The Ultimate New Orleans Travel Guide
Before it picked up the nickname “Big Easy,” New Orleans’ tourism slogan was the arguably superior “America’s Most Interesting City.” The sweaty, sultry Southern town nestled in the Mississippi River’s crescent has gone through plenty of change since then -- particularly in recent years -- but the city has undoubtedly lived up to the old tagline.
It’s the cradle of American music, whether you’re into jazz, rock, or sludge metal. It’s both America’s most European city and its most Caribbean city, imbued with French, Spanish, Haitian, and Cuban influence. It proudly holds to tradition, seen in its grand Creole cuisine served in century-old dining palaces and in its wild, joyous, traffic-stopping second line parades where marchers scale rooftops to dance. New Orleans has endured more tragedy than any American city post-9/11, yet it still celebrates with unparalleled verve and flair. Most interesting city? Yeah, you right.
Bookmark this page: It's where you're going to want to return as you plan your adventures in the city.
That’s why Thrillist has chosen it to kick off a new series of city guides that are unlike anything else you can fit onto your phone. Here we’ve compiled original stories, written by locals, on the best restaurants right this moment, the most authentic music venues, the finest places for cocktails and dance parties and life-affirming sandwiches. And you’ll find all the most important places linked up on a map, so you can plot the steps of your perfect New Orleans weekend, just by looking at your phone. Or, knowing this town, you can use it to get yourself perfectly lost, never to return to wherever you’re from.
New Orleans has been a legendary destination for sophisticated dining and drinking for more than 200 years now, yet even the past decade has seen a welcome boom in the number of bars, restaurants, craft breweries, and other expert purveyors of things you put in your mouth. Naturally, it’s only responsible for visitors and residents to oblige.
You’ll want to sample essential flavors. Start with the whiskey-anise bite of a Sazerac. Seek out the delightful marriage of crunchy, batter-fried seafood or drippy roast beef debris with mayo, lettuce, pickles, and hot sauce on Leidenheimer or Dong Phuong po-boy bread. Fall for the pillowy-soft icy slush of a sno-ball. Stalk the local version of the Bloody Mary -- piled with spicy beans, pickled okra, celery, olives, tomatoes, and even bacon, poached shrimp, and crab claws -- at joints like Elizabeth’s, La Petite Grocery, or Atchafalaya. And don’t leave town without tackling a muffuletta, that symphony in meats, cheese, and vinegar on a roll the size of your head.
Remember to eat responsibly; in New Orleans, your stomach cannot keep pace with your eyes. We’re here to help you pick wisely.
By Nora McNunnigle
New Orleans' food continually gets better and more creative, even when we’re talking about such staples as lobster rolls and pizza. These are the New Orleans restaurants where the city's best keep improving, and that we keep coming back to over and over. Click here for full article...
By Phil McCausland and E.M. Tran
Few of new Orleans' many signature foods ever fully translate to the outside world with the same vividness or richness. If you want to truly experience these mainstays, you’ve got to get them here. Click here for full article...
By Cate Root
Go beyond the obvious tourist haunts, and you’ll find a bevy of essential bars that capture the prismatic essence of New Orleans drinking, in all its divey, swanky, cheap, tony, casual, festive glory. Click here for full article...
By Scott Gold
Whether you’re piling your French bread with roast beef, fried seafood, or even French fries, everyone seems to have one that holds a special place in their heart/belly. Click here for full article...
New Orleans hospitality runs the gamut: swank, budget, historic, and spanking new. Rest assured that you’ll find a room to suit your aesthetics and your wallet. (Want a hotel that’s haunted? We got that.) Airbnb and other short-term rental services are popular with visitors who want to experience real neighborhoods. But keep in mind that they’re also controversial among those who want to live in their own real neighborhoods. A large, vocal lobby of New Orleanians contend that short-term rentals take vital housing off the market and threaten the culture that made you want to visit in the first place. So the recommendation here is instead to choose a licensed B&B -- the city supports oodles of them. If you want one no-brainer pick, try the historic Degas House (it's also a museum) on Esplanade, between Tremé and City Park.
The French Quarter
Compact though it is, choose your part of the Quarter wisely. The upper Quarter (closer to Canal St) is busier and more touristy; the lower Quarter (closer to the Marigny) is quieter, and the part of the 'hood where you'll be more likely to run into locals. On the upper side, the venerable four-star Hotel Monteleone might lean pricey, but it drips with historic charm (and has a revolving carousel bar!). You'll also find charming boutique spots, like the three 18th-century French Colonial cottages that make up the elegant Soniat House. Further down, where Quarter meets Marigny, the Frenchmen Hotel is a cool, cozy option -- with a courtyard pool -- at the foot of the bustling Frenchmen Street music strip.
