Visitors will often come to New Orleans and fall under the spell of the French Quarter and not venture out. It’s completely understandable. The French Quarter has a way of tickling all of your sensors at once, so you’re wholly mesmerized with all of its charms. The music, the neon lights, the casual and completely interesting low-lying sleaze, the charming architecture and buffet of food and booze catapult’s you back to your once former 20-year-old self – and you’ll love Nola for bringing you back there.
In a nutshell, it’s fun. People are fun, the place is fun, and you’ll have fun if you open your eyes to the beauty of your surroundings and see that even in the underlying grittiness of the streets there is beauty on every corner.
Because this was my second trip here, I was compelled less with the touristy things to do and more with experiencing the town as the locals do. This time around I was fortunate enough to meet a bunch of locals who took us to some of their favourite places, so here’s my guide to how to spend a long weekend in NOLA like a local.
We stayed at the iconic Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street. There’s plenty of charming boutique-style hotels in the garden district and further away from Bourbon street, but this place is ideally located to soak up the atmosphere and has the perfect location. It’s right on Bourbon street but don’t let that put you off, you can’t hear or see the ruckus of Bourbon Street, and it has a side entrance so can avoid the hustle of Bourbon street if you need. Beautiful garden terraces, bars, great staff and service and great staff and location.
French Cafes and Beignets
Going to a French café while you’re here is a must, and the most obvious and famous is Café du Monde, the original French market coffee stand. OK, while I admit this is pretty touristy – it has to be done. The deep-fried fluffy fritters are an absolute must. It’s always packed, so instead of sitting inside the café, you can go around the back and there is a takeaway line which is usually a much shorter wait. There’s also a widow around the back where you can see the workers making them. Grab a few to go and keep walking around town. Just don’t wear black or you’ll be covered in powdered sugar!
Another good café to check out is Café Beignet where it’s not so crowded, and I love the French style café seating and courtyard. Be warned, the coffee anywhere in this town is still more US standard than French or Australian. If you’re Australian or French local, you’ll know what I mean – #coffeesnob – Yes I know I am!
Tours: If you’re someone who likes to do a tour in a new town, then this place has plenty of options. I did the cemetery tour and ghost tour on my last visit and thought it was pretty cool but there’s also Voodoo tours, Vampire tours, haunted pub tours – you name it, it’s here. I’ve also heard the swamp tour is not bad if you want to check out ‘Gaters, the Southern way. If you’ve done this let me know what it was like.
Walk with a 2nd Line: When I was here, we were on a girls trip celebrating the final legalities of two of my good friends in their marriage. We were fortunate enough to walk the streets with a 2nd line band, which I can’t even describe as one of the most magical and authentic experiences to have in NOLA. So if you see one while you’re in town, join in and dance the streets, I promise it will be an experience you won’t forget.
Photos above by Chris Deville
NOLA brewery tour – For a start it’s free, and it includes a free beer! Enough said.
New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden – It’s free and has a beautiful walking path and collections of sculptures.
Streetcar – The St.Charles Line streetcar began service in 1835 and is the oldest continuously operated street operated line railway in the world! It’s only around $1 – $2 each way and it’s an easy way to get up to City Park and see the cemeteries or downtown to the riverfront. It’s a fantastic way to check out all the beautiful homes in the Garden District and sit on a piece of history.
French Quart Wandering: This is what I enjoy the most in towns. Just wondering and people watching and taking cute pics by the abundance of instagrammable (not even sure if this is a real word!) walls. This place has the perfect backdrop for pics if you’re an Instagram lover. And it’s lovely to admire all the architecture of the houses and old buildings while soaking up the atmosphere.
Frenchmen Art Market: From Thursday to Sunday you’ll see an eclectic mix of local artists set up in the markets on Frenchmen street. It’s also where you can so see some amazing local bands play and it’s a lot less touristy than around Bourbon street.
Ask yourself, what else are you here for? It’s all about the music! The place is bursting at the seams with live music. Whether you’re going to head into a random venue or walk aimlessly around the streets, there’s an excellent chance you’ll hear some of the best jazz you’ve ever heard. Skip Bourbon street area and head to Frenchmen Street for a more authentic vibe. A couple of places we were recommended to check out were:
Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro – An intimate with a nostalgic spot from the 1800s with upscale Creole food and often hosts concerts by some of the greats.
Spotted Cat Music Club – Considered one of the best on Frenchman street, with a range of musicians
626 Frenchmen St.
The Blue Nile – This venue is a little bigger in space than some of the other smaller places, so you’ll find a more substantial atmosphere too. New Orleans jazz downstairs and contrasting sounds upstairs.
532 Frenchman Street
Maison – Come to see multiple bands playing every night where there’s a vast variety of sounds to keep you interested. Also, known for many of the globe’s top bands making a pit-stop here on their American tour.
508 Frenchman Street.
Tipitina’s Uptown – Some venues will charge a cover charge, which in all honesty you’ll want to pay because you’ll get better quality bands, but this is free on Friday nights.
501 Napoleon Street.
This is where I’m a little out of my league to give a solid opinion. There are just too many to choose from, and it depends on what your taste buds are crying out for in the Big Easy. Be it, po-boys, beignets, chicory coffee, gumbo, and a host of incredible varieties of Creole Foods. I can’t say I know even a tenth of them, but here are a few places I went to which didn’t disappoint.
+Upscale dinner at Tableau owned by the famous Brennan family. (Book ahead to secure a seat on the balcony to view the sunset over Jackson Square).
+Clover Grill for the best Burgers at all hours of the night (fantastic recovery stop on the way home to your hotel!)
+Mr Bs Bistro for the best-barbequed bacon wrapped shrimp and grits
+Dive Bars, for southern specialties like peanut butter burgers and alligator wings, and everything else that could stop your heart but tastes out-of-this-world!
Drinks & Dancing
+ Kingfish for Blueberry Hills cocktails and more alligator wings. This is where we started most of our nights. Grab a classy cocktail from the bar in the afternoon and a snack to start the mood before your big night out.
+Pat Obrien’s for Hurricanes and Duelling Piano entertainment (majorly touristy – but a must-do item!) Great to do early then get out to Frenchman’s Street. While I can’t stress how massively cheesy and touristy this is, it’s actually a lot of fun and will get you in the mood for the night ahead. Also, you’ll see some amazingly talented pianists. I also enjoyed looking at all the memorabilia on the walls – if only the walls in this place could talk!! Warning, the Hurricanes are deadly!
+Café Negril on Frenchman’s street. Another excellent place for a cocktail, see a cool band and have a dance.
+Carousel bar – This is just lovely to experience. With an old world charm and revolving floor and vintage carousel setting, you’ll have fun just being a part of the ambiance. Order the Prims Cup and be careful of the moving floor if you’re in heels 🙂
+Soul Rebels at Le Bon Temps Roule Bar – If you’re interested in more of a local nightclub rather than listening to Blue and Jazz, this is somewhere you can dance the night away and get a taste of where the locals like to go after hours.
+30/90 – Dance music in abundance with a local vibe and a younger set.
+Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – for a darker and more chilled experience. This place is packed with history, it was built between 1722 and 1732 by Nicolas Touze, and is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. It’s worth having a drink here just to be a part of history.
+Maple Leaf Bar – Word on the town is that every Tuesday, the Rebirth Brass Band play here, and it’s worth the cover charge. Get in early, as tickets are sold on a first in- first served basis.
+Goldmine Saloon – For flaming Dr Peppers. Don’t ask, just do! And it has loads of good energy and lots of old-school music mashed up with modern vibes. The perfect place to dance the rest of the night away.