Whether you call it the Crescent City, the Big Easy, NOLA or New Orleans, it is unlike anywhere else in the US. With a dynamic blend of cultural influences (French, African & American) and no shortage of things to do and see, it has quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorite US cities. It’s known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant live-music scene and delicious Cajun and Creole food.
If you only have a few days to explore, these are my recommendations for the top things to do and see in New Orleans!
Visit the French Quarter
The French Quarter, often called the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, is the city’s most historic neighborhood. Famous for its vibrant nightlife and colorful buildings with cast-iron balconies, it’s #1 on my list of top things to do and see in New Orleans. When you think of NOLA, you probably think of Bourbon Street which features jazz clubs, Cajun eateries, Voodoo shops, and raucous bars serving strong cocktails, but there is much more to the Quarter. Quieter streets like Royal Street feature gourmet restaurants, antique shops and galleries, and provide all the culture without the crazy party crowd.
Eat a Beignet
Beignets, the French deep-fried pastry, are a must when in New Orleans. Cafe du Monde is the most popular spot and therefore can have very long lines. In my opinion, Café Beignet is actually much more picturesque than Café du Monde and the beignets are as good, if not better.
Check out Jackson Square
Jackson Square is a historic park in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 as the site where Louisiana was made United States territory in 1803 pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase. Located right across the street from the St. Louis Cathedral and steps away from the Mississippi River, it is the perfect place to take a photo and listen to the many street performers.
Book a Swamp Tour
The swamp tour was by far my favorite experience in New Orleans. I expected the bayou to be eerie, but it was surprisingly beautiful with all the Cypress trees, Spanish moss and abundant wild life. Get Your Guide offers a good selection of swamp tours and we booked a small airboat with Louisiana Tour Co. Our guide, Captain Brad, was awesome and we were able to get up close and personal to the gators, even touching them. And the ride on the airboat was exhilarating! Check out my Instagram reel for video footage from our tour.
Try some Gumbo & Jambalaya
Gumbo and Jambalaya are two of the most popular Creole dishes in New Orleans and you can find them on just about every menu. Gumbo is a soup that consists primarily of a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, and celery, bell peppers, and onions. Jambalaya is a rice dish consisting mainly of shrimp, chicken, sausage and vegetables. Both are delicious but my preference is Jambalaya.
Visit a Cemetery
Due to the fact that New Orleans is below sea-level, it is impossible to bury the dead six-feet under. The solution was to entomb the departed into elaborate marble chambers above ground. The cemeteries are hauntingly beautiful and a must see. There are many cemeteries in New Orleans but some of the most popular are St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, and Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is the most photographed cemetery and has been featured in many movies and TV shows including “Interview with a Vampire”, “Double Jeopardy” and “The Originals”. Unfortunately it was closed due to renovations when we were there so we opted to visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 2.
These are my recommendations for the best things to do and see in New Orleans. Let me know if there’s anything you would add to the list! And be sure to check out my blog post on one of my other favorite US cities, San Francisco.