New Orleans is a very unique U.S city and people often tell me it’s a place they really want to visit. I’ve been twice and both times were a blast! Nicknamed the “Big Easy,” it’s known for its 24/7 nightlife, vibrant jazz scene and distinctive cuisine reflecting its mixture of French, African and American cultures. Whether you visit during Mardi Gras festival or on an ordinary weekend, there’s always a party going on.
It’s a fairly small city so a weekend in New Orleans is just enough to get a good taster of all the things on offer. Any New Orleans itinerary for first timers should definitely include the French Quarter, the Garden District, and a swamp tour. You’ll also want to try some of the famous New Orleans dishes such as Gumbo, Po-Boys, Jambalaya and Crawfish Etouffee. And you simply can’t leave without ordering a Hurricane on Bourbon Street!
Here’s my suggested itinerary for 3 days in New Orleans:
3 days in New Orleans
Stay: The Ace Hotel
New Orleans gets really hot and humid, so it’s important to me to have a hotel with a pool. The Ace Hotel New Orleans is one of the best places to stay in the city and it also happens to have a very popular rooftop pool that turns into a bit of a party on weekends. You’ll also find a Stumptown coffee shop and two restaurants attached to the hotel – an oyster bar called Seaworthy and an award-winning Italian restaurant called Josephine Estelle. We ate at both restaurants and the food was excellent. What I loved about Ace Hotels in general is that they’re not just hotels, they’re gathering places where you can easily meet locals and tourists.
Eat brunch at Willa Jean
For a fresh, delicious brunch sit down at Willa Jean, a popular New Orleans restaurant with a modern, airy atmosphere. The menu is southern-inspired, with an entire section labeled “the biscuit situation”, featuring a variety of biscuit dishes. If biscuits aren’t your thing, you’ll also find a selection of salads, toasts, sandwiches and warm bowls to choose from. At the front of the cafe there’s also a bakery counter serves up daily selections of bakery treats and house-made breads. This is my go-to brunch spot in New Orleans.
Wander the French Quarter
The French Quarter is where you’ll spend most of your time in New Orleans. This historic area is known for its colorful buildings, cast-iron balconies, voodoo shops, trinket stores, jazz clubs and bars. Wander down Bourbon Street and pick up a cocktail to quench your thirst, then explore some of the quieter surrounding streets. Visit the French market, with it’s gourmet foods and local crafts, then head to Jackson Square to have your photo taken in front of St. Louis Cathedral. By day things are much more chill, but by night the French Quarter transforms into a raucous party place.
Get beignets at Cafe Du Monde
Be prepared for a line at Cafe du Monde but it moves quickly and their Beignets are worth the wait. If you’re not sure what a Beignet is, it’s basically a deep friend pastry sprinkled with icing sugar. Kind of like a donut really, only square. Established in 1862 and currently owned by the Fernandez family, Cafe du Monde is a 24 hour bakery that makes the most famous Beignets in New Orleans. Don’t go here just before dinner, as all that sugar will leave you feeling full for a few hours!
Eat a seafood dinner at Peche Seafood Grille
On our flight from NYC to New Orleans a local recommended several restaurants for us to try, one of which was Pêche Seafood Grill. We decided to give it a try and we were definitely not disappointed. Their seafood menu is prepared with on an open hearth over hardwood coals and the restaurant has a rustic interior with wooden beams and wood chairs. We tried their Louisiana shrimp roll (which was a decent size), their gulf shrimp and their spicy ground shrimp + noodles.
Drink on Bourbon Street
The most famous street in New Orleans, Bourbon Street is one of the few places in the U.S where you can legally walk down the street with an alcoholic drink in your hand. It’s super intense with bright neon lights and bars running all the way down both sides of the street. Spend the night bar hopping and order one of the famous “Huge Ass” New Orleans cocktails, such as a Hurricane or Hand Grenade. Named after the French Royal Family and not the type of whiskey, Bourbon Street dates back to 1718. Today it’s one of New Orleans’ major attractions and a popular spot for bachelor/bachelorette parties.
Walk around the Garden District
After the intensity of Bourbon Street it’s nice to have a much more relaxing day. Hop on the tram to the Garden District, which is a beautiful leafy area with mansion homes, pretty gardens and huge oak trees growing on the sidewalks. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around the area taking Instagram pictures of the many pretty buildings along the way. Visit the Lafayette Cemetery, which is filled with ornate, 19th-century tombs, then explore the restaurants, shops and bars that run along Magazine Street. To quench your thirst, stop for a cocktail at The Rum House.
