Heading to New Orleans? This New Orleans travel guide covers everything you need to know to plan the perfect visit ... from the best things to do to places to stay, and everything in between!
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It sounds pretty cheesy, but New Orleans has completely stolen my heart.
My first visit was many (many) years ago. I'd never been anywhere quite like it and absolutely loved the mix of gorgeous architecture, intriguing history, friendly people, and festive atmosphere.
In fact, New Orleans made such a big impression on me that I even got married there!
I've been back many times since my wedding, and at this point, I think it's safe to say that this is one city that will never grow old to me.
Which is why I'm so excited to bring you this New Orleans Travel Guide! My guide is packed with tips to help you prepare for, and make the most of, your trip ... all from someone who's traveled there too many times to count!
New Orleans Travel Guide
A New Orleans vacation is truly what you make of it. If you spend your entire visit in the French Quarter (or worse, on Bourbon Street), then you're going to miss a lot of what the city has to offer. And I don't want you to do that!
This New Orleans guide covers everything from the city's history to fun things to do (and not to do), when to visit, what to eat, safety, and so much more.
One thing I love about the city (and I think you will, too!) is that it's not perfectly preserved. New Orleans is truly a city of contrasts:
- It's historic, yet modern. You'll find lots of history in this city, and it's packed to the gills with tourists. But surprise surprise, people actually live there, too!
- It's beautiful, yet not pristine. Expect things to be a little gritty and rough around the edges.
- It's upscale, yet lowbrow. You'll see people dressed in cocktail attire on their way to a fancy dinner, plus plenty of drunks, too.
This guide was created to help you discover the best parts of the city and plan the perfect trip!
Ready to get started?
Keep scrolling to read the whole guide. Looking for something in particular? Use the links below to navigate:
About NOLA | What's NOLA Known For? | New Orleans Neighborhoods | Things to Do | Best Time to Visit | Weather | How Long to Visit | Getting Around | Food + Drink | Safety | Things NOT to Do | What to Wear | Where to Stay | FAQs
Before we jump into what to do in New Orleans, let's talk a little bit about the city.
New Orleans (pronounced New Or-lins), which was founded by French colonists in 1718, is located on the Mississippi River in the southern U.S. It became part of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and today, it's Louisiana's biggest city and home to almost 400,000 people.
Many things have shaped the city's interesting history, including its:
- Mixture of indigenous people and French / European colonists.
- Importance as a port city.
- Low elevation, which has left it vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding.
- Susceptibility to outbreaks of diseases.
The city has a few nicknames. You may hear it referred to as NOLA (an abbreviation of the city / state) or as the Crescent City, which is due to its location on a bend in the Mississippi.
It's also sometimes referred to as The Big Easy, the origin of which is less clear. It's sometimes attributed to the ease with which black musicians were able to book gigs in the early 20th century (when compared to other parts of the south), the city's laid back pace of life, or the name of a dance hall. It's also been attributed to a 1960s gossip columnist who supposedly coined the term when comparing The Big Easy to The Big Apple.
If you've traveled a lot, you've probably noticed that a lot of places start to look pretty similar. You'll find the same chain stores, restaurants, and strip malls in many U.S. cities.
And while you can find chains in NOLA, the city has a distinctive character that can't be found anywhere else. Here are a few of the things New Orleans is known for:
- Music: New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and you can hear live music on almost any night of the year here.
- Architecture: You'll find a huge variety of homes, from shotgun houses to bungalows, cottages, townhouses, and Antebellum mansions, with styles ranging from Creole to Greek Revival, American Colonial, Victorian, Italianate, and more.
- Food: From beignets to red beans and rice, the city's world-famous food reflects its indigenous Creole population, as well as that of its European colonizers. You'll notice plenty of French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other global influences in the food you enjoy here.
- Nightlife: With bars and live music on seemingly ever corner of the Crescent City, the party never ends. The festive atmosphere is no doubt fueled by the fact that you can take your cocktail with you as you explore the city. Just make sure you have a go cup!
- Festivals: We can't talk about nightlife without mentioning festivals, and New Orleans is known for them. With over 130 festivals each year, there's something for everyone, from Jazz Fest to the ESSENCE Festival, and of course, we can't forget the one that tops them all, Mardi Gras!
- Cemeteries: Unlike many cities, where the dead are buried underground, New Orleans cemeteries are known for their European-style above ground tombs and mausoleums.
