Located at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Southern Louisiana, New Orleans is well-known for many things. It is a city with a rich and diverse history making it home to a unique blend of culture, cuisine and music. Our three days in New Orleans was not nearly enough time to fully explore the city, but it was a good start.
If you’ve never been to New Orleans, I’m going to encourage you to visit sooner rather than later! In fact, I’m surprised that Grant and I traveled together for 10 years before our first visit. Perhaps it’s because we had both been before, though neither of us felt like we had fully explored the city.
Then again, with all of the various sites, sounds and tastes to be found in New Orleans, it would take a lifetime to experience it all. A long weekend will give you enough time to explore the French Quarter, sample some of the local Cajun cuisine and enjoy some live music. To help you with your planning (or even just your daydreaming), here’s our itinerary for three days in New Orleans.
It is important to note that the weather in New Orleans can be very unpredictable. In fact, it rained for nearly two full days while we were there. We certainly could have seen and done more with better weather. That said, we did enjoy being forced to slow down a bit!
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Accommodations and Transportation
As you’re planning your trip to New Orleans, it is important to consider where you want to stay and what kind of transportation you’ll have. There is a nearly endless supply of hotels all around the city at various price points. You can find all the big chain hotels, along with a good variety of local hotels and bed & breakfasts. If you’re traveling with an RV, there are even a good number of campgrounds in close proximity to the city.
Our visit to New Orleans was part of a week-long Louisiana National Parks road trip with our travel trailer. We camped at Jude Travel Park, which is located about 15 minutes outside of town. The campsites were very close together and there were no frills. Overall, though, it was a good location for the price (about $40/night). We saw several other campgrounds in the same vicinity, all of which appeared to have similar spacing and amenities.
If you are flying into New Orleans, it is certainly feasible to not have a car. Many sites are within walking distance of each other and there are plenty of public transportation options. In fact, after paying for parking several times we will seriously consider this option for our next visit! If you’re staying in or around the French Quarter, you probably won’t need a car unless you are interested in venturing out of the downtown area.
Night 1: Brews, Boos and Booze
After checking in to the campground and getting everything set up, we jumped right into some of the best parts of New Orleans… its food, drink and ghost stories! I’m not normally one for scary or spooky things, but a ghost tour seemed appropriate for New Orleans.
Crescent City Brewhouse
I’m going to be honest here… We chose Crescent City Brewhouse because it was convenient and had an open seat at the bar. And, well, we always love a good local brewpub! But, truly, we didn’t have much time and Crescent City was in the right spot at the right time. Thankfully, we made a good choice for our first meal in New Orleans!
Grant chose the classic pilsner, while I took a bit of a risk and got the Weiss beer, an unfiltered wheat beer. Somehow, over the past couple of years I’ve slowly turned in to a sometimes-beer- drinker. Honestly, it still surprises me that I have developed a taste for beer, even if it is a very limited taste. I guess that’s what being married to a beer snob will do for a gal!
For dinner, Grant dove right in to the cajun cuisine with an Alligator Sausage Po’boy. My choice of a Fried Chicken Sandwich was a tad more traditional but it was dressed up with a pimento cheese spread and served on a pretzel bun.
The food, drinks and live music were all just right for our first dinner. It was nothing fancy, but it was a good start to our night.
Following dinner, it was on to our ghost tour. We booked the “pay-what-you-like ghost tour” with Free Tours by Foot and we were not disappointed! I really liked the idea of the guide only being paid in tips – it meant we could decide what it was worth and provided an extra incentive for the guide to really do a good job!
One of the best parts of doing the ghost tour on the first night is that it also provided a nice introduction to the city. Yes, it certainly focused on the ghost stories, but the tour also included some history of the city and, of course, a glimpse into the “street life” of New Orleans.
The guide not only told the ghost stories but also discussed the “is it really true” side of the story, which I appreciated. He did not go overboard into anything scary or overly embellish any of the stories. The tour moved at a good pace – both in terms of the walking and the storytelling.
In all, the toured covered 5 stops, including the house used for American Horror Story: Coven and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. The former, the Lalaurie Mansion, has its own haunted history and is a highlight of most French Quarter ghost tours. The latter is one of the oldest buildings in New Orleans and, according to their web site, reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the country.
Even if you’re not into ghost stories, this was an interesting tour with a nice introduction to New Orleans and its history.
Of course, no visit to New Orleans is complete without at least a stroll down Bourbon Street. Seriously, even if you don’t drink you must visit what is perhaps the most famous (or is it infamous?) street in the country. Any time of day or night is fine – you’ll always find an open bar and you’ll probably find at least a few people enjoying a beverage!