Get lunch at Commander’s Palace
Lunch at the Commander’s Palace is an elegant affair, so put on your best smart casual attire for the occasion (definitely no flip flops, shorts or sweats). Operating since 1893, this famous restaurant is known for its Creole cuisine and jazz-brunch. Housed inside a distinctive blue and white striped building, this landmark restaurant is a must-visit when visiting the Garden District. The Jazz Brunch takes place only on weekends and features a special menu plus Live New Orleans Jazz by the Joe Simon’s Jazz Trio. Commander’s Palace is open for lunch Wednesday to Friday and dinner Monday to Sunday – just check the website for accurate opening hours.
Hit up the Ace Hotel Pool
Once you’ve finished your afternoon in The Garden District, head back to the Ace Hotel. As mentioned previously, the Ace Hotel pool gets busy and is super fun on a weekend. Order a beer or a froze and cool off in their pool, which has a rooftop grill called Alto.
Pool is open Daily: 10am–7pm / Friday–Saturday: 10am–9pm
Go for dinner at Herbsaint
NOLA has no shortage of good restaurants to choose from but Herbsaint consistently appears on many lists of top places to eat in New Orleans. Located on historic St. Charles Avenue, this is Chef Donald Link’s flagship restaurant, serving Italian and French inspired Southern cuisine. Try the Louisiana Jumbo Shrimp, the Muscovy Duck Leg Confit or the Louisiana Shrimp and Fish Ceviche.
Listen to live music on Frenchmen street
If you’re tired of the craziness of Bourbon Street then head to Frenchmen street, which is the best street to see live music in New Orleans. From jazz to blues to reggae and rock, you’ll find a variety of music venues on this street. Try clubs such as Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat, d.b.a or the Blue Nile, then grab a late night snack before you hit the hay. Dat Dog, Adolfo’s, Marigny Brasserie or Three Muses are popular favorites.
Do a swamp tour
While you’re in New Orleans it’s worth organizing a day trip to get out of the city and visit the swamps. A bus will pick you up from your hotel and take you out to Honey Island Swamp, where you’ll hop on a flat-bottomed boat and cruise along the water, spotting wildlife such as raccoons, birds and alligators. Tour guides dangle meat on the end of a giant pole and the alligators will jump straight out of the water. I booked my tour with Cajun Encounters and would highly recommend.
Have lunch at Acme Oyster House
After a long morning out on the swamp, you’re probably going to be feeling a little hungry! Located in the French Quarter, Acme Oyster House is a popular restaurant that has been serving Cajun and Creole fare since 1910. I had their chargrilled oysters and a fried shrimp Po-Boy, which was delicious. It’s a great spot for a casual lunch if you love oysters and seafood.
Visit Carousel bar
The famous Carousel Bar & Lounge in Hotel Monteleone features a 25-seat revolving circular bar that looks like a Merry-Go-Round. Spinning for over 70 years, Carousel Bar serves a comprehensive list of cocktails and live music. It’s a great place to relax, talk to other tourists/locals and enjoy a drink before heading out on the town. Some might find it touristy but it’s a must-do when in New Orleans.
Where to stay
On a budget:
India House Hostel – On my first trip to New Orleans I stayed at India House Hostel. This hostel is well-known in New Orleans, offering dorms and private rooms, plus a pool, courtyard, BBQ area and fully equipped kitchen. If you’re backpacking on a budget this is the place to stay and you’ll definitely have chances to meet other people since this hostel runs crawfish boils, pool parties, BBQs and other themed nights.
The Ace Hotel New Orleans – My hotel of choice in New Orleans, the Ace Hotel has a chic rooftop pool, a Stumptown Coffee Roasters, an Italian restaurant, an oyster bar and a venue where guests can enjoy live music on-site. Rooms are a little dark but they’re also funky and decorated with artwork from local artists.
The Troubadour Hotel New Orleans – Located in New Orleans’ Central Business District, this boutique hotel has a 24 hour fitness center, complimentary WiFi and a chic rooftop eatery called The Monkey Board which offers panoramic views of the CBD. Rooms have a “deco-meets-70s vibe”, featuring 42″ flat screen TVs, warm wood accents and contemporary artwork.
The Roosevelt New Orleans – Located within a mile of The French Quarter, The Roosevelt is a great luxury option in New Orleans, featuring a rooftop pool, luxury spa and 24 hour room service. You’ll also find several drinking and dining options on-site, including Domenica (an Italian restaurant) and The Fountain Lounge, which offers live entertainment, weekend brunch, and small plates.