I love New Orleans. It’s my favorite city in the U.S. There was some strong competition (looking at you Charleston, SC…) but in the end, nothing can beat the Big Easy for me. There’s simply no other place like it. I love the beautiful and interesting architecture, the delicious food, and the fact that there is music everywhere. I love that the people who live there are welcoming, resilient, and know how to have a good time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend two months living there this year, which gave me a lot of time to explore and enjoy. If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans and need some guidance on what to do, look no further!
Explore the neighborhoods
New Orleans has several distinct neighborhoods with their own culture, architecture, and vibe.
The French Quarter is one of the most iconic parts of the Crescent City. Here’s where you’ll find wrought iron balconies, street musicians, and flickering gas lanterns. I highly recommend taking a walking tour of this area. It’s the oldest part of the city and full of fascinating history (and quite a few ghost stories.)
The Faubourg Marigny neighborhood sits right next to the French Quarter. Between its colorful shotgun homes and Creole cottages, random chicken sightings, and cool bars, it exudes an artistic cool. This neighborhood feels cozy and residential, but still has its share of charming corner bars and little restaurants.
The Garden District is famous for its resplendent mansions showcasing Creole and American architecture. It’s fun to walk (or drive) around and imagine which one you’d like to live in. While you’re walking through the Garden District, don’t miss the shops and restaurants on the lively Magazine street.
These are three of my favorites, but don’t miss out on the Treme or Uptown near Tulane University.
New Orleans is world-famous for its food. A local friend once told me that there are no truly terrible restaurants here because the people of New Orleans wouldn’t let a place that bad stay in business. Sure, you may run into some mediocre spots, but it’s unlikely you’ll eat a bad meal here. New Orleans is a reservation town, so it’s important that you plan out most of your meals ahead of time. During your visit, it’s essential to eat some of the classic fare (Creole and Cajun); but make sure you branch out into other cuisine as well. Also, don’t assume the best food is in fine dining. Some of my favorite meals have been from more casual establishments, like fish stand in the French Market.
We’ve been to many, many restaurants New Orleans and still haven’t made it to all of the legendary spots. That being said, here’s a list of my culinary highlights to get you started:
- Dat Dog: A fast-casual restaurant serving sausages with a Louisiana flare.
- Brennan’s: Needs no introduction. Get the bananas foster!
- Jacques-Imo: You will need to wait at least an hour but it is worth it for the Creole food and chaotic ambiance!
- Shaya: Delicious Israeli cuisine.
- Fritai: Haitian street food that blew me away.
- Atchafalya: Go for brunch or dinner, it doesn’t matter: this place will blow your mind. Order any dish with duck!
- Mister Mao: Don’t be afraid to eat the spicy menu! Amazing ambiance, great service, creative and tasy food.
- Rahm Haus: There’s ice cream and then there’s *ice cream*. This reigns supreme over all ice cream I’ve ever had (including gelato in Italy). Located in Courtyard Brewery, so grab a beer too!
Don’t skip beignets! It’s a stereotypical food for a reason. TIP: If you want to eat at Café du Monde, go after 6pm to skip the line. If you are tight on time, consider checking out Cafe Beignet. It’s just as good as Café du Monde and way less popular.
Bike under the shadows of live oak trees in City Park
City Park sits a few miles north of the French Quarter. It’s a sprawling, 1,300-acre oasis with miles of biking and hiking trails, sports complexes, gardens, a museum, and even a small amusement park. Most importantly, the park is full of Spanish-moss covered live oak trees. These magnificent trees grow low and wide, with gnarled branches that evoke a Southern mystery.
It’s absolutely worth a visit and you can even stop by a Café du Monde while you’re up there. You can reach the park by rideshare or street car, but my favorite way to get there is by bike. Blue Bikes provide an easy way for tourists to rent bikes during their visit. You can easily download the app and sign up for a membership. The Lafitte Greenway, a 2.6 mile long linear park connects the French Quarter up to Bayou St. John, is a safe and beautiful way to access City Park from downtown.
One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is to rent a bike and zoom up the Lafitte Greenway, grab a po’ boy lunch at Parkway Bakery, and bike through City Park.
Go to a museum
Beyond eating and drinking, New Orleans has several excellent museums. If you have time, I recommend checking out one of the museums that showcases local history, like the Presbytere or the Cabildo. These two museums also happened to be housed in two historic buildings build during the Spanish rule over New Orleans.
Other museums I’d recommend are:
- World War II
- New Orleans Art Museum
- Jazz Museum
- Voodoo Museum
Listen to live music
Music is an essential part of life in New Orleans. You can find it anywhere – from clubs to parks, street corners to the middle of the street. As the birthplace of jazz, this city has no shortage of brass bands, traditional jazz, funk, soul, and more! Check out the WWOZ Livewire Music Calendar for a daily schedule of live music happening around the city.
Catch a festival
Mardi Gras, Jazzfest, French Quarter Fest, Crawfest, Strawberry Festival, and more! The New Orleanians know how to celebrate and they have occasions to party all year long. If you’re able, try to plan your visit around a festival – you won’t regret it! The Gambit is a good place to look for a calendar of events happening around the city and surrounding areas.
Laissez les bons temps rouler and happy traveling!