New Orleans is a city jam-packed with three hundred years of converging cultures. Shaped by Spanish, French, African, and Southern influence, this US city is just as much a state of mind as it is a municipality.
No matter whether its draw derives from the landmark stories of early jazz musicians, the mysteries of voodoo rituals, or the finger-licking good soul food, NOLA is guaranteed to delight with endless entertainment.
As one of the most eccentric cities in North America, New Orleans’ story is also one of utter resilience, and the city has remained rich with positive triumph.
A trombone player dances down cobblestone streets playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The humid breeze gently rocks hanging pottery from Creole townhomes. Every night erupts in celebration as the spirits abound on Bourbon Street.
A walk down one of the many famous streets in NOLA can prove to be a spectacle in and of itself. Despite the amusements waiting around every corner, getting around the city can prove to be considerably overwhelming without an itinerary in mind.
To help you get started, I’ve compiled a list of some of the top things to do in the city, as well as a sample itinerary base on my 72-hours in New Orleans.
Please keep in mind these details are subject to change. Due to COVID-19, social distancing and face coverings may be required. Be sure to check local health officials’ safety regulations and each establishment’s website for updated information before making final plans.
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A Guide to Historic New Orleans
Best Time to Visit New Orleans
First things first, let’s talk about some of the practicalities for visiting New Orleans over a 72-hours period.
Hands down, the best time to visit NOLA is between December and May. Not only are the temperatures comfortable and cool, it’s outside hurricane season, and the amount of rainfall also lessens.
If you prefer cheaper hotel rates, you’ll find outstanding deals between December and January. Otherwise, book your hotel up to a year in advance if you plan to be around in the spring for Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
If you’re wondering about what to wear, it’s best to pack a few layers. In the winter months, highs can reach the mid-60s°F (15°C), while lows drop into the 40s°F (4s°C). During the hotter summer months, temperatures can climb to the high-80s°F (26°C), if not into the 90s°F (32°C).
Keep in mind that as a coastal city, humidity is almost always a factor and that even in the winter months, New Orleans can receive a considerable amount of rain.
Getting Around New Orleans
Airport Bus to New Orleans City Center
At the time of our trip, we took the now-defunct (E2 route) airport bus shuttle into the city. The route has since changed, so I recommend visiting the Jefferson transit website for the most up to date airport bus service route into the city.
Rental Car and Ride Shares
You can also pick up a rental car outside of the west terminal baggage claim of the airport, or wait for your Lyft or Uber at the ground transportation center.
Note, if staying within the city center, I advise against a rental as the city is pretty walkable, and finding parking can prove to be more of an unnecessary headache. If mobility is an issue, rideshares are readily available; it was my rather convenient method of transportation around town.
New Orleans Streetcars
Once in the city, look for the iconic New Orleans streetcars rolling down the street. The streetcars are an excellent option for covering large sections of the city without having to walk long distances.
There are five streetcar lines with varying schedules: the Riverfront, St. Charles (Garden District), Canal (Cemeteries), Canal (City Park/Museum), and Rampart/St. Claude lines. Click here for current schedules and fares.
Once onboard, be on alert for your final destination’s stop as stop names are not necessarily announced.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Now that you’ve got an idea of how you’ll be getting around, let’s talk about lodging options, all within short walking distance of top attractions illustrated in this French Quarter map. Other popular areas within the city to consider staying are Canal Street, Jackson Square, and the Garden District.
Here are few hotels recommendations staying in New Orleans depending on your budget:
Moxy New Orleans Downtown/French Quarter: If you’re looking for comfort and class without having to break your budget, our chosen accommodation, the Moxy New Orleans Downtown/French Quarter by Marriott, located in the Central business district, just across Canal Street excels in every area.
This boutique New Orleans hotel provides cocktails at check-in incredibly fast and free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour lobby bar, smart TVs, and expansive rooms. It was an excellent choice for its amenities, location, and affordability. Check rates and availability here!
InterContinental New Orleans: For those looking for a more luxurious approach, the InterContinental New Orleans blends classic and contemporary New Orleans décor with the option of a balcony. Check rates and availability here!
Plan Your Stay: Search top-rated New Orleans hotels and accommodations – Read reviews, check rates, and availability here!
Popular Attractions and Things to Do in New Orleans
Though there’s plenty to keep you occupied for days in the city, here are a few notable places to check out.
