New Orleans is one of America’s favorite cities to be visited. Obviously well-known for its Mardi Gras bash, there are many other great reasons to visit this charming city. This place is full of lively, easy going people where anything goes! And the best part? You can get the full flavor of New Orleans by spending 3 days or a long weekend here.
The term ‘Big Easy’ makes so much sense after just a few hours.
Between the smiles, the food and the music, you’d be hard pressed to not have a good time here.
It’s full of history, stunning architecture, beautiful public parks, colorful street art, eclectic shops, the best sounding jazz music, the most helpful locals and the best fried chicken!
This city not only knows how to party, but knows how to welcome visitors from all over.
After my visit to New Orleans, I wished I had budgeted more time to stay. I will most definitely be back, but in the meantime, I wanted to share my 3 itinerary for visiting New Orleans in a weekend.
Of course, if you can swing it, I would recommend staying longer and taking more time to slow down and enjoy the city.
For example, for some reason, I was expecting how many beautiful parks New Orleans is home to. This was one of the things that surprised me most, and makes me want to go back again as soon as possible!
Below you will find a guide for spending 3 day in New Orleans, which I think is just enough time to get a feel and flavor for the city.
You won’t be able to see and do everything, so this guide is intended to help you choose the best activities, sights to see and things to do in New Orleans to make the most of your time there.
I’ve organized this post by neighborhood. I’m recommending a stay in both the French Quarter and the Garden District.
You’ll find suggestions about where to stay, where to eat and what to do based on your time spent in each location.
Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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The French Quarter
First, I do recommend staying the in French Quarter. However, I would recommend keeping your stay in this zone to a maximum of 2 nights.
This will give you a great taste of the nightlife and the activity during the day. The French Quarter is also quite compact, so you can walk around and see everything in under 2 days.
French Quarter Hotels – Where to Stay
A great option is the Hotel Provincial. I chose to stay here on my trip because of the central location in the French Quarter and it was perfect. It was walkable to lots of top attractions, yet 2 blocks away from Bourbon Street.
Quiet enough when I needed it, but close enough to the action when I wanted it!
It’s a perfectly charming old hotel, with great facades and a beautifully romantic courtyard. The rooms are also fantastic for a girls weekend getaway. The bathrooms are huge!
Plus, outside the bathroom there’s a separate vanity and large mirror!
For a great value option in the heart of the French Quarter with breakfast included, choose Place D’Armes Hotel. Location can’t be beat – it’s smack dab in the middle of the French Quarter.
If you’re looking for something a little more classy, Soniat House is the best choice. This luxury boutique hotel is a quiet oasis within the sometimes rowdy Vieux Carré.
Things to Do in the French Quarter
First, enjoy some time wandering around in the Vieux Carre.
Admire the historic and eclectic architecture, people watch and just enjoy the energy of this colorful city.
If you want to make the most of your time, I always love taking a 2-hour walking tour to get familiar with the area.
Breakfast: Cafe du Monde for Coffee and Beignets
Get up early and get in line for Cafe Du Monde, and enjoy coffee and Beignets. These are traditional New Orleans fried pastries and their own unique spin on donuts.
It’s cash only and nothing fancy, but a hot cup of coffee and warm powdered-sugar Beignet is a New Orleans staple experience.
Also, don’t get discouraged by the lineup, no matter how long it is. It does move fast and there’s usually street jazz music to enjoy while you wait!
Wander Around Jackson Square
Here you’ll find the stunning St. Louis Cathedral. Enjoy the history here and bask in the energy of the street vendors and jazz music. Then, take a stroll down to the nearby riverfront park of the Mississippi River.
Visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
This is the famous burial grounds of the infamous voodoo queen, Marie Laveau. This is a good one to visit as it’s within walking distance from the French Quarter.
You will need to pay for a guided tour to get access to the cemetery because there have been problems from vandalism in the past.
I recommend booking a tour guide in advance. That way you’re guaranteed a tour and it will also cost you less money. I recommend this cemetery and voodoo tour.
It incorporates the stories of the cemetery, burial customs and traditions and the voodoo culture embedded in New Orleans’ intriguing history.
You will save time and money by booking online in advance – precious when you only have a few days!
Get Your Fortune Read By A Medium
In the land of voodoo magic, it’s fun to get your fortune told. If you just want to have some fun, you can find a psychic medium at Jackson Square.
If you’re looking for a more reputable medium though, Mika is probably your best bet.