New Orleans is a city of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own character.
While not a comprehensive list, here are some of the neighborhoods you may come across on your vacation.
- French Quarter - When first-time visitors think of NOLA, they are often thinking of the French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré (old square). The French Quarter is city's oldest neighborhood. It's known for its beautiful architecture, romantic / bohemian ambiance, nightlife, history, and beloved, classic restaurants. It's also extremely touristy, has lots of tacky souvenir shops, and is full of roaming packs of drunks sporting go cups. C’est la vie! (Fun fact: Algiers Point is NOLA's second oldest neighborhood.)
- Tremé - Located just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter, Tremé is the nation's oldest African American neighborhood. Free people of color could buy land here before they could anywhere else, and the area is home to many Creole cottages and shotgun houses. It's known for Armstrong Park, Congo Square, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the Backstreet Cultural Museum, and more.
- Mid-City - A pleasant, laid back part of the city, Mid-City is very residential and kind of quiet. It's home to lots of tempting restaurants and many cemeteries, which are easily accessed via the Canal Streetcar. Mid-City is also where you'll find City Park, a beautiful, massive park that's home to the wonderful New Orleans Museum of Art. (Fun fact: I got married in City Park under the McDonogh Oak Tree ... see if you can find the plaque!)
- Marigny - The Faubourg Marigny is a predominantly residential neighborhood located east of the French Quarter. Here, you'll find restaurants, bars, and other businesses with an artsy, hipster vibe. One of its main draws is Frenchman Street, a great place to hear live music that's an easy walk from the French Quarter.
- Bywater - This colorful neighborhood is located adjacent to the Marigny, and it's also primarily residential. Explore this hip neighborhood by walking through the new Crescent Park, which is located along the Mississippi River, or enjoying a bite to eat or drink in one of its bars and restaurants.
- Central Business District - The Central Business District, or CBD, is New Orleans' downtown. It's located just across Canal Street from the French Quarter. You'll find Harrah's Casino here, as well as the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center. It's full of restaurants and hotels, and its convenient location makes it a great place to stay if you want to be near, but not in, the French Quarter.
- Warehouse / Arts District - This is one of the areas that has changed the most since I started visiting New Orleans. As its name suggests, it's full of warehouses that have been revamped and turned into homes, businesses, museums, and galleries. It has a more contemporary feel than other parts of the city. You'll find lots to explore here: galleries and business along Julia Street; upscale restaurants; and many museums, including the amazing National WWII Museum and colorful Mardi Gras World.
- Lower Garden District - Between the Warehouse District and the Garden District, you'll find the Lower Garden District. This is a charming, residential area that's very pleasant to walk through. There's not a ton to do here, but you'll find many restaurants, as well as shops along Magazine Street.
- Garden District - Need a break from the French Quarter? Escape to the Garden District which is easily accessible via the St. Charles Streetcar or the Magazine Street bus. This area was originally home to a number of plantations that got divided up and sold in parcels to wealthy Americans who didn’t want to live with the Creoles in the French Quarter. The Garden District is chock a block with gorgeous mansions, and it's best explored on foot (check out my free walking tour to start exploring). You'll also find the easily accessible Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 here.
- Uptown - Didn't get enough mansions in the Garden District? Then, you'll want to check out Uptown! This is a sprawling neighborhood, and the easiest, most scenic way to get around is by taking the St. Charles Streetcar. You'll find many beautiful homes in Uptown, as well as Audubon Park and Zoo, Tulane and Loyola Universities, and tons of shopping and dining on Magazine Street, as well as Oak and Freret Streets.
Now that you know a little more about the city, it's time to start exploring! Or as they say in NOLA, laissez le bon temps rouler ... let the good times roll!
There are so many things to do in New Orleans that it's almost impossible to cover them all in such a small space. I'm working on a comprehensive guide to the best activities, but in the meantime, this list should keep you busy:
- Get Lost in the French Quarter - The French Quarter feels somewhat akin to NYC's Times Square (i,e., swarming with tourists), but it's also where you'll find the greatest concentration of things to do in New Orleans. You have to visit, just don't spend your whole trip there. Make sure to check out Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, walk along the Mississippi River, eat beignets at Cafe DuMonde, wander the colorful streets, and listen to a street musician.
