The New Orleans City Guide
Welcome to my new favourite city in the U.S (sorry LaLaLand).
I’ve been wanting to go to New Orleans for so long but when it actually came down to it, I didn’t actually have a vision in my mind of what I expected the city to be aside from the cliched photos of the French Quarter and jazz bars. And as someone who tends to live in my imagination when it comes to travel, this is kind of unusual for me. I’d heard lots of of different things before we headed out there, a lot of people raving about how it was their favourite city in the world (Yep, I get it) and a few others flagging safety issues and slightly dissing the food (I know, the cheek of it), and I have to say I personally didn’t experience either of the latter points although obviously it always pays to be vigilant wherever you are in the world and do your restaurant research. For us, New Orleans surpassed all our expectations and delivered all the big three S’s; southern food, soul and the Saints.
We stayed at the beautifully old school, utterly charming Soniat House in the French Quarter. I was kind of worried staying in the French Quarter would be super noisy and intense but where Soniat House is located was pretty much perfect. Like a little enclave of calm on one of the quietest, prettiest streets, Soniat House is all wrought iron balconies, freshly-basked biscuits and chintzy headboards. Our room was more of an apartment than a room with floor to ceiling French windows, marble bathrooms and antique furniture elegantly filling the gaps. After five nights there, Soniat really had come to feel like a home from home and exactly where I wasn’t to lay my sorry, sore feet after a day pounding New Orleans pavements.
Our trip to New Orleans kind of came about my accident. I had a British Airways companion ticket to use and if anyone has ever tried to use one of those, you’ll know how tricky they can be. You can’t do last minute and the locations are limited, so I decided to book two tickets to New York 6 months in advance. Work ended up taking me to New York in September so suddenly I didn’t have that scratch to itch and started looking into places we could easily hop on an internal flight to. Enter New Orleans, a city I’ve long pined to visit but always put in my ‘one day when I do a massive American road trip’ box. I realised 5 days in October might just be the perfect time to visit NOLA and it needed to come out of that box and jump into my ‘why not now’ box. A few things I learnt from out 5 days in Louisiana’s musical, cultural, eccentric, party capital. Southern charm is a real thing; I’ve yet to eat a forkful of grits that I like but gumbo is just goodness in a bowl; the musical scene in the city isn’t a gimmick (something I was kind of afraid of), it’s totally authentic and a pure joy to be around and Spanish moss and wraparound porches never fail to make me squeal with joy. But below are the rest of my New Orleans hit list. We covered a lot of ground (quite literally, we walked about 15,000 steps a day), ate a lot of Creole food and Po’boys and dipped a toe or two into learning about New Orleans Voodoo culture and historic cemeteries.
Eat and drink
- You can’t go to New Orleans and not have a Beignet. They’re kind of like a hot, light cronut covered in icing sugar. We had ours with coffee at the original Cafe Beignet (the one with a palm-painted ceiling) in the French Quarter and they did not disappoint.
- Turkey and Wolf for delicious, lowkey sandwiches and salads just off Magazine street, the perfect place for a pit stop between shopping. Their sister restaurant Molly’s Rise and Shine is nearby too and is a great spot for breakfast.
- Cajun flavours and southern cooking with a modern twist at the buzzy Cochon. This is the place to go for a meat fix although ironically I went for prawns and gulf fish, both of which were so beautifully flavoured with just the right amount of spice.
- Stanley in the French Quarter is a great local brunch spot. No frills, elevated diner-esque food (with some mean bloody Mary’s complete with rashers of bacons), this super friendly family spot is where we went for a weekend brunch before the Saints NFL game and the atmosphere was amazing.
- Po’boys ( a glorified baguette) are another New Orleans must-eat. We dipped into Killer Po-Boys for their take on the Southern staple. A lot of napkins necessary.
- St. Roch Market is a big white, airy space in the laidback, bohemian Bywater neighbourhood that has lots of deli counters from various local suppliers and stores. Great for a coffee, green juice and healthy lunch pit stop.
- Bacchanal Wine got recommended by a tonne of people on instagram and was by far one of our favourite places we visited. Buy a bottle of wine in store and choose the various meats and cheeses you want for your cheeseboard. take the whole lot outside to the back yard strung with bare bulbs and listen to live jazz while you sip on your wine and talk about how much you love this city.
- We wanted one proper, old world Southern cooking experience and we couldn’t have done better than Upperline Restaurant. Located uptown, this family-run restaurant almost feels as though you’re eating in someone’s elegant dining room rather than a restaurant. We went for the seven course tasting menu to really get a feel for local cuisine complete with gumbo, corn bread, shrimps and black garlic ice cream to finish (yes, really). I felt like we’d gone back in time and it tasted delicious.
- Shaya offered up some of the best middle eastern food I’ve had anywhere, let alone just in New Orleans. After a lot of sandwiches, it was nice to balance it out with some delicious roasted cauliflower, greek salad, baba ganoush and ice cold lemonade. The perfect place to cool off from the thick heat and hot pavements.
