We’ve had the pleasure of visiting The Big Easy a couple of times over the years, and while sitting in lock down here in Canada, we realized that we have never done a proper article about New Orleans. As people start to plan for trips closer to home, NOLA will make for a great road trip. Once we are out of this mess, I look forward to attending busy, crowded events like Mardi Gras with close human contact again. While it may not be possible yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And to celebrate the dreamer in you, let’s help you plan your visit with the perfect 3 days in New Orleans itinerary.
3 Days in New Orleans Itinerary
New Orleans surprised us. We didn’t expect to love it so much, but this city isn’t just about partying and debauchery. There is an interesting history, rich culture and incredible music scene. I don’t know what I loved more, seeing the sights during the day, or spending the nights listening to Jazz. Be prepared, if you only have three days in New Orleans, you won’t be sleeping. It’s too exciting to spend much time in the hotel. But don’t worry, our NOLA itinerary will help you make the most of your time.
- Note: Attractions and activities may be affected by COVID-19 check for restrictions and closures before booking anything.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Before we get started, let’s help you decide where to stay in New Orleans. The French Quarter is the easiest and most convenient, but be prepared for loud music and rowdy neighbours. You don’t want to stay directly on Bourbon Street. We have stayed both in the French Quarter and out a bit and these are our choices for the best hotels in New Orleans.
W Hotel New Orleans – Located in the heart of the French Quarter, the W Hotel is a quiet oasis in the center of it all. The modern rooms are inviting and the traditional courtyard is lovely. Their restaurant is a great places for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We loved our Creole tasting meal at SoBou followed by cocktails in the Creole saloon. It’s also a great choice for Sunday Brunch with their Legs & Eggs Burlesque Brunch and we had an amazing night of cocktails and Cajun food at .
Intercontinental New Orleans – If you want to stay out of the French Quarter, the Intercontinental New Orleans is wonderful. Dinner at Trenasse inside the InterContinental NOLA was one of our favourites starting off with fresh oysters and a main meal of local fish. Take advantage of the Concierge service here. They offered a lot of help.
Day 1 – Tour the French Quarter
New Orlean’s French Quarter is famous for the party on Bourbon Street, but the quarter itself has plenty of things to see and do. This is a place you want to hang out and explore for at least a day. The oldest part of the city, the French Quarter dates back 300 years. It has been the heart of New Orleans since it was established. So, let’s take a tour to see what you can do in the French Quarter.
The French Quarter can get very busy, so we suggest getting out early. We loved getting lost in the streets before all the tour busses and crowds formed around each New Orleans attraction. Jackson Square always has a crowd, so start here to get a view of the St. Louis Cathedral. Make a note to come back later to see the street performers and horse carriages. But for now, enjoy the peace and quiet.
- If you prefer a guided tour of the French Quarter, this affordable, highly rated tour takes you around the French Quarter to sights such as the St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, the French Market, and the Mississippi River as they tell stories of the city’s history and culture.
Breakfast at Cafe Du Monde
Cafe Du Monde is a great place to start your New Orleans itinerary. It’s a staple for breakfast. Located in the French Market, which will be your first stop, Cafe du Monde is an iconic coffee shop serving mouthwateringly delicious Beignets. Established in 1862 it is open 24 hours a day. You have to try a beignet in NOLA. these deep fried doughnuts are covered with icing sugar giving you the pep you need for a day of sightseeing. Then order a coffee to go to explore the French Market. If you are still hungry, there are plenty of places to grab snacks.
After Breakfast make your way to the French Market is a historic market that runs parallel to the waterfront and Decatur Street. Browse this open air covered market in search of local art, jewelry, glass and metal sculptures created by local artisans. From Café du Monde to the bazaar at Esplanade Avenue, there are five blocks of specialty retail shops and a community flea market. There are restaurants, shops and places to buy clothing too!
Cut Through Pirates Alley
On your way to your next stop after the French Market, cut through Pirates Alley. The alley is just one block long from Chartres Street at Jacksonn Square to Royal Street. Half way down the street, you’ll see one of the famous instagram spots marking Cabildo Alley by a lampost. Looking down the street, you’ll see St. Louis Cathedral and the Spanish Governor’s Mansion where the old Spanish Dungeon used to be.