- Listen to Live Music - Speaking of music, there's so much to be found here that you almost don't need to seek it out. Try visiting Frenchman Street, venturing to Preservation Hall or Tipitina's, or for something different, head to Rock 'n' Bowl (which will always have a soft spot in my heart since we had our rehearsal dinner there). Bourbon Street is another option, although the bands can sometimes be cheesy.
- Get Lit on Bourbon Street - Since we're talking about Bourbon Street, if you've never been it's worth a peep. Just be forewarned that it's a total shit show (watch where you step). My advice: grab a Purple Drink from Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (a National Historic Landmark and one of the oldest buildings in the U.S.) and / or a Hurricane from Pat O'Brien's, then leave when it's gone. Not a drinker? Visit during the day or steer clear at all costs!
- Take a Riverboat Cruise - For something a little more refined, take a cruise on the Mississippi. You have two main options: the Steamboat Natchez or the Creole Queen. Both offer different packages, such as daytime cruises or dinner cruises. I've cruised on the Steamboat Natchez, and it was super fun! For a more affordable option, take the Algiers Point Ferry. It only costs a few bucks, and you can explore charming Algiers Point once you cross the river.
- Go Shopping - New Orleans is full of fun shops, from cheesy souvenir stores to upscale boutiques. In the French Quarter, I like visiting the galleries and stores on Royal and Chartres streets, as well as the French Market. If you're looking for more touristy shops, you'll find them on Decatur Street. You'll also find The Shops at Canal Place (a mall) nearby. My favorite place to shop is Magazine Street in the Garden District and Uptown. And if you're a reader, don't missing the many amazing bookstores in New Orleans!
- Stuff Your Face with Amazing Food - You can't visit this city without enjoying a taste of its distinctive cuisine ... red beans and rice, beignets, jambalaya, and so much more. We're going to talk more about what to eat below, so keep reading.
- Get a Drink to Go - It's legal to drink in public in New Orleans, although your drink needs to be in a plastic "go cup" (no glass bottles allowed). You can also pick up a drink at a drive through daiquiri stand. Just keep in mind that drinking and driving (and public drunkenness) are still crimes.
- Enjoy the Amazing Architecture - One the things that makes the city unique is its gorgeous architecture. As you explore, you'll see a huge variety of homes, from narrow shotgun houses to sprawling Antebellum mansions. Make sure to spend at least some of your vacation checking out the colorful homes.
- Ride the Streetcars - The city boasts four streetcar lines, and they're an excellent (and charming) way to get around. Depending on which line you take, you could be heading through the oak-lined streets of Uptown and the Garden District or toward the cemeteries in Mid-City.
- Get Cultured at a Museum - There is a museum for everyone in the Crescent City! Are you a history buff? Don't miss the National WWII Museum. Want to learn more about Mardi Gras? Head to Mardi Gras World or the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Have kids? They'll enjoy the Audubon Zoo or the Aquarium of the Americas. Looking for something a little offbeat? Then, you'll love the Pharmacy Museum and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Are you an art lover? Then, you'll enjoy the New Orleans Museum of Art or the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
- Escape the Crowds in a Park - Need a break from the crowded French Quarter? Find the perfect escape in one of NOLA's lovely parks. Stroll along the Mississippi in Woldenberg or Crescent Park, walk under the massive oak trees in City Park or Audubon Park, bike along the Lafitte Greenway, wander around Armstrong Park, visit one of the many sights in the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, or simply seek out a shady spot in Jackson Square.
- Visit a City of the Dead - You can't travel to NOLA without checking out its beautiful cemeteries (aka Cities of the Dead). Because the city sits below sea level, the dead are buried in above-ground tombs or mausoleums. You can visit most cemeteries on your own for free. The one exception is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where you'll need to join a tour (it's worth it!). I really like Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is easy to access in the Garden District and safe to walk around. If you want to check out a bunch of cemeteries, then take the Canal Streetcar marked "Cemeteries" to the end, and you'll be within walking distance of quite a few.
- Attend a Festival or Event - As a city renowned for its nightlife, it's not surprising that NOLA boasts over 130 festivals a year. Some of the biggest, most popular ones include Jazz Fest, French Quarter Festival, ESSENCE Festival, Oyster Festival, and of course, Mardi Gras. There's a festival almost every weekend, so there's something for everyone.