Museums in New Orleans
- New Orleans Pharmacy Museum – 19th-century medical history museum, join a guided tour weekdays at 1 pm
- The Cabildo – located in Jackson Square, on either side of St. Louis Cathedral
- The Presbytère Museum – also in Jackson Square with permanent Katrina and Mardi Gras story exhibits
- Historic New Orleans Collection – free admission at both its Royal Street and Chartres Street exhibitions locations. Free and paid tours are also available
- New Orleans Jazz Museum – rotating exhibits celebrating jazz music history, located at the intersection of the French Quarter and the Frenchmen Street
- Le Musée de f.p.c. (Free People of Color Museum) – located in the Treme neighborhood near Esplanade Ave., a converted home with the storied history of New Orleans’ pre-Civil War free African-descendants. Tours are by appointment only.
- Historic Homes in the French Quarter – Hermann-Grima House, the Gallier House, or the Beauregard-Keyes House.
Popular tours and activities to add to your New Orleans itinerary
Music Venues in New Orleans
If you’re interested in stopping by some music venues, check out the following. The general rule is a one-drink minimum, rather than a cover charge.
- 21st Amendment at La Louisiane – a tiny Prohibition theme cocktail bar, just of Bourbon street, with bands playing all-day
- Tropical Isle Bayou Club – for authentic Cajun music
- Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub – jazz standards and swing, small and cozy, but this place is all about the music
Nightlife in New Orleans
You could also check out Frenchmen Street just outside of the French Quarter, where you’ll find two blocks of live bands playing, all of which we can hear as we walked along the street. Pro Tip: Frenchmen Street is best reached by walking down Decatur until it curves left.
Other areas for nightlife in New Orleans:
Restaurants in New Orleans – What and Where to Eat
If you like a wide variety in one place, check out the six blocks of open-air vendors at the French Market. Here are a few other not to miss favorites:
- Johnny’s – a classic po-boy joint
- Willie Mae’s Scotch House – world-famous fried chicken
- Kingfish – a favorite for gumbo
- Coop’s Place – casual Cajun spot
- Dooky Chase Restaurant – daily soul food buffet lunch
Finally, for food, be sure to grab a beignet, of course. These incredible powdered French donuts are notoriously loved throughout the city—and for a good reason.
The well-known favorite is Café du Monde, but (spoiler alert!) I’m partial to the soft warm and fluffy variation at Café Beignet, a cozy café with outside patio seating on Royal Street (they also have a location on Decatur Street).
Join a local expert and uncover New Orlean’s hidden food gems
72-Hour New Orleans Itinerary
Day 1 in New Orleans
As my sister and I touched down in New Orleans, our excitement grew, and we were sure of one thing: we would be making the most out of the next 72-hours.
The whirr of the plane engine slows and we eagerly step from the loading platform in search of our bags. Once we gathered our belongings, we made our way to the shuttle bus with service to town.
Pay the $2 fare to board the bus, but be sure to hold onto your ticket for the duration of your ride because the driver may ask for it at some point before the last stop.
Ruby Slipper Café
After checking into our hotel, we appeased our grumbling stomach by stopping in at the Ruby Slipper Café on Canal Street for brunch. I ordered the signature catfish and grits, accompanied with a side of buttery biscuit.
Great service and staff, but not the most earth-shattering meal. Nonetheless, I wasn’t disappointed as I was sure there were more impressive meals in my New Orleans future.
Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House
From here, we headed over to Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. If you don’t intend to sit down for a drink, the building is still something to be marveled at. The bar is over two hundred-years old, and standing exactly as it did when it first opened in 1806.
For more on Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House and all about New Orleans’ mysterious history, check out Wandering Crystal’s Haunted Spots in New Orleans.
Location: 240 Bourbon St, New Orleans
Café Beignet on Royal Street
To further the morning, we walked a few blocks to Café Beignet to revel in the steamy and sweet French treat. Café Beignet is also less crowded than its popular competitor, Café Du Monde, and rumor has it that the beignets are better too. You’ll be visiting the latter the following day, so make sure to savor the flavor to determine whether that rumor is true or not.
Location: 334 Royal St, New Orleans
Old Ursuline Convent Museum
Next up, the Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street in the Historic French Quarter. Still standing as the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, the Ursuline Convent once housed Ursuline Nuns as a convent, orphanage and school for girls. The building is now a cultural heritage site and used as a historical museum.
Location: 100 Chartres St #2505, New Orleans
After spending a few hours at the museum, make your way to the French Market. Here you’ll find vendors selling everything from NOLA merchandise, handmade candies, flashy jewelry, voodoo dolls, and even gator meat on skewers. The assorted collections of goods here make up a condensed version of authentic New Orleans.
