New Orleans is my favorite city in the US to visit! There is so much to see and do, it's hard to cover everything your first time. Music, tours, history, not to mention all the great food, this city has a culture of its own and is by far one of the most unique and colorful places in the states. Though it can be tough to pack everything in your first trip (I recommend a minimum of 3 days), here's a quick guide of just a few of my favorites for first timers.
Explore the French Quarter
The quarter is the hub of where things are happening! It's the oldest neighborhood in the city and the best place to stay as everything is in walking distance. I recommend staying at one of the many hotels in this area so that you can avoid getting a car and are able to walk to all the fun stuff.
In the middle of the Quarter lies Jackson Square, with the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral right in the center. It is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States, originally built in 1727 and dedicated to King Louis IX of France. Stroll through the pretty park that's filled with eclectic artists, street performers and musicians which is people watching at its best!
CAFE DU MONDE
Right across from the Cathedral is the famous Cafe Du Monde. Always busy with a long line, and open 24/7, this is the place to get yourself the famous beignets. There are other places that sell them, but in my opinion these guys still do it the best. It's worth the wait for this must-do city native treat.
Not too far from Cafe DuMonde is the riverfront where you can find one of the last operating steam boats, the Natchez. You can view the boat from the dock but if you are feeling up for something fun on the Mississippi, they offer daytime and dinner jazz cruises that you can book here: Steam Boat Natchez. It's a relaxing and beautiful way to spend an afternoon!
BOURBON STREET & FRENCHMAN STREET
It's where the party is happening! Bourbon Street is what everyone talks about, and it's just as crazy as it looks. It's party central for the club goers and Mardi Gras types, but as a first time visitor plan to walk through it a couple of times- during the day, and at night to take it all in. Pop in and out of a few restaurants, clubs and music venues to find your liking. Aside from a few jazz clubs, most of the live music you'll find here are cheesy (but fun) cover bands, and DJ.s When you've had enough, head on over to Frenchman Street! On Frenchman you'll find the better music scene, as well as some really cool art galleries and eclectic shops!
MORE FRENCH QUARTER FAVORITES:
LaFitte's Blacksmith Bar: My most favorite bar in Nola! Historical building, coolest vibe. Get the purple drink!
Hotel Montelone for a drink and some jazz music in the very unique and pretty Carousel Bar
Preservation Hall: Historical place to experience traditional New Orleans jazz music
The Dungeon Bar: creepy, cool and heavy metal
Court of Two Sisters: Great place for brunch!
Take a Swamp Tour
Part of visiting New Orleans is to also experience what most of the southern state is made of, swamps. Swamp tours are a fun way to spend the afternoon out in the bayou to see some wildlife like alligators, turtles, birds and is a nice relaxing break from all the music and city craziness. Reputable tour companies below to book:
Cajun Encounters is the one I chose and they offer a couple of different options including one at night! I took their honey swamp tour (pictured above) and though I didn't see any alligators as it was winter, I loved the experience of being out in the bayou and seeing the homes of people who actually live on the swamp!
Visit the Garden District
The Garden District is a special neighborhood, one that I never tire of! It's super easy to get there from the French Quarter and there are plenty of tours available to book, or you can simply walk the area yourself following the many walking guides online. I used this one here, or you can book from a tour company, like Free Tours By Foot. Either way, here's how to get there and what to see.
RIDE THE STREET CAR
The best and more fun way to get to the Garden District while staying in the French Quarter is to ride the St. Charles Street Car. It's one of the few cities left that has operating ones, so jump on and get off at the Washington Ave stop. This will drop you off in the center of where you'll want to be walking around.
You can't visit New Orleans and not see at least one cemetery! The Lafayette Cemetery is a great one and it's right in the heart of the Garden District. It's free to walk right in or you can book a tour if you'd like some more detailed information on the history and who's buried here. Notable shows that have filmed here are The Originals, Dracula 2000, and this also serves as the home for many fictional characters including the tomb for the Mayfair witches, created by Anne Rice, in The Witching Hour.
HISTORIC HOMES / LANDMARKS
The beautiful homes in this area aren't hard to miss! Starting with the famous Commander's Palace (upper right photo) right across from Lafayette Cemetery. This is an amazing traditional New Orleans restaurant, but they have a strict dress code so prepare accordingly. The rest shown here: The McGehee School (upper left) Musson-Bell House (lower left), Pritchard-Pigott House (lower right) can all be seen along with many others on this map. The famous Buckner Mansion where they filmed American Horror Story Coven (not pictured) is another popular stop on this list.
Visit a Plantation
Last but not least is another southern adventure outside the city, visiting a plantation. This one you'll need to book a tour for so you can access the grounds and plantation homes. These are about an hour outside of the city, so plan for a full day. Here's a few tour companies where you can book:
I booked Cajun Encounters combo tour of the Oak Alley Plantation (pictured here) and the Whitney Plantation. Both had excellent tour guides walking you through the grounds which are beautifully lined with trees. There's a lot of history here as you not only visit the grandiose plantation mansion, you're also walked through the slave quarters and memorials. Everything has been restored and it gives you a true sense of how these places operated back then.
That wraps up my first-timer list for visiting New Orleans! Many other favorites to share, but too much to fill in one post--and in one trip! Once you've visited, you'll most certainly want to go back again and again, maybe even for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras. Enjoy!
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