- Join the Party at Mardi Gras - Speaking of festivals, Mardi Gras is the one on everyone's bucket list! Carnival season starts 12 days after Christmas, culminates on Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday, and ends on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, but no place does it quite like New Orleans! Throughout the season, Krewes (private membership organizations) put on dozens of elaborate parades. Plan ahead if you want to visit NOLA during Mardi Gras, because hotels fill up! Can't make it to Mardi Gras? No worries ... you can see the amazing floats at Mardi Gras World instead.
- Pretend You're a Local - Are you looking for a more low-key experience? Spend your time exploring neighborhoods outside the French Quarter. There's plenty of charm to be found throughout the city. So rent a Blue Bike or explore on foot ... Bywater, Mid-City, Uptown, and the Lower Garden District all have their charms!
- Catch a Game - Sports fans will find lots to love here! Of course, the Saints catch most of the limelight. But the city also has the Pelicans pro basketball team and a semi-pro soccer team, the Jesters.
Take a Tour
Want to get the most out of your trip? Consider taking a tour. The city has a truly interesting history, and a great guide will add so much helpful context to your vacation!
For starters, a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour is an easy way to see lots of sights. You may also want to take a walk through history on a Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery Tour, explore the dark side of New Orleans on a Ghost, Voodoo, and Vampire Tour, or eat your way through the city on a Famous Flavors of the French Quarter Walking Tour.
Have a little extra time on your hands? You'll find lots to see on a day trip. Explore the bayou on a Swamp and Boat Tour or check out the nearby plantations. If you do visit a plantation, plan your trip with care. Many tours focus on the beauty of the mansions, while glossing over the horrors of slavery. I recommend taking a tour of Whitney Plantation, which is dedicated to promoting an understanding of slavery in Louisiana.
Now that you know what to do in New Orleans, you may be wondering what the best time to visit is.
The most popular time to visit New Orleans is from February through May. Those months feature cooler weather and lots of festivals, like Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. However, I think anytime from October through May is a good time to visit. Fall and spring are generally pleasant, and winter is short and mild.
Not planning to attend Mardi Gras? Avoid the weekend before and the days leading up to Fat Tuesday. The city will be thronged with people, hotel prices will be high, and you'll have hard time getting around due to street / public transportation closures. Same thing for Jazz Fest.
While summer isn't the best time to visit NOLA weather-wise (it gets miserably hot and humid), it is a great time to find travel deals. Coolinary (which offers affordable pre fixe menus at many city restaurants) also takes place in summer, and August August is Museum Month (buy one museum membership, then get free admission to many more).
There's a saying that New Orleans is the northermost Caribbean city, so that should tell you something about the weather.
NOLA has a subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and short, mild winters. It's also one of the rainiest cities in the U.S., averaging 59 rainy days and 64 inches of rain a year. That’s more than Seattle!
July and August are the hottest months, and January is the coldest. It doesn't get all that cold in winter, but it does got steamy hot in summer. Like dripping in sweat hot ... something to keep in mind when planning your visit.
New Orleans is one of those amazing cities where you can return again and again (like I have) and still not see everything. So how long is the perfect visit?
If it's your first time, three days (or a long weekend) is enough time to get a feel for the city. You'll be able to see the biggest attractions, indulge in plenty of delicious food, and partake in the city's renowned nightlife.
However, five days (or a full week) would be even better. You'll be able to enjoy the city at a more leisurely pace, take a day trip (or two) out of the city, and can truly embrace that laid back NOLA life!
You may be wondering ... do you need a car to visit New Orleans?
You definitely don't need a car to visit New Orleans. In fact, it can be a pain in the butt. For one thing, parking is very expensive, and at most hotels, you'll need to wait for valet to bring your car around. Which can take a loooong time on weekends, especially during check out on a Sunday.
The good news is that NOLA is very walkable, and you can also use the streetcar, buses, bikes, and Uber / Lyft. Here are some tips for getting around:
- Walking - You can get pretty much anywhere in the French Quarter on foot. It's fun to explore other neighborhoods this way too, once you get there. Just keep in mind that the weather tends toward hot and humid, so you'll want take breaks to escape the heat.
- Public Transporation (Streetcars / Buses) - If you're planning to take public transportation, I'd highly recommend downloading the GoMobile app ... it makes buying tickets so simple. Then, purchase a Jazzy Pass. A one day pass is just $3.00, and it's valid for 24 hours (multi-day passes are also available). If you don't want to download the app, you will need to have exact change when boarding a bus or streetcar ($1.25 per ride).
