Looking for an itinerary to steal for three amazing days in New Orleans? Look no further! I’ll break it down for y’all, Big Easy style.
Each time Boyfriend and I visit my parents back in the States we pick a new place to explore. This year that place was the wild southern hub for Creole food, jazz, voodoo and good times: New Orleans!
I’d been dying to visit this vibrant city for what felt like forever. My parents lived in the Garden District for the first four years of their marriage. This was before my mom changed her career to Business W.O.M.A.N. and before my dad became an executive chef in Manhattan. They have some pretty wild stories about life in New Orleans in the ’80’s, and the more I heard the more curious I became.
So when a long weekend presented itself as WIDE OPEN, Boyfriend and I began planning our three day itinerary to take full advantage of everything New Orleans had to offer! There’s so much to see and do in and around the city, itself.
And whether you’re coming for the music, the cuisine, the parties or the history, you’ll leave NOLA swearing you’ll be back 😉
Day 1: Take A(n All-Day) Walk on the N’awlins Side
Tour NOLA’s Gorgeous Garden District
New Orleans’ Garden District is the stuff Southern Living dreams are made of. Beautiful houses in pink, blue, green, and white line every tree-lined street. Wrought-iron fences decorate every manicured yard.
With the sun high and temperature mild, we had a wonderful first morning on our Free Walking Tour of the Garden District.
Did you know that actors Sandra Bullock and John Goodman and author Anne Rice all own houses in the area? The Mannings (of football fame) also had their family home here. The famous Lafayette Cemetery #1 and Commander’s Palace restaurant are located right at the start of the Free Walking Tour. And several movies have been shot in these gorgeous mansions, including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Django Unchained.
A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without a trip to the green and gorgeous Garden District.
Lunch + Shop on Magazine Street
This major thoroughfare spans SIX neighborhoods of New Orleans!
Thus, you can find ANYTHING your heart desires among Magazine Street’s plethora of shops and restaurants: Men’s fashion in brick interior establishments, funky jewelry in colorful boutiques, vintage finds in unassuming windows.
And the food: designer donuts, crawfish by the pound, Vietnamese cafés, oyster Happy Hours… take your pick, y’all! For a good guide to fun things to do on Magazine Street, check out this guide by GoNOLA!
Boyfriend and I stopped at Joey K’s because it was recommended by our walking tour guide. It did not disappoint. Fried shrimp and oyster po’boys, onion rings the size of my hand and beers the size of my face…
Check Out the French Quarter
Once you’ve thoroughly checked out Magazine Street, you can either walk back north to the Saint Charles Streetcar or catch the Magazine Street bus over to the French Quarter.
Tip: Take a lap of Bourbon Street during the day. It’s a whole other jungle at night!
Because it was Christmastime, the French Quarter was even more enchanting all decked out in garland and bows. Make sure you make it down every side street: You never know what you’ll find! Handmade soap, voodoo dolls, mardi gras masks, Civil War antiques — it’s a bit of a sensory overload, but I think that’s part of the charm of New Orleans, yeah?
Some notable sites are Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral (above), the shops along Decatur Street and the many street bands that’ll be playing quality concerts for tips!
Optional/Seasonal: Beg for Beads at a Krewe Parade
Because Babedoll and I were in town in December, we happened to be there for the city’s Krewe of Jingle parade! Think: Mini-Mini-Mardi Gras. This Christmas-themed parade danced up and down Canal Street with dozens of Krewes joining on floats, on foot or even on scooters!
Not one to miss an opportunity to jump around cheering my head off, I dragged Boyfriend to a spot on Canal Street and, you guessed it, begged for beads! And I came away with quite a handful, thankyouverymuch 🙂 🙂
Eat Your Heart Out at The Gumbo Shop
Y’all, The Gumbo Shop is an institution for a reason.
For those who’ve never tried it, Gumbo is a mushy mix of okra, peppers, a bit of tomato and a lot of shrimp and crabs in a rich and savory brown soup, served over rice. And it’s basically the bomb dot com.
