The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide

The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide

Hi everyone, my name is Sami! I’m a recent college grad from California and run the blog The Classic Brunette. I typically write about fashion and beauty, but when I can I love to share my travel diaries! I’m writing about one of my favorite cities today: New Orleans! I first traveled to NOLA during my sophomore year of college for a religion class based on Voodoo.

I fell in love with the city then, and enjoyed the topic of that class so much that I decided to write my entire senior thesis on Voodoo! I then traveled back to the city during my senior year for some extended research on the subject and will be visiting again in June just for fun. New Orleans is full of great culture, history, music, and of course food! I wanted to share my own guide to the city so that you can experience all of the things that make New Orleans such a unique and fun destination! 

The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide – Where To Stay

Personal Favorite – Hotel Maison De Ville 

A home away from home! Hotel Maison De Ville makes your stay a much more personal experience than any other hotel I’ve stayed at. The staff is incredibly friendly and really wants you to have the best trip, especially Trina the hotel cat. 😉 They provide breakfast every morning, 24/7 snacks and drinks, and have a beautiful property. My favorite thing was spending my mornings listening to the live jazz music from the restaurant next door on my room’s balcony! Plus they are located right off of Bourbon street, but don’t have any of the noise! Say what?! You can see my full review of Hotel Maison De Ville Hotel Maison De Ville!

Tradition New Orleans Experience (Haunted!) – Hotel Provincial:

This was the first hotel I stayed in while in New Orleans a few years ago. I was there for a college class (See my posts from that trip here and here!) and our professor booked our stay here and told us it was one of the most haunted hotels in the city. This city does not kid around with hauntings, and neither does this hotel. Although I was already a believer in ghosts, this hotel 100% confirmed their existence for me. I’m not joking when I say Hotel Provincial had me SPOOKED. There are a few buildings in this hotel, some more haunted than others, and I happened to be placed in the most haunted one (building 5 if you’re curious). This building used to be a civil war hospital, so I’m sure there are plenty of ghosts lingering around. Of course, any older hotel can seem creepy, but this one was really nice during the day and was a great place to stay. The hotel just happened to have some strange things happen in the rooms. A few of my friends in other buildings said they heard things, felt someone pulling their bedsheets or sitting on their bed. My friend and roommate for the trip had some bizarre extreme bed shaking in the middle of the night, which was terrifying but thrilling at the same time. So if you stay here prepare to have some sort of experience! Other aspects of the hotel include beautiful courtyards, breakfast in the morning, and a great location in the middle of the French Quarter!

 The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide
Dream Hotel – Hotel Monteleone:

I am kind of obsessed with how gorgeous this hotel is. I visited their Carousel Bar on my most recent trip to the city and it’s a stunning property. It’s a luxury hotel for a reason because it looks like royalty would stay there. Each room has beautiful crown molding, high ceilings, and classic decor. Definitely worth the visit even if you aren’t staying there!

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Bourbon Street Experience – Royal Sonesta:

You know how in just about every movie or tv show that takes place in New Orleans has those balconies on bourbon street where everyone is throwing beads off of? Some of the best and most centrally located of those balconies are at the Royal Sonesta! If you’re in New Orleans to have the Bourbon Street experience you see in the media, this is the place you want to be. Warning, things do get loud and crazy, and if you’re interested in a Bourbon facing balcony you’re going to need to book far enough in advance!

What To Do If You’re Into History:

The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide

World War II Museum:
This is probably one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been to. It’s HUGE, interactive and super fun. You start off your visit by getting assigned an individual who was in the war and throughout the museum, you can follow your person’s journey. The exhibits are realistic (my favorite is the winter scene!) and it actually looks like you’re where the war was fought. I wish I had photos, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you! The photo above is from a separate exhibit all about the different machines and forms of transportation during the war. 
 
The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide
St. Louis Cathedral:

If you’re religious and into some history, you might like to visit St.Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. It’s beautiful inside and is home to a lot of history as it’s been in the city since 1794 (the original church was constructed in 1721and later burnt down). 

Cabildo Museum: 
Another fun museum that is full of history! The Cabildo was the state building in New Orleans, so the museum has a lot of old government documents, but also a ton of other interesting things like the history of Mardi Gras and when I was there I saw an exhibit all about Hurricane Katrina. Everything was all very moving and such a great place to learn about everything in New Orleans.  