Chains mainly cluster around the tourist mecca of the upper Quarter and the nearby Central Business District/Warehouse District, where you’re within easy walks of museums, dining, and galleries. There you'll also find hip base camps like the CBD branch of the Ace Hotel, which boasts a rooftop pool scene, a live music venue, and a series of ongoing, provocative salon talks and lectures that delve into the city’s culture and history. Another new addition to the area is the Catahoula, a 19th-century Creole townhouse turned boutique hotel named for the state’s official dog.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars in this historic uptown neighborhood, another popular if more sprawling area to stay. One offbeat option is the pet-friendly Green House Inn B&B, which boasts a luxurious (and clothing-optional) courtyard saltwater pool and hot tub with waterfalls. Or crash right on the St. Charles streetcar line at the elegant (yet reasonable) Columns Hotel in Anne Rice's old neighborhood and enjoy afternoon Champagne on the veranda beside its namesake pillars, in the shade of verdant live oaks. You'll be only about 3 miles from the Quarter -- this whole city is generally small enough to get from point A to point Z without much stress.
A short hop downriver from the Quarter is Bywater, the city’s most rapidly evolving (and most derided, as the Brooklyn of New Orleans) locus for new restaurants, bars and avant-garde art spaces. The funky Lookout Inn has quirky themed rooms (e.g., Elvis, Bollywood) and a tiny jewel of a swimming pool. The old Victorian that houses the Maison de Macarty is on the National Register of Historic Places, and boasts six luxe rooms and a tropical courtyard with pool and cabana bar.
Hey! You’re far away from home, in a place where booze can be carried in the streets and is served around the clock. Wow, what could possibly go wrong? If you fall prey to a New Orleans pitfall -- like the “bet I can tell you where you got them shoes” scammer, or even just too many Gene’s daiquiris -- don’t feel too bad. Vacation fails happen. But in the interest of preventing something more serious -- like accidentally insulting the city’s diverse and fascinating culture, putting yourself in actual danger, or, worst of all, not having as much fun as you could -- please consider our expert tips on how not to be that guy.
By L. Kasimu Harris
Take the chance on the place no one’s noticing. Great adventures, outside your comfort zone, always ride tandem with risks. Click here for full article...
New Orleans is almost completely flat, making it an excellent city for walking or cycling. (Cool tours, for foot and wheel, abound.) Bikes outclass cars in the denser neighborhoods, like the French Quarter, where you'll want to stop three times every block. Although the city has made great strides in bike-friendliness, walking and riding are probably best done during daylight hours due to thick traffic and, unfortunately, crime.
If you can get past feeling ridiculous, pedicabs are a surprisingly efficient way to get around the Quarter, and on weekends or during special events like the monthly St. Claude Avenue Art Walk, they’ll often run you into neighborhoods like Marigny and Bywater, too. The streetcar is a picturesque, if not particularly speedy, way to get up and downtown on St. Charles Avenue (you should do it at least once) or across town on Canal St; you can download the RTA’s mobile app to keep up with the schedule for both streetcars and buses. The most reliable taxi company is the venerable United Cab, though it’s generally a better bet to grab one outside a hotel than to call. Or save yourself the unpredictability (and the haggling) and skip taxis in favor of Uber and Lyft, which are easy enough to hail. Speaking of: The (fairly recent) introduction of those services makes us lean even further toward recommending that you *not* rent a car. Most places you'll want to be in New Orleans are a pain for parking. Only go that route if you're interested in a day trip outside the city.
By Thrillist Travel
We mapped the most essential places from our DestiNATION: New Orleans guide. Keep this in your pocket, to quickly find your way to where you want to be... and to get lost in all the right places along the way. Click here for full article...
After you’re done eating and drinking, or before you start, or maybe in between meals and drinks -- or maybe with a drink or a sandwich in your hand, no judgement here -- New Orleans runneth over with stuff to do. Tops on the list is live music, which was all but invented here (more literally in the case of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and really sludgy metal). Mardi Gras isn’t the only opportunity to see a parade; on Fridays the local alt-weekly, Gambit, usually posts routes for any second lines happening that weekend. If you want to learn more about the culture of Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs or Mardi Gras Indians, a visit to the Backstreet Cultural Museum should be on your agenda.
