Colorful corners, Aesthetically pleasing architectures, lots of yummy food, surrounded by beautiful art and nature, plus 24×7 festivities; This was my definition of “The Good Place”. (Well I mean Paradise). And I found my good place, right here in the United States: NOLA.
Yes, I am hyping it that much. A weekend trip to New Orleans is enough time to fall in love, eat a lot of beignets, listen to jazz and soak up the history, but for me I wanted a little more from this colorful city. So here is a 4 day complete guide to New Orleans.
Disclaimer: Stop and get your self some pop corn as this a long and detailed post. But once you read through, I am sure you’d want to book your tickets to NOLA, right away!
Where to Stay? Airbnb! Airbnb! Airbnb!
I did some research into some of the hotels, but the best way you can experience the true nola spirit is by staying in one of the French style vacation homes. NOLA has so many chic vacation rentals as well as traditional historic homes that leaves you confused which one to pick.
We booked a stylish apartment in Bywater (which is the best area for lots of street art and murals). With the entire apartment to ourselves and an outdoor pool; it was a great place for a girls vacation. The space was extremely spacious and beautifully decorated with modern equipment and bohemian antiques.
Few other options that were really appealing:
Best and cheap areas to stay are: Bywater, Marginy and Garden District.
Transportation: Do I need a car rental?
The first thing I do once I book my flights tickets is book a rental car because that gives you freedom to get around at your own pace and convenience. But this is one such city which is better explored by foot and everything you need is within the french quarters, literally. They also have an efficient streetcars, which you can take to neighborhoods that are a bit further away (like the Garden District.) So you don’t need to rent a car unless you plan on doing any day trips outside of the city, to visit a plantation or the gator swamps. But those also have arranged shuttle services, So you can skip the rental.
Now here is what you guys scrolled so far for : The 4 day itinerary of New Orleans.
Me and Nayan (my friend who was flying in from Seattle) met each other at the NOLA airport and hauled us an Uber to reach our Airbnb.
We checked in and as we entered the unit, we were trilled by how beautifully it was set up. Bright colored couches with a boho mat, huge french windows and luxury amenities defined the apartment. With a Stunning stylish waterfall marble island and custom bar cart, the kithcen was fully loaded with all equipments. Everything was so chic. See the pictures below.
Both of us had taken the red eye, so we got a little carried away by those comfortable beds and jumped right in, to catch up on our sleep. We woke up an hour later, freshened up and then hit the streets to explore (and start eating!)
Noon: Brunch and Walking tour in French Quarters
First stop: Royal House. Have you even checked out their yelp reviews; They have 4000+ reviews and each of them just ravishing about how good the food is.
The first spoon of gumbo in my mouth proved as a testament for those good reviews, I had just read a few minutes ago. Their bloody mary was pretty well done too; Cajun spice rimmed glasses and super spicy mix infused with Absolute Pepper Vodka. A little too spicy for my tastebuds, but I highly recommend them.
Tip: Be sure to ask to sit on their upstairs balcony to treat yourself for some of the best view in the house. Here’s the thing about New Orleans balconies: they’re super tiny and narrow! And you get a great view of the streets below as you lunch.
We decide to do a walking tour and take some pictures with the colorful houses for the gram. Right next door we found Brennan’s, another famous restaurant known for their banana fosters; the cutest pink restaurant everrr!!!.
We took a stroll down Royal Street, popped into a few art galleries and passed a few street musicians. (that’s one thing you’ll notice about New Orleans – I swear there is ALWAYS jazz music playing in the distance.)
3 pm at Jackson Square and St Louis Cathedral
We decided to take a break from the scorching sun and headed to the Jackson Square, to relax in the garden in front of the St Louis Cathedral. We streched our legs a little and saw a street performance entertaining a few kids and a person trying to jump over 15 tall people standing in a single line. Did you really think he could do that? I’ll leave this for you guys to discover when you visit.
