Hey there! Welcome to my travel guide on the best things to see and do in New Orleans. My name is Kate and I’m from a tiny town in Northern Vermont (along with my sister Maggie). Now, Maggie is in her senior year of college and I have just finished my first year as a teacher in New York City.
Both my sister and I love travel. We started our blog together in 2019 as a way of documenting our journeys and to share our advice with people who are hoping to explore the world. Our aim is to inspire young people to travel as much as they can. You will find tons of itineraries, packing guides, destination recommendations and more on Two Sisters Abroad.
Five Perfect Days in New Orleans
I decided to visit New Orleans as part of my 50 State Challenge. This year, I challenged myself to visit every state in the US. I had heard so many great things about New Orleans and it had been on my bucket list for a while. So I decided that I absolutely had to include it as a stop on my itinerary.
I visited New Orleans for five days in March during spring break. I visited right after Mardi Gras as I was hoping for a calmer experience. Five days is longer than the average trip to New Orleans – many people visit for a weekend or just a few days. I thoroughly enjoyed my five days. It allowed me to really explore, to visit amazing museums and to eat delicious food.
However, for a first trip, I would say a weekend is a great amount of time to see many of the major attractions and to have a fantastic time! New Orleans is known as a party city and that is absolutely true. Bourbon Street especially is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. You will find packed bars until early in the morning, and the streets are always filled with people drinking, dancing and enjoying their time in the city.
That said, New Orleans has more to offer than parties. It has an interesting history and blend of cultures. During the day, before hitting up the bars, I recommend taking tours and visiting some of the museums in the city in order to learn more about the history and culture of New Orleans.
Three tours that I loved were the French Quarter Food Tour, True Crime Ghost Tour and Nola Street Art and Mural Walk. I will explain these tours in more detail later on. All of our guides were so knowledgeable and the tours were a fun way to learn about the city while meeting others! I booked these tours on Airbnb. I’m a big fan of Airbnb Experiences – it’s a great way to connect with locals and learn more about the place you are visiting.
Why New Orleans Should be on your Bucket List
New Orleans is a city unlike any other. The blend of cultures, and their history as they relate to one another, can be found in every nook and cranny. The cuisine is delicious and diverse, and of course the party never stops. It’s also a neat place for history lovers – from the evolution of the city itself to the significant role it has played throughout American history.
Anyone interested in architecture will love the buildings in the French Quarter: a Colonial Spanish style mixed with Creole style that makes you feel like you are wandering through Latin America or the Caribbean.
New Orleans is seriously one of the prettiest places I have ever been to and it’s a photographer’s dream. Early in the morning, before the parties got started, I loved wandering through the French Quarter and taking photos of all of the beautiful homes, streets and buildings. The Garden District (a streetcar ride away) is another beautiful area with huge mansions.
This area is much quieter. It’s a beautiful place to walk around and see gorgeous homes. Of course, the French Quarter (Bourbon Street especially), is where you will find the parties. New Orleans is a place that you can visit any time of year. There will always be full bars and great music.
On Bourbon Street, there were people of all ages enjoying the music and bar scene. It was a fun experience all around. Even though the French Quarter is where most of the action is, the city has many amazing neighborhoods to explore and there is something for every type of traveler.
My Favorite Places in New Orleans
The French Quarter is undoubtedly one of my favorite places that I have ever visited. I love the blend of Spanish Colonial and Creole architecture on offer. It was so much fun to take photos in front of the brightly painted homes and buildings. I recommend waking up early to take photos before the French Quarter fills up with people at bars and restaurants.
Waking up to walk around with a coffee and a camera was such a peaceful way to start off my day. Chartres Street was one of my favorites for taking photos. But every street is beautiful and you can’t go wrong. Another beautiful photo spot is the St. Louis Cathedral – it looks like a castle!
Top 7 Things To Do in New Orleans
There is so much to do in New Orleans and that is another thing that makes the city so special! Below are my top 7 things to do in the city:
1. Take the Amazing French Quarter Food Tour
When I travel I love taking food tours. They are such a fun way to learn more about a city and its culture. I booked this tour on Airbnb and the guide was amazing. She shared so much information about New Orleans and she brought us to some delicious famous places in the French Quarter.
We got to try everything from chargrilled oysters to authentic Poboys to muffaletta and learn about the significance of each of these dishes along the way. This tour even has some vegetarian options, which I appreciated.
2. Go on a Mural Walk with NOLA Art Walk
This mural walk/art tour was such a fun way to see some of the less touristy neighborhoods in New Orleans. On this tour you will explore the 8th Ward, 9th Ward and Treme neighborhoods of the city, and see street art by a number of talented artists. The tour guide was so knowledgeable and he even knew many of the artists personally! Overall, this tour is definitely a great way to learn more about New Orleans, its artists and even its history.
3. Get Spooked on the True Crime Ghost Tour
The French Quarter has a dark and spooky past. A ghost tour is a great way to dive into its haunted history. Historically, there have been a plethora of murders in this neighborhood, and they are all interesting to learn about.
There are a ton of ghost tours that operate every night, but I recommend taking the Ghost and True Crime Walking Tour through Airbnb. The tour guide shares so many interesting stories about crimes that occured in the city. It’s amazing to see the places where they happened.
4. Visit the Best Museums of New Orleans
New Orleans is filled with museums and I suggest visiting as many as you can. I know most travelers have limited time, but the museums are truly interesting and definitely worth a stop. Three of my favorites are the Pharmacy Museum, 1850 House and Mardi Gras World. The first two are in the French Quarter and Mardi Gras World is a short shuttle ride away.
