Spoiler alert, there is so much more to New Orleans than parties, booze and beads. In fact, we find it to be an incredibly fun and romantic spot for a couple’s trip. We’re serious! Since it’s only about a 5-hour drive from Houston, spending 3 days in New Orleans is something we do at least once per year. We spend our days filled with sightseeing, cocktails and music, then our evenings with amazing food!
WHERE TO STAY
We love staying on Canal Street which is within walking distance to the French Quarter and offers accommodations a bit removed from the party craziness that does exist in New Orleans. We love finding historic hotels with character and charm. We have stayed at both the Ritz Carlton and Roosevelt Hotel while in New Orleans. They both offer stunning properties with lobbies that make you twirl in 360 as you take in the historic architecture.
*EWT Tip* For all our business traveler or frequent travelers that use points, cash in your Marriott points for the Ritz or Hilton points at the Roosevelt for your 3 days in New Orleans accommodation. As business travelers who spend a lot of time away from each other when on the road, the perk of using points to stay at ultra lux properties is a treat that makes the time apart worth it.
The Ritz Carlton offers amazing brunch at M Bistro and the Davenport Lounge features Jazz performances on the weekends. The Roosevelt has the amazing Sazerac Bar which features its namesake the Sazerac, said to be the world’s first cocktail! The lounge ambiance is dark and romantic. The amenity that gives the Roosevelt a slight edge over the Ritz is the pool with the views. It’s a fantastic spot to relax in the afternoons in New Orleans. It’s not a common feature to hotels in the area.
WHAT TO DO
During the day there is plenty to see within the French Quarter. First off, take a stroll down Royal Street which is filled with street performers. On the weekends the road is closed to cars so it’s a fun spot to walk through the shops and see the performers. There are no open container laws in Louisiana so pop into a bar and grab a beverage to enjoy while you explore.
The unique architecture designs are also exploding with color from the paint and decor. We love just slowly walking down the streets and taking it all in. If you go within weeks of Mardi Gras, you will also see several decorations that are there for the festivities.
Our absolute favorite street performer is Doreen’s Jazz. Her family plays at the corner of Royal Street and St Peters Street from 11 am to 3 pm on Thursdays through Sundays. They play traditional Louisana Jazz and certainly deliver the classics. Doreen can play the clarinet like nobody I’ve ever seen! We definitely sit on the curb enjoying the sounds in the afternoon. You can’t miss it, the crowds will be massive!
After listening to some tunes and feeling the Lousiana spirit, head over to Jackson Square. Here you will find more street performers and vendors. The main attraction of the square is St. Louis Cathedral which was first built in 1718. It holds the title of oldest cathedral in The United States. It’s still an operating Catholic church and attending services are just gorgeous.
After shopping in the square, cross the street for views of the Mississippi River. The square is also a common meeting place for group tours if you choose to enjoy them while in town. There is definitely a lot of action and it’s a great people watching area!
Next, keep walking and head to Frenchmen Street. The section of street in the Marigny neighborhood is best known for its live music venues. You can spend the afternoon bar hopping to enjoy the live Jazz music. It’s our absolute favorite thing to do in New Orleans on a Saturday! The Spotted Cat and Snug Harbour are popular, but our most favorite place is the Maison! In addition to the live jazz bands which encourage patrons to get up and dance, their bar and food menu is excellent. Hands down my favorite bloody Mary is found here served with all the pickled fixings and their own infused Vodka. Don’t miss it!
I know it’s famous so I will throw out Bourbon Street as something to do but honestly, we last about 2 or 3 blocks and can’t wait to cross over to another street. To put it bluntly, we find it crowded and smelly. Also, the bars are more like clubs with very little live music. We much prefer Royal and Frenchmen Streets for a fun New Orleans experience, especially for a couples trip.
Make sure you reserve at least one afternoon to explore outside the city center. There is so much history to learn in the surrounding areas. As we stated above there are several tours that leave from Jackson Square to help you see the surrounding areas. Since New Orleans has parts below sea level, their cemeteries are above ground. Due to the rich history of the city in the early days of America, there is so much to learn and see when exploring the cemeteries. The tombs are fancy and fascinating.
The next activity outside of the city is to explore the surrounding plantations. It’s fun to travel back in time to learn about the plantation and picture what it may have been like to live in that time period — the good, bad and ugly about it all. If you only can visit one, we would recommend Oak Alley Plantation. This one is huge, the grounds are sprawling and there are several activities on-site including a restaurant.
We would recommend reserving at least 3 hours to see the property. The tour of the house takes 30-40 minutes and there are several other areas to explore onsite. Also, we may know from experience but the bar opens at 10 am and you can get a Mint Julep to join you on the tour!
The next plantation we recommend is Laura: A Creole Plantation. This is a very different setting versus Oak Alley so we highly recommend pairing the two. This time learn about the Creole culture and the differences with how the plantation is managed. It’s much more of a colorful setting versus the Oak Alley. This tour is very organized so there is not much to explore on your own beyond the tour itself so you only need about 90 minutes here.
We have Houmas House Plantation and Gardens as well as Nottoway Plantation on our list to explore on our next trip in May. If you have any tips, share them with us in the comments!
