All Articles The perfect 2 days in New Orleans

The perfect 2 days in New Orleans

Frenchman Quarter is recognizable by its characteristic three-story pinkish building with an ornate white balcony
Jay Blades
By Jay BladesFeb 7, 2023 8 minutes read

OK, we admit it: You won't be able to see everything New Orleans has to offer in two days. But 48 hours still gives just enough time to eat your fill of beignets and gumbo, take in a jazz show on Frenchmen Street, and bar-hop your way down Bourbon (practically required!). Even more important, you’ll be able to pick up on the city’s vibe: a mix of lively and laid back, traditional and eccentric. (Where else can you visit antebellum homes one minute and voodoo museums the next?)

This itinerary helps you make the most of your time, letting you hit the major highlights while also exploring off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods and under-the-radar gems. Because these picks are based on Tripadvisor ratings and real reviews, you can trust you’re making the most of every second you've got in this city.


A corner view of the iconic pinkish French Quarter building with an ornate balcony and hanging plants

MORNING: Wander through the French Quarter

Ask locals where to get the best beignet, and you'll probably get a bunch of different answers. But the iconic Cafe Du Monde gets our vote, particularly its original location in the French Market, which sits along historic Jackson Square. It’s been there for over 160 years and still serves just one food: beignets.

The 24-hour stand can get crowded, but it’s perhaps the only spot you can have piping-hot beignet and café au lait while watching portrait artists, tarot card readers, and acrobatic tumblers perform their craft for spectators.

Once caffeinated and sugared up, wind through the streets of the French Quarter (Vieux Carré to locals), checking out its Creole townhouses, wrought-iron balconies, and hanging gardens. Be sure to venture off the main drags, but don’t miss Royal and Chartres Streets, known for their art galleries and antique shops. This is also a good time to check out Bourbon Street if you want to see it minus the crowds.

French Quarter Tour Options

  • The only way to see New Orleans’ most famous—and most haunted—cemetery is with a tour. (Technically, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 lies just outside the French Quarter, but many of the neighborhood’s most infamous residents, like voodoo queen Marie Laveau, are buried there.)
  • With its lax liquor laws, the city is best explored with a drink in hand. Drink & Learn’s Cocktail Tour keeps the cocktails flowing while you visit Jackson Square, the Pharmacy Museum, and other Quarter landmarks.
  • Learn about NOLA’s scandalous side with the fun and entertaining Saints and Sinners walking tour, which makes stops at places like Hotel Villa Convento and St. Louis Cathedral.

AFTERNOON: Soul food, sculptures, and second lines

Hungry? Head north into Tremé, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S. Walk past the candy-colored cottages and shotgun houses to Creole-soul institution Dooky Chase. Late owner Leah Chase, the queen of Creole cuisine, passed away several years ago, but her family keeps her memory—and her sought-after recipes for gumbo and fried chicken—alive.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a second line as you’re leaving lunch. The brass band-led parades often pop up in Tremé (usually for weddings and funerals, but other times just because). You can’t miss ‘em: The brightly dressed participants all sing, dance, and wave handkerchiefs as they march through the streets. Feel free to join in—that’s part of the fun.

Next up, The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is just a short streetcar ride away. Situated in lush, sprawling City Park, this garden is free (even the audio guide) and can be a nice break from the congestion of the Quarter. Pro tip: There’s a second Cafe Du Monde location just around the corner, so if you haven’t had your beignet fix yet (or you need another dose of powdered sugar), now’s your chance.

Travelers say: “You cannot afford to miss out on seeing this area of City Park. Get the Canal streetcar up from the French quarter—it’s only $1.25 each way. These gardens are beautiful; all the sculptures are so different. It’s just a pleasure to walk around this garden area. Afterward pop into the Cafe Du Monde for the famous coffee and beignets, without the long lines like on Canal Street.” —363cymru123

EVENING: Wine and Dixieland jazz

For happy hour, hitch a ride to the Bywater, a colorful (both literally and figuratively) neighborhood along the Mississippi River. Get dropped off at Bacchanal, a wine shop with small plates, make-your-own cheese boards, and live music in the twinkly backyard. If you’re there in time for sunset, order your chèvre and rosé to go and have a picnic in Crescent Park.