My dad has made this classic NOLA dish a ton over the years. Since he first realized his cooking talent in New Orleans working with Chef Paul Prudhomme, cajun is his specialty. So I admit I’m a BIG gumbo fan… and even I was impressed with this place!
We also had the Jambalaya (a similar dish of sausage, shrimp, chicken and seasoned rice), Crawfish Étouffée (crawfish tails in a thick spicy sauce of onion/celery/garlic/cayenne over rice) and a small cup of Turtle Soup. Plus absolutely delicious, tangy, spicy Bloody Mary’s.
I can personally vouch for every single bite and sip we had. Wowza, does The Gumbo Shop do N’awlins cuisine RIGHT!
Catch a Jazz Set at Preservation Hall
One thing I was intent on seeing in New Orleans was the famous Preservation Hall jazz band. I know, I know, there’s so much free jazz everywhere. Why would I consent to pay $15 cash ($10 for students :wink wink:) for one 45-minute set?
Because it’s at Preservation Hall!!
This place is all about keeping traditional jazz alive, as well as passing it on to youth and those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford lessons. When jazz was struggling, this place provided a sanctuary and space for musicians to revive it. More than two million people have attended concerts in this cozy little room, and we keep coming back because the quality of music is just that good!
We stood in the line already halfway down Saint Peter Street, drinks in hand, not sure what to expect when we crossed the wrought-iron threshold.
What we got was a passionate hour of music mastery, bluesy vocals, and the kind of casual familiarity between audience and performers that encourages participation, banter and a whole lot of laughter.
If you can’t tell, I highly recommend catching a jazz set at the hallowed Preservation Hall!
Party on Bourbon Street
It’s your first night: Time to go ALL-OUT!
And don’t worry. You’ll see the spectrum at a night on Bourbon Street, so come as you will and you’ll find the vibe you seek!
It would be difficult to choose a bar to recommend… mostly because I couldn’t for the life of me keep track! (Don’t judge.) We went with a huge group from our hostel, Auberge NOLA, and followed the pack from bar to bar until we got hungry 😉
Just follow the flow and you can find yourself belting along to a cover band, fist-pumping at an electro set, flirty dancing on a balcony… or nom’ing on Willie’s Chicken Shack.
Tip: The “Hand Grenade” (made with vodka, rum, gin and melon liquor and served in a green plastic “grenade” cup) is the new “Hurricane” (made with rum, passionfruit juice, OJ, lime, simple syrup and grenadine). But I still preferred the Hurricane 😉
Day 2: Plantation Peeks, Happy Hour Eats & Nighttime Beats
Confront History at the Whitney Plantation
After much research, I chose Grayline’s Double Plantation Tour to take us out of the city for the day. I chose this company because, besides offering transport + tours to the two plantations I wanted to visit, it was well-rated and TripAdvisor was offering $10 off per ticket!
We started at the Whitney Slavery Museum. Our energetic guide toured us around the former sugar cane plantation for an eye-opening couple of hours. We were able to walk through the former slave quarters, the Antioch Baptist Church, the big house and several memorials to the slaves who were forced to work the land.
There are a couple of extremely impactful art exhibits on the grounds by artist Woodrow Nash. The first you find in the church: statues of slave children made of terra cotta colored clay. They’re haunting, even more so because each guest gets a card at the entrance with the story of one of them. (Pictured above.) The second I decided against showing here because of its gruesome nature. It honors the victims executed after a large and violent slave revolt.
I’m glad I was able to visit the Whitney, and to bring Boyfriend. Slavery is a terrible but important part of our history as a country — something we all should take the time to confront face-to-face if given the opportunity. This is how we grow <3
Reflect at Oak Alley Plantation
Our next stop was to Oak Alley Plantation. And I have to be honest: I was a little nervous coming into this visit. The reviews of the Big House tour were rather… scathing? People (perhaps rightfully) were extremely offended with how slavery was being glossed over by the guides. In fact, not too long ago the tour guides apparently wore antebellum plantation owner outfits. :Yikes:
But I was pleasantly surprised. Our tour guide was thorough as she explained not only the slave-owning history of the plantation, but also the recent history of the plantation.