5 pm: Cafe Beignet for Coffee Call
After wandering around the Jackson Square we needed a caffeine buzz, so we headed to this cute little shop: Cafe Beignet. One another reason I wanted to go to NOLA: Beignets.
There are 2 major Beignets shops in the city: Cafe Du Monde or Cafe Beignet. Well , they both are famed for their beignets, I personally prefer Cafe Beignet. Their Beignet were fluffier and less suggary, but the ambiance scored a perfect 10. It’s totally Instagram-worthy with a garden area for outdoor seating and an airy cafe inside. It also has a self playing piano, which lights up the place while you indulge in some light talk with friends over coffee and beignets.
(And don’t worry, you’ll have time later in your trip to visit Cafe DuMonde to compare.)
After a refreshing cup of coffee and a snack from Cafe Beignet, we headed back to our Airbnb to wait for the rest of our friends.
After our whole tribe arrived(well ya it was an all girls trip) we spent some time catching up with each other. We pulled out our glittery dresses and put on some bright red lipstick and got ready for the night. Some of us wanted to do the VooDoo tours in the night, but a few of the girls chickened out and so we decided to grab some dinner and drinks.
Dinner at Pat O’Brien’s + The Hand Grenade war zone
Famous drink here: Hurricane
Of course it’s a tourist trap, but this place has a charm. A beautiful candlelit courtyard with gorgeous waterfall in the middle of the restaurant and jazz music playing in the background. We sat in the courtyard and ordered some food. We started with 1 or 2 rounds of Hurricanes and then quickly lost count. (Its that good, You need to have one…or more in our case.)
This place also an indoor rooms/bars with dueling pianos and other live music.
After dinner, we bar hopped for a while until we came across this bright green lit bar on Burbon st: Tropical Isle and we had the iconic (or should I use the word potent) hand grenade. The Hand Grenade is a specialty cocktail drink (made with vodka, rum, gin and melon liquor), sold frozen or on the rocks exclusively through five licensed nightclub bars in the New Orleans French Quarters. The drink itself is served in a green, translucent, plastic yard glass container with a bulbous bottom that resembles a hand grenade. It was really one heck of a potent drink that was worth the hangover the next day.(Two of our friends had a really bad hangover, no kidding. So fair warning, take this drink seriously and stick to 1).
Cafe du Mode Breakfast
A good way to wear off the hangover from an eventful night- a good breakfast and some chicory coffee. As I mentioned earlier, people are torn on which spot, they think has better beignets. Cafe Du Monde is the MOST famous of the beignets shops, so it’s worth a stop.
There is always a long line of people waiting to be seated outside the cafe. But once seated, the service is pretty quick. Even their menu is pretty limited and to the point; coffee and beignets. The waiters are uniqely suited in white uniforms with a white cap which is very presentable. But we really enjoyed fueling up with some good beignets that morning.
We headed back to our Airbnb and spent a lazy afternoon by the pool.
1 pm: Up for a colorful lunch at Flamingo A-go-go?
For lunch, we headed to the Garden District. Location: Flamingo a-go-go.
That pink perfect girls brunch place that you have been looking for forever. From the colorful flamingo mural at the front of restaurant to the tiki bar style open patio brunch setting, this place is the best blend of ambiance and tasty food. Don’t leave out the photo op here!
We took a walk to explore more of the historic Garden District after our lunch. It is a charming neighborhood with oak-shaded streets and lined with dreamy houses, from single-story cottages to the grand historic mansions and lavish gardens.
4 pm: Explore the Garden District
Take the streetcar to the end of the garden district, riding up St Charles Avenue and slowly make your way back towards downtown. If you are interested to learn more about the fascinating history that lines those streets, you can even do a walking tour.
We stopped at French Truck Coffee to grab a coffee. The cute little yellow exterior is what lured us in. But to my amazement, the coffee was actually brilliant, and we stayed a bit to see through the back area where they process and package their beans.
And then we did a photo in front of this mural.
