“Everything in New Orleans is a good idea.” – Bob Dylan
New Orleans Travel Guide
History, beauty, and seafood in the bayou.
I have been wanting to visit New Orleans for such a long time, which puzzled a lot of people close to me. I suppose it’s because I’m more of a Sunday morning person than a Saturday night person and when most people think of New Orleans, they think of partying on Bourbon Street, but The Big Easy has so much more to offer. I’m here to tell you about it!
The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans
First let’s talk about the Ritz. Le sigh. The Ritz. It was my first time staying at a Ritz (you never forget your first time, do you?) and I’m officially hooked. The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans has a quiet elegance that screams true luxury. The hotel has a great location on Canal Street, easily walkable to all the action of the French Quarter without being in the noisy midst of it all. The staff was so courteous and everyone called me by my actual name (Katie-Rose) instead of Katie which is what nearly everyone – even those who know I loathe it – call me. Kudos to everyone at the Ritz for getting it right!
My friend Nicole and I arrived before check in and decided to leave our bags with the front desk to have a late lunch at M Bistro, their courtyard restaurant. (Review below.) I really could have spent the rest of the day lounging on that couch amongst the fountains and vines! I couldn’t help but notice how calm the environment of the Ritz was. In three days, I never once saw or heard a squabbling child.
We were originally to be on the 12th floor but a room on the 7th was ready sooner. The room was beautifully dressed with regal touches. The bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. (We got a king because a queen room was more expensive and frankly, we couldn’t care less about bunking together.) The bathroom, much to my delight, was adorned with white and grey marble, my favorite. The bathroom could use a bit more counter space for women but it had that fabulous old-time French feel that perfectly suited the atmosphere of New Orleans.
The only M Bistro drawback is having to choose between the gorgeous dining room with live music and the equally gorgeous courtyard. Don’t you love tough vacation decisions like that? For our first meal in NOLA, we opted for the M Bistro courtyard.
I ordered the shrimp po-boy. When in Rome, right? The shrimp was nicely seasoned with a light, crispy breading. It came on soft french bread with lettuce, tomato, and a delicious creole sauce. I opted for a side salad instead of french fries. My travel companion ordered burrata flat bread that tasted fresh with bright flavors of tomato and pesto.
For dessert, we ordered the chocolate cake, but we suspect our waiter instead gave us the chocolate mousse. If it was the cake, it was the moussiest cake I’ve ever had! It was surprisingly light for chocolate. We didn’t feel too guilty about eating it. (Although to be fair, I never feel guilty about eating on vacation because I travel for the food!)
Bourbon Street and a Literary Walking Tour
After lunch at the Ritz and settling into our room, we decided to stretch our legs. With famous literary addresses in tow, we set out to explore the Quarter. It should be noted that I promised my dad we wouldn’t set foot on Bourbon Street. It should also be noted that we spent quite a long time on Bourbon Street. (Sorry, Dad!) Personally I prefer Royal Street with its classy shops and epic antique store (more on that later) but Bourbon Street did have some great souvenir shops.
Thanks to requesting a travel brochure from Visit New Orleans one year ago, I knew about the New Orleans literary walking tour. We found Tennessee Williams’ home (722 Toulouse) first before hunting down William Faulkner’s home at 624 Pirate Alley. What I would give to have an address like that!
From Pirate Alley, we noticed art at the end of the street (not a festival, apparently this is what New Orleans is like on any given Sunday) and walked towards it, accidentally stumbling upon Jackson Square. Everything is close in the Quarter! Coming from Texas where everything is an hour’s drive, I found the walkability particularly charming.
Jackson Square is unbelievably beautiful. The architecture all over the French Quarter really is breathtaking but Jackson Square honestly looked like a different country. I couldn’t even believe I was a mere hour’s plane ride away from home. There are so many great photo ops around historical Jackson Square. My only regret was not touring the Cathedral!
A slew of horse- and mule-drawn carriages await tourists on the riverside of Jackson Square. The outskirts of the park are lined with paintings by local artists.
Cafe du Monde is nearby and if you cross the street, you can see Steamboat Natchez and the Mississippi River.
When you’re done admiring the steamboat, turn around at Artillery Park and you’ll get a great shot of Jackson Square and the epic cathedral.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop & Bar
This is an absolute must. No exceptions. Go to Lafitte’s, especially if you love history as much as I do. This is the oldest bar in the United States, having served pirates as early as 1772. Drink like a pirate? Don’t mind if I do.
