 hour bar on the way between Hot Tin and my hostel. I had a great time chatting with some locals before heading home.
Since I had my fill of booze, I headed back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.
New Orleans Itinerary: Day 2
As I’m sure you guessed, I woke up with a massive hangover. Head pounding and stomach queasy, I was determined to not lose out on the beautiful weather outside. The sun was shining and it was incredibly 75 F! I hopped on the street car and headed to the French Quarter for brunch and sight seeing.
My first stop: Salon Restaurant. A beautiful spot above a sweets shop called Sucre. I ordered the Crab Mac & Cheese and Fried Chicken Poutine. I washed it all down with the best Bloody Mary I’ve had in my entire life!
After enjoying some much needed hangover food, I walked over to one of my most anticipated stops of the trip: The Museum of Death. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I’m not a huge museum-goer while traveling. However, I am a HUGE true crime nerd and couldn’t have been more excited about this. If you’re also in to true crime or dark tourism, I would recommend this tour. Tickets are $25 and it is NOT FOR ANYONE WITH A WEAK STOMACH!
Photos are not allowed and for an excellent reason. Much of the material in the museum of highly graphic and shouldn’t be available to the public in my humble opinion. The museum although graphic, is also small and rather casual. There are exhibits of varying sizes of just about every known serial and spree killer. There are also exhibits going over the history of funerals, death culture, embalming, etc.
After the museum, I wandered back out to the French Quarter to take in some architecture and enjoy the street performers at Jackson Square.
The French Quarter is a perfect place to simply get lost for a few hours. By about 2 PM, my legs were absolutely killing me but I simply couldn’t stop wandering. You’ll find shops, art collectives, live music, delicious food and so many other things to occupy your time here. Before I knew it, 2 PM was 8:30 PM and I was basically limping to meet my Lyft driver.
Food and drinks in the French Quarter will certainly be a bit more expensive than other neighborhoods. However, it’s very difficult to find BAD food or drinks. So while you may be paying more, there is also a value to your dollar that is unmatched in most other high volume tourist locales.
New Orleans is definitely a city full of tourists. However, it’s also a city like none other I’ve ever experienced. I don’t want to be reductionist but the 24 hour bars, open container laws, warm weather and friendly vibes make this an extremely unique city. There may be other parts of the United States with similar alcohol laws, but they don’t have the beautiful culture of New Orleans to compete!
New Orleans Itinerary: Day 3
For my third day, I woke bright & early for my Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters which was $60 including transportation and a 2 hour boat ride through the bayou. I was excited to see gators and all the other critters! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side and it was freezing rain all day. However, our tour guide was hilarious and made sure we had a great time.
We did manage to see a small, juvenile Alligator, several wild hogs, Raccoons, and plenty of stunning birds.
I returned to my hostel around 2 in the afternoon and was ready for some more delicious food that New Orleans is so famous for. I hopped on the street car headed to Faubourg Marigny for some music and food.
Marigny is a colorful neighborhood with a feeling similar to Brooklyn, NY. It’s next to the French Quarter so it’s odd (but in a good way) to walk through the hustle & bustle and just a few blocks later be met with quiet. The locals stroll leisurely and there’s much less foot traffic than the FQ. While I was determined to find food and music, I couldn’t help but wander for a couple more hours snapping shots of the colorful buildings and street art I saw nearly everywhere.
I finally made it to Bamboula’s. A casual joint with fantastic live music and terrible customer service, to be frank. I waited about 20 minutes before anyone even came to my table but I was ravenous for the catfish poboy I saw on the menu. And boy, am I glad I stayed. The band played sensual jazz tunes and the crowd was lively and actively engaged with the music we were listening to. Time has a way of slowing down in New Orleans. I lost track of time, set down my phone and just enjoyed my surroundings. THEN stuffed my face with a poboy that’s memory still makes my mouth water.
Afterwards, I made my way down to Marigny Brasserie for their truffle fries, boudin balls and a few house cocktails.
For my evening, I had booked a Brothels, Bordellos & Ladies of the Night tour with 2 Chicks Walking Tour Company. I had a spectacular time and the group was immediately all friendly with one another. The tour included a stop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar — The oldest structure used as a bar in the United States!
There are an overwhelming number of walking tour companies in New Orleans and I highly recommend 2 Chicks Walking. Our tour guide, Val, was super knowledgeable and spunky so she made it so fun! They have a variety of tours in several areas of the city that are unique topics. If I had stayed longer, I absolutely would have done their Gracious Garden District Tour and their Dead Sexy Tour. Tours are all $24.99 and last about 2 hours. And they say it on their site perfectly: ” DON’T TRUST THE STREETCAR to deliver you to the tour on time, enjoy it afterwards when time is not an issue. It’s the most charming, historic and UNRELIABLE form of transportation on the planet.” Either already be in the area or take a Lyft/Uber there.
After the tour I spent the evening with the friends I made on the tour bar hopping in to the early hours of the morning. Seriously, everyone is so friendly in New Orleans even the biggest introverts will make friends with strangers here.
Last Day in New Orleans
It’s time to say goodbye but luckily, I snagged a great deal on a flight leaving at 7:30 PM so I had the day to spend with my newfound friends! Originally, my New Orleans itinerary included exploring Audobon Park, as well as City Park. However, there was torrential rain and high winds… Taking those options off the table. If it’s an option for you though, you absolutely need to visit! Instead, I spent the day exploring Central City and Faubourg Lafayette. Some of my favorite spots were Lula Distillery and Tacos & Beers at 1622 St. Charles Ave. Try the Barbacoa taco!
Final Tips & Reminders
Always make sure to be prepared for the weather when you go. New Orleans is below sea level so it rains quite a bit. Pack an umbrella and a rain jacket.
Don’t trust the street car! Seriously, it’s crazy unreliable and sometimes won’t show up for hours and then 4 will show up back-to-back but will decide to not service stops at their whim.
If you’re renting a car or driving there, the parking laws are very tricky and if you’re parked illegally, you WILL be towed. Make sure you know the parking laws because there aren’t clear signs like you’d find in metropolitan areas.
If you’re visiting in February or March, pack a good jacket like a North Face or Patagonia. It doesn’t get freezing but when the wind picks up, it can become really uncomfortable if you only have a light jacket or cardigan.
Keep your eyes and ears open. New Orleans is a sensory fantasia with music and art everywhere. If you’re like me and coming from a city where you constantly have your headphones in, leave them at home. You won’t want them here, or you’ll miss something great!
Wear comfortable shoes. New Orleans is a huge walking city and wandering is the best way to experience its wonders. Skip the heels or flip flops with no support and pack your trainers or flat ankle boots if you’re traveling in the cooler months.
Take it easy on the drinking. The best way to experience this city is early in the morning so you don’t want to be too hungover to get up with the sun. The biggest regret of my New Orleans itinerary is not waking up early enough on the one sunny day I had while there. If I had, I probably could have visited more of the parks or explored more of the Garden District.
New Orleans is truly a gem of the South and a place like none other I’ve experienced before. It’s laid back culture, friendliness, climate and yes, alcohol laws make this a perfect city for anyone and everyone looking to get away for a bit. If you’re on the fence and considering The Big Easy, book your ticket today. New Orleans captured my heart and I truly can’t wait to go back for more.
Have you been to New Orleans? What are some of your favorite hidden gems of the city? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to follow & like on the ‘Gram & FB to stay up-to-date on all my shenanigans!