New Orleans Should be at the TOP of Your Travel List
I didn’t know what to expect from New Orleans.
I have never been here before, but coming to NOLA, I didn’t have much of an impression of the city other than what I’ve heard about Mardi Gras. And really, I didn’t know much else about it. It’s way different than what I had pictured in my mind.
My favorite surprise was the architecture. I didn’t realize that New Orleans had such a European feel. The vibe made me at times feel like I was walking around a European city. Large open cafes and antique buildings spilling into the streets gave the feeling that the French Quarter is a very tight knit community. It’s so lively. Everything flowed from indoors to outdoors and in-between courtyards. The city felt like one fully interconnected whole. I also appreciated how incredibly easy it was to get around the entire downtown area as the city is very walkable. And when it felt a little too hot, it was simple to book a Lyft or catch a ride on the many biker-cabs in the historic center.
Can we talk about the food scene? We heard that it was great before coming, but we didn’t expect the food to be like this. We were surprised to see so many variations and different international cuisines on the menus. From what we thought about the south, we thought we may only find things like shrimp and grits, BBQ and biscuits. However, the sheer variety that New Orleans brought to the table was enough to make anyone’s mouth water.
Another surprising factor as to the look and feel of historic New Orleans is how much Spanish influence there is. We didn’t expect there to be so much Spanish heritage within the French Quarter. However, looking at the area historically, of course there is Spanish influence! Both Spain and France had a strong hold on New Orleans at different times! It wasn’t until the British-Americans showed up across Canal Street in the 1800s that things really started to change. But what you’ll now find walking around is that the central neighborhoods are architecturally extremely diverse. From across Canal Street, to the French Quarter to the Marigny Bywater, you’ll feel like you’re walking through completely different cities.
As far as the LGBTQ+ community here, can we just say we were very pleasantly surprised. We felt more comfortable here than even many west coast cities we’ve visited. Pride flags are not an uncommon sight around New Orleans. Nor are LGBTQ+ couples walking around, dining together and just living life! Gay bars are plentiful in the French Quarter, and overall the city prides itself in freedom, self expression and love. Being from the North West and coming to the South, we were not expecting that. The city just felt very open.
Now, for the important stuff to fill your itinerary!
Where to Eat & Drink in New Orleans
Set brunch as your highest priority and the quintessential cornerstone of your trip! Brunch at Brennan’s is an experience to be had! Their innovative Creole menu borrows influences from French and Spanish ancestry with modern updates and distinct seasonal offerings. The dining area is picture-perfect old-world elegance. Toast your mimosas and dig in y’all!
By far the best Poboys you’ll have in New Orleans! This is a STAPLE for any foodie heading to the city. Be sure to get the Seared Gulf Shrimp Poboy, smothered in lime spice, sriracha aioli, herbs, daikon radish and cucumber. I just got hungry typing this.
I had my favorite meal here. A trendy and unassuming space with a very friendly waitstaff and incredible food to match. Compére Lapin is French for “brother rabbit”. The restaurant is helmed by Chef Nina Compton in the heart of the Warehouse Arts District in New Orleans.
4. Jack Rose
This dinner and evening beverage hotspot mixes traditional southern flavor with a variety of international delights. I tried the Pampanno en Papillote and was pleasantly surprised that I love cooked fish in a bag. Dining at Jack Rose is an otherworldly experience you cannot miss!
What is a trip to New Orleans without beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde!? If there’s one thing to do in New Orleans, it’s this. Ridiculously cheap and delicious, sit down at Cafe Du Monde’s open-air terrace and stuff your face with powdered-sugar covered classic fried dough. HINT: Don’t wear black, or any dark colors! You’ll thank us later. ;)
This place at its core is Mediterranean living in a New Orleans style. Pick out your choice bottle of wine, grab some premium cheeses and take a seat in Bacchanal’s outdoor courtyard to enjoy live music as the sun sets.
Bacchanal started as a little wine shop on the far east corner of the New Orleans Bywater but slowly emerged as an eclectic Bywater watering hole. Bacchanal played an important role as a gathering place for the locals after Katrina and became an epic part of the city's recovery. Initially Bacchanal did not have the permission or the permits to be an outdoor kitchen and jazz club seven nights a week, and was eventually raided by the city. That raid began a year-long quest for legal permits to host their nightly backyard parties. Bacchanal is a local treasure in the Bywater neighborhood and a must-see if you find yourself in New Orleans. We sincerely loved spending the evening here with friends, taking in the lively music and learning a bit of why locals love to call this place home.
A tight knit and aesthetically pleasing bar space with artisan, hand-crafted signature dishes. Jewel of the South serves some of the best cocktails you can find within the French Quarter. Make sure to make a reservation for dinner if you want to stick around to eat as this place books up fast!
What to Do in New Orleans
1. Explore the French Quarter
The French Quarter has a long tradition of embracing diversity. There are many bars and clubs that are especially geared toward the LGBT community where everyone can go and have a good time. Our favorites include Oz, Napoleon’s Itch and Bourbon Pub & Parade.
Just beyond the French Quarter, entering into the Marigny Bywater neighborhood lies Frenchman Street. This compact musical district is where all of the locals hangout. It’s right adjacent to the French Quarter, so well within walking distance. Known for its wide variety of live music on any given night of the week, you can’t miss an evening listening to the local tunes! Nowadays, Frenchman Street is known as a great trendy alternative to the noise and lights of Bourbon Street.
2. Ride Around Town with Free-Wheelin’ Bike Tour
One of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences you can plan in New Orleans! Ride through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods to learn about and experience the history and beauty of central New Orleans! This is the top rated bike tour available, so book yours HERE.
Many tourists don’t make it out of the French Quarter, so this is the perfect opportunity to see what New Orleans like a local. The Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods have an extremely vibrant arts scene. You’ll ride by local artisans' galleries, funky live music venues, and art markets. The food scene here is a mix of trendy sports bars and local but casual dives.
Experience the French Quarter’s most sought after landmarks while you listen to the stories about the people who gave the city its rich character. All the while, sipping on the drinks that carry their stories! An experience sure to give you a buzz, book your tour with Drink & Learn! Notable stops along the way include the Pharmacy Museum, Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Port of New Orleans. This tour does not stop at any bars; however, the price includes several cocktails, so you will never have to pull out your wallet to buy a drink! Led by Louisiana native and drink historian, Elizabeth Pearce, this is a drinking experience you won’t (or will) forget! ;)
4. Check out New Orlean’s Street Art
The Marigny & Bywater neighborhoods are littered with eclectic and fabulous street art. Be sure to make your way out of the French Quarter at some point to see a bit of the local art! We were able to see some of our favorite pieces along Homer Plessy Way.
5. People-Watch in Jackson Square
Amongst the iconic Andrew Jackson statue and the St. Louis Cathedral, you’ll find an open-air artist colony, where artists display their work on the outside of the iron fence. Watch the artists work, enjoy the street performances, and perhaps get your own portrait drawn, all while in front of the oldest cathedral in the US.
6. Party like it’s Mardi Gras
No matter what time of year it is, it’s always a party in New Orleans. We had the luck to stumble upon an impromptu parade along Canal Street! One of our favorite things about New Orleans is that you’re never too far away from a good time, whether that’s a cold drink in a local bar, a delicious meal, or a spontaneous performance in the streets. The lively city will keep you on your toes throughout your trip!
Where to Stay in New Orleans
We couldn’t be happier with where we stayed. Absolutely affordable, but styled in luxury. The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery is perched right on the edge of the French Quarter well within walking distance of all the major sights. This trendy boutique hotel even contains an art gallery! Be sure to book your stay before you go!