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Our first experience of Southern Hospitality was when we pulled off the Interstate and strolled into the Louisiana welcome centre. What we were greeted with would prove to be a great start for our 3 days in New Orleans. It was our first time in New Orleans, and actually our first time in the southern states of the USA too. We loved it, and if you’re looking for a New Orleans itinerary for 3 days, what follows is a great place to start.
During our three month USA road trip, we discovered that pretty much every state has its own welcome centre (especially if you’re doing an east coast USA road trip!). This made me laugh when I imagined each county back home having one. The Florida welcome centre gave out free orange juice, Georgia offered peaches and Louisiana offered “Louisiana smiles” (I’d tell you what you get in the Mississippi centre but I slept the whole way through Mississippi (it only took about 30 minutes to drive through) and, as such, Thom didn’t stop there). Maybe the county of Warwickshire would read you an act from a Shakespeare play and Kent would give you some shavings from the White Cliffs of Dover?
Anywhere that promises smiles though can’t be too bad a place. Can it? As we continued down through Louisiana, it’s swamps and bayous to New Orleans I pictured a happy, smiling place and that’s what we got.
New Orleans is one of those places, like Savannah, that stands out. When you mention it to someone they reply with either; “I loved it there” or, “I’ve always wanted to go there.” I was the latter, and now I can reply with the former.
The old town part of New Orleans is full of houses with charming iron balconies, there are buskers (good ones) on every street corner. There are men offering to write you a poem for a small fee, bands playing in restaurants, Mardi Gras beads in trees and on houses, good food, drinks, and a party atmosphere no matter what time of year you visit New Orleans.
If that’s tempted you, here’s everything you need for your three days in New Orleans with plenty of the best things to do in New Orleans thrown in for good measure.
How to get to New Orleans
First things first, how do you get to New Orleans? New Orleans is a popular destination and therefore its airport is well served by domestic and international flights. The Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans is about 30-45 minutes away from the French Quarter.
You can get a taxi from the airport to New Orleans French Quarter, or you can arrange for an airport transfer.
If you’re booking flights to New Orleans, I highly recommend checking out Skyscanner. I book all my flights through them as they make it so easy to find the best deals!
You can also get the train to New Orleans. Amtrak has routes to New Orleans from a number of cities in the USA including a New York to New Orleans train. So, whether you’re coming from the north, west or mid-west. You can check out train schedules and ticket prices on Omio.
Alternatively, you can factor in a trip to New Orleans into a larger road trip as we did!
Best time to visit New Orleans
We visited New Orleans in April, towards the beginning of the month. It was hot and humid but not too busy. In general, April, May and October are the best months to visit New Orleans.
Visiting New Orleans in April and May means you get warm spring weather before it’s too hot and it tends to be a bit quieter. Planning a trip to New Orleans in October is also a great idea as it’s the off-season so generally, hotels in New Orleans are cheaper and it’s cooler.
January to March is Mardi Gras season in New Orleans. January and the end of March will be a bit quieter but you’ll see signs of it getting busier or notice beads in the trees. Visiting New Orleans in February you’ll find the city is busier and much more expensive. New Orleans hotels get booked up far in advance for the main Mardi Gras week in February so you’ll need to book far in advance.
How many days in New Orleans?
Wondering how many days to spend in New Orleans? While 3 days in New Orleans might seem too short I’d argue it’s the perfect amount of time. It’ll give you a chance to sample some of the delicious food, explore the neighbourhoods at a more leisurely pace and allow time for a later wake-up after sampling one too many cocktails on Bourbon Street! If you’re super short on time you can also do a long weekend or just a weekend in New Orleans.
Of course, there’s plenty more to do and you can see New Orleans in 3 days or longer! For an idea on what to do check out the following 3 day New Orleans itinerary.
Where to stay in New Orleans
There are a lot of options when it comes to finding somewhere to stay in New Orleans. There are some gorgeous New Orleans hotels and more and more apartments in New Orleans are cropping up. Be aware that hotels in New Orleans book up early, especially end of January – March as mentioned above.