The Big House was the stuff of Gone with the Wind Christmas dreams, and we got to see it all. It really was too bad photos weren’t allowed. They even had a Mint Julep stand set up out front!
The oak trees were every bit as beautiful as expected. The slave quarters offered a ton of information on slave and plantation life. And at the end of the walkway was a restaurant with delicious southern food in HUGE portions at very reasonable prices. 😉
Optional: Visit the Bayou
If it had been the summertime I would’ve loved to do a kayak swamp tour. I can just imagine how peaceful and beautiful an afternoon on the bayou would be, learning about the ecosystem and history of the area. Also, as you may remember from our recent trip to Croatia, Boyfriend and I love being active on holiday 🙂
Something I did not want to do was the 2-hour swamp boat tour.
It’s a personal thing, but I just… When I was researching them I just didn’t get a great feeling. I saw a lot of featured photos of boat captains luring gators with fishing hooks and marshmallows. And a bunch of people holding the gators. I just… don’t know. Maybe they aren’t as harmful as they looked. But after reading this review by Deviating the Norm, I was even more convinced this wasn’t worth the VERY HIGH price.
Some tours, like Get Your Guide, offer a Bayou portion with their plantation tours, though. So if it’s something you’re super interested in a quick search will bring up several options for boat tours.
Sample the HAPPY HOUR Oysters, Raw or Charbroiled
After an extra long day, you’re going to be needing some sustenance when you get back to New Orleans. Good thing you’ll arrive at HAPPY HOUR!!
NOLA’s Oyster Happy Hours are famous and you can often find deals for $1 oysters, 1/2 price oysters, or even free oysters with the purchase of a drink! Check out this Thrillist article for some ideas 😉
THE BEST THING WE ATE IN NEW ORLEANS, HANDS DOWN, WERE CHARBROILED OYSTERS.
We went to Desire on Bourbon Street (that we 1000% RECOMMEND) for the convenience and ambiance. I can’t rave about these buttery, garlicky, cheesy, hot and velvety beauties enough. If you like seafood, order a dozen charbroiled oysters (seriously, a half-dozen is Amateur Hour). Then sit back and eat your damned heart out. <3
We also went to a raw oyster bar: Seaworthy in the Central Business District (that we DO NOT RECOMMEND). I’m sorry to say we had a much less pleasurable experience there. While the oysters were excellent, the atmosphere created by the bartenders/hostess was so cold and unwelcoming it spoiled everything. Not to mention the fact that our bartender tried to charge us full-price for Happy Hour drinks, then stood over me menacingly to make sure I tipped him for “taking care of it” for us.
I could write a more detailed post explaining how icky this place made us feel and why (a quick perusal of reviews afterward told me we weren’t alone in our impression of the place). But it’s honestly not worth it. Just know that, because of my personal experience, I do not recommend Seaworthy.
There are so many other places with oysters just as good where you’ll be treated with the respect you deserve as a customer!
Jam on Frenchman Street
It’s funny: It feels like no one tells you how superior Frenchman Street is to Bourbon Street until you get to New Orleans. And then everyone’s saying, “Oh yeah, for better music and better night vibes you definitely want to go to Frenchman. Bourbon Street is pure chaos.”
The reason people don’t go to Frenchman Street right away is probably due to the fact that it’s a bit of a hike from the main tourist area (about one mile). This is also probably the reason it’s so much better! Only motivated partiers will make the trip out to visit Frenchman’s famous live music venues like The Spotted Cat, D.B.A. and 30°/-90°.
But once you do it’s a veritable block party out there! Saxophone improvisations float into the street from club windows. The smell of fried chicken and barbecue wafts from casual restos. And fellow good-times seekers dance and mingle with new friends on every street corner 🙂
Tip: If you’re feeling hungry at the end of the night, follow the smell of grilling meat and barbecue sauce to… a bunch of pickup trucks? It’s true! A few enterprising men armed with grills in the beds of their pickups are cookin’ EXCELLENT BBQ snacks for you! Boyfriend and I got an order of ribs to share that came with heaping helpings of beans and mac n’ cheese on the side. And let me tell you, we will do it again next time <3
Day 3: Ghosts, Green Spaces & Getting Out of the FQ
Optional: Treat Yourself to a Fancy Jazz Brunch
Something many people opt to do on a lazy Sunday morning in New Orleans is to go for a classy brunch at one of the city’s renowned establishments.
