3 Days in New Orleans

My hometown Houston and the city of New Orleans have a bond. We share an understanding of things like the muggy heat, hurricanes, and the fact that most of us have family and friends in each other’s cities. I finally made the quick flight to visit our unofficial sister city for the first time and grew to love all of the Creole charm and Big Easy lifestyle during my 3 days in New Orleans.

Before New Orleans was the city we know today, it was owned by the French, later run by the Spanish for decades, and finally became part of the United States thanks to the Louisiana Purchase. This part of its history can get lost in the excitement of what New Orleans means for many tourists – a party destination with an anytime-is-a-good-time-for-a-drink culture. And while we love it for that, in reality, what New Orleans’ best draw is truly taking it easy. 

Whether taking it easy means enjoying simple pleasures like drinking a cafe au lait in a beautiful courtyard, stuffing yourself with some of the most unique food in the U.S., or humoring your spooky side with ghost tours and voodoo. New Orleans has enough to keep you busy no matter what kind of weekend getaway you’re seeking.

Three days in New Orleans is plenty of time to eat, drink, and see the best of the city, even for first-time visitors. Below you’ll find a detailed itinerary for 3 days in New Orleans, breaking down where to stay, how to get around, and a suggested itinerary for each day of your trip. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Where to stay in New Orleans

French Quarter: The French Quarter is the historic heart of New Orleans with its iconic iron balconies and Creole architecture. It’s the best area to stay in if you want a walkable location. There are nice hotels in this area close to the action but far enough from Bourbon Street so it’s not too noisy.

Warehouse District: Industrial buildings converted into lofts and hotels line the Warehouse District. There are a lot of popular restaurants in this neighborhood, and you will be close to major attractions like the National World War II Museum, but you’ll need to get a ride to the French Quarter or walk for about 15 minutes. 

Garden District: The Garden District is ideal for someone who has already stayed in the French Quarter or Warehouse District and is looking for a different New Orleans experience. You’ll feel more like a local in the Garden District, with photogenic streets shaded by oak trees and dotted with 1800s homes. There is elegant dining in this neighborhood, and it’s a cable car ride or a short drive away from the action in the French Quarter.  

Royal Street shop signs in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana

Hotels in New Orleans

While you’re in New Orleans, it’s worth skipping over your standard chain hotels and opting for one of the city’s boutique hotels set in stylish buildings dating back to the 19th century. Here are a few of the eclectic hotel options to consider staying at in New Orleans: 

  • French Market Inn – This is where I stayed in New Orleans, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an affordable yet comfortable boutique hotel experience. The service was excellent, and the location is a short walk from Jackson Square and the French Quarter’s main attractions. 
  • Hotel Monteleone – Home to the revolving Carousel Bar lounge and surrounded by antique shops, Hotel Monteleone is one of New Orleans’ most well-known boutique hotels. It’s set in a white Beaux-Arts-style building that looks like it came straight out of Paris. Hotel Monteleone is also walk-friendly in the French Quarter.
  • The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery – Keeping true to its neighborhood, this hotel was converted from old warehouses into an industrial, mid-century style hotel. It’s a short drive or a 15-minute walk to the French Quarter.
  • Terrell House – The next time I go back to New Orleans I’d like to stay at this bed and breakfast in the Lower Garden District. The rooms are in an old mansion with antique decor and an outdoor courtyard. This hotel is in a quiet part of Magazine Street near local shops, restaurants, and New Orleans’ famous streetcars whenever you want to explore outside the neighborhood.

*Note: In general, hotels in New Orleans are accommodating and will let you store your luggage with them before check-in or after your check-out if you have a later flight. 

Getting around New Orleans

If you’re staying in the French Quarter, you can get around most places on foot. Parking is a mess, so if you have a car in New Orleans, check if your accommodation has parking available. If you’re staying outside of the French Quarter, you can find ride-booking services like Uber and Lyft all over the city.

One of New Orleans’ most iconic pieces of history is its cable car system. The easiest place to catch one is off Canal Street, and you can check the schedule here. It’s an alternative to ride-sharing services and can get you to the main tourist neighborhoods. 

3 Days in New Orleans Itinerary

A green and white striped awning covers the patio of Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street in New Orleans, Louisiana

Day 1

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Start your first day in New Orleans with a stop at the Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street for beignets. These powdered sugar pastries are like a mix of a donut and a crescent. They’re filling and delicious! It’s cash only at this location, so make sure you come prepared. 

Jackson Square

Right next to Cafe du Monde is Military Park, a lookout point that offers a landscape view of Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral. You can cross the street to walk through Jackson Square and see the cathedral up close. It’s the oldest cathedral in use in the United States, and it’s worth going inside to see the artwork and design.

Antique stores on Royal Street

From Jackson Square, it’s a short walk passing Creole buildings and street musicians to Royal Street, one of the most popular areas for antique shopping. You’ll find everything from French antique furniture stores to vintage dress and jewelry shops. It’s cool to see the collections at each shop, whether you buy something or not. 

