Let the good times roll with this New Orleans Itinerary
Before visiting New Orleans (NOLA), I had varying perceptions about what kind of city it would be. You hear about the beads from Mardi Gras and the parties on Bourbon Street. And while this exists, it’s not the first thing that comes to my mind.
For me, I sensed an amazing creative energy. You see it in the music, dance and art that fills the streets. And while you’ll stumble upon a few over-commercialized areas, you’ve just got to step onto a side street to see thriving local businesses - the real NOLA.
This guide is filled with activities and tips for a New Orleans 3-Day itinerary. So pack your bags and laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll).
GO IF YOU LIKE:
Dancing in the street | Creative Minds | Letting Loose | People Watching | Live Music
MY New Orleans ITINERARY
New Orleans is known for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street but it’s so much more than that.
I suggest starting with this area - let your senses get overwhelmed. Then move on to appreciate the quieter and more profound experiences the city has to offer.
ITINERARY AT A GLANCE
Day 1: French Quarter, Frenchmen Street
Day 2: The National WWII Museum, Garden District
Day 3: Can Bayou Tour and Whitney Plantation
EXPAND LEGEND FOR DETAILED ITINERARY
Start your Sunday with a Jazz Brunch
Put on your Sunday best and start your day with a jazz bunch at Mr. B’s Bistro. The trio slowly plays their way through the restaurant. When they get to your table don’t resist the urge to get up and dance.
I had a great moment with Mr. Joe Cushenberry, the lead singer and banjo player of the trio. Mr. Cushenberry took my hand and asked me where I was from. When I told him “Canada” he serenaded me with a rendition of “Canadian Sunset”.
Join A Second Line
Walk through the French Quarter and join in a Second Line. Second Line’s traditionally consist of a brass band at the front followed by everyone else, the second line, who dance and sing behind them.
They were started as a way to celebrate life after death but now you can see them all over the city for different occasions. I saw bachelor parties and newly married couples. Anyone is allowed to join in, so give it a try!
Organizing a Second Line
If you're interested in organizing a Second Line, all the details regarding the permit requirements and how to order a band can be found here .
Catch a Live Music Set
NOLA’s streets and bars are filled with talented artists with their own unique styles. You don’t have to look far to find something that will suit your taste.
I ended up at Preservation Hall. Opened in 1961, this place is iconic and showcases authentic New Orleans jazz. My honest opinion was that I loved the intimate space but thought the show was just OK.
The musicians were clearly talented and I loved when they were playing but it felt more like a comedy act than a music performance. There was a lot of banter with the audience, and some people may like that but if you want to just hear music you’re probably better off visiting a bar on Frenchman Street.
Get a Local Souvenir
If you’re going to do any shopping in NOLA, then I suggest investing in locally-owned businesses that have been in the city for decades.
There’s a huge variety of antique shops, and art galleries. We went into stores that sold hats, old books, feather masks, antique guns, hot sauce, handmade rugs and local perfumes. Any of these make better souvenirs and gifts than keychains.
Tour The Cemeteries
There are several cemeteries in New Orleans and you should plan to visit at least one. I visited St. Louis Cemetery No.1 (the oldest one in NOLA) and Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District.
Both cemeteries have the iconic, above-ground tombs. Why are they above ground? Well, there’s two explanations. The most widely adopted, is that if you dig a bit, you’ll hit water so bodies simply couldn’t be buried underground as they’d float and not decompose. The cemeteries were also likely based on the style used by Spanish and French cemeteries of that time.
Curious about the process?
The dead are left inside their tomb for 1 year and 1 day. That’s 1 year for the body to decompose and 1 day out of respect for the spirit. Once the body is placed in the tomb, it’s sealed off, creating a furnace-like interior. This helps with rapid decomposition. The bones are then put in a biodegradable bag, crushed up and put in a hole 2-3ft below the ground. Theoretically you would never fill up a tomb.
All visits to St. Louis cemetery No.1 require a guide. Make sure they point out the modern pyramid-shaped tomb. It was purchased for future use by Nicholas Cage - note the lipstick marks left by fans.
I didn’t have a chance to visit during night time, but I would have loved to do a ghost tour.
Enjoy Halloween in New Orleans
I can’t think of a better city to celebrate Halloween than NOLA. They have so much going on so make sure you book well in advance!
Get spooked at a haunted house
Haunted houses are open all year and New Orleans seems like the best place to get spooked. My heart was set on visiting 13th Gate in Baton Rouge but the 2-hour drive wasn’t possible with my itinerary. I ended up at The Mortuary instead and had a blast.
If you’ve never done a haunted house before I won’t ruin the surprises but expect to make your way through a dark house filled with jumpy moments around every corner. A good haunted house has believable actors, realistic makeup and special effects that play on a host of your fears.
Show off your costume on Bourbon Street
Some people love it, others hate it but you’ve got to experience Bourbon Street at least once. This is the perfect place to grab a fishbowl mixed drink and show off your Halloween costume to the masses.
Need a Halloween Costume?
Not only do I hate the idea of buying something that you'll only wear once but every year I get overwhelmed trying to think of a creative costume.
