14 Things You Must See In New Orleans
Let the good times roll!
Here is a list of the 14 things you absolutely, Must See in New Orleans. Each time I visit New Orleans, it’s as if I have landed in a different country. I feel so alive and “in the moment,” that I forget whatever was on my mind before I arrived. Against the backdrop of the great Mississippi, New Orleans is one of the oldest communities in the U.S. So much history, charm, culture, and so many vibrant colors. There are a lot of things you absolutely must see in New Orelans. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
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#1 French Quarter
The first thing you must see when you arrive is the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre or Old Square. Grab a drink and wander around. Music and people are celebrating everywhere. This neighborhood is the pulse of the city and is one of the most historic and colorful places you will ever find in the US. It’s called the “Crown Jewel of New Orleans” for a reason!
After the Great New Orleans fire of 1788 destroyed the French structures made of wood, Spanish architecture replaced the homes with stucco buildings painted in bright Caribbean colors. The balconies and iron galleries give the neighborhood its magical energy. This is THE Must See in New Orleans neighborhood.
#2 Rue Bourbon…
is the life blood of this town. Always teeming with people, this 13 block stretch from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue was named for the French Royal family, not the beverage!
This street is known for carrying drinks, such as a Hurricane, while you wander in and out of bars, shops, and jazz clubs. Don’t forget to look up at the beads, lights, and architecture. It’s a true must see in New Orleans experience!
Look for Galatoire’s Restaurant, The House of Voodoo, Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, and the Old Absinthe House. And, if you are looking to shop, head to Royal Street for vintage Absinthe glass, chandeliers, historic sites, and of course, street musicians.
NOT ON MY MUST DO LIST is a glass of Sazerac at the famous Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel on Roosevelt Way. Known as America’s first cocktail and officially the cocktail of New Orleans, Sazerac, or cognac and rye whiskey, will cost you $150 at the Sazerac Bar! I guess the top shelf is so high that maybe they need an airplane to get to it? You can always try Sazerac at another spot for $18.
#3 Preservation Hall
726 St. Peter’s Street
Preservation Hall is home to the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Founded in the 1950’s, this small art gallery became the gathering place for some of the best musicians in New Orleans.
Live music is played at least 350 days a year. You’ll hear the best of traditional New Orleans jazz and experience the culture and history of the great melting pot, American sound. This is high on my must see in New Orleans list.
Know before you go
When To Go
New Orleans is often hot and humid, so depending on your preferences in weather, you may want to avoid the summer months. June through November is officially hurricane season, so it is not typically recommended that you visit during those months. December and January are a great time to be there. It maybe a little chilly, but it’s festive and much less crowded. February is Mardi Gras season and is always the most popular, busy, and crowded time of the year. The weather is comfortable and the parties are amazing! March through May is a really lovely time to visit.
Where To Stay
New Orleans is such a hub for tourists and conventions, that the choices of hotels in and around the French Quarter are boundless. I think, if it is your first visit, you are safest with one of the big hotels. They’ll be within walking distance of the Quarter, will be safe, often have deals, and will have concierge services to help you with your plans. Check out Expedia for some great choices. If you are choosing the VRBO route, be sure to check the reviews! Some of the neighborhoods may not be as safe as they seem.
Where To Eat
I can’t imagine that you would ever have a bad meal in New Orleans! My Number One, non-negotiable is Jacques-Imo’s. This is a must see in New Orleans spot!
8324 Oak Street.
504-861-0886 (phone reservations only).
Here are some of the most famous spots:
Cafe Du Monde
Royal House (best Bloody Mary’s on the planet!)
How To Get Around
New Orleans is a pretty easy town to get around. Walk, walk, walk! There are also local taxi’s and rideshare apps. The best way to get around outside of the French Quarter is the streetcar. For $1.25 per person, in exact change, you can see a lot of the city. Try a Jazzy Pass for multiple-days.
What is Mardi Gras?
If you’ve been embarrassed to ask this question, let me help you out. Here you go: Mardi Gras refers to events of the Carnival celebration, beginning on, or after, the Christian feasts of the Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday, which is known as Shrove Tuesday. It dates back thousands of years to pagen and fertility rites.
Should I visit during Mardi Gras?
When it comes to NOLA, I think every day is kind of a Mardi Gras celebration, but think long and hard before deciding to go to NOLA during February. Just saying. New Orleans, Rio, and Venice are the three most popular spots in the world to celebrate. So, be prepared for crowds like you’ve only seen in the movies.
#4 Haunted Tour
Take a Haunted Tour! You’ll see them advertised on many corners or can book ahead online. As with any tour, the key is a great tour guide. I have done this twice and have not been disappointed. These guides know their stuff! From the history of the French Quarter to the lives of the dead, it’s really fun and fascinating to walk the streets at night with a ghost guide. Tickets range from $20 – $30 per person and you should be prepared to tip your tour guide. Another must see in New Orleans!
#5 Swamp & Plantation Tour
This is a must see in New Orleans. Again, there are so many companies to choose from! The prices range from $65 – $175. I can recommend the Oak Alley Plantation & Swamp Tour with the Louisiana Tour Company. We were picked up at our hotel at 8 AM and dropped off at 5PM. It was a great day and we enjoyed lunch at the plantation. I learned so much, saw the beauty of the region, and even held a baby alligator!
#6 French Market
Along side the Mississippi is the famous French Market Collonade. It was a Native American Trading Post and is a shopper’s dream filled with crafts and boutiques. Yes, it’s very touristy, but let’s face it, all of New Orleans is, and you are a tourist, after all! You’ll find all kinds of food and look for Dutch Alley’s performance tent and statues. Keep your eyes and ears out for a parade passing through.