She even includes a bottle of champagne in your destiny reading session as you sit on the patio of Cafe du Monde!
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Best Places to Eat and Have a Drink
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Rumor has it that this is the oldest original bar in not only New Orleans but all of the United States. It can be found at the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip.
The coolest part? There’s still no electricity, so the entire place is dimly lit by candles only.
Coop’s Place. Located a couple blocks off of Bourbon Street close to the Mississippi River is Coop’s Place. This unassuming restaurant and bar would have easily been passed by if it weren’t for 3 different locals all telling us to go here.
The food was phenomenal, and the fried chicken was unbelievable. The snarky bartenders have fun with you, and makes it quite the experience!
Recommended French Quarter Cocktail and Food Tours
Hang out with a local on a haunted pub crawl, including stops at Lafitte’s and a spot which has been using the same cocktail recipe for 200 years.
Experience NOLA like a local on this 10 Tastings of New Orleans food tour.
French Quarter Cocktail Tour and Ghost Crawl!
Bar Hop and People Watch on Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street at night reminds me of a miniature but more crazy version of Las Vegas Boulevard. Whether you want to go all out or just have a few beverages and observe the party, it’s a must-do for everyone.
Be Aware of Scams and Pickpockets on Bourbon Street at Night
Watch out for the Shoe Scam. A gentleman came up to our group and made some friendly conversation and wanted to bet one of the men in our group that he could guess where ‘he got his shoes’.
As we’re from Canada we thought there was no way he could guess where our friend got his shoes, so we played along with the $20 bet.
As it turns out, it was a play on words and it was impossible for us to win the bet. The man followed us for a couple of blocks until we agreed to pay him $10.
I consider my friends and I relatively seasoned travelers, but we did fall for this one as we thought this man was just making friendly conversation.
You can avoid this scam by mentioning you’re a local or tell the man you got your shoes on Bourbon Street!
Also be weary of pickpockets. They’re well-known on Bourbon Street because of how busy it is and how many distractions there are. Just keep your purses secure and don’t keep wallets or phones in your back pockets.
Find Yourself a Jazz Club
A quintessential New Orleans experience. Ditch Bourbon Street and head to Frenchmen Street for the best live Jazz music. If you’re staying at the Hotel Provincial, you’re within walking distance.
I recommend having dinner or a drink at Coop’s Place and then walk to Frenchmen Street and look for the Spotted Cat Music Club.
You can’t leave New Orleans until you’ve watched a set here! A couple tips though. Be prepared for a lineup. It’s cash only, and it’s a small bar so be prepared to stand for a little while until you’re able to snag a spot.
To prep for your evening music experience, take a tour through the Treme neighborhood, which is the birthplace of Jazz music!
Or even better, experience an evening of Jazz music on a sunset dinner cruise with the best views of the city.
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The Garden District
Where to Stay in the Garden District
My second recommendation is to stay in the Garden District. If you really want to experience New Orleans like a local, spend more of your time in and around this neighborhood instead of the touristy French Quarter.
Here is where you will find the traditional colonial homes and streets lined with southern magnolia trees that bloom pink in early spring.
I chose to stay at the Parisian Courtyard Inn because of the location. Not only is it steps away from the street car, it’s one of the top rated hotels on Booking.com and is one of the most reasonably priced hotels (New Orleans isn’t a cheap city to visit).
A mix between Victorian and vintage-Parisian style decor, you walk in and feel like you’ve stepped back in time to 1890! It’s also close to the World War II Museum, if you hop on the street car.
Bonus tip: be sure to walk down the block and stop in at the Columns Hotel for a cocktail. The old-timey and vintage mahogany bar is the best setting to enjoy a mint julep. Or bring your cocktail out onto the front porch at dusk.
Another bonus tip: Their Sunday Jazz Brunch has live music and $10 bottomless mimosas.
Or you could try the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue which is just steps away from the Trolley and a beautifully classic hotel.
Stylish yet affordable too! And the best part, the rooftop bar that over looks the city.
Best Airbnbs in the Garden District
There are also some amazing Airbnbs in the Garden District. What better way to soak up the history of this incredible city than to stay in a historic house.
Check out this gorgeous house perfectly in between St. Charles Ave and Magazine Street, including the classic New Orleans-style courtyard.
Enjoy the view of St. Charles from your private balcony at this stylish home. The location is perfect where you’re steps from coffee shops, restaurants and the street cars.
