4 Days in New Orleans Travel Itinerary
New Orleans has long been on my travel bucket list - the food, the music, and the culture drew me in. I envisioned myself strolling down Bourbon Street; taking in the beautiful architecture with a drink in my hand and the smell of gumbo wafting on a gentle breeze. My vivid imagination prepared me for much of New Orleans but it could not prepare me for the kind, resilient, and incredible people who call this city home. Although Katrina seems like a distant memory, it is still very much in the forefront of the New Orleans consciousness. I could not imagine the impact their stories would have on my experience.
If you have never been to New Orleans, maybe because you think it is just a 24-7 bachelorette party, or a city ridden with trash and crime, I hope you’ll change your mind. New Orleans is a beautiful, vibrant city filled with some of the strongest, most welcoming people I have ever met. I spent four days in Southern Louisiana but I know I will carry these experiences with me for a life time.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to take this trip and for having Thomas there to share it with.
Our trip began with a 3:15 AM bus ride from Portland to Boston, on Concord Coach and a 7:00 AM flight with Southwest. As you already know, if you’ve been following Laurel and Iron for a while, I can sleep absolutely anywhere, much to the constant annoyance of my travel companions. However much it may annoy Thomas, I’m grateful for the ability to catch a cat nap no matter what the circumstances because we arrived in New Orleans around 12:00 PM and we hit the ground running.
The first thing we did was check into our AirBnB*! I am so glad we went with Airbnb instead of a traditional hotel. Firstly, New Orleans hotels can be quite pricey. Secondly, many of the hotels are located in the French Quarter. If you’re hosting your BFFs last fling before the ring, the French Quarter may be the perfect spot. Thomas and I, however, like something a little more low-key. Our Airbnb was just outside downtown in the Fairgrounds neighborhood. We loved how close it was to City Park!
* Use my AirBnB referral link to get $40 off your first booking!
After changing and freshening up from our day of travel, we did what you do…we headed to Bourbon Street! It was 3:30 PM on a Tuesday afternoon and it was still crazy! Of course, we got a famous Daiquiri from Mango Mango. I let the lady at the bar choose my concoction so I have no idea what I was drinking but it turned my tongue cherry red.
Beware! I barely finished half of this thing and it was deceivingly strong.
In all honestly, this was more of a bucket list thing than a real, memorable travel experience. You could probably skip the frozen sugar drinks and head into one of New Orleans famous bars instead. Which is what we ended up doing!
I found this fantastic website, Free Walking Tours by Foot, and we used the New Orleans Self-Guided Cocktail Tour to help us navigate the overwhelming bar scene. These are all pretty touristy and crowded but fun to see, none the less.
One bar not included on the tour but is definitely a must see is the Bourbon Orleans Hotel O Bar. I got a classic Hurricane!
O Bar has a cute photo booth in the back which was a ton of fun! The Hurricane was strong but much better than the frozen cocktails you find out on the streets. I highly recommend!
After traveling all day and hitting the ground with a few drinks, it was time for a snack. I’ve been a huge fan of John Besh ever since his Iron Chef days so I knew checking out at least one of his restaurants was an absolute must. And what better than an Oyster Happy Hour? So off to Luke we went.
Despite having lived in New England and within 25 miles of the ocean my entire life, I have never had a raw oyster. Largely because they look like sea boogers. But when in Louisiana…
And at 75 cents a piece, during happy hour, what did I have to lose?
As it turns out, a lot because I do not like raw oysters. At all but at least I tried, right? So, we ordered up some fried oysters which were a bit more my style. In addition to good fried oysters, Luke had amazing customer service and some of the sweetest wait staff on Earth!
With a little something in our stomachs, we headed back out to check out the famous French Quarter architecture. I could wax poetic on the beauty but let’s face it, a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
When dinner came around, we headed to Palace Cafe, a traditional creole restaurant. We got Gumbo Ya-Ya, Crab Cheesecake (which came at the recommendation of our waitress), and a salad. Gumbo is…oh so delicious.
I was skeptical about crab cheesecake but I would 10/10 order again!
It’s more like a quiche than a cheesecake - not sweet at all. We took our time here hanging out on the sidewalk and people watching. We walked off our dinner exploring more of the French Quarter before heading to the Airbnb for some much needed sleep!
Day 2 started out with breakfast at Toast!
