Top Things to Do in New Orleans
New Orleans is simply a great city all around. The local people (shout out to all my informative Uber drivers!), amazing food, beautiful architecture and fun music all exceeded my expectations. One downside is the summer weather; whoa is it humid. I am a northeast girl and this weather was almost unbearable for me. Also, the crazy lightning and thunderstorms that developed out of nowhere in the middle of the day were quite scary. Make sure to be prepared. My husband, who has been to New Orleans multiple times, says winter (early-December specifically) is the best time to experience the city. Weather is pleasant, not as many tourists, and the city is decorated for Christmas.
Be prepared to gain a few pounds after going to New Orleans. Fried oyster po’ boys, beignets (fried dough with powdered sugar), muffalettas (Sicilian deli meat sandwich with olive spread on sesame bread native to NOLA), etc. are all a must and not exactly the healthiest but obviously so good. Some places I recommend:
- Café du Monde – Famous coffee stand that’s been around for over 150 years where you have to get beignets which are French-style doughnuts covered in powdered sugar and oh are they good. Be prepared to wait a good 30 minutes in line. Tip – one line is for to-go only and the other is to sit down, make sure you get in the one you want! I suggest getting them to-go and go across the street to eat them in Jackson Square Park.
- Compere Lapin – Brunch place I found highly rated on Yelp: modern American with a Caribbean/Creole flare. Get the Avocado Toast and the Bloody Mary with chili vodka!
- Cochon & Cochon Butcher – These are my husband’s favorite restaurants in NOLA to experience the authentic flavors of Southern Cajun cooking. We went to Cochon for dinner where everything was fantastic but the wood-fired oysters and oyster bacon sandwich really stood out. Cochon Butcher is around the corner and it is the “butcher shop & sandwich counter” version of Cochon. The muffaletta here comes out warm and is the best in New Orleans. Pair it with a local craft beer to complete a perfect lunch.
- The Grill – This used to be a second location of the famed Camellia Grill but now is just called The Grill. You must go to this no-frills diner for their famous pecan pie that they throw on the grill to warm up and serve with vanilla ice cream.
- Basin Seafood & Spirits – We stumbled across this place for lunch while shopping in the Garden District and it didn’t disappoint. The charbroiled oysters, boudin (Louisiana breaded and fried sausage balls), oyster po’ boy, and cocktails were all excellent.
- Shaya – Shaya received the James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant in the US 2016 which is why I made my reservation two months in advance. This is a modern Israeli restaurant by Chef John Besh and was a nice refuge from fried Louisiana cuisine. The atmosphere was trendy due to the location on Magazine Street and the food was outstanding. I definitely recommend the lamb ragu hummus to go with the warm pita they give you from the wood fire oven.
Take a Tour
I got the sense that NOLA is focusing on boosting their tourism hence the several tours you can take throughout the city. Every tour guide asked where we are from and why we are visiting and how we liked the city so far. Also, we were approached by an LSU research group while waiting in line for beignets to fill out a survey on why we were visiting.
- Cemetery Tour – All New Orleans cemeteries are above ground and there are few notable people in history resting here. The most famous is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and it is only accessible with a licensed tour guide. Apparently there are many tour companies you can choose from, but we chose to walk across the street to the train station and got right in on a tour within the hour for about $20.
- Swamp Tour – I am on the fence if I would recommend going on this or not. We used Cajun Encounters Company and for $50 they picked us up from our hotel and drove us to St. Tammany Parish on the Pearl River which took about 45 minutes. We then took a 2 hour boat ride where we saw Alligators, some cool birds, and a Cajun fishing village only accessible by boat. They advertise seeing a lot more wildlife such as wild boars that we didn’t get to see. It was a beautiful ride but not sure it was worth the money or the 4 hours.
- Ghost Tour – New Orleans has a dark history and there are many legends and stories that make some believe it’s the most haunted city in the US. We used French Quarter Phantoms and took a 2 hour walking tour at dusk. The native tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining with the haunted stories of the French Quarter and a bonus you got to stop at a bar that claims to be the oldest bar in the US (along with about 20 others who claim the same across the country). I would recommend this if it’s of interest to you, if anything it’s something different to do and you get to hear about the history of the area.
Listen to Live Music
Frenchmen Street’s funky vibe is where it’s at to listen to some live jazz. On the east edge of the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street is where the locals go for music and dancing. Tons of open door jazz clubs line the street near Washington Square Park. Notable locations are The Spotted Cat and Blue Nile. On weekends there’s also a nighttime outdoor art market where local artists sell their handmade items.
Visit The Sites
There are many other things to do that don’t involve eating or drinking.
- Garden District– This is a beautiful area about a 15 minute car ride from the French Quarter. There is no shortage of boutiques or restaurants and you can walk the residential streets to see Southern-style mansions. FYI Beyonce and Jay-Z just bought an old church on Harmony Street which I had to go see.
- Jackson Square & St. Louis Cathedral – Right across the street from Café du Monde, Jackson Square had an art festival lining the perimeter. The square is a nice place to sit on a bench to eat your beignets. The St. Louis Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in North America, is also here.
- The National WWII Museum – I wish I had more time to spend in here because you really need a few hours; but we squeezed it in between brunch and the swamp tour. My Grandpa was in the army at Pearl Harbor during WWII so I really wanted to stop here. They have many exhibits to see so I suggest if you like history and museums to set aside at least 3-4 hours to view everything.
- City Park – In my opinion, this is Central Park but dare I say better. It is huge and there are several things to do and see and again I wish I had more time to spend here. There are massive Oak Trees that are hundreds of year old all over the park. Also, you can rent various types of bikes and boats at Wheel Fun Rentals. We rented a “Surrey” bike for an hour and had a blast riding through the park during a thunderstorm. We passed by an art museum, botanical gardens, and an amusement park that we just didn’t have time to see. I will be sure to spend more time here next time.
**Disclaimer, Bourbon Street: Don’t say I didn’t warn you about Bourbon Street. I know that it is probably the most well-known area of New Orleans but I was not a fan, but you must experience it once. Grab a hurricane drink at Pat O’Brien’s and walk it end to end to get a feel for what goes on there. It was beyond filthy that was filled with some pretty bizarre people and aggressive workers trying to get you in their bars which are crammed with tourists acting like they are on spring break. No thank you I won’t be going back there.