Last Updated on December 17, 2023
The most populated city in the state of Louisiana, New Orleans is located along the Mississippi River and serves as a major port. It was founded in 1718 by French colonists and is home to approximately 400,000 people.
Best known for its annual Mardi Gras festival, New Orleans has lots to do no matter what time of year you decide to visit. This Southern city is chock-full of food, entertainment, and history, providing something to see and do around every corner.
Eat a Beignet at Cafe du Monde
No visit to New Orleans would be complete without a trip to Café du Monde. They have been baking beignets since 1862, so they definitely know a thing or two about making these powdered sugar treats.
Be aware, the beignets are covered in mounds of powdered sugar, which is next to impossible to keep off your clothing. Don’t wear all black or you’ll spend the day trying to wipe specks off your clothing.
There is often a line outside Cafe du Monde, but if you are willing to take your order to go, you can be in and out in a few minutes. With Jackson Square across the street, there are many places to sit and savor your decadent treat.
Check out Jackson Square
The French Quarter, or Vieux-Carré, is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. A beautiful historic park located in the French Quarter, Jackson Square, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. It is also the site for hundreds of live music events.
The size of a city block, Jackson Square is not very large, but it provides a beautiful green space in the city.
Despotic president Andrew Jackson’s statue sits in the center of the park while Saint Louis Cathedral and two surrounding museums are located on the Northside. Built in 1727, St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States.
Jackson Square is just one small part of the French Quarter. There is still much to explore in this area. It comprises 78 blocks, but don’t worry, I’ll just focus on the must-see items.
As you leave Jackson Square, you should walk along Decatur Street to check out the shopping and dining. If you haven’t had that beignet at Cafe du Monde yet, now’s the time, as it is located here.
If you’re out exploring the city and get hungry, I suggest dining at the Market Cafe in the French Quarter. It’s casual, but really good. We enjoyed traditional Cajun fare here and it was delicious.
Further down Decatur Street is Belle’s Diner, an adorable 50’s diner that has amazing chicken and waffles.
Just downriver from the French Quarter is Frenchmen Street, home to some of New Orleans’ most popular live music venues. With their open container laws, you can grab a beer and stroll along the three-block section, pausing at every open door to listen to the music that floods out onto the street. We did this one evening before settling on the melodic jazz that was coming from The Spotted Cat, where we lingered for an hour before moving along.
Bourbon Street, which is next up on this list, is known for being more touristy, while Frenchmen Street is more authentic and tends to be where the locals hang out. You will find this area has a tendency to lean towards more traditional music and eateries. You’re much less likely to find a cover band here than you are on Bourbon Street.
I found that both areas had their charm and are definitely worth visiting.
Wander Bourbon Street
You simply must wander down historic Bourbon Street with a drink in your hand, if for no reason other than because you can. Numerous bars line this street in the heart of the French Quarter and you can take your drink to-go.
Evenings on Bourbon Street are a must for any visitor. The music scene is varied and there is something for everyone. The house band at Famous Door was so good that we repeatedly ended our nights here.
While New Orleans is a touristy city, it is still a city, so watch your belongings and keep to well-lit streets with lots of people. Wandering too far off the beaten path can get you into trouble after dark, so be safe and stick to well-lit and well-populated areas.
Tour a Cemetery
New Orleans boasts hauntingly beautiful cemeteries. As a city that was built below sea-level, burying their dead was not an option. This lead to elaborate marble crypts being built above ground. There are numerous cemeteries in New Orleans. Some you can tour on your own, while others require you to participate in a guided tour.
The most famous cemetery is St. Louis Cemetery No 1. It is the resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and Homer Plessy, as well as the future resting place of actor Nicholas Cage, who has already purchased his plot and a triangular-shaped gravestone.
In order to visit this cemetery, you must book a tour where a guide will point out each of these sights. I would recommend you wear running shoes, as the ground is rather uneven. There is no shade to take refuge during your tour, so if you are visiting on a hot day you may want to wear a hat and bring some water.
Have a Drink in a Haunted Hotel
In a city with this much history, you know there are going to be some haunted tales. We enjoyed cocktails at one such locale.
Built in 1832, and set inside a classic Creole cottage, Seaworthy restaurant provided not only artisanal cocktails that were lit on fire, but also tales of their resident ghost who is often seen by staff. Sadly, we were not privy to her presence while there, but we were assured by the bartender that many have witnessed her.
Shop on Magazine Street
There is no shortage of shopping in New Orleans, and Magazine Street provides six miles of eclectic shops, restaurants, and bars. You’ll find anything from clothing to pottery to jewelry and more in this area.
As if by design, there are numerous coffee shops and restaurants to pause at along the way, put your feet up, and enjoy a beverage mid-shop. We certainly did!
Magazine Street is the opposite of a shopping mall. Along this street, you will find beautiful homes and stunning architecture amidst the shops and restaurants. What you won’t find are big box stores and chain stores. The majority of the shops are locally-owned, making this the perfect place to grab a unique souvenir.
Walk in the Garden District
The most scenic walk I took while in New Orleans was most definitely through the Garden District. The oak tree-lined streets were stunning. While you can take a guided walking tour, we simply walked the area ourselves. The Lafayette Cemetery is in the Garden District and you can tour this one on your own if you wish.
If you’re a football fan, you’ll not want to miss strolling by the family home of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, as well as the childhood home of his sons Peyton, Eli, and Cooper Manning. The family still lives there and are often seen in the neighborhood.
Go on a Swamp Tour
If you have more than a few days to see New Orleans, then I would highly recommend leaving the downtown core to go on a swamp tour. The Bayou isn’t far; it’s about 25 miles from town and definitely worth the venture.
If you’ve ever wanted to see an alligator in its natural habitat, now’s your chance. You will spot lots of them, but you have to be looking. They hide really well.
As you can see, there are a myriad of things to do while in New Orleans. With more time, one could tour a Plantation, go to a football game, or even catch one of NOLA’s famed festivals.