Know that elaborate costumes will put you back several hundred dollars. We managed to get some cool cavemen outfits with accessories for around $70 per person.
Lose your voice at Voodoo Music Festival
Once you’ve got your costume, check out the all-star lineup at The Voodoo Music Festival in City Park. 2018 had performances by Mumford and Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Travis Scott, Marilyn Manson and Janelle Monae to name a few.
*Note: The grounds at City Park were incredibly muddy and no one was prepared for that. My shoes were destroyed and mud got everywhere. So I encourage you to attend, but put on your best mud boots or risk face planting.
Kayak on the Bayou
There’s no denying, New Orleans will overload your senses. That’s why an afternoon kayaking on the Bayou Cane is a perfect activity.
Our guides were passionate and knowledgable about the area. They made sure we were safe, helped us spot some wildlife and taught us about the ecosystem and it’s current threats.
Opting for kayaking is less disruptive to the wildlife than something like an airboat. If you're not wanting to do the work, get a tandem kayak and sit in the front. Your partner will be annoyed doing all the work but you'll enjoy it. I booked with Canoe and Trail Adventures and highly recommend them.
Get Your Fortune Read
OK, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (yes, there are tea readings too). I’m going to caveat this by saying, I don’t believe in psychic powers and actually think the industry is a big money grab but I thought I would have fun with it anyways.
There are many readers in NOLA and I ended up at The Voodoo Bone Lady. My reader was Doctor Joy. She was friendly and had no problem telling me what I was doing wrong in my life and what I needed to change for success.
Certain things she told me, I brushed aside. But I was actually impressed with how perceptive she was about me.
My recommendation is to go in with no expectations and an open mind. Don’t spend your time trying to fool her, just be honest and listen to what she has to say. If you take her advice and construct it in a way which is applicable to you, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Other things, like me getting some sort of blood-related disease when I’m older, I just brushed aside.
My New Orleans Wish List
Some other notable highlights that I didn’t get to experience but will prioritize on my next trip are:
The National WWII Museum - This may not pop into your mind when you first think about New Orleans but it gets rave reviews. You need at least half a day for a visit so plan accordingly.
The Whitney Plantation - There’s several plantations to visit around New Orleans. While not all plantations have a good reputation, I appreciate those that put a focus on telling the history of slavery. I am a firm believer that people should be educated about our past mistakes to prevent them from reoccurring in the future. Whitney Plantation is known for their educative experience.
The 13th Gate Haunted House - As mentioned above, next time I plan to make the 2-hour drive to Baton Rouge to experience this highly-rated haunted house.
Fill that Belly
There’s such good food in New Orleans and the best part is, even the tourist spots are amazing!
Absolutely every travel guide will tell you to try the beignets at Café du Monde and my opinion is no different. In addition, my two favourite restaurants from the weekend were dinner at Cochon and lunch at an Israeli restaurant called Shaya.
I had so many great meals that I dedicated an entire post to my favourite restaurants in New Orleans. A word of caution - you will get hungry.
Safety In New Orleans
Before visiting NOLA I had the perception that it was an unsafe city. And yes, if you’re roaming the streets late at night, with too many drinks in you, you become an easy target. But this can be said for any major city.
Just be smart and vigilant. I found that throughout the day and evening, the French Quarter and Garden District felt very safe.
Where to stay in New Orleans
Some links below are an affiliate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking. As always, I only recommend products and services I trust.
The major drawback with visiting during peak seasons like Halloween is the hotel prices increase substantially. I looked at places which were normally $150/night and during Halloween they went up to $400/night. With price being a big factor, I opted to stay at the Westin Canal Place.
Westin Canal Place
The Westin Canal Place has large and clean rooms, some of which overlook the Mississippi River. The bar area has a great view. It's only a 5 minute walk to the French Quarter. This can be nice if you don't want the noise from being in the heart of everything.
Getting Around new Orleans
If you’re staying in the downtown core there’s no need for a car. You can Uber to your hotel and then walk/Uber throughout the city. Parking at most hotels is anywhere between $30-$50/day so that’s a factor in your budget.
There’s trams that operate from the French Quarter to areas like the Garden District. These are fun and easy to take.
We rented a car because we were on a tight timeline for the Bayou Tour and getting to the airport. The Bayou tour does have transportation options to pick you up from your hotel downtown.
Consider a car if you want to explore outside of the city center. For example visiting places like the Bayou, Whitney Plantation and 13th Gate may be enough of a reason to get a car.
New Orleans Photography Tips
If you’re a street photographer you will go crazy in NOLA. You will want to shoot everything because the people and city are so interesting.
I found that in general people were used to and enjoyed being shot. Many people posed for me. It’s a really great place to test your street photography skills without the intimidation of people getting upset.
There’s a few places that are no-camera zones. Preservation Hall, the voodoo stores and readings are all off limits.
Golden hour is great on Bourbon street. It casts a nice orange hue on the buildings. You can make your way towards the waterfront and if you’re lucky the cotton candy sky will give you some nice shots of the Mississippi River.