If you’ve never been to New Orleans (NOLA, if you will) then hearing the city name probably brings to mind Mardi Gras, drinking in the street, the Saints and jazz music. While those are all on offer in NOLA, with a little planning, the city can surprise you. With that being said, keep reading for the ultimate do’s and don’t’s for your first trip to New Orleans!
….get out of the French Quarter! It’s beautiful and charming but also super touristy and can get a little rowdy (like “I just turned 21” rowdy)….especially Bourbon Street.
While you should see it at least once during your stay, you should know that New Orleans has a lot to offer outside of the French Quarter. There are so many neighborhoods worth visiting on your stay – Bywater & Marigny, Arts District, the Garden District AKA Uptown, Downtown and more!
If you’re looking for bars and jazz, but want to pass on the I’m-wasted-with-a-comemorative-cup-of-grain-alcohol-stumbling-down-the-street crowd, then please head to Frenchmen Street!
This street is the grownup version of Bourbon Street and has so, so many amazing things to offer. Night art markets, delicious food options, bars and live music on any given night. It’s not to be missed!
…..overlook public transportation. Don’t skip the trolley! You can get an all day on/off pass via the RTA app for $3.00 and it’s good for all lines. You can do a DIY Garden District tour to gawk at the mansions, take the trolley down to Canal and head towards any of the famous cemeteries (just know that you’ll need a guide to get into St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 so plan ahead). You’ll also save $15 (or more!) by taking the hotel shuttle from the airport (if you’re staying in the French Quarter) vs. Uber or Lyft. Tickets are $24 one way and can be purchased near the baggage claim.
….stay healthy and comfortable! If you’re traveling in the summer, like I did, you need to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. This is especially important if you’re knocking back some delicious cocktails on your stay! In addition to drinking plenty of water you’ll want to bring a comfortable pair of shoes and/or sandals for all the walking you’ll be doing.
Save the stilettos for another destination because the cobbled streets and sidewalks you’ll find in a lot of NOLA are not high heel friendly. Finally, a trip must for any destination: a good sunblock.
….forget to do a day trip! While staying close to the French Quarter might seem like a good idea (even the above mentioned neighborhoods are all a 10 minute Uber or less) you’d be missing out.
From New Orleans you can book a day (or half day!) tour of swamps, plantations and more! On a recent trip I did a half day tour that included the Destrehan Plantation and a swamp tour. If I’m being completely honest, the plantation tour was a bit of a disappointment save for the Slave Revolt of 1811 museum (the reason I chose this particular plantation). I think it’s important to not gloss over the dark parts of the history of the south and unfortunately parts of the tour did just that. The saving grace of this tour was the separate museum dedicated to the Slave Revolt of 1811 with a very knowledgeable and informative guide.
After wrapping up the plantation tour the bus took us to a swamp tour boat launch, complete with beer for purchase (I mean, when in Rome….). Our captain, Tony, was a legitimate Cajun who talked about fishing for gators, his home in the bayou and eating all manner of creatures (snake, raccoon, etc.). The tour was entertaining and we saw a bunch of gators, birds, turtles and raccoons. I also learned that gators like marshmallows. Who knew?
…..get sucked in to all the touristy spots! Yes, the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone is adorable and iconic, and Café Du Monde is all anyone talks about. But do you feel like waiting an hour or more for your machine made beignets? Want to walk into the bar and have it be standing room only?
With so much on offer you should consider branching out and skipping over some of the major “must see” attractions (unless, of course, you have a ton of time or only want to do those things, in which case have fun!).
You can find handmade beignets at Café Beignet (and skip the one on Decatur – Royal is where you should go!) or beignets with dipping sauces at the Ritz Carlton bar (it’s a local secret).
And while there aren’t any other bars like the Carousel Bar you’ll find delicious craft cocktails and ambience at a dozen other bars in the area that also have seats available. So snap your photo of the bar (like I did) before walking out, grab a bag of beignets to go and enjoy your stay!
….plan ahead! Not talking about scheduling every hour of your trip but organize your list into three categories:
1. Must See
2. Nice to See
3. If I/We Have Time
This will make it easier to prioritize your down time during your trip! It will also allow you to schedule any tours you might want to take (i.e. cemetery tour, swamp tour, river boat cruise, etc.) and from there you can plan around them. I also like to go into a trip with at least one or two restaurants/bars that I’m dying to try (in this case it was Bacchanal Wine and Revelator: Paloma Cafe!) so it helps to have a loose plan, especially if you’re traveling with a group.
Hopefully these tips help you on your first trip to New Orleans! A final piece of advice: don’t forget to take the time to enjoy yourself. It can feel like a lot of pressure to see everything, eat everything and do everything on your list – which can have the opposite effect you want it to. Feeling that much pressure can take away from the actual experience, so take your time, appreciate your surroundings, and enjoy it all!
What is your number one must do for New Orleans? Make sure to comment and let me know! Did you enjoy this post? Check out more from Morgan at Baby Got Balance where she runs a lifestyle blog that’s heavy on travel. You can also follow her on Instagram (@babygotbalance), Twitter (@babygotbalance) or check out the official Baby Got Balance Facebook page.