When most people think of the southern city of New Orleans, they think of Bourbon street, bead tossing, live Jazz, voodoo, and the infamous Hurricane cocktail. While all of these things exist in New Orleans, there are plenty of other things to see and do in New Orleans. In this article we’ll show you what to do in New Orleans, where to stay, what to eat, and what to drink in The Big Easy. We also have a few special recommendations specific for ladies and for guys individually – Don’t worry, it doesn’t include any strip clubs.
Where to stay in New Orleans
New Orleans has an abundant amount of hotels to choose from. The priciest ones during Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street cost upwards of $700 a night. During any time outside Mardi Gras the prices are much more reasonable. Here are the best things to do in New Orleans for a first time visitor.
Close to Bourbon Street – Hotel Le Marais of the New Orleans Hotel Collection –
This chic French Quarter hotel and our personal favorite place in New Orleans, is located one block off of Bourbon Street, which is far enough away that you don’t hear any boisterous bars, but close enough to almost smell the hurricanes. Think of it as a sanctuary in a city of sin. The hotel has a picturesque pool, which is wonderful to place to swim off your hangover. Ahem, excuse me…I mean cool off after your hard workout in their on-site gym. With its central location and chic design, this hotel is great for any couple looking to dance the nights away on Bourbon Street and not have to walk far to their bed.
In the Garden District on St. Charles Avenue – Henry Howard Hotel. If you’re looking for a romantic weekend filled with “old southern charm” then Henry Howard Hotel is the place to stay. This old mansion has been retrofitted with all of the newest amenities to make your stay feel classic and luxurious. The hotel is in the quieter area of town in the Garden District so be prepared to walk or take the streetcar to most bars and restaurants (Uber is also a great option) It’s a great place to stay for couples looking for a little rest and relaxation in the party town of the south.
Near Frenchmen Street – Soniat House The Soniat house is located a few blocks from The Spotted Cat (a music haven) and a few blocks from the historic Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop bar. The Soniat House is a luxury hotel created to give you the authentic New Orleans experience. With it’s proximity to Frenchman Street and Bourbon Street, you can choose if you want to stumble down Bourbon Street like a tourist or frolic down Frenchmen street like a local. The elegant rooms will have you feeling like you’re old southern aristocrats as the two of you enjoy an afternoon cocktail (may we recommend a Pimm’s Cup) on the balcony.
What to do in New Orleans
Anyone who visits New Orleans becomes quickly overwhelmed with the multitude of activities, restaurants, and sightseeing. Here are some of the must do’s during any trip to the “Big Easy.”
Bourbon Street vs. Frenchmen Street
Everyone knows about Bourbon Street and it’s rich history of Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street is filled with countless bars, restaurants, and the occasional strip club. No trip to New Orleans is complete without a walk down Bourbon Street. It’s touristy, loud, and dirty, but it’s something you absolutely must see on your visit.
What most people don’t know about is Frenchmen Street. This lesser known, up-and-coming area is a great area to see some of the best jazz in New Orleans at places like The Spotted Cat and stroll through fantastic night markets filled with local artists. Some people say Frenchmen Street is what Bourbon Street was 50 years ago. Bourbon Street is much more wild than Frenchmen Street. If you’re on a bachelor or bachelorette party, Bourbon Street is your spot. If you want to hear classic New Orleans jazz and hide away with your lover, then Frenchmen Street is where you should go.
Safety Warning: One warning I will give everyone is to be careful on Bourbon Street. While the street is filled with tourists, there have been plenty of stories of people getting phones stolen, wallets taken, or even worse, mugged and assaulted. I’m not saying not to go down Bourbon Street, I’m just saying to be aware of your surroundings and don’t let your guard down.
Few safety Tips for Bourbon Street once the sun goes down:
Don’t walk blindly with your phone out – someone may walk up and steal it from you.
Stay in well lit areas – A good tip for any city
Don’t get too drunk – With all the cheap and strong drinks, it can be very easy to over-do it here.
St. Charles Streetcar & Garden District
One of the most iconic images of New Orleans is the St. Charles streetcar. This classic antique looks like it came out of the 1940’s. For a $1.25/ride it’s a very inexpensive way to see some of the best parts of New Orleans. Board the car on Canal Street and get whisked away to an earlier time as the car slowly rattles down the street. Take it to Commander’s Palace for a fantastic lunch, then spend the afternoon strolling through the historic Garden District neighborhood admiring all the beautiful homes.
