My first time in New Orleans was not only during Mardi Gras, but it happened to be NBA All Star Weekend as well. Needless to say, the city was PACKED with people and the energy was practically tangible.
Was it the greatest choice as a first timer in the city? Most likely not…I was super limited in accommodations (elevated pricing plus limited availability) and definitely paid more for things than I really should have. Regardless, I still had an an amazing experience that has left me counting down the days until I can make my way back to the Big Easy!
New Orleans is the ideal city to spend a three day weekend. It’s the perfect amount of time to see a little of everything the city has to offer without making a huge trip commitment, and is easily accessible from most places in the US. The only catch is that once you’re there, there will be SO MUCH MORE that you want to see and do (and eat!) and you’ll be dying for a second trip. And a third.
The French Quarter is the epicenter of everything New Orleans, and should be your headquarters for the weekend. Drop off your bags and head outside – you will be instantly in awe of the gorgeous architecture (most of it is actually Spanish, not French) and there are tons of bars and shops lining the streets to catch your interest. While Bourbon Street is the most well-known, each street offers tons of restaurants, gorgeous buildings, and shops.
Head to Bourbon Street for epic people-watching and strong drinks! Swing by Pat O’Brien’s to try the original hurricane or Tropical Isle for the Hand Grenade – an insanely boozy drink that totally encompasses New Orleans’ party scene. Bonus: There are no open carry laws, meaning you can stroll the streets with your drink in hand! It’s divine.
After all that drinking and walking, you’ll be ready to dig into some delectable New Orleans food. Head to NOLA (one of Emeril’s restaurants) for a dinner to remember. Order the classic sazerac and the crispy pork shoulder for a delightful meal you won’t soon forget.
Get up early and head to Cafe du Monde, one of the most famous spots in New Orelans! The cafe has a perpetually-winding line for it’s world-famous beignets – powdered sugar covered fried dough – but it moves very quickly. I didn’t wait for more than a couple minutes.
Adventure Girl Tips: Cafe du Monde is cash only and there is no ATM, so come prepared. It’s cheap, though! $15 will get you beignets for two and hot chocolates or cups of cafe au lait. The tables are first come, first served, so if you see one open, go ahead and grab it. Alternatively, you can stand in line to take your treats to go or grab a table after the fact. It will be a quick visit either way, so don’t be intimidated by the length of the line! One last thing: Don’t wear black.
Next, call an Uber as you will need to head outside of the French Quarter for a quintessential NOLA experience – a swamp tour! There are dozens of companies to choose from, but I highly recommend Captain Lou for an authentic experience on a quiet boat (with a cooler full of beer!). He knows just where to go and the alligators respond to his voice, swimming right up to the boat. Okay, maybe it’s more the marshmallows he throws in the water, but still! It’s awesome.
After the swamp tour, head back to the city center to take a walking tour of the Garden District. You’ll be captivated by the gorgeous mansions (some even owned by celebrities) and will happily spend hours walking among the willow trees and pastel colored houses.
When you’re ready for lunch, stop into The Commander’s Palace. You can’t miss the iconic turquoise building with the striped awning located at the southwest corner of Lafayette Cemetery. It’s been around since 1880 and while you do have to dress up a bit, it’s well worth it. Have a 25 cent martini (or three) and taste some exceptional, traditional New Orleans food.
Head back to Bourbon Street in the evening for a final round of NOLA livelihood. Stop by My Bar 635 for a lovely dueling piano bar and two for one drinks. If you’ve had enough of the party scene, head to Frenchman Street instead! You can’t go wrong here – walk along the street and you will hear live jazz music floating out of every bar. Pick one that strikes your fancy to experience an essential part of New Orleans culture.
Oh Sunday, such a bittersweet day. It’s the day you will have to head back into regular life, but not before taking in one more New Orleans experience – jazz brunch! While there are plenty of choices throughout the French Quarter, I recommend making reservations at The Court of Two Sisters. You will love the quaint courtyard and selection of traditional Creole dishes, all while enjoying live jazz.
New Orleans is truly a one-of-a-kind city that you absolutely must see for yourself. After visiting just once, I have such an affinity for the city and can’t wait to start planning my second trip!