Outside the Quarter (you’re leaving the Quarter, right?) are some of New Orleans’ best independent bookstores, such as Octavia and Garden District Book Shop -- or, if you want to pay tribute to the literary city of Walker Percy, Tennessee Williams, and John Kennedy Toole Downtown, stop by the statue of Ignatius Reilly outside the former D.H. Holmes department store building at 819 Canal St. Want more? We have you covered.
By Alison Parker
Visitors and residents alike find themselves offered an embarrassment of musical riches in this town: You’ll mingle with brass-band street parades and dance sweaty-haired to post-midnight funk jams and sway to hot touring acts performing in glimmering fin-de-siecle amusement palaces. Click here for full article...
Otis Briggs may be the only person who knows what’s coming next in New Orleans. Since 1972, the clairvoyant has worked at Bottom of the Cup Tea Room -- a tea shop at 327 Chartres St in the French Quarter, where Briggs flips tarot cards, reads palms, and predicts your future in a city that lives only for today. Click here for full text...
By Sarah Baird
In addition to Sunday second lines and Mardi Gras parades, there are plenty of ways to soak up New Orleans' natural and cultural wonders between meals. Click here for full article...
“There’s this sort of salacious element to what we do. We’re not going to lie about that,” says Chris Lane, the show’s master of ceremonies. “But it’s also very artistic. And it’s about creativity.” Click here for full article...
By Dinah Bakeer
By staying solely in the Quarter, you’re missing so much of the real city, as surely as if you went to New York and couldn’t find your way out of Times Square. Click here for full article...
Do you want to be charmed by a magical, twilight procession of hand-painted floats and raucous marching bands? Do you want to get your kids some cotton candy, stuffed toys, and shiny things? Do you want to do shots while leaning against some 18th-century architecture? New Orleans has got the holiday for you. The secret to Mardi Gras really is that it contains multitudes. Yes, there is the Bourbon Street bead-throwing and boob-showing that most people dwell on, and you might want to take a quick detour just to see it, but honestly, that’s all it’s worth. Carnival Day itself is the true culmination of the lengthy party, which begins on 12th Night, January 6th, and ends any time between early February and early March. In the weeks between, there are formal society parties, scrappy neighborhood marches, parades for costumed pets, and a million other events that are all equally Mardi Gras.
Your basic etiquette pointer: Don’t let the spirit carry you away from common-sense manners. If you're not on Bourbon Street, keep your id on a leash. (And really, even if you are on police-saturated Bourbon Street, use some restraint. Eating baloney sandwiches in Orleans Parish Prison on Ash Wednesday morning after ill-advised nudity or public urination is a tradition, but not one you want to experience.) Be mindful that as wild as the party is, it's one that New Orleanians have special reverence for. So respect kids, cultural traditions, and even the dudes who stake out their spots on the Endymion parade route a week in advance.
Remember, too, that family-friendly here doesn’t mean dull; the massive old-line parades, for instance, are dazzling when you watch them under the live oaks on St. Charles Ave. (More risqué is the wickedly satirical Krewe du Vieux parade, which skewers current events and does not shy away from rude language and decoration.) Mardi Gras Indians run through the streets at dawn in their glorious beaded and feathered suits on Mardi Gras morning; at midnight, when the clocks tick over into Ash Wednesday, mounted police and fire trucks roll up Bourbon Street to announce that the party is over. You won’t be able to experience everything out there on Mardi Gras Day, let alone during the whole Carnival season, but as the local saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Within reason, just let the party carry you where it will.
Throughout this year, Thrillist will be rolling out massive, comprehensive travel guides to great American cities, having tackled New Orleans, San Diego, Miami, Austin, Vegas, and now New York. Keep a lookout for a new travel guide coming soon.
Writers: Alison Parker, Sarah Baird, Dinah Bakeer, Scott Gold, L. Kasimu Harris, Phil McCausland, Nora McGunnigle, Andrew Paul, Cate Root, E.M. Tran
Photographers: Martine Boyer, Dante Nicholas
Art direction: Drew Swantak
Production: Ciera Velarde, Gabbie Van Tassel, Tom Vellner
Video: Tom McNamara, Lainie Frost, Laine Kaplan-Levenson, Julie Piñero, Joe Orisino, Alex Velazquez, David Powell, Zac Manuel, Paavo Hanninen
Special thanks: Julie Cerick, Liz Childers, James Chrisman, Pete Dombrosky, Daniel Fishel, Rachel Freeman, Jason Hoffman, Jessica Lipsky, Bison Messink, Elaheh Nozari, Laura Reilly, Ben Robinson, Emily Teague
No thanks: Rick. That dude didn't do a damn thing.