How To Experience The Best Of New Orleans In Only Three Days



This was my favorite city vacation so far! New Orleans is full of life and flavor and I just loved the food, the music, the art, the history.

There is so much to see and do there that a week long visit would have been nice. But we were happy with all we got to do in just three days.

Hopefully, this post will inspire you to visit the Big Easy too, even if you can only spare one weekend.


WHEN TO VISIT NOLA

Many people say the best time of year to visit the Big Easy is during Mardi Gras or in the spring during festival season. This is the loveliest time of year for weather as well.

However, you'll pay a lot more for your vacation if you go during Mardi Gras. When the crowds come, the flights, hotels, and basically everything else are higher priced.

The city gets very hot and humid in July-August but those are the cheapest times to visit as airfare and hotels lower their prices for the slow season.

We went in September when it was still very warm but not unbearable. I suggest you go in October when flights and hotel rooms are still inexpensive but the weather is even better. And I hear Halloween season in NOLA is magical.


WHERE TO STAY

My first choice of hotel was the Parisian Courtyard Inn B&B in the Garden District. It's affordable, located in a historic building, and so cute.

Also, there's a streetcar stop right outside Parisian Courtyard, but we wanted a place within walking distance of Jackson Square and Frenchmen Street.

So, we went with the Best Western Plus French Quarter Courtyard Hotel and used travel points to pay for it. It has a lovely courtyard, comfortable beds, and not-so-bad breakfast included.


Inside St. Louis Cathedral 


VISIT JACKSON SQUARE

This is one of the most touristy spots in the Big Easy and it's also really fun.

Here you will find St Louis Cathedral which is one of America's oldest cathedrals. It was originally built in 1727, then reconstructed after being destroyed in a fire in 1794.

We attended mass here for our first time. It was only half an hour and I liked experiencing a new-to-me type of worship. Also, it was nice to escape the heat and sit in a cool cathedral for a little while.

You can walk in any time of day, when mass is not in progress to see the cathedral and cool off. It's beautiful too with its painted dome ceiling and colorful stained glass windows. It looks a lot like a cathedral you might visit in Europe.

The famous Cafe Du Monde is nearby. It's not the original location, mind you. But the atmosphere and the beignets are great.

We stopped in as a jazz band was playing outside which made the experience even more fun with the trumpet and the trombone and the drums playing as we ordered our beignets.

Café Du Monde (pronounced maughn) is open 24/7 and they only take cash. The beignets come in an order of three which was plenty for the two of us. They also serve New Orleans' famous café au lait made with chicory.

In 1808, French settlers used chicory root to stretch their coffee rations because of Napolean Bonaparte's restriction on the trade of English goods. And now chicory in coffee is a New Orleans tradition.


On the corner of Royal Street 


SKIP FRENCH MARKET, SHOP ROYAL STREET INSTEAD

When you've had your fun at Jackson Square, take a short walk to Royal Street for some window shopping.

Some people recommend the French Market for shopping but it's more of a tourist trap than Royal Street since the souvenirs tend to be cheap and commercially made.

There are cheap souvenirs on Royal Street too, but you are more likely to find beautiful works of art here. Plus the architecture is much prettier than the French Market.

On Royal Street you will find some gorgeous art galleries, boutiques with colorful costumes, a shop full of antique chandeliers and one selling only antique guns.

One shop you must see is Royal Mask. It's all floor to ceiling handmade Mardi Gras masks and they are beautiful! These are quality masks and far better than anything other shops have to offer. I literally could not choose which one I liked best.

My favorite souvenir finds were from Forever New Orleans. There are three locations but the one we went to is in that lovely corner building that you see when you Google photos of the French Quarter.

This is where we found pretty hand painted oyster shell ornaments and a pair of handmade skeleton earrings that I just love.


TOUR ST. LOUIS CEMETERY NO. 1

We saw the purported burial site of New Orleans' Voodoo Queen: Marie Laveau and the tomb of Homer Plessy.

