New Orleans has been on my bucket list for years. The romantic, French architecture mixed with Creole cuisine and the promise of dancing all night to jazz is a major allure. Finally, we got to visit this past May and I already can’t wait to get back to New Orleans! This time magically with 10 stomachs so I can eat more food. HA! With an endless list of dining options, pretty hotels, tours and things to do, my New Orleans Travel Guide is guaranteed to help you plan the best trip to The Big Easy.
First, who am I and why should you take travel advice from me? My name is Kara, I’m the gal behind Whimsy Soul (follow me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul HERE.) I grew up in the Midwest and ran away to San Francisco because winters suck (seriously.) My big passion in life is helping other women feel confident in themselves and confident to explore the world around them. When it comes to travel, I understand that you don’t want your days off from work to go to waste. You also aren’t looking to blow your entire paycheck on one vacation. So I dig deep for you. I find the prettiest hotels, the best eats, the coolest things to see in a destination and round up all that advice with other helpful tips like how to navigate local transportation into one huge travel guide. I try most things out myself to see if it really lives up to the hype, so you can go explore without any FOMO. Read on to find my New Orleans guide! If you have any questions, pop them in the comments below or DM me on Instagram.
*a star means we ate at this restaurant, did this activity or stay at this hotel. Basically, this means we put our personal stamp of approval on it!
Keep scrolling for breakdowns on the best hotels in New Orleans, places to eat, things to do and what to pack for New Orleans!
Hotels In New Orleans
New Orleans is shaped like a crescent and is made of up of wards, aka neighborhoods. There are three main neighborhoods that you’ll want to stay in as they have all the good stuff! There’s the French Quarter, which is the most historical section of the city. The Garden District, which is home to beautiful houses and an old cemetery. And the Downtown area, which is between the two, close to public transportation and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
This hotel is home to the famous carousel bar. It’s on the edge of the French Quarter so it makes a great home base for exploring this historic neighborhood. Or, if you plan on spending a lot of time on Bourbon Street, it’s just one block away! I loved the antiques in the windows and the rooftop pool with mist fans, which made a great spot to relax in the sunshine. Read my full hotel feature here!
Looking for an upscale, modern hotel that’s a bit removed from the craziness of Bourbon Street or the foot traffic of the French Quarter? Hyatt Regency is downtown and has some of the BEST views of the city! There’s a fab deck pool that glows blue at night and it’s blocks away from the best frosé in New Orleans. Best part? It’s right next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome if you’re in town for a game, and about a 10-15 minute walk to the French Quarter and a close walk to a trolly which you can take to the Garden District! Read my full hotel feature here!
We love using Airbnb’s when we travel! Sometimes you can score cheaper rates than a hotel, but they’re usually our favorite when we’re staying more than a few days in a city as we can rent a whole house and cook meals at home. This is also a great option if you are traveling with a group! Check out this colorful flat in the Garden District to start off with.
psst – use THIS link for $40 off your first Airbnb stay!
Best Restaurants In New Orleans
Man oh MAN I could talk forever about food in New Orleans. It really is as good as everyone says. Because of that, I’m writing a whole New Orleans food guide – find it here! This guide has a whole big list of restaurants plus other recommendations on things to order and local cuisines to try!
Alrighty, I may get some backlash for this, but I enjoyed Cafe Beignet SO much more than Cafe Du Monde, which is considered the beignet place in New Orleans. Cafe Du Monde was extremely crowded, we were ignored by servers for over 20 minutes (even asking one if he could take our order) and I wasn’t a fan of how the beignets weren’t consistantly shaped. Cafe Beignet, though, was far less crowded, had way better decor and the beignets were all evenly shaped and equally tasty. There are a few Cafe Beignet locations, I recommend the one on Royal Street. It’s very empty in the evening!
We stumbled upon this place while on the hunt for outdoor porch seating. They have a beautiful second-level wrap around porch that offers fantastic French Quarter people watching. Plus, they’re oysters are fresh and I LOVED their cheesy shrimp n grits!
You may accidentally walk right by this restaurant, but you’d be missing out on all the wonderful history inside and probably the best dang lunch you’ll find in the French Quarter. Naploean House earned it’s namesake because it was rumored that the original owner was building out the extensive upstairs living quarters to house Naploean himself.. and then Naploean died, so that never happened. But the restaurant downstairs is still thriving and has all the original flair you may have found in an 1800’s restaurant, including the original bar! Order the muffaletta (OMG SO GOOD!) and a Pimm’s Cup for a refreshing and refreshingly affordable lunch. Pro tip – they offer seasonal Pimm’s Cup flavors, so try an original and seasonal one!
Tucked in the 9th Ward is The Country Club. It’s front porch and yellow paint is charming, sure, but what you could never guess is tucked behind it is a beautiful restaurant and – wait for it – a pool! We grabbed lunch there one day and then took a dip in the pool afterward. Pool passes are $15 for the day. Head here on a hot day for a different take on New Orleans where you’ll mingle with locals. I insist that you order the Crab Beignets – it was one of my favorite dishes of everything we ate in New Orleans!