- Bikes - Biking is another excellent way to get around NOLA. The city's bike share program is called Blue Bikes, and it's really affordable to use ($0.15/minute or $25.00/month). You'll find other places to rent bikes too, and you can also take bike tours which is a great way to explore the city.
- Uber / Lyft - Just like in most other U.S. cities, you can use your Uber or Lyft app to find a driver. This is my preferred way to get around after dark.
Getting To / From the Airport
If you are flying into New Orleans, you will be landing at Louis Armstrong International Airport. From there, you have a few options for getting into the city (prices are subject to change):
- Airport Shuttle - Look for Airport Shuttle signs outside the luggage area. It costs $24.00 one-way or $44.00 round trip (kids under 6 ride free) and will take you to / from French Quarter, Downtown, and Uptown hotels, the Convention Center, cruise ship terminals, and more. Purchase tickets at the airport or in advance. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are also available, but must be booked one week in advance.
- Taxi - You'll find a taxi stand outside the airport. The fare is $36.00 each way for up to two people to the French Quarter / CBD. Additional people are $15.00 each and bags are $1.00 each.
- Uber / Lyft - Ride share pick up is located on the bottom level of the airport parking lot (across the street from baggage claim). Trips to or from the airport (that begin and end in Orleans Parish) start at $33.
- Bus - Want to save a few bucks? Take the RTA 202 Airport Express. The fare is only $1.50, and it makes 9 daily trips to New Orleans.
- Car Rental - The car rental center is located in a separate building, and you'll need to take the free shuttle (located in front of the Long Term Parking Garage) to get there. A shuttle ride typically takes 15 to 20 minutes, although it's taken us up to 30 minutes in traffic. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time when returning your car.
Traveling Outside the City
Food and Drink
We can't talk about NOLA without mentioning the food. This city is known for its cuisine, which is a one-of-a-kind blend of Creole, French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other global influences.
Food culture runs deep, and the city is overflowing with classic restaurants like Commanders Palace, Antoine's, Galatoire's, and Brennan's (to name a few!). You'll find everything from upscale classics to more casual joints.
A few of the foods that New Orleans is know for:
- Beignets - This yummy treat is a fried dough square topped with a liberal amount of powdered sugar. My favorite place to indulge in beignets is at Cafe du Monde, but you'll find them at other places, too (such as Cafe Beignet and Morning Call). By the way, it's pronounced ben-yays. Pro tip: Make sure to order a Cafe au Lait to wash them down, and do not exhale while eating. Unless you want to be covered with powdered sugar, that is!
- Po-Boy - The po-boy (or poboy / po' boy) is a sandwich made on chewy French bread. They come with a variety of fillings, usually seafood or meat. My fave spot is Killer PoBoys in the French Quarter (which also has vegetarian / vegan options), but you'll find them all over the city.
- Muffaletta - A muffaletta (or muffuletta) is a sandwich made with a large round loaf of bread and filled with layers of meats, cheese, and with olive salad. The place to go for these tempting sandwiches is Central Grocery in the French Quarter, though I also love the hot muffaletta (vegetarian available!) served at Katie's in Mid-City. Unless you haven't eaten in a week, don't get a full sandwich ... they are huge! Can't make it to NOLA to try one? Make my Vegetarian Muffaletta instead!
- Oysters - If you're an oyster lover, you've come to the right spot. You'll find oysters served on the half shell, charbroiled, or even stuffed in a po-boy. Check out this guide to the best oysters to find your spot.
- Red Beans and Rice - This simple dish was traditionally served on Mondays, which was wash day. It was a quick meal to throw together using the previous day's rice. If you're in the French Quarter, queue up at Mother's, otherwise, stop by Joey K's to get your fill. And vegetarians beware ... this dish is almost always made with sausage.
- Gumbo - This popular stew usually features a combination of meats (and / or seafood) and vegetables is a boldly-flavored sauce. There are a few different varieties, including Gumbo z'Herbes which is made with greens. Dooky Chase's is a well-known spot to grab a bowl, but there are lots of other popular options, too.
- Jambalaya - Jambalaya is another wildly popular dish. It's a combination of meats, seafood, and veggies mixed with rice, and you'll find it served all over. Join the line at Mother's to indulge.
- Etouffee - This favorite dish consists of seafood or chicken smothered in a thick sauce. It's typically served over rice. Try it at Bon Ton Cafe or Luizza's by the Track.
- Turtle Soup - A soup or stew made with, you guessed it, turtle. Commanders Palace is known for their Turtle Soup, so don't leave there without trying it.
