The Big Easy: The Ultimate Travel Guide to NOLA

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For those who have yet to experience “America’s Most Interesting City,” New Orleans’ gritty exterior may undoubtedly cause some hesitancy. On the other hand, if you open your heart up to all of its imperfections and flaws, it will unconditionally love you right back. Continue reading below for a full travel guide to the “Big Easy!”

travel guide to New Orleans

Byen Venu (or Bienvenue?) to New Orleans

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Contrary to its dodgy reputation, New Orleans boasts a vibrant nightlife scene, genuine southern hospitality, and a powerful sense of identity. Above all, pride bursts from every music-filled alleyway and magic eludes from every cobblestone street.

Above all, if you’re planning a trip to this “European” city on the Mississippi, you’ve come to the right place. In this travel guide, you’ll find recommendations for centuries-old dining spots, traffic stopping second line parades, and chickory coffee strong enough to bring a grown man to his knees.

From its deeply rooted French, Cuban, Hatian, and Spanish traditions, it’s a cultural smorgasbord that represents the very essence of the American spirit.

Where to Stay

Lower Garden District

Two miles from the bustling and sultry streets of the French Quarter, one can find a quaint and artistic suburb. In New Orleans’ Irish Channel neighborhood, rows of colorful shotgun houses pepper the narrow streets. Bursts of color peek out between historic buildings that house local shops. Restaurants serving up the best of the city’s culinary scene. Bars that welcome patrons well after the sun comes up can also be found on most street corners.

The “Mambo House”

The pastel purple “Mambo House” sits in the center of the action, just steps from the popular coffee shops, clothing boutiques, and bars on Magazine Street.

New Orleans 1

Owned by Jouandot Enterprise, the 1800 square foot shotgun home is a safe and spacious option for housing in New Orleans. With four bedrooms, two full baths, and enough space to sleep at least eight people –or an entire bachelorette party — you can kick back comfortably.

Vibrant chalkboard paint covers the walls in most rooms. Guests are encouraged to leave notes of encouragement (or debauchery) for future guests wherever blank space is found.

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NOLA Brewery, The Saint, Audubon Park and Zoo, and the coveted District Donuts hotspot are a quick Uber ride away. Should one find yourself in need of a break, Bourbon Street is also a short ride away.

If you book a stay at the Mambo House, let them know that you heard about them via an East Coast Contessa travel guide! To learn more about Mambo House or to book a stay, visit this link.

Where to Play

There’s no doubt about it: the Big Easy lives up to its name. With endless options to enjoy a night out on the town, deciding what to do with limited time can be overwhelming. However, there are more than a handful of NoLa hotspots that can’t be missed.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is located in NOLA’s Garden District neighbourhood. However, this is anything but your average burial ground. First, it is the oldest city-owned cemetery in New Orleans. It’s been operational since 1833, and it was in a separate city (Lafayette) for a period of time. These days, swaths of tourists walk its grounds each year to visit the famed tomb of novelist Anne Rice (Mayfair Witches), and scenes from popular films such as Interview with a Vampire, Double Jeopardy, and NCIS: New Orleans. When the cemetery is open, visitors can take free walking tours, or pay-what-you-wish guided tours.

New Orleans travel guide

These days, the cemetery has remained temporarily closed to tourists since 2019 for a much-needed facelift until further notice. However, other cemeteries remain open for guided tours including the historic Saint Louis Cemeteries No. 2. and No. 3. Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, the home of the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, is also temporarily closed.

Faulkner Book House

Dear book aficionados: New Orleans is for you. Right off of Jackson Square, you can find the city’s most adorable and historic book store, Faulkner Book Store. This spot was once frequented by the legend himself, William Faulkner, while he was living in NOLA in the early 1900’s. Here, you can find many of his works as well as early editions of other rare literary works. Other notable authors and poets such as Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams also explored NOLA’s city streets, so it’s a great destination for writers to come for inspiration.

Address: French Quarter, 624 Pirates Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116 (one minute walk from St. Louis Cathedral)

Regional Transit Authority Streetcars

During the day, glide through the streets under canopy’s of magnolia trees on the Regional Transit Authority’s historic streetcars. For only $1.25 in exact change, hop on the St. Charles line and get off at the Tulane University campus stop to enjoy the gardens. Here is a current map of the Streetcar routes:

New Orleans travel guide

After a quick stroll, hop back on the Canal Street line and make your way into the city. Get off on Canal Street and make your way to the heart of the French Quarter. Here, make sure you order some fried beignets (with powdered sugar!) at Cafe Du Monde.

