New Orleans Guide to Visiting
New Orleans is an incredible city and we recently had the opportunity to visit. Spring time in the Big Easy is one of the best times to visit and we had a great time. In this New Orleans guide I’ll discuss where we stayed, some oddities about New Orleans and some of the amazing food and sites you can experience along the way.
New Orleans Guide – Where to Stay
New Orleans has no shortage of accommodation options, but choosing where to stay can come with a few considerations you may not have thought about.
New Orleans Guide – To rent or not to rent; that is the question
Given rental car costs these days and the price of parking in downtown New Orleans, we elected to make this a walking getaway. There are 2 insanely cheap options for getting from the airport to downtown:
- Public bus service on the Airport Express: (Regional Transportation Authority Route #202) and the Veterans-Airport (Jefferson Transit Authority Route E1) depart on fixed schedules from the outermost curb outside the ticket lobby on level 3 of the airport. Full fares are $1.25 and $2.00 respectively; $0.40 and $1.00 for seniors. The closest stop to the French Quarter for both services is in the vicinity of Basin and Canal Streets and may or may not be convenient, depending on the location of your lodging and how much luggage you have.
- Rideshare: We took Lyft (Uber is also available) inbound; our inbound ride was $36.01 without tip. Rides returning to the airport seemed to be more expensive, so we had our hotel arrange a taxi; cab fares are fixed at $36.00 before tip.
Where We Stayed in New Orleans
We chose to stay at The Eliza Jane, part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt, before it went from a Category 4 to a Category 5 on March 28, putting it out of the range for use of the annual free night certificate associated with the World of Hyatt credit card. The style here is industrial-chic but you should be aware that there is no pool nor any onsite parking (which certainly was a factor in deciding whether or not to rent a car). It was classy but the room we were assigned was on the small side considering the price point.
New Orleans Guide to Visiting – The Oddities
It is often said that New Orleans is the most European city in the U.S. due to the French and Spanish influence on architecture in the French Quarter (so named after the Louisiana Purchase because French was the predominant language spoken until the new government made English the official language). But first-time visitors may be surprised (shocked?) at the following oddities:
- Many people question how safe it is to visit. New Orleans didn’t make Forbes’ 2022 list of the “10 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.” Now, that’s not to say some areas of the city are less safe than others, as is the case in any major urban center. Visitors are advised to be aware of and follow the “Common Sense Tips…” on the New Orleans tourism industry’s official website.
- Even though it is illegal in the rest of Louisiana (and most of the U.S., for that matter!) to walk the streets with an opened alcoholic beverage in hand, the New Orleans Municipal Code permits carrying an open container of alcohol in the French Quarter…as long as that container is not glass. Thus, you can take your alcoholic beverage “to go” in a plastic vessel!
- Burial is often above-ground in the city’s walled necropolises because much of New Orleans is at or below sea level. As you can imagine, this has all sorts of macabre implications….
- Sidewalks in the French Quarter are notoriously uneven because the underlying terrain is, essentially, swamp land. A “Great Destinations” radio show about New Orleans included the warning, “…a stroll can turn into an assault course of lifted and broken paving stones.” This presents an opportunity for enterprising law firms….
New Orleans “Freebie Tour”
To stretch our legs and get “the lay of the land” after checking into our hotel, my wife and I set off in search of free (or almost free) samples in the French Quarter. This can be a fun, if not especially filling, way to spend a few hours. Here are the stops we made:
- Pepper Palace has over 160 locations spread throughout the U.S. and Canada and 3 in the French Quarter: 224 Chartres Street, 609 Decatur Street, and in the French Market. There are scores of sauces, salsa, seasonings to sample. If you dare, try “The End: Flatline Hot Sauce” – their “hottest hot sauce…that will burn everything from your tastebuds to your britches”.
- While I wouldn’t have thought of pairing fried chicken with frozen daiquiris, Voodoo Chicken & Daiquiris has! At any of their 3 French Quarter locations (629 Canal Street, 227 Bourbon Street, or 730 St. Louis Street) you can sample their 9 unique daiquiri flavors. Jazz Funeral is made with Everclear; Mardi Gras Mambo, with Jose Cuervo Tequila.
