To visit New Orleans is to love New Orleans. Widely known for its food, history, music and culture, New Orleans is on many a must-visit list, but you can’t know how truly magical it is until you experience it for yourself.
From day to night in the French Quarter
The French Quarter is a neighborhood like no other. Filled with colorful architecture, unique shops and hidden courtyards, you’d be remiss not to spend a full day here. You can explore on foot or bike, but a carriage ride through the French Quarter is an A+ experience. To eat lunch in a courtyard, try Cafe Amelie or Sylvain. For eclectic decor and gifts (and to meet a lovely New Orleans native): Nadine Blake's boutique. To hear jazz the good ole way, spend an evening at Preservation Hall. For flaming bananas foster and an Instagram-able pink facade, Brennan’s is the place.
One of the best walks in New Orleans is through Crescent Park, a 1.2-mile path along the Mississippi River. Start your day with brunch at Elizabeth’s Restaurant (you must try the praline bacon!) before strolling along the river and winding up at the French Market, where you’ll find trinkets and souvenirs and beads galore.
You can’t do New Orleans without a night on the town and Frenchmen Street comes alive after dark. Pop into one of the many jazz venues or just hang around and wait for the music to come to you in the way of street performers. If you get hungry, grab a hot dog at Dat Dog on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres or head a few blocks over to Port of Call for the best burger of your life. And, of course, there’s always Bourbon Street to roam with a daiquiri in hand.
Eat, drink and eat more!
There’s so much good food and drink in New Orleans that you can’t possibly have it all – but you can try! Paloma Cafe in the Bywater is a delicious and beautiful place for breakfast or to squirrel the day away if it happens to be rainy. Not far from there, you should absolutely try to find N7, a secret, hidden restaurant with an impressive selection of canned sardines. If you love coffee and ice cream, an affogato at Drip Affogato Bar should be on your list, and for the most delicious macarons in the U.S., head to Sucré.
Cochon is the best of both worlds, with Cochon Restaurant for an upscale Cajun meal to remember or Cochon Butcher for equally delicious food in a quick, relaxed environment.
When you can’t decide what you want to eat, a stop at St. Roch Market solves the dilemma. There’s a variety of food stalls serving everything from acai bowls to Cajun staples. My suggestion? A drink from The Mayhaw Bar and a dozen charbroiled oysters at Elysian Oyster Bar.
And perhaps my favorite New Orleans must is a spin at the legendary Carousel Bar & Lounge while sipping a Sazerac.
You must try the beignets
Cafe au laits (coffee and chicory served with warm milk) and beignets are a New Orleans favorite and a match made in powdered sugar heaven. There are plenty of widely known cafes where you can indulge. Café du Monde in the French Quarter has been going strong since 1862. There’s almost always a long line, so you might decide to try Morning Call, right in the center of the city in City Park. It’s open 24 hours, but they take only cash, so make sure you have it on hand.
Ride the rails of history
Historic New Orleans streetcars are both fun and convenient – you can’t beat a $3 day pass! The St. Charles line with its green and crimson cars take you from the French Quarter all the way down beautiful St. Charles Avenue. Enjoy the open-air cars and historic views as you ride the rails under the ancient live oaks. Keep an eye on the trees. You're bound to spy beads from Mardi Gras precariously strung about as you quite literally ride through history.
A walking tour of the Garden District is a swell companion to the streetcar. Hop off at the Washington Avenue stop and take a guided tour or explore on your own. You won’t be far from Magazine Street, where you’ll find some of the best shopping in town. This six-mile stretch is filled with trendy boutiques, vintage shops and restaurants.
Get out of town
Maybe you prefer to get out of the city. A bayou tour on an airboat to search for alligators is an adventurous way to spend a day. Try Honey Island Swamp Tours in Slidell. Or nosh on a plate of crawfish and a giant bowl of gumbo at Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar near the airport.
Experience Mardi Gras
If you’re hoping to celebrate the biggest event of the year (hint: Mardi Gras), you should plan to arrive the weekend before and stay through Fat Tuesday (March 5 in 2019) to catch the most popular parades. Word to the wise: To get a hotel, you need to book about a year in advance. Luckily, every day is Mardi Gras at Mardi Gras World. You can try on a traditional Mardi Gras costume, walk through a workshop that has created Mardi Gras floats since 1947 and even try king cake year-round.