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New Orleans, NOLA, Crescent City, the Big Easy. Whatever you choose to call it the city of New Orleans will leave a lasting impression. The city that sits on the mighty Mississippi River in Louisiana is a vibrant hub of non-stop music, great food and a fusion of cultures and nationalities.
New Orleans radiates energy, colour and goes by the saying ‘laissez les bon temps rouler’ – let the good times roll. Here’s how to roll with some of the best things to do in New Orleans with 3 days in the city.
What to see and do in New Orleans in three days
Coming up are 21 sights, attractions and must dos for your trip to the Big Easy. They include free stuff to see in New Orleans, visits to Oak Alley Plantation* and a range of great walking tours and excursions and must-sees for first time visitors.
*Get a 10% discount with this tour.
I haven’t put them in a day by day format so you can pick and choose when to work them into your New Orleans itinerary.
There’re enough things to do in New Orleans for three or even four days in the city. Why not pin it for later. This map of the French Quarter, also known as vieux carré, should help you find your bearings.
Visit the Garden District
One of the best ways to get around is to hop on a streetcar ($1.25 one way – you’ll need the exact fare as they don’t give change) and head down leafy streets to the garden district and admire some of the city’s most beautiful historic houses, columned mansions and gardens.
A walking tour will give you a break from the city’s heaving touristy spots and give you the chance to check out a more residential area. The French Quarter is easily walkable and you’ll find more information on New Orleans tours by clicking here.
Take a New Orleans Voodoo Tour
There’s a whole voodoo thing going down in New Orleans and you’ll find dolls that come complete with evil looking pins in the tourist shops. But it’s more serious than that. Voodoo, was introduced by Haitian settlers and then popularised by famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.
Learn the meaning behind some of Voodoo’s bizarre rituals, superstitions and more about the NOLA’s subculture on a Voodoo Tour.Check tour rates and more info.
Go Bar Hopping on Bourbon Street
You can’t go to New Orleans without hitting the iconic Bourbon Street. Frankly, I must be getting old because this crazy street really wasn’t my scene and I was far happier watching the goings on from above on one of the ornate second floor balconies.
When you’ve had your fill of staggering stags and hens, strip joints, ‘huge ass’ beers and avoiding puke on the pavement head to Frenchman Street for a more authentic New Orleans experience. The drinks are a little cheaper there too.
Bourbon Street runs 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue and right through the centre of the French Quarter.
If you love a US city break you might like to read Things to do in Boston for some getaway inspiration.
Check Out the local art in Jackson Square
Right next to the cathedral is Jackson Square and a pedestrian area where tarot readers, street performers and artists hang out.
For over fifty years the open-air artist community have hung their works on the iron railings around Jackson Square and it’s a great place to find local artists.
You can sit for a portrait under the shade of the oak trees, buy a piece of local artwork to take home or just enjoy the street performers. It’s the perfect place to stop and chill for a while.
Take a Mule and Carriage Ride
Horse and carriage used to be the only way to get around town in the early days. Nowadays, the carriages are pulled by mules and can be found on Jackson Square by Decatur Street. This is a good way to get your bearings and explore the city at a relaxed pace so do it when you first arrive.
The guides are entertaining and informative and you’ll get snippets of NOLA history, stories and hauntings. Click here for more info.
Read more >>> All the food in New Orleans – what to eat and drink in the Big Easy and which restaurants to visit.
Enjoy the Architecture
The French Quarter is New Orleans‘ oldest neighbourhood. There’s a mix of French Creole and Spanish influenced architecture, hints of which can be spotted on old tiled street names and the French Fleur de Lys emblem which is evident all around the city. You’ll find Caribbean, African and other European influences.
There are some gorgeous mansions to explore in New Orleans but I liked the colourful little Creole houses with their porches and swing chairs. The townhouses have beautiful ironwork balconies with ornate scrollwork and hanging plants.
Look out for the Romeo catchers. These spikes are found at the top of the poles supporting the balconies. Back in the day they were used by families to prevent unwanted Romeos climbing up to their teenage daughters. Real gas lamps flicker atmospherically at night and give the city a spooky feel. Learn more with a local guide on a French Quarter walking tour.
Get spooked on a New Orleans Cemetery Tour
New Orleans was built on swampland which means they can’t dig into the ground for graves. Instead, the dead are buried above ground in stone crypts and mausoleums right in the middle of suburban areas.
New Orleans is said to be the most haunted city in the United States. The cemeteries are spookily atmospheric with elaborate stone edifices and sculptures looming over the labyrinth of connecting pathways.