Pharmacy Museum:

In a different way, this museum is also my favorite. (A girl can have more than one favorite, right?) When you walk in there’s so much to look at that you may seem a little overwhelmed. I recommend looking at the times when the tour guide speaks and heading there about a half hour before the scheduled tour. That way you can give yourself ample time to look around at everything downstairs and upstairs, and then hear all the really cool details about the objects when the guide tells you about them. I learned so many interesting and weird facts from the tour including the fact that there was once a butterfly with blue wings that rich girls would rub on their skin to get a sort of blue-pale-toned highlight. Glad we have actual highlighter now, ha! Seriously if I had to tell you to go to one museum it would be this one! 

Voodoo + Supernatural:

Marie Laveau’s Grave:

The Voodoo Queen’s burial site is heavily debated, however, the majority of people believe this to be her grave. Marie had a huge influence on the city during her lifetime and still has an enormous role in the New Orleans Voodoo Community today. As you can see there are a lot of markings on her grave, and that’s because rumor has it that if you write three X’s on the grave Laveau will help bring you good luck or fulfill your prayers. So you might also be thinking that it’s weird to visit a cemetery while on vacation, but even if you aren’t there to see Laveau, the graves are pretty unique. New Orleans is below sea level and swampy, so graves below the ground eventually aren’t so below…something the city found out in an unfortunate way. So their cemeteries are above ground and many are beautifully designed. P.S. You can also see Nicholas Cage’s future gravesite right around the corner from Laveau! 

The Voodoo Museum:

This strange little museum is..well, odd. If you’re not familiar with Voodoo you may think the people who own this place are a little crazy. The rooms are small and cramped, and the main ‘exhibit’ is a typical Voodoo altar. To some, it might look like a random placement of objects thrown together, but everything in the altar has a meaning, even the random tubes of lipgloss or alcohol bottles that you might see. It’s definitely not like your typical museum, but worth a visit if you want to get a more realistic look at the religion.  

Get A Reading Done:
Not everyone will be into this, but if you’re interested in getting read by a psychic or having a tarot card reading, New Orleans is the place to do it. I had a tarot reading during my first trip, so I decided to give it a go as well. It was surprisingly accurate and even if it really means nothing, it was fun and exciting to try. Who knows, you might really enjoy it!
Ghost/Vampire Tour:

New Orleans is an incredibly haunted city with some crazy stories. I mentioned my own ghost story above with Hotel Provincial, but that is nothing compared to what other people have experienced! Even if you don’t believe in ghosts or vampires, the stories you hear on the tours are fun and do have some history behind them. Plus, you might see some locations you wouldn’t have thought twice about before! 

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Canal Street:

Interested in doing some shopping? Canal Street is the place to go! It’s just a short walk from downtown French Quarter and has all the normal shops plus some local stores. I didn’t spend all that much time here, but if you want a break from all the touristy things or are in the mood to shop, you can do that here! 

Frenchman Street:

Frenchman Street is what I like to call the classier Bourbon Street. There are jazz clubs, bars, and live music practically everywhere. My favorite bar is called The Apple Barrel. The music is great, the drinks are reasonably priced, and the atmosphere is great for a casual night out with friends without going crazy. I was also going to recommend the night art market, but apparently, it’s closed for the time being, so sad!

French Market:

This is on most New Orlean’s to-do lists, but the French Market is definitely a must!! Most days there’s a flea market on the site, as well as a variety of food for sale. You can take at least an hour searching through each vendor’s items including things like jewelry, art, and even alligator heads. And because I have to slip another historical fact in here somewhere, this market has been in use since the 1700s!

Jackson Square:

The main square in the French Quarter, Jackson Square is a great place to people watch, shop, eat, and just be all around touristy. As you can see from the photo above, this area can get pretty packed! There are some great New Orleans artists who sell their paintings around the gate, magicians performing shows (I highly recommend stopping to watch at least one!), tarot card readers, street performers, and live jazz everywhere. It’s so busy and full of life and is probably my favorite spot to sit and enjoy the city. 

Bourbon Street:

Ah, Bourbon Street. If you’re visiting the city for Mardi Gras or just to party in general, you know that this is the place to be. Although I’ve explored the area a little, I spent the majority (read: 99%) of my time doing other things. I recommend walking through it at least one night even if you aren’t there for the drinking just to see how the other half lives, haha! It’s weird, fun, and does have a few cool places to stop at. However, I don’t recommend eating on Bourbon as everything is so overpriced and incomparable to the rest of the city.  

