New Orleans is a city that's easy to love and hard to leave. Whether you’re a history buff, an adventurous foodie or just looking to kick-back with a southern cocktail, the Big Easy offers endless unique experiences. Only got two days to spare? With help from our Lonely Planet guidebook, we’ve put together a handy itinerary that will help you make the most of them.
Breakfast: Cafe Du Monde
This may feel like your typical tourist trap, but once you have a taste of their smooth, dark-roasted coffee and famous beignets topped with powdered sugar, you’ll understand why so many people give into the hype. Service may be slow at times, but the experience is one-of-a-kind and costs less than $5, making this a must stop if you find yourself in the Crescent City. Don’t forget to bring your dolla-dolla-bills y’all– this breakfast spot is cash-only!
Lonely Planet Tip: Take your coffee and beignets to-go and enjoy breakfast on the lawn of Jackson Square rather than inside the crowded cafe.
Explore #1: French Quarter
As the oldest, and arguably most famous, neighborhood in New Orleans, the French Quarter is definitely a top sight for your visit. Considered the cultural hub of NOLA, you’ll notice the French, Spanish, Creole, and American inspired architecture decorating the streets at all ends. Bourbon Street and Royal Street are filled with great places to eat, drink and be merry, but we also recommend wandering through the Quarter without a destination in mind so that you can really enjoy the high energy of this neighborhood.
Lonely Planet Tip: Keep your trip to this area short if your goal is to meet the locals and steer clear of the tourists.
Explore #2: St. Louis Cathedral & Jackson Square
It’s quintessential New Orleans! With the St. Louis Cathedral, Andrew Jackson statue, and dozens of palm trees lining the square, it’s easy to understand why our Lonely Planet guide described this attraction as a “Paris-meets-the-Caribbean fantasy”. The triple-spired cathedral is dedicated to Louis IX and exudes the perfect mixture of French architecture and southern charm. As the self-proclaimed art-mecca of the city, there’s not an area in Jackson Square that isn’t filled with jazz performers, fortune tellers, artists, and more! Soak up the celebratory-vibes of New Orleans while gazing at the magnificent backdrop of Louisiana’s most famous town square.
Lunch: Johnny’s Po Boys
If you’re visiting New Orleans, it’s pretty hard not to try the notorious Po Boy sandwich. Johnny’s is always packed with tourists and locals alike, and for good reason! From alligator to shrimp to catfish to roast beef, the choices are endless. Yes, there will most likely be a line out the door, but it moves fast and is definitely worth the wait. Our Lonely Planet guidebook put it best, “Good food served by good folks.”
Lonely Planet Tip: Too early for lunch? Johnny’s Po Boys also offers delicious breakfast options!
Explore #3: Louis Armstrong Park
It’s time to get away from the crowds! Head over to the Treme neighborhood, where you can visit the park created in honor of the famous jazz musician and one of New Orleans’ most idolized icons, Louis Armstrong. Complete with fountains, ponds, statues, art installations, and gigantic trees, this 32-acre park is only a 12-minute walk from the HI New Orleans hostel and is a perfect spot to take a nice walk, have a picnic, or just take a load off your feet. Get a quick history lesson by walking through Congo Square, also located inside the park.
Lonely Planet Tip: Be on the lookout for the large, white arched entrance of the park. Designed with the Jazz Age in mind, it’s the perfect place to snap an Instagram-worthy photo with your friends.
Explore #4: Backstreet Cultural Museum
If you thought Mardi Gras was just about beads and beer, then you’re in for quite the surprise when you visit this local attraction. The Backstreet Cultural Museum, tucked in a residential neighborhood within Treme, takes you inside the rituals of the Mardi Gras Indians and the Second Line parades that occur throughout the year. While the museum itself isn’t very big, every inch of it contains a piece of history from the local African American culture in New Orleans. Admission is $10, cash only!
Lonely Planet Tip: Be sure to ask for information about upcoming Second Lines so you can check one out for yourself.
Dinner: Coop’s Place
Rabbit jambalaya, Cajun shrimp, and seafood gumbo, oh my! This hole-in-the-wall place is a gold mine for authentic Cajun food at a reasonable price. Don’t be alarmed by its chaotic, dive-bar vibe and slightly snarky servers. Simply go for the food and the atmosphere and you won’t be disappointed.
Lonely Planet Tip: Make sure everyone you’re with is at least 21 years old, or you won’t be allowed inside.
