I mean, any city called the Big Easy MUST be a great time right? In the case of New Orleans that is most certainly true. It’s always held a mystical place in my mind – quaint balconies overlooking cobblestone streets, trumpets ringing out from an iconic jazz club, newspaper covered tables laden with spicy crawfish, and the history of the city bubbling up around every turn. New Orleans was the last stop on our road trip from Portland to Atlanta, and although hot and muggy in mid August, it surpassed my expectations! I wanted to create a First-Timer’s Guide to New Orleans of exactly what we did because I feel like we hit all the traditional tourist spots, which normally I would stay away from, but with this city I feel like all of these stops are a must at least once!
Now I’m itching to go back to New Orleans to explore more like a local – I can’t wait to wander the Bywater neighborhood and stop at joints like Elizabeth’s for praline bacon or N7 for a French dinner in their candlelit courtyard. But for now, here is a list of all the musts and the ultimate first-timers guide to New Orleans!
first things first…
Book a cool hotel!
There’s so many great neighborhoods in New Orleans! Here’s a list of the coolest hotels to book during your stay.
Garden District: The Henry Howard Hotel was constructed in 1867 and is as effortless New Orlean’s cool as you can get.
French Quarter: Even though it’s only a block from the busy nightlife of Bourbon street, The Mazrin is tucked away in a quiet courtyard where you can complete escape but still be right in the mix of it all!
Warehouse/Arts District: During our trip we stayed at the Mercantile and loved it! With exposed brick, record players and jazz records in every room you will most certainly feel like you’re in the heart of the city!
Take a stroll down Bourbon Street
It’s an absolute must to walk down once, even grab a hurricane or two, but then you can move on to better part’s of the city. While there is grand establishments on Bourbon street like Galatoire’s, overall It’s a dirty strip of bars slinging cheap daiquiris that taste like rubbing alcohol. BUT let’s not kid ourselves, we all love a dirty bar from time-to-time so embrace it! Head to the Cats Meow for a little tipsy karaoke if you’re feeling frisky.
Visit Cafe Du Monde
Fried pieces of heaven coated in a blanket of powdered sugar…YES PLEASE! Cafe du Monde is an iconic New Orleans cafe known for café au laits, chicory coffee & beignets since 1862. It’s touristy, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and you can’t go wrong with a sweet treat and a strong cup of coffee! Be prepared to sit in a very busy atmosphere – the plumes of powdered sugar and the live jazz playing outside will make it all worth it. I made these heart beignets with strawberry powdered sugar since I was inspired from this trip!
Stroll the French Quarter
There is so much to see and do in the French Quarter (besides Bourbon Street). It was originally founded way back in 1718, and has since belonged to a variety of cultures making it a true melting pot! Walking around the streets, specifically Royal street, looking at the beautiful homes and iconic lacework balconies was my favorite part. Shopping is a must in this neighborhood as well! We stopped in Krewe to drool over their gorgeous eyewear and were grateful they were serving Frosé (frozen rosé) on such a sweltering day! You’ve also got the jazz museum and Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo!
Eat Cajun classics
This is a foodie city no doubt about it. Here’s where to get some of the best meals around the city!
– Saints & Sinners – Okay, yes this is Channing Tatum’s Bar and yes it’s at the end of Bourbon Street but here me out! They had guys sitting outside boiling spicy crawfish that you could smell from a mile away and I just couldn’t resist! Come here for a beers and spicy crawfish!
–Stanley – Come here for brunch looking out at Jackson Square! I loved their Eggs Stanley with corn-meal crusted Louisiana oysters and poached eggs and Thomas had the soft shell crab po’ boy. Spicy bloody Mary’s of course.
–Commanders Palace – Jazz brunch with creole fare. The turtle soup and bread pudding is a must. In a beautiful victorian mansion and 25. cent martini’s for lunch you’ll want to spend the day here!
–Herbsaint – in a beautiful setting off of Charles Ave, come here for dinner and experience a blend of Fench, Southern and rustic Italian influences. Order the duck confit with dirty rice or the house-made spaghetti with a fried-poached farm egg.
–Bayona – Have dinner in a romantic courtyard with Mediterranean-influenced Southern dishes like veal sweetbreads, oyster gratin or sautéed redfish.
Head to Frenchman Street to Listen to Live Jazz
It’s not a long street, but it’s packed with a bunch of iconic jazz clubs, just walk by until you like the sound of something and then head on in. You can see us glistening from the humidity but dancing to jazz music certainly didn’t help but we embraced it! The Spotted Cat is the quintessential Jazz club of New Orleans famous for it’s Jazz shows and quaint intriguing ambiance. And The Apple Barrel is considered a best kept secret with a tiny venue.
Get a Muffuletta sandwich
Head to Central Grocery and Deli for one of the best sandwiches! It was created in 1906 by Central Grocery owner Salvatore Lupo, the muffuletta is Sicilian in nature and features layers of mortadella, salami, ham, provolone, swiss cheese, marinated olive salad, and served on a round Italian loaf sprinkled with sesame seeds. SO GOOD! It’s huge and we ate on this for several hours in our car ride home!
Visit a Cemetery
I was always so fascinated by the overground coffin’s and it was quite a sight walking through the cemetery. We went to the Lafayette number 1 but there’s several others that you can walk around and even do a ghost tour! Wondering why they are above ground? Since the water table in the city is so high, burying in ground meant that anytime there was a flood the bodies would float back up to the surface, which was not only horrific but also spread diseases like yellow fever. The solution was to bury above ground!
I’m so excited to get back to New Orleans and explore more of the local joints – But all of you first-timers I hope you have the best time and let me know if you have any other questions or need recommendations!