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Haunted Booze & Boos Tours

At dusk, make your way across the street into Jackson Square to meet a tour guide from the New Orleans Streetwalker Tours. Named one of the “Best Five New Orleans Tours” by Travel & Leisure Magazine, participants of the experience galavant through some of the city’s most haunted establishments. Don’t forget that there are no open-container liquor laws here, so you can sip on NOLA’s most classic cocktails. Ghastly tales of love and loss echo through the streets, and ghost or two have been known to present themselves.  This could also just the potent Hurricanes from Pat O’ Briens bar.

Address: 3725 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA 70117 (currently temporarily closed due to Covid)

Where to Dine

You can leave New Orleans with a lot of things, but feeling hungry shouldn’t be one of them. (And a proper travel guide should always include dining recommendations!)

A city fit for foodies from every walk of life and preference, New Orleans has become one of the U.S.’s most legendary dining locations.

Hatian food and classic southern soul dishes, to sweet signature treats like beignets and bananas foster hail in this city. The NOLA grid contains hidden culinary treasure troves at every corner that are waiting to be discovered.

Tracey’s Original Irish Channel Bar

You should without a doubt explore the charming sidewalks of Magazine Street. First, bring your appetite and your dancing shoes to Tracey’s for a traditional crawfish boil. This casual yet lively bar and restaurant is a bit off the beaten path, but the al fresco dining and people watching make a short commute worth it. Second, order three pounds of crawdads and all the fixins (red potatoes and corn on the cob). Expect to pay around $20.

Address: 2604 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Currently open for dine-in with social distancing guidelines and mask requirement).

New Orleans 4

William’s Plum Street Snoballs

When the cajun spice from your crawdad boil brings the sweet heat, turn to one of New Orleans’s most prized treats to cool things down: snoballs.

In addition to mounds of finely shaved ice, flavored syrup and thick cream from condensed milk are added for a divine treat. Served up in a cutie Chinese carry-out container, it’s a great summer treat.

William’s Plum Street Snoballs have been serving this frosty fave since 1945. There may be a hefty line out of the door to this standing-room-only walk up. Even so, you can enjoy your treat outside right at the corner. Expect to pay $1.50 to $6 in cash for each.

Address: 1300 Burdette St, New Orleans, LA 70118 (open as usual for walk-up service)

New Orleans 5

The Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone

Finally, after the sun sets, make your way back to the Tulane campus to hop on the Canal Street line. Alternatively, you can also hail an Uber or a taxi from Plum Street). From here, you’ll be on your way to the French Quarter.

A short walk to Royal Street will lead you to Hotel Monteleone. It is one of NOLA’s most classic and infamous haunts. Obviously, the booze flows as free as the revolving carousel bar.

The 25-seat merry-go-round has lured millions of patrons to its playground in search of some of the strongest cocktails in the city. Their house-made snack mix is also a strong draw.

Favorites:
The “French 007” with pomegranate liquor; and
The New Orleans variation of the “Sazarac” with Cognac brandy and a sugar cube.

Drinks at the Carousel Bar are reasonably priced at $12 each.

New Orleans travel guide

Plan Your Visit

Travel By Air

Sixteen airlines and more than 53 cities provide direct flights to Louis Armstrong International Airport. In addition to this, it is located just 11 miles from the NOLA’s city center, which is makes it very accessible. Expect to pay between $15 and $25 for a taxi or shared ride service each way.

Travel by Car

The current pandemic has caused fewer flight options and uncertainty surrounding health risks. In light of this, many people have opted to take on longer road trips for their summer vacations. Luckily, New Orleans is reachable by car from most Southeast and Midwest locations.

Here are some drive times to NOLA from major U.S. cities close by:

  • Nashville, Tennessee to New Orleans: 7 hours
  • Atlanta to New Orleans: 6 hours, 45 minutes
  • Houston to New Orleans: 5 hours

When to Visit

Without a doubt, to amplify a cultural and culinary experience that only New Orleans can provide, it is best to visit the Big Easy in early spring (late March to early May). Subsequently, you can also visit in the fall (late September to mid November). Summers are especially hot, while winters are short and mild but full of rain. Furthermore, you can always visit on Fat Tuesday, or during Mardi Gras. Be prepared for larger crowds and increased hotel rates.

