Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to New Orleans in a day! If you’re French, you call it The Vieux Carre. My mother, a native New Orleanian, called it just The Quarter. But no matter what you call it, the French Quarter is the epicenter of the Big Easy. If you haven’t been to the French Quarter, you probably haven’t been to New Orleans. The bad news is that there’s no way you can visit it all in one day. But it’s the perfect place to start if you want to see New Orleans in a day.
The good news is that there’s no way you can visit all New Orleans in a day, so you have a good excuse for coming back to New Orleans real soon. This itinerary will show you the best food, the coolest tunes, and the most interesting history. On the way, we will probably meet a psychic perfume lady. Let’s go!
New Orleans in a Day
Where to Stay?
New Orleans is the kind of city where you want to splurge a little on your hotel. After all, the motto is “laissez les bons temps rouler”, and nothing makes the good times roll faster than a little luxury. Plus it’s easier to take advantage of the New Orleans nightlife if you’re in a centrally located hotel, and those are a bit pricey.
If you want to see New Orleans in a day or more, I recommend the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It’s located right in the French Quarter, but it’s not crazy expensive. The rooms are comfortable and beautiful. Plus, the hotel is haunted! What more could you want?
New Orleans in a Day
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. It’s usually hot in New Orleans, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around NOLA. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
New Orleans in a Day
Morning: Destination Kitchen Food Tour
I don’t need to take food tours in New Orleans because my mom is from here and I know about New Orleans cuisine already. Still, it is my pleasure to take a good food tour and meet some fine folk and enjoy tasty vittles, even in a city I know well.
The Destination Kitchen tour of the French Quarter was a great introduction to some of New Orleans’ most famous foods. And it’s a great place to start your New Orleans in a day. However, since the tour doesn’t start until 10:30, you’ll want to get a light breakfast before the tour begins. I can help you out there!
24 Hour Treat
There can only be one choice for your first breakfast in the French Quarter: the legendary Cafe du Monde. It is actually illegal to come to New Orleans and not get beignets at Cafe du Monde. New Orleans beignets are squares of deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar. You have to drink them with a cafe au lait made with chicory coffee. (I don’t recommend getting chicory coffee black because it’s a little bitter.) These cost next to nothing and even come with a free glass of water.
24 hour Tip
DO NOT wait to be seated by a waiter at Cafe du Monde. If you see a table, go for it! Just show up at like 8:30 before all the tourists are awake and there will probably be plenty of space for a table. Also DO NOT wear black. You’ll get powdered sugar all over y’self.
Now that you’re nourished with sugar and lard, it’s time for your food tour! I don’t want to spoil the whole thing, so I’ll just start your mouth watering with…
Approximately top 5: destination kitchen food tour
1) King Cake
We started off with a King Cake, which is a traditional cake served during Mardi Gras. It is all decked out with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of gold, purple, and green. Normally there is a tiny plastic baby hidden inside, and it’s good luck if you get the baby. It is NOT good luck, however, if you see the New Orleans Pelicans mascot, King Cake Baby, which is the most terrifying thing on the earth. I warn you, you will never be able to unsee what you will see if you click this link.
For those of you who did not see the King Cake Baby, and are therefore still alive, let us continue with the food tour. Our next stop was the French Market, where we enjoyed an amazing muffuletta sandwich.
The muffuletta was the brainchild of Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans, and it is made with Italian meats and cheese on sesame bread coated in a delectably oily olive salad. The most famous muffuletta is at Central Grocery, but I liked this one a little better because it was warmed. Our guide also gave us a little time to do our own shopping in the French Market.
24 Hour Treasure
As I may have mentioned earlier on this blog, I collect earrings and Oscar of New Orleans in the French Market sells my favorite inexpensive earrings in the city. They’re so shiny you can see them from space. I went at Christmas, so I bought some red Christmas ornaments. If you go at a different time of year, you can get something fun like a crawfish playing the saxophone.
3) fried green tomatoes
Our next food stop was at Tujaque’s, which is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and that is saying something. We feasted on fried green tomatoes, which are not especially New Orleanian. However, they were covered in spicy remoulade sauce, which is very authentic to New Orleans. My grandmother used to call it “rem-YOU-lade”, which is wrong, but I’ve found from bitter experience that grandmothers do not like to be corrected.
4) Pimm’s Cup
This was washed down with a refreshing Pimm’s Cup, a cool beverage that you make using a British liqueur called Pimm’s. The Napoleon House in New Orleans makes the most famous Pimm’s Cup in the city, but I hear it’s a little on the short side.
5) Sugar time!
Our last food stop was dessert! We turned into Sucre, which was one of the most popular dessert places in the city, especially when it comes to macarons with fun flavors. (It has since closed.) Still, I have zero complaints about the hazelnut macarons we had paired with pistachio ice cream. A perfect end to a delicious and educational food tour of the French Quarter.
New Orleans in a Day
Afternoon: The Cabildo
The Cabildo is the Louisiana History Museum on the left side of the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. The Cabildo is not only a museum of history, it is a historical artifact itself because it used to be the seat of government when New Orleans was a Spanish colony, and it remained so when Louisiana became a French colony. It was also the site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase. But what would any exploration of a site of historical interest on this blog be without:
THREE historical FACTS from THE CABILDO
1) Didn’t new orleans belong to spain?
That’s right! I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea New Orleans was ever anything but French. There’s a really cool section of the museum where they show all the flags from each of the various governments that have used the Cabildo as a seat of government. It was like Six Flags Over New Orleans, if you replace the number six with “about a jillion”. Everybody wants a piece of NOLA!
