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How to Spend Your First Time in New Orleans

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

I did it!!! I finally made my way over to the Big Easy.... New Orleans has been high on my bucket list for a while now, and I figured that visiting around Halloween would make it even better! After all, it is one of the most haunted cities in America..


The U.S. can be so different depending on which area you visit, but I don't think I've ever been to a city in this country with as rich of a culture as New Orleans. Being a French colony, being ceded to the Spanish empire, and then eventually becoming a part of the United States, it certainly has a lot under its belt. It almost makes me feel like I'm in a different country with its European architecture. To add even more to this, the Creole culture brings on some fantastic food, mysterious ghost stories, and even the religion of African voodoo.


Coming to New Orleans for the first time will obviously be exciting! Maybe even a little overwhelming, just with how many different things there are to do! Here is a list of what I was able to experience that I would recommend to any first-timer wanting to dip their toes in the Crescent City.


 

Explore the French Quarter




You don't even have to have visited NOLA to hear about the French Quarter... It is easily one of the most popular tourist areas in the city. One thing that actually surprised me was how big it is - We spent multiple days walking around just to feel like we got to everything! If you've looked up places to get some good Cajun food or where to shop, chances are it'll be in the French Quarter.



This thriving neighborhood is the home to Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, and even the riverside. Be prepared to see a lot of street performers, artists and fortune tellers!


 
Visit a Themed Bar


It ain't called the Big Easy for nothing... New Orleans has got a bar on every corner - you can even walk around outside with it! With so many to choose from, you might as well visit some of the quirky and unique ones while you're at it.


One fun place we stumbled upon was the Vampire Cafe - And yep, it's exactly as it sounds! A small corner cafe with gothic decor, where you can order vampire-themed drinks... you can even suck out of a blood bag! (a.k.a pomegranate punch with liquor.) You should also try out their food while you're there.... the gumbo is pretty spot on!



If you're feeling a little swanky, you will love the Carousel Bar. Located inside the Hotel Monteleone, you'll find it tucked in the corner of the lobby, with the actual bar shaped like a carousel... Didn't think that was cool enough? Well, it moves too! If the bar is full, even just sitting in a cozy chair nearby and gazing at it is pretty neat.


 
Hang With Some Gators on a Swamp Tour


At some point during your trip, you may start to feel like you need a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown. The best way to escape is heading to the bayou! There are plenty of different swamp tours about 30-40 minutes outside of the city, and will definitely give you a change of scenery.



We booked our tour through Airboat Adventures, where you can take either an airboat or pontoon out on the water to go gator-watching. The latter is a cheaper option, but both boats will give you a 2 hour experience out on the swamp. We weren't even 30 minutes in yet and we already saw some alligators swimming around! Our guide fed them marshmallows, which kept them around even longer. It was pretty awesome! We even got to hold a baby gator for a cool photo op.


 
Get inspired at JAMNOLA


I don't care as much for traditional art museums, but JAMNOLA is far from your average!! This museum will show you through multiple rooms that are decorated wall to wall with interesting art. Some are made with recycled trash while others were decked with crazy Mardi Gras outfits. All in all, this place is a GREAT place for selfies and photos!!




Once you make it to the end, you can make a 360 video! (No idea what it's actually called, but you stand on a device that'll spin around recording while you strike a pose.)


 
Indulge in the City's Food Scene



If you're a foodie like I am, you better get ready and put on your eatin' pants, cause there's A LOT to try here! Whether it be seafood, Cajun dishes or beignets, the food here is just phenomenal. Here were a few of my favorite spots that we checked out:


- Cafe du Monde (Beignets)

- Mr. Ed's (Seafood)

- Oceana Grill (the Jambalaya pasta... GET IT!!)

- French Market Restaurant (Amazing bread pudding)

-Felix's (Great oysters and alligator!)


 
Grab a Drink & Party It Up on Bourbon Street


Bourbon Street is one of the most popular entertainment districts in the country. I like to call it the 'Southern Vegas,' because that is what it reminds me of. A strip of bars with music blasting and plenty of opportunities for people-watching. Although I'm not much of a partier, I still had a great time spending a Saturday night soaking up the atmosphere. Most bars didn't have a cover when we visited and there are plenty of different types of bars also... Whether you're into country or hip-hop, there's bound to be a place on Bourbon that matches your style.



Aside from the wild nightlife that Bourbon Street has to offer, I'd recommend checking out in the daytime as well. A bit (just a bit) slower-going, plenty of shops to check out, and not nearly as many people.


 

Take a Stroll on Magazine Street


I'm not sure if this is where the locals hang out, but it sure felt like it while we were there. While I had seen many blogs mention Magazine Street while researching for my trip, I didn't hear about it as much while down there and didn't think much of it to go visit. We actually ended up here on accident after finding a nice Korean restaurant to check out (Little Korea BBQ is AMAZING.)


It doesn't feel nearly as tourist-y, and it's a great place for a nice, quiet walk in the neighborhood with some cool restaurants and shops. This is a great place to check out when you need a break from the French Quarter!


 
Get Spooked on a Haunted Ghost Tour


One thing that I cannot stress enough is how freakin' cool it is to visit New Orleans around Halloween time... I mean, you're in a totally haunted city!! Being home to the voodoo queen herself, Marie Lalaurie, and having many stories of spiritual encounters, it's obvious that you should take a haunted tour here.


We booked one with New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tours and learned so much about what when down in the French Quarter over the past century. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and told us about different times where she experienced the supernatural herself!


 

If I could tell you about everything you should do in New Orleans, this post would never end! This is truly one of the most unique places that I have experienced in the U.S. What are you most excited for on your trip to the Big Easy?






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ABOUT ME

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Hey there, I'm Shelby! Traveling has been one of my biggest passions in life, and so I'm here to share all of my great finds, tips and advice that I discover along the way. When I'm not on a plane, you can find me in Kentucky with my husband and fur child, Zoe (My adorable kitty!) 

I have always loved to write, and after many attempts at blogging again, I find myself here and inspired to share the world. My husband and I both work a typical 9 to 5, but make it a priority to plan as many trips as possible each year. I want to show others that it is totally possible to live a travel-filled life full time or on the side!

Thank you for stopping by, I hope you enjoy!

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