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
For the most part, we find the top restaurants and bars take a bit of effort to go to. Uber is convenient and easy-to-use so we do recommend it for getting around.
Let’s start with breakfast/lunch. We combine them because very rarely do we have both when traveling. We tend to eat larger breakfasts or early lunches during our trips. If you have done any research on New Orleans, you’ve likely heard of Cafe Du Monde. It is famous for beignets which are a cake pastry famous in New Orleans.
Ok real talk, not worth the wait in our opinion. The menu is very limited so it’s pretty much beignets and coffee only. The good news about that is the line is relatively quick, the bad news is you will spend more time in-line outside to eat one of these famous powdered sugar covered cakes. We were lucky and hit it during an “off” time – and by off, I mean 7 am early enough to beat the crowds. We enjoyed it but we would never wait in-line. Not worth it and too many other good food areas.
For a more appetizing breakfast experience, take a 10 minute Uber to Elizabeth’s. It’s not fancy in fact, borderline dirty but the food is spectacular! They commit to making everything from scratch and you won’t be disappointed in the quality or portions. Some of our favorites include breakfast po’boys, chicken liver & eggs and the holy grail….praline bacon! Lovely strips of bacon coated with the sweet praline sauce that hardens. It’s an amazing explosion of sweet and salty and a “must” order when you are here.
If you are in New Orleans for a holiday/occasion, the hotels will typically have themed brunch buffets. Our favorites are at the Ritz Carlton and Roosevelt which we experienced on Easter Sunday. Both had extensive raw bars with oysters and crab legs, delicious variety of hot foods and dessert bars like we have never experienced before! Both places elevate the experience with all you can drink champagne! Literally, we were in heaven and had to be rolled out.
Lastly for a convenient breakfast/brunch buffet option, head to The Court of Two Sisters on Royal Street. Yes, it’s convenient, yes the courtyard setting is pretty and yes they have live music however they fall short on food quality and variety. It’s just lacking compared to the others but solid 3-star none-the-less.
If you are in the mood for more lunch type foods, our favorite is The Royal Oyster House on Royal Street. They are one of the few restaurants to have seating on the outdoor, narrow balcony. We always wait longer to snag an outdoor seat. As its name describes, their specialty is certainly oysters. We have this tradition to have the Oyster Trifecta Meal. You won’t find it on the menu, it’s just what we named our order. Start with a dozen raw oysters, next get a dozen chargrilled oysters and finish by splitting an oyster po’boy. Now if you have not heard of chargrilled oysters, let us introduce you!
Chargrilled oysters are grilled with a mix of parmesan cheese and butter and have the signature smokey taste from the grill. There is so much butter swimming in the oysters that it is served with bread to help soak it up. And believe us, you will want to soak up every last ounce. Not the healthiest way to eat oysters but don’t miss it in New Orleans.
Two other bars we want to point out as you make your itinerary. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop dates back to the 1700’s and is said to be one of the oldest structures in America to house a bar. It’s filled with history, located on the less busy end of Bourbon Street and is a fun spot for a drink.
Another fun spot that is over 200 years old is the Old Absinthe House, as the name suggests, it is filled with varying absinthe that you can drink neat or as part of a cocktail. There is something about the vibrant green color that is just fun to drink! The place is small and quirky and overall fun. Definitely pop in as it’s located just off Bourbon Street and Bienville.
For dinner, we highly recommend getting a cab or Uber and venturing out, you will not regret it. One of the more famous restaurants is Commander’s Palace. Beware, men will need to have a jacket to dine here. It’s a nice spot for date night. It’s found in a unique building with two levels and several different rooms. The food was good, not fantastic but not bad either. They serve many traditional dishes such as turtle soup, jambalaya and bananas foster. We ate there once and likely won’t return but it’s good to see one time.
Hands down our favorite spot for dinner Toups’ Meatery. Head chef Issac has been a James Beard chef of the South finalist and semi-finalist three times. Start with the classic cracklins and a meatery board. If bone marrow is available, don’t miss it! For the mains, our favorites are the sweet bread poutine and the pork chop served with dirty rice. We promise you will never eat rice the same again! Once dinner is over, take a shot of Jameson down the bone from the marrow.
Other spots for amazing cuisine include Cochon serving traditional cajun southern dishes in a reformed warehouse. Peche for seafood with influences from South America, Spain and the gulf coast. Compère Lapin is in the heart of the Warehouse Arts District in New Orleans and features the cuisine combining the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans mixing with Chef Nina’s Caribbean roots. We’ve eaten at all of them and would gladly return to each.
Lastly, don’t miss a visit to The Carousel Bar found in Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street (Have you noticed all the great spots on Royal Street yet?). As the name suggests, this bar is a carousel and not just inspired by but there are seats in a circular formation that rotate around the center bar. It’s such a fun spot for a cocktail either before or after dinner. The evenings have live piano music to add to the fun ambiance.
Hope this gives you some ideas to plan your next trip to New Orleans. We absolutely love this city and find it to be a fun, adult playground for a couples trip. There are plenty of things to see, eat and do for 3 days in New Orleans!