Welcome to the weird, wonderful, and truly one-of-a-kind streets of the Big Easy. Even if you’ve been all over the United States, you’ve never been anywhere quite like New Orleans. Often lost in the so-called flyover country, Louisiana is an undiscovered gem for countless travelers.
A world away from California, New York, Florida and other tourist hotspots, you’ll find a place that flies under the radar. A true melting pot of so many different cultural influences, New Orleans is brimming with heart and soul…and so many tasty delights! Whether you’re coming for a bit of revelry, to explore the iconic food and drinks at iconic rooftop bars, or you’re looking to dig into the culture of the Crescent City, this two-day weekend guide is the perfect way to get a taste for what NOLA has to offer.
Inspired? Here’s your first-timer’s guide to a weekend in New Orleans:
7:30pm | Grab a cocktail at Pat O’Briens
There’s no better place to get the party started than Pat O’Briens. This is the official home of New Orleans’ most iconic drink: the hurricane. Born back in the 1940s at Pat O’Briens, no trip to the Big Easy is complete with at least one glass of hurricane.
Much like pizza in NYC or currywurst in Berlin, you’ll find them on every corner, but not all hurricanes are created equally. For the original and reigning champ, Pat O’Briens will give you the perfect introduction to a hurricane. It’s also conveniently located so you can hop right over to your next destination, Preservation Hall.
9pm | Listen to jazz at Preservation Hall
I would highly recommend buying tickets online; otherwise, you’ll have to wait in line and those tickets are on a first-come-first-serve basis, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll get in. Preservation Hall itself is a tiny little jazz club on Bourbon Street that supports local artists and musicians. About 100 people can fit into the room and it’s a cozy spot. Note that you can’t bring in food or drinks so fill up before you arrive then sit back, relax, and enjoy the musical stylings of the best New Orleanian musicians.
8am | Explore the French Quarter early
While it might seem a bit early to be up and about for a Saturday morning, this is the best time to explore the French Quarter! This part of New Orleans is typically bustling and a bit wild—especially come late afternoon and evening. In the morning, on the other hand, you get clean quiet streets. It’s prime time to experience the charm and magic of Nola, sans the raucous revelers.
Morning is also a fantastic time to snap photos of some of the iconic spots: Jackson Square, Café Beignet (not to be confused with Café du Monde), and the French Market.
9am | Beignets at Café du Monde
What’s a trip to New Orleans without sampling some of those famous beignets? Make your way over to the open-air Café du Monde and find a table where you can dig into this sweet French-inspired fried dough.
This place will be swarmed in a matter of hours—usually around this time, however, there is little to no wait, so snag a seat while you can! Tip: Don’t wear black here as you’ll get powdered sugar all over! Order your beignets ($3) with a side of chicory coffee ($4). Cash only.
10:30am | Hop on a food tour
Because tourism is a big part of New Orleans, there are a ton of fantastic tours to choose from. I’d highly recommend booking a food tour to sample the city’s many delights! On a food tour, you’ll get to see some of Nola’s iconic places and get the local lore from your guide. Learn about local life while digging into a sampler platter of the dishes the city is known for like gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, turtle soup, pralines, and more.
If you’ve never been on a food tour before, you’re in for a real treat as you tour the local institutions that made these dishes famous. I personally love food tours because you get a few nibbles of each dish, without getting too full or rolling the dice by ordering the whole thing.
2:30pm | Pit stop at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
The first licensed pharmacy in the United States is located in New Orleans and you can visit it…well, sort of. The original pharmacy was shut down in the early 1900s (or around there), but the Pharmacy Museum restored the building to its original glory. You can now wander through the Victorian apothecary and take a gander at all the—erm—interesting, devices. From bottles of leeches to love potions to Blue Ointment made from mercury, learn about how medical practices have progressed through the centuries.
Fun Fact: Some of New Orleans famous cocktails, like the Sazerac, were invented because of early pharmacies. Peychaud’s Bitters, used in the whiskey-based Sazerac cocktail, was invented by a pharmacist in New Orleans to make medicine a little easier to go down. Turns out it works great as a cocktail mixer, too!
6pm | Napoleon House for dinner
Right beside the Pharmacy Museum, you’ll find my fave spot to eat. The Napoleon House has a legendary status across the city. The story goes that it actually opened in 1794 as a refuge for Napoleon Bonaparte, though the exile never showed up. These days the gorgeous vintage spot is on the official National Historic Landmarks and is just as famous for its fascinating old photos and cool aesthetic as it for its incredible food.