Things to do in the Garden District of New Orleans
Or if you don’t have a chance to stay in the garden district and explore on your own, book a garden district walking tour that will take you through the neighborhood’s most charming homes and passed some celebrity digs.
Ride the Trolley Street Cars
Riding the Trolley is such a unique experience in NOLA. It’s also a great way to see the city.
Take a ride in a historic streetcar (most of them are still original) and admire the old mansions and massive oak trees.
It’s an affordable way to navigate the city. Plus, all the drivers have lively and fun-spirited personalities.
Stroll Through Audubon Park
Make sure one of your street car stops is at this magnificent park. Hit one of the trails and marvel at the cascading tree canopies, meditate, enjoy a picnic, take a nap. Anything!
There’s a certain type of peace that resonates here that’s different than any other city park I’ve visited.
While at the park, you must pay a visit to the Tree of Life.
It was one of my favorite things to see and one of the best free attractions in New Orleans. As the tree is over 300 years old, it’s hard to imagine how massive it is until you stand underneath it. You’ve gotta see it for yourself.
If time allows, the Audubon Zoo is a great way to spend a few hours.
or Stroll Through City Park!
City Park in New Orleans is very similar to Central Park in New York City, but it’s actually 50% bigger! On my first visit to New Orleans, I was blown away by the incredible parks system.
Between all the trails, parks and green spaces and college campuses, everyone spends their time outside enjoying nature in the city.
So if you really want to experience New Orleans like a local, you must at least go for a jog or a stroll in one of the incredible parks.
One of the hidden gems in New Orleans is the Langles Bridge found in City Park. It’s a little stone bridge that looks like it’s straight out of an enchanted fairy tale.
Some refer to it as the secret bridge, as it’s such as small bridge found within a massive park.
It’s one of the most photographed bridges in the city – check it out and then visit the Cafe du Monde nearby!
You can also visit the botanical gardens, rent a paddleboat, have a picnic, rent bicycles or even play mini golf here.
Visit City Park for some fresh air and relaxing scenery after a late night on Bourbon Street!
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Visit Lafayette Cemetery
A tour of a cemetery is a must-do New Orleans experience. Witnessing the above ground tombs and graves in person is such a surreal experience.
While I mentioned the St. Louis cemetery above, if you only have time for one, I recommend Lafayette Cemetery.
It’s one of the oldest and has the most interesting history.
Honestly though, if you have time for both, I would recommend it. You won’t get bored of these ancient places. Slowly strolling through the maze of historic tombstones is fascinating.
Where to Eat in The Garden District
Breakfast: Slim Goodies. This quirky diner serves a hearty breakfast, has the cutest outdoor garden and is a must visit even if it’s only for the art on the walls. You’ll know what I mean when you walk inside.
My number one recommendation close to the Garden District for real N’awlins dining is at Jacques-Imo’s. The cuisine is going to be the most authentic Creole food you’ll find in the city.
You can take the street car there, but I would recommend taking a taxi or an uber back to your hotel once it’s dark out.
If you try only one thing on the menu, it’s got to be the alligator cheesceake.
Ask anyone in town, and they will tell you that for the best fried chicken in Louisiana, you have to head to Willie Mae’s. It’s not in the best area of town, so hit the lunch rush during the day instead of dinner.
There will be a lineup to get in no matter when you get there. It will be worth it, I promise.
Cochon. Once again, this place was recommended by a local who we met in the airport, and it did not disappoint. Some of the best Cajun food you’ll have on your trip!
Cochon is located in the Warehouse District, which is located in between the Garden District and the French Quarter, so you can plan to visit Cochon at any time during your stay.
And finally, for a true New Orleans experience, get dressed up in your nicest outfit and head to Commander’s Palace. This restaurant has been a N’awlins staple since the 1800s.
The Jazz brunch on Sundays is a must, or enjoy high end creole food and a fancy whisky cocktail, you won’t be disappointed. At the very least, the colorful blue building is an Instagram dream ;).
Go on A Plantation Tour and Swamp Tour
If you can squeeze it in, I would highly recommend setting aside an afternoon to experience an adventure on the bayou and to learn about the history of the plantations.
These are 2 things that New Orleans is well-known for, so you’d be remiss if you didn’t experience this on your trip.
There are lots of tours that will combine a swamp and a plantation tour all in one, helping you maximize your time in New Orleans.
I recommend this plantation and swamp combo tour. It’s 5 hours, so it’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon and then you’re back for dinner and evening festivities.
Enjoy your time in the Big Easy!
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