THE ICONIC QUARTER IN 1 DAYYou could spend days, weeks even, in the glorious, historic French Quarter, but even if you only have 1 day to explore, you can’t go wrong here. This very full day includes all the requisites for an ideal New Orleans visit: eating, walking, drinking, soaking in some history, eating more, music, and dancing. Tip: As you stroll the neighborhood, check out the building exteriors: apart from the ironwork (mostly slave-made, originally), they’re actually on the plain side. The Creoles saved the embellishments for their indoor living quarters. Start: Along the riverfront at St. Louis Street.
Hour 1: A Riverfront Stroll in Woldenberg Park
Rise with the riverboats, and take a walk along the Moonwalk pedestrian walkway (named for former Mayor Moon Landrieu, not a dance step), which parallels the river on one side and grassy, sculpture-dotted Woldenberg Park on the other. Stop to notice some of the curious public art installations and take in the sight of the vessels rounding the curving crescent in Ol’ Man River, much as they have for centuries. Washington Artillery Park, the platform above the steps just across from Jackson Square (named for General/President Andrew, not Michael, King of Pop), provides a perfect picture-taking perch.
Hour 2: Café du Monde
Downing a cup of creamy, chicory-laced café au lait (coffee with milk) and savoring beignets covered in powdered sugar is the ideal way to start a New Orleans day. Watch this city come to lazy life as carriage drivers queue up across the street. If the line for a table is too long, go around back, get your beignets to go, and walk across to Jackson Square to enjoy them from a park bench. Hint: Dark clothes and powdered sugar don’t mix.
Hour 3: St. Louis Cathedral
It’s not the most inspiring ecclesiastical building, but it is the center of spiritual life for a town that is surprisingly devoutly Catholic (it’s always a shock to note how many foreheads bear ashes the day after Mardi Gras’ frantic antics). Legend has it that the serene garden in the back was a favorite haunt of good Catholic Marie Laveau—better known as the Voodoo Queen. Not even the infamous Pere Antoine, sent to New Orleans by the Office of the Inquisition, could convince Madame Laveau to forsake Voodoo. The imposing statue of Jesus lost a thumb to Katrina; at night its stunning shadow is otherworldly.
Hour 4: The Presbytère & the Cabildo
The former home of the priests who worked at St. Louis Cathedral has been turned into a museum housing a terrific “Living with Hurricanes” exhibit. It’s well worth an hour. If you still have time, the Cabildo museum (on the other side of St. Louis Cathedral) is where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. Its exhibits illustrate New Orleans and Louisiana history and culture, including Mardi Gras. Our favorite item? Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask. For real.
Hour 5: Muffuletta at Central Grocery
Ya gotta do it. Gotta get a muffuletta from Central Grocery, whose version of the celebrated Italian sandwich—filled with olive salad, Italian cold cuts, and cheese—is ginormous; half is more than enough for one hungry person. Eat in at the tiny tables in back or thread your way through the buildings across the street to chow down along the banks of the Mississippi.
Option: If you’d rather shop than stroll, take a detour to the French Market, two blocks down and across the street.
Hour 6: Shops & Street Color on Royal Street
Royal Street is lined with swanky antiques, art, and clothing shops and has loads of antebellum eye candy, architecturally speaking. Be sure to browse the sublime and ridiculous collection at M.S. Rau, at 630 Royal. The 100+ year-old antiques store welcomes gawkers. Several blocks of Royal are closed to vehicles from 11am to 4pm, and colorful street performers, from the talented to the tawdry, entertain for tips.
Hour 7: Bourbon Street
Dusk is the best time to do Bourbon, when it’s not too tame and it’s not too rowdy. Sure, Bourbon Street is gaudy, loud, and sometimes even gross. But before the sleaziness gets serious and the obnoxiousness sets in, when music pours out the doors and dancers and barmen hawk their wares, it’s also seductive and exhilarating. Everyone has to do it once; some do it often. Have a pre-dinner cocktail at Galatoire’s 33, the new classic on the street, or a legendary Hurricane on the always-lively patio at Pat O’Brien’s.
Hour 8: Brennan's Restaurant
Food is an intensely important part of your time in New Orleans, and you must dine well, several times daily. For your iconic French Quarter dinner, hit Brennan's, whichis named for the famed first family of New Orleans restaurants and lives up to the mantle.
Hour 9: Let the Good Times Roll
Nightlife is essential to your day. Do not miss Preservation Hall—it’s affordable, and it’s the real, traditional jazz McCoy. Late-night munchies? Head for Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar for a dozen raw. Still going? Slink into the swanky Jazz Playhouse, where the city’s finest jazzmen and -women play and burlesque performers take the late-night stage. When you finally must, collapse in your bed. If you’re exhausted, full, smiling, and anticipating tomorrow, your day has been a success.
BEYOND THE QUARTER IN 1 DAY
You’ve had your day of exploring the Quarter. Now get out of the Quarter, get out of the Quarter, get out of the Quarter! Today you must explore New Orleans beyond the French Quarter, and we send you to the other side of the city for a completely different perspective. It’s another full day, packed with great stuff to see and do. And eat. Start: St. Charles Streetcar line, Canal Street stop.
Hour 1: St. Charles Avenue StreetcarHop on the oldest continuously operating wooden streetcar in the country. Expect breezes through open windows, not air-conditioning, so doing this in the cool of the morning is a good idea. Admire the gorgeous homes and sprawling oaks along the way, and remember which side of the car you rode on so that you can sit on the other side for the ride back. (Tip: Get a JazzyPass, good for a full day of streetcar and bus transportation).
Hours 2–3: The Garden District
Aside from its historical significance, this neighborhood of fabulous houses and lush greenery is just plain beautiful. Contrast the plain exteriors of the “French” Quarter with these grand, ornamented “American district” spectacles. Follow the walking tour on or take a guided tour from Historic New Orleans Tours. Start at the Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania St. at Washington Ave.
Hour 4: Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
The “little cities of the dead” are part of the iconic landscape of New Orleans. This pretty cemetery catered to Uptown folks, and has more foliage and room than others. Notice the tombs with French or German writing, and the four matching mausoleums in the far left corner. They belong to four boyhood friends (one a Civil War vet) who once played together here. Like many of the city’s cemeteries, Lafayette No. 1 is in great need of maintenance and lacking funds to do so.
Hour 5: Magazine Street Lunch Break
Two surefire lunch options are on nearby Magazine Street. For a cold beer and a very respectable roast beef po’ boy, hit up Tracey’s, just 2 blocks away on 2604 Magazine St. Casamento’s, about a mile up at 4330 Magazine, is about as classic as an oyster bar gets, and their bivalves are sublime. A cab or the no. 11 bus will get you there. Call ahead to make sure they’ll be open; lunch is served Thursday to Saturday.
Hour 6: Magazine Street Shopping
Explore the fab boutiques, antiques, and galleries along Magazine Street, where even non-shoppers can enjoy the quirky mix of upscale-downscale, old-meets-new. The souvenir options trounce those of the Bourbon Street T-shirt shops. Use that JazzyPass to hop on and off the no. 11 bus (it runs about every 20 min.); cabs or feet also work.
Hour 7: Dinner at Coquette
Why are we so positively smitten with Coquette? Because it’s perfect. Do make a reservation; don’t skip dessert.
Hour 8: Frenchmen Street
Hit up the dozen clubs and bars of Frenchmen Street in the Quarter-adjacent Faubourg Marigny. Wander, mingle, people-watch, heed the music pouring forth, and then pick a club or three in which to work your mojo.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.