Let me tell you friends, Toast became our home away from home. This place is absolutely delicious and the waitstaff and kitchen staff are all warm, welcoming, and kind (unless you engage Jackie in a debate about Tom Brady because she’s a Vikings fan and seemed a bit bitter about New England dominating the sports world in the last decade - all we do is win, man). After filling up on crepes and lox, we headed out to explore the Garden District!
Oh, and if you’re feeling sassy, grab a frozen Irish coffee to go!
Free Tours By Foot came in clutch once again! We used their Self-Guided Garden District Tour to explore the neighborhood famed for its Antebellum era architecture and for being home to the likes of Sandra Bullock and John Goodman!
The homes here are so incredibly beautiful and Free Tours by Foot provides some of the history of the neighborhood which includes homes dating back to the American Civil War. It is also home to the most famous Lafayette Cemetery No 1. Make sure you take some time to explore the graves here.
Our tour of the Garden District ended outside of Commander’s Palace, a famous New Orleans restaurant. We had planned to eat lunch there but the vibe was a bit stiff for us. I’m sure that it is fantastic food - it is considered to be one of the best restaurants in America but we weren’t feeling it.
So, instead, we headed over to Turkey and the Wolf. A hipster’s dream - Turkey and the Wolf offers modern takes on classic creole flavors. We split an order of the deviled eggs (which were delish) and a few cocktails (also lovely).
At the bar, we chatted with the staff and got some more recommendations. If you noticed a theme here, it’s that we love to talk to the staff and get their favorite places - because much like Commander’s Palace, the touristy places aren’t always our thing.
Talk to the locals, people! They know what’s up and they want to share their favorites with you!
When you’re in the Garden District, you have to head over to Magazine Street. Lined with cute coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries, Magazine Street is the perfect place to take an afternoon stroll.
After strolling through Magazine Street, we took the advice of the Turkey and Wolf staff and headed over to Miel Brewery. For a brand new brewery, I was blown away by the offerings at Miel!
We got two flights of four to share. I particularly like Birds of Paradise but everything was good! We hung out here for a while to take a break from the heat and humidity. They have a Nintendo 64 for your enjoyment. Thomas beat me a Golden Eye and Mario Kart.
What can I say? My video game skills are basically non-existent. We had so much fun here but it was time to head back into downtown to checkout Jackson Square and get dinner.
Jackson Square is known for it’s statue of President and war hero Andrew Jackson. The statue commemorates his victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Behind Jackson, you can see the famous St. Louis Cathedral.
If you can, I would recommend checking out the Cathedral. It was closed to the public the day we were visited. It looks like a castle straight out of a Disney movie so I can only imagine that the inside is stunning, too!
For dinner, we stumbled into Curio. What a pleasant surprise it was! Based on the bartenders recommendations, we ordered the Candied Fried Pork Ribs, Grit Tots, and Caesar Salad. Everything was absolutely delicious.
I wish we had ordered more here but we are adventurers and splitting appetizers just works for us. More room to try more things!
We finished our night out walking off all our good eats and observing the drunken shenanigans of the French Quarter before tucking in early!
Day 3 started at Toast again! We seriously love this place!'
I am, as we speak, sponsoring a petition to have Toast moved to Portland, Maine.
I can’t help it.It was just so good. I got a classic breakfast which included eggs, bacon, grits, and the best biscuit I’ve ever had topped with house-made strawberry jam!
After filling up, we headed downtown to explore the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.
This quirky little shrine to America’s first licensed pharmacist is definitely a must see.
Even if you aren’t a pharmacist, the mix of traditional Western medicine, voodoo, and folk medicine represented at the museum will capture anyone’s attention. Plus it’s only $5 to get in. If you are a pharmacist, like me, you’ll definitely want to carve out a little extra time to spend here. I had so much fun here learning more about the roots of my own profession.
Unless you’re a nerd like me, and like to read every single little plaque and inscription on every single item in every single exhibit, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum will only take you about an hour. But I’m a nerd and I lingered.
However, the warm, sweet scent of beignets called to me.
Listen, if you take nothing else from this post take this. You simply must try beignets. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t believe in telling people what to do or how to spend their vacation. Unless you have a food allergy, if you don’t try beignets while in New Orleans, you will live to regret it.