- Leah’s Pralines, 714 St. Louis Street: This shop has been at this location and in the same family for 75 years! You can watch the pralines (traditional, creamy, rum, and chocolate) as well as frosted pecans (praline, rum, and orange) and brittles (pecan, bacon pecan, spicy Cajun pecan, and coconut peanut) being made in the kitchen visible through a wide arch behind the candy counter. You can select any 3 pralines for a gift box for $6.75.
- The Louisiana General Store at 524 St. Louis Street is where you check in for your New Orleans School of Cooking class (see below). If you find yourself wanting to try your hand at duplicating any of the iconic New Orleans delights you’re sure to taste (gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, etc.) you can find the ingredients and recipes for the same here…and there’s usually something set out to sample.
- Although not free, you can belly up to the bar at Café Maspero, 601 Decatur Street, and get a frozen strawberry daiquiri for just $1 which sure hits the spot on a hot, humid afternoon. Just be sure to sip slowly as to avoid brain freeze!
- Beignets, which are deep-fried pillows of dough covered with confectioner’s sugar are synonymous with New Orleans! Café Beignet has 3 locations in the French Quarter: 311 Bourbon Street, 334 Royal Street, and 600 Decatur Street. While the beignets aren’t free ($4.75 for 3), if you click on the “About” tab of their website, you can print out as many coupons as you want for one free café au lait per person with any purchase – a value of $3.99 (hot) or $4.19 (iced). The latter is really refreshing on a hot day.
- In addition to pralines and brittle, Southern Candymakers (334 and 1010 Decatur Street) makes turtles (in milk, dark, or white chocolate, dipped or double-dipped in chocolate), toffees, divinity, and fudge. Their New Orleans-themed assortments can be a bit pricey but make truly unique gifts.
- The free self-guided tour (it takes about an hour) at The Sazerac House, at 101 Magazine Street, is totally worth doing and, when the temperature and humidity soars (as both often do), you’ll also appreciate the air-conditioning as you learn about New Orleans’ cocktail culture, prohibition in The Big Easy, and how the Sazerac came to be the city’s official cocktail. Along the way, you’ll have multiple opportunities to sample thimble-sized cocktails, The first tour is at 11am, the last is at 4:15pm; closed Mondays.
If you visit the bold-faced stops in the order listed above, you’ll make a 1-mile circuit through the western side of the French Quarter.
New Orleans Guide – Where To Eat
New Orleans is foodie heaven! If the location and circumstances permit, we try to eat just 2 meals a day when traveling; a brunch between 9 and 10:30am and an early dinner (to take advantage of Happy Hour specials). New Orleans is perfect for this dining schedule as the listing below will show:
Brunch Recommendations in New Orleans
There’s almost always a queue at French Toast, 1035 Decatur Street (opposite the French Market) but it moves fairly quickly. All the breads, biscuits, jams, custards, and curds used in their eclectic menu items are made in house daily, so take this into consideration when deciding what to order. There’s probably not another spot on the planet where you can order coconut crème-stuffed French toast with bruléed pineapple, candied macadamia, lemon curd and maple syrup ($12.50), so do it here! They also serve aebelskivers (Danish pancake balls) with powdered sugar and choice of sauce (lemon curd, maple syrup, jam, caramel, chocolate, or Nutella): order $5 for 3, $9 for 7 as an alternative to beignets.
Ruby Slipper Café: The menu at this brunch-only restaurant with two locations (200 Magazine Street and 204 Decatur Street…same street, different names on opposite sides of Canal Street) “…celebrates the craveable and creative flavor and spirit of brunch, front and center, everyday.” I chose their signature white chocolate bread pudding pancakes ($12.50) while my wife enjoyed their vegetarian breakfast tacos “filled with a scramble of eggs, pico de gallo, chipotle sour cream and (large slices of) avocado” (also $12.50). We couldn’t have been happier with our choices and only wished our trip was longer so we could visit again.
Our morning splurge was the live jazz brunch buffet at The Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal Street). While a little pricey at $33.00/person, we would do it again in a heartbeat and highly recommend it. Mimosas are $10/glass but you can order a half carafe for $24, which is served in 2 separate carafes of sparkling wine and orange juice. We filled our mimosa glasses 5 times, which we felt was a very good value. Also, if you make a reservation for 10:45 and eat leisurely, you’ll be able to select from 2 different buffets; breakfast items are switched out for lunch items (including shrimp etouffee) at 11:30. Finally, you can earn 10 Ultimate Reward points for each dollar spent if you have an eligible card and make your reservation through Chase Dining.
