New Orleans, the city that appeals to everyone’s imagination. Known worldwide for its jazz music, the vibrant nightlife on Bourbon Street, the famous Mardi Gras festival, the delicious local cuisine, the beautiful architecture, the mysterious voodoo cult and the turbulent past of slavery on the surrounding cotton plantations. You can imagine that New Orleans has a lot to offer in terms of cultural attractions. And admit it, who doesn’t want to visit this famous city?
Last summer I was finally able to visit New Orleans. And believe me, Nola has been on my endless bucket list for ever. We made an unforgettable Deep South road trip from Miami to New Orleans. Hurricane Barry almost put a stop to our 3-day New Orleans city trip, but luckily the weather turned out for the better.
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The best things to do within a 3- day New Orleans itinerary
First things first, some important facts about New Orleans. This city is located in the southern part of North America in the state of Louisiana near the Mississippi River. Because the Mississippi River has changed shape over the centuries, a swamp landscape has been created around New Orleans called ‘the Bayou’.
What makes New Orleans so interesting is its rich history. In short, Louisiana was first colonized by Spaniards, then conquered by the French to be eventually sold to America. Meanwhile the economy was thriving due to the slave trade on the many surrounding cotton plantations. This melting pot of people with different heritages has led to a unique culture that you can only experience here.
The unique culture of New Orleans
Cajun or Creole? What’s the difference?
In New Orleans and Louisiana, locals are often referred to by the term Cajun or Creole because of their origin. The Cajuns are originally French who once settled in Canada and were later exiled to Louisiana. The term Creole is more difficult to define. This includes the ethnic group consisting of people of European, African, Hispanic and Caribbean descent, as well as people born in New Orleans with French and Spanish ancestors.
While the Cajuns previously retreated to the Bayous around New Orleans, it is mainly Creole influences that have made the city of New Orleans what it is today. The big difference between these two cultures can be found in traditional cuisine.
The Creole kitchen is often called city food, while the Cajun kitchen is more often referred as food of the countryside. Most people say that difference between both is that Creole cuisine uses tomatoes or tomato sauce as a base. But both cultures use the same local ingredients.
The difference is mainly in the way the dishes are prepared. While the Cajuns mainly relied on food they could find in the countryside and bayou, the Creoles in the city had more and easier access to exotic ingredients. That is why Creole cuisine is slightly more varied.
All that jazz
I knew that New Orleans is the cradle of Jazz music. But the fact that gospel music also originated here was new to me.It all started with slave music, better known as the blues, that the slaves brought from Africa and sang on the plantations.
Jazz music emerged in the early 20th century in New Orleans from the blues. The rousing tones of jazz music weren’t initially appreciated by everyone because of the association with a lower social status and behavior of loose morals.
Gospel music also originated from slave music, but was influenced by the Christian believe as well.
How to get to New Orleans?
Traveling to New Orleans from Belgium is possible by plane. However, there are no direct flights, so you usually have a layover somewhere.
New Orleans was part of our Deep South road trip. So we didn’t fly to New Orleans, but to Miami instead. We rented a car at the international airport of Miami through the car rental company Enterprise. By the way, we were very satisfied with Enterprise’s service and can definitely recommend this company.
You absolutely don’t need a car in New Orleans. All parking facilities are paying, so you can travel much cheaper and easier with public transport or by uber.
If you travel to New Orleans by car, make sure you book a hotel with parking where you can leave your car safely during your city trip. To explore the surroundings of New Orleans, I recommend that you do use your car so you are more free to plan a day trip.
When is the best time to travel to New Orleans?
The best time to visit New Orleans is from February to May. At that time, there are pleasant temperatures to discover the city. Keep in mind that February is also the Mardi Gras period. Mardi Gras is American version of carnival in Belgium. Mardi Gras takes place on fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. But several parades are held in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is actually the end of a long carnival period. During this period it can get quite busy here.
If you prefer to explore New Orleans while it is a bit quieter, you better travel there during December. At that time the weather is a bit cooler, but still pleasant to enjoy New Orleans to the fullest.
During the months of June to November it is significantly warmer and more humid. It is also hurricane season, so keep in mind that your trip can be cancelled when the weather is too bad. The advantage is that it’s low season and the prices are a bit cheaper. And if you’re traveling around Halloween, check out these 7 spooky things to do in New Orleans.