Discover St. Louis no 1 cemetery aka ‘The City of the Dead’ and New Orleans’ oldest graveyard established in 1789. Learn about Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, Jazz funerals and see Nicholas Cage’s final resting place for when he makes his final bow. One of the most unique things to do in New Orleans.
Access to St Louis cemetery no 1 is by guided tour only – Click for more info here).
See St Louis Cathedral
At the heart of the French Quarter, St Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in North America and one of the city’s most noticeable historical buildings and is a national historic landmark. It’s worth taking a quick look inside and a good way to avoid the heat for ten minutes.
St Louis Cathedral is open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m to 4 p.m.
Sip a Sazerac at the Monteleone Carousel bar
Take a spin on New Orleans’ only revolving bar with the city’s signature cocktail, the Sazerac, in hand. The famous Carousel Bar is part of Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter and overlooks Royal Street.
The 25-seater, circus-styled, Merry-Go-Round bar slowly revolves and gives you the perfect excuse for being slightly wobbly when you leave. It’s one of the best places to watch the world go round you!
Much classier that the ‘Hand Grenade’ from Tropical Isle which is served in to-go cups shaped like hand grenades in a not-so-subtle shade of green.
If you want to discover all New Orleans’ famous cocktails, and there are a few, then take a cocktail walking tour. French Quarter walking tour.
Have Fun on Frenchman Street
Frenchman Street is about four blocks of old-style jazz clubs, laid-back bars, great music and a local vibe. It’s what Bourbon Street used to be but with a hipster feel and an evening on Frenchman is one of the most fun things to do in NOLA.
Frenchman Street is the best street to stroll from club to club, with your ‘to go’ drink in hand and listen to the music. It’s where we enjoyed the traffic jamming band, where street poets will type up a love poem for you on a retro typewriter.
We had a brilliant time dancing to fabulous live bands at Bamboulas. The guy on the washboard was epic! The Spotted Cat is one of the best jazz clubs in New Orleans which is also on Frenchman Street.
Frenchmen Street is in the Faubourg Marigny neighbourhood of New Orleans and within walking distance of the French Quarter.
Take a Steamboat up the mighty Mississippi
View the city from the murky waters of the mighty Mississippi with a trip on a paddle steamer. You can take a dinner jazz cruise or Sunday Brunch Jazz cruise with Steamboat Natchez.
We took a historical cruise on the Creole Queen Paddle Wheeler to Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.Click here for more information
See the Saints play at the Superdome
If there’s a Saints game on when you’re in town dress in black & gold and get to the Superdome. There was a real party atmosphere in town when Saints played the Patriots while we were there and we wished we’d got tickets. Sadly, the Saints lost that game but our banter with local drinkers in the Erin Rose pub was a win.
Experience Mardi Gras World
If you aren’t lucky enough to visit New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras, the next best thing has to be a visit to Mardi Gras World, the New Orleans Mardi Gras Experience!
Mardi Gras World opened to the public in 1984, and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock here every year. This unique experience gives visitors a taste of Mardi Gras the whole year round, and is located in the world’s largest float designing and building facility. In fact, over 80% of the floats that take part in New Orleans’ carnival processing are designed and built right here.
If you’re a first-time visitor to New Orleans, visiting Mardi Gras World is a great way to step right inside Fat Tuesday. You can learn about the history of the carnival, have a great time trying on authentic Mardi Gras carnival costumes and get close to some of the massive Mardi Gras floats. These each carry more than 200 masked revellers and are a far cry from the mule-drawn carriages in the original 1837 procession.
And for a delicious taste of Mardi Gras, you can enjoy a cup of New Orleans coffee and a slice of traditional King Cake.
Address: 1380 Port of New Orleans Pl, New Orleans, LA 70130, United States
Opening Hours: 9am to 5.30pm, 7 days a week. https://mardigrasworld.com/
Soak up the Street Music
Music is the beating heart of New Orleans; it’s in the streets flowing from under doorways, through the windows and from the rooftops. Live music is in the air and it’s a part of the city’s life force. Music in New Orleans is inescapable; live jazz music, blues, Cajun, a brass band. Whatever.
In Frenchman Street one evening a pop-up brass band appeared from nowhere playing trombones, cornets and trumpets. A crowd gathered, people danced in the street and the traffic came to a standstill. The band vanished into the night about thirty seconds before the police arrived to clear the gridlock.
I recommend taking a walking tour during your visit to New Orleans. You’ll find out about the history of each neighbourhood which’ll give you an idea of what you’re looking at when you explore on your own later.
Go to New Orleans Jazz Museum
For jazz fans, there’s no better place to visit than the New Orleans Jazz Museum. It’s undoubtedly one of the best things to do in New Orleans.
