Here is a list of top things to do in New Orleans!
After the madness of Mardi Gras, I discovered NOLA’s real face: the one without the parties, the parades and the costumes. I liked it so much, I made a list of indispensable things to do in New Orleans. Most activities and visits can be combined to make a day tour as suggested below. And bonus, some places have been recommended to us by a local with a great taste! Thank you again Susan if you read my post! Let’s start!
DAY 1: the French Quarter
1. Visit the French Quarter, the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when thinking about New Orleans. Its charms produce feelings of romance and nostalgia with its beautiful architecture, historical monuments and landmarks: Bourbon Street; Jackson Square; Saint Louis Cathedral; the French Market (so lovely) and so on… A must visit!
2. Order a muffaletta for lunch from the Central Grocery and Deli (923 Decatur St). This is where the whole M story began… A muffaletta is a sandwich created by Sicilian immigrants arriving in mass to New Orleans. Farmers used to stop at the Central Grocery to buy all the ingredients for a muffaletta sandwich: cold meats, olive salad and cheese. The owner of the Deli then had the idea to offer ready made sandwiches. The round sesame bread is stuffed with salami, ham, mortadella, olive salad and different cheese. Half a sandwich costs around 10 USD. It was more than enough to fill me for the rest of the day!
3. Watch steam boats on the Mississippi: do not forget to watch the steam boats touring on the Mississippi. There is a promenade not far from Café du Monde. Those boats remind me of the Tom Sawyer cartoons I was watching as a kid. Steam boat tours are also available. I have no recommendation because we did not do one.
Day 1 afternoon breaks: Beignets and Bloody mary
4. Drink coffee and eat beignets at Café du Monde (800 Decatur St): for your afternoon break, take a sit at Café du Monde, it is an institution in NOLA. Here you can order beignets (square French doughnuts covered with powdered sugar) with chicory-scented café au lait (milk coffee). The place is great for people watching. To avoid long queues, come before 9am or late in the evening – like we did! The Café is open 24 hours a day all year long, so you will have loads of opportunities to eat beignets.
5. Sip a bloody mary from the Golden Lantern (1239 Royal St): At sundown, stop at this bar for the best bloody mary in town! Their cocktail is really tasty and is served with pickled green beans and chili. I can’t get enough of that taste and could drink it at anytime of the day (No, I am not an alcoholic…) so I squeezed in a stop every time I was nearby!
DAY 2: Cycling around New Orleans & Po boy for lunch
6. NOLA is much more than just the French Quarter, don’t miss out by not exploring the surroundings. Cycling is the best way for this part. We got a lend of a bike but I am sure, it is possible to rent one in the city. Our first trip was towards Garden District. We started on Saint Charles Avenue and saw the famous street cars, then changed to Prytania Street, cycled under the shadows of the big trees, admiring old buildings on the way. We also saw parts of Magazine Street, famous for its shops and boutiques.
7. We stopped at the Lafayette cemetery (1416-1498 Washington Ave), that you can visit for free. It is not a big cemetery but it was interesting to read some of the tombstones. They gave a glimpse of the past, people’s stories and how they died. You can see here above the ground tombs, a popular style in New Orleans.
8. For lunch, we headed to Dolomise’s Po Boy (5240 Annunciation St). This is a local spot off the beaten tracks, even better reason to go. There is wide selection of Po Boys offered here. A Po boy is a typical sandwich from Louisiana. It is a baguette generally filled with meat, breaded fish or seafood, lettuce, mayo and ketchup. Without hesitation, I chose the oyster one (I love oysters, whenever I can I order them as you might remember from my Espai Kru post). Yummy, tasty, delicious. Alas, I could not enjoy it with a beer. I forgot my ID so the barman won’t let me go close to any types of alcohol.
Day 2 afternoon: Saint Louis’ Park and Frenchmen Street
9. After lunch, we had enough time left to come back to the city. So we decided to have a snooze at Saint Louis’ Park, at the edge of the French Quarter.
