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There is truly something for everyone when visiting New Orleans — amazing food, fantastic nightlife, history, architecture, and more. If you haven’t been to New Orleans yet, drop what you’re doing and book the trip. I’ve been three times and know I will keep going back — it’s a city that feels like pure magic.
Getting Here and Getting Around
The Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) is located about 30 minutes from the French Quarter. Once you land, grab a taxi or rideshare to your accommodation. You may feel tempted to rent a car, but I don’t recommend doing so in New Orleans. Parking is extremely limited throughout the city and hotels charge outrageous nightly parking fees (often $30-60 extra per night).
It’s worth saving the money you would pay for a rental car and instead pay a little more for a hotel in the French Quarter or CBD so that you can walk everywhere you want to go. For tours or sightseeing in other parts of the city, you can always take an Uber/Lyft/taxi.
New Orleans also features a cute and convenient cable car system that you can ride (cheaply!).
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Most people want to stay in the French Quarter, which is the heart of New Orleans’ tourist district. However, if you’re visiting New Orleans on a budget, you will get a lot more for your money just a few minutes away in the CBD. I recommend booking a hotel in between Poydras Street and Canal Street so that you are within walking distance of the French Quarter.
The St. Christopher Hotel, located just two blocks from the French Quarter, is an affordable hotel that doesn’t feel like a budget stay. Averaging just $143/night with free cancellation (and no payment due upfront with you book online with Booking) you will be within a short walk of a Cafe Beignet location, Bourbon Street, and Harrah’s Casino.
If you prefer to stay directly in the French Quarter, I really enjoyed staying at the Four Points by Sheraton, located right on Bourbon Street. They offer rooms with balconies with a view of Bourbon Street, Toulouse Street, or the gorgeous courtyard pool. Fair warning that the rooms overlooking the street can be pretty loud at night, but if you’re there to party you might not mind! The hotel’s pool is the perfect spot to refresh and relax before hitting the town at night. My friends and I had a great time here!
Things to Do When Visiting New Orleans
I never leave a new city without doing at least one guided tour. It’s the best way to learn about what you’re seeing and leave with locals’ recommendations on places to eat. I’ve taken several tours in New Orleans and strongly recommend the following ones:
New Orleans Ghost Tour
New Orleans is a famously haunted city and there is no shortage of haunted homes, restaurants, and hotels across the city, many of which are in the French Quarter! Meet your guide in front of the cathedral in Jackson Square and enjoy a two-hour walking tour that covers about one mile in distance. If your tour guide happens to be Sandy, you are in for a treat!
This fascinating and fun tour is a perfect introduction to New Orleans as you walk past some of the French Quarter’s most famous landmarks. You’ll see filming the LaLaurie Mansion where dozens of people were tortured and at least one murder took place, a restaurant that still sets a table for its resident ghost each night, haunted hotels, and more.
Book online for just $2.50/person to reserve your spot (reservations are required) and make sure to bring cash to tip your guide. I recommend around $10/person as a good benchmark. The tour runs every night of the week, usually starting around 7:30pm.
Swamp and Plantation Combination Tour
Since you’re only in town for a weekend, make the most of your time with a combination tour that takes you to two of New Orleans’ must-see destinations in one trip. I wrote a detailed post about my experience doing this tour with Cajun Pride, but suffice it to say it was a fantastic experience.
The tour guide will pick you up right outside your hotel and drop you back off at the end of the day. The swamp tour via boat, guided plantation tour, and roundtrip transportation cost just $96 per person total — a steal for the amount of things you’re going to see.
The Manchac Swamp is located about an hour outside of downtown and is filled to the brim with alligators. You are guaranteed to see dozens of them swimming around in their natural habitat, ranging from little babies to 10 foot monsters. After the swamp tour, the shuttle will take you to either Oak Alley or Laura Plantation, depending on the tour schedule. You will receive a guided tour by one of the plantation museum’s employees to learn about the history of slavery in New Orleans in addition to time to explore the grounds on your own.
Garden District Tour
The Garden District is an upscale neighborhood filled with some of the most gorgeous homes you will ever see. Many of them are owned by celebrities and historical figures such as Anne Rice, Sandra Bullock, and Nicolas Cage. The mansions of the Garden District are uniquely designed and unlike architecture you will find anywhere else. A tour through the Garden District is a relaxing and educational way to spend your afternoon learning about the architectural styles found in the neighborhood along with stories of the homes past and current residents.
Book a highly-rated Garden District tour for $27/person. This is a two-hour walking tour that I have personally taken!
Places to See in New Orleans
Sazerac House, one of the newest things to do when visiting New Orleans, is a free distillery and museum located within walking distance of the French Quarter. It’s actually right across the street from one of the hotels I recommended (the St. Christopher) which is how I originally discovered this place.
Sazerac House is a combination of a tour, self-guided exhibits, and tastings — all included with your free admission! Just reserve a spot online in advance. Throughout the three-floor building, you will learn about the history and significance of the Sazerac cocktail in New Orleans (it’s the city’s official cocktail!) and will have a chance to try a few different drinks made with the whiskey. It was a very fun place to explore.
