When Lydia told me she wanted to extend our USA vacation, I took a lot of convincing. New Orleans was a destination I had always wanted to visit, but $1000 extra on flight changes, additional flights, spending money and accommodation seemed like a lot. However as soon as she mentioned the plantation tours, I was in.
You see, the history of New Orleans was something that has always intrigued me; from the food to the culture. I wasn’t disappointed from the moment I stepped off the plane.
New Orleans is a quirky city and it’s charm was apparent immediately. New Orleans is a unique blend of cultures and a mecca of music, food and soul.
We arrived at a beautiful time of year when the sun was shining and the weather was warm. Even though NOLA is known for its wild Bourbon Street, there is something entirely calming and homely about it.
I spent 2 and a half days getting to know New Orleans and I’m already ready to go back for more! I’ve created this guide based on our itinerary and a great way to get a taste of history, the nightlife and the food. There is plenty more I would have loved to have seen, time permitting, but this was certainly a dreamy first introduction!
– Accommodation –
We had arrived late night to our beautiful accommodation in the French Quarter, Best Western Plus French Quarter Landmark Hotel. It was super easy to get to from the airport; just a 20 minute Uber ride away. I had chosen this accommodation because Lydia and I had both been recommended to stay in the French Quarter and from all of our research this was the area to stay. I loved the fact that we were a 5 minute walk from all of the action of Bourbon Street, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants yet we were also far enough away that it was a peaceful and quiet spot. Situated opposite Louis Armstrong Park, Best Western was my perfect choice for our stay.
The hotel itself was super cosy with a small lobby, a great bar (Shout out to our awesome bartender Ty who provided great conversation, the best cocktails and fantastic tips about the best places to see) and even served complimentary breakfast. If we were there for longer, I definitely would’ve made better use of their beautiful courtyard pool and exercise facilities, but unfortunately our trip was pretty short.
Our room was large, clean and tidy with decor to suit the reflection of the hotel – french retro. Lydia and I shared a massive super king bed for the three nights we were there and it was so big I didn’t even notice she was there.
The staff were so pleasant and helpful and our stay really was wonderful. I only have positive things to say and I would definitely love to stay there again on my return!
– First Night –
After arriving pretty late, Lydia and I ventured out to get our first taste of New Orleans. Because we were located so close to Bourbon Street, we made our way there. The French Quarter is super easy to navigate, and after being given a map and instructions from the staff at our hotel (there are certain ways that you’re meant to walk to stay safe!) we followed the music and found ourselves amidst Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is pretty packed with tourists and is typically a much older crowd than Lydia and myself but being the live-music lovers that we are, we felt right at home.
Live Jazz is a huge part of New Orleans and almost every bar has a band playing. A lot of places have a one drink minimum when you enter, and it was where I tried my first, very famed (and very un-paleo) ‘Hand Grenade.’ It was horrifically sweet and tasted like sherbet, but something I was keen to try as apart of my New Orleans experience.
We moved on a short while later to find Lydia some food as unfortunately most of the restaurants that I could eat at were closed by we got to Bourbon Street since it was reasonably late. If Fried Chicken is your number then you’ll find a Willie’s Chicken Shack on almost every corner! You can also buy Pizza by the slice and Hot Dogs from street carts. I was happy to wait until the next day where I would have a chance to try authentic Creole Food.
Lydia and I went to a couple more bars and danced some before we decided to call it a night as after a long day of travelling, we were definitely ready for bed! We had an early start the next day for exploring Louisiana.
– Day One –
Our first full day in New Orleans was planned before we even arrived! Since we knew we didn’t have long, we made sure to book a tour before we arrived. Louisiana is known for it’s history surrounding the plantations, French Settlers and it’s incredible era leading up to the Civil War.
I booked a tour of two of Louisiana’s major plantations using Viator and I was excited to explore a culture I had never been exposed to before. We were picked up around 8am and made our way out to our first stop: Laura Plantation. It was around an hours drive out of New Orleans, but you’re kept informed by the tour guide and you even get to cross the Mississippi River!
Laura Plantation was an incredibly special tour. During our time there, we learned the history of the Duparc family – a French family who acquired land in prime real estate and passed it down through many generations. The tour covers tales of marriage, war heroes, family drama and slavery all from articles from the French National Archives as well as memoirs of Laura, one of the last women in the family, which were discovered in recent years.
