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3 Days in New Orleans – What to see and do in the Big Easy

3 days in New Orleans
Listening to live music – one of the best things to do in New Orleans

New Orleans, NOLA, Crescent City, the Big Easy. Whatever you choose to call it 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 on your 3 days in New Orleans.

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What to see and do in New Orleans in three days

Coming up are sixteen sights, attractions and must dos for your trip to the Big Easy. There’s free stuff to see in New Orleans and a range of great walking tours and excursions. I haven’t put them in itinerary form so you can pick and choose when to work them into your stay.

There’s enough here to see and do for three or even four days in New Orleans. Why not pin it for later. This map of the French Quarter should help you find your bearings.

New Orleans Balconies
The French Quarter, New Orleans

Visit the Garden District

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 homes, columned mansions and, of course, 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.

The Garden District, New Orleans

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.

Voodoo Shop New Orleans
Reverand Zombies House of Voodoo

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 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, New Orleans
Bourbon Street

Read more >>> Our first US road trip taking in San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Yosemite and Death Valley

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.

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.

St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans
Jackson Square, New Orleans

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.

Mule and Carriage New Orleans

Read more >>> All the food in New Orleans – what to eat and drink in the Big Easy and which restaurant to go to.

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 on a French Quarter walking tour.

Creole House, New Orleans
French Quarter, New Orleans

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.

The cemeteries are spookily atmospheric and eerie with elaborate stone edifices and sculptures looming over the labyrinth of connecting pathways.

Discover St. Louis #1 cemetery aka ‘The City of the Dead’ and New Orleans’ oldest graveyard and learn about Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, Jazz funerals and see Nicholas Cage’s place of eternal rest when he makes his final bow. (Access to this cemetery is by guided tour only – Click for more info here).

Read more USA posts including New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas guides (I love America!)

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 landmarks. 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.

St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans
Inside St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans

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.

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.

Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans

Fun on Frenchman Street

Frenchmen 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.

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 and where we spent a brilliant night with fabulous live bands at Bamboulas. The guy on the washboard was epic!

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

Natchez Paddle Steamer, New Orleans
Steamboat Natchez in New Orleans

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.

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. It’s in the air and it’s a part of the city’s life force. Music in New Orleans is inescapable; jazz, blues, Cajun, whatever.

In Frenchman Street one evening a pop-up jazz 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.

New Orleans Street Band
Street Music in NOLA

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.

The French Market

The French Market started life in 1791 as a native American trading post on the Mississippi and 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.

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.

The French Market, New Orleans
The French Market in New Orleans

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.

If you love a vibrant city break then check out this epic Cape Town itinerary

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 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 details.

Oak Alley Plantation House, New Orleans
Oak Alley Plantation near New Orleans

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 was a knowledgeable and funny guide 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.

Cajun Swamp Tour, New Orleans
Alligators seen on a swamp tour near New Orleans

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. Click here for more information

Day trips from New Orleans – read my reviews of Oak Alley Plantation and Cajun Pride Swamp Tour

Best Area to stay in New Orleans

Stay in the 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 something really good 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. Check out the latest prices and availability at Hotel Monteleone.

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. Find out more by clicking here.

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 $43 per person round-trip or $22 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 most popular 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.

Houses in New Orleans
New Orleans French Quarter

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.

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.

Read more about our Deep South Road Trip and check out my post on what to eat and drink in the Big Easy – there’s a lot.

Check out these self-guided walking tours in New Orleans

Jonathan Hernandez

Thursday 19th of May 2022

Thank you so much for this great article! I'm going with a friend this Memorial Day weekend and hope to cram as much of this as possible. lol I was interested in the kayaking but then you pointed out the alligators and I very quickly shut down that idea!!! haha Thanks for that! :)

Suzanne Jones

Friday 20th of May 2022

No problem - I wouldn't want to kayak for sure! Have a fabulous trip and thanks for taking the time to comment

Valerie McGraw

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

Your information sounds very thorough, helpful and inline with our tastes. Thanks for organizing! Looking forward to the food articles.

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

Thank you, I'm glad you found it useful. Food article is here :)


Wednesday 6th of April 2022

I did this exact trip, but I would like to add the national WW2 museum is amazing and definitely stop on the trip. As well as shopping on Magazine street. Plantation tours are too far out from the city to Uber so you do need a rental car or do a bus tour.

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 6th of April 2022

Hi Kaylee, Thanks for your tips, I'll add them into the article when I get a moment. We had a rental car as it was the start of our road trip so that helped but the tours are good too.


Friday 7th of June 2019

I am planning on going to NOLA with my grand daughter. is the much to see and do for children under 10 years ?

Suzanne Jones

Saturday 8th of June 2019

Hi Sonia, I wasn't there with children so couldn't tell you. This might help though...

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Tuesday 8th of May 2018

I´d love to visit New Orleans - I've heard so much about it´s food. I've never realized there were so many things to do in the city and even day trips: like most of the Europeans - only heard of the French Quarter. You've put together such a great guide! Thanks for the inspiration!

Suzanne Jones

Saturday 12th of May 2018

I'm so glad it's inspired you and hope you get to visit sometime soon. I didn't know too much about it before I went but discovered so much to see and do :)

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