After asking some locals, we found that Cafe Beignet and Cafe Du Monde were equally matched in terms of service, quality, and deliciousness of beignets but Cafe Du Monde was more likely to have line winding along the block. So, we went to Cafe Beignet.
The entire cafe seems to be dusted in a light coat of powder sugar.
It smells what I imagine heaven to smell like. Beignets are hot, sweet, pillow-y pockets of freshly fried dough drowned in snowy sugar. They are delicious and they are worth every sinful bite. I also grabbed a cafe au lait which was equally lovely.
After sugaring up, we set off to meet up with our Nola Kayaking Tour guide, Olive. Olive loaded us up in the van and drove us out to Manchec Swamp for a two-hour guided paddle through the bayou.
This ended up being one of the highlights of our trip! Thomas and I both have kayaked before but I think even beginners could do it. Olive was knowledgeable about kayaking technique and provided demonstrations and tips. The swamp is calm and still and the serene, beautiful landscape is a much needed reprieve from the frantic French Quarter.
So, don’t let a lack of experience shy you away from this amazing excursion out of the city!
The day was fairly cool and overcast. Unfortunately, the cooler weather meant we did not see any gators, who are cold-blooded. We did see some water snakes and plenty of birds!
Despite missing the lazy gators, I thoroughly enjoyed this easy-paced paddle through the bayou. Olive introduced us to many of the native plants and species as well as the invasive species. She talked about the conservation efforts and the ways that the State of Louisiana is trying to reduce invasive plant and animal species populations to allow the swamps to return to their natural beauty.
I cannot recommend this tour enough. It was my favorite part of our trip!
When we returned from the swamp, it was time to freshen up and doll up. Thomas and I were headed out for a night on the town. Okay, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that when I say a night on the town…I mean dinner, wine, and maybe a cheeky dessert and being back in the Airbnb by 9:30 PM. #thisis30
We started our night at Katie’s Restaurant - a cute spot that was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network. On the way over to Katie’s, our Uber driver, Teresa, recommended, or demanded really, that we try char grilled oysters.
Char grilled oysters are served on the half-shell with a dreamy garlic sauce and Parmesan cheese and come with a side of French bread.
So we ordered up a half-dozen, along with Swamp Fries and a spinach salad to share. The char grilled oysters were delicious and healed my relationship with oysters after the disastrous encounter at Luke on day one.
While sipping on some basic b juice and enjoying the warm evening, I made a friend. A glorious, gorgeous, amazing friend. She brought tears to my eyes (because I was a bit tipsy and missing my baby girls). Do not tell Peaches and Paige that I had a moment of weakness…but I mean…
How could I not fall in love with this angel?
Our new friends said that if we are going to eat a Po’Boy in New Orleans, we had to eat one at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Lucky for us, it was walking distance! So, after slurping up my frozen wine, we headed out for a traditional Po’Boy.
On the recommendation of our waitress, we got the classic Fried Shrimp Po’Boy. And let me tell you, I would say this was one of the best things we ate in New Orleans. The bread was fresh, the shrimp were perfectly coated and fried, the tomatoes and lettuce added a something fresh.
It was a beautifully balanced sandwich and basically, everything I ever thought a real Po’Boy would be.
There are a lot of Po’Boy shops in New Orleans but Parkway gave me those warm and fuzzy neighborhood vibes while serving up some seriously delicious eats. We ran into more fans of anyone who beats New England Patriots which made the experience all the more enjoyable.
But really, why does everyone outside of New England hate the Patriots? Haters gonna hate, I guess.
Day 3 was an early one! We had to meet our driver at 8 AM for our tour of The Whitney Plantation. This is one the things I really wanted to do but Thomas did have much interest in. Thankfully, he’s a good sport and tagged along anyways.
We used N’awlins Luxury Tours . And I have absolutely no complaints! Our driver was amazing and gave us a lot of facts about New Orleans, the Antebellum era, and some of the plantations we drove past but didn’t visit along the way. I loved this touch - it made the drive out to the plantation go by fast.
The Whitney Plantation is actually a museum dedicated to collecting and documenting as much information about the American slave trade as possible - including collecting the names of hundreds of thousands of slaves that passed through Louisiana prior to the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in 1865.
This tour is not happy, happy fun times.
This is a brutally honest look into the lives of the men, women, and children who were working at not only the Whitney Plantation but the many plantations in area.