Brennan’s is a New Orleans classic. Located in a pink building on Royal Street, the place was constantly hopping. I recommend reservations, as tables fill quickly. We didn’t get a chance to eat there, but it came highly recommended by many people!
Price: $$ $
Want to find the best frose in New Orleans? Head here! They have a fantastic happy hour menu where most items are 50% off. We loved this place so much we went twice – the brunch menu is equally as delicious! Plus, the decor in here is hipster-chic.
Things To Do In New Orleans
New Orleans is a vibrant, hopping city. There are so many fun things to do in The Big Easy! My number one tip is to stay at least 4 days… but 5-6 days is better. You’ll need that much time to eat all the things and explore all the corners!
Obviously, the French Quarter is the place to be. People travel all over the world to walk among the streets that almost feel like Paris. The streets are narrow, but beautiful and deserve at least a whole day wandering them, hopping from one restaurant to the next. Ha! St. Louis Cathedral is smack in the middle of the French Quarter and borders a fun plaza with trees and benches to sit on. Make sure to spend some time here, too!
There are so many cute artist galleries in New Orleans, and plenty more vendors selling art on the streets! From a huge painting of jazz-filled nights to ceramic, you can find locally made goodies anywhere. There are also a large amount of antique stores here, if that’s up your alley!
Ride A Steamboat
Feel like you’ve been swept back in time by taking a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez! You’ll see it chugging along the river during the day, or perhaps catch it’s sunset sail send off each evening by the French Quarter. There are daytime cruises or a dinner cruise – find more info here.
Big Band Jazz on Frenchmen Street
In case you’ve been living under a rock, New Orleans is home to one of the best music scenes in the country. My favorite to listen to down here is jazz! Frenchmen Street is THE place to find hopping jazz clubs, so head there at least one night for dinner, drinks and music!
Pro tip – head to Dat Dog, order a unique sausage (like alligator!), grab a cold beer and head upstairs to the balcony. Find a seat that overlooks the corner of Frenchman Street and Chartres Street. Each evening there is a Big Band Jazz group that plays the most delightful music! We ended up staying from 7pm-10pm on that balcony listening to their music, it was the highlight of my trip!
Make sure to spend a day exploring the beautiful houses in the Garden District! Grab a day pass on a trolley and ride it all the way to the Washington Square spot. Get off and wander the streets! These houses are so grand and intricate details on the outside, I can only imagine what’s on the inside! The Garden District is also home to the Lafayette Cemetery and the Commander’s Palace, among other great eats.
Lafayette Cemetery Number 1
This is probably one of the prettiest cemeteries that is open to the public. Note, it closes around 3pm each day, but is totally free for wandering before that! You can pay a tour guide at the front for a guided tour, but we choose to instead opt for a self-guided tour. Use THIS article for a fantastic self-guided tour of the cemetery, which includes detailed history and tips on understanding symbols.
Guys, it gets HOT in New Orleans! We visited in May and were sweating all day, everyday. Unless you’re visiting in the dead of winter, set aside a little time one afternoon to lounge by the pool in your hotel. Don’t have a hotel pool? Head to the Country Club instead! You deserve a little poolside time.
Party On Bourbon Street
So here’s the thing – I’m well past my days of dancing at clubs and partying until the wee hours of the morning. But that doesn’t mean you have to be! We did talk a few walks down Bourbon Street and did stop by to pick up a Handgranade one night, New Orlean’s famous secret cocktail that gets you drunk faster than you can say “take me to Bourbon Street!” I can’t do much in recommendations of best bars as we really didn’t spend time there, but just walk down the street at night and see what’s calling your name!
Walk Around With A Cocktail
On the note of booze, it’s totally legal to walk around the city with alcohol, as long as it’s in a plastic container. There are many bars that offer “cocktails to go”, which we took advantage of.. a lot.
I think everyone has to do a French Quarter tour at least once. We went with the tour company called Witch’s Brew because they were selling tickets for a very cheap price on Groupon. Make sure to check Groupon out to purchase tickets, no need to pay full price! The tour was about 2 hours and was a nice crash course to New Orlean’s history. All the tours are pretty much the same, no matter what company you go with, so get the one that’s cheapest and that the tour your first night.
We didn’t get a chance to go on a swamp tour, but it’s on my list for new visit! From small private tours to large ones, there are so many options on Groupon, check them out here.
What To Pack For New Orleans
What you pack really depends on the time of year. Winter can be on the “cold” side – aka, 40’s-60’s. The summers… the summers are sweltering. Over 100 and then humidity added on top! Because of that, I’m recommending below my favorite dresses, comfy sandals, hats and other must-have clothing items to help you beat the heat in New Orleans.
I hope this helps you plan for your trip to New Orleans! If you have any questions at all, or things to add, please leave a comment below!