Despite our tour guide being incredibly new to the plantation, she was well informed and clearly very passionate about the Laura plantation. She was friendly and retold the history excellently. Our tour here went throughout the house, the ‘kitchen’, their gardens and also to the houses that the slaves lived in. Out of the two tours we did, this tour and history was my favourite.
The verandah of the “maison principale” – this house was built entirely by highly-skilled slaves in just 11 months.
The view over the plantation and the kitchen. To the bottom left was where part of the house used to be, before it unfortunately came down in an electrical fire. The two smaller houses at the back are what remains of the kitchen. Kitchens were typically separate from houses during this period.
A model based on their original vegetable garden – they also have banana trees!
View over the sugar cane (right at the back) and one of the remaining slave houses
One of the original slave houses that has been preserved!
After our tour at the Laura Plantation, our bus driver rounded us up and took us onwards to the next stop: Oak Alley.
Oak Alley is hands down the most picturesque place I have ever seen in USA. It gets its name from the spectacular 300 year old Live Virginia Oak trees that frame a pathway leading up to an elegant antebellum mansion is truly a sight to behold.
The antebellum was built by Jacques Roman in an attempt to coax his new bride, Celina, away from the city out to the peace and quiet of the country. Jacques knew that Celina wouldn’t just move for any ol’ place, and so he set about creating the most beautiful home at the end of the already 150 year old Oak trees.
We approached the antebellum from the carpark at the back and were greeted by friendly staff in period costumes. I don’t know about you, but theres something about that southern accent that immediately makes me feel at home! There was a small concession stand that was selling their signature Mint Julep, a refreshing mint drink spiked with bourbon, which Lydia stopped at and grabbed one. I just had a sip of Lydia’s and it was lovely, albeit very punchy!
The tour was informative and interesting, however it just didn’t have the same depth of history as the Laura Plantation. That being said, Oak Alley was so worth it for the beautiful scenery. They also have a self guided tour through the rest of the grounds, but we didn’t get a whole lot of exploring time after the tour. We were left with around 45 minutes once our tour had finished, and Lydia and I decided to use most of it to snap some of the most gorgeous pictures I have in my camera roll.
Younger 150 year old Live Oaks line the path leading up to the back of the house
The start of the tour
The view down to the river from the top balcony of the mansion
Lydia and I posing in front of the Alley
Now you see why we took so many photos!
After spending time taking in the scenery, we headed back around to the rear of the house and went through the self guided tour of the slave houses. This gives you an idea of how the slaves lived as well as how they were treated. It was a super interesting aspect and nice to be able to go at your own pace.
At Oak Alley, they also have a restaurant, bar and cafe as well as a gift shop. I took a moment to grab a bite to eat and got a penny pressed as a small token of my time there! Penny presses are one of my favourite things; I usually get one each time I go to Disneyland in California (third time visitor on this trip.. big kid at heart!) so it was cool to be able to get one from Oak Alley too. In addition, they also have accommodation at Oak Alley so that you can stay in a cottage on the grounds, which I think is pretty neat too!
It had been a long day in the heat, so by the time we sat on the bus to head back into New Orleans, Lydia and I were beat. It was nice to have a little time to recharge on the drive back! I did wish we had time to do a Swamp Tour while we were there, but that is another adventure for my next excuse to get back to New Orleans.
That afternoon I got my first taste of Creole food at a place off of Royal Street called Pere Antoine. I was definitely not disappointed! They had a huge selection of gluten free items which made it easy for me to stick to my nutrition guns. I went for their Jambalaya, which is a flavoursome rice based dish that was filled with chicken, chorizo and shrimp and loads of vegetables on the side.
We ended up going back to Pere Antoine on several occasions, because we knew the food was delicious, the service good and it was really well priced too. Not to mention they had a great cocktail list!
After our food, we wandered the streets of the French Quarter before heading back to our hotel to get ready for an evening out.
One of the best parts of the nightlife in NOLA is just how casual it is. It was great to not have to get completely decked out and be able to wear jandals (flip flops for you non-New Zealand folk) and a maxi dress to the local spots. After speaking with our bartender Ty, we learned that Frenchmen Street was another hot spot; less touristy and more down to earth bars with more great live music. This sounded more like Lydia and I who after some big nights in Vegas, we were ready to keep it a little more low key.