- Fried Chicken - Sure, you can get fried chicken anywhere, but New Orleans has some of the best. Willie Mae's Scotch House and Dooky Chase's are where it's at.
- Lagniappe - Lagniappe means “a little something extra”. You'll often see sides or appetizers listed on a menu like this, or it may mean getting 13 oysters when you ordered a dozen (or something similar). It's pronounced LAN-yap.
- Pralines - These sugary-sweet confections are made with lots of sugar, cream, butter, and pecans. They might makes your teeth hurt, but you'll want to try one anyway. Read more about the history of the praline.
- Sno-Balls - The sno-ball (or snowball) is shaved ice topped with flavored syrup. This sweet, refreshing treat has been a New Orleans favorite since the 1930s ... try one at Williams Plum Street Snowballs or Hansen's Sno-Bliz.
- King Cake - King Cake is a sweet, round cake served during Mardi Gras. It's usually topped with frosting and green, purple, and gold sugar ... although more creative versions abound. Most cakes have a plastic baby figurine inside, and whoever finds it will be blessed with luck and prosperity, plus they'll be in charge of throwing the next party (or providing next year's cake). I've tried quite a few, and in my opinion, Dong Phuong's version is hard to beat. Want to do your own taste test? This King Cake guide is a good starting point.
- Cocktails - The party never seems to end in the Crescent City, so it's not a surprise that the city is home to a number of classic cocktails. While you're there, take time to sip on a Sazerac, Milk Punch, Ramos Gin Fizz, Vieux Carré, Hurricane, or French 75 (my fave, which was created at Arnaud's), to name a few. You may also want to stop by Commanders Palace for their 25¢ martini lunch.
Traveling with a group of picky eaters? Food halls are wonderful option, and New Orleans has two great ones: St. Roch Market and Pythian Market.
Vegetarian + Vegan Options
As you can probably guess from reading these descriptions, New Orleans can be a hard town for vegetarians and vegans ... although it has gotten so much better! Check out my guide to the Best Vegetarian-Friendly New Orleans Restaurants before you go for lots of veggie-friendly options.
New Orleans certainly isn't the safest city in the U.S., but that doesn't mean that it's not safe to travel there.
I've traveled to this city countless times, and have never been a victim of a crime. Using common sense is the best thing you can do to stay safe ... just like you would in any other city.
- Trust your instincts! If you feel unsafe, then turnaround, cross the street, walk up to group of people and pretend they're your friends, or pop into a local business. Don't worry about being nice or polite, just get yourself out of the situation.
- Don't walk alone at night. Unless you're in a well-populated area that's full of people, take an Uber to get where you're going at night.
- Use the buddy system. Walk around with a friend (or two), especially at night. Despite this advice, I have to admit that I've wandered all over the city on my own (during the day) ... so find your own comfort zone.
- Do not fall for con games. As you walk through the French Quarter, random dudes on street corners will try to engage you. Just keep walking. If someone says they bet they know where you got your shoes, or if someone tries to hand you something, don't stop.
- Wear a crossbody bag or put your wallet in your front pocket. Getting pickpocketed is probably the biggest crime risk, especially in crowded areas like the French Quarter. Always keep a tight eye on your possessions.
- Avoid wearing flashy jewelry. Don't make yourself a mark for petty crime.
- Keep your wits about you! If you're drunk and stumbling through an empty street, you might as well have a target on your back. Have fun, but always be aware of your surroundings.
Okay, now that you know what to do in New Orleans, let's talk about what not to do! A lot of this is common sense, but I feel it still needs to be said. DO NOT:
- Be rude to service industry people. NOLA is a city built around the hospitality industry. Sure, people can sometimes be a little salty, but you might be too if you dealt with so many tourists and drunks on a daily basis. However, if you're kind to them, most likely you'll experience plenty of good, old southern hospitality in return.
- Forget to tip. Did you know that New Orleans waiters make as little as $2.13 an hour? Tips are required! If you can't afford to tip, then you can't afford to get a drink, eat out, or go on a tour. Start at 20% and go up from there, depending on how good the service was.
- Litter. Remember that people actually live here. Don't treat the city like your own personal trash can.
- Forget to ask locals for advice. Did you strike up a conversation with a local? Ask them for advice about their favorite restaurants and other spots. Most likely, they'll direct you to something that's a little off the beaten path.
