I first went to New Orleans when I was 18 years old. It was a marching band trip, and it was jam packed with wonderful activities: hanging out in Jackson square, wandering the waterfront, a boat cruise, a night in Mardi Gras world, strolling the French Quarter, and making it to band practices and performing in the sugar bowl. I left New Orleans excited to return when I was older, and could drink, and visit Bourbon Street (which we were expressly forbidden to enter). Just last weekend, thanks to my flight benefits, I was able to spend 24 hours in New Orleans. 24 hours is no where near enough, but if you’re in Nola on a layover, or just passing through, here are some things you can do in 24 hours in New Orleans.
Wander the French Quarter
The French Quarter features fantastic street performers, art, shops, restaurants, bars, poets for hire, and to top it all off- it is beautiful. Streamers, plants, and masks in brilliant purple-green-and yellow dangle from balconies. Don’t be afraid to get lost in all of the wonderful streets.
I spent about four hours walking around the French Quarter, but you could spend days wandering around.
One of the best parts is, you never quite know what you’re going to see in the Quarter. A street performer? An artist? A really rockin’ band? I ran into a march for a $15 minimum wage, complete with dancers and an awesome brass band. It was the coolest rally I’d ever seen.
Admire the Architecture
There is a glorious mix of French and Spanish influence present in a lot of the architecture of the French Quarter. You’ll see many stores and houses with smaller buildings attached to them-old slave quarters. The houses have interesting intricate details, and are often laced with iron work, and flickering gas lamps.
Watch a Performance at Jackson Square
Jackson Square is right in the heart of the French quarter. Just across the street from the world famous Cafe du Monde and facing the water. Street performers gather huge crowds and put on some outstanding shows-from dancing to admirable acrobats. Hang around this area long enough and you’re sure to see some amazing stuff!
Visit the French Market
For the best local wares and cheap clothing, jewelry, and knick-knacks, not to mention some top-notch culinary bites, check out the French Market. While walking the market I ate gator, spicy shrimp and cheese grits, and an icy topped with custard. Heaven. Calories don’t count on vacation right?
Listen to some Street Music
The music in New Orleans is second to none. I enjoyed listening to a band called Bon Bon Vivant in the French Quarter for awhile. And at night, I slipped into a cool European jazz bar called Fritzels and sampled some great jazz music. Remember to bring some cash to tip these fantastic musicians.
Grab some cool artwork around Jackson Square
I love buying artwork, but usually I can’t afford anything more than $20 prints. But, the prices are really amazing at this market-I found huge beautiful paintings for less than $200. Talking to the artists is really inspiring, they are all really nice, and love to talk about their work.
Eat Beignets at Cafe du Monde
These donuts topped with a generous helping of powdered sugar are a must if you visit New Orleans. The best place to get them is Cafe du Monde-I’ve tried them from a few other places in the city, and Cafe du Monde is by far my favorite. They are open 24 hours-so no matter if you want to head over for an early breakfast, or after you’ve been partying on Bourbon Street, you can have this sugary treat.
Go to a Voodoo Shop
The city’s Haitian/Creole population has kept Voodoo alive and well in New Orleans. Everywhere you go you can get your palm read, or your tarot cards read. There are many stores that offer candles and dolls, sage and blessings that cater to a plethora of different desires.
Go to Bourbon Street-then go to Frenchman Street
I loved the music at Fritzels-a bar on Bourbon Street. I believe this group was the self-proclaimed Fritzels Famous Jazz Band-but I’m not sure if that was their official name. They had old, wonderful brassy instruments. And boy could they jam.
After about an hour I decided to head off into the heart of Bourbon Street to find a bar with a dance floor. And I found them-but couldn’t find good music. I know there is a lot of hype surrounding Bourbon street-but it wasn’t for me. Plus, it was cold and rainy,and I ended up eating oreo beignets and watching the drunken masses from a lovely balcony, trying to keep warm.
On the way home, my Lyft driver told me that next time I needed to visit Frenchman Street to hear some great music. I didn’t make it there on this trip-but I will certainly make it a priority next time!
Visit City Park
I rented a car and drove out to City Park because I heard there were good beignets and some cool artwork.
When I went to City Park, a local told me the beignets at Morning cafe are even better than the ones at Cafe du Monde-I was skeptical.
In my opinion-these beignets didn’t hold a candle to Cafe du Monde. Just look at the amount of powdered sugar compared to the picture above.
Case closed. But, the cafe itself was pretty cute and really photogenic:
I would recommend waiting on Cafe du Monde for the beignets-but, the park itself is quite nice. There is a sculpture garden, as well as botanical gardens and a small museum. I’m not into museums, and the botanical gardens require an entrance fee-but the sculpture gardens are free and quite nice.
Enjoy your 24 hours in New Orleans!
24 hours is never enough to see any city. There are so many more things I want to do in New Orleans on my next visit. I can’t wait to come back!