Explore Royal Street
Stretching from Canal Street to Esplanade, Royal Street is the places to shop. Stroll along in search of antique shops and boutiques, jewelry stores and art galleries. It stretches through Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods all the way to the canal. It feels worlds away from Bourbon Street.
Marie Laveau House of Voodoo
After you’ve strolled the streets of the French Quarter, it’s time to delve into a little Voodoo Culture. Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo displays the live of the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. She was a free slave and renowned voodoo high priestess. It is said that her ghost still walks the halls, and people have reported feeling her presence. We had our fortunes told here as well.
One of my favourite thigns to do in New Orleans is to immerse in the voodoo culture. The Voodoo Museum is a great stop to learn of the Voodoo history of New Orleans. Voodoo in New Orleans dates back to the dark days of slavery. New Orleans was one of the biggest and most brutal slave markets in the country. With African slaves being offloaded in New Orleans, the people who lived their lives in chains, held on to their culture and practiced their spirituality taken from West Africa. Their extensive knowledge of herbs, plants and poison was practiced in New Orleans and the tradition has continued today.
Instead of Lunch, hop on a food tour to enjoy the unique food culture of New Orleans. We took the Dr. Gumbo Food Tour to sample all of the New Orleans staples like Gumbo, Poor Boys, Muffulettas, Beignets and so much more. See our full New Orleans Food Tour.
Happy Hour on Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is definitely the height of the nightlife for tourists in New Orleans, but we didn’t like the vibe at night. Instead, duck into a bar on Bourbon Street for happy hour. Enjoy a local cocktail before heading out on an evening tour.
Nightlife on Frenchmen Street
New Orleans is the land of Jazz and since it is your first night here, you must get a taste of it. Make your way to Frenchmen Street for a more local experience. There is nothing like seeing a Jazz performance in New Orleans. The most popular section of Frenchmen Street is a short strip in the Faubourg Marigny. Frenchmen Street is the thriving epicenter of New Orleans music and culture, with an eclectic mix of clubs and restaurants. We went to Snug Harbor for the most amazing night of live music.
- Other Popular Frenchman Street music clubs include: d.b.a., The Spotted Cat, Apple Barrel, The Blue Nile and Maison.
Day 2 – Garden District and Cemeteries
Day 2 is all about ghosts, history and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter. But you will be starting in the French Quarter to learn about the history of New Orleans and why it has such a haunted and macabre reputation.
Breakfast at Cafe Beignet
Cafe Beignette is a New Orleans staple located on 334 Royal Street. This delicious treat is the official dougnut of Louisiana. This deep fried pile of goodness is topped with heaps of icing sugar. Order a cafe au lait and you are ready to go for the day.
Start day two off right with a Cemetery Tour of New Orleans.The Big Easy is definitely the city of the dead and there are plenty of places to celebrate the afterlife. We took a 2 hour guided tour of the New Orleans’s French Quarter learning about the famous souls buried in the city and the history of the New Orleans Cemeteries. They go further into the Voodoo culture and the reason NOLA uses above ground tombs before heading into the St. Louis Cemetery #1.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
This is an absolutely fascinating cemebery to visit in New Orleans. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 reminds me of Pere Lachaise in Paris. The tombs and souls inside are an attraction yet it is still a working cemetery where families have plots today. Because of the low water table in New Orleans, bodies had a habit of resurfacing in the past, so people started to build tombs above ground. They are beautiful. There are plenty of interesting tombs and sites to see, including Nicolas Cage’s pyramid tomb, but the most famous is the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and the many above ground tombs. You must book a St. Louise Cemetery Tour as you are not allowed to visit alone unless you have family buried there because of vandalism.
Charles Avenue Street Car
Once you are finished at the St. Louise Cemetery #1 hop on the Charles Avenue Street Car to the Garden District. This historic street car takes you from downtown New Orleans to the Garden District and beyond to Uptown New Orleans. At just $1.25 it’s a great cheap excursion in New Orleans as you take in the views of the tree lined streets.
