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!”
Byen Venu (or Bienvenue?) to New Orleans
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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)
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.
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.
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.