I’ll admit, even at the $$$$$ price point, the thought did cross my mind! I have a flair for fancy an experience like this would’ve absolutely satisfied. We opted not to, though, since it didn’t quite fit into our schedule. (Plus, we hadn’t been to Café du Monde yet!)
If you want to experience a jazz brunch, however, do try to make a reservation beforehand. Especially if you’re looking to go to Commander’s Palace (like Mad Hungry Woman did) or The Court of Two Sisters (like Road Trip the World did). It’s a super popular thing to do, and the last thing you want is to be turned away from those scrumptious breakfast food smells!
Breakfast at Café du Monde
Beignets are a MUST EAT when in New Orleans, and no one does them like Café du Monde!
Because my parents have raved about Café du Monde since I was a child, I knew I had to pay the original location a visit while in town. It’s a bit of a shlep to get to, but take the lovely Riverside Walk (or streetcar) along the Mississippi and it will go by pleasantly.
Now I have to be honest about my experience:
1. The ambiance is a bit chaotic. I don’t know if it was just that morning, or if it was because we chose the patio seating, or if it’s like this all the time? All I do know is the floor was covered in powdered sugar, as were most of the tables. It was also a bit of a fight to get a table. So be prepared!
2. THE DONUTS ROCK. Dudes. These light and airy squares of fried dough drenched (and I do mean that literally) in powdered sugar are SO DELICIOUS! We ordered a set of three to share and it was plenty. They’re big beignets, y’all!
3. The coffee (“café au lait”)….. sucked. It was weak and flavorless and expensive AF. Womp womp.
The verdict: Go to Café du Monde for the donuts because they’re amazing. Then you can go next door to the French Market for a coffee!
Tip: Café Beignet is another donut shop that can be found in several locations around New Orleans. We didn’t get the chance to try the beignets, but the atmospheres of the three locations we saw in passing were so charming. Two even had live music! Next time we’ll be sure to visit.
Peruse the French Market
As you make your way through the expansive French Market hall you’ll hit all kinds of shops, food stalls and outdoor cafés with all kinds of NOLA/Creole finds.
There were crèpes, po’boys, Gator-on-a-Sticks. A big NFL game was playing on an oyster bar’s big screen. Open-air stalls sold soap and used books and accessories. If you have the energy it’s a fun stroll.
We took it slow and ended up at the outdoor Market Café. Giving our feet a break we listened to the jazz band play classics like La Vie en Rose and What a Wonderful World over some gator bites and one last Hurricane 😉
Drum Circle at Louis Armstrong Park
After three days of nonstop moving, walking, eating and drinking, we were feeling in need of some fresh air. Fortunately just above the French Quarter is Louis Armstrong Park. A quiet green space, this park sits on the site where jazz music got its start.
Back when slavery still existed, slaves and freedmen used to gather in the park’s Congo Square for a day of rest every Sunday under “Code Noir.” These gatherings were full of singing, drumming, and dancing, and later morphed into African markets celebrating African food, traditions and music. These were the seedlings of the jazz for which the city is now world-renowned! And from 3-5 every Sunday the park hosts a drum circle where people can gather to play and dance together, honoring that tradition.
This park is lovely to walk around at your leisure, with several bridges, lakes and sculptures to check out along the path. It’s also home to the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts that hosts Broadway, orchestral and ballet performances throughout the year.
Learn about Voodoo Culture/Creep Yourself Out on a Ghost Tour
When in New Orleans, it seems only right that you get a dose of voodoo history with your American history!
Voodoo as a practice was brought to the States from African slave ships, and isn’t everything you think it is. True voodoo is about love and harmony, and was practiced and spread lovingly by the famous Madame Laveau throughout her whole life. What it isn’t is graveyard dust, dolls and sex candles… but you’ll still find many shops hawking these funky novelties. And it’s always fun to look 😉
We took a 3-in-1 French Quarter/Voodoo/Cemetery tour with Witches Brew Tours. Our awesome guide gave us a lot of interesting history about New Orleans, the voodoo tradition and the life of Madame Laveau.