Located just a few minutes’ walk from Jackson Square, Lafitte’s was already a hot spot at 4:00 pm on a Sunday. I read reviews before my trip that described Lafitte’s as “dark” and “dingy” but I could not disagree more. I had low expectations but was determined to have a drink for the historical value of it. I was pleasantly surprised at how bright and airy the space was, considering it’s hundreds of years old.
We asked our waitress what we should order and she strongly suggested the hurricane, which comes in a souvenir cup. I had never had a hurricane before but knew it was a New Orleans classic and involved rum, which seemed appropriate to drink at Lafitte’s. My goodness gracious, does Lafitte’s serve a delicious hurricane!
Our waitress explained that many other bars and restaurants use a powdered mix but not Lafitte’s: they use a custom blend of fresh passion fruit juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice. I may have to try to recreate this at home. Hilariously enough, you’re not supposed to stir the cocktail, a fact that drove Nicole nuts. It gets sweeter and sweeter as you drink it so that by the end you throw your arms in the air and say, “Another, please!”
Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro
We originally had a dinner reservation at Meauxbar because I wanted the mussels and frites. Unfortunately, they were out of mussels and frites and didn’t really have any other New Orleans options on the menu. Nicole said it best: “We’re literally here for the food and we only have one night to eat in a restaurant.” (Monday’s dinner would be on Steamboat Natchez.) “Let’s go somewhere else!” So we ordered a quick appetizer just to be polite then headed over to Arnaud’s. Luckily, Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro was able to squeeze us in.
I really couldn’t have had a more new New Orleans meal at Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro: a French 75 cocktail, seafood gumbo, and oysters five ways. Our front waiter, Bobby, had Disney prince-level good looks and suggested the French 75, which is a combination of Courvoisier VS, Sugar, Lemon Juice, Moet and Chandon Champagne. Delicious. (Equally delicious was making plans with Bobby for the following night, though a comedy of errors ensued and we never did meet back up.)
The seafood gumbo wasn’t too spicy and had succulent chunks of fish. I ordered Oysters Arnaud to try all five of their baked oysters. (I apologize for the low-quality photo – my digital camera doesn’t do well in low light.) The Bienville was my favorite with its mixture of shrimp, mushrooms, green onions, and herbs. Because if you’re baking an oyster, why not add shrimp?
Brennan’s has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I first had bananas foster at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney when I was probably ten years old. (Read about my love of Disneyland here.) I was enchanted by the flaming dessert and vowed to someday order it at the restaurant that invented it, Brennan’s in New Orleans.
Bananas foster is my favorite non-chocolate dessert. I love it so much that I even turned it into a cake a couple of months ago. The bananas foster at Brennan’s is as follows: a sauce consisting of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, bananas, rum made (and flambéed!) right at your table, served over vanilla ice cream. Named after a friend of the owner, the dish did not originally include ice cream. Our waiter told us that he makes bananas foster tableside 15-20 times each night.
The buttery caramel-rum sauce starts melting the ice cream the minute it’s ladled into your bowl. The bananas are soft and so sweet. Everything just melts into one bite of happiness. I enjoyed the Ralph coffee and Nicole had Bailey’s coffee.
I wish I had gone to Brennan’s earlier in the evening so I could take better photos. The pictures really don’t do the courtyard justice. It’s magical. The dining rooms have stunning frescos if you’d rather sit inside, but we deemed the twinkly lights and fountains of the courtyard to be one of the most romantic dining experiences we had ever seen. Gentlemen, take your ladies here. Just trust me! This is easily one of my favorite restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining at. Now that I’ve enjoyed their bananas foster, my new culinary goal is to eat a whole meal at Brennan’s. Perhaps a future birthday? I could be persuaded!
All the locals kept recommending Frenchman Street and Carousel Bar. We never did make it to Frenchman Street (next time!) but we did experience Carousel Bar where an old college friend bought us cocktails. (Thanks, Chris!) The haunting Carousel actually slowly rotates so if you get there early enough, you’ll get 360 degree views of the room. The atmosphere of the 65 year-old bar was quite classy despite the circus theme and everyone in the bar was impeccably dressed. Even on a Sunday night, Carousel Bar was packed. We could hardly find a seat!
I ordered the Ward 8 martini, which looked exactly like candy corn. It was decent and quite good at the end (I’m thinking that’s grenadine at the bottom) but my friend’s Vieux Carre was absolutely superb. I should have taken his advice and ordered it. If you have one drink at Carousel Bar, order the Vieux Carre.