Need something more substantial? Stop off at Bacchanal’s buzzy sister bar, The Elysian, in the Marigny. (If you have extra time, consider coming back in the daylight to see the large-scale murals that blanket the artsy neighborhood.)

Your final destination is lively Frenchmen Street, where divey jazz clubs play host to both legendary and up-and-coming musicians. Pop in and out of Snug Harbor, d.b.a., and The Spotted Cat—or do as the locals do and hang in the street. Frenchmen is a party in itself, filled with street poets, craft markets, and spontaneous concerts.

Worthy detours along the way


A red New Orleans street car, its inside glowing orange in the blue light of dusk

MORNING: A streetcar ride through antebellum mansions

Climb aboard the vintage St. Charles Streetcar for a ride through the Garden District’s palatial mansions and oak-lined streets. There’s a lot to see, so consider buying a one-day Jazzy Pass, which will allow you to hop on and off for a single price.

Highlights include Buckner Mansion, which starred as a boarding school for witches in American Horror Story; the Carroll-Crawford House, where Mark Twain often partied; and the Brevard-Clapp-Rice House, the former home of Gothic novelist Anne Rice.

If you have extra time, take the full trip out to Audubon Park. Behind the zoo, you’ll find a green space known as The Fly, where you can rest your feet while watching boats on the Mississippi River.

Garden District Tour Options

  • Sure, you could Google every beautiful home you come across, but we suggest taking a walking tour to get the real backstory on the neighborhood’s most colorful residents.
  • Seeing the Garden District by bike is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
  • The Homes of the Rich and Famous Tour mixes history and celeb gossip for a fun look at one of New Orleans’ most filmed neighborhoods.

AFTERNOON: Southern sandwiches and a stroll down Magazine Street

For lunch, get off at the Jackson Avenue stop and walk a few blocks southeast to Turkey and the Wolf. The fried bologna sandwich gives New Orleans’ other iconic sandwich—the po’boy—a run for its money. That said, everything on the menu (divided into “Sandwiches” and “Not Sandwiches”) is worth trying, especially the collard green melt and deviled eggs.

Afterward, stretch your legs on charming Magazine Street, stopping off at Sucre for king cake, Mignon Faget for jewelry, Home Malone for Southern-made gifts, and Octavia Books for indie titles. Or gallery-hop your way through the six-mile stretch. You’ll find everything from pop-culture portraits to abstract wildlife paintings.

EVENING: A proper night out in the Quarter

Start at the Carousel Bar. The hotel lobby bar is known for inventing the Vieux Carre cocktail, but this is also a good opportunity to try a Sazerac. (The classic rye-whiskey drink is considered the city’s official drink.) Time it right and you may be able to secure a seat at the bar’s other claim to fame: the revolving merry-go-round bar.

For a true New Orleans dining experience, make Arnaud’s your next stop. The legendary restaurant has been serving well-dressed locals for over 100 years. Between courses of souffle potatoes and shrimp Arnaud, pop your head into the award-winning French 75 bar or sneak upstairs to see the old Mardi Gras paraphernalia.

Travelers say: “The thing you have to get [at Arnaud’s] is the cafe brulot. Coffee mixed with brandy and orange curacao, sugar, and cinnamon that has been set aflame and poured down an orange peel pierced with cloves. Yep. It's a great visual and a lovely way to end the evening.” —El-Cholestero

By this time Bourbon Street should be in full swing. As you’d expect from America’s party street, Bourbon gets loud, crowded, and messy. It can also be a whole lot of fun. At night, the entire street is closed to traffic, so you can walk up and down with your go-cup—that’s New Orleans’ speak for your to-go cocktail—and see everything from drag queens to tap dancers. (Just watch your stuff; there are also pickpockets.)

