They say in the US, that a week spent in New Orleans partying during Mardi Gras, the greatest free show on earth, is like a year in any other place. Being America’s greatest bucket list city the thought seems well-founded. Here is our 2 days in New Orleans itinerary guide to get you started.
Known the world over for its Creole cuisine, unique dialects and distinctive live music, it is easy to understand why a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Orleans is an absolute must, regardless of the time you have.
There is much to explore in this classic and eccentric city of the United States, but even if you have a couple of days, it’s fair to say that you will always want to come back for more. So without any further ado, this travel guide will show how you should plan your perfect two day trip to “The Big Easy”.
2 days in New Orleans itinerary
New Orleans is a city that can inspire anyone, from artists, writers to musicians. It is better to get a feel of the city beforehand by reading some books on its history and people.
You can even watch any of the highly acclaimed movies set in New Orleans, like The Pelican Brief or The Big Easy to get a bit inspired.
If you are flying into New Orleans, you will land at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, from where it is just a twenty minutes drive to the City centre. Uber and Lyft run in abundance and you can get one as soon as you are ready to go.
Taxis charge roughly $36 from the airport to both the downtown and uptown districts. You can also opt for the airport shuttle ($24 one way) which serves the city center and the French Quarter.
You would not be leaving downtown on your short trip, so you won’t need a car. The city is walkable and most attractions are less than half hour by transport from each other. Plus, parking fees for cars overnight can pinch your pocket.
For a bucket-list experience, Mardi Gras time is the most popular for some people. The best period is the weekend before Fat Tuesday, which symbolises the end of the Carnival and the begining of Lent. Book months in advance and be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it.
Spring and fall are the best times for a New Orleans visit even though there are threats of hurricanes and tropical storms in the months of September and October. Summer tends to be extremely hot and humid, so carry proper attire as you will be spending most of the time outside.
The best way to get around New Orleans is either on foot or by public transport, as the city is pretty compact. Also, New Orleans is flat and it is easy to rent a bike for going around. In the peak season, public transport gets very crowded, but since the weather is best at this time of the year it can be ideal times for moving around on a bike.
Streetcars, operated by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority are a staple attraction and an enjoyable way to navigate within Central New Orleans. Almost all the major attractions of the city like Garden District, City Park and the Art Museum can be accessed by streetcar or bus. Cabs are a good idea after dark for reasons of safety.
Where to stay
For starters, you would need to book your New Orleans Hotel accommodation in advance for such a short visit to NOLA. To stay where the action is, the French Quarter is your best bet, as this historic district is packed with things to do.
Dauphine Orleans has super comfortable rooms and is just a block away from the infamous Bourbon Street and six minutes walk from Jackson Square.
If you are traveling solo or on a budget, then the IHSP French Quarter House Hostel is where you should stay. At $22 per night, this is one of the most popular hotels in New Orleans.
For those seeking luxury The Waldorf Astoria or The Roosevelt Hotel are both elegant and chic. The hotel’s have excellent rooftop views, and though not in the French Quarter are a couple of minutes walk from the famous Canal Street.
DAY ONE- MORNING
Do not miss out on a breakfast at Cafe Du Monde, the famous beignet restaurant chain, you may have heard from friends.Now there are a total of ten of these iconic coffee stands in the city’s Metropolitan Area and the perfect way to have your first taste of traditional New Orleans food.
You may find long lines, but don’t get intimidated as they move very fast and you can get served in about fifteen minutes max. If you don’t want a sit-down meal, there is a separate line for takeaway. Everything was delightful, including the friendly staff.
Many famous cocktails have their roots in New Orleans, so taking a pub tour is essential. A tour of the French Quarter provides a lesson about their history. You will spend a lot of time here during your two days, so branch out to Esplanade Street to try something local for lunch.
Jackson’s Square, a block away from Royal Street in the French Quarter is full of acrobats, musicians and magicians, right from early morning to late night when the crowds start to disperse.
DAY ONE- AFTERNOON
Liuzza’s are a well-loved staple of New Orleans which include a version of po-boy and BBQ shrimp in flavoured sauce. Once done, head back to the French Quarter to check out the crazy Bourbon Street. Full of strip joints and nightclubs, the place tends to get busy and loud as the day wears on. Check the place on the first day itself after finding a perch on any of the balconies to watch the madness unfold below.
The National World War II Museum is excellent and takes a bit of time to explore, so I recommend heading there straight from Bourbon Street as it closes at 5pm. Purchase your tickets in advance to gain admission.There are a number of experiences on offer, including an “Out of the Vault” tour where visitors can see artifacts which are not on display to the general public.
DAY ONE- EVENING
For a better insight on the city’s culinary scene, you must try a meal at Destination Kitchen in the French Quarter.This is one outlet where you get to try out all the New Orleans traditional favorites such as, Jambalaya and Gumbo in an informal way.
Once dinner is finished, walk to Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. This area is known for its street performers and live music shows. If you like dancing, you can groove to everything from salsa to jazz at any of the bars and nightclubs.
Day two- Morning
Start your second morning with a walking tour of French Market.The Palace Market here is packed with food stalls and a community flea market selling local jewelry and art. Do some souvenir shopping and then sit down and grab something to eat.You will certainly come across some hidden gems in this open-air market.
Use your second day of your New Orleans itinerary for getting to know the Garden District and Uptown New Orleans. This part of the city is known for its vibrant dining scene and oak-lined streets. You can pick up a Jazzy Pass for $3 for a full day of journey on buses and streetcars. Begin your morning part of the tour by taking a ride Uptown on the iconic St Charles Streetcar from Canal Street.
Stop for a brunch at Commander’s Palace, which keeps getting awards year after year. Believe me, any trip to New Orleans is incomplete without a Commander’s experience.
Head out on a Garden District Walking tour and marvel at the Gothic, Swiss Chalet and Queen Anne mansions. You will see them all on your stroll around the neighborhood. You can take a quick walk through Lafayette Cemetery. As the city has a high water table, a cemetery tour is a must. Admission is free and you do not need a guide, unlike on other cemetery tours.
DAY TWO- AFTERNOON
All the walking must have given you an appetite by now, so take a streetcar to the Camellia Grill for some excellent cheeseburgers and pecan pie.Take the streetcar to Napoleon Avenue to explore the shops on Magazine Street. From home decor to antiques, this place is five miles of pure joy. Grab a coffee from any of the shops lining the street and watch the world go by.
One of the most recognisable plaza in New Orleans is Jackson Square. Apart from unparalleled photo opportunities, a favorite thing to do here is marvel at the works of the street artists who display their work on a long iron fence.The arts are impressive and make for great souvenirs to take back home.
Even if you are not a catholic, do spend some time in the St Louis Cathedral.It looks stunning from outside, but it’s true beauty lies within the facade, as the level of detail is absolutely remarkable.
DAY TWO- EVENING
There are several great options on Magazine Street for dinner, but some of the best to cap off your last night are Coquette and La Petite Grocery. Here are some other places to check out:
- Today’s: Cajun Food
- Gris-Gris: Creole and Southern
- Jacques-Imo’s Cafe- Cajun/Creole
After your Magazine Street visit, sign off your last night in New Orleans with a visit to Allways Lounge for an authentic New Orleans burlesque experience. Here, the Marigny Cabaret Club is the area where artists perform plays, theater and music concerts and some of the most exciting burlesque performances in the city.
Day trips from New Orleans
While there are a plethora of things to enjoy and experience in New Orleans, the surroundings make for some fascinating day trips.
If you are a New Orleans history buff, a visit to a plantation just outside the city is recommended. It takes a better part of the day to visit Oak Alley Plantation and with only two days it is a bit ambitious to fit it into a regular New Orleans itinerary.
At Oak Alley you can explore all facets of the plantations past. This compelling experience is set over 25 acres and a stunning walkway lined up with 300 year oak trees.
Drifting along the Mississippi River is another delightful way to experience the history of the city.The only authentic steamboat which is still in operation, Natchez, offers a number of cruise options, depending on what you are interested in.
Under an hour and a half away from the city lies the Mississippi coast and a number of tranquil beaches on it. The quaint but laid-back coastal towns offer just the right getaway for rest and relaxation. Some of the pristine stretches are situated between Ocean Springs and Gulfport.
Swamp tours south of New Orleans are also popular for day trips. Take care to shop for costs and services offered carefully. Visiting Cajun Country, 140 miles west of New Orleans is also fun. Tour is a must for antique and history lovers.
Baton Rouge, 80 miles west, boasts of top class museums and the tallest Capitol building in the US as well as Louisiay State University.
Packing for New Orleans is no different than other cities of the United States, except that between the months of March and September, the humidity reaches very uncomfortable levels. Packing light is also important as you will be walking most of the time. A few things to bring are:
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Map or smartphone app
- Three casual tee-shirts
- One light jacket or sweater
- One rain jacket and umbrella
- Socks- four pairs
- One resumable water bottle
- Four pairs of underwear
For Mardi Gras time add a sarong to sit on the curb or grass. Travel light and buy stuff like sunscreen and toiletries once there.
Unfortunately, the violent crime data of New Orleans is several notches above the national average, and is generally considered unsafe for travelers. Using common sense and following practical safety tips, New Orleans is still worth a visit.
Here are some precautions and tips for your first visit to New Orleans:
- Be aware of your surroundings after dark and look for areas that are well-lit.
- Don’t carry a big purse or put your wallet in your back pocket.
- Beware of scamsters as people may approach you for helping in directions or asking other irrelevant questions.
- The French Quarter and Bourbon Street are popular with visitors and this is where petty crimes are rife.
Do not travel alone when a lot of drinking is involved. Do not stray away from the boulevard into other parts of central New Orleans after dark.
From American standards, New Orleans is a fairly inexpensive city than the others in the country. In normal times you would need to shell out under $20 for a meal, unless of course you plan to visit during the festive season. Rates at this time are slightly on the higher side, so plan months in advance as accommodation gets sold out fast.
Of course there are activities for which you need to pay, but it is easy to get around on your own. To gain some background knowledge, sign up for a free tour with Free Tours by Foot, a daily tour which commences at 1330 hours and lasts two hours, covering more than ten attractions of the Garden District.
Several tour operators offer package discounts and discount passes which can get you better rates on tours and attractions, including the plantation tours.
Alternate tour suggestions
Here is some insider information for some other attractions to visit on your two day itinerary:
- The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter showcases a medical establishment dating back to the 119th century. For $5 you can attend one of the scariest shows in the neighborhood.
- One block away lies the Historic New Orleans Collection, a free museum of local history housing a permanent collection of special exhibits.
- The Warehouse District, just outside downtown, is home to fine restaurants, museums and a Riverwalk. This is a half a mile long stretch having more than 200 shops.
Other New Orleans tips
Here are some insider tips to enhance your trip to The Big Easy:
- The ferry from the base of Canal Street to Algiers Point is free for pedestrians and provides wonderful photo opportunities of the harbor and the city’s skyline.
- During Mardi Gras time, park and then ride to the parades as the parking space is limited. Fines for cars that are towed away are pretty high.
- Many places prefer cash, so wearing a money belt is an absolute must.
New Orleans is a place like no other. Honestly speaking, the Crescent City should keep you occupied for not just two days but for quite some time.You can spend a week, a month or even a year and still discover newer things that will make you come back for more.
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