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New Orleans – Things to do for your first visit

Maybe… you’ve heard about New Orleans. Perhaps, you know that it’s a foodies dream. Or, that it’s the birthplace of jazz music. In contrast, maybe you’ve learned about New Orleans sordid past. Similarly, how the town is riddled with haunted spaces and stories. Moreover, maybe you’re actually drawn to the city for its more, well, macabre tales. The Crescent City is one that can wear many hats. Undoubtedly, there are layers to Nola – many different sides to the Big Easy. Which ones will you see during your trip, is the question? Without further ado, let’s dig into some of the best New Orleans things to do, especially if it’s your first visit.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler

French for “let the good times roll” – New Orleans motto

Eat and drink your way through New Orleans

Beignets, Creole and Southern Cuisine, Sazerac and Libations

It’s highly probable that you’ve heard by now how delicious the food scene is in New Orleans. But, in case you didn’t know… now you do. Moreover, I would go as far as to say that if you aren’t eating and drinking your way through Nola, you might be doing it wrong. Rather a strong assertion, I know. Because the thing is, the Creole, Cajun and Southern cuisine in the region is simply mouthwatering. Also, libations and mixology are a big part of New Orleans culture.

Beignets from Café Beignets
Beignets from Café Beignets
A classic Muffaletta from Cochon Bakery
A classic Muffaletta from Cochon Bakery

If you don’t consume alcohol, you can always opt for the mocktail versions of several of New Orleans signature beverages. There are so many restaurants that are “must try”, it’d be quite a feat to hit them all in one trip. But, it’ll be fun to try?!

Tip: Want some specific food and restaurant recommendations? Check out my guide: here.

The French Quarter

Bourbon Street, Voodoo Daiquiries, French Market, Museums, Iconic Restaurants & Food

Ahh, the French Quarter… the epicenter of most travelers trips, first visit or not. Though, if it’s your first visit to New Orleans, you will definitely have a lot to explore in the French Quarter. Namely, the famed Bourbon Street which is thirteen blocks of restaurants, booze, museums, shops and various entertainment. Bourbon Street is the most visited part of the French Quarter, but don’t feel the need to spend all of your time there.

Some of my favorite highlights of Bourbon Street:

Galatoire’s Restaurant (since 1905)

Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

We stopped at Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop on a haunted walking tour we took. It’s dark and moody inside, and allegedly haunted. Oh, it’s also historic, as it’s one of the oldest bar’s in the USA. The building the bar is in was built in 1772. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is known for its ‘Purple Drank’ – a frozen blended daiquiri that you can drink inside or take to go. I tried one and you should too!

Café Beignet

Café Beignet is my favorite place to grab Beignets in town. There are a few locations and the one on Bourbon Street is the largest and has live jazz music playing daily.

Visit Café Beignet on Royal Street, one of the best New Orleans things to do
Café Beignet on Royal Street
Corner of Royal and Dumaine in the French Quarter
Corner of Royal and Dumaine in the French Quarter

Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub

I wouldn’t say Fritzel’s is one of my favorite places, but I do think it’s worth mentioning. It’s the oldest jazz club in New Orleans. A small, intimate venue that seems to attract a significantly mature crowd in the daytime. The talent performing varies, and they have live shows 365 days a year. The drinks are overpriced, but there is no cover to watch the show on Bourbon Street, so it is what it is.

Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo

This is one of my favorite shops in town, and whenever I’m around, I stock up on various things here. New Orleans is a spiritual city in many different ways and aspects. Whereas, I know some people do frown upon things like Tarot card readings, if you are not one of those people, keep reading. If you’re interested in having a reading, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo is a great option. On a recent visit, I plunked down $50.00 USD and had my first one ever and it was quite an experience. I earnestly recommend Shelby, who came with high praise to begin with, if you’re interested in one.

French Market

The French Market is a bizarre of sorts where you can find an array of oddities, locally made goods and souvenirs. I found a few pairs of quirky earrings here that I adore.

Learn about New Orleans through its Museums

Sazerac House, Historic Voodoo Museum, New Orleans Jazz Museum and more

While museums probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about visiting New Orleans, the city has some incredible museums. I’d say there’s a few museums that I’d consider top New Orleans things to do.

