New Orleans (“The Big Easy”) is a beautiful city and I just can’t imagine how crazy it gets during Mardi Gras. Even without Mardi Gras, you can still admire the architecture in the French Quarter, ride the St. Charles street car to see dozens of the antebellum mansions, eat fresh and soft beignets (powdered sugar French donuts) at the famous 24-hr Cafe Du Monde, and try some of America’s best fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House and Dookie Chase’s Restaurant. New Orleans has A LOT of fancy white tablecloth restaurants that aren’t too expensive and super tasty; you do need to check the dress code and reservations though. You don’t need a car in Nola and get cheap Uber everywhere. It’s cheap and affordable unless it’s Mardi Gras ;).
Items listed in order of priority with neighborhood in parentheses. Anything in italics is on my to-do list.
What to Do in NOLA
Free to visit. Beautiful French-influenced architecture to admire, little shops to visit, local art galleries, and delicious cafes and restaurants.
2a. Jackson Square
Free to visit. Historical park in the French Quarter of New Orleans, it was known in the 18th century as “Place d’Armes” and later renamed in honor of Andrew Jackson. It faces the Mississippi River is surrounded by historic buildings including the St. Louis Cathedral (Free, French Quarter): Among the oldest cathedrals in the United States.
2b. The Presbytère
Situated right in Jackson Square, this museum is only $6 for adults. It has two permanent exhibits that tells the ongoing Louisiana story—one of celebration and one of resilience.
Free to visit. Flea market with cheap goods and cheap eats.
Free to visit. This is the heart of where the dirty bars and strip clubs are and crazy stuff goes down. Lots of Fat Tuesday slush drinks available. Go early in the week or it is cleaner on Sundays. Pat O’Brien’s ($$, French Quarter, Bar) has a famous Hurricane drink.
$1.25 one way. This super cheap 45min one-way street car ride will get you views of a lot of beautiful, old mansions in the Garden District. Make sure to get on at the first stop (Canal at Carondelet) or else you’ll be standing without a seat. Be wary of pickpockets. I would just Uber at the end of the ride.
Free to visit. Live jazz and music, more for the locals. supposedly the better version of Bourbon Street.
7. Graveyard Tour
Lots of graveyard tours to choose from. For the good graveyards, you’ll need a tour guide to get in.
Heard this museum is amazing.
Free to visit. Don’t go too late in case of crime, but go at night for the lights.
10. Plantations and Mansions
A bunch of them to visit and check out in Nola. Some require a car but I just did one that is just Uber-able. I went to the Longue Vue House and Gardens, also known as Longue Vue; it’s a historic house museum with associated gardens at 7 Bamboo Road in the Lakewood neighborhood.
What to Eat Sweet in NOLA
($, French Quarter): Known for the best beignets and also the most famous. Don’t wear black because you’ll get powdered sugar all over you. Sometimes the line is long (even the take-away line) in the morning, so if you don’t want to wait, go during off-peak hours.
2. Bananas Foster
($): Invented at Brennan’s in 1951 New Orleans, this dessert is cooked banana with vanilla ice cream topped with sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. It typically comes as a tableside performance (flambé).
3. Bread Pudding
($): Famous in the South and should be available at all the fine dining restaurants in NOLA
4. King’s Cake
($): More a Mardi Gras dessert item, it’s a typically sweet brioche (or pastry puff) dough cake in the shape of a hollow circle with a glazed topping sprinkled with purple, green, and yellow sugar.
($, Mid-city, Gelato): Italian ice cream and bakery good for gelato and cannoli.
($$, Lower Garden District, Donuts): The donuts are amazing and innovative but the sliders are too salty. It’s on a cool street you can walk around at.
($): Founded by three New Orleans Police Officers with a passion for coffee and donuts. You know they are good.
($, West Riverside, Shaved Ice): Shaved ice with very sweet flavorings – just okay.
($$): Macarons, ice cream, frozen yogurt, and exotic chocolate bars. Nothing super special or unique to Nola but delicious, beautiful, and super cute nevertheless. Enjoy afternoon tea upstairs!
What to Eat Savory in NOLA
Turtle soup, alligator, gumbo, sausage, jambalaya
($$$, Garden District, Cajun/Creole) : It’s a New Orleans classic. Super famous and delicious white tablecloth fancy dining. Expensive and you must respect the dress code and make reservations. We also tried turtle soup here. New Orleans is famous for putting turtles in their soup but I didn’t like it and I got it at several fancy delicious restaurants. Really salty and similar to French onion soup.
1b. NOLA Restaurant
($$$, French Quarter, Cajun/Creole): Emeril Lagasse restaurant that is surprisingly great. You should make reservations or hope there are enough spots open at the bar.
($$$, French Quarter, Cajun/Creole): Delicious white tablecloth restaurant that invented bananas foster dessert. Remember to make reservations and respect the dress code.
($$, Lower Garden District, Cajun/Creole): With a pig in its logo, order the pork cheeks and add the fried alligator gastropub-style.
($$, Leonidas, Cajun/Creole): Get alligator cheesecake and fried chicken.
1f. Pascal’s Manale
($$$, Uptown, Cajun/Creole): BBQ shrimp, oyster bar, and bread pudding.
($$$, Uptown, Cajun/Creole): Shrimp remoulade, turtle soup, and gumbo
($$, Central Business District, Cajun/Creole): Expect a line out the door and it has ethnic food. It’s like a cafeteria where you order while in line and then pick up your food to sit down. Heard it wasn’t impressive unless you want roast beef sandwiches.
($$$, French Quarter, Cajun/Creole): On my to-do list. Fine-dining century-old (jackets required).
($$$$, French): On my to-do list. Fine-dining.
SOUTHERN COMFORT FOOD
Fried chicken, collard greens, mac & cheese
($$, Tremé, Southern Comfort Food): Best fried chicken ever. Uber there and wait in line.
2b. Dooky Chase
($$, Tremé, Cajun/Creole): Obama and the Pope wrote letters to the owner and chef. Good fried chicken and offers a lunch buffet. Get there early or wait in line.
Non-po’boys like muffuletta
($$, French Quarter, Italian): Small Italian specialty food store that invented the muffuletta sandwich. Wait in the line and buy one (or half of one)
Grilled oysters, shrimp po’boys, and crawfish boils
($$, West Riverside, Sandwiches): Famous for oyster and shrimp po-boys
($$, Central Business District, Seafood): Raw Oysters, grilled oysters, jambalaya, and fries. Grilled oysters are a NOLA staple and regional specialty; if not ACME, some people like going to Dragos ($$, Warehouse District, Seafood) for them.
($$, Touro, Seafood Market): Crawfish boil and order by the pound
($$, West Riverside, Seafood): Seafood extraordinaire. Oysters, po-boys (another word for sandwiches on French bread), shrimp, and crawfish.
($$$, Warehouse District, Seafood): Get the baked drum, fried bread balls, and tuna dip.
Delicious Southern-style breakfast
($$, French Quarter, Breakfast & Brunch): Expect scrambled eggs, pecan smoked bacon, Creole breakfast potatoes, and multigrain toast.
($$, French Quarter, Breakfast & Brunch): Mediocre brunch buffet but the selection is wide and the seating outside is picturesque; it’s a French courtyard with possibly live music. I think it’s historic?
We stayed in the French Quarter at the beautiful, luxurious, and convenient Omni Royal Orleans Hotel. It was only $197/night.
If you have time to acquire some NOLA reading beforehand, I highly recommend this beautifully illustrated book about New Orleans: Very New Orleans: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Cajun Country Charm.