Read through my blog post Top 12 Most Instagrammable places in New Orleans for more of such instagram worthy places in NOLA.
We headed back in time to get dolled up for some more fun in the French Quarters.
Dinner at the historic Napolean House and of course Primm’s cup
We choose another famous place for dinner: Napolean House. A little bit of history, the first resident of this 200-year-old building- Nicholas Girod, offered his residence to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile. Napolean never made it to the United States but the name stuck and now this place serves as one of the most famous bars in America. The decor is old-world feeling which I also loved.
It is the perfect spot to grab a po’boy in a circa-1914 house with a palm filled courtyard. I tried the Italian sub Po-Boy and oh Boy that was delicious. I paired it with their famous Primm’s cup which quickly multiplied to 2.
Late night fun on the Bourbon Street
You simply cannot go to New Orleans and NOT take advantage of their to-go cocktails. That’s right: here in NOLA, you can order a cocktail to go and then take it outside with you!!! We grabbed a cocktail each and walked over to the Bourbon street.
I got a magnet from one of the stores that night which said ” Good girls go to heaven and the rest go to Bourbon Street”. Extending thirteen blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue, Bourbon Street is famous for its many bars and strip clubs. It is the liveliest and wildest thoroughfare, where the rhythmic sounds of clubs permeate the air and gets you all ready to join the nocturnal carnival. The vibe of that street is insane.
We had a great time popping in and out of a few bars and clubs with a constant flow of cocktails down our food pipes. And it is safe to say the rest of the night , was a mellow blur.
It is a MUST to go to the Bourbon Street if you visit New Orleans.
Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace
On Sunday Mornings I always wake up with brunch on my mind.
We got a reservation at the Commander’s Palace for a jazz brunch.
The gorgeous sprawling turquoise colored building had a very old school classic vibe to it. As we made our way to the private dining room, light jazzy music filled the lively chandelier hung space and I knew we were in for a treat. The food here is impeccable and the service is artfully done in an old school style. We tried the Gumbo du Jour, Turtle Soup and Cognac Flambéed Wild Shrimp. The Pecan Pie à la Mode and the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé were just the highlight of the place; they were exceptionally delicious. We also had a live jazz group trio performance in our room while we were dining, and it set such a festive mood.
Do yourself a favor and book yourself a table here for lunch. Don’t forget to check their dress code, first, to make sure you pack the right clothes!
1.30 pm: Lafayette Cemetery
We walked around the Lafayette Cemetery, which is right across from the restaurant to burn off those calories. It was interesting to see an above ground cemetery. A little background, Lousiana is made of wet marshland which becomes difficult to really bury people… well, because there’s a high chance they’ll float back up or their grave will be flooded. So, Lousiana cemeteries are usually always above ground, with marble headstones or tombs.
You can do a free self guided tour and don’t need a tour guide for this.
5 pm: Carriage ride and Cocktail to go
We didn’t want to miss out of the another NOLA experience- the carriage ride through French Quarters. Touring the French Quarters in a mule drawn carriage, is the best way to learn more about the history and culture of that place.
You can just wait at the Jackson Square, to hop on a ride. You don’t need to make a reservation in advance. The Royal Carriages provide a good narrated tour of the histotry of the city, culture and jazz in their cute colored carriage. I highly recommend this on day 1 of your trip so that you can get set a mental map of those streets in your head. It will help you move around the city better, the next couple of days.
We got more Daiquiris on the go, while we explored more of the French Quarters. Blended mix of ice, strawberries, and rum, they are the best coolers for the hot and sultry weather in NOLA. And yes, in NOLA, you really can get booze-filled daiquiris without leaving your car at drive-throughs in the Big Easy.
9 pm: Jazz Blues at the Frenchman Street
After 2 consecutive nights in the French Quarters, we decided to switch it up a little and head to the Frenchman Street for some Jazz blues.
