Editor’s note—you can see my second guide to New Orleans HERE from when I returned to the Big Easy in 2018!
I am so excited to be sharing my guide to New Orleans with you today, as the Big Easy has been on my bucket list for a long time.
Now, I am definitely no expert, and when I head back to NOLA—hopefully sooner rather than later—I’ll be sure to add to and expand on this post. But, we did cover a lot of ground in four days and did a lot of research before we went.
I went with four other gals who I went to college with, or met through college friends, in honor of my friend Emma’s 25th birthday. New Orleans is the perfect town if you’re looking for a good time. We saw many other birthday trips, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and even befriended a divorce party one night.
To maximize our time without taking a ton of PTO, I flew from DCA to MSY on a Wednesday night after work and met Emma and Shana in the airport as they had flown in that night from New York. Because I wasn’t flying at an extremely popular time, my ticket to New Orleans was only $85, which I considered a steal since New Orleans seems to be a rather expensive airport to fly into. Granted, you do have to pay for an extra night at a hotel once you’re there, but splitting the Uber into town—a $33 flat rate fee—and sharing the hotel that night with Shana and Emma still offset the costs of going on the ever-popular-day-to-fly. And, we had the benefit of a full day on Thursday to
explore drink hurricanes.
WHERE TO STAY /
We stayed at The Embassy Suites – Convention Center in the Warehouse District. I cannot recommend this hotel enough! Since the rooms are suite-style, our room slept up to six, meaning the cost per person per night was really low. It also meant we had a lot more room than a traditional hotel to get ready and when a group of people wanted to nap, the others had a room where they could watch television/hang out. The hotel also has a complimentary hot breakfast, complete with made-to-order omelettes, and a free happy hour from 5:30-7:30 pm, so your dollar really stretches far here. The location is safe, and about a 10-minute walk to Canal Street or 15-minute walk to the heart of the French Quarter.
Canal Street is really the top border of the French Quarter, and most chain hotels have an outpost there. There are four chain hotels actually in the French Quarter—Four Points by Sheraton, the Royal Sonesta, The W, and the Omni. Unless your group is really into partying, I wouldn’t recommend the first two hotels since they are right on Bourbon Street, and therefore hoards of drunk people at all hours of the night.
Most of the hotels actually in the French Quarter are small, independently owned establishments. Our group looked into staying at Le Richelieu as it came highly recommended, and because it’s not right on Bourbon Street, still quiet. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to pull the trigger, it was completely booked! Other boutique hotels that were recommended to us within the French Quarter are: Bienville House, Hotel Monteleone, Andrew Jackson Hotel, and The Cornstalk Hotel.
WHERE TO EAT /
A common theme we noticed when we asked our friends for New Orleans recommendations was that everyone immediately went into listing restaurants. And for good reason! Here’s a rundown of all the places we broke bread while in town:
- Seaworthy—the kitchen here is open until midnight, so if you have a late flight like we did, this is your spot for seafood, a pork belly sandwich, a burger, and unbeatable seaweed salt fries with sriracha ketchup. And, they have a rosé on draft!
- Cafe du Monde—duh! Snag an order of three beignets for $3. We went on a weekday morning, so were able to get a table no problem. If you go on the weekends, there usually is a line, but it moves fast and there is a to-go window. Cafe Beignet is supposed to be just as good and less touristy if you’re in a jam and need your French donut fix.
- NOLA—BAM! We loved eating lunch at Emeril’s restaurant. Start with the barbecued gulf shrimp and finish with anything else on the menu because it was all so good. I can’t recommend the Nola Cobb Salad enough if you’re in need of a greens fix.
- Legacy Kitchen—we stopped by here one night for firecracker shrimp and chips and guac. It was a great place for heavy apps, and the Americana decor was on-point.
- Peche—one of our favorite meals in NOLA, this place was jam packed even at 10 pm. We ordered just about everything on the menu and shared it tapas-style, but the fried bread, grilled chicken with white BBQ sauce, and brussels sprouts stand out.
- Coquette—have you ever gone into a restaurant with a party of five and ordered five waygu burgers? Because that’s what we did at Coquette, and we have no regrets. We kicked off the meal with a three-glass rosé flight and the best fried chicken and pickles we had the whole trip.
- Brennan’s—probably the cutest restaurant I have ever been to, I loved Brennan’s pink-and-palm-leaf decor. Definitely a place for celebrating, we capped off our delicious beef-or-chicken entrees with tableside-made bananas foster, which was first invented at Brennan’s.
- Sobou—if you’re up for it, their Sunday brunch is “legs and eggs” with live burlesque and a jazz band. Whatever you do though, don’t leave without trying the chef’s gumbo, which is served over creamy mashed potatoes.
