4-5 Day Travel Itinerary: New Orleans Zydeco and Blues
This 4 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary will help you explore the Creole melting pot that is New Orleans. The itinerary highlights this vacation destination's lovely architecture, mouth-watering food, and funky entertainment. Use our trip planner to get pointed in a general direction and then see where this Louisiana city takes you.
New Orleans hits you in the gut. Never have I fallen out of or into love with a location so quickly. Driving from the airport to the French Quarter, I was disheartened by the seediness of the city. But at some point on the half hour ride, disenchantment turned to fascination. And, suddenly, I was smitten.
New Orleans bombards the senses. The city is an intoxicating collection of love/hate contrasts. Beautiful balcony gardens are attached to grimy buildings. Magnificent alleys and hidden courtyards shoot off shabby avenues. It all adds to the Big Easy’s character. Here, the junk shop is as much fun to check out as the custom-made hat shop. The city keeps you curious about what’s around the next corner. What sense will next come alive?
Be prepared to be surprised. And, hopefully, to fall in love.
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Day 1: French Quarter Walking Tour and Bourbon Street
Check into your hotel and begin a walking tour of New Orleans' historic district. This afternoon we will explore the French Quarter. In this 13 x 6 block area, the streets are laid out in a French-style military grid. Although the French were the first Europeans to develop the area, the architecture is mostly Spanish (Spain rebuilt the city after the fire of 1788).
Begin the walk at the intersection of Canal and Royal Streets. After walking Royal Street, we will cross over to Bourbon St. for the return trip to Canal. This distance is roughly 2 miles. You are encouraged to stray up and down the streets that connect these two avenues, making the walk longer, further, and infinitely more fun.
Royal Street is an elegant avenue full of distinctive shops and some of the most beautifully latticed balconies in the city. Though only one block over from Bourbon, it is much more reserved. On this street you will find exquisite antiques, paintings, and jewelry for sale.
During the day, the shuttered walls of the restaurants and shops will open and spill onto the street. As you wander along, don’t forget about the side streets. On these back alleys you never know when an ornate gate might lead to tiled courtyard selling fountains, sculptures, or other fine art.
Just past the intersection of Royal and St. Louis, you will pass the Historic New Orleans Collection (a free art gallery). Two streets later, veer onto St. Peter’s Street and stop at Pat O’Briens Bar for a snack and a Hurricane cocktail. There are a number of historic houses you can visit. Or simply find a restaurant with tables on the street, order a drink, and watch the world go by.
Every afternoon Royal Street is closed off and the area fills up with street performers. There are mimes, magicians, and some of the best jazz, blues, and ragtime bands you’ll ever hear. It is amazing how quickly these bands can set up. One minute there is an empty street. The next there is a full-blown concert in play.
Once you cross over to Bourbon, the atmosphere changes. Amble along, and soak it all in. There are neon signs advertising bars, voodoo stores, and palm reading parlors. Everywhere you look there are breasts, beads, and bawdy shops chock full of sex toys and tacky souvenirs.
Later this evening, return to Bourbon Street and see it all again when the neon lights are lit against the black sky. In the evening the street is closed to traffic. Begin your evening with dinner at Galatoire’s, a Creole restaurant offering regional favorites since 1905. The eatery doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to people watch while you wait in line.
After dinner, enjoy the strip. Most of the sex clubs are centered in one area. Away from that area you can wander from bar to bar, drink over-priced alcohol, and listen to great music. Enjoy the spectacle, but do be aware of your own personal safety. There are grifters and thieves waiting for unsuspecting tourists. See the Safety Tip at the end of the article for more information on this topic.
Day 2: Jackson Square, Mardi Gras World, and a Riverboat Cruise
This morning we will finish our exploration of the French Quarter and move on to the waterfront. Begin your morning walk at the intersection of Canal and Chartres Streets. The first section of Chartres Street is a pleasing mix of upscale galleries, shops and restaurants. In the first few blocks you will pass the Supreme Court building, and a famous bar called the Napoleon House.
About mid-way down the street you will come to Jackson Square. The area is a pretty green space that originated as a military practice ground. Today, the green is the city’s epicenter of fun. All hours of the day you are apt to see gymnasts performing routines, unicyclists, or break dancers tearing up the turf.
The church overlooking the square is St. Louis Cathedral. Peek in if the church is open. Continuing down the avenue, you will pass the Ursuline Convent and the Beauregard-Keyes House which is nice to tour if you have the time.
At the end of Chartres Street take Esplanade Avenue, and then Decatur Street a short distance until you hit the French Market. Here, you can walk through a mix of fruit, vegetable and souvenir stalls. At the end of the market you will find Café du Monde where you can purchase a bag of fresh beignets and eat them at an open-air table by the edge of Jackson Square.
Walk to the water and locate the Moonwalk. This wide trail winds along the Mississippi River. On it, you will have terrific views of the waterfront. Follow the Moonwalk to the Woldenberg Riverfront Park. Explore a bit. Then, check out the high-end chain stores at the Canal Place Shopping Center or the Riverwalk Marketplace’s shops and restaurants.