Plessy is famous for his 1896 Civil rights case: Plessy v Ferguson. He deliberately rode the "white only" streetcar with the intention of getting arrested so he could challenge the injustice of segregation. His skin was so fair in color that he had to inform the driver that he was actually black. Then, we he was told to get off the streetcar, he refused.

His case went all the way to the Supreme Court but, unfortunately, led to the "seperate but equal" ruling which wasn't overturned as unconstitutional until 1954.

Plessy was posthumously pardoned by the Louisiana governor on January 5, 2022, nearly 97 years after his death.

We also saw Nicholas Cage's weird pyramid shaped tomb which is basically a monument to his financial ruin and embarrassment. 


The Italian community tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1


WANDER IN THE GARDEN DISTRICT

The Garden District offers a less touristy, more laid-back feel to a New Orleans vacation, and a little break from the excitement of the French Quarter.

We hopped on the historic St. Charles Streetcar to get ourselves to the Garden District. This is the oldest streetcar line in the world that is still in use today.

It's only $1.25 each time you ride, but you need exact change. I'll be straight with you, the streetcar is noisy and cramped (especially for this 6' 1" woman).

It was worth the cheap transit and a chance to glimpse what daily travel had been like for many NOLA residents since 1835.

Once in the Garden District, we wandered the gorgeous neighborhood. Along the way, we found Sandra Bullock's house and it was lovely.

You can also search for the current or former homes of Jefferson Davis, Anne Rice, John Goodman, civil rights activist George Washington Cable, and many more.

My original plan was to rent bikes and take a breezy ride around the neighborhood to see the gorgeous houses and gardens. I'm actually not sure why I didn't make that happen, but we had a great time walking around anyway.

I just really love bikes and I still think it would be a fun way to take in the sights of the Garden District. If you do it, let me know!

While in the area, we peaked in at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which was temporarily closed. It's the one cemetery I was most excited to see, so I'm glad I got to at least look at it.

You don't have to schedule a tour to wander through it, and it's so pretty with all the lanes of trees among the stone tombs.

Right across from the cemetery is Commander's Palace where you can get yourself a bougie brunch. This is one of the more famous restaurants in New Orleans. Maybe it's worth the price but I couldn't tell you.

We had dinner at Mahony's instead and it was wonderful, but I'll share more about that in another post.

Mahony's is located on Magazine Street where you can find several antique shops including Magazine Antique Mall. Here, you can find some unique treasures to take home instead of cheap souvenirs at the French Market.

I'm not a big fan of shopping so we only had dinner and wandered some more. Plus, the artsy shops on Royal St. were plenty fun for me.


FALL IN LOVE WITH THE FOOD

The food of New Orleans is a fusion of Spanish, French, Native American, and West African cultures. Later settlers such as Germans and Italians brought a new influence to traditional Creole food.

It's a true melting pot where you can find some of the most unique and delicious food!
While planning our trip I spent the most time researching restaurants.

I've dreamed for years of all the amazing things I would eat in New Orleans and the food definitely lived up to my expectations.

I wrote a seperate post all about where and what we ate, but some of our favorites were redfish Atchafalaya, fried alligator, oysters Rockefeller, and this wonderful praline sundae.

Related Post:

A SELF-GUIDED NEW ORLEANS FOOD CRAWL

There was at least one dish or dessert that I fell in love with at each  restaurant we visited.

And I've included a few I would have liked to go to if we'd had the time.




GO ON A KAYAK SWAMP TOUR

We took a break from the city right in the middle of our trip and headed out to a bayou in the Manchac Swamp in a tandem kayak. We booked the tour through New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours.

Most tourists like to see the swamp in a pontoon boat. And I wish we'd had the time to do both so I could compare the two but I don't regret our choice.

We were out on the water for a little over four hours and our small tour group had the place to ourselves.

Paddling through cypress and tupelo trees, catching glimpses of alligators was both relaxing and exciting!

Read my full review:

KAYAKING IN A NEW ORLEANS SWAMP


Manchac Swamp


EXPLORE FRENCHMEN STREET

Frenchmen Street is only a 10-15 minute walk from Jackson Square and it's supposedly what Bourbon Street used to be. It's got a much more local feel and a more relaxed atmosphere.

