New Orleans was a city I wanted to visit for a long time. The food was always a draw as well as the rich history, the myths and legends about witchcraft and vampires, as well as the cute buildings! I finally made it out as a birthday trip with my family this Memorial Day weekend, and it was a blast. New Orleans has something for a wide variety of people, and almost every attraction boasts some combination of being the oldest and the most haunted in the US. Check out what I did in my team here, as well as some of my tips based on what I learned!
Where to Stay
Do: Stay in the French Quarter. This is where you will spend most of your time while you are here. The area is touristy, but it’s where you’re going to want to eat, drink, meet your tours, and see most of the historical buildings and areas in New Orleans
Don’t: Stay right on Bourbon Street, unless you’re here primarily for the party! Being on Bourbon you will be right in the middle of all the chaos and fun, which can be great if you’re here to take advantage of the open container laws and bars open all night. If your itinerary is a bit more varied, you may want to stay a few blocks away from the loud noises. We did stay right on Bourbon Street at the Four Points Sheraton, and getting back to the room every night was overwhelming (although we did love the hotel!)
Day 1: When you arrive in New Orleans, you’ll need to taxi or Uber to the French Quarter. We opted to taxi because of the guaranteed fixed rate, as well as convenience as you exit the airport. Upon arrival, get outside! We spent the afternoon just walking around, then popped into the Royal House for some snacks and drinks. Definitely get a mint julep (or 10) while you’re here – it was my favorite of the New Orleans favorites. Buildings here have so many cute balconies which give you a great view for people watching!
During our snacking, we also saw a second line parade. These originated as part of African American funeral processions, where exiting the cemetery turned into a huge celebration of the deceased’s life. Now, these parades happen for all sorts of occasions, including weddings, birthdays, and bachelorette parties. The police will escort you safely through the streets with a small band- your own personal parade!
After getting your fill, grab a drink to go and head to a nighttime tour! We opted to tour with Witches Brew Tours, because this tour covered a huge variety of the mysticism of New Orleans including vampires witches, voodoo, ghosts, and pirates. Our tour guide Robby Robb was hilarious and engaging, and it was fun to try and capture some paranormal activity. Drinks were also encouraged to be brought along! We opted to bring a hand grenade from Tropical Isle and although very tasty I don’t know I would go for round two due to the amount of sugar! Be sure not to miss some sort of haunted tour here – it will also elevate your daytime experiences walking around and hearing about how haunted everything is!
Day 2: We woke up the next morning and headed out with Witches Brew again for another tour! New Orleans is famous for its above ground cemeteries due to an inability to bury the dead underground because of the water level. The only other cemetery I had been to like this was Recoleta in Argentina. The tombs were absolutely beautiful, and a highlight was the tomb of Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo Queen. Legend has it if you ask her for a wish, she’ll grant it, but then you must find a way to pay her back!
After this we headed to Antoine’s for lunch. Antoine’s is the oldest family owned restaurant in the US, and it has been operated by the same family since 1840. This place feels classic when you walk in, and is definitely a place to get a little more dressed up for. We came for lunch because of their incredible lunch special! For $20.19, you could get a three course meal including oyesters, soup, or salad, and entree like veal cordon bleu, and dessert. They also do a daily $0.25 cocktail. Unbeatable for such a historic location. The other tip we picked up from our tour guide was to ask them for a tour of the restaurant at the end. Our server had worked there 25 years and told us stories about serving the Pope and three presidents, how celebrities could sneak in without being seen, and showed us an original lightbulb designed by Thomas Edison! Definitely a can’t miss while you’re here.
After lunch, we headed down to the river front and hopped on (you guessed it) the oldest steamboat in the US! The Natchez is a huge boat, and on the afternoon ride will take you about 10 miles up and down the Mississippi River. This will give you a little more insight into shipping and industry, and is also just a lovely relaxing afternoon!