- Walk around with a glass bottle. Sure you can take your drink with you, but it needs to be a plastic cup.
- Try to drive everywhere. Unless you have mobility issues, you really don't need a car. Forget the hassle of trying to park, valet parking will cost you a fortune. Try walking, biking, or taking public transportation (you know, those adorable streetcars?) instead.
- Forget to step outside your comfort zone. This is one place you can truly let your hair down, so laissez le bon temps rouler ... let the good times roll!
- Spend too much time on Bourbon Street. Unless you've just turned 21, or you really like hanging out with a lot of drunks, Bourbon Street really isn't that fun. Grab a Hurricane or Daiquiri, check it out, then spend your time elsewhere.
- Forget to pace yourself. Yes, you can walk around NOLA with a drink in hand, but that's no excuse to get out of control. Don't be the person that pukes on Bourbon Street, just don't. It bears mentioning, too: public drunkenness and driving while drunk are both crimes.
- Spend your whole trip in the French Quarter. There is soooo much to see in the city beyond the French Quarter. Don't spend your entire trip there.
- Walk alone after dark. For your safety, always walk with a buddy at night. You'll also want to avoid deserted streets ... use Uber / Lyft as needed.
- Forget to make reservations. New Orleans is one of those cities that's always busy, which means that restaurant you just have to try may have a long wait. Reserve your spot ahead of time, and for those places that don't take reservations, queue up early.
- Wait in a huge line at Cafe du Monde. Although beignets at Cafe du Monde should be on any NOLA bucket list, there's no reason to wait in a huge line. It's open 24 hours ... go early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds.
Wondering what to wear in New Orleans? You can dress pretty casually and fit right in. Shorts or a dress during summer will keep you cool, and light layers in winter will keep you warm.
Keep in mind that you do need to dress up for all those fancy restaurants, especially the old school ones. Shorts and a ratty t-shirt won't get you in at Commander's Palace! Men should wear a jacket, and ladies, this is your chance to wear a cute outfit.
Since you'll probably be walking a lot, make sure to dress comfortably. Sidewalks tend to be very uneven, so spiky heels are out unless you're going straight from hotel to Uber.
New Orleans also gets lots of rain, so bring an umbrella just in case. And keep in mind that the French Quarter can be very dirty. You may want to avoid flimsy sandals if you don't want to get your feet dirty.
Other things to bring: a hat or sunscreen, and in summer, extra clothes and underwear so you can shower again before going out at night. Like I've mentioned a few times, it gets hot!
Where to stay is one of the most important considerations when planning your trip! Things to keep in mind when choosing a New Orleans hotel:
- Cost - What is your budget? You'll find everything from hostels to 5 star hotels in NOLA. Not to mention, lots of Airbnb's.
- Location - Consider your hotel's location carefully, as it can have a big impact on your visit. Where do you plan to spend most of your time?
- Tolerance for Drunk People - Do not, I repeat do not, get a hotel on Bourbon Street. Unless you must be in on the action and have a high tolerance for noise and / or puke right outside your hotel's door.
- Parking Situation - If you are driving, parking should definitely be a consideration. Consider the cost of valet parking carefully. And keep in mind that at larger hotels in the French Quarter, waiting for the valet to bring your car around on a Sunday can take a looong time.
Here are a few options (just the tip of the iceberg, really), and I'd recommend comparison shopping on TripAdvisor, too. The reviews are super helpful, especially when you're unfamiliar with the city and unsure where to start.
French Quarter Hotels
If you're planning to stay in the French Quarter, be prepared to embrace the lively atmosphere (at all hours of the day).
- Chateau LeMoyne French Quarter – This is one of my favorite places to stay in the French Quarter. It's a Holiday Inn, but it feels like a boutique hotel. The rooms have many unique elements, and there’s a pretty courtyard pool area. It’s located on a quieter street, yet the French Quarter is just outside its doors.
- Hotel Monteleone - This beautiful hotel is located on Royal Street, one of the best shopping streets in New Orleans. It's an elegant, upscale choice and well-known for its iconic, revolving Carousel Bar. The Vieux Carré cocktail was invented here, and Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Truman Capote were all customers.
- Soniat House - If you prefer smaller hotels, consider the Soniat House. This charming hotel is beautifully furnished and features a lush, tropical courtyard ... perfect for escaping the madness of the French Quarter for a moment.
