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New Orleans, Louisiana is one of America’s oldest cities, known better as The Big Easy. Thousands of people converge on the city during the many festivals, including Mardi Gras, the most popular. It’s the ideal place to stop on the Great American Road Trip or just a city break.
We’ve created this post to compile everything you know about a visit to Nola, including what to bring, where to visit and, most importantly, what to eat. If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to add to the conversation, please leave comments below!
New Orleans Travel Expenses Tips
In terms of other American cities, New Orleans is relatively inexpensive to visit. You won’t spend $20 on a meal unless you really want to. But if you’re visiting during one of the festivals, be prepared for slightly inflated rates or for some hotels to be fully sold out. Plan as far in advance as possible.
Stay Outside the French Quarter
If you’re looking to save some money on accommodation, stay outside of the area known as the French Quarter where you’ll find big name hotels from brands like W, Marriott and Hilton. Instead, look in the business district or suburbs like Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater. I stayed at an AirBnB (get $20 off your first AirBnb stay using this link!) in Marigny, which gave me the local experience without a high price tag. It was within walking distance of Frenchman Street and Bourbon Street.
Skip Public Transportation
Obviously sometimes you’ll want to take public transportation, like the scenic streetcar or when traveling to and from the airport, but otherwise I recommend walking as much as possible. You’ll find things you would otherwise miss, not to mention burn the calories from the notoriously decadent cuisine. If you do want to take public transportation, it starts at $3 for a day pass.
Being an old Southern city, New Orleans is best experienced on foot. Create your own scenic walk through the French Quarter or the Garden District and spend some time wandering down Magazine Street.
Splurge on Lunch
If you are interested in checking out the fine dining restaurants in New Orleans like Commander’s Palace or Galatoire’s, seek out the lunch specials. They are typically significantly cheaper than dinner prices, but with the same menu items.
- Weekend Guide to New Orleans, This Is My South
- Top 25 Free Things to Do in New Orleans, Southern Savers
Essential Gear to Bring
Packing for New Orleans isn’t all that different from packing for other parts of the United States, but if you’re visiting between March and September, be prepared for humidity. Packing light is also recommended, as you may end up walking down a side street to get to your accommodation.
Here are a few other items I recommend bringing:
Comfortable shoes– This one is important! If you’re seeing New Orleans by foot, ditch the cute, uncomfortable shoes in favor of ones with good arch support that don’t pinch your heels. You can wear cute heels out to dinner, but once you walk many blocks on the cobblestones, your dogs will be barking.
Map or smartphone app– At times the streets can get confusing, as it’s a grid, but one that curves around the river. Pick up a map from the visitor’s center first thing upon arriving or rely on your smartphone for help.
Hat– This is mostly for summer, but you’ll want some sort of shade to cover your face during those months.
- The Ultimate Female Packing List for New Orleans, Her Packing List
- The Ultimate Female Packing List for a Road Tripping the Southern USA, Her Packing List
Books to Read Before Visiting
New Orleans is an inspirational city to musicians, artists and, of course, writers. Here are just a few books set in the Big Easy to consider reading before you go in order to get the feel of the city, it’s history, and it’s people.
Zeitoun, Dave Eggers– Set in the days before Hurricane Katrina hits, this book describes the lives of the real Zeitoun family, a Muslim man and his wife and children. They must decide what to do when the storm comes and fight to be reunited afterwards. Grab on Amazon.
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams– In this famous play turned movie starring Marlon Brando, a woman leaves her small town Mississippi home for New Orleans to escape creditors. She moves in with her sister and brother-in-law, who she is often at odds with. Grab on Amazon.
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice– In the gothic novel, a 200 year old vampire is telling his life story to a reporter. He grew up on a plantation outside New Orleans but after the death of his brother, meets a vampire named Lestat who changes him into a vampire as well. Grab on Amazon.
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole– Published posthumously, this book is about a lazy man living in 1960s New Orleans. It features many caricatures, including the slothful and delusional Southerner and the sophisticated New Yorker, and mentions many places around the city. Grab on Amazon.
Movies to Watch Before Visiting
Get inspired by New Orleans before you go by watching these films.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button– Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells of a man who is born old and grows younger with every passing year. He is born in New Orleans, but his adventures take him overseas and back home. The storyline also includes future scenes in modern New Orleans right before Katrina hits. Grab on Amazon.
