The Birthplace of Jazz. The Big Easy. NOLA. No matter what you call it, New Orleans is a city you simply can’t miss. And in 2018, it’s celebrating its 300th anniversary — even more reason for you to grab your plastic beads and head South. From beignets to brass bands, Southern charm to Creole cuisine, the city is filled with vibrant culture and diversity. Saint or sinner, if you’re planning a visit here’s what you need to know.
What’s In This Guide
- Plan Your Trip
- Booking Advice
- Local Lingo
- Where to Go & What to Do
- 10 Instagrammable Spots
- Set the Mood
Plan Your Trip
Flights & Hotels
Check out personalized insights from your home airport to New Orleans, such as median airfare, when to book a flight and what qualifies as a good deal.
When to visit
April. While the Mardi Gras season lasts from January to May, the crowds tend to get smaller by the time April rolls around. But you’ll still find an atmosphere that’s electric. Plus, you’ll benefit from an average temp of 70°F. And even though the famous Mardi Gras parade will be over and done with, you can catch the French Quarter Festival from April 6-9.
How to get to the city from the airport
Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) is the most popular entry point for visitors to New Orleans and is located about 11 miles west of the city. The best way to reach the center of town is by taxi (which costs around $35) or by using the Jefferson Transit Airport Express bus (which costs only $2 and takes 45 minutes). To find the bus stop, look for door number 7 on the second floor of the terminal, near the Delta counter.
Good to know
- New Orleans Streetcars run throughout the city center but buses to places further out can be few and far between. Use the RTA (Regional Transport Authority) app to find routes and buy tickets.
- You can drink on the street and most bars offer to-go cups.
- If someone shouts the local phrase “Who Dat?” at you, reply “Who Dat?” back.
- Uber and Lyft are better options than attempting to find a cab on the street.
- Saying “Nawlins” or “The Big Easy” or bringing up Hurricane Katrina will put you at odds with the locals very quickly. Don’t be cliche and for the love of toast, be respectful.
Finding food and booze for cheap is easy in New Orleans if you know where to look. Take advantage of diners, delis and places off the beaten path. However, due to the popularity of the city, accommodations can be pricey in its center.
The Perfect Saturday
Only have a day to spare? Here’s how we’d spend it: Start with breakfast at Camellia Grill, a 1920s institution serving classic American diner fare. Wander around St. Louis Cemetery #1 (note: you now have to be accompanied by a tour guide) to visit the graves of famous New Orleanians like the legendary queen of voodoo, Marie Laveau. After you’ve paid your respects, hail a cab to Magazine Street for some shopping. Then, head to foodie hipster hotspot Freret Street and have one of the best deep-dish pizzas you’ll ever try at Midway Pizza. In your post-pepperoni bliss, go for a nightcap on Frenchmen Street where you can dip in and out of the iconic jazz clubs that dot the infamous street.
Based on median airfare, if you’re looking to find a flight deal — January and August are your best bets. March is generally the most expensive time to visit — with Mardi Gras festivities still going strong. We also found that booking at least 2 weeks before departure could get you some of the best deals on flights (median airfare: $256).
*Median airfare by month is based on travel dates 01/01/2017 – 12/31/20 and search dates 02/01/17 – 01/31/18. All coach, round-trip flights originating in the US or Canada and landing at MSY during this search period were considered. Our when to book recommendation was based on median airfare as a function of weeks before departure.
Mudbugs – crawfish
Dressed – As in “the po-boy is dressed” i.e. it comes with everything: tomato, lettuce, mayo.
Cher – a term of endearment
“Throw Me Somethin!”– beads, plastic cups or doubloons, a Mardi Gras spectator’s success will be measured by the amount of “throws” they have by the end of the parade.
Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler – means let the good times roll.
Lagniappe (LAN-yap) – a little something extra, if you get extra fries with your po-boy that’s a lagniappe.
Where to Go & What to Do
Note: Check out this map to see the areas we mention.
New Orleans is a big city with an even bigger personality. It’s made up of 17 wards, which locals generally refer to by their number (e.g. 6th Ward). And while walking from one area to the next may look simple on a map, you’ll be wishing you skipped that second Sazerac if you attempt it. A street like the historic Canal Street, which separates the Uptown and Downriver areas, is nearly four miles long and would take over an hour to walk. Instead, save your feet and discover the city by tram, bus or taxi.
*Note: In the interest of time (ours and yours) this is only a snapshot of all the amazing things to do in New Orleans. Did we leave your favorite place off our list? Snap a pic, post a tip and use #KAYAKTravelHacker on Instagram for us to find it. You may score a feature on our blog or social media.
The French Quarter is the most popular (and famous) area in New Orleans. Here you’ll find world-famous fine dining and casual (*cough* overpriced) restaurants side by side. Plus, there are plenty of bars offering outrageous drink specials paired with stumbling tourists. While definitely worth a stop for a few drinks (Pat O’ Brien’s signature Hurricane is a must try) and some amazing 18th-century buildings, you won’t often find “local” NOLA residents here. Worth a stop is the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum to learn about the rich, complex history behind the practice.
Tremé (pronounced tre-MAY)
Tremé is one of the New Orleans’s oldest districts. Get your fill of Créole food and brass bands pumping jazzy tunes out of every cafe and bar. Looking for an authentic jazz club? Find it on Bourbon or Frenchmen streets. You can also indulge in a cocktail inspired by la fée verte at the famous Old Absinthe House. And, of course, no visit is complete with heading to the infamous Candlelight Lounge on a Wednesday for a taste of brass band. Just be prepared to dance.