Dinner & Happy Hour Recommendations in New Orleans
I tend not to expect too much of hotel restaurants, but Luke (in the Hilton New Orleans at 333 St. Charles Avenue) far exceeded my reservations! The menu here is an “homage to the…Franco-German brasseries that once reigned in New Orleans.”
- Tip #1: If you can be seated before 6pm, specialty cocktails, wines by the glass, and draft beer are half-price for Happy Hour.
- Tip #2: Request seating away from the bar…it gets really loud in the first dining space because of the acoustics.
- Tip #3: If you order the Flammenkuchen (Alsatian pizza) to share be warned…it’s bigger than you expect and VERY filling. Honestly, I think there’s a pound of melted Emmenthaler cheese on it! We ordered the “Moules et Frites” (mussels and fries, $26) and the Steak Frites with duck fat Bernaise ($36); both were delicious and worth every penny. The fries are seasoned with something we couldn’t quite identify, but it is addictive.
On the other hand, Café Maspero (601 Decatur Street) didn’t live up to my (perhaps unrealistically high) expectations. In all fairness, this disappointment may have been more a function of our meal selection than the restaurant’s overall quality. Since we went for dinner, we looked right past the po-boys and sandwiches on the menu and both selected the “Taste of Café Maspero” which allows one to select either 3 (for $20) or all 4 (for $25) of the following: red beans and rice, jambalaya, Andouille gumbo, and crawfish etouffée. It turns out reviewers give their muffuletta ($18) and banana bread pudding ($9) high marks.
We were stoked when our energetic server at Ruby Slipper Café recommended we eat at Curio (301 Royal Street), where we just so happened to have a reservation the same evening.
- Tip #1: Request a table upstairs if any are available; the downstairs tables are sandwiched between the bar, the street, and the kitchen and can become both loud and congested. We ordered the “Crab Cakes Royal Street,” which are topped with a remoulade (slightly spicy) sauce and served with a salad of mixed greens and onion rings ($28) because we had had the “Taste of Café Maspero” the previous evening. Curio offers an almost identical menu item called “Taste of New Orleans” ($20/$25).
- Tip #2: In hindsight, I would opt for a sandwich and desert at Café Maspero and order Curio’s “Taste of New Orleans.” Curio also offers bottomless mimosas and bloody Marys ($18) until 4pm every day!
Since we were stuffed from brunch at The Court of Two Sisters, we decided to try and make Happy Hour at Kingfish (337 Chartres Street) suffice for our evening meal on our last day. This turned out to be our least favorite meal. The drinks ($7 daiquiri and $4 draft beer) were fine but the Louisiana crawfish bread appetizer ($9), which is described as “crawfish tails, cheddar and parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, and local seasonings on crusty brioche bread” was a disappointment. I could barely detect crawfish on our serving, let alone “crawfish tails.”
So Many Things to Do in the Big Easy
Because we elected not to rent a car for this trip, all attractions described below are within or immediately adjacent to the boundaries of the French Quarter.
- New Orleans Jazz Museum/New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park: These are separate and distinct, although intertwined, entities celebrating the music genre born here. The mission of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is “(t)o preserve unimpaired this cultural resource and its core values for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” The Arrowhead (think of the logo of the National Park Service!) Jazz Band is a unique expression of this mission. Park rangers, alongside local musicians, present a free hour-long performance every Tuesday on the third floor of the Jazz Museum at 400 Esplanade Avenue. As it turns out, the weekly concert during our visit was the day before International Women’s Day and the band featured all female performers playing numbers written and/or performed by female artists. The band led off with “Free Your Mind,” the Grammy Award-nominated hit single released by the all-female R&B group En Vogue. The also performed the Jazz standard, “I Don’t Know Enough about You” from the last (1993) album recorded by Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Peggy Lee and ended with a spirited rendition of “No More” by Jazzmeia Horn from her 2019 album Love & Liberation.