Turn Down at The Ritz-Carlton
I suppose one ought to expect a nice turn-down service at the Ritz-Carlton but I was ill prepared. My robe was laying on the bed, perfectly laid out with slippers, chocolates, the TV remote, and a bottled water. So thoughtful!
I also want to thank the wonderful folks at the Ritz for the goodies waiting for me on Sunday night! What a treat to see my new logo made out of chocolate. The cupcake was absolutely delicious with a thick layer of chocolate buttercream hiding beneath dark chocolate petals. Sublime!
The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton
We slept in on Monday. I had a 10:00 am voodoo massage appointment at The Spa at the Ritz – what a treat! The spa is enormous and just as luxurious as you would expect. They had the nicest spread in the waiting room: hummus, veggies, fruit, tea, cucumber water. The women’s lounge is so cozy with giant daybeds and canopies that make you feel secluded from everyone else in the waiting room, which I appreciated since the other women there were complaining about the delicious delicious cucumber water. Can you imagine complaining about refreshing spa water?
In addition to the lounge and treatment rooms, The Spa has a eucalyptus steam room, sauna, enormous and well-equipped bathrooms, and a pool. I had every intention of enjoying the steam room but I couldn’t bear to part with my robe, which is the best robe in the history of robes. Apparently they got new robes in the week before that are a lightweight, summer fabric and you just feel infinitely classier wearing it.
Angel, my massage therapist, escorted me to a candlelit treatment room filled with red rose petals and voodoo chanting. I loved it instantly. She had me start face up, unusual but far more pleasant than a typical massage. I always get terribly congested laying face down on a massage table. This was possibly the first time ever that I could actually breathe during my massage thanks to starting face up. The pressure was perfect and I had all of my kinks worked out without having the soreness of a deep tissue massage. I particularly enjoyed the peppermint “wake up” breath at the end of the massage.
I’m often quiet during massages, opting to listen to the music and relax, but Angel was delightful and had all sorts of great tips and stories about New Orleans. She told me that she once worked as a server and bartender at a plantation just outside the city that had an alligator living in the backyard. Apparently they saw him all the time and learned that he loved marshmallows. This is a viral video waiting to happen! They used to toss him marshmallows and he’d snap at them and gobble them up and wander away. He never caused any trouble all the years she worked there. I highly recommend requesting Angel for a treatment so that your massage will come with a side of fantastic local lore.
Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters
I try not to only do the famous places when I travel, opting usually to try the local favorites, but I was told by so many people that The Court of Two Sisters was a must for brunch. The courtyard, like so many in New Orleans, is stunning. There’s a giant tree in the middle (think Ferngully) that acts as a canopy for the majority of the massive courtyard. There’s also a fountain that we weren’t embarrassed to take a photo with because most of the diners did the same.
They had already started serving lunch but we decided to stick with breakfast items since we were going to have a late lunch later. I grabbed ham, bacon, fruit, crawfish, shrimp, creamed spinach, hashbrowns, and muffins. I am an absolute muffin snob and a chocolate chocolate chip muffin is one of my favorite vacation treats. This is the second best chocolate chocolate chip muffin I’ve ever had. Don’t skimp on the muffins when you go. You’re on vacation for Pete’s sake! Other favorites include the cheesy hashbrowns and creamed spinach. Our waiter also patiently taught me how to properly eat crawfish, though it turns out I’m really not that great at it.
The best part about buffets is not having to choose one dessert. I got some more fruit, cheese, another muffin (told you I loved it!), King’s Cake (my first!), red velvet cake, and a ridiculously moist brownie. It was more like fudge, really. The star was the King’s Cake, which I did not expect to be so moist. It looks like it would be rather dry, don’t you agree? It’s not. It’s full of cinnamon flavor and has a lot in common with a great cinnamon role.
The inside of the restaurant looked really cool. I especially loved the Charm Gate. New Orleans is full of fun photo ops!
Keil’s Antiques on Royal Street
Royal Street is quite classy. I can’t stress this enough. The shops are adorable and we spent quite a lot of time shopping on Royal, which runs parallel to Bourbon. (I’m still sad I didn’t get the “Beignet Done That” mug at Cafe Beignet!) I loved Keil’s Antiques so much that I asked the manager for permission to take photos to show you. Keil’s is a three-story antique shop that happens to be the oldest antique store in New Orleans. Established in 1899, I’m told that Keil’s has first right of refusal on most antiques in the city.