We traveled to New Orleans during July and just arrived when Hurricane Barry passed. This made the city much quieter and we didn’t fully experience the New Orleans vibe that we had expected. This certainly doesn’t alter the fact that we enjoyed our trip very much. All local services took a lot of security measures, so we certainly felt safe.
Where to stay in New Orleans?
We stayed in hotel indigo Nola Garden district for 3 nights. This hotel is located in the beautiful Garden district. From here you can easily take the Saint Charles streetcar to the French Quarter. At night we used an uber to get around. If you want to know more about our stay, be sure to take a look at our review about hotel indigo Nola Garden district.
There are of course other beautiful hotels within the Garden district such as Henry Howard Hotel and Pontchartrain Hotel St. Charles Avenue. Also check out these 20 incredible airbnbs in the Garden District.
If you want to stay in the heart of the French quarter, you will pay a little more. But here you can also find really nice, authentic hotels. These are my favorites: Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, Cornstalk Hotel, La Galerie French Quarter Hotel and of course Hotel Monteleone.
If you would like to take a look at the hotels in the other neighborhoods, check out this easy-to-use map widget from booking.
Things you can’t miss on 3-day itinerary for New Orleans
Discovering New Orleans in 3 days is quite a task. This city has so much to offer. The best way to experience New Orleans is to completely surrender to the city, its unique culture and the Nola way of life. Get out and enjoy! Below I’ll list the best things to do in New Orleans so you can start planning your own itinerary.
1 – Experience the French Quarter
One tip while exploring French Quarter. Don’t make too many plans, but experience this neighborhood to the fullest with all your senses. Admire the beautiful architecture, watch and especially listen to the numerous street artists. Dance to the tones of Jazz music. Breathe in the scent of the local cuisine and especially taste, taste as much as you can!
However, in the French quarter there are some sights that you must see, such as the famous Jackson square where you can enjoy the talents of numerous street artists. If you would like to take a picture with an artist, be sure to give a well-deserved tip.
Also visit St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest still active Catholic cathedral in the United States.
Go take a look on the French market where the locals buy their ingredients. This is by the way, also the oldest city market in the United States.
Take a coffee break at Café Du Monde the oldest coffee house in New Orleans and yes, order a delicious beignet as well. By the way did I already mention that New Orleans is definitely not the place to watch your figure.
Meanwhile, take the time to enjoy the beautiful architecture of this neighborhood. A mix of American and Creole town houses and cottages. I particularly liked the balconies finished with elegant iron rails.
Stop for a drink at “Jean Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop“. This small, authentic bar is located in New Orleans’ oldest building dating back to 1761. It’s said that some important historical pirates did some of their smuggling business here.
Speaking of bars, another impressive bar that you should definitely visit is the Carousel bar in hotel Monteleone, the oldest family hotel in New Orleans. The bar consists of an authentic carousel. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a seat on the spinning platform.
There is also much more to experience in the French Quarter. Go shopping in the local vintage and hat shops, take a pause in a trendy bar or in one of the many cozy eateries and especially enjoy the unique vibe that New Orleans has to offer.
If you’re on a budget, you should definitely check out these tips on what you could get in New Orleans for $10.
2 – Dance all night long in Bourbon Street
As befits a real visit to New Orleans, it’s a must to go out on Bourbon Street at least for one evening. We, of course, also ventured out for a night at Bourbon Street.
It took me all the way back to my student days in the Overpoort in Ghent. Because of the smell and semi-drunk people on the street. With of course much better music and much more impressive architecture.
In a travel guide we found that we definitely had to try the strongest drink of New Orleans “the hand grenade”. And we did, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you guys. The hand grenade was easier to find than we thought, because almost every tourist on Bourbon street walked around with such a typical grenade cup.
This local drink is available in several bars of the same brand. You only pay full price once (I think 10 USD) for one cup. After that, you can always go to these bars for a refill where you only pay half price.
The hand grenade was not very tasteful, but it was the ideal drink to feel tipsy rather sooner than later. I read somewhere that you need to drink about 5 to get into the perfect Nola mood. Believe me, I only needed 2.
Bourbon street is definitely the place to be for an unforgettable birthday party.