After Hours: Bourbon Street
A visit to New Orleans is incomplete without a stop at Bourbon Street. There’s something for everyone, from clubs with all kinds of live music and DJs to low key dive bars with good food and interesting people. It's difficult to choose a bad bar on this strip so pick out a neon sign that suits your fancy and head on in.
Lonely Planet Tip: Ask for a “go cup” when you're ready to cruise to the next place and feel free to walk down the street! It's legal in New Orleans.
Explore #1: St. Charles Avenue Streetcar
For only $1.25, the St. Charles Streetcar is the easiest and cheapest way to explore the different neighborhoods of New Orleans. And as the oldest operating streetcar system in the world, you’ll get a small bite of history just by heading to your next destination. All lines run along or intersect with Canal Street so find your closest stop and hop onboard! Pay the $1.25 fare with exact change when you board or purchase a “Jazzy Pass”.
Lonely Planet Tip: Invest in a “Jazzy Pass”, which has a silly name but gives you unlimited rides on streetcars and buses for one ($3) or three ($9) days.
Breakfast: The Ruby Slipper Cafe, Uptown
If you pop into this restaurant and see a line out the door...WAIT! It’s well worth it. From the friendly staff to whimsical Wizard of Oz decor, you’ll get a one-of-a-kind experience the moment you walk in. We recommend getting a coffee or a boozy morning drink, along with eggs benedict (served on a biscuit!) or their infamous Banana Fosters. PS: If you thought you’d seen a large serving size, this place takes the (King) cake.
Lonely Planet Tip: Try to get in early for breakfast, the Ruby Slipper fills up fast!
Explore #2: Lafayette Cemetery
The Lafayette Cemetery is absolutely to die for, if you’re into old cemeteries. Just one block off St. Charles Avenue, this burial ground is famous for its above-ground tombstones and Southern gothic designs. Wander through and discover its history and character, dating back to 1833.
Lonely Planet Tip: Be on the lookout for the large, communal tombs built by fraternal organizations, such as the Jefferson Fire Company No 22.
Lunch/Snack: District Donuts
While many locals may recommend this as their favorite breakfast joint for your sweet-tooth, we think the decadent sliders are the real stars of the show. Since you may not be hungry after that gigantic meal from Ruby Slipper, District Donuts is the ideal place to grab a lighter lunch and revive yourself from the NOLA heat. Tip to the wise, the ‘brew’ here is just coffee, not beer.
Lonely Planet Tip: Be sure to order the Fried Oyster Slider if it’s available.
Explore #3: Magazine Street & Garden District
Filled with a variety of restaurants, antique shops, and mom-and-pop businesses, Magazine Street surely has a personality of its own. It's the perfect place to go off the beaten path, steer clear of the crowds, and experience a different side of New Orleans culture. For architecture fanatics, take a stroll in the Garden District to view the grand columned mansions and large oak trees, encased behind intricate fences built in the 1800s.
Lonely Planet Tip: Take a good multi-mile window shopping hike from Audubon Park to Louisiana Ave.
Dinner: Bacchanal Wine
Don’t judge this place by its exterior. From the outside, it looks like a run-down shack, but the inside looks like a rustic wine cellar. When you walk in, you can select your bottle of wine and grab any meats and cheeses to create your own cheese plate. Then, go find a seat in their garden courtyard draped with colorful lights, and enjoy the live, funky jazz music after a long day of exploring. There’s also a wide range of small plates and other tapas-style offerings for dinner. Bacchanal Wine is the ideal place to relax and experience the slow-paced, southern lifestyle of New Orleans locals. It’s located in the Bywater neighborhood, so a taxi or ride-share is the best way to get there.
Lonely Planet Tip: BACON-WRAPPED DATES. Enough said.
Explore #4: Frenchmen Art Market
Don’t waste your time getting trinkets at the souvenir shops. If you’re a fan of local art and want to take a piece home with you, this night time-only market is the place to be. String lights and lively music create the perfect ambiance for this quaint outdoor space. You’ll find everything from paintings to jewelry and can even talk to the artists about their work and inspirations for it.
Lonely Planet Tip: You can find its second location at 2231 St Claude Ave.
After Hours: Frenchmen Street
Bourbon Street may be for the tourists but Frenchmen Street is where you’ll experience the real New Orleans like a local. This area has an endless selection of bars with live jazz bands and an array of diverse food options to choose from. Bonus: it’s also less crowded making it the perfect place to sit down, have a meal and enjoy the live tunes.
Lonely Planet Tip: If you’re craving live reggae-blues music and dancing that goes along with it, Cafe Negril is definitely your one-stop-shop.
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