Spending 2 days in New Orleans is a great way to break up a Gulf Coast road trip. The Big Easy is a mecca for foodies, amateur historians, architecture fans, and, yes, party goers.
Guest contributor, and fellow boomer travel blogger at PassingThru, Betsy Wuebker shares her recent New Orleans experience. Get ready for a deliciously, fun time.
On a recent non-Mardi Gras trip to New Orleans, my husband, Pete, and I found plenty of things to do. Use these ideas to build your own itinerary for 2 days in New Orleans.
2 full days in the Big Easy
Let’s face it, for most folks a visit to New Orleans conjures up the rousing nightlife on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, with its live music, street performers, and crowds of revelers out for a good time. But we’re here to tell you, there are plenty of attractions and activities outside of Mardi Gras, and a better way, in our opinion, to plan a visit to the Crescent City
NOLA, known by some as the Paris of the South, was founded in the early 18th century and named for France’s Duke of Orleans. Still a significant port located at the mouth of the Mississippi River on the Gulf of Mexico coast, the city has rebounded from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm that raged through the region in 2005.
If you like food, history and architecture, New Orleans might very well be the singular place in the United States where your interests converge.
Explore French Quarter attractions by Jackson Square
A National Historic Landmark, Jackson Square is a city park adjacent to the site where the Louisiana Purchase was finalized in 1803 in the Cabildo Building (the former Spanish colonial City Hall where the City Council met).
Next to the Cabildo is the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously used cathedral in the United States. The cathedral’s cemetery is notable for Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau’s grave, and the cathedral itself is said to be haunted by at least two former priests.
The Presbytére building next to the cathedral was built to match the Cabildo for the purpose of housing priests. Both the Cabildo and the Presbytére are museums.
Boomer Travel Tip
Looking for a place to stay? Check out the 10 best hotels in New Orleans.
The Pontalba buildings flank two sides of the square. These were built in the 1840s, with ground floor retail shops and restaurants and upper floor apartments, inhabited continuously since the 19th century.
Your New Orleans walking tour will no doubt lead you through the six block long French Market, on the site of a Native American riverside trading post before Europe colonized this area. The oldest buildings in this complex date back to the early 1800s.
At the top end of the French market, you’ll find the New Orleans Jazz Museum located in the historic New Orleans Mint, which dates from 1835. A variety of numismatic and music exhibits will hold your interest.
Cross Esplanade Avenue from here and meander along Frenchmen Street (commonly misspelled as Frenchman Street), a formerly locals-only secret, but now a popular live jazz music destination, with pop-up art galleries and dinner show venues.
Stroll the Central Business District for a variety of shopping and attractions
Canal Street is the traditional epicenter of NOLA’s Central Business District, whose streets were platted in the late 18th century, expanding the city beyond the French Quarter.
This is the home of the Superdome, the current City Hall, Harrah’s Casino, the stunning Greek Revival Gallier Hall (former City Hall) on Lafayette Square, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the second oldest cathedral in the city after the St. Louis Cathedral.
History buffs will want to plan at least several hours at the National WWII Museum, located off Magazine Street. This museum has developed from the brainchild of historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote Band of Brothers, into a multi-dimensional, 4-D experience.
The National WWII Museum contains over 250,000 artifacts supported by more than 9,000 personal accounts. Note: admission is via timed ticket only.
Cross Canal Street at St. Charles Avenue to Royal Street to shop for rare, high end antiques and peruse the work of local artists in their galleries.
Revel in the lush surroundings and beautiful architecture of the Garden District
As historic neighborhoods go, the Garden District in New Orleans really has no rival. We found the most convenient way to get a garden district tour was to take the St. Charles Streetcar Line toward Carrollton from Canal Street. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has an easy-to-use GoMobile smartphone app with GPS and Trip Planner capabilities.
The mansions in the Garden District were built between the 1830s and the turn of the 20th century. Annexed in 1852 by the City of New Orleans, the district became a melting pot of opulent architectural style.
Your streetcar tour of the Garden District will take you past Lafayette Square, Loyola University, Audubon Park and Zoo, and beautiful houses of worship.
Boomer Travel Tip
Looking for a guided tour? Viator offers a wide range of appealing activities. Choose your tour here.
Come hungry for New Orleans Cuisine
Influenced by high and low Creole and French traditions, you’ll note Caribbean, Spanish, Cajun and Italian influences in the local cuisine. New Orleans is famous for its classics, so plan your meals accordingly.
Sample the beignets (French doughnuts smothered by liberal amounts of powdered sugar) with a café au lait at Café du Monde (since 1862 in the French Market; Cafe du Monde has other locations, as well) or Café Beignet (3 locations).
The best place to try a po-boy sandwich would be either Johnny’s Po-Boys (cash only) or the Olde Nola Cookery (a great way to get the Bourbon Street experience without the crazy). The traditional New Orleans muffuletta sandwich is best from the Central Grocery and Deli, an Italian grocery with a sandwich counter founded in 1906, near the French Market.
Local specialties with a New Orleans twist include oysters – both fried and on the half shell, crawfish – which you can have boiled, etoufee, gumbo or jambalaya style, and catfish – which you’ll want “thin fried.” Venture out of town to Middendorf’s in Manchac off Lake Pontchartrain, a seafood shack dating from the 1930s for your catfish, seafood, frog legs and po-boys.
For white glove, fine dining (replete with legendary service and dress code), you’ll want to make a coveted reservation at the award-winning Commander’s Palace. Located in the Uptown Garden District since 1893, Commander’s Palace boasts renowned chefs Emeril Legasse, Paul Prudhomme and Jamie McPhail as alumni. This restaurant offers a world-class, unforgettable experience.
Two days in New Orleans will pique your interest in returning
Depending upon your interests, you may want to do a deeper dive into the culture of New Orleans. Free tours by video include a voodoo tour, cemetery tour, music tour and specific tours by street. For longer tours out of town, such as a plantation tour or a swamp tour, you’ll need to budget more time.
We spent our time in New Orleans as part of a longer road trip through the Deep South, beginning with Florida’s Forgotten Coast. Now that we’ve had a chance to reflect upon that larger trip, it’s clear we should plan to return.
Extend your trip to New Orleans
While you’re in the New Orleans region, we recommend extending your trip to the following experiences.