Location: 700-1010 Decatur St, New Orleans
Dinner at Coop’s Place
To conclude our day, we stop in at Coop’s Place for dinner. In an attempt for a real taste of that Creole style of cooking, we went with the tasting plate and the etouffee, a spicy, smothered vegetable stew served over rice with a choice of shrimp, and/or crawfish. It settled quite pleasantly!
Location: 1109 Decatur St, New Orleans
Day 2 in New Orleans
French Quarter Walking Tour
We started the day off early by launching into the next 24-hours with a guided walking tour. The French Quarter Walking Tour provided a chance to see the historical district in ways that often get overlooked. The tour was highly informational with historical tidbits on the culture, architecture, and an overall rich overview of the city.
Lunch at Willie Mae’s Scotch House
For lunch, we decided to be a little adventurous and walk across town to Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme neighborhood for some of the city’s best soul food, including their famous fried chicken.
While the walk provided an overview of the contrast within the city, I recommend getting there via vehicle. It was a particularly hot day and about a 40-minute walk from the French Quarter.
With that said, the crispy melt-in-your-mouth chicken is renowned for the authentic southern cooking of the late Willie Mae Seaton, and was certainly worth the calorie-burning effort.
Location: 2401 St Ann St, New Orleans
Photo Opportunities in New Orleans
Canal Place – After lunch, we called a ride share service and headed over to Canal Place to vogue out in front of a picture-worthy hot spot with a sign reading, “With love from NOLA.” Note the living green moss wall at the center of the Canal Place atrium.
Location: 333 Canal St, New Orleans
Another unique place to snap a photo of is the Love Wins Locks along the Mississippi River, near the Steamboat Natchez. As part of the Parisian tradition, the locks are secured to the chain-link fence by couples and newlyweds for good luck.
From here, head towards Jackson Square in search of the NOLA 300 sign in to just take in movement within the city and capture one more photo in commemoration of New Orleans’ 300th anniversary.
Café Du Monde
Once we worked up our appetite again, it was time to head over to Café Du Monde. Remember that beignet yesterday? Well, now it’s your chance to compare to see which is best.
Although Café Du Monde receives considerably longer lines and more crowded tables, I still prefer the other fluffy beignets, but Café Du Monde is a staple in any 72-hour New Orleans itinerary.
Location: 800 Decatur St, New Orleans
At this point, you can spend the next few hours in two different ways. Either find your way to Frenchmen Street to watch the live bands play and enjoying a few hurricanes (or daiquiris), or catch a rideshare down to Royal Street to check out Studio Be. We chose the latter.
This warehouse is the home to local artist, Brandan ‘Bmike’ Odums, and doubles as an art installation. Here, you’ll see depicted stories of thought leaders, change-makers, and everyday heroes.
A block or so before reaching the studio, in a small empty grassy area, you’ll find the Press Street Railroad Yard, the arrest site of Homer Adolph Plessy (the “Plessy” cited in the landmark US supreme court decision Plessy v. Ferguson).
Location: 2941 Royal Street, New Orleans
To top off the night, we made our way to Bourbon Street to witness (and partake some) in the uncanny and rowdy atmosphere. Most of the bars here remain open 24-hours a day and have an open-door policy, meaning drinkers can spill in and out of bars all day long.
Each club along this strip has something to offer, though don’t be afraid to stop and try a ‘hand grenade,’ a specialty cocktail made with rum with vodka, rum, gin, and melon liquor.
Day 3 in New Orleans
On the last day of our 72-hour adventure in New Orleans (and recovering from all the fun on Bourbon Street), a late start, so we caught the St. Charles Green Line streetcar to the Garden District. In this region of the city, you’ll find breathtaking mansions draped with Spanish moss and lined with ginormous oak trees.
Joey K’s Restaurant
For a taste of classic uptown dining in the Garden District, stop by Joey K’s Restaurant & Bar. The atmosphere here is fun and clean, but it maintains its distinctive NOLA menu. Save room for dessert; the bread pudding is simply divine.
Location: 3001 Magazine Street, New Orleans
Greetings from NOLA Sign
If you still have time in the day, check out the “Greetings from NOLA” sign on the corner of Magazine and Josephine Street in the Lower Garden District. As another photo-worthy hotspot, it was the perfect place to conclude our 72-hour itinerary. But not before heading to Café Beignet to snag one last beignet order.
Location: 2014 Magazine St, New Orleans
As we made our way back to the hotel on the trolley service, recounting everything that we’ve accomplished on our 3-day circuit of New Orleans. Sure, the city still has plenty more that could be seen, but we’ve managed to make the most of all the sights, smells, and reverie that is NOLA.