#7 Cafe Du Monde
Beignet, done that! Yes, beignets are a must in New Orleans. Sadly, they are not gluten free, but wow, are they good! And while you can find them in many places, you have to go to Cafe Du Monde. It’s right on the corner at Jackson Square. Get in line,and watch them sprinkle the powdered sugar on top. Enjoy their delicious coffee with chicory that makes them famous, and eat a bag full of beignets! You can even buy a box mix to make some at home. Good luck with that. It was not so successful for me!
#8 The Presbytère Museum
Originally the residence of Capuchin monks, next to the St. Louis Cathedral, is the lovely Louisiana State Museum with two really well done permanent exhibits. One for Mardi Gras and one for Hurricane Katrina. As you know, both those events are embedded into the NOLA culture in an important way. It’s powerful to see the incredible work that the people of this city put into the yearly celebration of Mardi Gras. And even more profound when you understand the devastation they’ve experienced in recent history. This is a highly recommend.
#9 Garden District
When you are ready for a different architectural experience, take the St. Charles Avenue street car uptown to the Garden District. Unlike the Quarter with the French and Spanish architecture, the Garden District has a blend of Greek Revival, Italianate, and British influences. This neighborhood used to be its own city, Lafayette.
You’ill find both large Antebellum mansions and smaller Victorian Mansions. The exquisite gardens of these homes are what gave the district its name. Take a walking tour! Look for Sandra Bullock’s house, Beyonce’s home, and lots of movie sets, like the Benjamin Button house. While you’re in the neighborhood, go to Commander’s Palace for a martini lunch. .25 cents a martini! Or Lafayette Cemetery #1
#11 Mississippi River Cruise
Don’t forget to take the time to enjoy the Mississippi. You can walk the promenade along the river and enjoy the views or take an old fashioned steamboat river cruise. Choose from a historic cruise, a dinner cruise, a jazz cruise, or a daytime cruise. Look online before you go, or find the many kiosks by the river and docks which can give you tons of info. The prices range from $50 – $90 depending. Children are discounted, so bring the whole family.
#10 Jackson Square &
St. Louis Cathedral
Yes, that’s Andrew Jackson in bronze at the center of this square and is probably the most famous landmark in New Orleans. From Decatur Street, you’ll see Jackson in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, which has housed mass for people of this community since the early 1700’s. The original church was rebuilt after the great fire.
The bell above the clock on the tower continues to ring out the hours, as it has since 1815. Not only is this a must see in New Orleans, but you can’t miss it!
#12 Metairie Cemetery
It is hard to decide which cemetery to visit in New Orleans. Odd, but true. People are buried above ground in tombs in NOLA because the water table is so high. Above grounnd tombs allow for whole families to store their remains in one place. The old bones go below when a new body is placed above.
I recommend the Metairie Cemetery, on Metairie Road, accessed by tram #47 from the French Quarter. It’s pretty easy to take a 15 minute rideshare. A little out of your way, but worth it for the Angel of Grief, also known as the weeping angel crypt of Chapman H. Hyams. She is actually breathtaking.
You’ll also find an Egyptian Pyramid, elaborate marble tombs, and lots of statues. If you go to Basin St. you can find the St. Louis Cemetery and see the tomb of the famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Apparently there are 84 people buried in her tomb! Cemetaries are a must see in New Orleans!
8324 Oak Street
This restaurant is not just listed in the where to eat but has its own spot on the must do list because it may be the best and most special restaurant I have ever dined in.
I have been 3 times, on each NOLA trip and can’t imagine letting you miss out on this experience. Many thanks to the gentleman on the airplane who gave me this tip all those years ago! The food is a creative blend of Nawlins, Creole, and Southern food with all the charm of being in someone’s home.
Find the menu here.
Try the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheescake appetizer, Fried Green Tomatoes, Duck Gumbo, and Shrimp Etouffee. Make a reservation by calling (504) 861-0886 when you buy your plane tickets. Take the street car or call a ride app. Do whatever you need to do! It’s located near the Tulane University campus, so get to the neighborhood early if you want to stroll around.
#14 Carousel Bar Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal St.
The famous Carousel bar of the Hotel Monteleone is on Royal Street and is a must experience, because, why not? It was built in 1949 and if you want to spin while you drink you can sit at the carousel for one revolution every 15 minutes. If you don’t get a seat at the bar, not to worry, you can be in the crowd with the music and enjoy a famous cocktail, a Vieux Carre, if you can handle it! Cognac, Benedictine, Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura, and Peychaud’s Bitters. Not my thing, but let me know how it goes!
The Crescent City/ The Big Easy/NOLA Fun Facts:
The Ursuline Convent, 1745, on Chartres Street, is the oldest example of French Style architecture still standing in New Orleans.
“Balconies” are not supported by poles or columns and are just big enough for one person.
“Galleries” are supported by poles that stretch to the sidewalk and are big enough for a party of people and are taxed by the city because the poles extend onto city property, but balconies are not.
The French Quarter is a National Historic Landmark filled with streets named after Catholic Saints and French Royalty.
Barthelemy Lafon, the Creole architect who planned the Garden District, was a pirate and a smuggler.
The Creole Townhomes on Royal Street are the 2 or 3 story brick or stucco buildings with balconies or galleries and rear courtyards.
Creole cottages are small homes with four rooms that open up to each other, but have no bathrooms or kitchens.
Shotgun homes are single and duplex homes with narrow rooms. You could open the front and back door and shoot a gun right through the house.
The Great New Orleans Fire started on March 21, 1788 when lace draperies caught on fire from a candle on Chartres Street. It was in the home of the colony treasurer, Vincente Jose Nunez. Because it was good Friday, the priests wouldn’t sound the bells to warn people. Within five hours, most of the city was destroyed.
I promise you will have a fabulous time with the 14 things you must see in New Orleans!
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