The Paris of the South, The Big Easy, The Crescent City, no matter the moniker, New Orleans is a legendary city brimming with things to do, see and eat. Whether you’re flocking to the city with your girlfriends for ESSENCE Fest, attending Jazz Fest with your significant other, partying during Mardis Gras, or simply enjoying a weekend getaway filled with food, fun, art, and history, there is something for every type of traveler. Here are some of our top picks for where to eat, play and stay in New Orleans.
Getting to and around New Orleans
Getting to New Orleans is easily accessible as most major domestic airlines fly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), which is located about 15 miles outside of New Orleans. Once in the city, you have several options on how to get around and keep the good times rolling. If you stay in the French Quarter or on Bourbon Street, it is relatively easy to get around on foot, even during major events like ESSENCE Fest. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a 6-10-minute drive or 20-30-minute walk from either location.
Renting a car is also an option for getting around in New Orleans. If you plan to stay outside Downtown, renting a car may be the best option. However, parking can be a disaster Downtown or near Bourbon Street. There are parking decks and street parking available, but be extremely cautious of parking restrictions, as they are heavily enforced and you don’t want to find your car booted or towed. You can expect to pay anywhere from $25-$40 per day for parking in New Orleans. Use the app SpotHero, to find available parking garages, and sometimes you can even reserve in advance.
Another scenic option for getting around New Orleans is their streetcar system. The system has four lines that run along or intersect with, the French Quarter, Canal Street, and the Business District. Be sure to have exact change or you can purchase a Jazzy Pass for around $1.25 that can also be used on buses. You will also find ride-share services like Uber and Lyft in New Orleans.
What to do in New Orleans
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to places to eat, things to do, and places to see in New Orleans. While Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street may be synonymous with New Orleans, there is more to the Crescent City than multi-colored beads and “Hand Grenades.” New Orleans is a melting pot of cultural influences, which makes this dynamic city incredibly unique, downright delicious, and outrageously fun to explore. Music is the heartbeat of New Orleans. After all, jazz originated in this city. Explore the Tremé Historic District, the very first African American neighborhood in the United States, which is also home to Congo Square, the birthplace of Jazz, and Armstrong Park - aptly named after jazz legend and trumpeter, Louis Armstrong.
This can all be done with a one-stop-shop tour with the Black Heritage & Jazz Tour where you not only explore the music scenes, old and new, of New Orleans, but you also learn insights about Voodoo, Creole architecture, The Freedom Fighters, and unfiltered stories about slavery. Speaking of slavery, learn more about its harrowing history at Whitney Plantation. Unlike some other tours, this tour is curated to highlight the enslaved people who lived there. There’s no skirting around the truth or sugar-coating; this tour gives it to you real and raw.
If you want to satiate the epicurean in you, check out the No Secrets Food & Cocktail tour, or a range of other tours including the LGBTQ History Tour, as New Orleans is home to one of the first gay neighborhoods and first gay bars in the United States, the Ghosts of the French Quarter Tour, if you’re feeling brave enough, or you can personalize your own private tour. For art lovers, a visit to Studio Be is a must when visiting New Orleans. Local artist, Brandon Odums (aka BMike) takes you on a soul-stirring journey, in a 35,000 sq ft warehouse, with works of art depicting the stories of Black revolutionaries, leaders, and icons, Black culture in New Orleans, and his iconic larger-than-life murals and installations.
There is plenty to explore in New Orleans, but take a moment and get lost in the pages of mystery and history at Baldwin & Co. or Community Book Center, two Black-owned bookstores in New Orleans. And, while Magazine Street has nothing to do with flipping through pages, it has everything to do with shops, eateries, art galleries, and museums that beckon to be explored. Head over to Frenchmen Street for all the live music action. Frenchmen Street gives you those Bourbon Street vibes, with fewer crowds, more authenticity, and a little more coziness. There are over 20 bars, venues, and restaurants within a two-block stretch on this street.
Where to eat in New Orleans
From pralines to Po-boys, beignets to seafood boils, New Orleans is easily one of the top food capitals in the U.S., and the iconic food scene here will take you on one epic gastronomic journey. Kickstart your morning at Café Beignet with pillowy beignets peppered with powdered sugar and complemented by a delicious cup of café au lait (coffee with milk). Café Beignet is a delicious, less crowded, alternative to Café du Monde and many argue their beignets are better. You be the judge. If you are looking for something with a little more sustenance to fuel your day, try Surrey’s crab meat omelet or shrimp and grits, or Katie’s grits and grillades.
For a brunch served with a side of swimming and a dab of drag, The Country Club is your place. They have a pool you can take a dip in and they also host drag show brunches every Saturday and Sunday, but you must make reservations, which are sometimes booked months in advance.
When in the Big Easy seafood is a must and trust, you won’t find a shortage of it! Check out Drago’s Seafood Restaurant or Felix Restaurant & Oyster Bar for some of New Orleans’ best-chargrilled oysters. If your palette prefers a little down-home, Southern soul food, Neyow’s Creole Cafe and Cochon deliver. Classic creole food is on the menu at Café Sbisa. Not only that, being established in 1899 makes Café Sbisa the third oldest fine-dining establishment in the French Quarter, and as an added bonus, it’s Black-owned.
On the other hand, sometimes you’re just in the mood for a mouthwatering, juicy burger and Port of Call yields the title bestowed by Tripadvisor diners as the #1 spot for the best burgers in New Orleans. To satisfy your sweet tooth, indulge in delicious pralines, New Orleans’ signature sweet, from Bernard’s Pralines or Loretta’s.
Where to stay in New Orleans
Stay in the heart of the French Quarter at Hotel Monteleone, a luxury New Orleans Hotel. This location is super convenient to get around and has everything at your doorstep and within walking distance. Want to stay on the world-famous Bourbon Street? Hyatt Centric and Royal Sonesta are excellent choices. Hyatt Centric offers a chic and contemporary vibe juxtaposed to the age-old structures surrounding the building. Royal Sonesta boasts timeless elegance and is the perfect rest sanctuary after a long day of adventuring in the city. With exposed brick, a rotating art gallery, eclectic flair, and a location just three blocks from Bourbon Street, The Old No. 77 Hotel is one of New Orleans’ trendiest hotels.
The Chloe Hotel, with 14 sophisticated rooms, is an excellent choice if you are looking for more of a boutique feel, dripped in Southern charm and character. The Chloe is about three miles from Bourbon street, so you’re close enough to the action but far enough away when you’re looking for an escape from the busyness. Travelers looking to support Black-owned businesses in New Orleans can stay at NOPSI Hotel. NOPSI is an iconic building built in the Roaring 20s and later converted into a luxurious hotel with a rooftop pool and stunning skyline views. NOPSI is just three blocks away from the vibrancy of the French Quarter.
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