Wondering what to do in New Orleans? Here are some of the highlights of what the city has to offer! If you’re more interested in the food, check out my post on where and what to eat in New Orleans.
Like I said in my Cajun chicken pasta post, I’ll be sharing some New Orleans recipes soon. But first I wanted to share a little about my trip!
My parents lived outside of New Orleans before they moved to Texas and because of that, I grew up eating po’ boys, pralines, beignets and King Cake. I even decorated my room with Mardi Gras masks, beads and parasols when I was little.
I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans and after seeing the TV show Treme, I wanted to go even more. When Mr. Texanerin and I are on vacation, we usually prefer to visit small, picturesque towns and drive around the countryside. Like hilltop towns and rolling hills in Tuscany or sleepy fishing villages in Sweden. They usually seem to have more character than your typical big cities. But New Orleans? I can’t think of a more culturally rich city in the US and it’s so unlike any other city in the world. The music, food, architecture and people are so unique and so worth experiencing.
I’ve never been to a city with so much to do. I spent two weeks planning a detailed itinerary for our trip and we only got to a fraction of what I wanted to do. Normally we have 2-3 things on our must-see (and eat) list and spend the rest of the time just wandering around.
That definitely wasn’t the case here. New Orleans isn’t a huge city but there’s still so much area to cover! New Orleans has several neighborhoods that were on my list to visit but we only managed the French Quarter, Treme, and the Business District. But that’s okay because I know we’ll be back – and soon!
The first thing we like to do when visiting a new city is take a free walking tour. You tip the tour guide at the end and I think that motivates the guides to do an especially good job. We went to New Orleans the day after Christmas and with all the holiday madness distracting me from travel planning, we completely forgot to book some tours and they had sold out of everything I was interested in by the time I checked. I recommend Free Tours By Foot (TripAdvisor / website).
They have loads of interesting sounding tours and the one we wanted to start off with was the most obvious choice – French Quarter tour. The buildings are gorgeous there! It’s especially nice early in the morning before all the tourists get up.
We only came across one grocery store in central New Orleans and you can find it right across from the building above on Royal St. It’s called Rouses Market (map). In addition to all your regular grocery store goodies, they have King Cakes year-round should you want to give them a try outside of Mardi Gras season. They have smallish ones for only $4.99 or maybe $5.99, which you could easily bring back to your hotel for a late-night snack! I got a cream cheese filled one and enjoyed it.
There are a lot of street performers and musicians along that part of Royal St., which is only a block away from Jackson Square (pictured above and below). I would have loved a few more days in New Orleans just to hang out and watch them.
There was so much to take in walking around that we didn’t end up with much time for museums and such. But there was one I just couldn’t miss. Ever since the WWII museum (website / TripAdvisor) opened in 2000 (it used to be called the D-Day Museum), I’ve wanted to go. It took me 16 years but I finally got there! It’s extremely large and we only got through 3 exhibitions in 4 hours.
We would have needed two days to go through it properly. What’s cool is that you can come and go so you can go out for lunch (Pêche Seafood Grill is only two blocks away – more to come on that next week!) or to get some fresh air, come back and continue on through the museum. If you want tickets for the 4-D films, make sure to get there early. By 12:00 pm, they had already sold out of all showtimes for the day. They also offer a Second Day Pass at a huge discount in case you can’t finish everything in one day.
One thing you should also make time for is live music! There are loads of clubs and bands playing every night of the week but on Tuesday nights, two of the best and well-known brass bands play. We went and saw The Treme Brass Band (pictured below) at d.b.a ($5 entrance). The Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar is also highly recommended.
Here’s a video I found of The Treme Brass Band playing at d.b.a to give you an idea of what they’re like.
If going to a club isn’t your thing (New Orleans is now smoke-free, by the way!) there’s so much music to be found on the street. There almost always seems to be a group or two playing in front of St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square and in lots of different locations throughout the city. We watched the group pictured below playing outside of the Walgreen’s on Royal St. and Iberville St. for about 45 minutes.
Not only was the music great, but there was a very gleeful dancing man that we couldn’t stop watching. He made our night. After that, we walked one street over to the corner of Bourbon St. and Canal St. In front of that Walgreen’s, there was another awesome brass band playing! By the way, Walgreen’s and CVS are absolutely everywhere downtown. You’ll never have to worry about forgotten toiletries! ;)
After that, we walked down Bourbon St. to Olde N’awlins Cookery (website / TripAdvisor). It’s totally family-friendly and we had one of our best meals here. We ate outside on the tiny balcony and had another brass band playing right underneath. A very cool experience!
One thing I’m really bummed out about not seeing in New Orleans is a Second Line. If you’re not familiar with them, here’s a video! And you can read about their really interesting history here.
After we finished a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, we walked on over to nearby Treme. Like the picture below says, Treme is considered to be America’s oldest black neighborhood and the birthplace of Jazz. I wouldn’t recommend you go there and just wander aimlessly around like you do in the French Quarter. There are some beautiful houses like the red one below but what makes it so interesting is the history.
We only had time for a self-guided walking tour but there are lots of guided group tours of Treme which I would recommend doing. You’ll get more history doing a group tour and depending on where you go in Treme, you may have to walk under an overpass, which I can see some people not being wild about doing alone.
We stayed at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel (TripAdvisor) and couldn’t have been happier with it. The location was absolutely perfect. It’s not directly in the French Quarter, which I think would be too noisy for my taste, but across the street from it.
There’s a street car stop right out front, making it really easy to travel to the other neighborhoods. And it happens to be located within a 2-3 minute walk from loads of amazing breakfast places! More on them next week.
We had a room on the 39th floor which had a great view of the city and Mississippi. It was also perfect for watching the sunrise!
Please note that these pictures were taken after several nights and the bed was made by me. Your comforter will not be wrinkly nor will your bed look like a child made it. ;)
The bed was really cozy and we didn’t hear a thing from our room. Not from outside and not from our neighbors. After two exhausting weeks of traveling, it’s just what we needed. We didn’t have much interaction with the staff (it wasn’t needed because everything worked but the few we spoke to were really friendly and welcoming).
On our way out of New Orleans, we stopped at Cajun Pride Tours (website / Trip Advisor), about 30 minutes from downtown New Orleans, for a swamp tour. It was raining and only around 50 °F, which we were told is not so good for alligator viewing because they tend to slow down and not do much. We only saw one alligator but there were raccoons and birds of prey. We also learned a lot about the Cajun people and local history which in itself made the tour totally worth it.
I guess I should correct myself. We saw two alligators as Captain Nolan, our fun tour guide, who grew up in the swamp and like all tour guides at Cajun Pride, is a real Cajun, brought his pet alligator for us to meet. ;)
There are several plantations within minutes of each other in Vacherie, about 1 hour from New Orleans or 30 minutes from Cajun Pride Tours. Laura Plantation (website / TripAdvisor) was recommended for their excellent tour and Oak Valley Plantation (website / TripAdvisor), which is only 5 minutes away, has stunning oak-lined walkways, so we visited those two.
Oak Valley (pictured above and below) is considered by many to be the most iconic plantation in Louisiana. It’s seriously so gorgeous.
Wondering why I didn’t write much about the food? That’s coming in Monday’s post! There’s just too much goodness in New Orleans to cram it all into one post.
Thanks to the New Orleans Convention & Vistors Bureau and the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel for hosting us! The New Orleans CVB has a great Visitors Guide you can view online here or you can request a free print copy here. I honestly found it useful and thought you may, too!