Round out the afternoon with a trip to the chaotic and colorful Madri Gras World. If you can’t be at a parade, it’s fun to see artist’s creating the carnival creations that will become a part of the celebrations. Onsite, you will tour a 300,000 square foot working warehouse where floats are made. Note: Mardi Gras World offers free shuttle pickup. See website for details.
For dinner tonight, we suggest trying Mulates Restaurant. The establishment bills itself at the ‘King of Cajun Dining and Dance Halls.’ Home-cooked food and a fais do do (Cajun dance party) is on the menu. Joe and I loved the comfortable atmosphere and the local dancers two-stepping to a zydeco blues band. This party was a different sort than the one on Bourbon Street, and we liked it even more.
Day 3: Garden District, Cemeteries, and Sculpture Garden
This morning we walk into some new neighborhoods for a different city view.
Take the St. Charles streetcar from the French Quarter to the Garden District. Disembark at the Washington Avenue stop. Wander through the District’s gorgeous mansions. Download a free walking tour ahead of time, or simply crisscross the streets between Jackson, St. Charles, Louisiana, and Magazine Street. Be sure not to miss Lafayette Cemetery #1, and the lovely above-ground tombs.
Re-board the St. Charles streetcar and cruise along the oak lined avenues until you get to City Park, The 1300 acre park is home to ancient oak, botanical, and sculpture gardens, and many other attractions. There are four miles of trails ranging from Bayou St. John to Lake Pontchartrain. Rent a bike at the City Boat Park, and spend a few hours exploring the park.
If you are feeling energetic, cycle from the park to Metarie Cemetery (roughly 2 miles through city streets). Metarie Cemetery has a large collection of ornate above ground marble tombs and funeral statues (a must-see if you are a cemetery buff). Return the bicycles to the Boat Park and take the Canal St. streetcar back to the Quarter.
This evening, enjoy the streets of the French Quarter. For a dinner destination, Joe and I suggest Antoine’s. This family-run, creole restaurant is a classic. While eating here one night we had a table that looked onto the street. All we could look at, though, was a table of a dozen ladies in whites dresses and fancy wide-brimmed hats. As if this was not a spectacular enough sight, mid-meal a famous singer (TB!) walked past us to be seated in a private room. The food was great, but the people watching was what we will always remember.
Day 4 (and bonus day 5): Ferry to Algiers Point or Plantation Tour
Today, there are two options to choose from. (Or tack and extra day onto the itinerary.)
Option 1: Continue your exploration of city by renting a bike at a shop in the French Quarter. Cycle (or walk) to Jackson Square, get on the Moonwalk, and pedal to the Canal Street Ferry (between the Aquarium and Riverwalk Mall). Take the ferry across the Mississippi River to Algiers Point.
Algiers Point is an historic village with lots of charm. Exiting the ferry, you will see a statue of Louis Armstrong. From here, you can follow the paved Mississippi River Trail (US Bicycle Route 45) around the levee. There are great views of the river, the New Orleans skyline, and the French Quarter. Or download a free walking tour from the Algiers Point Association for a Historic Neighborhood Walk or the Jazz Walk of Fame. Have lunch in one of the many village restaurants or pubs before taking the ferry back to Canal Street. Spend your last afternoon shopping or on Royal Street listening to the street bands.
Option Tour 2: Purchase a tour to visit a nearby plantation or to see a Louisiana bayou – or both. We toured the Oak Alley Plantation. The one-time sugarcane plantation has a plantation house, slave quarters, gardens and a blacksmith shop to tour.
Later tonight, try one of the following: 1) Travel back to the riverfront for a steamboat dinner cruise (there are a number of operators to choose from); 2) Have dinner by the waterfront and try your luck at L Street’s Harrah’s Casino, or 3) Eat at restaurant near Jackson Square and take an evening carriage ride.
Lodging Tip: We stayed in the French Quarter at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. The rooms were clean and comfy. There was a nice courtyard with a salt water pool. The hotel’s restaurants were pricey, but convenient. It was fun to learn about the hotel’s ‘haunted’ history. There were two major pluses to staying at this hotel:
Plus 1: The hotel had a wonderful concierge who supported our desire to explore independently, but was also vocal when we wanted to visit a location he considered unsafe. In New Orleans you can go from a business district to an unsavory section of town in a heartbeat. We quickly learned the benefit of running our plan by the concierge before venturing out each morning.
Plus 2: The Bourbon Orleans has a great location. It sits in the middle of the French Quarter a short distance from Jackson Square, Bourbon and Royal Streets. From here you can walk almost everywhere.
Safety Tip: Before tackling the city of New Orleans read Toni McGee Causey’s blog article “Ten Ways to be Safe in the French Quarter.” Toni highlights some of the common crimes and scams that are run in the Quarter as well as offering common sense tips to avoid being a mark. It’s worth a read.
Restaurant Tip: We have included recommendations for our favorite New Orleans restaurants in this article. There are many other great spots to eat for all budgets. But there are also a lot of clunkers. While traveling, we love to wander and happen upon surprising places to eat. I do not recommend that in New Orleans. Do a little research. Then have a fabulous dining experience (not a disgusting one). With their shutters open, and tables peeping out onto the street, all of the restaurants look inviting. Don’t be fooled.
Bye-Bye now! Laura and Randy
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