New Orleans was always on my bucket list and in 2019 when I was still living in Chicago my partner and I decided to visit it just before Christmas. NOLA is definitely one of the most unique places I’ve ever been to since it’s such an interesting melting pot of different cultures. This city offers colorful stories from the past, live music on every corner, beautiful art and delicious food!
We’ve spent 3 days there and saw all the city’s main highlights. I’ve decided to create this 3-day trip itinerary to help you take any stress out of planning your next trip to New Orleans.
Where to stay in New Orleans? What is there to do in NOLA? Is 3 days enough in New Orleans? You will find the answers to these questions in this blog post.
1. Where to stay in New Orleans?
There are many diverse neighborhoods in NOLA and the most famous one is definitely the French Quarter. It’s the city’s oldest area with plenty of bars, restaurants, local boutiques and gorgeous architecture. You will find a lot of street performers there and one of my favorites are brass bands (a musical group that is made up of only brass instruments and drums). They will cheer you up immediately and put you in a vibe that you can only experience in this wonderful city. If you want to be in the middle of it all and with easy access to other neighborhoods, then you should stay in French Quarter.
If you want to stay in a more peaceful and quiet area, then you should consider the Garden/Uptown District, a residential area upriver from the French Quarter. It’s easily accessible by variety of transportation. You will find cute cafes, po-boy shops, unique shops and family restaurants. It’s a perfect place for a long walks under big oak trees.
The 3rd option is the Central Business District where we stayed. It is very close to French Quarter and offers more of a modern and trendier vibe. It also includes the Warehouse District which was transformed in the late 80s and it’s now a popular spot with renowned art galleries and museums. We booked a room with Old No.77 Hotel & Chandlery, boutique hotel located near French Quarter and Bourbon Street. It was once a warehouse and they transformed it into a modern design hotel with hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. We loved our stay there since it was very cozy, lovely furnished and the staff was really pleasant.
2. What food is New Orleans known for?
If you’re a foodie then New Orleans is a perfect place for you. The story of NOLA is definitely reflected in its unique and very delicious food. You won’t be hungry, I promise you that. What are some of the must-eat foods of New Orleans that you have to try? Here is the list:
Gumbo: Gumbo is one of the most famous NOLA dishes. It's basically a thick stew served over rice and it has both French and West African roots. It has a wide variety of ingredients such as celery, peppers, okra, onions, sausage or seafood.
Jambalaya: Jambalaya is a very flavorful dish with a long history. It has a West African, French and Spanish influence. It consists mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditionally this dish includes sausage, pork or chicken and also seafood, such as crawfish or shrimp.
We tried both, Gumbo and Jambalaya in Gumbo Shop and we were not dissapointed. They offer a full menu of Creole cuisine, from po-boys, bread pudding to crawfish etouffee and of course, different types of gumbo. You can either sit indoors in a large room with tall ceilings and beautifully painted walls or outdoors in a courtyard full of greenery.
Po-Boy: Po-Boys are very famous NOLA stuffed sandwiches made with French bread. They are piled with lettuce, tomato and pickles and filled with either roast beef, fried shrimp or other seafood.
Muffaletta: Muffaletta is another well known sandwich invented in New Orleans. You will get it stuffed with cured meats (ham, salami), provolone cheese, olive dressing and delicious bread. We tried one in Cochon Butcher. They have a wide variety of muffaletta’s with delicious side dishes and salads. You can also order sausage and cheese platters and even gumbo. It is definitely worth stopping by.
Crawfish: Crawfish are a traditional New Orleans seafood that resemble a small lobster, however they home from freshwater. They’re found in Louisiana streams, ponds and rivers. You can order them boiled, sauteed, baked or fried. The most popular dish is crawfish etouffee, which is a very thick stew, uniquely seasoned and served over rice. We tried them in Castnet Seafood, a restaurant a little bit outside of the city where you will find mostly local customers. We ordered a bunch of fried shrimps, oysters and boiled crawfish. For the side we got fries and a lot of dipping sauces - just like locals.
Beignets: Last but not least is beignet, the city's most famous sweet treat. The concept of it is pretty simple. The dough is fried and then covered with a lot of powdered sugar. It’s similar to a doughnut but better! Cafe du Monde is the oldest and most iconic beignet shop, where you can sit, enjoy the views of the city, have a cup of hot coffee and of course, delicious beignets.
In Kingfish we had an amazing brunch with bottomless mimosas. It is located in the French Quarter and their menu embodies new Louisiana cuisine. They are keeping the best of traditional NOLA dishes and adding a fun new twist to them.
