Recently, I spent a weekend in New Orleans, a city I had never been to (cue: Gasp!), with a group of great college friends. With phenomenal food, musical talent around every corner, and street after street of quaint, romantic scenery, I quickly realized two days in the Big Easy definitely wouldn’t be long enough. But, it was enough time to squeeze in the following which made for an outstanding weekend away and are, in my book, the 15 Must-Do Things in New Orleans.
1. Shop Magazine Street
Even if this means ditching the men in your group for a few hours (as if you wanted to go to Pat O’Brien’s with them, anyway), get thee to Magazine Street for a few hours of shopping. My favorite spots? Goorin Brothers for amazing hats, Dunn & Sonnier for gorgeous antiques and gifts, and Trashy Diva for the cutest of sunglasses.
2. Walk through the Cemetaries
It sounds a bit dreary and spooky, walking through the cemeteries in New Orleans. But, strolling through rows of above ground crypts and mausoleums (due to NOLA being built on a swamp) with decorative details was calming and beautiful to see. Definitely, a sight not to be missed in this city.
3. Dine at Restaurants like Sylvain, La Petit Grocery, Domenica, & Stanley
If you haven’t heard, New Orleans is one of the nation’s culinary capitals. It’s easy to see why this city has become a foodie’s fantasyland with divine spots like these: Sylvain which has a Brooklyn vibe (and mouthwatering pan seared scallops), La Petit Grocery (don’t miss the Blue Crab Beignets, Gulf Shrimp & Grits, and Abita Root Beer Float), Domenica in the gorgeous Roosevelt Hotel (with a gorgeous Gorgonzola Pizza with speck, honey, and strawberry), and Stanley which was a perfect brunch spot (get the Eggs Stanley with Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters or the Bananas Foster French Toast).
4. See a show at Tipitina’s
Really, who cares who’s playing at Tipitina’s the night you’re there. Just go. It’s quite an experience and an authentic look at the New Orleans live music scene. But fair warning…the crowd may include shoeless hippies swaying around oblivious to the patchoulie/BO scented trail they’re leaving behind. Still, worth the visit, just move to the other side of the bar if need be. Also, don’t forget to look up at the massive, Mardi Gras beaded trees on the way out. Oh, if those beads could talk.
5. Take in the beauty of the Garden District
Escape to the less touristy Garden District to take in the beauty of the huge oak tree lined streets of ivy-covered, southern mansions with cast iron fences and exquisitely manicured gardens while the New Orleans streetcars roll by. Enough said.
The beignets are really as good as you’ve heard. But stand in the to-go line to order your bag of beignets and iced coffee instead of waiting endlessly for a table. There are plenty of benches nearby with better people watching. Also, you might not want to wear black or inhale while eating these white powdered sugar treats. Trust me.
7. Hit d.b.a. for live music
On Frenchmen Street, you’ll definitely get your music fix at d.b.a. with local and regional talents nightly. As all shows are first come, first serve, get there early as you never know when they’ll be having major surprise guests like Florence Welch or Stevie Wonder. And for the thirsty, they’ve got quite a selection for you on chalkboards hanging the entire stretch of the bar.
8. Take A Guided City Tour
Bike tours, segway tours, drinking tours, haunted tours, or even the hop-on/hop-off red double decker bus – they’ve got a tour for everyone in this city with some pretty entertaining tour guides leading the way. With so many different areas of town and so much history to learn about, a city tour is the quickest way to get an overview of it all and then get back to the most important sights to see in New Orleans: food, drink, and music.
9. Experience the Frenchman Art Market
On Frenchman Street, you’ll find the string light lit, quirky, Frenchman Art Market which opens about 7pm each evening and is full of local art straight outta New Orleans. This spot was an unexpected find for us. My favorite item was the reclaimed New Orleans Wood Bow Ties. If only my husband would let me style him, he’d have several of these in his closet.
10. Grab a beer at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
Lafitte’s, built between 1722 and 1732, is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the U.S. And it just may be the best bar (and maybe the only one you need to see) on Bourbon Street. So, grab a beer and relax inside or in the back garden. Just don’t lean on the walls as the whole place may fall down. Lafitte’s really looks as old as it is, which is the best part about it.
11. Head to the French Market…to meet this crazy, fun guy at J’s Seafood Dock
Though most of the French Market is full of souvenir stands you could probably skip, there are several great food spots like the Organic Banana for fresh organic fruit smoothies (or better yet daiquiris) and J’s Seafood Dock for fresh oysters, shrimp, crab, and crawfish served up with hours of entertainment by this crazy, fun guy.
12. Stroll the French Quarter (with a bloody mary in hand)
Strolling the French Quarter during the day is a must to take in the unique architecture, colorful doorways, intricate ironworks along balconies, fire lit street lanterns, and beautiful hanging ferns. Oh, and just because you can, do it with a bloody mary in hand. If you’re staying in or near the Loews, grab one at their lobby bar. It won’t disappoint. Slurp!
Great live street music is around every corner in New Orleans. Might as well stop and smell the…okay, well, try not to smell too much on the streets of NOLA. It is swamp city. But, stop and enjoy the talented musicians at every turn…some of the best street entertainment you’ll ever get.
14. Eat a Muffuletta
No, I wouldn’t miss a meal in a fantastic NOLA restaurant for this huge legendary sandwich. I would, instead, share a muffuletta (preferably from Central Grocery) with friends over a beer as an afternoon snack or grab one on the way to the airport. This Italian sandwich of cured meats, provolone, and spicy olive salad spread on sicilian bread (the size of your head), will be the best airplane meal you’ll ever have.
15. Hang with a group of your best friends
With these unique sites and all of this debauchery ahead, it’s almost required to hang with your best friends in New Orleans. It’s the perfect big group escape you’ll always remember. Well, most of it you’ll remember and for the foggy bits? That’s what friends are for.
What are your favorite things to do in New Orleans that I missed? I know there’s plenty more so, please, do tell because I’ll definitley be back!
Former NYC fashion industry girl, forever traveler, foodie at heart, and now Mom in Miami. My blog, Arrive Chic, covers the style I find in everyday life both on the road and at home, often with my two energetic little boys in tow.
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