In early May, Ivan and I spent a fantastic long weekend attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In just a few short days of hanging out in The Big Easy, this city has catapulted onto our top 3 favorite cities in the U.S. - right after Boston and Philadelphia. The city’s slow pace, melting pot of culture, food, and history makes it the ideal hub for us. In another lifetime, I could definitely see us living here.
During this trip, we made a point of pestering every local we met to give us their favorite places to eat, drink, and relax in New Orleans, and we followed their advice to compile this three day itinerary.
Basically, we’ve asked all the questions - so you won’t have to!
Who should use this itinerary?
Solo travelers/couples on a budget who prefer to stay off Bourbon Street in favor of more “off the beaten” path hangouts.
What are the best times to visit NOLA (New Orleans)?
Before June. Our rule of thumb: go before it gets too hot and humid to enjoy the sights. We went on the first weekend of May for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the weather was just right.
Crawfish boil fans: If you’re looking for a good crawfish boil, go before August; crawfish season is typically between early March through mid-June.
Mardi Gras or party junkies: If you want to party and join a few second lines, go during the Mardi Gras season. Be warned though - prices will double or triple for accommodations during this time period. A local Uber driver did mention that Mardi Gras lasts about a full month for locals with all the backyard barbeques and shindigs.
What is the best way to get around NOLA (New Orleans)?
Staying true to who we are - we usually go car-less in any city we visit.
We recommend using NOLA’s public transit system. For $3.00, you can get a 24-hour pass to use NOLA’s public transit system, which includes 24 hour streetcars and extensive bus routes. Over three days, it’ll only cost you $9 a person.
We also found New Orleans to be relatively walkable in the main touristy areas (e.g. Frenchman Street, French Quarters, Magazine Street, etc). However, there are still some “shady” areas you’d want to avoid walking through after dark.
When in doubt, take a Lyft/Uber after sundown.
Where should I stay in NOLA?
I'm only going to recommend what I can stand by - unless you’re doing it “for the Gram/IG”, I don’t think you should pay for more than $70 a night for your stay in New Orleans. Think about it: how much time will you actually spend in your room?
For the budget conscious (up to $60 per night):
Airbnb is a great option. We found a lot of Airbnb options under $60 a day. I would highly recommend staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. It’s an emerging area with a growing arts scene, boutiques, and restaurants.
Hostels. Our friend mentioned that NOLA has a pretty decent hostel scene compared to other Western metropolitan cities. You can check out The Broke Backpacker’s recommendations here that will suit your needs.
Thoughts On Bourbon Street
We did the obligatory walk through Bourbon street one evening. Truth is, I could’ve lived without it. Despite its long history, you’ll quickly notice it’s just a copy-and-paste job of clubs and sleazy bars that are packed with out-of-towners.
Here’s our tip: You can do the obligatory 30 minute stroll through the main street and then walk over to Frenchmen Street where all the interesting jazz clubs, dive bars, street performances, poets for hire, and other shenanigans that are more worth your time.
New Orleans People and Southern Porch Culture
My favorite part of our entire trip was actually getting to meet New Orleanians and transplants. We found New Orleanians to be kind, warm, and unfazed by what others think of them. Our favorite type of people!
Oftentimes, you’ll see locals leisurely hanging out on their porches having a smoke or drinking a cold beer or sweet tea. And as we passed some of these beautifully crafted homes (especially in the Lower Garden District), locals would casually say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Where y’at?” (the correct response: “what it is”). Although it seems silly to read into this porch culture, I found myself longing for that sense of community and closeness that it represents.
What we wished we’d done differently before going to New Orleans...
I think my biggest regret was not learning more about New Orleans and its history before I visited. Although I recall some basics from my U.S. history classes, it’s one of those cities that continues to carry its traditions.
Here are a few resources I’d suggest before visiting New Orleans:
Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. A collection of essays that show the shift of New Orleans historically, agriculturally, culturally.
Radio / Podcasts:
HBO series Treme (pronounced: tre-MAY) from the series creator of The Wire (available for free on Amazon Prime Video)
How do I use this guide?
The map is divided into three color-coded areas:
- Day 1 attractions are in Blue
- Day 2 attractions are in Red
- Day 3 attractions are in Yellow
- The grey markers are for optional sites
For simplicity, we assume you followed our advice and are staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. All currency listed in USD.
A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary
(based entirely on local recommendations)
Day 1 (Blue): Arrival in New Orleans, Crawfish Boil, Gumbo, Boozy Bourbon Street, Jazz on Frenchmen Street, and Late Night Gene’s Po’Boys
- Arrive at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
- Take the short, six minute Uber ride ($5-6) to Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar for boiled crawfish and raw oysters. We ordered fried alligator as an appetizer, and the boiled special: 3 lbs of boiled crawfish, ½ lb of boiled shrimp, 10 boiled potatoes and corn ($38). If possible, we recommend sitting at the bar to chat with the friendly bartender!