While the French Quarter and Garden District are a bit more expensive, if you head out to Mid-City then you’ll find cheaper accommodation in New Orleans.
Here are a few places to stay in New Orleans that get great reviews.
- Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette: This gorgeous hotel is super close to the French Quarter and has all the facilities you could need. Plus, it’s a steal for the location and quality.
- Lafayette Hotel: This 1916 historic landmark overlooks Lafayette Square and is walking distance to the French Quarter.
- Sonder – St Helene in the French Quarter: This accommodation in New Orleans has an outdoor pool and everything you need from a full kitchen to free toiletries. It’s super close to Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street too.
- India House Hotel New Orleans: Perfect for budget-conscious travellers, this hotel has an outdoor pool and deck as well as private rooms and dorms.
3 days in New Orleans itinerary
Add these fun things to do to your New Orleans itinerary. During our New Orleans 3 day itinerary we explored its cuisine and its different neighbourhoods as much as possible.
Here’s a great tour to look into if you’re short of time and want to fit in as much as possible:
- New Orleans 5 in 1: Explore the dark mythology and history of New Orleans from an insider and learn about vampires and ghosts around the French Quarter. Also includes a visit to over 15 locations including National Historic Landmarks
New Orleans itinerary day 1: The French Quarter and surrounding areas
Most New Orleans itineraries start in the French Quarter and that’s for good reason. It’s the hub-bub of the city and where the main tourist sights are. The chances are your hotel is in New Orleans’ French Quarter and so if you’re jet-lagged or just sleepy from travelling, staying close by is perfect for your first day in New Orleans.
Here are some things to do in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Jackson Square, New Orleans
Jackson Square is where a lot of the New Orleans buskers and artists hang out. There are people offering tarot and palm readings (in line with New Orlean’s mystic and witchy side), and plenty of artists selling their creations. You’ll find all this in Pirates Alley.
The square itself features St. Louis Cathedral which is a gleaming white. This is one of the areas of New Orleans that you’ll likely have seen on postcards and (perhaps) in some of the artists’ paintings in the square.
Faulkner House Books
Faulkner House Books in New Orleans is not only the only bookshop I have come across in America so far (seriously, where do you guys buy books from? Waterstones take note there’s a serious gap in the market), but one of the coolest bookshops I’ve come across.
Faulkner House Books is also the house of a local author. He’s turned his front room and the hallway into a bookshop which means it’s a super cute thing to see in New Orleans. Inside there are books about Louisiana and the city of New Orleans, as well as fiction and non-fiction from all genres. It’s a small book store, but it’s well worth a browse.
Café du Monde
The infamous Café du Monde in New Orleans is famous for its beignets. They may not be the best beignets in New Orleans but they’re still worth a try.
There was a queue every time we passed Cafe du Monde with plenty of people eager to get their hands on these doughnuts coated in sugar.
Top tip: Go very early, or mid-afternoon to avoid a huge line at breakfast and lunch.
Lunch: Eat a Muffuletta at Central Grocery & Deli
This little deli is an extremely popular stop thanks to the fact it serves Muffuletta sandwiches; something of a New Orleans speciality food. Central Grocery and Deli claim to be the inventors of this sandwich and nowadays you can find it on the menu in a lot of restaurants throughout New Orleans.
A Muffuletta is a huge round sandwich with salami, ham, Emmental, Swiss cheese and Provolone cheese and an olive salad. I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like olives as it’s pretty olive heavy (even for me who does like olives). But you can always scrape some out and trying a Muffuletta is a must do in New Orleans.
Walk along Decatur Street and the French Market
You can’t go wrong here. Wherever you walk you’ll stumble upon beautiful buildings, live music and cool shops selling all kinds of New Orleans souvenirs.
Decatur Street is, in many ways, one of the main places to visit in New Orleans’ French Quarter. It’s where you’ll find some of the best restaurants in New Orleans as well as souvenir shops and tour companies for things to do near New Orleans.
