New Orleans is a city of legend, one of the most visited places in the United States, and I was very excited to become one of these visitors for six glorious days! While there is no shortage of things to keep you busy in NOLA, about a week should be enough time to enjoy the city at a leisurely pace and maybe even fit in a visit to the surrounding bayou.
First off, Bourbon Street, the legendary debaucherous playground full of booze, beads and babes (the stripper kind). My advice is that you must see Bourbon Street at night, especially on the weekend, but then get off it as quickly as possible and don’t look back! It’s quite a sight to behold, but the smell, the drunks, and drinks that are either overpriced or watered-down will quickly drive you away. While the quality of live music on Bourbon can also be hit or miss, I liked the sheer variety of bars and that you could stroll amongst them checking out different bands.
Once you get off Bourbon Street, you can find plenty of ways to keep entertaining yourself:
Listen to fantastic live music: New Orleans oozes music. Whether in the French Quarter, Treme or Marigny neighbourhoods or in the other bars scattered around the city, you are bound to find blues, jazz, funk, soul, and even some country, rock and hip hop. We spent most of our time on Frenchman Street, which is just on the edge of the French Quarter and has about a dozen bars in close proximity. Spotted Cat always seemed to have very good performers but you can wander between venues to find something you like. Most spots don’t have a cover except Snug Harbor, where the $15-25 is well worth it for the caliber of musicians you are hearing (you won’t find any eating, talking or texting during performances either…this is all about the music!). You will also be treated to some great street performances if you follow your ear when you hear spontaneous brass music. Don’t forget to tip musicians if you like what you hear!
For more info about the top live music venues, check out this great resource.
Check out the local arts scene: The Frenchman Art Market was a surprise treat just next to the Spotted Cat, chock full of unique and quirky local jewelery, art and crafts, plus a cool chill out area. Great spot to wander through at night (open 7pm to 1am, closed Tues/Wed). Royal Street has a variety of upscale galleries to peruse, or you could always wander around Jackson Square and support a fledgling caricature artist.
Eat lunch at Commander’s Palace: Located amongst beautiful old homes in the Garden District, Commander’s Palace has been an acclaimed New Orleans institution since the 1970s. It’s been rated best restaurant in New Orleans for the last 3 years and received numerous James Beard awards for good reason. The food is superb, the ambiance is stately and the service outstanding. Our lunch was absolutely delicious, particularly the chicory coffee lacquered quail and of course the famous bread pudding soufflé. Now why am I suggesting lunch and not dinner? First, they have great 2 and 3 course price fix specials ranging from $18 to $34. Second, they have amazing drink specials at lunch including 25 cent (yes 25 CENT) martinis, with the purchase of an entree to a max of 3 per person but you won’t need more than that anyway! Third, visiting Commander’s Palace during the day gives you an opportunity to explore the Garden District and LaFayette Cemetery across the street. Reservations required well in advance and dress up for Pete’s sake – it’s the South!
Take a tour: Unless you have done a ton of research in advance, I don’t think you can get a full understanding of New Orleans’ culture and history without taking at least one guided tour. Luckily these don’t need to cost a lot of money or take a long time. The free walking tours (link) of the French Quarter, Garden District, LaFayette Cemetery, and St Louis #1 Cemetery are very popular and you should book them in advance. We weren’t as organized so couldn’t book one of these during the week we were there. Instead we toured St Louis #1 with French Quarter Phantoms which was very informative plus we saved $4 by booking online ($16 per person for approximately 1.5 hrs). Be sure to check out GroupOn for tour deals also.
Try some amazing Southern cuisine: Gumbo, jambalaya, catfish, crawfish, friend chicken, shrimp & grits, boudin, gator, oysters, po’ boys, hush puppies….there is no shortage of unique and delicious dishes to keep your belly full for exploring! Here are some of my favourite dishes and where I tried them:
One last tip: if you are driving and want to save on the $26-$38 hotel parking prices, you can park for free on side streets outside the downtown core. We parked just beyond the freeway off St Charles Street for six nights without incident. This was about 15 minutes walk from our hotel on Canal Street and as result we discovered a great little local bar called Barrel Proof with an awesome selection of whiskeys and $3 Old Fashioned’s during happy hour (Monday – Friday, 4-6pm)!