He also took us to the famous Saint Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans’ oldest above ground Catholic cemetery (which, due to vandalism, you can now only enter with a licensed tour guide). The graves were incredible monuments to the people buried within them, including Laveau, herself.
Another fun thing to do is to take a ghost tour! New Orleans is full of haunted places and spooky energy. There are many, many companies that will take you to the Lalaurie Mansion, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Pierre Antoine, among so many other haunted places. And if their stories don’t give you physical chills (because they’re all true), I don’t know what will!
Tip: End your night at the Seance Lounge at Muriel’s Jackson Square for a drink with the spirit of the 1800’s owner, Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan 😉
Dance in the Warehouse District
If you’re looking for somewhere to get your drink on away from the crowds of the French Quarter, cross over Canal Street into what’s known as the Warehouse District!
During the day this place is quite lovely. You can have a beautiful Caribbean-influenced meal at Compere Lapin, relax on pristine patios in front of industrial-looking buildings on Fulton Street, sip an incredible espresso at the uber-modern Revelator Coffee, play vintage arcade games at Barcadia, have lunch on the palm-lined patio of the Rusty Nail…
I could go on, but for a great Best Of check out GoNola’s article 😉
Side Note: The beautiful modern WW2 Museum is located in the Warehouse District, and is said to be one of the best in the world. If that’s your thing, definitely check it out! (The only reason Boyfriend and I didn’t is because we’d just been to the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France.)
At night, finally out of the French Quarter, you’ve got GREAT options for any kind of party you’re looking to have! Hit up Republic NOLA for concerts and/or a hip-fancy clubbing experience complete with bottle service, chandeliers and DJ sets. For low-key vibes with kick-ass music, head to The Howlin’ Wolf. For a cocktail night settle in at the cozy Loa Bar at the International House Hotel, or the elegant old-world Sazerac Bar in the Grand Roosevelt Hotel.
Or if you’re like us and just want a fun, carefree, drink-for-cheap and dance-like-you’re-back-in-college night, find your way over to Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar! The balcony was wide, the music was pop-y, the drinks were strong and delicious, and everybody there (mostly in their twenties) was clearly having an awesome time 🙂 Which means you will too!
I’d be remiss to not mention a few logistical tips I picked up while visiting! Three days in New Orleans can be a tight squeeze for some, especially if you’re not a morning person 😉 Read on for my recommendations for maximizing your time in the Big Easy.
When To Visit
The short answer: It depends. (Although, barring a couple of cold snaps and inferno waves, it’s always a good time to visit New Orleans!)
Okay, okay, I know that answer sucks. Let me try again.
High Season (February-April)
Peak tourist season in New Orleans revolves around the city’s biggest festivals, Mardi Gras (February) and Jazz Fest (April). If you want to partake in the festivities, be sure to plan up to a year in advance in order to snag a reasonably priced room around this time. The city will be packed and more expensive in terms of “getting there.” But the payoff, I’m told, is spectacular!
Shoulder Season (May/June & October/November)
Shoulder season is the ideal time to go if you’re looking to avoid the chaos of the biggest festivals but want to enjoy the weather. Springtime, I’m told, is magical in New Orleans. Because the weather is so perfect, a festival takes place almost every weekend! This does mean hotel prices will be elevated, but if that isn’t a big deal for you GO for it!!
Fall is another shoulder season that shouldn’t be forgotten. Though there are less big festivals, the city is still beautiful, the heat of the summer has chilled to a balmy mid-70’s Fahrenheit (25° Celsius), and the crowds (and prices) have calmed. There’s also minimal rain and vibrant fall colors!
Off-Season (August & December/January)
December happened to be a perfect time for us to visit! The weather was surprisingly warm during the day, with highs in the 60’s Fahrenheit (18-20° Celsius). It was cooler at night, but that’s what jackets are for, right? The best part about visiting in December, though, was the bountiful Christmas cheer decorating every door, gate and foyer 🙂 Well, that and all the $$ we saved on off-season flights, accommodation and tours!