In the heart of the French Quarter is Jackson Square, a gorgeous park surrounded on all sides by museums and historic landmarks. The best way to experience this area is with a walking tour provided by the Louisiana State Museum. Standard tours are available everyday from 10 am and start at 1850 House, with ghost tours available on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t miss the red brick Pontalba Buildings on the corner of St. Ann and St. Peter streets, reportedly the oldest continuously-rented apartments in the United States.
Historically, Decatur Street was where sailors headed when they visited port. Today, it’s filled with jazz clubs, food institutions and a thriving underground punk and goth scene. Try the famous beignets at Café Du Monde, a renowned open-air coffee shop (head there at off times — think between lunch and dinner — to avoid the queue that builds up at breakfast). Take a peek around the French Market to pick up some treasures and finish off at the Central Grocery and Deli for one of their world-famous Muffuletta sandwiches.
Around the corner from the French Quarter are the neighbourhoods of Faubourg Marigny (pronounced FOH-burg MARR-in-ee; sometimes called The Marigny) and Bywater. These areas have become known for their bohemian atmosphere and as the place to be at Mardi Gras if you want to escape the crowds. Expect to find lively pubs, bars, jazz clubs, restaurants and edgy found-object art scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Many houses on Frenchmen Street are more than 100 years old and are still bursting with some of the most inventive and versatile jazz and funk you’ll ever hear. This three-block section of the Marigny neighbourhood is home to some of the most infamous clubs in New Orleans and where you’ll find younger NOLA residents spending their weekends. Make sure you visit Snug Harbor and the Maison.
Looking for a taste of authentic Southern cuisine? Jack Dempsey’s is a family-owned and locally beloved institution on Poland Avenue in the Bywater area. Expect fried everything on a platter. Get yourself some po-boys, catfish, oysters, lobster, rib-eye, mac and cheese — all classic soul food, all prepared with love.
The Country Club
Tucked behind an unassumingly elegant Southern-style mansion in Bywater is The Country Club. A historic neighbourhood establishment for over 40 years, this is the place to escape the hustle and bustle, and find respite from the scorching heat in the outdoor pool. This spot is a bit pricier than the typical NOLA diner, but you can take advantage of the Sunday brunch accompanied by bottomless mimosas.
A frequent setting for movies, Uptown is a complex district with smatterings of lively streets mixed with residential areas full of historic and beautiful architecture. This is where you’ll find fewer tourists and an authentic community feeling infused into every bar, restaurant and local business.
St Charles Avenue
Known as “The Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues,” St Charles Avenue is a major thoroughfare that runs through the heart of New Orleans. You’ll want to hop onto the St Charles Streetcar Line, built in 1835, to witness the oak tree lined street dotted with historic and prestigious mansions. A bargain slice of history at only $1.25 per person for a ride.
The mammoth Magazine Street is a popular day-trip for tourists looking to buy some local flavor, but at six miles long you might need more than just your own two feet. Our favorites stops are the quirky bookshop Octavia Books, Sucre bakery, hipster stationery store Box Paper Scissors, craft beer pub The Bulldog and Defend New Orleans, a local clothing store which gives all its proceeds to Hurricane Katrina services.
Perfect for shutterbugs and history buffs, the main thoroughfare is the scenic Prytania Street. You’ll find shopping, cafes and the historic Lafayette Cemetery # 1, an alternative to the often-crowded St Louis Cemetery #1 and arguably more beautiful. Make sure you stop for lunch at the award-winning Commander’s Palace built in 1893. At lunch, you can try one of their 25-cent martinis. Heck, thrown down a George Washington and get four! Just be sure to dress the part — jackets, pants and no sneakers are required attire.
The redevelopment of Freret has been a point of pride for NOLA over the past five years, the revitalized street is now bustling with restaurants, bars and it’s own unique personality popular amongst New Orlean’s hipster crowd. Try out The Company Burger or Dat Dog for some perfected comfort food. For a nightcap visit Cure, a cocktail bar that jump started the areas cocktail obsession — try a Cure Punch at Happy Hour (5-7pm every night) for a perfect start to the evening.
Warehouse District (Art District)
Originally built as an industrial area in the 19th century, the Warehouse (or Art) District can thank its revitalization to the awesome Contemporary Arts Center, a 10,000-square-foot-complex filled with edgy art, theater and dance performances. Today the area is home to multiple galleries with the majority of them located on Julia Street, which hosts a gallery-hopping evening on the first Saturday of the month. For food try the infamous Mother’s which boasts “the world’s best baked ham” and is wallet friendly (just be prepared to take a place in line).
Top 10 Most Instagrammable Places in New Orleans
- St Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square
- The St Charles Streetcar
- Joseph Carroll House in the Garden District
- Gasa Gasa Mural on Freret Street
- City Park Stone Bridge over the Lagoon
- Armstrong Park entrance sign at night.
- Marie Laveau’s tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
- Paddlewheelers on the Mississippi River
- Carriage Rides around the French Quarter
- The famous Carousel Bar & Lounge in Hotel Monteleone
Set the Mood
New Orleans looks like a movie set and Hollywood apparently agrees. NOLA has been the set of some iconic film classics. Get a taste of its flavor before you experience the real thing.
- Interview with a Vampire (1994)
- King Creole (1958)
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
- Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
- Tremé (2010-13)
- Girls Trip (2017)
- The Big Easy (1986)
Feeling that New Orlean’s vibe? Here’s a playlist of quintessential New Orleans tunes for planning your trip, taking a long walk around the city, or getting ready for a night out in NOLA. >>> KAYAK’s New Orleans Playlist