Carousel Bar

While you’re on Royal Street, you’ll eventually arrive at Hotel Monteleone, where the famous Carousel Bar lounge is. The circular bar revolves slowly and has the gaudy decor of a real carousel. You have to go as soon as it opens to get a seat around the carousel, but there are nice leather chairs and couches to sit around the bar if it’s full. The service is top-tier, and it has the ideal swanky New Orleans lounge feel to it. 

Dinner at Muriel’s

Plan to make a reservation at least a week in advance for dinner at Muriel’s. It’s on the northeast corner of Jackson Square in a rounded brick building and is one of New Orleans’ most popular restaurants. The restaurant is known for its elegant take on authentic Creole food. I recommend doing the three-course dinner option so you can try several things. Just make sure you choose bread pudding for dessert!

Have a night out on Frenchmen Street

A less touristy alternative to Bourbon Street is Frenchmen Street, known as the live music hub of the city. It’s less smelly and rowdy than Bourbon Street but still always buzzing. Frenchmen Street has plenty of bars, live jazz, and iconic New Orleans balconies. 

French Quarter balconies near Royal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana

Day 2

Start your second day in New Orleans with a light breakfast before a day on foot visiting museums, trying more local food, and taking a ghost tour. 

Visit a New Orleans museum

One thing I wish I had time to do in New Orleans was to see more museums. They are all distinct and equally interesting, but on a 3-day trip, you only have time to visit one museum. Below are highlights of some of the best museums in New Orleans: 

  • National World War II Museum – This is by far the most impactful museum I’ve ever visited. The exhibits are interactive, and each space is designed according to the event it’s covering, from the freezing Ardennes Forest to the tropical island jungles in the Pacific. Each space has TVs with real WWII footage explaining the history in context. I spent three hours here and it still wasn’t enough time to see everything.
  • Mardi Gras World or the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes & Culture – Mardi Gras is the biggest celebration in New Orleans every year, marking the beginning of Lent. I’ve heard from first-hand visitors that both Mardi Gras World and the Mardi Gras Museum are a lot of fun if you want something different from the traditional museum experience. Mardi Gras World houses huge floats they make, while the museum of costumes and culture focuses on the extravagant costuming of Mardi Gras. 
  • New Orleans Museum of Art and Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden – Both the art museum and sculpture garden are on the grounds of the New Orleans City Park. There are dozens of outdoor sculptures tucked under the Spanish moss trees, and others are set on both sides of your walking path. While you’re there, visit the three-story New Orleans Museum of Art next door to the garden. It has a mix of classical works and seasonal exhibits that art and history lovers will enjoy. 

Try a Po’Boy sandwich

The best food I had in New Orleans was a shrimp Po’Boy sandwich at Mother’s, a small cafeteria-style restaurant that’s been around since the 1930s. There are Po’Boy shops scattered across the city, so it’s easy to find a sandwich shop close to you on Google Maps if you’re not near Mother’s. The fluffy French bread and battered gulf shrimp on these sandwiches are amazing! Po’Boys are filling and perfect to split with someone.

Take a ghost tour

New Orleans’ antiquity and history of voodoo give it an eerie Halloween feeling at night. It’s fun to embrace it and go on a ghost tour to learn more about this part of the culture. You can choose from tours focused on the most haunted restaurants and hotels or ones that talk about the history of voodoo while visiting relevant parts of town. Each company has a unique history angle to its ghost tours.

Outdoor courtyard at French Market Inn on Decatur St. in New Orleans, Louisiana

Day 3

Jazz brunch

There’s always a big showing for jazz brunch in New Orleans, so plan to make a reservation a week ahead. The Two Sisters Courtyard has a jazz brunch every day until 3 pm, and they serve a classed-up New Orleans-style buffet. I liked the ambiance (and boiled shrimp) there, and the jazz music is a nice backdrop to reminiscence on your trip.

If you’re planning to go to jazz brunch on a Sunday, you have more restaurant options like Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace, and Antoine’s. 

Souvenir shop

You can’t leave New Orleans without a fun souvenir! You’ll find souvenir shops on every street of the French Quarter. From local favorites like pralines and Cajun spices to a fleur-de-lis baseball cap, you can find all kinds of New Orleans-themed souvenirs to bring home.

Rounding out your last day 

If you don’t have a full third day and need to get to the airport, plan to arrive more than 2 hours early if it’s a busy weekend, even for domestic flights. And if you have more time, you can round out your last day shopping along Decatur Street and having oysters for dinner at Drago’s or the Acme Oyster House. 

The above itinerary looks very busy for 3 days in New Orleans, and it is, but you’ll still find free time to pop into your hotel for a quick nap or coffee throughout the day if you need to.

By the end of my long weekend trip to New Orleans, I started getting used to the city staying up late and waking up early each day. The constant buzz around town energizes you, with shop owners, service workers, and street cleaners keeping everything running like a well-oiled machine. The resilience of this city is impressive, and I think New Orleans is a must-visit destination for Americans. There’s no other U.S. city like it, and I hope it’s clear that there’s so much to see and do in New Orleans whether you’re there to party hard or not.

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