I have been dreaming of visiting New Orleans for years. The world famous beignets alone were enough to make me hop on a plane and head south. From the unique architecture to the flavorful food and the lively neighborhoods, I wanted to get a feel for life in the city. Since I knew there was so much to see, I took my time researching the best things to do in New Orleans. Here’s my itinerary for three fabulous days in the city that you can totally steal for your next trip to the Big Easy.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
The Catahoula Hotel
We stayed at the Catahoula Hotel during our trip. It’s an affordable place to stay away from the noise of the French Quarter. This charming spot has 35 rooms for the low maintenance traveler. The quirky decor is totally Instagrammable. And their restaurant has amazing Asian inspired vegan dishes you’ll love. Find out more about my stay here.
This beautiful historic French Quarter hotel has been operating since 1886. A luxury option that’s affordable, it’s also home to the famous rotating Carousel Bar. Since the Monteleone is at the foot of Royal Street, the hotel is steps from French Quarter attractions and popular restaurants.
Located on Bourbon Street, you’ll be at the heart of the French Quarter at the Royal Sonesta. There’s also a beautiful courtyard inside where you can take a break from the action. And if you’re looking for entertainment, be sure to book a table at their Jazz Playhouse.
The Pontchartrain Hotel
Located in the Garden District, the Pontchartrain Hotel is a revamped luxury hotel that has a swanky rooftop bar with sweeping city views. You’ll love the decor, featuring a romantic palette and the much Instagrammed Jack Rose restaurant.
What to Do
St. Roch Market
Once we dropped our bags at the hotel, we grabbed lunch at St. Roch Market. This lofty food hall features local food and beverage talent. There’s lots of Creole options. But if you’re in the mood for Asian, Mexican, Californian, or more, there’s something for everyone. Right when we walked in, we were offered free truffle samples. You know I went back after lunch for more.
If you’re up for it, take a ten minute walk from St. Roch to Crescent Park. This is a beautiful spot to get a view of the Mighty Mississippi River.
Pisco Bar & Midnight Noodle
After lunch, we headed back to the Catahoula Hotel and rested. We explored and hung out in the open air courtyard. There’s usually something going on, whether it’s happy hour at Pisco Bar or an event up on the rooftop.
In the evening, we ordered dinner at Midnight Noodle. The asian inspired vegan fare was surprisingly flavorful and incredibly delicious. It’s a great option that’s quick and filling. Learn more about our meal here.
At 7:30pm, we headed to the French Quarter for a ghost tour. There are several types of tours in New Orleans. City tours are a great way to learn about the history of the town and cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. We chose Magic Tours NOLA and their guides were complete professionals.
When researching things to do in New Orleans, ghost, voodoo, and cemetery tours were all popular options. We got a little bit of each in our tour. It started out with some basic history of how the city was settled. Then we got into local legends, why Louisiana is often associated with vampire lore, and a creepy tour of one the most haunted mansions in the French Quarter. I definitely wanted to bolt by the end of the tour — in a good way. Ask for Ricardo if you’re doing the ghost tour with Magic Tours NOLA.
Day Two: The French Quarter
Brunch at Brennan’s
This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve eaten. There are multiple salons, each with their own color theme, whimsical wallpaper, and ornate details. We ate in the green room by the courtyard.
Once we got over the incredible decor, we were overwhelmed by the menu selection. (Side note: reading menus happens to be one of my favorite things to do and this one was exceptional.) There are five Eggs Benedict options on the menu. We chose Eggs Sardou and topped it with fried oysters. Can I get fried oysters on everything?
And you’ll definitely want to order the Vanilla Scented French Toast. Instead of dipping it in eggs and milk, they dip it in creme fraiche, which makes it crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Needless to say, it was divine.
After brunch, it was time to explore the French Quarter. This neighborhood is known for its colorful architecture. Every street I peered down was filled with a rainbow of buildings, the most famous of which were the Creole cottages and townhouses.
The townhouses were built after the great fires of the late 1700s. Wood homes that burned down were rebuilt with brick or stucco and often painted in bright hues. These structures featured courtyards, arcades, and cast-iron balconies. Other homes retained Spanish or French architectural styles, while some also featured Victorian or Grecian styles.
Originally known as Place d’Armes, this iconic square was renamed after Battle of New Orleans hero General Andrew Jackson. It started out as a French trading camp and has since grown to a bustling town square. It’s now a popular place to watch artists and street performers, get your fortune told, or admire the stunning St. Louis Cathedral.
If you want a great photo of the cathedral, head to the other end of the square toward the river. There’s a spot at the top of the steps that frames the cathedral and square beautifully.
