New Orleans is one of the most fascinating and exciting cities in the United States. Nicknamed the Big Easy, it’s usually associated with Mardi Gras, jazz, partying, and Creole food, but there’s a rich history to discover when exploring this melting pot of cultures.
3 days in New Orleans is the perfect amount of time to get acquainted with all the city has to offer, but be prepared to want to come back for more immediately! From ghost stories to enchanting architecture and unique museums, there are so many fun things to do in New Orleans.
This is our 3-day New Orleans itinerary, with all the best tips on where to stay, eat and drink in this stunning city, along with the best attractions that you must visit!
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The Best Time to Visit New Orleans
Without a doubt, the most popular time to visit New Orleans is between January and March when the city is taken over by celebrations for Mardi Gras! Of course, this period is very busy, so if you want to time your visit for Mardi Gras you will need to book well in advance and be prepared for steep prices.
If you are trying to save a little money, but still want to experience some of the Mardi Gras spectacles, then the best time to visit New Orleans is at the beginning of April. Decorations will still be up around the city but the crowds will have cleared out (mostly) and prices will have dropped (a little).
New Orleans is also a great destination around Halloween, although you will need to be prepared for colder and wetter weather – but that just adds to the ambiance!
Where to Stay in New Orleans
If you need some help figuring out the best areas for 3 days in New Orleans, we have narrowed down all the neighbourhoods to the four most unique, interesting, and convenient areas of the city.
The French Quarter is the most iconic and famous part of New Orleans, so if you want to be close to all the best attractions then you’ll want to stay in the heart of the city. Of course, this means it’s also the busiest and noisiest area, so if you’re not looking to party all night, you may want somewhere a bit more secluded.
Directly next to the French Quarter is the main CBD of New Orleans, which is also home to some upscale hotels and close enough to walk (or catch the Streetcar) to most of the main attractions.
The Arts/Warehouse District is right next to the CBD and is one of the most up-and-coming hip neighborhoods in New Orleans. As shown by the name, there are many art galleries and museums here, along with some landmark hotels.
Filled with grand old mansions and beautiful gardens, the Garden District is a bit further from the center of New Orleans, but still close enough for exploring by catching the St. Charles Streetcar. It’s also much quieter but still filled with excellent restaurants and cafés.
New Orleans Itinerary Day 1
Have Fun in the French Quarter
When it comes to things to do in New Orleans, you should definitely start off your first day exploring the historic heart of the city in the French Quarter. Filled with beautiful French and Spanish Creole architecture, this area also has many bars and parties to experience, especially along the famous Bourbon Street.
The quintessential French Quarter things to do includes a visit to Jackson Square, named for former US president Andrew Jackson and featuring a statue of him on a horse. After seeing Jackson Square, spend some time exploring the shops in Pirates Alley and go inside the beautiful St Louis Cathedral.
Where to eat in New Orleans #1 – The Court of Two Sisters
This gorgeous family restaurant is the perfect setting for a jazz brunch, where you can dine on delicious Creole and Cajun cuisine while listening to live jazz music. It doesn’t get much more New Orleans than this!
The courtyard, in particular, is one of the most beautiful settings for a meal, especially when the wisteria is in bloom. Take note of the charm gates, which were wrought in Spain and blessed by Queen Isabella so that anyone who touched them would also receive the blessing.
Explore the Garden District
Catch the Streetcar to the gorgeous Garden District, which is packed with antebellum mansions, grand oak trees, and the Lafayette Cemetery. It’s a lot quieter here than in the French Quarter but just as historic and a real treat for architecture buffs as there are several styles to see among the 19th-century southern-style mansions.
Magazine Street is also a must-visit, featuring six miles of local shops, art galleries, bars, restaurants, and colorful buildings. While a cemetery may not seem like a tourist attraction, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is famous for the many incredible tombs and mausoleums inside. It’s been closed since 2019 due to damage, but you can still look inside from the gates.
Where to eat in New Orleans #2 – Try some traditional Creole cuisine
One of the best things to do with 3 days in New Orleans is to sample all the delicious food! New Orleans is a real foodie destination, with the cuisine reflecting the same melting pot of cultures that have settled in the city over the years. Creole cuisine, a blend of West African, French, Spanish, Caribbean, and Native American cooking styles, is a must-try while you’re in the city. Head to any one of these restaurants for dinner to try some of the best food you’ve ever eaten!