We went to the Spotted Cat, for some quintessential Jazz experience. As a music enthusiast, this was my paradise. My and my friends had a great time waltzing to some peppy Jazz.
We then quickly jumped to d.b.a., another famous Jazz club across the street. You rub shoulders with New Orleans’ biggest names in music in a club as comfortable as your living room while enjoying Frenchmen’s largest beer and spirits selection. They do have a cover like mere $10-$20 to hear some of New Orleans’ best Jazz in town.
If these get crowded, forget the clubs. You can—and locals do—spend your entire night on the street itself. You’ll find some amazing poem-writing hipsters, Hula-Hoop troops and traveling brass bands making their rounds. We found the Big Band Jazz group’s performance on the street really enticing and captivating, so we stuck around for a while.
Late night: Dat Dog
If you are going to NOLA , you got to prepare your gut for it. There is going to be a lot of drinking and nights where you will get plastered in those jazz streets, but I WAS HERE FOR IT. Our poison for the night was, Sazerac. Made with Cognac, bitters, sugar, and herbsaint, Sazerac is the official drink of New Orleans.
Well honestly we had every intension to spend another endless night on Sazerac and Jazz, but we got hungry and just hopped across the street to Dat dog for some late night food.
Dat Dog is a funky little gourmet hot dog shop with psychedelic decor and some really interesting takes on dogs (alligator and crawfish are my recommendations!) but they also have vegan options. I feasted on the Alligator dog(My first time trying alligator) ; and it was just Yummmmmm!
8am: Gator spotting at the Manchac Swamp
We woke up a little early and got dressed and waited for our ride to pick us up. We did not book a rental car and hence relied on the shuttle service provided by the tours team. First things first, you need to make a reservation for the swamp tours at least 2 days ahead. They get filled up pretty quick, So I recommend booking it even earlier. While you are at it, you also have options to make a reservation for your shuttle service for the tour which is super convenient. (This is exactly what we did). Cheaper Groupon deals are also available if you have your own/rental car.
We made a reservation with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours for a 4 hour Swap tour, and it was undoubtedly my favorite part of the trip. The shuttle picked us up at 8am sharp from our Airbnb and drove for a good half hour and dropped us at the reception area right on time for the tour. We then boarded a boat for a unique and exciting adventure, exploring Louisiana’s back country with its meandering bayous and swamp.
Just a couple of minutes in the swamp, we were accompanied by cute little baby alligators that swam next to us to greet us. The guide gave a great overview of the history of the Manchac Swamp throughout the tour. As we went further through the moss-draped cypress trees, we saw bigger alligators up close when the guide feed a few of them. The American Alligators ; menacing predators—with their armored, muscular tails, and powerful jaws were pretty huge and scary. But watching them in action, in their natural habitat was quite an experience.
We even saw a pack of raccoons near a tree house in the swamp.
Did i forget to mention the best part, I even got to hold a baby aligator in my own hands and feel its scales on its lizard like body.
1 pm: Cool off by the Mississippi River
After the swamp tour, we were dropped back in the downtown area. We decided to cool off the last afternoon by the Mississippi river as we sipped on our cocktail with some jazz music lingering in the air. It was a perfect October vacation!
NOLA signature drinks:
- Hand Grenade at the Tropical Isle
- Crawdad Bloody Mary at Daisy Dukes
- Daiquiri – Gene’s Curbside
- Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s
- Primm’s cup at Napolean House
Must eats for your Cajun Tasterbuds:
- Gumbo at Royal House
- Seafood Jambalaya
- Muffelettas and Po’boys at Napolean House
- Turtle soup at Commander’s Palace
- Beignets at Cafe Beignet
- Banana Foster at Brennan’s
What to pack:
- Bright floral flowy dresses
- Comfy sandals or sneakers- There will be a lot of walking.
- A cute little straw hat for sure.
- A pair of cool shades.
- Umbrella( weather is a little unpredeictable)
- Hand sanitizer
- Medications for Hangover (trust me you will need this)
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