Lunch at Casamentos
Before you explore the Garden District, keep riding the street car to Napolean Avenue where you will get off to enjoy the best oysters in New Orleans at Casamentos on Magazine Street. Casamentos offers delicious chargrilled oysters.
After lunch take a stroll along Magazine Street to do a bit of shopping while you kill some time before your Garden District tour. Magazine Street is a funky neighborhood in the Warehouse Arts District. It is a great spot to grab a coffee and browse the shops for funky clothes, jewelry and books.
Once you reach the garden district, it feels worlds away from the noise of the French Quarter. The district is filled with multimillion dollar mansions lining the perfectly manicured streets of old plantations. Take a walking tour of the District with Welcome New Orleans Tours. You’ll see Anne Rice’s old house, and other famous celebrity homes sprawling in the Gothic Style. There have been many movies filmed here including Django Unchained, and Benjamin Button.
La Fayette Cemetery
The star attraction of the Garden District is the La Fayette Cemetery #1. Unlike St. Louis Cemetery you can tour this one on your own. However, we recommend hiring a guide or as part of your Welcome New Orleans Tours because Dave and I visited this cemetery before and it wasn’t until we had a guide that we truly appreciated it. Fun Fact: Interview with the Vampire starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt filmed in this cemetery. Read about touring the Garden District here.
Dinner at Commander’s Palace
It’s been a long day so before heading back downtown, enjoy an early dinner at Commander’s Palace, the most famous restaurant in the city. Commander’s Palace has been in operation since 1880 and it is giant. Set in an old plantation style building on the corner, it has several distinct dining rooms. Make sure you are dressed for the occassion as there is a bit of a dress code. So if you’ve been touring all day in shorts and a T-shirt, you won’t get in. So pack a polo shirt and pants, or a nice skirt for the ladies in your day pack. There are plenty of coffee shops where you can do a quick change.
If you are up for more, the perfect way to end the evening tonight is to join a Haunted New Orleans tour. NOLA is the most haunted city in the United States and with good reason. It has a dark past, voodoo history and a lot of murder and debauchery. A haunted tour is so much fun taking you to many of the most popular buildings and New Orleans attractions in one evening. If you want to see what you will get up to, check out our Most Haunted Place in New Orleans.
The haunted tours end late in the evening, but you may only be in The Big Easy once in your lifetime, so head you may want to stay in the French Quarter tonight to feel the nightlife. You can pop into any bar for a party, but we suggest, heading over to The Jazz Playhouse inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel for some authentic Jazz. It is an intimate setting in a upscale location and you get the best musicians in town playing here. Enjoy the night as long as you like. New Orleans is the city that never sleeps so enjoy!
Day 3 – Dixieland and Mardi Gras
Today is everything New Orleans. Riverboats, Mardi Gras and fun in the sun. This is your most touristy day on your New Orleans itinerary, but you are going to love it. With more jazz, dixieland music, scenery and fun, it’s a day to remember. So let’s get started.
You cannot visit New Orleans without getting on the Mississippi River. The Natchez Riverboat, It’s the only steam engine left on the Mississippi giving a true historic experience. I can only imagine how the early settlers felt navigating this great river. The trip begins with a musician playing the pipe organ as tourists stand in line under the big umbrella canopy. Once on board the talented dixieland band entertains from the main dining room and we are free to explore the boat from top to bottom checking out the nearly 100 year old steam engine and giant wooden paddle wheel. The two hour tour gave us a glimpse of like on the Bayou and views of the NOLA skyline. You can order food and drinks on board as well.
If you are looking for something unique, book an evening Jazz Cruise to tick off your music and sightseeing all at once.
Once you are finished on the river cruise, take a walk along the river to enjoy the breeze as you take in the sights leading to the Aquarium, the outlet mall and the shops lining the French Quarter. Once you have enjoyed a coffee and a stroll, make your way to Mardi Gras World.
Mardi Gras World
If you are a fan of Mardi Gras and not visiting New Orleans during the famous festival, a visit to Mardi Gras World is an interesting stop. Here you’ll see old Mardi Gras floats in storage and watch artists working on next year’s masterpieces. There are free shuttles to and from Canal street with your ticket purchase.
