Thinking of visiting the Big Easy? Popular the world over for a party vibe, rich history and culture, and a delicious culinary scene, New Orleans, Louisiana, is always a good idea. Grab your Mardi Gras beads, order up a beignet, and let the music flow through you!
From beautiful architectural areas like the French Quarter serving as living history to all the fun of the infamous New Orleans nightlife and live music scene on Bourbon Street, there’s a ton of variety in this popular city. Whether you want to learn more about the area’s history at the Oak Alley Plantation or soak up the atmosphere at City Park, no two days in the Big Easy are the same.
Need a hand sorting out your itinerary? Trust in our New Orleans travel guide, complete with what to see & do, where to stay, and how to get around!
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What to see & do in New Orleans
When you think of the iconic images of New Orleans, chances are you’re thinking about the French Quarter. Frequently rated as one of the best things to do in New Orleans, LA, the French Quarter is bursting with vitality, history, and culture. Known as the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, the French Quarter is a must-visit.
Regardless of the time of day, if you wander through the French Quarter, you’ll hear jazz flowing out of bars and cafes and live music out on the street. As the neighborhood is a key part of New Orleans’s cultural identity, take a minute to stop into one of the venues and listen to the music that made this city the hub it is today.
As the French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the whole city, you can expect to find plenty of history in this area. Take a historic walking tour or a more spooky ghost tour, and learn more about the sordid and paranormal history of the area. Along the way, stop off for a snack or two; beignets and King Cake are both essentials!
If you’ve only got one day in New Orleans, be sure to spend some of it on Bourbon Street. The beating heart of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street is home to all the great bars, restaurants, and music venues. Dating back to 1718, Bourbon Street is a New Orleans institution and a hive of activity.
Spanning a huge 13 blocks, Bourbon Street has a little something for whatever mood you’re in. From smoky jazz clubs to bougie cocktail bars to rowdy sports bars, it doesn’t matter what kind of night you’re wanting, you can make it a reality here.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you: This is not the place to be if you’re massively introverted. Bourbon Street is the life and soul of the party, and you’re likely to find a ton of bachelorette parties and weekend visitors in town for a good time, not a long time.
Sure, Bourbon Street is a lot of fun, but make sure you have nothing planned for the morning after; chances are you’ll be in no shape to do anything other than hug your coffee and eat greasy hangover food.
St. Louis Cathedral
Located in the French Quarter, towering up above the city, is the historic and beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. As it’s the oldest cathedral in North America, its importance can not be understated. Built from 1720 to 1794 on the banks of the Mississippi River, this Catholic monument draws tourists from all over the world.
St. Louis Cathedral is designed in a mix of architectural styles to match the melting pot of New Orleans. Eagle-eyed design buffs can spot Renaissance, Gothic Revival, and Spanish Colonial architecture in different parts of the cathedral.
The church is open from 9 am until 4 pm daily for you to take a wander around on your own. Volunteers are on hand to help with any queries, but if you want a guided tour, you need to book in advance.
Also, be respectful of any masses that might be going on; St. Louis Cathedral is still a functioning place of worship!
In need of some fresh air and time in the great outdoors? Lace up your sneakers and take a walk around City Park. Spanning 1,300 acres of land, it’s one of the biggest city parks in the US and the ideal spot to explore after a late night on Bourbon Street.
Dominated by an expansive lake and complete with dozens of trails, City Park is a respite from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter. You can also find museums, disc golf areas, and more within the giant park’s landscape. Get some culture, refresh your body and mind, or just find a bench where you can people-watch.
If you’re traveling with a furry friend, City Park is super dog-friendly and even has a designated dog run. Let your pooch have some fun in the fresh Louisiana sun as you take in the beautifully maintained scenery.
Oak Alley Plantation
If you’re curious about the history of New Orleans and want to get out of the city for a while, journey out to the Oak Alley Plantation. As one of the best day trips from New Orleans, it’s well worth the short drive! This former plantation has a dark side to it, which you can explore, as well as the huge grounds surrounding the main house.
With the main house, slavery exhibit, blacksmith shop, theatre, and both the east and west gardens to explore, you can easily spend a full day at the Oak Alley Plantation. Take in the grounds, learn more about the dark history of this plantation, or see what life was like as a blacksmith in years gone by.
As it’s a 63-acre National Historic Landmark, a visit to the Oak Alley Plantation should be high up on your New Orleans itinerary.
Where to stay
As there’s so much to see, do, and enjoy in New Orleans, finding the right base for your trip is crucial. Finding where to stay in New Orleans, LA, will largely depend on what kind of trip you’re looking for, but there are plenty of great areas and neighborhoods around the city:
- French Quarter: If you’re a first-timer or just want to be close to the action, book a stay in the French Quarter. You’ll be able to walk pretty much everywhere and you’ll really get a feel for the classic New Orleans vibe. If you’re a light sleeper or need your eight hours, the French Quarter does tend to be noisy, so take this into consideration.
- Central Business District (CBD): Looking for the best foodie hotspots or want to get your fill of arts and culture? Get a reservation at a place in the Central Business District (CBD). Located near the Warehouse District, you can find a ton of up-and-coming restaurants as well as established hotspots loved by food bloggers from around the world. There are also several museums in this area if you need a break from the partying and food tours!
- Faubourg Marigny & Bywater: If you’re in New Orleans for the jazz scene, you need to stay in the Faubourg Marigny & Bywater area of the city. Located near the iconic Frenchmen Street, which is filled with amazing jazz clubs and bars, the neighborhood lets you have your pick of entertainment. Frenchmen Street is more laidback than Bourbon Street and, as a result, is often cheaper and less crowded.
- Garden District: Traveling with kiddos in tow or looking for a romantic getaway? Get out of the more adult regions of the city and book a stay in the Garden District. As the name suggests, there are plenty of parks and green spaces in this part of town to run around in, as well as plenty of antique and art shops to browse until your heart’s content.
When to visit
The best time to visit New Orleans, LA, is between February and March. These months are the height of the festival season, including the city’s famous Mardi Gras.
Although the months are a festive time of year, though, they’re also the peak season for tourists. In February and March, accommodation and airfare prices go through the roof. It’s also super crowded.
If you’re not fussed about Mardi Gras itself but want to experience the parade and carnival vibe, there are other events from February to May. Book your trip towards the start or end of this period to potentially get a cheaper deal.
If you just want to experience New Orleans free of the carnival season, November and December are popular months due to the temperate weather and smaller crowds.
New Orleans is served by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), located 11 miles west of downtown. Several major airlines offer direct flights to MSY from major U.S. and international destinations, including:
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- United Airlines
New Orleans is well-connected by road to other cities in Louisiana and other neighboring states. Popular driving routes to/from New Orleans and estimated driving times include:
- Baton Rouge, LA (1h33m)
- Lafayette, LA (2h22m)
- Jackson, MS (2h45m)
- Memphis, TN (5h42m)
- Mobile, AL (2h4m)
- Pensacola, FL (3h3m)
- Houston, TX (5h12m)
New Orleans is largely walkable, especially if you’re staying in the French Quarter. Walking the old cobbled streets is a huge part of the charm of visiting the city, so be sure to carve out some time to explore the city on foot.
Of course, the old-fashioned street car trolley system is a fun way to get around New Orleans. Four lines go between all the main neighborhoods and tourist sights. Remember to get plenty of photos of this quintessential NOLA experience!
If you prefer to explore on two wheels, you’ll be pleased to know that New Orleans has over 100 miles of designated bike lanes, and the city is relatively flat and even.
Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your own bike with you: There are plenty of rental shops, and many of the hostels and hotels have their own bike hire for a small fee.