My latest trip was way down south to New Orleans, Lousiana, and what a charming city it was! I fell so in love with the liveliness of New Orleans, that, aside from New York, it quickly became my favorite city in the U.S. With a renowned live music scene, a reputation as “the new Vegas”, and the yummiest Southern and Cajun dishes, New Orleans is rich with culture, history and a fabulous lifestyle. My partner and I booked a last minute, super cheap round-trip flight with Spirit Airways to experience what everyone is talking about, and New Orleans did NOT disappoint.
Here are my top picks for an adventurous and cultural weekend “down in New Orleans”!
Explore the swamps and bayous on Adventure Swamp Tours
Alex and I were most excited to get into the bayous and swamp lands of Louisiana and see the unique wildlife. In other words we wanted to go into “gator country”. The bayous are FILLED with loud air boats, mystical dead trees, and alligators silently wadding through the swamps. We booked a 22-passenger quiet boat expedition with Cajun Encounters at a local tourist booking shop on Royal Street. We booked our boat early in the morning when the crowds were light, before the party-animals woke up from their previous night. The morning air was cool and our trip included a lively woman to pick us up as well as drop us back off!
I prefer the quieter 22 passenger boat; you have the same experience and see the same sights but it’s a more peaceful and relaxed experience. If you prefer a louder, more thrilling experience, go for the airboats! On our ride, we spotted tons of alligators – big and small – and even got to feed them some marshmallows! (Gators are color blind and mistake marshmallows for fish.) Our tour guide also had a small alligator on the boat with him; apparently, baby alligators are eaten up by adult alligators and the tour guides in the area take care of the babies until they reach a certain age, before releasing them back in the wild.
Disney’s The Princess and The Frog was inspired by this location! Animators used this exact spot to create their scenes in the film! So magical!
I definitely recommend taking a swamp tour out in the bayous, but please don’t support some of these small businesses by purchasing gator heads, back scratchers, or eating gator meat. These animals, although scary to look at, are typically very docile and peaceful and are easily confused from the more aggressive crocodiles. Locals in the area hunt alligators for meat and breed them in order to kill them for merchandise. Seeing “conservation” companies cage up giant turtles and rare albino alligators made my partner and I feel quite uneasy. To read my latest blog post on how you can support the lives of animals by avoiding these tourist traps, click here.
If you feel the same as we did, please be sure to express how you feel to these companies and tourist attractions.
Cruise down the Mississippi River on the old Natnchez Steamboat
Experience the Mississippi River the way we used to – on an old 1800s Steamboat! Offering three 2 hour tours daily, this magnificent and giant steamboat cruises along the famous scenic river, where you can listen and dance to a live jazz band and offers lunch and dinner buffets, serving traditional Southern American dishes. Alex and I sailed away, danced up a storm (us being the only couple that danced!) and watched the French Quarter fade into the distance. This is a must-do if you’re visiting New Orleans.
Take the green line along St. Charles Avenue and spot the beautiful plantation mansions
You’ll find the popular and busy green line streetcar past Royal Street. A vintage car with wooden seats and straps to hold on as your ride felt like it came right out of Meet in St. Louis. I couldn’t help but sing the Trolley Song while we glided past all the shops and into the quiet wealthy neighborhoods of the Garden District. Along Charles Avenue, you’ll find mansions, Tulane University and the ever-so-green Audubon Park + Zoo!
Favorite Spots + Shops
Faulkner House Books
My favorite bookshop, Faulkner House Books is easily missed with its skinny doorways tucked along an alleyway street next to the St. Louis Cathedral, but you’ll transport back in time to the days when Faulkner used to live and write here. A sweet elderly woman runs the shop and this tiny room is home to classic and local interest books.
A Simpler Time
This tiny shop caught my eye from across the road and immediately upon entering, I fell in love. This quaint store features a variety of nostalgic and vintage merchandise, art, model airplanes and even an old Zoltar booth (which, of course, I slipped in a dollar to read my fortune)! Alex and I loved the old 1940s music playing on the vintage record player and even bought the CD!
Stroll Down Royal Street
Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo
This little shop caught my eye and my interest immediately! This dark and mystical shop is stocked with potions, tarot, books, voo doo dolls and spiritual readings. It also doubles as a shrine to the famous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau of New Orleans! Alex hated being in there and urged us to leave sooner than I would have liked, but I found it all completely fascinating!
Search for goodies in the French Market Place
Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral
Grab some sugary beignets at Cafe Beignets or the famous 1920s CAFÉ DUMONDE
If you’re visiting this colorful city, you can’t NOT grab a beignet! You’ll feel stuffed after only one, but I love to go all out when I’m experiencing a city, so of course, I had 7. 🙂 Expect long lines at Cafe Dumonde. You’ll find several Cafe Beignet locations, including one at the Musical Legends Park on Bourbon!
A local spot, Green Goddess is tucked away on a colorful alleyway street off of Royal and boasts an inventive local and contemporary menu. Prized on being vegetarian and vegan friendly, this was a great spot for me as the mjaority of restaurants in New Orleans don’t have many vegetarian options. Try the Rolled Uttapam, a savory South Indian pancake, the truffle grits (will seriously melt in your mouth), and one of their cheese boards! They also have signature fruit juice cocktails, like the famous Salty Mango-Banana Lassi. You’ll definitely want to splurge here!
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop + Bar
Best Live Music Venues
Explore the live music scene on FRENCHMAN STREET
After Alex and I had visited a New Orleans art museum, we met a local woman who’d lived in New Orleans all her life. When i asked her what live jazz spot was her favorite, she mentioned two words: Snug Harbor.
It’s a beautiful venue with an old western style stage and theater set-up. It’s a bit pricey, but the live piano music was amazing that evening!
One of my favorites, Three Muses is one of the few spots that has REAL live jazz music. So many of the clubs and music spots on Frenchmen did not play jazz, but more contemporary pop and rock music. This spot had a very local and nostalgic vibe to it, and the music was great!
Live Music on BOURBON STREET
Musical Legends Park
Live jazz music is always playing – day and night – at this outdoor music venue. A Cafe Beignet is also located right on site! Alex and I woke up early before our flight to catch some more music and some coffee and freshly powdered beignets. A perfect way to end the late night and a perfect way to start it – with music.
The Cat’s Meow
Stuffed with bachelorette’s and young millennials drunkenly partying it out to live karaoke, this was the first spot that my boyfriend and I started our Saturday night with. Although it took a while to get Alex to loosen up and enjoy the loud music and dancing, I thought it was a perfect place to kick start the night with. We arrived there at 8 o’clock in the evening and it was already quite a party. Five night clubs along Bourbon Street later, and we called it a night.
Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub
The #1 Best Jazz Club in New Orleans from my personal experience. If you only get the chance to experience one jazz club, do not miss Fritzel’s along Bourbon Street! Grab a drink, find a seat and be transported back to the 1920s with some loud big band music and some soft jazz. We spent a good chunk of time here, and it still wasn’t enough!
I hope you hop on a flight and get to experience the rich cultural and musical experience that is New Orleans! Spirit is always offering cheap flights, and I’m often seeing Facebook articles advertising $49 tickets, so be sure to go check it out! And don’t party too hard! 😉
photo diaries from my trip to new orleans