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, entrance
One of my favorite museums, New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
New Orleans Jazz Museum - a Sousaphone on display
New Orleans Jazz Museum – a Sousaphone on display

There are several museums that you can visit that are low cost, fun to explore and will help you understand New Orleans past, present, culture and stories in a much more comprehensive way.

Tip: Want to know much more detail about some of the best museums to visit, what they offer and their cost? Check out my New Orleans Museum Guide: here.

Experience Jazz on Frenchman Street

Live music, Libations, Low cost food and drinks, Frenchman Art Bizarre

Listen up. Everyone thinks of Bourbon street as the place to go to listen to live jazz, but Frenchman Street is where you really need to go. The entire street is lined with bars, music clubs and incredible performances. I’ve never encountered any venue on Frenchman that charged a cover to enter, however, some establishments do have drink minimums.

Here are some of my favorite places I’ve let the good times roll on Frenchman Street:

Café Negril

This is my favorite venue on Frenchman Street. When I tell you that performers and jazz music is fabulous here, please know that it’s exceptional. The musicians never fail to bring down the house. This establishment is high energy, good vibes, and great drinks. You’ll likely find a big crowd in front of the stage, singing, dancing and making the experience more fun.

Bamboula’s

I’ve seen some incredible performances at Bamboula’s. It’s definitely a place to go where you go to have a drink and listen to the music seated.

Favela Chic

Favela chic is another place you can go to sit down, have a drink, relax and watch a great show. There aren’t too many food options on or near Frenchman Street, but the good news? Favela chic sells pizza slices (cue angels singing).

Frenchman Art Bazaar

This is the place to get souvenirs or craftsman items made by local artists. There is a range of goods for sale – from artwork to clothing to jewelry. The Bazaar opens at 7:00pm and they are going until midnight every night and one am on weekends!

Take a Stroll or Tour in the Garden District

Beautiful architecture, Southern style Mansions and Historic homes

Unless you hate beautiful neighborhoods and historic architecture, you won’t want to miss our on the garden district. There are so many beautiful homes to view. Additionally, if you’re curious, there are many celebrities that have estates in the garden district: Beyonce, Nick Cage, Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt and more.

A stunning Garden District southern manor
A stunning Garden District southern manor
A raised Center-Hall Cottage style home, common in the Garden District
A raised Center-Hall Cottage style home, common in the Garden District

Overall, you can check out the neighborhood by riding the St. Charles streetcar line or even the hop on hop off bus. However, it’s worthwhile to consider hoofing it for a bit. I spent a few hours meandering the garden district on foot and felt like I really got to take the beauty in.

Tip: Make sure to check out Charles Avenue and Magazine Street, some of the oak trees on Charles Avenue are over two centuries old! If you’d like a bit more guided context, there is a cool walking tour of the Garden district you can book: here.

Ride the St. Charles Streetcar Line

Historic Streetcar Line running since 1835

This is a top New Orleans thing to do to, because firstly, it’s a historical part of New Orleans past. Secondly, it’s only $1.25 per person. On a nice day, it’s lovely to rest your feet and relax on the street car, taking in the breeze and views.

Tip: It’s $1.25 for each ride. You need to pay in cash. Specifically, you need exact change. Alternatively, you can purchase a 1 -7 day ‘Jazzy pass’ online: here.

See a Show at Preservation Hall

Historic Live Music Venue

To be completely transparent, you can hear as good of jazz music for free on Frenchman street. However, seeing a show at Preservation Hall is something you should consider doing at least once.

Hanging sign that says 'Preservation Hall'
Preservation Hall: historic jazz hall since 1961
The Preservation All Stars after their performance
The Preservation All Stars after their performance

Attending a show at Preservation Hall is to take in a bit of New Orleans history and absorb a meaningful part of its culture.

Tip: You must buy your tickets in advance. Shows at Preservation Hall do sell out and fast. The earlier you buy your tickets the better. If you’re looking to save money, or perhaps it’s the only tickets still available, the standing room tickets are more than fine. Unless you need to sit, I preferred to stand in the back and felt the view and experience was fine. It’s a very small venue.

Dinner Cruise on Steamboat Natchez

The self proclaimed ‘last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River’

I’m not sure about you, but I can’t imagine going all the way to New Orleans and not experiencig one of only five remaining steamboats in existence. Not only am I so glad I did this activity, I got to do it on the 4th of July and it was one of my favorite Independence days to date.