After this you’ll probably need a nap, but when you’re refreshed head out to Frenchman’s Street. Located just outside the French Quarter, this street is known for it’s Jazz music! We got a quick bite at Dat Dog, a casual hot dog eatery decked out in Star Wars decor. They have some exotic sausages and you can get any combination of toppings your heart desires. Up on the balcony was a great vantage point to enjoy the rest of the entertainment. Afterwards walk up and down the street and take in some of the art fairs and local crafts. Here we also saw THE BEST performance of the trip. Just playing on a street corner, a brass band of pretty young kids played their hearts out. We stayed and watched them get a dance party started in the middle of the street for a good 20 minutes. It’s amazing how much talent you can find just roaming the city here.
Day 3: We reserved this entire day for FOOD! I’m a huge foodie and my request for an activity was a food tour, but before that you can’t say you went to New Orleans without going to Cafe du Monde. This incredibly famous establishment only makes one thing – beignets. These little perfect pillows of fried dough were delightful and perfectly sweet and chewy. I was worried when they came out they would be overwhelming (pretty sure there’s an entire box of powdered sugar on each plate) but it was SO GOOD! Be prepared to wait in line here, but it goes fast. There’s also a takeout window to the right of the main restaurant!
After Cafe du Monde, we walked over to Carousel Bar. Located in a hotel lobby, the main bar is designed like a carousel and actually rotates! It was so cute and the drinks were good. The carousel was full when we arrived, but a spot freed up in about 20 minutes!
At 1PM we met up for our food tour with Dr. Gumbo. Our tour guide was Ben and he was fantastic. On this tour we went to 6 different food establishments and tried 10+ different dishes, all while learning about the history of New Orleans through food. It was fascinating to hear how each culture that came to New Orleans brought something to the cuisine we now know as creole (and I also learned the difference between Creole and Cajun). We visited a huge variety of restaurants including Tujaques, another restaurant on the oldest restaurants in New Orleans list. This was the highlight of the trip for me and I would recommend this to anyone visiting New Orleans!
Because we weren’t absolutely stuffed after our tour (we were, we were just running out of time to eat all the things we came for), we headed over the Brennan’s to have the original Bananas Foster. This is my absolute favorite dessert of all time. Brennan’s is another restaurant on the oldest/ can’t miss list. Because we had spent the whole day eating, we opted to head to the back of the restaurant and sit in the Roost Bar. You can actually order the full menu of food here, as well as drinks and dessert! It was a perfect end to our food filled day.
On our walk back to the hotel, we wandered into a voodoo shop. These shops sell all sorts of charms and tokens to help guide your spirit, and the people who work here are super helpful. My mom and I decided to get a tarot card reading while we were in the store as well, which was a fun and memorable experience.
Day 4: Today we got outside of the city with a Plantation and Swamp Tour! We booked through Cajun Pride Swamp Tours and had an amazing day. Pro Tip: Before we left, we headed over to central market and picked up an original Mufaletta sandwich. These sandwiches are 1) larger than my head 2) one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever eaten and 3) hold up well. You’ll be the envy of the rest of the tour that this is your lunch on the break and won’t waste time or energy hunting down a meal.
The tour started in the swamps. Our guide was awesome, and has lived in the area his whole life. He was able to explain a lot about all the animals and plants of the region, and also brought along a ton of things for us to touch and see related to the swamp. We saw A TON of alligators and raccoons as well, which was exciting.
After this, we headed up to Oak Alley Plantation. Here we went on a tour of the house and had some time to take photos. It was a quick visit, but gave a good overview of what the plantations in the area were like.
After heading back to the French Quarter, we got dressed up and went to our fancy dinner of the trip at the Commander’s Palace. If you’re keeping count, this was our fourth oldest/ can’t miss New Orleans restaurant! We got a ton of different things here, but the highlight for me was the sweet tea pork belly and the bread pudding souffle! They also make a big deal about birthdays, so if you have one in your group I recommend this as your splurge meal!
Day 5: We packed a lot into the past four days, and took our last morning in New Orleans just to walk around and pop into a few more famous bars on Bourbon street without the chaos. This included a drink at Lafitte’s, the oldest bar in the country and a famous hangout of pirates, as well as jumping in to Pat O’Brien’s and trying their famous original Hurricane.
At this point we were exhausted and ready to hop on that plane home. There is always more to do, but this itinerary really packed a punch and gave us great variety and insight into this awesome city!