The best places to eat traditional Creole cuisine in New Orleans:
🥘Gumbo Shop – As you might have guessed, this is one of the best places to try some gumbo! Gumbo is a popular meat and fish soup that is quintessentially New Orleans in that it blends all the elements of the city’s history in one dish.
🥘Galatoire’s Restaurant – Established in 1905 by Frenchman Jean Galatoire, this restaurant is still run by the same family and often has lines of customers down the street. Tennessee Williams dined here and even mentioned it in A Streetcar Named Desire!
🥘The Original Pierre Maspero’s – Located in one of the oldest buildings in New Orleans, (built in 1788) this was the base of famous smugglers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who helped plan the defense of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson against the British in 1812. Now it serves delicious and classic Creole cuisine.
🥘Antoine’s Restaurant – The oldest French-Creole restaurant in New Orleans, founded in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore and still run by the same family after five generations! Try the Oysters Rockefeller, since this is where they originated.
🥘Remoulade – A casual family-friendly café where you can try New Orleans signature dishes like remoulade (of course), po’boys, jambalaya, or red beans and rice.
Try not to scream during a French Quarter ghost tour!
A ghost tour is a must-do when it comes to cherry-picking fun activities with only 3 days in New Orleans. This night-time tour takes place on a mule-drawn carriage, so you’ll really feel like you’ve stepped back in time while learning about the creepiest stories from New Orleans’ past. Hear all the legends of voodoo and vampirism, while finding out which are the most haunted hotels in the city.
Afterward, if you need to calm down a little, go for drinks at The Carousel Bar and Lounge at Hotel Monteleone. The entire bar is actually an antique Merry-Go-Round that rotates (slowly), so it’s the perfect whimsical antidote to scary ghost stories!
New Orleans Itinerary Day 2
Learn about the city’s history on a Voodoo Tour!
This morning tour is perfect for anyone who doesn’t really want to be spooked at night, plus you’ll get to visit the famous St Louis Cemeteries. Your guide will explain many spine-chilling histories of New Orleans while taking you to famous spots such as Marie Laveau’s home and the pyramid mausoleum (where actor Nicolas Cage plans to be buried one day!). This is also a great way to learn the truth about voodoo and dispel any myths surrounding this fascinating religion.
Where to eat in New Orleans #3 – Café du Monde
Café du Monde is one of the most famous cafés in New Orleans for trying the delicious beignet, a deep-fried pastry covered in powdered sugar. This café basically only serves beignets and coffee, but it’s so popular that it’s usually packed. Get here early to try some of the fluffy dough balls and a café au lait for breakfast or head over late at night for dessert.
Hear the story of jazz at the New Orleans Jazz Museum
Along with ghosts, Creole cuisine, and Mardi Gras, New Orleans is renowned for its jazz scene, especially since the music genre actually originated in the city! This museum is housed in the historic Old U.S. Mint building and features many interactive exhibits for learning all about the evolution of jazz from its birth in the late 19th century to today.
Where to eat in New Orleans #4 – Jazz lunch all aboard a steamboat
What could be better after a visit to the Jazz Museum than a jazz lunch on board a historic steamboat?! Sail on the Mississippi River and enjoy a meal accompanied by live jazz. Guests can see all the major sights of New Orleans as they eat yummy Creole cuisine, sip craft cocktails and enjoy hearing traditional live jazz musicians perform. If you’re only doing 3 days in New Orleans, then this is a must-do activity!
Hit up the jazz clubs for some more smooth music and drinks
Continue with the jazz theme by checking out some of the coolest bars for live jazz music in New Orleans. While most people head to Bourbon Street to party, nearby Frenchman Street is also renowned for containing some great jazz clubs and often live music in the street.
The best places to watch New Orleans jazz:
🎷Preservation Hall – This is one of the most popular places for jazz in the whole city, having first opened in 1960. There are often lines outside to hear the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band, so make sure you get there early to get a seat. It’s located in the heart of the French Quarter.
🎷The Spotted Cat Music Club – This is a smaller, more casual space in Frenchman Street, but also a wonderful bar and venue for enjoying local jazz talent.
🎷The Jazz Playhouse – The Jazz Playhouse is located inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter and provides a luxurious space to enjoy classy cocktails with your live jazz.
🎷Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub – Located on Bourbon Street, Fritzel’s is the oldest operating jazz club in New Orleans. You can hear traditional jazz here every night of the week.
🎷Bayou Bar – Bayou Bar is located inside the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District, but is definitely worth the small journey to get there. Wednesday through Saturday there’s live jazz music in the same location that both Frank Sinatra and Truman Capote liked to visit.