It’s now time to either go back to the French Quarter and hang out at the voodoo shops, restaurants and hotels on Bourbon street or to get out and explore a bit off the beaten path. We vote for explore. If you want to see more, there are a couple of neighborhoods to check out.
But first, lunch! You need your energy for all that walking. Try a New Orleans staple the Muffuletta at the Central Grocery and Deli. Or get yourself a PoBoy sandwich in the French Quarter at NOLA PoBoys. These are two huge meals that will give you the energy to keep going during the day. But won’t take up too much time for sightseeing.
Marigny to ByWater Neighborhoods
Nestled just down river (east) from the French Quarter Bywater is one of New Orleans’ best kept secrets.
Wander the neighborhood admiring the Creole cottages and Italian mansions as you make your way from Bourbon Street through Marigny to Bywater. Keep an eye out for the 12 Years a Slave monument to Solomon Northup on Esplanade Avenue. This is one of the beautiful street in New Orleans to walk along.
While you are here pop into the Jazz Museum at the Old US mint where musicians put on live concerts and to learn about the history of Dixieland and jazz in New Orleans. .
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
I love stopping in to old pharmacies when traveling. The things that people did for their health in history is sometimes a little nuts! New Orleans had its fair share of outbreaks including Yellow Fever. In the early 1800s, Louis Joseph Dufilho became America’s first licensed pharmacist right here in NOLA. This museum houses medical artifacts and a fascinating exhibition on epidemics. (fitting for the time we are living in now.)
Cocktails and Dinner at Sac-a-Lait
Tonight we take you to the Wharehouse District to enjoy cocktails at Sac-a-Lait. Located on Hospital Road, this trendy restaurant is set in an old cotton mill in the middle of the Warehouse District. They have an extensive array of cocktails and then you can sit down to enjoy southern Louisiana dishes.
Where Eat in New Orleans
New Orleans is foodie heaven and you aren’t stuck eating at the restaurants we suggested. Here are some other amazing places to eat in New Orleans. Peche: A coastal seafood restaurant by Chef Donald Link. Peche was honored as the James
- Meril: Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant known for its small plates and new American cuisine.
- Peche: A coastal seafood restaurant by Chef Donald Link. Peche was honored as the James Beard Best New Restaurant in 2014.
- The Country Club – Charming restaurant and pool clubhouse
- Baccahanal Wine – A wine shop with an adorable backyard for sipping Suggestions for dinner in the French Quarter:
- Kingfish: Fresh spins on classic Louisiana dishes
- Sylvain: an intimate gastropub in a former carriage house
- Cane & Table: Pro-tiki bar and an array of large and small plates
- Muriel’s in Jackson Square – Dine with a ghost in a haunted restaurant. Each night, Muriel sets a table for the resident ghost to keep it from causing disruptions.
Optional Day 4 – The Bayou
Okay, okay, I know that this is 3 days in New Orleans, but just in case you have a super long weekend and need something to do before you fly home, or have a fourth day. It’s time to get out of town to enjoy the Bayou.
Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters
No visit to Louisiana would be complete without going into the backwater swamps. The Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour is one of the most popular day tours from New Orleans. We loved this tour. They picked us up at our hotel in a luxury SUV where we went out to the Pearl River and into the Backwater Swamp to see the unique scenery. There are wild pigs that are very curious to see the tourists. There are gators, Fish Eagles, cranes and giant river rats. People still live on the Bayou and the riverside camps are fascinating to see.
You don’t have to book a private tour.
Getting Around New Orleans
It is easy to get around NOLA. We took a lot of Ubers and taxis and they are quite affordable. The Charles Avenue Street Car is a superb link between downtown, the Garden District and Magazine Street as well.
We found that walking was the best way to get around the French Quarter and we simply took taxis from one neighborhood to another and then continued on by foot.
We have also rented a car in New Orleans and it was great to explore places like the 9th Ward, plantations and other off the beaten path destinations. You can compare prices at CarRentals.com
New Orleans is one of the most exciting destinations in America. Exploring its history and culture is something you’ll never forget. There are so many things to do here, you’ll find 3 days in New Orleans is barely enough. If you have time, spend a week enjoying the energy and festive vibe of America’s most vibrant city.