New Orleans is one of those cities you just HAVE to visit at least once in your life – it is quite literally unlike anywhere else in the world! But can you really see it all in 24 hours? Yes, it is possible! Of course, you could spend a lifetime in this city and 24 hours never seems like enough – but it sure gives you the feeling you just have to come back for more! In the itinerary below I share everything I managed to do in just 24 hours in New Orleans.
New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) has the perfect blend of French, Spanish, West African, Caribbean and Native American influences all uniquely fused together to create its own identity. Completely unique and diverse, it has become one of the worlds most beloved cities. I’ve been to over 350 cities in my life, but New Orleans easily made it into my Top 5, this city is magic – the food, the music, the people, the history, everything! The heart of New Orleans lies in the French Quarter.
24 hours in New Orleans itinerary:
The French Quarter
The French Quarter is the heart and soul of New Orleans and where you’ll spend the majority of your time on this itinerary. Take time to explore and enjoy the streets of the historic French Quarter with its beautiful architecture, colourful buildings and wrap around balconies.
Walking through New Orleans after dark you will see the real gas lanterns in the streets, making you feel like you have stepped back in time, and it makes it so easy to imagine how life was like before. Also have a stroll around Jackson Square – a beautiful and historic place – where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. Throughout its history it has proved itself to be a resilient city, rebuilding itself several times after great fires, war and natural disasters.
New Orleans Walking Tours
To really see New Orleans and learn about it’s colourful history you should go on one of the French Quarter walking tours. As New Orleans is America’s most haunted city, any tour you pick will talk a lot about ghosts, and I believe no visit to New Orleans is complete without going on at least one tour here!
There are 2 main types of tour, both around 2 hours long: the French Quarter ghost & history tour and the Voodoo & St Louis Cemetery No.1 tour. I did both tours; they were amazing and I highly recommend them, and I normally hate tours. But these were so informative, I learnt so much from them about how spirits still play a big part in New Orleans. There are plenty of companies to choose from, so you can negotiate the price a little, especially if you book the tour for the same day, which I did. The companies I used were New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tour for the voodoo and cemetery tour and French Quarter History Tours for the ghost tour, which took you to some of the most haunted buildings in New Orleans.
Voodoo & St Louis cemetery No.1
If you take the voodoo and St Louis cemetery tour you will learn about how Voodoo and superstitions came to play a big part in New Orleans. I 100% recommend this tour to get a better understanding of the city. Voodoo is an African folk religion with rites and magical beliefs that have become mixed with elements of Catholicism. It is very much present in New Orleans and first arrived with the slave ships from West Africa. When they arrived, the slaves were forcibly christened Catholic by the French. Fortunately, the slaves found similarities between Catholicism and their belief system and so were able to continue practicing secretly and keep their traditions alive, passing it down until this day.
One such practitioner was Marie Laveau, known as the Creole Queen of Voodoo who became possibly the most influential, powerful and feared woman of New Orleans in the 19th Century. Her final resting place is at the St Louis Cemetery No.1 – the oldest cemetery in New Orleans with its wall vaults and family and society tombs all above ground. As most of New Orleans is below sea level, it is normal to bury the dead above ground, which makes these cemetery tours popular and very interesting. You’ll even see the pyramid shaped mausoleum – purchased by Nicholas Cage in anticipation of his final resting place. Very close to the cemetery is Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park, where voodoo ceremonies were performed and jazz was created. If voodoo interests you, stop off at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo afterwards where you can buy crystals, incense, voodoo dolls and see the shrine to Marie Laveau.
I was so lucky to visit New Orleans during the buildup to Mardi Gras. This is the best time to visit as the city is alive, the streets are buzzing and the weather is not too hot or too cold. Accommodation is a bit more expensive at this time of year and lots of places do get booked out early. Therefore it is important to book in advance! Mardi Gras dates of course vary every year according to Easter, and so can occur during February or March.
The carnival parades and the buildup for Mardi Gras actually begins on January 6th. It then runs all the way up til Shrove Tuesday – the day before Lent starts. Therefore when I was there in February the celebrations were already in full swing . Many of the houses, restaurants and shops were beautifully decked out like this one in purple, gold and green decorations, the Mardi Gras colours. Mardi Gras beads, that are thrown from the Mardi Gras floats and parades were strung everywhere in the streets.
New Orleans streetcars
A great way to see New Orleans is by streetcar! Streetcars are $1.25 to ride (or $3 for a Jazzy pass unlimited 1 day pass) and you need exact change. A streetcar goes down St Charles Avenue taking you from the Garden District to the French Quarter. They depart every 10 minutes or so.
The St Charles streetcar is the longest continually running streetcar in the world and a ride in it will take you back in time, with the impressive exposed ceiling light bulbs and brass fittings. There are several other lines, but this is the one with the most scenic views. Therefore if you’re only going to ride one line I would recommend this one!
New Orleans Creole Food
New Orleans is known for its delicious Creole food and boy was I excited to taste it!
When you are here, try the food that is unique to New Orleans: let’s start off with the po’boy sandwich for lunch. This ain’t just any sandwich. I think this was probably the best sandwich I’ve had in my life! The local-made French bread is crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside. Traditionally it comes with beef and gravy inside, although seafood is also very popular. The name comes because it was typically a “poor boys” sandwich: it was a rather inexpensive sandwich made of French bread, spare pieces of roast beef, and then covered in gravy.