- Kingfish—on my last day in New Orleans, I had the day to myself since my friends all caught a 6 am flight out of town. This place was the perfect spot for solo dining as they had a great bar. I paired the panzanella salad with their jambalaya risotto, and it was seriously one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
WHERE TO DRINK /
Usually “where to drink” is not its own category within my travel guides, but for this New Orleans one, it definitely deserves it’s own section!
At the top of our list was Pat O’Brien’s, which is the place to get a Hurricane in town. Invented during World War II when whiskey was in short supply, bartenders had to purchase as much as 50 cases of rum just to get one case of whiskey. As such, they had to concoct a drink that could increase the marketability of rum. Served in a hurricane-lamp shaped glass, the drink’s popularity eventually took off, and now has become a NOLA classic. Pat O’Brien’s hurricanes are served in 26-ounce souvenir glasses for $8, and if you turn in the glass at the end, you receive $3 cash back, making these a steal. We loved their outdoor patio, where we waited out a rainstorm one afternoon while munching on their house-made popcorn.
Since we’re creatures of habit, we loved heading to Bourbon Street every night. We usually kicked the night off at Bourbon Cowboy, which had an awesome DJ who played a great mix of classic and trendy country tunes. The highlight at this bar is the mechanical bull you can ride for $5. None of us were bold enough to do so, but we certainly got our drink money’s worth watching other people try.
As much as we loved Bourbon Cowboy, the cover band at Famous Door kept us going back every night. Whether they were playing Rolling on the River, Callin’ Baton Rouge, or Sweet Home Alabama, we were in the front row singing along and tipping them to play our song requests. Once an hour, they’d take a break and this awesome guy would get on stage and sing along to the songs the DJ would play. I really am selling him short because he was so funny.
Of course, nothing beats taking advantage of those open container laws and simply grabbing a to-go frozen drink or cocktail from a stand on Bourbon Street and walking around.
GETTING AROUND NEW ORLEANS /
Luckily, getting around New Orleans is very easy. As previously mentioned, you can call an Uber from the airport, and it’s a flat rate of $33 if you’re heading somewhere near the French Quarter. If you take a cab, it’s $30 for up to two people and $15 per person if there are three or more.
Once you’re in New Orleans, it’s easy and cheap to call Ubers or Lyfts, but much of city is very walkable. We relied on cabs when it was at night and we weren’t as familiar with where we were going or we were short on time.
New Orleans also has three streetcar lines: St. Charles, Canal Street, and the Riverfront, each of which originates downtown but takes you different parts of the city. They are $1.25 to board, or you can get a one-, three-, or 31-day pass for $3, $9, and $55 respectively. Be sure you have exact change! We rode the St. Charles line up to the Garden District and Tulane University. Definitely try to get on before noon if you’re heading up that way, because after that it gets more crowded and you might not get on the first car. Fun fact: the St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operated street car in the world!
WHAT TO DO /
We spent the majority of our time in New Orleans eating and drinking. I have no regrets! However, we did take the trolley up to the Garden District and walk around. Known for its antebellum mansions, there are plenty of guided and self-guided tours of the neighborhood and its famed Layette Cemetery.
If historical tours are your thing, definitely look into Free Tours by Foot, which allows you to pay what you can based on what you thought the tour was worth. In addition to the Garden District, they also offer tours of the French Quarter, Frenchman Street, St. Louis Cemetery—which you have to have a tour to see this one now due to vandalism, and ghost and voodoo tours. If everyone in your party is over 21, definitely check out the Boos! and Booze French Quarter Hauntings Tour, but be sure to book in advance of your trip as they sell out quickly.
One of our favorite things we did while in town was grab frozen daiquiris and walk around the French Quarter enjoying the music. Most performers have CDs for $10, so if you like their music, it’s easy to take it home with you. We also eventually made our way over to Frenchman Street, which is where the locals tend to hang out and there are more authentic bands, as opposed to cover bands on Bourbon. We hung out at a place called 30/90 NOLA and listened to an awesome band called Texas Pete.
There are also plenty of Plantation Tours and Swamp Tours available, and many places to buy passes for these in tourist areas. Most of the these tours take at least half a day, and we wanted to spend as much time as we could in New Orleans proper. When I go back next, I definitely want to look into doing a Plantation Tour, so if you have any recommendations, I am all ears.
Lastly, one of the highlights for me was going to Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of Jackson Square. Even if you don’t have time for Mass or are not Catholic, the church is open during the day and free to tour. It’s definitely worth a stop-in to see the gorgeous architecture!
After writing this post, I can’t wait to get back to NOLA!
If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer them!