Preservation Hall is a historic jazz music venue in the heart of the French Quarter. Music has been played here since the 1950’s, including by some of jazz’s most prolific musicians. Jazz is a very important part of New Orleans, both past and present, and you would be doing yourself a disservice to not listen to a performance while visiting New Orleans.
You can see live jazz performances at Preservation Hall Thursday through Sunday evenings. Book your tickets in advance as shows consistently sell out. Tickets range from $40-50 per person.
The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is a quirky and budget-friendly way to spend part of your day in the French Quarter. Admission is just $5 per person to check out two floors and multiple rooms filled with historical medical equipment….it sounds weird but is totally fascinating. Located at the site of the city’s first licensed apothecary, the Pharmacy Museum features voodoo potions, opium remedies galore, and an entertaining few hours for anyone with a penchant for the dark and twisted.
The iconic St. Louis cathedral at the heart of Jackson Square is impossible to miss when walking around the French Quarter. Even if you don’t want to visit the inside of the cathedral, the square is the perfect place to take a break and watch street musicians and magicians perform and peruse the art vendors’ displays.
The square has benches to sit and relax, tons of photo opportunities, and some truly talented people performing on a daily basis. The square is located just around the corner from Cafe du Monde (the iconic coffee and beignet stand) and the French Market (honestly it’s mostly mass-produced crap, but there is some true local art for browsing).
Where to Eat and Drink in New Orleans
Restaurants are one of the main reasons for visiting New Orleans. The city’s unique history and culture have resulted in an amazing food and nightlife scene that can’t be found anywhere else, and I’m not just talking about Bourbon Street. If that’s the only place you check out in New Orleans, you will be missing out on world-class food (and it doesn’t even have to cost a lot!).
Affordable and Mid-Range Restaurants in New Orleans
You simply must have brunch at The Court of Two Sisters, located on Royal Street in the French Quarter. This restaurant has the most beautiful outdoor courtyard with a magical ambience. They offer a delightful jazz brunch with live music every day until 3pm and I can’t recommend it enough. Make an online reservation in advance to guarantee outdoor seating. It’s just not the same inside.
You have to get beignets at least once during your trip! I have an entire post dedicated to the pros and cons of a few beignet shops around New Orleans. Spoiler: I think the best beignets are found at Cafe Beignet, even though Cafe du Monde is the most famous and busiest place to get them. Beignets are basically fluffy, deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar. And they taste AMAZING.
Cafe Beignet has several locations around town, including the French Quarter on Royal Street (the most Instagram-worthy location) and a convenient spot on Canal Street, in between the French Quarter and the CBD. The Canal Street location is definitely less busy, but you will want to try to get to either location before 10am to avoid super long lines and full tables. In addition to beignets, Cafe Beignet offers espresso drinks, iced coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and more so it’s the perfect place for a cheap and casual breakfast.
A few other notable affordable places to eat in New Orleans are Willie Mae’s for world-famous fried chicken (take a rideshare to the Tremé neighborhood), Central Grocery for the original deli-style Italian sandwich known as a muffuletta, and Verti Marte for 24/7 food to go.
Fine Dining in New Orleans
Eating at Commander’s Palace, My #1 Restaurant Recommendation for Visiting New Orleans
If you can fit it into your budget, I think you must visit at least one fine dining restaurant while visiting New Orleans. The nice restaurants here are historic, iconic, and so different from what you might find in any other city.
Commander’s Palace, located in the Garden District, has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893. They have won dozens of awards including seven James Beard awards (basically the top award restaurants can receive) and have hosted many notable chefs including Emeril Lagasse.
Commander’s Palace is known for it’s elevated dishes and impeccable service. Our dishes were presented to us by individual servers who glanced at one another, nodded, and then placed our dishes in front of us at the exact same moment. It was so cool and special and a story my family tells frequently. I’ve never had more impressive and dedicated service than I have at the Commander’s Palace.
Their turtle soup finished tableside with sherry is one of their signature dishes. I ordered it to start and really enjoyed it! It’s rich but not hearty — the perfect starter soup to eat along with the table bread. I ordered the pecan-crusted fish and the rest of my family ordered the beef filet. All four of us thought it was some of the best food we had ever had.
Expect to spend $75 per person for dinner. Lunch is a bit cheaper but not by much…but they do have 25-cent martinis at lunchtime! This is an old tradition that hasn’t increased in price in decades.
The unmissable turquoise-and-white striped restaurant is such a treat to eat at. Every detail is attended to and you will feel like royalty here. Dress up for the occasion and make a reservation well in advance.
Additional noteworthy higher-end restaurants in New Orleans include Muriel’s, Brennan’s, NOLA, and Galatoire’s, all located within the French Quarter. I have eaten at Brennan’s (get the bananas foster, they invented it!) and NOLA before and had wonderful experiences at both.
I hope this guide helps you with visiting New Orleans! It is one of my favorite cities in the world thanks to its food, history, architecture, and the overall vibes of the city. If you want additional help planning your trip, contact me and I would be happy to help.