Steam Boat Ride – Natchez
I’ll warn you on this one, it is a bit touristy but we enjoyed the trip. The Natchez is the last remaining steam powered ship on the Mississippi. Your trip starts with some great old-school jazz as the live band on board is played on speakers throughout the ship. The deafening steam whistle blasts a notice to all around that the ship is about to depart. Once onboard, the local historian narrates the ride giving educational facts about the local areas. A must visit is the engine room. As an engineer, I loved the engine room. It was amazing to see all the old mechanical parts still working. It made me feel like we had stepped back into history as the pistons drove the paddle wheel pushing us down the river. The dinner served on board is lovely and like most southern meals, it’s heavy; full of flavor and spice to make sure you don’t go hungry. This is great for couples who love experiencing history. It’s not the most romantic setting so if you’re looking for a quiet date night, then book this on another day.
Horse and Buggy Ride – Usually we aren’t one to recommend touristy things like this but after taking a 90 minute historical ride through the city, we quickly changed our minds. Not only was it informative and entertaining, but the ride was an fantastic way to view the French Quarter. Great for all couples, start your ride in Jackson Square with Royal Carriages and get whisked away into the old history and interesting stories that shaped New Orleans. During the ride, ask your driver why Spain once controlled New Orleans. This is also a great way to get your bearings with the city before the rest of your trip.
Where to Eat and Drink in New Orleans
Cafe Du Monde – An obvious start for me with my unquenchable sweet tooth. During your trip here, order up some beignets and a frozen cafe au lait. The warm beignets with a gluttonous amount of powdered sugar will send anyone into a euphoric sugar coma. The beignets are perfectly paired with a frozen cafe au lait during a hot summer day.
Napoleon’s House – Enjoy a muffaletta – a special italian sandwich and a Pimms cup for lunch. This beautiful restaurant was actually built for Napoleon. He was invited to stay here but was unable to ever make it to New Orleans. Even though Napoleon himself never made it, the house still stands.
Pat O’Brien’s – Spend an afternoon in the great courtyard of Pat O’Brien’s sipping on their legendary hurricanes or mint juleps. Just be warned, you might like them too much.
Commander’s Palace – Rated as the best restaurant in New Orleans for 4 years straight, Commander’s Palace is the best spot to try local cuisine. Enjoy a long, slow lunch at Commander’s Palace. One of the best places to eat in New Orleans also boasts 25¢ martinis! That’s right, 25 cent martinis! You might be say, “they’re probably small and bad martinis” and you’d be wrong. These are fantastic, strong, and full-sized martinis. Here you can try some southern specialities like turtle soup and alligator. Afterwards, walk off your food coma with a romantic stroll through the garden district.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – This bar is known to be the oldest bar in New Orleans and the United States dating back to the 1700’s. A must visit on any New Orleans trip, Lafitte’s is on Bourbon Street but several blocks away from the main center of bars. Lafitte’s speciality is a grape voodoo punch that will make you think you’re in the 1700’s. The name is misleading as the building was never an actual blacksmith shop.
What to Drink in New Orleans
New Orleans is known for it’s love of cocktails. Some historians jokingly say that prohibition didn’t affect New Orleans as everyone continued to drink. During your visit you must try some of these classic cocktails.
The Sazerac – a herbaceous cocktail made with rye whiskey and absinthe. Any lover of the old-fashion cocktail will enjoy this.
Pimm’s Cup – A british based cocktail that is very popular in the hot city of New Orleans. This easy drinking cocktail is a great way to cool off on a hot evening. The best place to have a Pimm’s cup is at the Napoleon House.
Hurricane – During WWII there was a shortage of grain which led to a shortage of grain based alcohol – like whiskey and scotch. The port of New Orleans had an abundance of rum during this time so the locals started to get creative and invented the Hurricane. One of the best places to try this is at Pat O’Brian’s.
Recommendations for Guys:
Have a Hurricane at Pat O’Brian’s
Enjoy a muffaletta at Napoleon House
Drink a Sazerac at Sazerac Bar
Investigate the engine room of the Natchez while cruising down the Mississippi
Recommendations for Girls:
Treat yourself to a beignet and a frozen cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde
Feel very proper as you sip a Pimm’s cup at Napoleon House
Indulge in the 25¢ martinis during lunch at Commander’s Palace.
Recommendations for Couples:
Take a carriage ride through the French Quarter
Steamboat ride on the Natchez
Dance the night away at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street