Beasts of the Southern Wild– This artsy film festival favorite is about six year old Hushpuppy, who lives in the Louisiana bayou, called “the Bathtub,” with her father and neighbors. A storm threatens to break the levees and her father’s health declines. Grab on Amazon.
The Pelican Brief– Based on the book by John Grisham, this film was one of Julia Roberts’ first major roles. Two Supreme Court justices are killed on the same day and a Tulane law student soon finds out why, but at a great risk to her life. Grab on Amazon.
The Big Easy– A New Orleans police officer investigates the murder of a local mobster, which implicates members of his force. He soon forms a relationship with the state district attorney. Grab on Amazon.
Top Things to Do in New Orleans
There are so many things to do in New Orleans, but thankfully you won’t have to spend much money. There are certainly tourist activities, like a carriage or ghost tour and the big bus tours, but it is easy to do on your own. If you still want some background knowledge, go on a free tour with Free Tours by Foot. Here are just a few of the places you should try to visit when you go.
Jackson Square– Named for Andrew Jackson, this is the center of all tourist activity in New Orleans. You’ve got the famous Cafe du Monde right across the street, countless art vendors in front of the square and St. Louis Cathedral behind the famous statue.
Mardi Gras World– If your visit doesn’t coincide with the famous festival, it’s still good to get an idea of what it’s all about. Visit the Blaine Kerns studio, which makes the majority of all parade floats in the country. No matter what time of year it is, they’re always working on something. Learn about the process and get a glimpse at future floats.
National World War II Museum– You can’t miss this museum, which focuses on the American and Louisianan roles in the second Great War. Learn about the Higgins boat and see aircrafts used in the war. Give yourself at least three hours to explore.
French Market– This open air market has food stalls, souvenirs and handmade products from around the state. They host regular events including live jazz, walking tours, flea markets and a farmers market.
Old New Orleans Rum Distillery– Located in the Ninth Ward, Old New Orleans offers free shuttles from downtown to tour the rum distillery, which is the oldest in the state. It survived Katrina and is still making delicious selections like their Cajun spiced rum. Tours include samples.
Cemeteries– One of the most fascinating aspects of the city is the above ground cemeteries. Each one has their own spooky story, but St. Louis #1 is reportedly where voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is buried. Lafayette #1 inspired much of Anne Rice’s books.
New Orleans School of Cooking– Spend a day learning the unique recipes of the city and region in this French Quarter school.
- Things to Do in New Orleans for a Few Days, Where’s Sharon
- Top 10 Things to Do in New Orleans (Besides Mardi Gras), National Geographic Traveler
- 15 New Orleans Must Dos, CNN
For centuries the old French Quarter has been bedeviled by ghosts and blood-sucking creatures of the night, and this tour will take you to the locations where murders, suicides, and heinous crimes actually took place and left their imprint upon the city. New Orleans has always been a city that comes to life – and death – at night, and it has attracted to its bosom many who believe they are vampires. Come along and hear the real stories of vampiric-related murders which have occurred in this beautiful crescent.
New Orleans Movie and Literary Tour – $25.00 from Viator
Louisiana is the film production capital of the world. Take a walking tour of “Hollywood South” locations from popular television shows and movies, as well as locations relating to several famous authors.
Food and Drink in New Orleans
You could spend a year in New Orleans and still find new and delicious things to eat. Half of the point of going is in what you’ll be eating and drinking. It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of Bourbon Street and its “go cups,” but eat enough before you go for the hand grenades. The cuisine is influenced by the French, African, Caribbean and much more. Cooking on your own may not be worth it, so instead eat out at budget-friendly local restaurants. Here are a few dishes that are must-tries.
Breakfast is a simple affair, so stop for a chicory coffee and beignets, French style doughnuts topped with powdered sugar. Cafe du Monde is the most famous place to get the dish, but it’s found elsewhere in town.
For lunch, grab a po boy or muffaletta, two of the city’s most popular sandwiches. The po boy, named for the poor boys who would put anything between a loaf of French bread, can come with chicken, fish, shrimp, oysters and anything in between. Everyone has a favorite spot, but Johnny’s and Mother’s are both good. For muffalettas, a sandwich on a foccacia type bread with olive loaf, sliced meats and cheeses. Central Grocery is the original creator, so head here for one of your own.
Dinner calls for a more hearty meal, so have crawfish etouffee, gumbo or jambalaya. All three are stew-type dishes involving rice. Get your seafood fix, as it’s freshly caught in town. Oysters are best grilled or fried, served at places like Acme Oyster House or Felix’s.