2) who lived in new orleans before europeans?
The Louisiana Native Americans settled in New Orleans and used it to trade goods. A good portion of the first floor of the Cabildo is dedicated to displaying the crafts of the Natchez and other local tribes. These goods included a canoe that they would have used for trading. Here’s what I knew about the Louisiana Native Americans before going to the Cabildo:
3) what’s the most horrible fact in the museum?
I also learned about Quadroon Balls where biracial women would present themselves to wealthy young men in Creole society who were looking for mistresses. I have to give the Cabildo credit for being upfront about some of the more horrible parts of New Orleans’ past. That’s a spot of NOLA history that didn’t make it into The Princess and the Frog.
24 Hour Treasure
My favorite section of the museum is the section about different ethnic groups that settled in New Orleans and how they shaped the city. Since I am fortunate enough to be Irish and unfortunate enough to be a narcissist, I made a beeline straight for the section on Irish immigrants. This display also told a sad tale, though one I’ve heard before. A sad tale of potato famine, poverty, desperation, canal digging, and malaria. Also apparently Irish immigrants had a reputation for drunkenness. Who knew?
24 Hour Tip
If you have some time after the museum, explore Jackson Square. If the French Quarter is the epicenter of New Orleans, Jackson Square is the epicenter of the epicenter, the eye of the Hurricane. Unless you are only in New Orleans on a layover, it is impossible to miss Jackson Square. It is to New Orleans what Times Square is to New York, what the Champs-Elysees is to Paris, what the National Buffalo Museum is to North Dakota.
Jackson Square, or J.S., as it is known to its frat buddies, is a very small park. It has an open circular space in the center and trees on the side. These are all contained by an ornate iron fence. The most striking feature of the Square is the big statue of Andrew Jackson seated on a horse in the center.
Now that President Jackson is the star of his very own musical, it’s easy to forget that once he was loathed by many. This is probably because he was an egomaniacal murdering son-of-a-bitch, and that’s just what his friends called him.
However, Jackson has always been popular in New Orleans. Why, you ask? Why, because of a little thing he did called winning The Battle of New Orleans against the British during the War of 1812. That’s right, if it weren’t for Andrew Jackson, we’d all be speaking English right now.
Don’t miss the famous Pontalba buildings that surround Jackson Square in the French Quarter. They are especially lovely when decorated for a holiday!
New Orleans in a Day
Evening: Jazz and a Late Dinner
Preservation Hall is my favorite place to hear jazz in the French Quarter. The band is world class, and they play both standards and their own compositions. In keeping with the spooky theme we’ve got going on, I recommend their ode to the New Orleans cemetery, Rattlin’ Bones. Just keep in mind that you can’t take pictures inside.
Also, the band takes requests if you give them a five or a ten, but there is a sign warning you that it costs 20 dollars to play “When the Saints Go Marching In”. I bet there are plenty of rabid Saints fans who’d be happy to pony up that cash.
24 Hour Tip
Unless you are really broke, I strongly recommend buying a ticket online in advance. You are guaranteed entry and you are guaranteed a seat. Instead of wasting your evening in New Orleans standing on line, you can have fun exploring haunted mansions and meeting vampire pirate ghosts.
24 Hour Treasure: dinner at Sylvain
Sylvain is a gastropub, routinely ranked one of the best restaurants in the French Quarter. You can get anything there from a fried chicken sandwich to–no joke–champagne and French fries. It is a great place to get a late dinner after seeing Preservation Hall. Make your reservation for 9:15 and you should be fine.
I began with an appetizer of Buffalo-style veal sweetbreads. I love Buffalo sauce. I’ve had it on tempeh, and now I was eating it on baby cow glands. This dish is witty in its combination of the high-brow veal glands and the lowly Buffalo wing, but more importantly it is delicious.
Any gastropub that doesn’t have a terrific hamburger needs to pack it in. Fortunately Sylvain’s hamburger is excellent. The bun was sweet and fluffy and the meat was a perfect medium rare. I could eat this hamburger every day of my life.
After a day of eating beignets, a full food tour’s worth of food, veal glands, and a burger, you will naturally still be hungry. I recommend finishing with Sylvain’s smooth and très français chocolate pot de crème. Then you can just roll yourself back to your hotel room in the French Quarter.
Further Reading: New Orleans in a Day
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in New Orleans right now? Let me give you a few further reading suggestions to enjoy your trip even more. I like the Lonely Planet travel guide to New Orleans. The chapters are arranged according to neighborhood, which is very helpful.
So much great literature is set in New Orleans, it’s a little embarrassing. But a Must-Read is Confederacy of Dunces. This is really one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. And if you want to get used to the bizarre sense of humor we have around NOLA, you really have to read it.
I was literally named after a character in Streetcar Named Desire, so I have to recommend it. (True story, my parents actually knew Kim Stanley, the actress who played Stella in the movie, Kim Hunter, and she assumed I was named after her. But I wasn’t!) You can either read the play or watch the movie with a sexy, sexy young Marlon Brando.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY see New Orleans in a day.
If you want to add New Orleans in a day with the Faubourg Marigny and Frenchman Street, try this. If you’d prefer New Orleans in a day with the Garden District, I’ve got you covered here. If you’d like to add 24 hours on a full day tour with food and cocktails, click here. And if you’d rather add an itinerary with the historic Treme neighborhood, click here.