The French Market runs alongside Decatur Street for a few blocks and is the perfect place to try some hot sauces and get souvenirs.
Wander the rest of the French Quarter
New Orleans is all about meandering and taking your time. The French Quarter is one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods and is full of unusual and beautiful architecture, bars, restaurants and street artists.
I love just strolling aimlessly through a new city but if you’re looking for something more structured look at booking a walking tour of the French Quarter. This way you can learn about the history of the city too.
Chill out in Louis Armstrong Park
This park, just outside of downtown, is a great place to lie down and relax after a full day’s sightseeing.
Dinner at Cane and Table
We ate at Cane and Table while in New Orleans and absolutely loved the food. Book a table, or go early, and ask to be sat outside in the garden terrace area as it’s a very nice spot to eat. The menu is southern-inspired with some Tiki fusion. We ate yucca chips with a three-bean hoummous for starters which was so good and the cocktails are delicious too!
Sample some New Orleans nightlife
When it comes to nightlife in New Orleans the city knows what it’s doing. There are two streets that are known for late-night bars and drinks. The first is Bourbon Street which is home to raucous partying and the second is Frenchmen Street.
On Bourbon Street, you’ll see bars selling “huge ass beers” (because beer is served out of a cup in the shape of a bum) and plenty of drunk people stumbling about late into the night. Frenchmen Street is the more classy of the two and is known for live jazz. Take your pick or sample both!
Oh, and if you do go down Frenchmen Street (which you should at some point during your stay in New Orleans), then be sure to check out The Palace Market. This art market has art from local artists including bow ties to ginormous paintings. The market is open until midnight and it’s a great interlude between jazz bars.
New Orleans day 2 itinerary: Garden District
On the next day of your 3 day trip to New Orleans, it’s time to head to the Garden District. Or, if you only have 2 days in New Orleans, then you can pick either day 2 or 3 today’s activities.
Drink chicory coffee
If you spent a bit too long partying last night you’ll likely be in need of some coffee. Thankfully this city has you covered.
New Orleans has become famous for its coffee thanks to the addition of chicory root! This was a style developed by the French during the Civil War when coffee was scarce. Adding chicory meant more body and flavour to their cup of coffee and this tradition has carried on in New Orleans. It certainly was one of the stronger and flavoursome coffees I’ve had whilst travelling in America.
Explore the Garden District
The Garden District of New Orleans is home to numerous antebellum mansions, pristine gardens and southern charm. It’s where the rich residents of New Orleans live and it’s an excellent place to stroll around and marvel at the huge houses.
Although it’s getting more popular with tourists, it’s far quieter than the French District making it a nice place to get away from it all for a while.
A great way to get to know the Garden District is to take a walking tour. This way you can learn about some of the famous residents and the history of the buildings.
Visit Lafayette Cemetery
New Orleans’ cemeteries aren’t like all the other cemeteries you’re used to seeing. Due to the high water levels in New Orleans, people aren’t buried underground but rather in tombs on top of it. If you were to dig a few feet down in the city, the grave becomes soggy as it fills with water. Therefore, tombs were the only answer to keep the dead buried!
There are plenty of famous people in New Orleans’ cemeteries and many companies offer tours of some of them such as Lafayette Cemetery.
You can also do a self-guided tour of Lafayette cemetery by picking up a map from the information point.
Head to Magazine Street
Near Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District is Magazine Street. Magazine Street is full of restaurants and interesting shops making it a great place to wander around.
If you’re looking for some Mardi Gras themed souvenirs this is the place to shop!
After we’d wandered around we went into Magazine Po Boy Shop for a tasty lunch of another of New Orleans’ classic dishes. If you’re not familiar, a Po-Boy is a traditional sandwich from the state of Louisiana and almost always consists of meat or some sort of fried seafood (sorry veggies!). It’s basically just another name for a sandwich but you can’t leave Louisiana without saying you’ve eaten a Po’Boy!