The museum originally opened in 1961 on Dumaine Street and is currently located in the Old U.S. Mint building on the edge of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum hosts over 365 concerts every year and has a collection containing more than 25,000 fascinating artefacts related to jazz of every kind.These include Louis Armstrong’s first cornet, jazz recordings dating back to the early 1900s and the world’s largest collection of instruments played by jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Bix Beiderbecke.
As well as the live performances and museum pieces, it also offers a fantastic array of interactive exhibits that will delight all jazz fans. You can even have a go at creating your own jazz music in one of the recording spaces.
New Orleans Jazz Museum
Address: 400 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA 70116, United States
Opening Hours: 9am to 4pm Tuesday to Sunday; Closed on Mondays. New Orleans Jazz Museum
Check out the French Market
The French Market started life in 1791 and is one of NOLA’s historic sites. The native American trading post on the Mississippi has been added to over the years by French and Spanish colonials and then immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. It’s one multi-cultural market place and one of the best things to do if you’re looking for souvenirs.
You’ll find a buzzing five blocks of local produce, specialty art, handmade crafts, a farmer’s market and affordable freshly cooked food. Read more about what to eat and drink in New Orleans.
Relax at New Orleans Botanical Gardens
New Orleans City Park has provided a peaceful haven to New Orleans residents and visitors for over 170 years. As well as being home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, it also contains the New Orleans Botanical Garden, one of the largest urban parks in America.
The Botanical Garden first opened in 1936. Despite falling into disrepair in the mid-20th century and being almost entirely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, it now contains more than 2000 plant varieties.
Some of the highlights include the Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden, which celebrates Mexican-American New Orleans artist Enrique Alférez and the Historic New Orleans Train Garden, which has around 400m of track carrying replicas of streetcars and trains from the late 1800s.
The Lord & Taylor Rose Garden offers a quiet respite from the noise of the city and leads visitors onto the Butterfly Walk. This small garden is filled with flowering plants that attract butterflies, including monarchs, gulf fritillary and giant swallowtails.
Located in the Oscar J. Tolmas Visitor Center
Address: 5 Victory Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119, United States
Opening Hours: 10am to 4.40pm Tuesday-Sunday; Closed on Mondays
Dive into the Creole Cuisine
Bursting with a mouth-watering blend of French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences, Creole dishes are renowned for their bold spices, rich flavors, and hearty ingredients. Be sure to try gumbo and jambalaya.
>>> A New Orleans food tour is a great idea for foodies and a fabulous way to sample all the best New Orleans food and eateries.
Try a Beignet at Café du Monde
Sample the sweet stuff with a Beignet at Café du Monde just opposite Jackson Square.
This a square piece of dough is deep-fried and dusted with sugar. It’s a bit like a donut and they‘re full of sugary deliciousness. Beignet is pronounced ben-yay and is traditionally served with coffee and chicory au lait.
Cafe du Monde was established in 1862. This die hard cafe is open daily 24/7 except Christmas Day or if a hurricane has hit the city.
Visit New Orleans Museum of Art
It’s incredible to think that the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) only had nine works of art when it opened in 1911. The city’s oldest fine art institution now holds a collection of nearly 50,000 pieces of art, photography, furniture and glasswork, including works from the USA, Europe, Japan, Africa and the South Pacific.
Notable names included in the collection include Monet, Renoir and Picasso, as well as more recent artists like Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum also holds several Impressionist works painted by Edgar Degas while he was living in New Orleans in the 1870s.
You can also visit the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA. This collection of 90+ sculptures is one of the best sculpture installations in America, and the stunning garden also features reflecting pools, bridges and pathways that meander among 200-year-old oak trees, pines and magnolias.
New Orleans Museum of Art
Where: 1 Collins Diboll Cir, New Orleans, LA 70124, United States
When: Museum Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm; Wednesdays, 12 to 7 pm
Sculpture Garden Opening Hours: 10am to 6 pm, 7 days a week NOMA
Get historical at National WWII Museum
If you’re a history buff, you’re sure to enjoy a visit to America’s National WWII Museum, which honors the contribution made by the USA to the Allied forces’ victory.
The National WWII Museum opened in the Central Business District of New Orleans in 2000. Its collection features a vast range of WWII artefacts, first-person oral histories, multimedia exhibits and immersive experiences.
Several permanent galleries at the museum cover the Home Front in the US, Planning for D-Day, and the D-Day Beaches. There’s also an impressive collection of WWII aircraft, including a B-17E Flying Fortress bomber, and an interactive submarine experience.
This New Orleans museum provides a compelling history that helps explain the reasons behind the war, how it was fought and won along with its lasting impact on the world today. It’s an inspiring and sometimes emotional experience that is definitely one of the best things to do in New Orleans.