Even on a random Tuesday night in April we found plenty of activity and energy here. We chose the patio at Pat O’Brien’s and each sipped on a classic rum-filled Hurricane. It only took one drink for us get our fill for the night and we were off to do some more people-watching as we walked back to the truck.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised that the night we visited Bourbon Street the crowds were just about right. There were enough people to give it a good energy, without so many people you couldn’t walk or enjoy yourself. Yes, you are likely to find a few eyebrow-raising sights (nearly topless dancers and suggestive t-shirts in most every shop), but overall it really isn’t a scary place. That said, I personally wouldn’t want any part of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras or any other large event or festival.
Day 1: A Walk Through the French Quarter
If you only have one day in New Orleans, the French Quarter is where you should spend it.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
We started our day with a visit to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve Visitor Center. There are actually six different units within this one park site… The French Quarter Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit and get information not only about the Historical Park, but about the history of New Orleans.
If you want more information on the Historical Park, check out our article on how to Experience Louisiana’s National Parks. Even if you’re not interested in the park, the Visitor Center is a good introduction to the city and worth at least a short visit.
Jackson Square & Cafe Du Monde
From the Visitor Center, we walked just a few blocks to Jackson Square. Historically, Jackson Square is important as it was the site where Louisiana was made a US territory following the Louisiana Purchase. Today, it is a picturesque park with Saint Louis Cathedral providing a nice backdrop to President Andrew Jackson’s statue. Not only will you find folks enjoying the outdoor space but you’ll also find a wide variety of artists creating and selling their work around the square.
Across the street is where you will find the renowned Cafe Du Monde, famous for their mouth-watering beignets and cafe au lait. We arrived around 11:30 to a seemingly-long line. Thankfully, though, the line moved quickly and we made it inside and seated in just about 10-15 minutes.
A standard order of 3 beignets should be plenty for a couple to split. If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll enjoy their signature cafe au lait (coffee with chicory and hot milk). You can sit inside or outside or even order from the to go counter. Service was a little slow and the restaurant is a bit cramped and chaotic; still, we enjoyed the experience and the beignets truly are divine!
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
Just a short walk from Cafe Du Monde you’ll find New Orleans’ second National Park Site, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. In the visitor center you’ll find a small auditorium which hosts concerts and ranger talks. We managed to walk in during a ranger talk on Second Line Bands which was quite interesting and informative.
While you’re at the visitor center, be sure to pick up a map of the 11-stop walking tour. We walked much of the tour route, visiting sites such as Preservation Hall and Louis Armstrong Park. This tour does take you all over the French Quarter, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you plan on doing this.
Muffulettas at Central Grocery
Following our walking tour of the great jazz sites of New Orleans, we were finally ready for lunch and chose Central Grocery & Deli, the home of the original muffuletta! This unassuming old-fashioned store also sells Italian staples such as pasta, olive oil and cheese but, at lunch, you’ll find just about everyone ordering their signature sandwich. In fact, they had plenty of them pre-made so that service was fairly quick and easy.
Each humungous sandwich is filled with Italian meats and cheeses and olive salad – fairly basic, but oh so tasty! Grant and I agree that the muffulettas we got here were hands-down the best that we’ve ever had. Though that is no surprise since it was the owner of Central Grocery who created the sandwich, way back in 1906.
There is a small dining area here but we chose to take our sandwiches to go and eat on a bench down by the Mississippi River.
Pro Tip: If you walk just past the French Market, you will find a set of stairs leading up to a small river front park with plenty of benches. It makes for a perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch away from the crowds.
Following lunch we decided to head out of town and explore another unit of the Jean Lafitte NHP, Chalmette Battlefield, home of the Battle of New Orleans. Like most battlefields, you won’t find much other than a large open field but it is still an interesting stop.
You should watch the short film at the Visitor Center to get an overview of the battle. There are also a few exhibits showing off uniforms, weapons and other various artifacts.
A walk out to the Chalmette house and a short drive through the battlefield will finish out your visit.
Dinner at Meril
For dinner, we had reservations at Meril, a casual restaurant by Chef Emeril Lagasse. It was obvious that visitors and locals both enjoy this spot. The relaxed atmosphere provided a great location for birthday celebrations, after-work dinner and drinks and family meals.
We shared several tapas-style dishes, which we enjoyed along with craft cocktails and local beer. The Smoked Gulf Fish Dip was a great start to the meal for both of us. Grant really enjoyed the Pork Porterhouse while I was happy with the Fennel Rigatoni.
The service was outstanding, not just in the attentiveness but also in the food and drink suggestions. If you’re looking for a nice, but still casual dinner out, Meril is a great choice!