A bit further along Magazine Street is District Donut which was the best doughnut I’ve ever had. Their speciality doughnuts are light and fluffy with so much flavour. There’s a couple of locations throughout the city, but since you’re in the Garden District I’d check out the one on Magazine Street.
We didn’t eat here but did appreciate the building from the outside. If you do plan to eat at Commander’s Palace then make sure you pack some fancier clothes for your trip to New Orleans. Men have to wear a buttoned shirt and women are to wear dresses or business attire.
You’ll also want to reserve in advance for this Creole fine dining experience. It gets booked up pretty much every day and it’s no surprise when they do $.25 martinis with meals!
Dinner and drinks at Bacchanal Fine wine & spirits
Head back to your New Orleans hotel and freshen up ready for dinner. You’re headed to the best hidden wine bar in New Orleans!
Bacchanal Fine wine & spirits is an off-the-grid bar to head to away from the hustle and bustle of the main New Orleans neighbourhoods.
From the outside, it looks like a dingy wine store but it opens up into a twinkling patio area where customers can uncork the wine bought in the store and enjoy it with a cheese and charcuterie plate. Oh, and did I mention there’s also live music?
This feels like one of the hidden local secrets of New Orleans and it’s such a great way to spend an evening in New Orleans.
New Orleans Itinerary day 3: Get spooky!
Did you know New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in the USA? It’s time to get spooky on your last day in NOLA!
Visit Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans
Home to voodoo and vampires, a trip to a vampire store should be on your list of things to see in New Orleans. As you wander around the city you can’t fail to miss the city’s connection to vampires and voodoo.
Whatever you believe, popping into Boutique du Vampyre is a fun thing to do in NOLA. It’s full of vampire accessories, books and incense that make for great souvenirs!
Explore some strange New Orleans Museums
New Orleans is home to some rather strange museums. There’s the Museum of Death and the Museum of Voodoo as well as the Pharmacy Museum. These museums are all rather creepy in their own right so they’re perfect for exploring as part of a spooky New Orleans itinerary.
- Museum of Death: This museum is full of items that are related to death in any which way you can imagine. If you love true crime you’re going to LOVE this place.
- Voodoo Museum: If you know a little about Voodoo already this is going to be one place you’ll love. However, even if you don’t know much you’re still bound to find it interesting. It’s a small museum (two little rooms), but it’s only $7 and a very unique thing to do in New Orleans.
- Pharmacy Museum: This museum is in the old apothecary of the first pharmacist in the US. There’s a collection of old medical equipment, potions and more. It’s weird but awesome!
Take a food tour in New Orleans
There are so many different types of food to try in New Orleans from beignets to gumbo, po-boys and muffuletta. Even the hungriest of travellers are going to find it hard to find the time to fit it all in but there is an answer! Take a New Orleans food tour.
My parents recently took the “French Quarter through my eyes” tour and had a great time. Their host was super friendly and FULL of stories. They managed to try all sorts of foods within a few hours which was great as they were only in New Orleans for about 36 hours.
Oh, and you won’t want to have a big lunch before this afternoon food tour, there’ll be plenty of food given to you. So much that you probably won’t be hungry until tomorrow. Or, if you are there’s always so beignets to grab after your next New Orleans activity.
Take an evening ghost tour
New Orleans is famous for many things (as I’m sure you’ve figured out during this article). Another thing to add to that list of things New Orleans is famous for is ghost tours.
Taking a ghost tour is one of the most fun things to do if you’re still wondering what to do in New Orleans. Especially if you take one in the evening.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you’re sure to leave this tour feeling a little bit spooked. New Orleans is home to enough ghost stories that no 2 tours are the same and pretty much every creepy tale will leave you feeling a bit spooked. There are lots of ghost tours in New Orleans to choose from, but this one gets rave reviews.
The night tours are the best as they tend to be spookier; especially this haunted cemetery and city tour!
Anything else you’d add to a New Orleans three day itinerary?