View from the Steamboat Natchez dinner cruise of the Mississipi river
View from the Steamboat Natchez dinner cruise of the Mississipi river
Dinner cruise meal on the 4th of July
Dinner cruise meal on the 4th of July

You have the option to select tickets that include dinner. I highly recommend doing this in advance, as many steamboat goers decided they wanted to do dinner when they arrived, however, dinner was already sold out for the night. While it won’t be the best meal you’ll have in New Orleans by a long shot, the food was completely fine with generous portions.

While the views are lovely, what made the night was the Dixieland band playing, the singing, the dancing, the hoopla and a magnificent firework show to be viewed above the Mississipi River after dark.

Tip: I really loved this experience. Book your tickets so you an experience it too: here.

Hop- On, Hop -Off Bus Tour

Listen. I’m a tourist and I know it and I’m not afraid to show it. The majority of major cities I visit, I will take a Hop- on, Hop Off tour. The guides are great and can range from deeply informative to downright, knee-slapping entertainment. It’s a great way to get an overview of a city, ask questions and also utilize the transportation from point A to point B.

Tip: Arrive prepared, you can book your Hop – on, Hop off sightseeing bus tour: here.

Take a day trip down to the Bayou

Swamp tours, Alligators, Airboat adventures

Technically, this experience is not in New Orleans. However, it’s a popular day trip that is taken from New Orleans. My bed and breakfast innkeeper recommended Honey Island Swamp Tours to take us on an expedition through the Bayou. Not only was the activity so much fun from beginning to end, but everyone from the driver, to the boat captain and our fellow tour mates were great company.

Honey Island Swamp Tours will pick you up where you are staying (FYI: they do not pickup at AirBNB’s but will direct you to the closet pickup spot to you) and drive you to Slidell, Louisiana where your adventure will embark.

Our boat for the Honey Island Swamp Tour
Our boat for the Honey Island Swamp Tour
One of the many, many Alligators spotted
One of the many, many Alligators spotted

Going into an alligator (and loads of other wildlife) infested habitat can be a bit nerve wracking, but put your mind at ease. Honey Island Swamp Tours uses coast guard inspected boats, and are guided by licensed professional guides. I felt completely safe and in good hands the entire time. Covered and uncovered boats are used. Our boat was covered, which I personally preferred as it was mid summer and provided some welcomed shade.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might want to consider an airboat tour. On an airboat, you’re sitting on a chair on a platform like boat, with no rails. These also go considerably fast. Although, those whom have ventured on this excursion say it’s mighty fun!

Tip: You can book your Honey Island Swamp Tour: here. Also, you can book your New Orleans Airboat Ride: here.

Have you done any of these things in New Orleans? What would you be most excited to do for your visit?

Headed to New Orleans?

Check these out!

Visit THESE Museums in New Orleans Louisiana

The Roosevelt New Orleans – a Waldorf Astoria Hotel

New Orleans Food and Restaurants you MUST try

20 EPIC Things to Do in New Orleans

Travel Tips & Resources to Help You Plan an Epic Trip!

Going – I’ve subscribed to Going (formerly, beloved, Scott’s Cheap Flights) for awhile now and it’s an amazing resource for finding… did you guess cheap flights? Yes, you can set your preferences from airports to flight class and get destination deals right to your inbox. It’s fab! I use the Premium paid version, but they have a FREE version too. So what are you waiting for?! Let’s get Going!

Booking.com – the majority, if not almost all of my stays are booked on Booking.com. It’s a reliable site to book and manage your reservations. It’s a great way to find boutique stays and unique accommodations at the best rates! You can also easily communicate with your accommodation through the app.

Expedia – If I am looking for a flight to a specific destination for specific dates, I find myself booking many flights on Expedia. It’s user friendly and straight forward. I often find the most cost effective rates, while earning points for every flight I book (in tandem with the points I receive from the credit cards I pay with).

Viator – most of the activities, tours and excursions I book for my trips are booked through Viator. Whether you’re seeking a guide for the day, a group tour, a cooking class, Viator has you covered!

Get Your Guide – this is another great marketplace to find tours, excursions and activities to book for your upcoming trip.

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