New Orleans turns 300 this year, making 2018 the perfect time to explore this complex and captivating Southern city. With a birthday this big, we can guarantee that the Big Easy is going to be celebrating like the party capital it is. However, there is so much more to New Orleans then drinking on Bourbon Street and listening to jazz. Peel back the layers a little further and you will find a thriving and diverse city with a rich culture and spirit of resilience like nowhere else on the planet. You could spend weeks exploring the city’s unique neighborhoods & hidden treasures and only scratch the surface of what it has to offer. However, we know that most people only have a limited time to explore NOLA. Here is our guide to everything you should do, see, eat, and drink if you only have 48 hours in New Orleans.
Day 1: Explore the French Quarter
Start off your day of exploring the French Quarter with some delicious, French-inspired pastries. You’ll find many bakeries in the neighborhood, but our favorite is Cafe Du Monde, a historic little shop selling coffee and their famous $3 beignets, basically a square of fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so if you are hankering for this delicious treat later in the night, you’ll know where to find it. If you are more of a croissant person, try the Croissant D’Or Pâtisserie where you can enjoy freshly made tarts, sandwiches, and quiches in addition to their trademark croissants.
History and Architecture
Now it’s time to start checking off some of the city’s historic sights. Your day in the French Quarter should begin at Jackson Square, the thriving heart of the neighborhood. There you will find a lively scene of sketch artists, fortune tellers, traveling performers, and tourists & locals alike soaking in the sun and the sights.
From Jackson Square, you will have easy access to the neighborhood’s three most famous historic sites: St Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, and the Presbytere. With its three towering steeples dating back to the 18th century, St Louis Cathedral is one of the most iconic landmarks in New Orleans as well as one of the best remaining examples of French architecture in the country. From there, visit the Cabildo, an elegant Spanish colonial building that was the former seat of government in colonial Louisiana and the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies in 1803. One of Louisiana’s most significant historical buildings, the Cabildo is now home to many fascinating historical exhibits, including “Recovered Memories: Spain, New Orleans, and the Support for the American Revolution” and “‘Dirty Shirts’ to Buccaneers: The Battle of New Orleans in American Culture.”
Originally built as the rectory for the St. Louis Cathedral in 1791, the Presbytere is now a museum dedicated to New Orleans history. This is the best place in the city to learn more about Mardi Gras. Here you will learn about the history of the iconic carnival celebration with roots that reach all the way back to the Middle Ages. The Presbytere is also home to a moving exhibition on Hurricane Katrina where you will learn about the story of devastation and resilience in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
After all that history, you’ve probably worked up a bit of an appetite. For lunch, grab a classic New Orleans sandwich at the no-frills joint Johnny’s Po-Boy or what many consider the best burger in town at Port of Call.
From there, take a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood to admire the beautiful architecture and see for yourself why they call New Orleans the Paris of the South. It’s easy to get lost exploring the cast-iron balconies, Creole townhouses, and historic hotels that make the French Quarter such a marvel. You can also use this time to do a little shopping or browse some of the local art galleries.
A Night on the Town
Get ready for a long and fun-filled night. A must do for any tourist is a drink at the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge located inside the historic Hotel Monteleone. Here you will find a revolving circular bar made in part out of a carousel from the 1904 World’s Fair. In 15 minutes, the 25-seat bar completes a full rotation. Famous writers (and drinkers) like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams used to hang out at the Carousel Bar, cementing it as one of the most famous drinking venues in the world. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some live music while you’re there.
There are so many great restaurants in the area it can be hard to decide where to eat for dinner. It all depends on what you’re craving. Angeline serves some of the best Southern food in the city. Their menu features Louisiana classics like gulf shrimp & corn flour pappardelle, crispy chicken livers, and Wagyu hanger steak. For some of the best chargrilled oysters you’ll ever eat, try Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar. For over 70 years, Felix’s has been serving fresh oysters harvested straight from Louisiana oyster beds. In the mood for something a little heartier? Coop’s Place serves some of the tastiest fried chicken and jambalaya in the South.
New Orleans is the Birthplace of Jazz, so you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t see at least one jazz show while you are here. At the historic Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street, you can hear the talented & world-renowned Preservation Hall Jazz Band play their joyful & authentic music over 350 nights a year. For other great New Orleans jazz spots, check out our guide to Live Music in Louisiana.
Day 2: Museums and Culture
To explore the oldest and most majestic section of Uptown, take a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar. The oldest continuously operating street car in the world, the St. Charles Streetcar takes riders past antebellum mansions, historic monuments, city parks, and Loyola & Tulane Universities. Plus, it costs just $1.25.
Now it’s time for the museums. New Orleans has a museum for just about everything. History buffs will love the National World War II Museum, where visitors can see life-sized photos, fascinating oral-histories, informative exhibits, and an impressive array of artifacts, including a German Enigma machine. Art lovers should head to The New Orleans Museum of Modern Art or the Ogden Museum of Southern Art while jazz lovers will go crazy for the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which is jam-packed with photographs, records, exhibits, artifacts, audio recordings, and instruments played by jazz greats like Sidney Bechet, Dizzy Gillespie, and George Lewis. At the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, you can learn about this fascinating and misunderstood religion and maybe even receive a reading from their in-house psychics.
Digest all the culture with a pleasant stroll through the oak lined streets and grand mansions of the Garden District. On your walk, stop into the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 to see the oldest existing cemetery in the city and spot the graves of jazz legends, voodoo priestesses, and war heroes. A walk from St. Charles Avenue on Washington Street to Magazine Street will take you past charming cafes, boutiques, and specialty stops.
Dinner in the Warehouse District
It’s been a busy day and you deserve a big, delicious meal. For tasty and innovative cuisine, there is no better place to go than the Warehouse District. This former industrial area is now a trendy neighborhood filled with art galleries and world-renowned restaurants where you can experience the culinary melting pot that is New Orleans. Enjoy sustainable, freshly-cut Gulf shellfish at the Peche Seafood Grill or upscale French-Creole cuisine at Tomas Bistro. La Boca is an Argentinian steak house serving up mouth-watering slabs of beef. At Cochon, you’ll enjoy rustic Southern and Cajun dishes like fried alligator or catfish court bouillon cooked up by two of New Orleans most famous, award-winning chefs.
After a long day of walking, eating, drinking, and sightseeing, rest your head at one of the Louisiana Bed & Breakfast Association’s many New Orleans properties. From cottages in the French Quarter to historic hotels on St. Charles Street, you will find the perfect accommodation for your New Orleans escape.