- Astor Crowne Plaza French Quarter – You'll find the Astor Crowne Plaza conveniently located on Canal Street and just around the corner from (but thankfully, not on) Bourbon Street. If you're leaving on a Sunday, get your car early, because valet parking gets very busy.
CBD / Warehouse District Hotels
If you want to be close to the action, but not right in it, the Central Business District / Warehouse District is a great option. It's much quieter than the French Quarter, which is still within walking distance.
- Hotel Fontenot - I love this super stylish hotel! The rooms are spacious, and it's got a great location that walkable to the French Quarter, museums, and so much more.
- Q & C - The Q & C (or Queen & Crescent, as it was known back in the day) will always have a piece of my heart. I've stayed here a number of times, including when I got married. It's since had a major renovation. The location is perfect, too ... just close enough to the French Quarter!
- ACE Hotel - If you're looking for a cool, hipster vibe, the ACE is a great option. The rooms feature modern decor and fun touches, like record players. And you'll be within walking distance of everything the Warehouse District has to offer.
- The Mercantile Hotel - This all-suites hotel started its life as a sugar refinery. The boutique style rooms have lots of character and fun vintage touches, like brick walls. Great location with everything in walking distance.
Garden District Hotels
Want to escape the French Quarter completely? Then the Garden District is for you! You'll be surrounded by beautiful mansions and ancient oak trees.
- Hotel Indigo Garden District - This hotel has a fun, modern vibe. It's also steps from the St. Charles Streetcar, making it a super convenient starting point for exploring the Garden District, French Quarter, and Uptown.
- The Pontchartrain Hotel - An upscale hotel that's also located steps from the streetcar, The Pontchartrain's rooms are elegant with old school touches and European flair. The hotel's rooftop Hot Tin bar has amazing views of the city!
- Henry Howard Hotel - A boutique hotel set in a historic double gallery mansion? Sounds like the perfect escape to me! The charming rooms feature unique touches, like fireplaces, four poster beds, and musical instruments as decor.
- Hotel Saint Vincent - This lovely hotel, which used to be a shabby guest house back in the day, has had a major glow up! The decor is classic, but with an eclectic, trendy twist.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
I hope you enjoyed reading this New Orleans travel guide! NOLA truly is one of my favorite cities. If you're planning a trip and have any questions that I didn't answer in this visitors guide, please reach out. I'd love to help!
First time visitors to New Orleans should explore the French Quarter, ride the St. Charles streetcar, try some Creole and Cajun food, take a riverboat cruise, check out the World War II Museum (or another museum), get beignets and a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, walk around the Garden District, go shopping on Royal or Magazine Street, listen to live music, order a cocktail to go, and visit City Park (or Audubon Park).
The best time to visit New Orleans is during the cooler months, generally from October to May. Many people prefer to visit the city between February and May when a lot of festivals, like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, take place. If you want to save money, consider visiting during summer ... just keep in mind it will be very hot and humid.
First time visitors to New Orleans should plan on spending at least three days in the city. That will give you enough time to see the major sites. If you have more time, five to seven days will allow you to see more and to take a day trip or two.
As long as you stick to well-populated areas, the French Quarter is generally safe to walk around at night. Walk in groups of two or more and avoid deserted streets late at night.
Bourbon Street is generally safe as long as you keep your wits about you. Don't get so drunk that you don't know what's going on or can't keep track of your belongings. Always keep your eye on your drink, and use the buddy system, especially at night.
The nicest parts of New Orleans are the CBD / Warehouse District, the Lower Garden District, the Garden District, Uptown, Mid-City, Marigny, and Bywater.
You do not need a car to get around New Orleans, especially is you stay somewhere centrally located, like the French Quarter or the CBD / Warehouse District. Use the streetcar, bus, bikes, or Uber / Lift to get between neighborhoods.
New Orleans is very walkable, especially in centrally located areas like the French Quarter and the CBD / Warehouse District. From there, it's easy to get to other neighborhoods using the streetcar, bus, bikes, or Uber / Lift. If you have any sort of mobility issue, NOLA can be tricky though. The sidewalks are generally in very poor condition, for example. It's also very hot during summer, which can make walking around unpleasant.
A trip to New Orleans can be as expensive or as cheap as you'd like it to be! If you pick your hotel carefully and stick to more affordable restaurants, it's fairly easy to stick to a budget. If you stay at a fancy hotel and eat at all the best restaurants, then the sky's the limit.