August is another… interesting time to consider a visit to New Orleans. If you can handle the 100° F (38° C) heat! Because most of us can’t, many hotels will offer free parking deals and discounted rooms. Even big NOLA restaurants like Commander’s Palace will offer “COOLinary” Prix Fix menus to try to lure you away from the pool/your air-conditioned room.
How To Get Around
Hop a Historic Streetcar
The coolest way of getting around New Orleans, especially for a three-day itinerary, is definitely the historic streetcar. There are two lines you’ll use most often: Saint Charles and Canal Street. The Saint Charles Line will take you from Canal Street to the Garden District, all the way to the Audubon Park and Zoo. The Canal Street Line will take you all the way up and down, you guessed it, Canal Street. And for a nice ride along the Mississippi, take the Riverfront Line! Tickets are the standard RTA bus tickets you can buy onboard.
Take the Bus
Because the streetcar was under construction when we were in town, we took the bus everywhere. Single tickets are $1.50, so if you’re planning to take the bus more than once in a 24-hour period DEFINITELY go for the 1-Day Jazzy Pass for $3. Buses come at least every ten minutes, but we found they showed up more frequently than that.
Tip: You can download the RTA app, but we found it to be super inaccurate for predicting when the next bus would arrive.
This city is FULL of Ubers and Lyfts, and they’re surprisingly affordable since you’re never traveling that far! From Bourbon Street to the Garden District after a night out it was ~$7. From Frenchman it was only ~$12.
Rent a Car (ONLY IF YOU MUST)
Yes, it’s possible to rent a car from the airport. But unless you’re planning to road trip around Louisiana, I would highly advise against it. Parking is a bear and very expensive (I spotted a few garages charging $50/day). It’s honestly cheaper to Uber around the city.
Where We Stayed: Auberge NOLA Hostel
When it came time to pick a place to stay, Boyfriend and I were torn: hotel with privacy or hostel with parties.
We chose the parties!
It isn’t that we don’t love being alone. Obviously one of the great things about couple travel is that you can split the cost of a private room. The thing is, we didn’t really want a private room! We were coming to New Orleans to PLAY. We wanted a hostel that supported that 😉
Auberge NOLA was the perfect choice for our stay. Located on the edge of the Garden District and just a block from the historic Saint Charles street car, this place was ideally situated for a three-day New Orleans itinerary.
The hostel hosts parties every single night, which was (full disclosure) the reason we chose it. The rooms were spacious, the bunk beds were large and comfy, the bathrooms were super nice and clean, and there were chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast every morning.
The verdict: We had a blast and would recommend Auberge NOLA to anyone ready to party in New Orleans! Of course, that was to be expected: The place has won Hostelworld‘s Best Hostel award in multiple categories.
How We Got There: Spirit Airlines
We flew into New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport (MSY). The airport is pretty well-connected, so a quick Skyscanner search will show you the best way to get there from your location!
The best way for us was happened to be from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Spirit Airlines (The Yellow One), and…
I was beyond impressed with this low cost airline! First, coming from the Palm Beach area, we found a round-trip airfare for $80. Roundtrip. Yes, that’s real. Second, the actual flight was surprisingly comfortable! Third, the airline was super accommodating.
Granted this was the first Spirit Airlines flight I’ve ever taken. But when the plane literally waited until the very last minute to make sure every single passenger running late made it…
RyanAir and Frontier, take notes. That’s all I have to say.
In my opinion three FULL days is just enough to whet your appetite for the BIG personality of the Big Easy.
An extra day will allow you some more down time — I know we personally appreciated the extra half-day we had so we didn’t feel so tired. An extra few days will allow you to see more of Louisiana, something I haven’t had the chance to do yet. Rent a car to visit the True Blood-esque bayou villages. Take a bus to the capital, Baton Rouge! Whatever your schedule allows for, make your holiday your own <3
I hope this guide has given you a solid itinerary off of which to start planning your epic three days in New Orleans! And of course feel free to hit me up on Instagram or Facebook for more specific tips 😉