- The Hermann-Grima House, 820 St. Louis Street, $16/adult, $13/seniors (65+, military, children (8-18), and students (18+). Note: If you plan on visiting the Gallier House as well, you can purchase a combo ticket for both properties for $25/adult, $20/seniors, military, children and students. The only way to visit is on a guided tour (click here to make a reservation); allow 1 hour for your tour and at least 15 minutes to walk between the properties. If you only have time or the inclination for 1 historic property tour, I recommend the Hermann-Grima House, which takes an unflinching look at urban enslavement. Conde Nast Traveler says, “Slavery is presented in all its brutal truth, given its full historical context and in the end, presented as a lesson for modern day aspects of systems of labor and incarceration.”
- Gallier House, 1132 Royal Street, same ticket prices/options as above. The focus of this tour is more on the engineering and architectural innovations of this townhouse, completed just as the Civil War was breaking out, and less on the lives and living conditions of the enslaved people who made the Gallier’s comfortable lifestyle possible.
- The Presbytère, 751 Chartres Street (the building to the right, facing St. Louis Cathedral), $7/adult, $6/seniors, military, and students. This building, which is part of the Louisiana State Museum family, is a mirror image of the Cabildo on the other side of St. Louis Cathedral. It houses 2 permanent exhibits: “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana,” which describes the story of the floats, the krewes, the colored beads, and the costumes associated with this celebration of organized chaos, and “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond,” which tells the sad story of the catastrophe which left 80% of New Orleans under water and hundreds dead.
Learn to Cook
Cooking demonstration at the New Orleans School of Cooking, 524 St. Louis Street. Basically, you have 2 options here: “hands-on” (3 hours, $145/pp) and “demonstration” (4 items are prepared during the 2.5 hour morning classes for $42.50/pp; 3 items are prepared during the 2-hour afternoon classes for $35/pp) classes for which reservations are necessary.
- Tip #1: If you select a morning demonstration class (which we did), it will not only be your morning education/entertainment but also lunch because you get to sample everything that is prepared!
- Tip #2: You may be able to get an 11% discount if you make your reservation by booking here; also there may be a Chase offer or Citi Merchant offer for reservations made through Viator.
When the host called our names, we took any open seat where we found a homemade biscuit, a handout with all the recipes that would be made during our class, silverware and a glass for as much water, iced tea, or lemonade as we wanted; coffee is also available during morning classes. As each item (gumbo, jambalaya, pralines, and bread pudding) was finished, a serving was delivered at our seats but we were encouraged to ask for additional helpings of everything! Along with the jazz concert, this was another highlight of our trip!
New Orleans Guide – Free Walking Tours
There are 2 free walking tour companies operating in New Orleans: Free Tours by Foot (which offers 10 different tours) and NOLA Tour Guy (which offers 3 different tours and, right now, the only cemetery tour). We chose NOLA Tour Guy’s 2-hour French Quarter tour which departs from Washington Artillery Park overlooking Jackson Square daily at 10:00am because it is locally owned and operated. Our guide (David Hedges, the owner) was extremely knowledgeable, regaling us with stories of New Orleans’ colorful history as we transected the French Quarter.
- Tip: Both free tour sites offer a wealth of information to help you plan your trip, but I found NOLA Tour Guy’s “Free New Orleans Travel Guide” better arranged; it also covered topics like “What to Do on a Rainy Day…,” “Best Things to Do As a Solo Female Traveler,” etc.
The Historic New Orleans Collection, 520 Royal Street, free admission, was host to “Notre Dame de Paris: The Augmented Exhibition” during our visit. We spent more than 2 hours using a trademarked touchscreen tablet to explore the history of the construction of Notre Dame, the tragic and devastating 2019 fire, and the reconstruction that will culminate in the cathedral’s reopening planned for December, 2024. Unfortunately, this exhibit closed on March 19 but be on the watch for it at a museum near you.
New Orleans Guide to Visiting – The Bottom Line
I hope this gives you some new ideas for how to have a jam-packed, affordable vacation in “The Big Easy,” one of the iconic travel destinations in the U.S. Happy traveling! This New Orleans guide covered where to stay, how to get around, the incredible food and some of the unique history and tours you’ll find in the city.
What is your favorite thing about New Orleans?