I have not extensively traveled the world, but I have learned the value of a weekend away.
Sometimes it’s a spontaneous staycation, and other trips require months of planning. Some cities are quiet, tranquil getaways, and in some cities you know you’ll be at top speed with an itinerary.
New Orleans is, to me, neither and both of these. It is both electric and comfy. Though the city is very large and sprawling, you will feel like you’re in a small town. Everyone will make you feel at home, like you’ve been there your whole life. I have had a very hard time describing my experience there as I cannot easily compare it to any other city I’ve visited.
There is a magical feeling in the atmosphere in New Orleans.
NOLA is a city that must be experienced firsthand and I highly recommend it to everyone. There is joy in the music that echoes through the streets of the French Quarter. There is history in the hotels-turned-jazz-museums and in the cemeteries. There is a somber reminder in the markers on buildings that signify Hurricane Katrina’s forever presence in this city. And there is always the possibility of a happy belly from the countless restaurants, bars, and marketplaces.
I visited the Big Easy again this past October for Halloween (a trip affectionately dubbed “NOLAween”). My trips there have been centered around the Halloween holiday, so planning early was a must for me, however if you have the means to take a spontaneous trip here definitely do it! My favorite places to look for a place to stay are Hotels.com, Booking.com, and Airbnb. Look early and often, keeping an eye out for sales, especially around holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. If you must fly, keep an eye out for flash airfare sales happening around days like Black Friday, Labor Day, and before or after holidays. I stayed in the gorgeous French Quarter, and there are definitely deals to be had there.
Other neighborhoods include the Garden District, Marigny, and the Warehouse District, but where you’d like to stay depends on what you want to do on your trip. Staying in the French Quarter for a first-time trip to NOLA is a good choice – you are central to plenty of attractions, famous restaurants, and music venues. Ultimately where you stay should be determined by what you want to do while in the city. Will you be going on tours? Will you recreate a Best Bars in America episode for four days? Are you going for Mardi Gras? All these factors can help you determine where to stay, the distance you need to be from certain attractions, and when to start planning.
A big highlight of my first trip to NOLA included attending Voodoo Music Festival, a huge music festival held in City Park. While we did not hang out at the festival every day, we did catch big acts like the Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, and local artist Troy Andrews a.k.a. Trombone Shorty. While a festival is a festival, Voodoo did have a few things I’d never seen at a festival: for example, people were allowed to bring in chairs and chill on all the fields. If that is your thing, then spending several hours there is definitely worth it. Plus, you get the very fun Halloween vibe going on all weekend.
On my second trip to NOLA, my friends and I didn’t attend the festival and took more time to do things we didn’t do on our first trip like talk a walking ghost tour of the French Quarter and check out the Magazine District. I highly recommend doing some kind of walking tour because while it is very touristy, it is a nice way to get acquainted with the quarter. We had a blast celebrating Halloween on Frenchman Street in a bar called The Blue Nile. The live music there was so incredible – the band was even in costume!
But I think what I enjoyed most was just adventuring out on our own and seeing what we could find and who we could meet. Even in the rain people are prepared to party, and the atmosphere will grip you!
If you do plan out no other activities, plan out where you’d like to EAT – there are more than enough choices to last a long weekend. There are so many food options that you’ll wish you had more than one stomach. I did. Between the beignets, the gumbo, the cocktails, the hot dogs, the drinks, and the jazz brunch where I had the best omelette of my life, I wish I had brought more stretchy pants.
Food highlight: Beignets! Beignets! Beignets! I feel like they’re a quintessential thing to try in NOLA. It’s a simple dessert, but trust me you’ll want more. If you’re like me and your wardrobe is 80% dark colors, you’ll have fun dusting yourself off after you eat these heaps of goodness. Seriously just go straight from the airport to Café Du Monde. Eat them at any time of day. Eat an entire order by yourself. And don’t forget to try the chicory coffee.
I may only know what the city feels like around a holiday/event weekend, but I am sure the same spirit of adventure and authenticity persists year-round. The experience you have in NOLA is what you make it. I visited the city with little knowledge and very few set plans the first time around, and I honestly had the time of my life. I will be visiting New Orleans for many years to come.
Visit NOLA and you will leave feeling like you have a second home, with jazz thrumming in your heart, a new resilient attitude, and inspiration to go out into the world unafraid.
To see more photos from my trip to NOLA, check out my VSCO Journal!
NOLA Food Resources: