Where to stay: New Orleans is a great city to meet new people- so many of the locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming that you can’t help but feel at home in this gorgeous city. For that reason, I would definitely recommend staying in a hostel here, especially if you’re looking to enjoy the nightlife just as much as the daytime exploring. There are some insanely inexpensive hostels in decent areas of the city with excellent ratings on Hostelworld. You’ll want to try to stay in the general area of the French Quarter, although the city is so small and accessible that you really don’t need to be in the French Quarter proper to enjoy all of its charms. Many of the hostels listed are in and near the warehouse district of the city, which is also a great spot to be within easy walking distance of all of the famous spots.
Where to eat: Going to New Orleans means going to one of the culinary capitals of America (if it isn’t already, I just deemed it to be), so you really need to allow yourself to enjoy all of the types of cuisine that New Orleans is world-famous for. I spent that large majority of my time in New Orleans eating (no shame), so I have a running list of some excellent options:
First, you’ll definitely want to go to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever have in your life. There will probably be a line outside of the restaurant, and it definitely won’t look worth it from the outside, but it really is! They batter the chicken fresh to order, so the food takes about 30 minutes to come out, but you can truly taste the difference.
If you’re looking for some fancier fare, try Nola, a true piece of culinary art. You’ll pay for what you get at this restaurant, but for a nice night out it’s a great spot to be, and in my opinion, better than Commander’s Palace in terms of quality of food and experience.
If you want a fancy Creole dining experience without the fancy restaurant price, I’ll let you in on a New Orleans secret. The famous restaurant Antoine’s (the oldest Creole restaurant in New Orleans), where you could feasibly spend upwards of $100 per person at dinner, has a $20 lunch menu. For $20 you get three courses (appetizer, entree, and dessert), and they also have 25¢ cocktails as a part of this special lunch menu (limited to three per person). The cool thing about Antoine’s is that they have 14 beautifully decorated and historic dining rooms that you can tour after you finish your lunch, and the food was really quite good!
If you want to eat in a historic building within the French quarter, but don’t want to spend a ton of money, I would definitely recommend Napoleon House. This building was once designed to be Napoleon’s home in exile after he escaped, but he died before he was able to escape and make it over to New Orleans. The building is now a somewhat eery but really interesting restaurant with paint-chipped walls and excellent po’ boy sandwiches. Pretty much everything on the menu is under $10, so you can’t go too wrong.
There is also a street-food market called the French Market where you can get all sorts of produce and craft products, but there are also some highly-rated restaurant counters as well. If you have a nice day and want to try a bunch of different things, I highly recommend checking this area out.
And last but not least, a trip to New Orleans would not be complete without a stop a Café du Monde. This is a cafe in the heart of the French Quarter that serves almost exclusively beignets and coffee with chicory (a traditional New Orleans take on coffee). You’ll notice that the line for the cafe will be insanely long, so if you want a table without waiting at least an hour, go inside! All you have to do is stand in the doorway of the inside room of the cafe under the awning, wait for a table to open up, and grab it even before its bused. People move in and out of the restaurant very quickly, so you’ll probably be able to get a table within 10 minutes this way if there isn’t already one available.
What to do: The very first thing I recommend you do in New Orleans is take a free walking tour. It’s the best way to learn the layout, history, and culture of the city before you dive in to do your own exploring. I took the French Quarter Food and History tour by Free Tours by Foot, and it was likely one of the best free walking tours I’ve ever had. The guide, David, was absolutely fantastic and explained the historical and culinary intricacies of New Orleans in a fun and easy-to-understand way. He also made a ton of great restaurant and food recommendations, making it a great way to start your trip so that you know where to eat during the rest of your stay! Just be sure to make a reservation for the tour online as far in advance as possible, as there are a limited number of spaces that do fill up. I also highly recommend taking a day or afternoon outside of the city and visiting the Oak Alley Plantation. If you don’t have access to a car while you’re in New Orleans, you’ll probably need to take a tour out there, but it’s well worth the trip. I took the Gray Line tour, and generally had a great experience. My only issue was that they didn’t leave a ton of time for us to explore the plantation on our own after a walking tour of the plantation house, so if you want to spend the day or afternoon there enjoying the grounds, you’ll probably want to go with a longer tour and more independent tour company. This tour is also not the most economically feasible, although the price does include access to the plantation which you’d have to pay for anyway, but it would certainly be less expensive if you were able to get yourself to the plantation. I highly recommend spending a day walking around the French Quarter and Garden District, as these are probably the two most beautiful neighborhoods of New Orleans, and there are small streets and beautiful spots just waiting to be discovered! In terms of nightlife, of course there is a lot happening on Bourbon Street, but I actually found this area to be quite touristy and overpriced. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to go, I’ve heard on good word that the better place to be is Frenchmen Street where there is a ton of jazz and other great live music to check out.
Overall Opinion: I truly enjoyed my stay in New Orleans! The city and culture are a great blend of Southern American, French, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures, meaning that the food and music are absolutely out of this world. It’s truly amazing to be able to visit a city that’s been thriving since before the United States existed, and despite much adversity, continues to thrive. I loved when my tour guide said that the people of New Orleans eat what they do, drink what they do, and live like they do because they are in a unique position to be able to truly appreciate that the next day isn’t a guarantee, so if a storm surge gets over the flood walls again, at least they can say that they had an amazing day. As morbid as that can potentially sound, it’s a truly refreshing notion of living that I personally feel I forget sometimes when I get into the grind of every day life. The energy, happiness, and passion of New Orleans is truly contagious, and you can’t help but feel reinvigorated after you leave.