The Hot Tin bar on the roof of the hotel is also a great spot for a drink while enjoying the views over the city. It’s been designed to look like the home of Tennessee Williams, who is thought to have been living in the hotel while he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire!
New Orleans Itinerary Day 3
Visit the National World War II Museum
While it’s located in New Orleans, this is the official World War II museum of the United States and a must-visit to better understand the American experience during WWII. The museum contains many immersive exhibits for all generations to see how ‘the war that changed the world’ affected so many parts of modern life, making it one of the best family things to do.
Where to eat in New Orleans #5 – Willa Jean
Willa Jean is a bakery and café that serves up some of the most scrumptious southern cooking you’ll ever eat! They’re only open from 7 am – 3 pm but that is plenty of time to try some griddled banana bread with whipped butter, biscuits and gravy, or their incredible home fries with potatoes, bacon, gravy, onions, and cheese curds.
Learn About New Orleans’ Dark Past on a Tour of the Whitney Plantation
While New Orleans is a beautiful and exciting destination now, there’s no denying it has a dark past since it was almost entirely built by enslaved people. The Whitney Plantation is one of the best museums for learning more about the horrific history of slavery in New Orleans and Louisiana.
Unlike some other plantations that are open as museums, this is the only one that focuses on the lives of the enslaved people rather than romanticizing the lives of the enslavers. Be prepared to be moved and even cry, but it’s a must-visit to properly understand all parts of New Orleans’ history.
Where to eat in New Orleans #6 – Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
You’ve already had some of the best Creole cuisines so, with 3 days in New Orleans, tonight is all about the other food that New Orleans is known for – seafood. Have dinner at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (inside the Hilton Hotel) to gorge on oysters, shrimp, lobster, crawfish, or even gator! The menu also features some steak and chicken dishes, but this is not really a destination for vegetarians…
‘Walk the Devil’s Empire‘ on a Night Tour
Spend your final evening ‘enjoying’ (?) a horror tour of New Orleans on this adults-only journey through the scariest secrets of America’s Most Haunted City! This tour uses cool handheld projectors called “HELL VISION” to add spooky images to real-life locations and is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Alternatively, if you are done with scary tours, or perhaps if you need to relax after the last one, go for drinks at May Bailey’s Place, which was once one of the most famous bordellos in the city. Now it’s a sexy boudoir-inspired bar where you can sip cocktails and listen to live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Other New Orleans Activities and Attractions
If you happen to have more than 3 days in New Orleans to explore or want to swap out some of our suggested activities, here are some more fun things to see and do in New Orleans.
📍The Dim Corner Tour – This tour is run by the same company that does the Walking the Devil’s Empire tour, so it’s similar in tone but might make a good alternative if the other is fully booked. Or if you’re a big fan of ghost stories and creepy history then you might want to do both, as they cover different routes and stories.
📍Laura Plantation Tour – This plantation tour is also very interesting, especially since it was originally run by women. It does cover information about the enslaved people but also focuses on what life was like for wealthy white women in Antebellum Creole Louisiana. Alternatively, you can visit the Oak Valley Plantation instead.
📍A Bayou Swampboat Adventure – If you’re more interested in gators and other wildlife rather than ghost stories, head out to the Louisiana swamplands! This boat excursion gives guests the chance to see the famous Bayous which surround New Orleans and are home to many bird species as well as alligators. While most attractions in New Orleans are more adult-oriented, this adventure is one of the best family things to do.
Some of the best French Quarter things to do includes a visit to one (or all) of these particularly weird museums:
📍Pharmacy Museum – This museum is located inside an old apothecary and is filled with old medical equipment along with other weird and creepy specimens.
📍Voodoo Museum – After you’ve taken a tour to understand more about voodoo you’ll be able to better understand all the voodoo paraphernalia on display in this tiny museum.
📍Museum of Death – For those who love the macabre, this museum displays lots of creepy items to do with death!
📍Commander’s Palace – Commander’s Palace in the Garden District is one of the most amazing restaurants in New Orleans, but it’s hard to get a table. However, you can usually walk in for lunch and take advantage of their 25-cent martini weekday special!
Do be aware that there is a dress code as this is a very fancy spot, but the weekday lunch specials are a good way to (along with those cheap martinis) save on what would otherwise be a very pricey meal.
And now you have the ultimate guide to 3 days in New Orleans! Make sure you also read these interesting facts about New Orleans before you go and see all the things you can do in the city here. Want more itineraries to help plan your own trip? Check out our other guides to amazing destinations like New York City and Nashville.