It is a pretty cool park built to honor Louis Armstrong. It has a famous arch entrance, sites like Congo Square where slaves met in the 1800s, (funky) sculptures, duck ponds and lots of spaces for relaxing. We had a nap under the sun on the grass.
10. In the evening, we went out for drinks and dancing on Frenchmen street. There you can find a lot of bars, we chose the Blue Nile. This venue is known as the original music club that gave birth to the music culture on Frenchmen Street. They had a concert on and dancing was good. When we came out, an energetic brass band was playing in the street. On our way home, we discovered the Frenchman Art Market with handicrafts from local and regional artists. Pretty cool market to explore!
DAY 3: Swamp tour and local food
11. This day started with a swamp tour. Swamps are another thing for which Louisiana is famous for, as it has a lot of forested wetlands. We chose Cajun Pride Swamp Tours by boat. The swamp was their own so we were alone. The tour lasted 4 hours and cost 12 USD (as found on a promotion website). We roamed the swamp in search of alligators but did not find any interesting animal. Bouh! At the end of the tour, surprise…the captain took out some…live snakes out of a basket. Not for me… but he also had a baby gator I could hold. So although it was a pity we did not see any wild animals, the tour was still enjoyable.
12. For lunch, we stopped at Lil Dizzy’s café (1500 Esplanade Ave). We stumbled upon it and decided to try. It is not fancy, but it is a great little local spot again. We love local spots. The staff is very friendly. The café served a buffet for around 15 USD with local food: gumbo, jambalaya, fried chicken (OMG!!! the BEST fried chicken I have ever had). Surprisingly, they also had an amazing bread and butter pudding dessert. For me, this is a typical British/Irish dessert and I did not expect to find it here.
Day 3 afternoon: Treme and cycling to City Park
13. We stayed in Treme so we knew the neighborhood but have a cycle around on your way to City Park (activity nbr 14).
14. After lunch, cycle to City Park – you might need more time here as there are a lot of places to visit: the Botanical Gardens, the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, the Train Garden etc. For us, half a day was more than enough because we came to see the 5-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden with more than 60 sculptures. They are valued at $25 million. I love the art exposed here, it is fresh and I can relate to it.
DAY 4: Plantation visit
15. Visit a plantation: a trip to New Orleans will not be complete without a plantation visit. There are a few open to visitors, unfortunately, none of them is reachable by public transportation. The only option is a tour without a car. The visits are not cheap. For the Oak Alley and Laura plantations with Tours by Isabelle, I paid 96 USD. The driver picked me up in a van. The two plantations are completely different. Laura Plantation is a creole plantation. It does not have the grandeur of Oak Alley but it is still a charming building. The tour guide (not our driver) almost made me cry with her dramatic and detailed account of slavery as it happened on the plantation. They kept original slaves’ pricelists with their names, age, talents and skills. I cannot believe human beings were treated like cattle. Oak Alley’s guides on the other hand were dressed up in period costumes. The plantation is more luxurious and the view on the actual oak alley is impressive. On the way back to the city, we passed in front of the Evergreen plantation where scenes of Django Unchained were shot.
End of the trip with an unforgettable jazz evening!
16. Dine at the Palm Court Jazz Café (1204 Decatur St): New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz so in New Orleans, you cannot avoid a soirée at a jazz club…Our very kind and NOLA knowledgeable “guide” invited us to enjoy great traditional jazz and tasty Cajun food in this dinner club situated in the French Quarter for our last night in the city. The Palm Court Jazz Café is housed in a beautiful restored 19th century building. The place decoration is elegant, the food tasty, the service warm and impeccable. We saw a lively and energetic band, an equally lovely and energetic owner, Nina Buck, who kept on inviting guests to dance while moving on the dance floor herself from her 80s (I think she was that age)! Such enthusiasm and passion is unforgettable!
Here are places and things I would have loved to do but could not because of time:
17. Back Street museum as mentioned in my post “Living Mardi Gras in New Orleans”
18. Hansen’s sno-bliz: this is a snowball stand/shop. I saw pics. Honestly, they look yummy.
19. The Voo Doo Spiritual Temple: as Voo Doo is another big part of the culture in NOLA.
20. The National WWII Museum