Planning Your Trip to New Orleans

by  Melissa Klurman | Jan 23, 2020
French Quarter in New Orleans
French Quarter in New Orleans / f11photo/iStock

New Orleans is truly melting pot of French, Cajun, Creole, and American culture — a unique blend that can't be found anywhere else in the world. Its laid-back "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler" (Let the Good Times Roll) attitude translates to a city that practically sways all day to the rhythm of jazz and blues and lives to eat and have fun. The celebratory atmosphere is felt year-round, but especially amps up for the city’s myriad celebrations, including Mardi Gras in the winter and Jazz Fest in the spring. No matter when you visit, you can expect to have a good time. 

Things to Do in New Orleans

Sean Pavone/iStock

The city offers plenty to see and do at anytime of day or night: Stroll through the vibrant neighborhoods, hop on a historic streetcar, listen to live music, sample a beignet, or roll down the river on a boat tour. A few highlights include a self-guided tour of the historic French Quarter, a stroll down Bourbon Street (perhaps while sipping a potent hurricane cocktail from legendary Pat O’Brien’s) with a stop to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Spend an afternoon exploring the city’s Art Center, especially the moving National World War II Museum and the gorgeous New Orleans Museum of Art. If you’re not in town for Mardi Gras, be sure to make a stop at Mardi Gras World, where you'll find the same colorful floats that line the streets during the celebration. Spend some time enjoying nature. Visit at either Audubon Park and New Orleans City Parks, stroll through Garden District, or take a cruise down the Bayou, where an alligator encounter is always a possibility. Be sure to visit the above-ground cemeteries for a completely different view of New Orleans.

Where to Eat in New Orleans

Cafe du Monde, New Orleans / ablokhin/iStock

One of the highlights of New Orleans trip is sampling the delicious culinary specialties including jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish etouffee. The city is home to over 1,400 restaurants. A few standouts are Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, and Brennan’s (don't miss the bananas foster here). Fried beignets topped with a blizzard of powdered sugar are served round-the-clock at Café du Monde (we suggest ordering a cup of café au lait to pair with your sweet treats). Gulf oysters are another local favorite. Check out Seaworthy or Acme for bivalves served on the half shell, or Pascal’s Manale for Rockefeller style. For tastes to take on the go — including beloved fried-oyster-filled Po’ Boys along with cold cut and olive salad-layered Muffaletta sandwiches — visit St. Roch Market, Pythian Market, or Auction House Market.

What Time Do Bars Close in New Orleans?

Although “what time does something close,” sounds like a cut and dry question, in New Orleans there are shades of gray that make it less clear. The short answer is never. Many bars are open 24-hours. Technically, there’s a law that says bars must close their doors at 3 a.m.; however, this has been interpreted as literal “doors” and not the interior of bars. So, if you know how to open a closed door, the bar is always open. 

Where to Stay in New Orleans

Garden District, New Orleans / ablokhin/iStock

Familiarize yourself with the city before choosing where to stay. The French Quarter is where you’ll find historic European architecture and raucous Bourbon Street nightlife. The area is also home to plenty of hotels both big and small. The Warehouse District is filled with galleries and trendy restaurants, and properties here are within easy walking distance to most the city’s attractions. The elegant architecture of the Garden District’s charming Revival mansions gives it a romantic atmosphere — especially the boutique hotels — and it’s easily traversed by the Charles Street streetcar. The Central Business District has the highest concentration of hotels in the city and offers easy access to the the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center. The smaller neighborhoods of Bywater and Marigny, along with Treme, feature their own vibrant arts and culture scenes, plus unique accommodations. 

Here are a few of our favorite hotels to get you started:

Windsor Court Hotel / Courtesy of the property

The Windsor Court Hotel: Located in the city's Central Business District just two blocks from the French Quarter, the regal hotel was built in 1984 and recently underwent a $15 million property renovation that gussied up everything from the plush guest rooms to the stately ballroom. Rates from $280 per night, depending on the season. 

The Drifter: This youthful, budget-friendly property in Mid-City is housed in a remodeled motel that dates back to the 1950s. Here, expect reasonably priced stays that come with some luxurious touches such as high-end toiletries and linens. Rates from $117 per night, depending on the season. 

Henry Howard Hotel: Located in the Garden District, this historic 1960s mansion-turned-boutique-hotel is a stylish choice for a romantic getaway in New Orleans. Rates from $139 per night, depending on the season. 

When Is Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

Mardi Gras / Photoservice/iStock

Mardi Gras has become synonymous with New Orleans for its often raucous, bead-laden parades (head uptown for a more family-friendly atmosphere). However, Mardi Gras isn’t just a one-day celebration, and the date isn’t always the same. Mardi Gras is officially on Fat Tuesday (which is always 47 days before Easter) and the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The date can fall anywhere between  February 29 and March 1. Fat Tuesday actually marks the last day of Mardi Gras celebrations in the city, which starts rolling out the good times on January 5th or 6th. 

What to Wear in New Orleans

Dress for comfort during the day in New Orleans, where heat and humidity are often the calling card of the weather most of the year. Shorts, skirts, light dresses, and lots of linen are good packing options. Bring a lightweight jacket or cardigan for evenings when the sun goes down (and to battle the air-conditioning indoors). Comfortable walking shoes are essential. If you’re planning to eat at one of the city’s fine dining establishments, note that there’s a dress code at both Galatoire’s and Commander’s Palace, where jackets are still the custom for men. At night, plan on dressing up a bit to hit the bars. 

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