- Uber to your Airbnb at the Garden District ($15-17). Drop off your things and head out on foot.
Have dinner at Mother’s Restaurant ($20-30): Mother’s has a combination plate where you can try the gumbo, Jambalaya, and etouffee (our preference). Alternatively, there’s the always packed Cochon Butcher, a gourmet sandwich shop where you can get boudin (boo-dan).
- Walk through and past Bourbon Street. Avoid the neon-colored daiquiris made with Everclear and the Hand Grenade cocktail - because you’re not 21 anymore and possess a fully developed brain.
- Make your way to Frenchman Street. This is where all the great live music, jazz clubs, and dive bars are. In our case, we started at The Spotted Cat for live music, then a few dive bars later, ended up at the Hi Ho Lounge around one in the morning ($25-30).
- Cap off the night by splitting a hot sausage po’boy at Gene’s Po’Boys ($15, open 24H). Every single local we talked to mentioned Gene’s as a great late night spot. Note: Gene's does take credit cards and make sure to ask for their homemade HOT SAUCE. A local highly recommended it to us.
- Take the Uber home ($9-10).
Daily total (for two) in New Orleans:
$100-150 depending on how many drinks you order.
We stuck to one drink per establishment.
Day 2 (Red): Exploring New Orleans Cemeteries, Streetcars, Mufalettas, Beignets and Coffee at Cafe Du Monde, and Drinking Wine at Bacchanal with New Friends And Jazz
Breakfast at HiVolt Coffee ($15), a nice spacious coffee shop to plan out your day.
Stroll through the Upper Gardens district and visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and No.2 (free)
Take the streetcar to the French Quarter. Purchase a 1 Day transit pass (valid for 24H) from the street car driver ($3 per person).
Take your sandwich to go and head over to Jackson Square for an impromptu picnic.
For dessert, there are two options for cafe au lait and beignets (pronounced: ben-YAYs): the famous Cafe du Monde or Cafe Beignet (multiple locations - we went to the one on Royal St). Which is better? We tried both and preferred Cafe Beignet ($10) because there were fewer tourists (i.e. quieter), no line for restrooms and the beignets were fluffier and fresh out of the fryer.
Take the streetcar to French Market Station.
Climb the stairs up the weird overpass, over a concrete wall, and down the stairs again to reach Crescent Park, a tranquil public space with views of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans skyline.
Continue walking north along the river until you reach the Bywater district - which reminded us of the New Orleans-equivalent of pre-gentrified Brooklyn.
Head over to our favorite spot in New Orleans: Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits ($40-50).
How it works: you select and purchase a bottle of wine as you enter the store (with help from the friendly staff), grab a couple of empty glasses and head over to the back patio. Pull up some chairs and share a table with some strangers while listening to live music! There’s a good mix of locals and tourists who come here, and though it may seem daunting for introverts at first, stick with it! A few glasses of wine later, we promise you won’t regret it! Bacchanal also serves food and a fantastic meat and cheese plate you can order at the front. We recommend arriving early (5 PM) before the post-work rush.
Daily total (for two):
$90-120. Again, depends on how much wine you drink.
We ordered a bottle of Beaujolais ($28), shared a cheese and meat plate with some locals ($10-15), and tipped the musicians ($5).
Day 3 (Yellow): Willie Mae’s Fried Chicken, Walking Around City Park and Sculpture Gardens, More Gumbo, and Sno-balls for Dessert
Have a late breakfast at the famous Willie Mae’s Scotch House (closed Sundays, $25-30) for fried chicken. In our opinion, totally worth the hype. It is extremely important to get here as soon as it opens at 10AM to avoid standing in a long ass line.
When you arrive at City Park, have some totally unnecessary coffee and beignets at Morning Call ($5-10).
Explore the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden (free) and take a nap together in one of the swing chairs in the park.
Uber out to Pho Michael ($20-25) for a (relatively) light meal before your flight. New Orleans has a sizable Vietnamese population and the bun bo hue here was legit! Alternatively, people rave about the gumbo at Chef Ron’s Gumbo Shop, located right next to Sno-La Snowball Lounge, which sells sno-balls stuffed with a cheesecake filling (we’re skeptical about this combo). We were too stuffed to try it, but our Uber driver said she goes out of her way to eat there all the time.
Take the Uber to the airport ($15) and fly home 10 pounds heavier.