5. Try a Sno-Ball at the French Market
Located in the French Quarter, this five block long, open air market is a must visit. It was originally a Native American trading post, but today is used as a place for travelers to buy local food and souvenirs. I tried my first sno-ball at the French Market (kind of like a snowcone) and it was good!
6. Explore the Garden District of New Orleans
The Garden District is another popular neighborhood with much calmer vibes than the French Quarter. You can take the streetcar to this district, which is a fun activity. Once you arrive, it’s a great place to walk around with a coffee and see gorgeous homes. Celebrities, like Sandra Bullock, own homes in the area – and you will see why once you start exploring.
7. Listen to and Support Street Musicians
All around the French Quarter you will see street musicians. These performers are so talented and it’s nice to listen to them. We saw a tourist join in on a musician’s sax performance to sing the song he was playing!
That was a really cool thing to experience in New Orleans. Although, I wouldn’t recommend trying it unless you are very confident in your singing abilities. If you have the opportunity, definitely try to track down Tuba Skinny. This group plays on the streets of the French Quarter, as well as in venues in the area. It’s a real treat to hear them play their jazz music.
Immersing in the Culture of New Orleans
Immersing myself in the culture is important to me while traveling. I love booking tours led by locals, in order to learn more about a city from their point of view. Everyone we met was so kind, and they were eager to share and discuss their city and their experiences living there. Staying in an Airbnb a few blocks away from the French Quarter allowed me to experience a bit of what “normal” life is like for a New Orleans native.
Glorious Food of New Orleans
New Orleans definitely has some amazing food! I really enjoyed checking out the restaurants and cafes on offer here. One thing to note is that as a vegetarian it can be a little more difficult to find restaurants that have plant based menu items. That being said, there are four (vegetarian friendly) restaurants that I highly recommend. All of these are in the French Quarter.
*Note: While I was first planning my trip to New Orleans, so much of what I read about was food. I think though, one thing that isn’t mentioned as often as it should be is that while the local cuisine – composed of Creole and Cajun style cooking – is fantastic, so is the food in this city overall. I found that even restaurants that didn’t specialize in traditional New Orleans food had (for the most part) great dishes and really good cooking.
My first food recommendation, despite being a cliche, is to try the beignets at Cafe du Monde. There will be a line but it’s worth the wait. The fried dough topped with powdered sugar is incredible. It’s a true New Orleans staple! Make sure you also have a cafe au lait to go along with the beignets.
When visiting New Orleans you need to try a po’ boy sandwich – there are so many po’ boy shops, but I specifically recommend visiting Killer PoBoys. Their sweet potato po’ boy is delicious! It’s also one of the very few places we found that serves a vegetarian version of these sandwiches.
For dinner, I recommend checking out both Sylvain and Cafe Amelie. Both of these restaurants have serene outdoor courtyards. The vibes are far more calm and relaxed than many of the restaurants in the Quarter. Additionally, they both have great vegetarian options! These are my two favorite restaurants in New Orleans and I highly recommend checking them out.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
We stayed in an Airbnb just a few blocks outside of the French Quarter. Our location was perfect! For anyone considering visiting, one of my biggest pieces of advice is to stay near the French Quarter. That is where most of the action and entertainment is. You will want to be as close to the fun as possible, especially if you only have a couple of days in town.
I did like being a couple of blocks outside of the French Quarter though. Being slightly away from the noise of Bourbon Street meant I was still able to get a good night’s sleep. The area felt very safe and there were tons of restaurants and coffee shops nearby. Special shoutout to Olive, which saved me on a couple of occasions when late night food was hard to come by!
We loved our Airbnb. It was beautiful, affordable and we couldn’t have asked for a better location. The Airbnb is the perfect size for two people, and we loved how beautifully it was decorated. Check out the listing here.
Best Memory from New Orleans
I have so many amazing memories from my five day trip to New Orleans, but I think my favorite moment was seeing Tuba Skinny perform in the courtyard of the Royal Frenchmen Hotel. It was an incredible performance and it honestly felt like we were stepping back in time to the early 1900s.
Everyone was enjoying the beautiful music in a gorgeous venue. It was a perfect evening in New Orleans. What made it even more special is that we had been trying to track the group down for the entire time we were in the city and ended up stumbling upon them by chance on our last night.
Need to Know Before you Go
New Orleans is a great city and one that should be on everyone’s bucket list! That said, there are a few things that every traveler should know before visiting. Below you will find my top tips for visiting New Orleans:
- If possible, visit in the spring or fall: New Orleans gets hot and humid during the summer months. I visited in the spring and the weather was perfect: sunny skies and 70-80 degrees. The fall, similarly, has more mild temperatures which can help make your trip more enjoyable.
- Don’t rent a car. New Orleans is a pretty small city and it’s very easy to get around either by walking, with the streetcar or by using Uber. Parking also seems to be a little difficult, especially in the French Quarter. So save yourself time and stress and skip the rental car.
- New Orleans is safe but use common sense. I was told by so many people before my trip to New Orleans that it was a dangerous city. This made me a little nervous about my trip. That said, I felt completely safe walking around alone in all of the major touristy neighborhoods during the day. At night, I recommend staying with a group or taking an Uber.
As I continue my 50 state challenge, I have to say that New Orleans has remained near (if not at the top of) my list of places I have been in the US. The city feels alive and its culture, history and spirit are all encompassing and are what make this place so special. Thanks for allowing me to relive this experience and I hope that this article is helpful to all who are reading!