Keil’s could easily be called Chandelier World. The whole first floor has sparkler after sparkler hanging from the ceiling. Everything is in startlingly good shape considering some of the items are from the 1700s. This convertible writing desk for instance is in flawless condition. I could hardly pry Nicole away from it!
Personally I loved this enormous armoire found in the back. Doesn’t it look like it leads to Narnia? Keil’s ships all the way to Saudi Arabia and Singapore so if you see something you like, they can get it to you.
And if you ever wished you lived in a historic home, here’s your chance. On the second floor they have actual walls from a home built in the mid-1800s. This place is practically a museum the way it’s set up. They have some really fun pieces so if you’re an antique fanatic like me, you’ll love it.
Royal Praline Company
Pralines galore! We popped into this Royal Street candy shop to pick up goodies for our families. There were barrels of pralines. Literally barrels. I selected some chocolates, sea salt caramels, and classic pralines to give to my mum. She said the pralines were the best she’s ever had! Royal Praline Company also has beignet and hurricane mixes, t-shirts, mini voodoo dolls, cajun spices, and all sorts of goodies. I’m having anti-buyers remorse that I didn’t grab a pack of pralines for myself! I’ve still never eaten a praline.
We weren’t even hungry when we walked into Drago’s. Not one bit. But I wanted to review the charbroiled oysters for you so I took one for the team. You’re welcome. Nicole got a crab salad and I ordered have a dozen charbroiled oysters, which comes with french bread to lap up the butter. They looked just gorgeous and the oysters were so plump. The parmesan-garlic flavor was delicious but they were a bit buttery for my taste. I’m probably the only person that says that! I easily make grilled oysters twice a month and I skip the butter-sauce that most restaurants serve with them. I’m not a big melted butter fan so if you are, you will love these.
I assumed since it’s touted as Drago’s on the river that there were river views. I was quite picturing having oysters on the river. That’s not the case, so if you go, don’t expect water views. It’s right across from the aquarium that I would have loved to tour but there are only so many hours in a day.
Lafayette Cemetery Number 1
We incorrectly assumed the cemeteries would be open until sunset. They close at 4. We finished at Drago’s at 3. We had planned on taking the street car since it’s so cheap and I’d read many travel guides that say it’s a great mode of transportation. I disagree. We looked it up and it would have taken 45 minutes to get to the Garden District (two miles away) on the street car. So I ordered my first ever Uber.
The cemeteries or “Eternal Cities” of New Orleans are not to be missed. They’re bursting with history and style. Each tomb tells a story. I was fascinated to learn that some locals are still being buried in the very tombs that their ancestors were buried in 150 years earlier. Incredible! You can easily walk around the Lafayette Cemetery in an hour and it’s worth the time.
The Garden District
Does that sound like somewhere The Rose Table should be or what? If you love architecture and plants, you will appreciate the Garden District. Each house is more stunning than the last. I took an obnoxious amount of photos of strangers’ homes. I kept exclaiming, “I can’t believe people actually live here!” My entire neighborhood in Texas didn’t exist ten years ago so to see houses so old and stylistic is really fun for me on vacation. I’m not going to show you photos of random people’s homes (those were mainly to show my mom!) but I will show you Anne Rice’s house because (1) it’s glorious and (2) it has a plaque and therefore feels appropriate to take a photo of.
I watch Interview with a Vampire every single October so standing in front of the author’s house was a pretty exciting moment. Built in 1857, the house can be found on First, just a couple streets over from the well-known Magazine Street. It didn’t feel like a long walk from the cemetery but then again we were quite surprised to see that we hit 17,000 steps for the day. Not all who wander are lost, right? The Garden District is easy to wander around.
One of the highlights of the trip was Steamboat Natchez. I read mixed reviews on TripAdvisor so I asked Kristen at the Ritz about it. She said, “Do you like boats? Do you like jazz? Do you like sunsets? Then you’ll like Steamboat Natchez!” That sums it up nicely! The view of the French Quarter right off the bat are lovely. Some of the TripAdvisor reviewers complain that the views are mostly industrial but that’s hardly the Steamboat’s fault. That’s what’s on the Mississippi River! The sunset was so glorious over the water, I really didn’t notice anything else except the spunky jazz band and refreshing hurricane. I honestly can’t believe I considered skipping it.
