New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. It was one of those places that if you brought it up I knew I wanted to go but it was never very high on my list. After coming across a flight deal I knew I wanted to book it. I asked a close friend of mine if she wanted to join and when she said “heck yeah” I knew we were going to have an amazing time.
In just the first 24 hours of our trip we got ready in our hotel lobby (because we got there at 6 am; way before our check-in time), had coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, visited the St. Louis Cathedral, walked the French Quarter, rode bikes for 10+ miles around City Park and St. Charles street, took a steamboat down the Mississippi River, listened to local bands at the French Quarter Festival and had dinner.
I visited New Orleans in April of 2016 and the weather was great. There was a bit of rain one day but other than that we had mostly sunny skies which was great for walking around the city and enjoying outdoor activities. There are many things to see and do within the French Quarter but it’s great to mix it up and explore the other parts of New Orleans. You know, the parts that aren’t the hot mess known as Bourbon Street. Don’t get me wrong, I love a frozen daiquiri to cool me down on a humid day but there’s more to do than get wasted on a 50-ounce rum infused beverage. With Mardi Gras upon us, I thought I’d put together a list of my favorite things to do in NOLA.
Cafe Du Monde at (or Before) 7 am
Cafe Du Monde is the quintessential coffee shop of New Orleans although it may seem like just another tourist trap. The location in the French Quarter gets insanely busy by 7:30 am. This location is open 24/7 so you’re a morning person, start your day here and you won’t be disappointed. I must point out that the menu is quite simple and this is what I love about this place. There’s coffee (regular and decaf) and you can take it black or au lait (with milk). There’s also iced coffee and frozen cafe au lait which I have not tried. And if you’re not big on coffee there are other drinks such as orange juice, hot chocolate, sodas, milk, and water. And there are delicious beignets with mounds of powdered sugar.
Bicycles to City Park
I love incorporating outdoors activities into all my travels. Although I spent a lot of time in the city I was able to get my outdoor fix by renting bicycles and taking a ride to City Park. I rented a bicycle from Crescent City Bike Tours. They were just around the corner from our hotel. We were offered a map and a suggested route. The Singing Oak Tree was one of our stops at City Park. The tree is a large oak tree with wind chimes hanging from it. It made for a great spot to hang out before getting back on and riding to our next location around the park.
Stroll the Garden District and St. Charles Street
St. Charles Street is the more widely known street that is the home to some of the most beautiful houses and mansions in New Orleans. I rode my bicycle once down this street and also came back to walk a bit of it. You can take the streetcar down St. Charles, get off and walk it, then get back on the streetcar to head back to your next destination.
St. Charles Street is a part of the Garden District, which is an area filled with amazing houses. I walked through some of the streets of the Garden District and was blown away by the amazing architecture.
St. Roch Market
If you like market-style food and artisan coffee, head to St. Roch Market. It’s a great place for farm-to-table food. With less than 20 food and drink stalls, this wonderfully curated market is a great place for a diverse food selection. What’s better than sipping cocktails, eating anything from oysters to barbecue, satisfying your sweet tooth of with dessert, and listing to live music? That’s right, on select nights you may hear a live band playing at the market. Check out the events calendar for details.
If you love food and shopping head to Magazine Street. It’s outside of the French Quarter and is where you’ll find more of a local crowd. The streets are filling when amazing restaurants and local boutiques, which makes for great souvenirs!
So this may seem like a total touristy thing to do and it probably is because there are tons of cement ray tours but if you haven’t seen an above ground cemetery, it’s pretty interesting and a little creepy (mostly interesting). The city is on swamp land so the deceased can’t be buried.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the more frequented cemetery because it’s the resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. A new rule set in place only allows visitors to be accompanied by licensed tour guide. I visited St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 while on route to City Park. It’s a less trafficked cemetery which was nice because I wanted to get away from the crowds.
Drink Craft Cocktails
With no law against open containers in public, booze is not hard to find nor hard to enjoy in New Orleans. As mentioned before, you can find frozen daiquiris for a deal on and around Bourbon Street but there’s a variety of location for a quality craft cocktail. My favorite was Bar Tonique. Bar Tonique was a local recommendation and since it was just around the corner from our hotel it made for the perfect stop. They have an amazing happy hour so we had a few drinks before getting to the airport for our flight home.
Urban Hike around Crescent Park
Crescent Park is an amazing urban park in the French Market District of New Orleans. I only got to explore a small area but what I explored was awesome. I had a clear shot of the city over the river, I was by the train track and there was hardly a person in site. This was on a weekday so I imagine it gets more traffic on a weekend day.
If you’re walking the park from east to west, it’ll lead you to the French Market. The French Market is great for shopping and eating. There are tons of vendors stalls and there are different events throughout the week.
Visit a Museum or a Few
Visit a traditional museum or a non-traditional one if you fancy learning more about voodoo and more! There are tons of museums where you can learn about history and art but there are also museums where you can learn more about voodoo and the history of Mardi Gras.
I visited some of the museums of New Orleans, one of them was the 1850 House. The 1850 House is a historic house across from Jackson Square that is now a museum. The rooms are set up just like they were in the 19th century. For those who are interested in architecture, interior design and history, there are a few homes that you can tour.
There’s also military history museums. I visited the Confederate Memorial Hall which is Louisiana’s oldest museums that are open today. I have to say, it was a little weird being around so much Confederate memorabilia but it was intriguing to see this part of U.S. history right before my eyes.
And of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without visited the Voodoo Museum. Here you will learn some brief history on voodoo, see alters and even learn how to make a voodoo doll. Heck, you can even purchase a voodoo doll kit.
The Backstreet Museum is a cultural museum where you can learn about cultural celebrations, jazz funerals and more. I didn’t get to visit during this trip but I’m hoping I get to during my next visit.
Enjoy Dinner and a Show
If you’re looking for some New Orleans dining and some entertainment to follow start off with an amazing dinner at Jacques-Imo’s, then head next door to Maple Leaf Bar for drinks and live entertainment. The menu at Jacques-Imo’s has a little bit of everything. We sampled just about everything we were craving. No matter what you want, they are likely to have it. They even have some vegetarian options. When you’re done with dinner head next door to the Maple Leaf Bar. There may be a line to get in and a cover charge if they have a live band performing but the experience is well worth it. When I went I saw Rebirth, an awesome local brass band.
If you’re looking for some amazing cajun food in a more casual environment, Coop’s Place in the French Quarter is quite appetizing. This was recommended by a local so we had to try it out and I’m glad we did. The cajun seafood was amazing!
Mississippi River Steamboat
New Orleans is right on the Mississippi River so a steamboat cruise was on my “must-do” list. There are two main steamboat cruise operators for a half-day tour. The Creole Queen offers a jazz cruise dinner and during the day a historical river cruise that stops on an old battlefield. Steamboat Natchez offers both daytime and nighttime jazz cruises. Depending on when you want to go and what you prefer, a little history or live jazz, these two operators have the steamboat tour for you.
I hope you enjoyed some of my favorite things to do in New Orleans. If you enjoyed this post, please pin it. Enjoy your trip!