There are so many fun boutiques and local vendors along the streets of the French Quarter. We spent the entire day window shopping, trying on fun hats, and even tasting hot sauce from around the world at one local vendor. There’s something for everyone — even foot massage parlors! We banked about 10,000 steps a day on our trip and would have loved a foot massage had we known of them earlier.
Dinner and Jazz at Royal Sonesta
In the evening, we headed to Royal Sonesta Hotel for dinner at Desire Oyster Bar for a taste of creole seafood. You haven’t experienced New Orleans properly without having oysters. I highly recommend their chargrilled oysters for maximum flavor. Plus the Louisiana Crab Cakes are delicious. For a live experience, you can sit at the raw bar and watch as experts shuck oysters right in front of you.
After a quick dinner, we got a table at the hotel’s Jazz Playhouse, which showcases talented local jazz musicians. It was my first time watching jazz in such an intimate setting. That evening the Brass-a-holics put on an exciting show including original and classic tunes. I fell under the spell of the music, especially while listening to each musician’s powerful solo performances. There were three hour-long sets. I can only imagine how much stamina it takes to blow a trumpet or trombone for that long.
Day Three: The Garden District
Breakfast at Commander’s Palace
If you love Brennan’s you’ll love Commander’s Palace. Located in the scenic Garden District, the restaurant has served haute Creole fare since 1893 and is known for its elegant jazz brunch. You can’t miss this bright “Commander’s Blue” building. And you won’t want to miss their James Beard award-winning fare. Definitely make a reservation in advance of your trip and plan to wear business casual – no jeans!
Garden District Tour
After breakfast we headed out on another tour with Magic Tours NOLA. The delightful Nancy was our guide. Nancy was incredibly knowledgeable with an answer ready for all of our questions.
The Garden District is quite different than the French Quarter. In 1803, the Americans arrived in New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. As the Creoles already inhabited the French Quarter, the Americans ended up settling up-river from Canal Street and built extravagant mansions in what is now known as the Garden District.
Nancy told us story after story about each home. During the Civil War, the district happened to be home to mostly Union residents; but there are a few Confederate houses as well. We also saw celebrity homes, including those of Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, and Anne Rice.
The tour actually started with a visit to the Lafayette Cemetery #1, right across from Commander’s Palace. Nancy told us all about the above ground tombs and how they used to bury the dead in the 19th century. Since it was a bright sunny day, we weren’t spooked at all. But there are plenty of nighttime cemetery tours in New Orleans if that’s your thing.
Late Lunch at Turkey and the Wolf
After the tour, we took a 15 minute walk to Turkey and the Wolf. Before I left, a bunch of friends told me I had to try their collard green melt. I’m not the type of person who craves collard greens, usually because they are cooked in pork. But this vegetarian sandwich was worth the hype. There’s some sort of magic sauce in between layers of cheese and slaw that makes the sandwich memorable. It’s actually described as a pickled cherry pepper dressing, but I’ll just call it magic sauce.
Our final jaunt in the Garden District took us shopping along Magazine Street. It’s a great place to boutique hop. A couple of my favorite stores we visited were Century Girl and Grandmother’s Buttons.
Century Girl is my favorite vintage shop ever. It’s like walking into the closet of a Hollywood starlet from the early to mid-1900s. And the price points are surprisingly good for designer vintage. There was a Carolina Herrera cocktail dress for under $200 and an Oleg Cassini dress for around the same price. If you want something under $100, jewelry and accessories are available in great condition.
At Grandmother’s Buttons, I could see myself wearing just about everything there. It’s a well curated shop of adorable clothes with both casual and elegant options available. And much of it is affordable too. They also sell a ton of button based jewelry mixed with stones, metal, and other details. The jewelry is actually quite pretty.
Dinner and Music at the Pontchartrain Hotel
In the evening we headed to Jack Rose at the Pontchartrain Hotel for dinner. This is such a beautiful place with an eclectic mix of New Orleans fare with French, Italian, and Spanish influences. There are several stunning rooms to dine in or you can hang out in the Living Room underneath their portrait of Lil Wayne. Afterwards, we shifted over to the Bayou Bar and enjoyed live music at the piano bar. We couldn’t help but sing along with the rest of the raucous crowd to classic tunes all night long.
This was such an amazing trip. And because we planned well, we had the perfect itinerary to make the most of a short trip to New Orleans. I feel like I was able to get a feel for the city, food, and culture in the few days that I was there. Feel free to steal this itinerary if you plan on visiting. I’d love to know if you have any other recommendations for my next trip to New Orleans!