I am extremely grateful for the experience which opened my eyes to some of the ways in which slavery, abolished more than 120 years before I was born, still affects our culture and society. This is a heavy experience but one that I think will have a lasting impact on the way I will approach conversations around racism.
Even Thomas, who was not looking forward to touring a plantation, thinking we were going to look at a fancy house, was surprised by the experience. He was glad I dragged him along.
We had some good conversations about the way the tour challenged some of our own beliefs.
Our tour ended in the late afternoon and dropped us back off in the French Quarter. Thomas and I headed back towards Jackson Square because I was hoping to get instead the church but unfortunately, it was closed again for a wedding.
On the plus side, I got to see an absolutely stunning bride and her groom come out of the church hand-in-hand and get into a beautiful vintage car. Getting inside the St.Louis Cathedral just wasn’t in the cards for this trip.
What was in the cards was getting a drink at the famous Pat O’Brian’s Bar. I mean…when in Rome…
After a quick refreshment, we walked to our lunch spot, Cochon. We split a ribeye pie, smoked pork ribs, and mac and cheese. Everything was delicious but the real highlight of this meal was the pineapple upside down cake.
It was heavenly and delicious and a perfect end to the meal.
After an easy afternoon of exploring more of the French Quarter, taking time to check out some of the cool boutiques and shops, we took a little time to freshen up and relax before heading out to Bacchanal Wine.
This place is the backyard garden party of your dreams.
Shop for wine (or get a recommendation from the staff) and pick out a few cheese and meats. Then go grab a seat outside. Enjoy the music, the surroundings, and let the staff craft you the most beautiful charcuterie board you’ve ever seen. If you’re lucky, maybe The Co & Co Travelin’ Show will be there to serenade you while you sip wine under the stars. Magical…
After enjoying our wine and a beautiful rendition of La Vie en Rose, we headed off to our final stop of the evening, Bayou American Bistro. We saddled up to the bar for a few cocktails and an appetizer to split.
Day 4 started early with breakfast at Toast. Is anyone surprised? No.
We knew we wanted to leave New Orleans on a high note so we ordered the Chicken and Waffles to split.
Let me tell you, if you go to Toast, this is what you should order. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They were amazing. Truth be told, I have nothing to compare it to because this was the first time I ever had Chicken and Waffles. I’m a big fan.
When we told the staff that it was our last visit because we were leaving that evening, they gave us a couple of Toast beer koozies to remember them by. I was blown away by their generosity. It was so sweet and completely cemented my love for this place.
For our final day in New Orleans, Thomas and I wanted to really see the city the way a local would. So, we downloaded the Social Bicycles app and hit the streets. If you’ve been here for a while, you know that biking in traffic is an absolute nightmare of mine (read about it here).
New Orleans is a different story! Honestly, the streets are absolutely biker friendly with designated lanes, bike paths along the busier sections that take you out of the flow of traffic, and a general respect for bikers from the passing cars.
The app is super easy to use - just download, create an account, grab a bike, enter your pass code, and go! You can reserve bikes ahead of time, keep them for however long you want, put them on hold when you’re running into a store or to grab quick bite, and secure them anywhere within the active area when you’re done. The bikes were in great condition and so easy to ride.
We took our bikes over to City Park and then along the Wisner Trail Bike Path all the way to Lake Ponchatrain. This was Thomas’ favorite part of the trip. Check out a complete map of all of the designated bike paths in New Orleans here!
We spent the entire morning biking but decided to head to the airport a little earlier than we might usually due to the evacuation that was going on after the collapse of the Hard Rock Cafe Hotel.
I do wish we had had some more time to spend exploring the city this way, though! Bikes are the way to go!
Once we dropped off our bikes, it was time to head home. Our New Orleans trip was meant to be a quick, fun, foodie focused soiree but the city impacted me in ways I never expected.
The people are strong, generous, and unbelievably kind.
The city is absolutely unbreakable and being there in the wake of the Hard Rock tragedy highlighted the resilience of this great city. If you thought New Orleans is just a non-stop party, I hope I’ve shown you what a beautiful, diverse, and unstoppable city it truly is. And I hope that you get to experience it someday.
If you have been to New Orleans, tell me about your experience in the comments below. If you haven’t, have I convinced you to put it on your bucket list? Tell me about it!