For More Information

To learn more about upcoming events, restaurants, historical monuments, and tours throughout the Big Easy, visit the website of the official tourism board of New Orleans at www.neworleans.com.

If you enjoyed reading this travel guide, make sure to head to my “Destinations” page to learn about more about other amazing cities and countries.

*This article first appeared in TravelPass Magazine. 

 

22 Comments
  1. Sj says

    I love New Orleans! So much history and so much decadent food!! We didn’t get a chance to do the booze & boos tour, but we definitely want to do it on our next trip. That and more beignets are at the top of the list for next trip to the Big Easy! I absolutely love the lilac color of the shotgun house in the pics.

  2. Nichole says

    I have wanted to visit NOLA for a while now! It looks so beautiful from your pictures! Saving this for when we plan a trip!

  3. Emma says

    I can’t wait to get to New Orleans. Hopefully next April. I want to stay at the Mambo house, it seems so fun. And I feel like I’m gonna eat beignets every single day!

  4. Earth To Katriona says

    NOLA is so high on my bucket list – love your pics! They’re making me want to visit even more now

  5. Shelley says

    I love this city so much!! …and especially your photo with the beignets! I’ve been to New Orleans 15 or so times now, and you still managed to list places I’ve never been. Thanks for the post, I’m saving it for later so I can visit those places.

  6. Megan Anderson says

    Love, Love, Love New Orleans! I literally laughed out loud at your photo at Cafe Du Monde! Great article.

  7. Margie says

    I Love this city very much! I have never been to the restaurants you suggested though, I just saved them for a future visit Thanks!

  8. Taylor says

    Ah I love New Orleans so much! It’s seriously one of my top 5 favorite cities in the United States. The food is incredible and I love the culture down there. I’m hoping to go back sometime in the fall with my mom since she’s never been. That shotgun house is so cute too! 🙂

  9. Annick Lenoir-Peek says

    The only thing that saves me from gaining 20 lbs every time I visit New Orleans every time I visit it how walkable everything is! I love exploring using the streetcars. The Garden District is an area that I overlooked on my first visit and only discovered later, so I’m so glad that you decided to stay there!

  10. Cristina says

    This is an amazing guide! I discovered New Orleans in a TV docummentary and since then I’ve wanted to go. I love all your recommendations, especially the good ones

  11. Katy Kuhlwilm says

    Fantastic guide! New Orleans looks fascinating. Hopefully I’ll get to visit one day

  12. Melinda says

    I recommend the Ninth Ward Bicycle tour too! Great list, makes me want to go back.

  13. Rituaparna says

    Such a detailed guide. Hope I can make it some day. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Patti says

    I just went to New Orleans a couple of years ago with a group of gal pals from all over the the US. We had a lot of fun. I need to go back with just the husband and really enjoy the food culture there.

  15. Hannah says

    Such a great guide! I’m long overdue for a trip to New Orleans! Once it’s safe to do so.

  16. I, Wanderlista Travel Blog says

    This place looks absolutely stunning! Such fine colourful houses and things to do, thanks for the guide 🙂 Patricija

  17. Sarah - Last Minute Wanders says

    I’ve never been to New Orleans, but it looks like a fun place to visit! Thanks for your tips, I’ve saved them for when I can make a trip there 🙂

  18. Bolupe says

    New Orleans is a dream destination for me. I love how diverse it is and the food culture is just up my street. I can’t wait to explore New Orleans hopefully next year.

  19. Ashleigh Hogan says

    New Orleans is top of my list for the USA!!! great post, cannot wait to visit

  20. Ildiko says

    New Orleans is a fun city! I would love to check out the Mambo house and of course Cafe du Monde. The beignets there are soooo good but, the floors are soooo sticky from all the spilled sugar. In fortunately I’m not one for crawfish boils but would love to try some of the fine dining options.

  21. Lianet says

    My husband and I are planning a trip to New Orleans next month, and your post will be so useful for our long weekend getaway! I can’t wait to soak it all in, it looks like such an amazing city!

  22. Sam says

    So cool! Hoping to get to visit soon!

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