Also, I didn't smell any vomit or see anyone passed out on the street here. Seriously, what is the appeal of Bourbon Street?

You can hang out in several jazz clubs along Frenchmen Street. We went to The Spotted Cat to hear some live music. Neither of us drink so we got a couple mocktails.

I was hoping for energetic jazz with drums, trumpet, and trombone. I'm sure you can find that at other jazz clubs but the Cotton Mouth Kings, who played that night were very laid back.

Easy listening jazz is not really my thing but we stayed for a while anyway to give it an honest try.

If you want the fun, lively jazz, you can find it pretty much anywhere around Jackson Square and through out the French Quarter.

It was so fun to hear a street band play just outside Café Du Monde the first time we went for beignets.

What I liked most about Frenchmen Street was the Frenchmen Art Bazaar.

This is an open air market lit by vintage strings of lights and full of unique art created and sold by locals: paintings, prints, photos, jewelry, and even toilet seat art.

This place has its own vibe, it's open late into the night, and well worth a visit.

One other fun thing that I noticed throughout the city but especially on Frenchmen Street: street poets.

These people sit on street corners with a little table and typewriter or fancy stationary and fountain pen, and you can pay them to write a personalized poem.


SEE THE NATIONAL WORLD WAR II MUSEUM

If you've had your fun in swamps and cemeteries, escape the sultry heat and get a glimpse of life during WWII in various parts of the world.

The museum is divided into two buildings. The first depicts the events that led to America joining the war and life during the war itself.

The second building walks you through the war in Europe on the ground floor, and the Pacific on the second floor.

I especially enjoyed seeing a German Enigma machine and one of hundreds of decoy parachute dolls.

I cried a few times throughout the Pacific exhibition. Although, I can't say I enjoyed myself, it was worth seeing. I sobbed at the end despite having learned about it all before.

My favorite part of the whole experience was learning the stories of bravery from ordinary individuals.

This was as good as some of the museums I have seen in Washington DC, and I definitely recommend it.

It costs around $30 a ticket and you can reserve a time to visit as late as the night before. 



WHAT TO AVOID

Pickpockets:

There are plenty in the Big Easy so carry your phone, cash, and wallet in a front pocket at all times, especially in busy areas.

Scammers:

If someone says to you, "Nice shoes. I bet you I can guess where you bought them," just say thanks and keep walking. Their "guesses" are very vague but they will expect you to pay up every time. If you spend much time around Jackson Square, you are bound to meet one of these guys.

French Market:

'Nough said about this place already.

Bourbon Street:

There is a festive atmosphere for sure, but from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am it gets so loud. The whole street is basically one huge bar. When you're just crossing Bourbon Street, the smell of sour alcohol and vomit is pungent. And you're highly likely to step over more than one person passed out on the sidewalk.

Unless you're into partying which, honestly, you can do pretty much anywhere, I wouldn't bother spending any time on Bourbon Street.


NEW ORLEANS WITH KIDS

I wouldn't have done anything different on our vacation to the Big Easy, but if we were to ever take our kids here, this is how it would go:

• Get a rental car and bring our own carseats

• Stay at an Airbnb in the Garden District 

 I would mostly feed my kids from the grocery store. Cereal, toast, and eggs at the Airbnb each morning, PB&J for lunch when we were out and about, and dinner would be an inexpensive po'boy or muffaletta. And of course, we would splurge on one fancier restaurant and I would try to convince my kids to eat fried alligator.

• Story Land Amusement Park within City Park

• Pontoon Boat Swamp Tour

• Audubon Zoo

• Self-guided tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

• Oak Alley Plantation 

Out of all the reviews I have read, this is the most recommended plantation near-ish to New Orleans. It's about an hour drive from the French Quarter and it's got huge, ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss.

I've never been to a plantation but I feel it would be a significant educational experience for my kids, and me too.


And there you have it!


What would you want to see and do on a weekend vacation to New Orleans?

If you have already been, what did you love about this city?

Either way, please share with us in the comments! 


Hi! My name is Kait. Follow this link to learn more about me and my blog.

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