Carriage Tour & Walking:

New Orleans is an exceptionally gorgeous city! Every street is beautiful in its own way and I would hate for you to miss out on any of it. If you have enough time give yourself a few hours just to explore the city on foot to see as much of it as possible. If you’re short on time though I highly recommend the carriage tours that you can pick up right at Jackson Square. The drivers have a ton of personality and know a lot about the city! 

Where to Eat:

Willie Mae’s Scotch House:

If you’re looking for the best fried chicken in New Orleans this is the place to go. Quite honestly I dream about this chicken (and the mac and cheese) almost daily. That may seem like an exaggeration, but I swear it isn’t. It’s just THAT GOOD. When I go back to New Orleans I can guarantee that I’ll attempt to force my group to have every meal at Willie Mae’s. I don’t know what makes the chicken so good, but let’s just say I attempted to find a copycat recipe for weeks after eating here. It’s a bit out of the way, so if you’re staying in the French Quarter I recommend getting an Uber or Lyft here, but it’s completely worth the drive. Eat, stay for seconds, then take home an order of chicken to go.

The Gumbo Shop:

Otherwise known as the place you eat if you want to eat like Beyonce. Yes, she’s said that this is one of her favorite restaurants, and I can see why! The gumbo here is incredible. The Gumbo Shop is right around the corner from Hotel Maison De Ville, so when I stayed there it was easy to just go there every night. I didn’t, but I really wanted to. Try the gumbo (duh!) and the chicken po’ boy.  

Sucre Bakery:

Y’ALL. This bakery is amazing. I was lured in by the gorgeous King Cakes (the dessert eaten during Mardi Gras) that were decorated with glittery frosting and I never looked back. They have a location in the French Quarter as well as the Garden District, and I don’t even know what to recommend first because it’s all perfect and delicious. If I had to narrow it down to three things I would say the king cake, the s’mores lava cake (I honestly can’t remember the actual name of it, but there are s’mores in the title) and their raspberry gelato. YUM. 

Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria:

Tired of the traditional New Orleans fare and want to change things up a bit? Head to Felipe’s on Canal Street! The food is really good and you get a pretty decent portion for the price. I can’t recall where I found this restaurant, but it looked like everyone in there was a local, always a good sign! The nachos are a great easy choice if you can’t decide! 

Brennan’s:

Can I really mention food in New Orleans without talking about Brennan’s? I’ve never actually eaten here, but the iconic pink building has always had my eye. It’s the birthplace of Banana’s Foster and is known as one of the best restaurants in the French Quarter. If you’re looking to have a little pricier of a meal, check out Brennan’s at least for dessert!

Cafe Du Monde:

One word: beignets. Need I say more? My pro tip is to get them later at night so there’s no line!

Day Trips + Excursions:

Swamp Tour:

If I had to rank some of my favorite things that I’ve ever done on any vacation, this would be somewhere in the top 5. I didn’t even go during prime alligator season, but I had an incredible time on my swamp tour. I went with a tour called Airboat Adventures and you can arrange for them to pick you up from your hotel and take you to the tour location (I recommend this!!) that’s about an hour outside the main city. The airboat is crazy fun and you feel like you’re flying across the water. Essentially you’re just exploring the swamp a little by seeing the plants and the animals, and if you’re lucky some alligators. The tour guide I had was so friendly and even had a baby alligator for us to hold. If you do any sort of excursion while visiting New Orleans I cannot recommend going on one of these tours enough! 

Garden District:

Want to see how the fancy people of New Orleans live? Take the trolley over to the Garden District and look at all the beautiful old-style houses. If I could put my dream house into reality, it would look like these houses. Once you’re done gawking at those beauties make your way to Magazine street to do some vintage and thrift shopping. The street has some great finds and some tasty food!

Plantation Tour:

I unfortunately never made it out to a plantation, but it’s on my bucket list! This will definitely be an all-day excursion, as most plantations are well outside the city and require at least an hour to get there. I’m not sure on specifics for which plantations are great, however, Oak Alley Plantation looks BEAUTIFUL! 

There you have it! It’s a long guide, but I wanted to share everything that I thought was necessary for a visit to New Orleans! Have you been to NOLA? What’s your favorite thing about the city? A big thank you to Jasmine for having me on her blog!