Molly’s Rise and Shine is another delicious breakfast place with a refreshingly modern twist on breakfast classics.
3. What is there to do in New Orleans in 3 days?
We arrived to New Orleans early in the morning and decided to rent a car at an airport so we could explore the city at our own pace and another benefit of it is that you don’t need to rely on public transport all the time. If you don’t want to rent a car there, don’t worry, there are a lot of other options on how to get around the city. The city’s neighborhoods are very compact so you can easily get around on foot or if you don’t feel like walking around too much, you can always hop on one of the famous streetcars.
From the airport to the city center you can always take a bus (202 Airport Express) or order a taxi.
When we arrived at the city center, we first went on a quick stroll through French District. This area is the cultural center of New Orleans and it’s really full of high energy, unique architecture, street performers and art galleries. From there we walked to Jackson Square and River MoonWalk. Jackson Square is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks with St. Louis Cathedral in the middle. It is full of street artists that display their work. You will find the famous Cafe du Monde here so you can grab coffee and beignets and relax while watching people on the Square.
Right next to Jackson Square there is a Moonwalk where you can take a stroll if you want to see the Mississippi River. Moonwalk is a brick promenade where you will find a lot of locals, musicians and tourists. Here you can get some of the best views of the city and the river.
After we spent a couple of hours in the city center and experienced the city’s vibe a little bit, we drove to St. Louis Cemetery. This is one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans and it has been resting peacefully for over 200 years now. It has more than 600 tombs lined in narrow walkways. Known for its distinctive above-ground burials this old cemetery is worth exploring.
There is only one thing, you can only visit it with a tour guide. You can check the availability here.
The last stop on our first day was City Park which is one of the oldest parks in Louisiana. It is known for its iconic oak trees and picturesque moss canopies. It offers beautiful trails and scenery. You will find multiple themed gardens, biking and walking paths, museums and an amusement park. We loved the Botanical Garden which is full of colorful flowers, greenery, and beautiful art. It’s a perfect place to take a lot of photos.
For our second day in NOLA we booked a Honey Island Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters. Swamp is located a little bit out of the city, so we drove there with a car. You can book a tour with transportation included which means that a bus will pick you up in the city. The boat tour lasts around 2 hours. The tour guide will explain to you the history of Louisiana’s wetlands and swamp ecosystem and in the meantime, you will get a chance to see alligators, raccoons, owls, wild boars, nutrias and many interesting bird species. It’s really a fascinating experience and I would highly recommend you to book a tour if you’re into wildlife.
In the afternoon we decided to take another stroll through the city center and walked down the Canal Street. There you will find a lot of shopping places and newly restored theaters. Canal Street also serves as a place for parading during Mardi Gras. We were lucky to visit New Orleans in December because we had a chance to see the colorful and imaginative lighting displays along this street.
New Orleans is definitely a party city and Bourbon Street embodies that. We decided to end the day with bar hopping and experiencing everything that Bourbon Street has to offer. This place is lit by neon lights, decorated balconies and you can hear different types of music coming out of every bar. It is a prime destination for a variety of celebrations such as bachelorette and bachelor parties and birthdays. If you’re looking to have a good time then Bourbon Street is definitely a mecca for you.
We began our day 3 in NOLA with a delicious brunch and drinking a couple of mimosas. Then we headed out to the Museum of Art. NOMA ranks among the 25% of the nation’s largest and most significant museums. It includes more than 40.000 objects from 5,000 years of art. You will find beautiful pieces from French, American, African and Japanese art. Moreover, the museum has a collection of more than 90 modern and contemporary sculptures from different parts of the world.
The next stop was the Garden District. This neighborhood was definitely one of our favorites. It is very charming because of the oak-shaded streets and historic mansions. You will find a lot of lovely boutiques and antique shops. There are also a lot of good options in terms of restaurants, casual cafes and local bars.
Because of the bad weather, we decided to do a Happy Hour bar hopping in the afternoon and finished our NOLA trip in style. We checked Eater where we found some of the best happy hour options in the city.
4. Is 3 days enough in New Orleans?
If you have the chance to spend more than 3 days in NOLA, then you should do it, since there are still a couple of places that we didn’t have the time to visit, for example, The National WWII Museum and Whitney Plantation. However, 3-days is enough to explore the city’s main highlights that are mentioned in this itinerary. In addition, all the neighborhoods are either walkable or accessible by streetcar so you won’t have to waste a lot of time traveling from one sight to another.
Now it’s time to pack your bags and prepare for an unforgettable NOLA trip.