Day 2: National World War II Museum
Our second day in New Orleans was a soggy one. In fact, there were some torrential downpours at times. To escape the rain, we did what seemingly everyone else in the city did and picked an inside attraction: the National World War II Museum.
Be aware that this is a very popular attraction and expect a large number of people, especially if the weather is not conducive to outside activities. To save time when you arrive, purchase tickets online and pick them up at will call. We actually ended up doing this while standing in line. Yes, the line was that long and slow!
This large, extensive museum covers just about every aspect of World War II. Throughout the four buildings, you’ll find multi-media presentations on the history leading up the war, the weapons and equipment used in the war, how the war impacted the home front and highlights from both the European and Pacific theaters.
The exhibits are interesting and this is a must-see museum. That said, the entire experience can be a bit overwhelming with the amount of history and information covered. We spent several hours here, including a stop for lunch at the on site soda shop. History and military buffs could easily spend the better part of the day here.
The Garden District
Following our time at the WWII Museum, we attempted to explore the nearby Garden District. But, first, a quick stop at District Donut on Magazine Street, where we each got a massive gourmet donut.
I chose the Sweet and Salty, which was topped with a caramel glaze, chopped peanuts and chocolate-dipped pretzels. Grant opted for an Almond Joy, which was topped with a coconut glaze, toasted coconut and toasted almonds. Both donuts were tasty and satisfying. There are several locations around New Orleans. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll surely satisfy it here!
From there we attempted to drive what is traditionally a walking tour of the Garden District. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t feasible. It really was just too rainy and dreary to enjoy the sight. If you have a nice, sunny day, then you could probably spend an hour or two admiring the grand mansions and lawns found in this famous neighborhood.
If you’re interested in touring one of New Orleans’ unique cemeteries, check out Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. This city-owned and operated cemetery is the 3rd oldest cemetery still standing in New Orleans. You can tour this cemetery on your own, but hours are limited.
Sadly, our Garden District and cemetery exploration was not successful, but we did enjoy a quick drive around the area. If we return to New Orleans, I plan to follow this self-guided tour by Free Tours by Foot.
A Quiet Evening
Since the weather was so bad, we chose to stay in for dinner our second night. This is one thing that we love about camping in our trailer… We can cook at home when we don’t feel like eating out.
Day 3: More of Jean Lafitte NHP
Unfortunately, on our third day, the weather was still wet and dreary. Seriously, this was some of the worst rain that we have ever had while traveling. It did make getting out and exploring a bit more difficult, but we didn’t let it stop us. For our final day in New Orleans, we visited two additional units of Jean Lafitte NHP: Barataria Preserve in Marrero and the Wetlands Cultural Center in Thibodaux.
At the Barataria Preserve we made a quick stop at the Visitor Center and then did a couple of short hikes. We especially enjoyed the boardwalk right at the Visitor Center and even spotted some wildlife along the way. First was a barred owl near the end of the Visitor Center Trail; second was a small alligator along the Palmetto Trail.
From there we headed west out to Thibodaux. Along the way, we made a stop in Boutte for lunch at Cajun Kitchen Seafood & Poboys. This was a small diner that was obviously a popular lunch spot for the locals. We were thrilled to have stumbled upon this nice little gem!
In Thibodaux, the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center tells the story of the Cajun people living in the bayous. The center has a nice exhibit area and several different films you can watch. Sadly, the rangers canceled the boat tour because of all the rain. Apparently, the water was so high the boat couldn’t get under a couple of the bridges.
Another Quiet Night
For dinner, we considered stopping at Dot’s Diner, which has 5 locations in the New Orleans area and was recommended to us by a couple of friends. Unfortunately, the timing just wasn’t right and we were tired from a long day of driving. Instead, we ended up picking up food at Whole Foods and taking it back to the camper.
Again, we really enjoy being able to sit on our own couch and enjoy a meal while still traveling! That is one of the best parts about RVing.
Final Thoughts on Our Three Days in New Orleans
With three days in New Orleans, we were able to see and do a lot. We probably would have done even more if the weather had been a little bit better. We are sad that we didn’t get to take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi, tour a cemetery, enjoy a jazz show or ride a streetcar. Still, we enjoyed exploring the French Quarter and getting out of town to the National Park and Preserve.
The food in New Orleans was amazing and we ate a lot of it. Still, we could both stand to enjoy even more!
Having a car was nice so that we could drive to Chalmette Battlefield, Barataria Preserve and the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center. In the city, though, the truck was a bit unwieldy. There were plenty of parking lots and the prices were not too outrageous but driving through town was still not a lot of fun. Chances are good that if/when we return to New Orleans, we’ll stay right in downtown and walk or use public transportation.
New Orleans and the Creole culture truly is a melting pot – and a tasty and interesting one. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you’re really missing out.