New Orleans also has a surprising Vietnamese food scene, so the pho will be comparable with that of bigger cities. And if it’s summertime, cool off with a snowball, a refreshing dessert with shaved ice and fruit flavoring.
- My Favorite New Orleans Meals, Caroline in the City
- Food Lovers’ New Orleans, National Geographic Traveler
- How Not to Eat Like a Tourist: New Orleans, Huffington Post
Hayley Simpson says
I stayed in a place called AAE Bourbon House and it was $20 a night for a bed in a six-person female dorm with breakfast! It was close to Magazine St so just another budget option if people are looking for one 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Hayley!
Megan E says
A few more tips..
1. Go to a blues or jazz club while in town, some of the best got their start in this city
2. Pralines! Find and eat – these are a classic southern cookie
3. Another thing to watch for prep (warning, it can be disturbing) is Coven (American Horror Story Season 3) – find on Netflix or Hulu.
Also, people are polite here – say hello in return, wish someone a good day, and spend a few minutes gabbing with your shopkeeper. Southern manners are on display! The city also moves on Southern time – don’t be in a hurry, just relax and enjoy and soak in the world as you stroll down the streets.
Finally – Pro tip – the city bus to and from the airport is about $2 each way and stops all over the French Quarter area as well as along the way – it can take a little while but it will get you there for less.
Oooh some good extra tips! Yes, how could we forget Pralines?! Although I don’t know if they could be called a cookie, can they? 🙂 And yes to Coven! I watched this before my boyfriend and I went, and I felt like it introduced us to a bit of the history in a fun, entertaining way.
I’m going to New Orleans in 5 days so all these tips and packing guides are so great!! Thank you and looking forward to the trip!
Awesome – you’re going to have a great time!
Wish I saw this post before I went on my trip to Nawlins’ back in November! Definitely concur about Commander’s Palace (had a great meal there!) and of course Cafe Du Monde (can’t go to New Orleans w/o eating beignets. Cafe Beignet is also a good option. One other feature I loved about the city was taking pictures of the street signs (whether a traditional one) or engraved into the sidewalks – made for some good Instagram photos, lol! Be weary of taxi drivers, I had one who completely tried to scam me – didn’t want to take a credit card and tried to overcharge for a short ride. Luckily I live in NYC and knew better!
I grew up in New Orleans and it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The best place to get pralines is Aunt Sally’s near Cafe Du Monde. A tip for the cemeteries: do NOT go alone. There are many that a very safe, but just as many are very dangerous. Do some research on which one’s you want to go to before. Also, there are cemetery/history tours that play on the spook factor of the city and they are a lot of fun.
I stumbled onto this because I am taking my second trip to my most favorite city (yet)!!!!!!! I am trying to prep so that I may soak up as much of New Orleans as possible.
I was hoping you could add a book to your list of inspirational reading before the trip. I am recommending this book simply because my sister gave it to me to read before my first trip to NOLA to get “inspired”. I have read it a handful of times over the years and read excerpts from it anytime I want to feel this great city.
The book is also by Anne Rice- “The Witching Hour” (maybe you’ve read it?) You can actually smell the Jasmine and the humidity all at the same time. I have also read Interview with the Vampire and many other Anne Rice books hoping to taste a little more of New Orleans through Rice’s delicious writing. Nothing comes close to “The Witching Hour”.
I just sent it to my bestie in Maryland- we are meeting up in New Orleans in August and I wanted her to be inspired. Love the post! I got so much from it!!!!
The Voodoo Museum is a must! You can’t go to NOLA and not visit that.
And on the list of movies to watch before your trip, I’d add a TV show as well: Treme. It’s about the lives of New Orleans citizens after Katrina.
Emma Whitaker says
This was soooooo helpful!:) I’m going to New Orleans in March but, I’ve already packed…?I want to see the voodoo and art mostly also can’t go wrong with shopping! Can’t wait for it?
I’m going this weekend for my 30th bday with a couple friends! I can’t wait for the food, music and culture! Thanks for this article 🙂 Also, Double Jeopardy has some great New Orleans moments in it also for movies.
I hope you had an awesome 30th, Ashley!
Where has this blog been all my life? Well, we’re going to New Orleans via Amtrak for Christmas. Your travel and packing tips will be heavily referred to. Thanks for all the great information.