We had a 7:45 pm dining reservation, the later seating option. I highly recommend the later seating because we were able to enjoy the sunset before heading downstairs to the dining room. We had a reserved table by the window with the loveliest view, seen below.
If you’re wondering whether you should opt for a meal on the cruise, you should. Its not that much more expensive and it’s a ton of food. It’s also the first time I’ve liked catfish! At the buffet, you have your choice of catfish with tartar sauce or beef tenderloin plus pork loin, veggie pasta, sweet potatoes, creamed spinach, a soft roll, and bread pudding. Nicole loved the veggie pasta but I was all about the creamed spinach. Is creamed spinach a New Orleans thing? Everyone seems to do it so well! The wedge salad has a fantastic maple dressing and slab of bacon. The alligator soup sounds exotic but it actually tastes similar to tortilla soup. All in all, a solid meal with fantastic river views.
If you want to know what it’s like to cruise down the Mississippi on Steamboat Natchez, here you go:
Cafe du Monde
As if I’m going to go to New Orleans and not eat beignets. As if. We were stuffed after the steamboat cruise but Cafe du Monde is a stone’s throw away from the Steamboat and it was our last opportunity to try the hallowed beignets.
My goodness gracious. I could honestly hop on a flight right now to have one of these beignets. Nicole and I split an order of beignets (which come three to an order) and a cafe au lait for dipping and we laughed later that we each could have easily wolfed down an order.
Considering they’re fried dough with mounds of powdered sugar, they’re incredibly easy to squeeze in. They were gone in seconds. They’re sweet and tender on the inside but crunchy on the outside. I see why they’re the gold standard that every beignet is measured against. Dipping them in coffee is a must. I learned that from watching a New Orleans special with Ted Allen. The powdered sugar falls into the coffee (nothing wrong with that) and the dough hangs on to the cafe au lait. A match made in culinary heaven!
French Quarter After Dark
After our beignets, we wandered around the Quarter, bumping into a ghost tour and popping into shops for souvenirs. There is history all around to be found and fun spooks like the back of the St. Louis Cathedral, photographed below. Day or night, you don’t need to go looking for live music in New Orleans. The French Quarter is live music. Before the trip, I was very concerned with where to go to hear jazz. That thought makes me laugh now! Music pumps through the Quarter like the blood in your veins. Bands set up on every street corner and some of the voices rivaled those with platinum record deals. It’s not all jazz either; we heard some really nice acoustic versions of pop music while walking the streets.
M Bistro – Breakfast
After a good night’s sleep at the Ritz, we popped downstairs for breakfast at M Bistro. This time we sat in the gorgeous dining room, adjacent to the Davenport Lounge where resident jazz singer Jeremy Davenport plays Wednesday-Saturday. (I’m actually listening to his CD as I write this.)
I was tempted to order a waffle or french toast (which comes with bananas foster sauce!) but instead opted for the Bayou Boudin Breakfast, mainly because I had no idea what boudin was. The dish comes with amazing breakfast potatoes mixed with bell peppers and onions, eggs (I ordered mine poached), boudin sausage, and an incredible hollandaise sauce. I practically licked the plate. The boudin was a bit spicy for my taste but it mixed really well with everything else.
The beauty, architecture, history, and food of New Orleans are not to be missed. If you think a trip to New Orleans is only for those wanting to party on Bourbon until the wee hours of the morning, think again. The Big Easy has so much to offer, it’s impossible to fit it all in during a two-night vacation. I guess I’ll just have to go back! Until we meet again, New Orleans.
Book this trip:
- Stay at the Ritz-Carlton
- Shop on Bourbon Street
- Find the homes of Tennesee Williams and William Faulkner (free!)
- Tour Jackson Square (free!)
- Have a drink at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar & Shop
- Eat at Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro
- Enjoy bananas foster at Brennan’s
- Have a drink at Carousel Bar
- Try the voodoo massage at the Spa at the Ritz
- Have brunch at The Court of Two Sisters
- Shop on Royal Street
- Pick up sweet treats at Royal Praline Company
- Eat oysters at Drago’s
- Wander around Lafayette Cemetery (free!)
- Tour the Garden District (free!)
- Find Anne Rice’s house (free!)
- Cruise the Mississippi on Steamboat Natchez
- Eat beignets at Cafe du Monde
- Have breakfast at M Bistro
A few more snaps:
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be a general resource. Any recommendations are based on personal opinion. A portion of this trip may have been compensated but opinions are my own, always. I’m not a fan of negativity so if I don’t like something, I don’t write about it.