For an authentic NOLA creole dinner, try the seafood gumbo (essentially a thick soup served over rice) – symbolic of New Orleans. You can find these dishes at practically every Creole kitchen in town. I won’t recommend any particular restaurants because literally every single place in this city serves great food – the recipes have been around for over 100 years and pretty much everywhere here home cooks everything!
Nightlife on Bourbon Street
After a late dinner, I had planned to have a nice leisurely stroll back to my hotel in the Garden District and get an early night. I decided to walk past Bourbon Street on the way back. Seeing as it is the party street of New Orleans, I just wanted to have a look, see what it was about, then head back because I was pretty tired after such a busy day. This street is crazy, it had a nice vibe with lots of people drinking on the streets. Everyone seemed happy – even the homeless people getting involved!
Bourbon Street cocktails
The bars sell alcoholic drinks in plastic glasses you can take away and walk down the street drinking, including the infamous neon green “hand grenade” cocktail – served in a happy hand grenade shaped neon green plastic glass with a secret recipe. I remembered I was chatting to some girls in the afternoon who were walking down the street drinking these cocktails and they said how amazing it tasted. So I decided I would buy one and drink it on my way home.
I was enjoying absorbing the atmosphere here, listening to the live jazz music pouring out onto the streets. One rep tried to get me to come into their bar, but I pointed to the drink I still had in my hand. He said “sure bring it in, it’s fine!”, I was like cool, you can just bring drinks INTO bars here, I like it! So I went in and was really enjoying the amazing band playing and the great energy coming from the crowd. Everyone was dancing and partying like they had no cares in the world and they didn’t care what they looked like. I just loved it! I was lucky being there during Mardi Gras buildup as it is especially lively during that time of year.
Equally though, some people aren’t keen on Bourbon Street as it does have a slight spring break vibe to it so they head to other areas for the nightlife. Either way, go there, check it out and see for yourself what you think of the place.
If Bourbon Street is too much for you, or like me you just want to check out another area, head to Frenchman Street in Marigny. It is one of America’s hippest neighbourhoods with a bohemian vibe, just next to the French Quarter. Frenchman Street has plenty of music clubs where you can listen to great music, from street bands to jazz halls. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from. Frenchman Street is the preferred street for drinking and live music for locals. After staying on Bourbon street for a couple of hours, I came here to check it out and see a different side to New Orleans. I ended up partying until the wee hours with some really nice people I met there!
Garden District neighbourhood
Possibly New Orleans’ grandest and most ornate neighbourhood. Garden District is known for its beautiful large stately houses and some of the cities best and trendiest bars/restaurants. It is quieter and more relaxed than the French Quarter. Magazine street has some lovely cafes and clothes boutiques. Tours of the Garden District and the famous Lafayette cemetery No.1 are available and you can even see the homes of celebrities including Beyonce and Sandra Bullock on these tours. If I would have had more time I would have absolutely done this tour aswell, but I wanted to concentrate as much time as I could in the French District.
There is lots of nice options for accommodation at Garden District. I stayed in one of the grand houses just off Magazine street (the street that connects the Garden District to the French Quarter), it was so nice!
Sadly, we can’t mention New Orleans without thinking of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was a category 5 storm that struck Louisiana on August 29th 2005. It killed around 1,500 people, many still unidentified, and displacing hundreds of thousands of others. It was America’s worst catastrophe with winds of 174mph, devastating an area of 144 square miles (7 times bigger than Manhattan). Katrina put 80% of the city under more than 6 feet of water. Hard to image right?
One area where Katrina hit worst was the poor impoverished Africa-American suburb of Lower Ninth Ward, just east of downtown. After the hurricane, tours around this area became very popular. Luckily however, not long after tour buses were actually banned from this area after rightly so, the residents complained that they felt companies were making money from their misfortune and misery. “Disaster tourism” we can call it I suppose. I mean, I guess people wanted to see firsthand the damage that was caused, but I think there are better ways to help.
In this neighbourhood, repair is still being carried out now, over 12 years later. Although these days the area is largely abandoned as Katrina literally wiped out the neighbourhood. I didn’t go around this area, as I felt it would be insensitive to those affected. But I did speak to several people who experienced Katrina first-hand and they told me their accounts of what happened.
One place I didn’t manage to get to, but will definitely do next time is Algiers. Algiers is a suburb of New Orleans located just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. It can be reached by a short ferry ride from Canal Street for $2. This neighbourhood feels like a 19th century town with its beautiful architecture and immaculately preserved Victorian, Italianate and Greek Revival houses. There are several ferries each day; CLICK HERE for timings.
Getting to New Orleans from the airport:
A fixed rate of $36 is charged from the airport to most parts of New Orleans for 1 or 2 passengers. For 3 or more passengers, $15 each is charged. The bus takes so long, so much better to take a taxi.
This quote perfectly describes New Orleans:
“It’s cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture – even the local superstitions. It is unlike any other city in America, with a story lurking around every corner.” Ruta Sepetys
Thankssss New Orleans for the best 24 hours ever. This city certainly doesn’t disappoint and I can’t wait to come back!
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