Of course, New Orleans nightlife isn’t all about partying and drinking on Bourbon Street. You can also enjoy beautiful live jazz music. Be sure to check out a performance at Preservation hall during your stay. An absolute must!
3 – Wander though the Garden District
The Garden District is easily accessible from the French Quarter via the Saint Charles streetcar.
Since we stayed in the Garden District, we didn’t need transport. The best way to discover the beautiful surroundings of the Garden District is by foot.
When we got out of the hotel we were surprised by beautiful mansions and so much greenery. The Garden District is quite extensive and from the hotel we only saw a little part of it. So we decided to take our time to go and explore the Garden District and take a walk to Magazine Street. That was the best idea ever.
The walk from our hotel to Magazine Street is about half an hour, but it took us two hours. Every street we turned in was just breathtaking. So many beautiful houses, not to mention the large, lush gardens. Now I know why this neighborhood is called the Garden District.
Closer to Magazine Street, the large mansions gave way to smaller, colorful creole cottages.
Magazine Street itself is a shopping street with pleasant boutiques and trendy bars and restaurants. Be sure to make a stop at Commanders palace for a delicious lunch. And taste one of their famous soups.
If you would like more information during your walk through the Garden District, choose a guided tour by Getyourguide.
4 – Lafayette cemetery
The cemeteries are frequently visited in New Orleans. But what is so special about them? Here, the dead are buried in aboveground tombs because of the swampy ground and heavy rainfall during the hurricane season. One of the most visited and most beautiful cemeteries is the Lafayette cemetery located in the Garden District. Here you can admire the beautiful tombs in a very mystical atmosphere. You can visit the cemetery daily and even join a guided tour if you want, with the exception on public holidays.
5 – Ghost tour
Yet New Orleans also has a lurid side as well. This is where the American version of voodoo originated, brought by African slaves from Haiti. One of the most famous Voodoo priestesses was Marie Laveau. She lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
If you would like to discover more about this topic or if you aren’t afraid of a creepy adventure, I strongly recommend that you book a ghost or voodoo tour via Getyourguide.
6 – Mississippi river cruise
When visiting New Orleans, be sure to cruise the Mississippi River in an authentic river steamboat. At Getyourguide you can book different cruises, but the best ones are the jazz cruises that you can plan both during the day and in the evening. It’s so worth it.
7. Surrender to the New Orleans cuisine
In New Orleans, you can’t help but indulge into the local cuisine of the Deep South. Local specialties include fresh seafood and shellfish such as oysters, shrimps, crab and lobster. But fried dishes can’t be missing from the menu as well
Local dishes that you should definitely try are Gumbo, po boi sandwich, jambalaya, king cakes, crawfish, beignets and praline.
In the family restaurant Antoine’s located in the French Quarter, you can enjoy delicious French-Creole dishes in an authentic setting.
Another family restaurant where you can dine is Galatoires, located in Bourbon street. Perfect if you want to experience the nightlife of New Orleans afterwards.
Fancy a quick bite, but with a southern touch? Then be sure to stop by Acme Oyster house where you can order delicious seafood dishes.
Craving for an extensive breakfast in style, then Brennan’s is definitely the place be. In this family restaurant you can also enjoy lunch, dinner and cocktails.
Do you want know even more about the Southern cuisine? Then opt for a food tour via Getyouguide.
8 – Mercedes -Benz Superdome
If you are a sports fan or you want to know about American footbal, you definitely can’t miss out on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Read all about how to get there and how to plan your visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome right here.
9 – Explore the surrounding countryside of New Orleans
Besides the vibrant city life in New Orleans, there is also much to do in the surrounding countryside. So keep one day of your New Orleans itinerary available to discover the sights outside the city.
New Orleans is surrounded by many antebellum cotton plantations that utilized slave labor during their operation. Today you can still soak up history by visiting several historical plantation houses and domains that are open to the public.
Besides the plantations, a visit to the bayou is recommended. There you can take several impressive swamp tours to spot wildlife.
We planned our own day trip from New Orleans including a swamp tour at Cajun Encounters and a visit to the Oak Alley plantation. But if you prefer an organized tour, be sure to check out Getyourguide’s offer.
I hope that with these Nola sightseeing and tour tips I can inspire you to plan the perfect itinerary for your trip to New Orleans.
Which sights or tours would you include on your itinerary for New Orleans? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.
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