Where: 945 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130, United States
When: Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week National WWII Museum
These activities should keep you busy for 3 days in New Orleans. If you’re spending a fourth day in the city you might want to consider going further afield.
Day Trips from New Orleans
Oak Alley Plantation
In a nod to the rich history of the Antebellum south we visited Oak Alley, a beautiful plantation house with an alley of 28 oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. As with most plantations it also has a dark history.
After a talk by one of the staff about the lives of the enslaved people that were forced to work on the plantation we took a self tour of the workers’ reconstructed living quarters.
This was followed, in stark contrast, by a guided tour of the big house where we learned about the families that lived there and ran the plantation.
Click here to check Oak Alley tour prices and availability and grab yourself a 10% discount.
Search for Gators on a Swamp Tour
A swamp tour is a must do if you’ve more than a couple of day in New Orleans. I love to see wildlife in its natural habitat so we booked a swamp tour with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours.
There are tours where you can go kayaking through the water but with alligators lurking below the surface I felt happier in a bigger boat!
We saw racoons, dozens of alligators, crawfish and turtles. Captain Tom, our tour guide, was knowledgeable, funny and very passionate about the wildlife and the Manchac swamp. If you only do one of these two tours pick this one. Click here for more details and latest prices.
We picked up our hire car first thing and visited Oak Alley and the Cajan Pride Swamp tour on the day we headed out of the city en-route to Natchez. You can visit both without a car as tours are available that’ll pick you up and drop you back at your hotel on a day trip from New Orleans. Check out prices and more details for car hire.
There’s a day trip from New Orleans that takes in both Oak Alley Plantation and the Cajun Pride Swamp tour and will have you back at your hotel in time to enjoy a bit of NOLA nightlife. It’s the best way to see both in one day. Click here for more information
Best Area to stay in New Orleans
Stay in the historic French Quarter. Yep, it’s right in the tourist centre, but you’ll be within walking distance to almost anything you’ll want to see, do, eat or drink.
New Orleans is a party town where you can drink on the street and take your plastic ‘to go’ cup from music bar to music bar (no glass allowed on the streets). When you’ve had your fill your hotel bed won’t be far away.
The French Quarter is the best area to stay in New Orleans and also one of the prettiest neighbourhoods. However, if you want to get any sleep don’t stay on Bourbon Street.
We stayed in the French Quarter at the gorgeously historic Hotel Monteleone. It was our first road trip stop and we wanted a really good place to stay after our long flight and it didn’t disappoint.
The Monteleone is an historic hotel on Royal Street and within easy walking distance to all the top New Orleans attractions. It’s also got a great rooftop pool to chill out in after a day’s sightseeing and the infamous Carousel Bar downstairs. You might even encounter the hotel’s ghost.
If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly then Holiday Inn Hotel French Quarter-Chateau Lemoyne might suit you better. It also has a pool and is in easy walking distance to the top sights.
Getting from Louis Armstrong Airport to New Orleans
Drive time is around 37 minutes depending on traffic for the 22 km journey to the French Quarter. The Airport Shuttle will take longer due to stop offs.
The airport shuttle to your New Orleans hotel costs around $44 per person round-trip or $24 each way. You can reserve a spot on a shuttle online in advance or in person at the baggage claim on arrival. If there’s two or more passengers a taxi can be cheaper.
Taxi rides cost around $38.00 from the airport to the Central Business District or the French Quarter (west of Elysian Fields) for up to two passengers. For three or more passengers, the fare will be $16.00 per passenger, plus tip, so a little cheaper than the shuttle.
You could splash out and book a private transfer from the airport to your hotel
When to go to New Orleans
The best time to visit New Orleans is from February to May. The weather’s mild and there are events like Mardi Gras and the annual Jazz Fest on the calendar.
However, we visited in September which was great too. We had warm sunny weather, just a little humidity, and temperatures in the 70-80 degrees (F) every day. It didn’t feel too crowded, even in the French Quarter on the day the Saints were playing.
Hurricane season is during early June to late November in New Orleans and usually peaks late August to early September. Hurricane Katrina hit the last week of August 2005.
What not to do in New Orleans
Don’t say ‘Nawlins’ unless you want to upset the locals. If someone could let me know how you should say ‘New Orleans’ like a local I’d love to know.
Local tip: don’t wear beads unless it’s Mardi Gras, don’t flash anything for them and absolutely don’t pick them up off the floor. Bad juju will ensue and you’ll pick up more than you bargained for on the dirty streets.
Don’t forget to tip.
So those are my top tips and guide for what to see and do with your three days in New Orleans. If you’d like to add anything you loved in the city let me know in the comments below.
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