If you need a breather, drop into the Old Absinthe House, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (the purple voodoo daiquiri is delicious—and dangerous), or Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub. Or walk four blocks east to Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29 for a more civilized (but still really fun) option. Then try not to miss your flight home.

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go

New Orleans gets hot, so avoid the summer months if you can (especially July and August, which tend to be rainy and humid). The most popular times to visit are February (Mardi Gras) and spring (pleasant temps, Jazz Fest), but you’ll need to book your accommodations early.

The fall can also be a great, less-crowded time to visit. The weather is mild, and despite hurricane season running through November, the city doesn’t get a ton of rain (minus the rare storm).

Consider December and January as well—you’ll find lower hotel rates and easier-to-get dinner reservations. New Orleans can be chilly in the winter, but it’s still pretty mild compared to most of the country that time of year.

There’s not really a bad day to visit New Orleans. Weekends are fun, but they can also be crowded, making weekdays a good bet if you’re looking for a low-key getaway. As in many cities, some restaurants are closed on Mondays, but there’s no shortage of good places to eat. Another perk of visiting midweek? Many museums offer free or discounted admission.

Live music also tends to be a seven-days-a-week affair, but you can always check WWOZ’s Livewire Music Calendar to make sure your trip lines up with someone you want to hear.

You can find somewhere to eat, shop, or hear live music nearly any time of day. While most restaurants stop serving around 9 or 10, many late-night spots are open till 1 a.m., and some are even open 24/7. A good thing, because New Orleans doesn’t have a last call. Technically, bars can stay open 24 hours (and several do); however, most shut down around midnight or between 2 and 4 a.m.

Most jazz shows take place around dinnertime—between 6 and 10 p.m.—but some Frenchmen Street venues can go as late as 2 a.m.

French Quarter: If you want to be right in the action, this is your spot. It’s close to everything—and where we focus a good amount of our itinerary. A favorite of many Southern authors (including Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner), Hotel Monteleone has excellent service and a convenient location, especially for nightcaps at the Carousel Bar.

Uptown/Garden District: For a quieter vacation, choose the Uptown area (which covers the Garden District, a significant part of our Day 2 itinerary). Located in a 19th-century townhouse, Henry Howard Hotel feels like home-away-from-home, if that home was also unbelievably regal.

Central Business/Warehouse District: Close to the Quarter without being in the Quarter, the downtown area has some of the best museums, art galleries, and restaurants. Even if you’re not going to a Saints game, the CBD makes a solid home base, with hotels running from modern (Ace Hotel, The Troubadour) to historic (The Roosevelt).

By streetcar: Fun, inexpensive, and easy to navigate, streetcars are one of our favorite ways to see the city. With four different lines, they run most hours of the day and can take you to the general vicinity of nearly anywhere you want to go.

By rideshare: Uber, Lyft, and KreweCar (a locally owned service) all operate in New Orleans and make getting around easy.

By taxi: Cabs are a good (and safe) option as well. You can usually find stands near major hotels and attractions.

By bike: New Orleans is a truly bike-friendly city, with over a hundred miles of lanes. Take advantage of the city’s bike-sharing program or rent one from a local shop. If you aren’t comfortable navigating a new city on two wheels, there are also plenty of bike tours to choose from.

Public transportation: New Orleans doesn’t have a metro or subway system, but the city bus is reliable, as is the Algiers Ferry. You’ll also find the classic hop-on and hop-off buses, which you can pick up at most major landmarks.

Jay Blades
Jay Blades is a writer, content strategist, and design-led nomad. When she's not eating fish tacos in Baja, she's usually hiking in upstate New York, driving cross-country, or drinking rosé piscines in the other South of France. She's also the founder of Upstate & Elsewhere, where she and her husband document their adventures and daily life.