We had been warned to be pretty careful when walking around New Orleans, especially us two alone, so we caught a short Uber over to Frenchmen Street. It was probably around 8 o’clock, but the streets were already completely packed. Upon arrival there was a craft market open which we checked out, before heading off to explore the bars.
We found ourselves in Cafe Negril watching an awesome jazz set. The drinks were cheap and the locals were really friendly. It didn’t take us long to make friends and have great conversation; We actually ended up making friends with a Batchelor Party of 25 who were in New Orleans from Michigan and they were an absolute laugh to spend the evening with!
Cafe Negril Stage
We spent some time bar hopping and despite thinking we were in for a low key night, we didn’t end up getting home til around 3.30am. A night full of hilarious memories that Lydia and I certainly won’t forget! Frenchmen Street was definitely much more our style in comparison to Bourbon Street.
– Day Two –
The next day we spent exploring New Orleans itself. We were actually in town to see one of Lydia’s favourite bands, so we already had plans for the evening. After a late start, we headed out to check out the rest of the French Quarter and the French Markets. The architecture is so incredible in the French Quarter, Lydia and I loved seeing all of the beautiful buildings.
We initially walked down to Jackson Square and checked out the entertainment as well as walked up to look at the Mississippi River. In all honesty, that part of the Mississippi River isn’t really worth looking at, unless you’re into muddy water! However it’s definitely worth checking out Jackson Square.
The French Markets are right down near the Mississippi River and are essentially a giant market of trinkets. Whilst there is an amazing food section before you head through, we had already eaten and there wasn’t a huge selection there that I could have personally eaten myself. Their trinket stalls ranged from New Orleans themed tops, to Mardi Gras masks and beads, to even Alligator Heads and voodoo dolls. I didn’t buy anything there, but it was definitely a cool little spot to check out.
After exploring the markets, we went off to the famed Cafe Du Monde so that I could fulfil one of my foodie
dreams and get my gluten on. I don’t often indulge too much on trips, because otherwise I just feel like crap and that spoils the trip, however being the total food lover that I am there are just certain experiences that I want to have when I visit a destination.
I picked up some of their Beignets and wandered back to the hotel room with them. They were definitely pretty delicious, although very incredibly sweet despite having scraped off as much icing sugar as I could. A priceless experience for my mind-book of foodie moments! Plus, it meant I could wear my new favourite top with pride!
(Nawlins = New Orleans)
That afternoon, we headed over to downtown and caught the St Charles Street Cart out into the Garden District. For just $3 USD for an all day pass, it’s a really cool experience to jump onto a Street Cart and get taken out into one of the most beautiful suburbs I have visited.
The street cart leaves every 10 minutes, and you’re best to catch it from Carondelet at Canal Street in the CBD so that you can get a seat. If the cart before you is full, I recommend waiting for the next one.
The Garden District is an affluent neighbourhood lined with more Oak Trees and with some incredible mansions. You also go past two of Louisiana’s University Campuses which was also great to see. We went at a pretty cool time of year, when Halloween was almost there so the decorations were really something else! Because of New Orleans deep voodoo and ghost history, they get super into their decorations.
We didn’t get off for much of a look around as we were just happy to observe, but there are plenty of restaurant options and food if you want to make a day out of it! The whole round trip took a couple of hours without getting off at any of the stops.
Unfortunately our evening had somewhat of a damper put on it, when we turned up to the bar to see Lydia’s favourite band play and found out that they had just cancelled their show due to illness an hour before, but it did instead give us the opportunity to head back to Frenchmen Street. We had another fun night at Cafe Negril and surrounding bars then headed home for an earlier night in prep for starting our huge journey home the following day.
Since our flight was around midday, we didn’t do a whole lot other than pack our bags, grab a bite to eat (Pere Antoine once more!) and set off to the airport. We were about to do around 30 hours worth of flying back to Perth and pretty gutted to be leaving USA after an amazing three weeks.
Other Attractions I didn’t try that are well known throughout New Orleans include a Swamp Tour, Ghost Tour, Cemetery Tour (they have above ground cemeteries because of the fact they’re built below sea level) and City Park. Two days definitely was great for a small taster of New Orleans, but I think to get the real feel for the place, you need to be there for a good week or so.
New Orleans was a truly magical destination and seriously probably one of my favourite places I have visited in USA so far. The feel, the atmosphere, the locals… The whole experience! If this destination isn’t on your list then it should be, I know I will certainly be back!