But the food is fabulous so come hungry. They serve up all of the quintessential Louisiana dishes like red beans and rice, jambalaya, and gumbo. The crowning glory, though, are their muffuletta sandwiches. Linger over one and, if you get lucky, you might get to witness one of the famous Second Line parades.
9pm | Engage in an evening of revelry at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Serving up drinks since the 18th century, the walls here are dripping in legend and lore. When you ask a local where to go for a great night on the town, they’ll point you to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Away from the tourist traps of Bourbon Street, this place is a must.
It can be quite difficult to find a spot at the bar, but never fear, the drinks are worth it. Make your way up to the counter and order the notorious “frozen voodoo daiquiri/purple drink” My suggestion: only order one, they’re very potent and sneak up quickly!
10am | Jazz breakfast at Commander’s Palace
As soon as you book your flight to New Orleans, make a reservation at Commander’s Palace. Arrive in your Sunday best (their dress code is strict so read it ahead of time). And bring your camera! In addition to their Creole creations and award-winning wine cellar, this swanky spot is incredibly Instagramable—you can’t miss its iconic turquoise exterior. Plan on having a leisurely meal over at least an hour. I’d suggest bringing a pair of comfortable walking shoes as your next stop is in the same neighborhood!
12:30pm | Wander the Garden District by foot
There is so much beauty and jaw-dropping architecture to take in around the Garden District! What used to be called the American Quarter is now referred to as the Garden District for its ample flora. Since there is so much history in the area, I’d recommend getting a guide who can tell you all about the ins and outs of the neighborhood.
As a bonus, you might even get a glimpse of some of the celebrities that live around here like John Goodman. Lafayette Cemetery Number One is also in this area (currently under renovations), but your tour guide can tell you all about the interesting above-ground burial practices in Nola. Two Chicks Walking Tours has great tours of this neighborhood and are a fountain of information.
4pm | Take a streetcar back to your hotel
Made famous by A Streetcar Named Desire, a ride on the picture-perfect 150-year-old St. Charles Streetcar is an essential experience. Come ready with exact change for $1.25 and hop on board.
Local Tip: The driver doesn’t give instructions when you board the streetcar so know in advance to quickly get on and find a seat or make your way to the back and hold the bar.
7pm | Dinner at Josephine Estelle in the Warehouse District
If there’s any cuisine on the planet that can hold a candle to the saucy carb paradise that is Italian food, you’ll find it in the Southern United States. Whether it’s Cajun, Creole, Lowcountry, or Appalachian (all of which I’d highly recommend trying!) Southern American dishes are at once the ultimate comfort food and a one-of-a-kind flavor explosion. Josephine Estelle creates the perfect Southern-inspired Italian dishes that will blow your mind. A nod to Italian culinary traditions, Josephine Estelle’s menu changes with the season to embrace local food at its freshest.
Be sure to make reservations ahead of time to nab a table at this in-demand spot! Once you secure a spot, you’ll find the door located at the entrance of the Ace Hotel.
New Orleans Hotels
Ace Hotel New Orleans
In the heart of the Warehouse District of NOLA, you’ll find the art deco dream that is the Ace Hotel. Just a ten-minute walk over to the famous Canal Street, this place is as convenient as it is swanky. Another Instagram gem, you’ll want to plan plenty of time to unwind in the sun on the rooftop pool then dance the night away to live music at the in-house 3 Keys club.
I always jump at the chance to get away from cookie-cutter hotel chains and stay in a boutique hotel. This revamped 19th-century warehouse-turned-hip hotel in the Arts District reminds me why it’s so refreshing to try unique accommodation options. Old 77 is affordable but cool, central but quiet. It’s also home to the much loved Caribbean-European brasserie Compère Lapin.
Want to treat yourself after a long day of exploring? Lay your head at Hotel Monteleone, a four-star luxury spot in the heart of the French Quarter. The romantic grandeur of this stately spot will leave you feeling like old French royalty.
Kiersten Rich is the founder of the award-winning travel blog, The Blonde Abroad. Ranked one of the Top 10 Travel Influencers by Forbes, The Blonde Abroad is a major online resource with photography, curated destination guides, hotel reviews, packing guides, and travel tips for people around the world.