- N7 is another great, local spot in Bywater with amazing small plates of food served in the prettiest garden dotted with twinkling lights and twirling fans. Super romantic
- Pagoda Cafe – I always like finding places in new cities that feel like they give you a taste of what real life would be like in that city. The sort of place locals go to pick up their morning coffee or lunchtime sandwich and this place was exactly that. They also do oat milk (not so easy to find in New Orleans) which made me irrationally happy. We sat outside with our orders or breakfast tacos (him) and overnight oats (me) and pretended we were locals amidst the laptop-wielding freelancers.
- District Donuts – couldn’t resist splitting a jumbo, pumpkin spiced latter donut from this sickly sweet smelling store on magazine street. I think I might have actually licked the paper bag clean it was that good.
- The Daily Beet – if you need some healthy respite from all the fried, salty food and po-boys, there are a few branches of Daily Beets all over the city. Serving up proper green juices and smoothies with all the trimmings, salads, grain bowls, chillis and broths to eat in or takeaway. By our last day I was craving some raw greens and this spot was ideal.
- Cocktails in the moodily-lit Cane and Table. The menu is inventive and elaborate but they also do all the mainstay short and long staples.
- The sister restaurant to Cochon, Peche is it’s seafood-centric sibling. Squid, shrimps and one of the best chocolate puddings I’ve ever had.
Keep scrolling down for ideas of things to do and places to drink in New Orleans….
- The French Quarter is obviously a must but it’s definitely not the be all and end all of New Orleans. We loved staying where we did as we were then able to dip our toe into the French Quarter but also made sure we discovered other parts of the city. The French Quarter, like so many tourist hot spots, is a hot spot for a reason. It’s beautiful, charming and full of great restaurants, bars, live music and shops brimming with lovingly-made pralines and spice mixes. But like all hot spots, it’s also got certain parts of it that that have fallen prey to lurid cocktail bars, kitsch baseball caps, tacky t-shirts, stores brimming with unauthentic voodoo and tat and the inevitable tourist trap restaurants and cafes. Queuing for an hour to have a Beignet where Chef was filmed? No thanks. Make sure you wander away from the craziness to find some beautiful, quiet streets and hidden away walled gardens.
- Taking in some great music before or after dinner is a mainstay of New Orleans. Bypass Bourbon street in the French Quarter (unless you’re after neon hurricane drinks and flashing dummies then knock yourself out) for Frenchman’s street. We loved The Spotted Cat for sticky floors and amazing live jazz and Snug Harbour for three floors of music and dining. Preservation Hall is also a New Orleans institution for live music, just make sure to check the timings of the live shows before you go.
- We got tickets to a Saints game while we were in town and while I was a little dubious at first (my knowledge of American football is limited to Friday Night Lights and Last Chance U), it ended up being so much fun. The atmosphere in the city pre-game is electric (New Orleans is most definitely a football town), and inside the superdome it just got even more crazy. We sat next to the sweetest guy who talked us through every aspect of the game and the players and went off and bought us both game pins as a surprise. What a gent. I loved getting into the football spirit of the city; it’s almost a religion in NOLA.
- Hit up the independent stores on magazine street. From vintage stores to beautiful homeware and gifts at White’s Mercantile and Sunday Store, there were so many independent, one of a kind shops to get stuck into. Just be prepared to walk the length of it so wear your trainers! And check out the eat/drink list above for places to refresh.
- The new sculpture garden in city park is definitely worth a visit. The Sydney and Wald Besthoff Sculpture Garden in the gardens of NOMA is brimming with works by the likes of Henry Moore, Renoir, Barbara Hepworth and Anish Kapoor and is a lovely way to spend a few hours wandering through the gardens and lakes soaking in all the art. Everywhere you turn, there are incredible, mind-boggling pieces of sculpture, from the classical to the bizarre to the moving.
- Visit the murals at Studio Be in Bywater to see some of the best street art and social commentary in the city by artist Brandan Odums.
- Doing a cemetery tour sounds pretty strange and macabre but it was one of the best things we did while in New Orleans. If you want to visit the famous Saint Louis cemetery, you’re now only able to go with a guide so it’s worth doing to have access to that. Personally, it was more the history and insight into the city of New Orleans and the local historic voodoo culture, with a few gruesome, gory details thrown in for good measure, that impressed me. Just don’t mention Nicholas Cage… We booked with French Quarter Phantoms and our guide was incredibly charismatic, funny and engaging. They also do ghost tours and vampire tours which after our tour, I kind of wanted to do too!
- Learn a little about Voodoo. The aforementioned tour will give a little insight into Voodoo and the cities association with the ancient religion. There are a lot of stores touting Voodoo everything but there’s only a couple of truly authentic Voodoo stores that offer insight and explanation. Just wandering round Voodoo Authentica felt like it gave me a little more insight into this often very misunderstood religion.
- Given New Orleans’ slightly morbid interest in death and all-round spookiness, The Museum of Death makes perfect sense. I was pretty relunctant to begin with and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. Weird and dark? Most definitely and not for those easily creeped or grossed out but if you’re a true crime junkie (me) there’s plenty in there to get your sick teeth stuck into and it kind of puts you in the mood for being spooked if you’re embarking on some sort of scary tour.
- Pretend house hunt in the garden district. If you have a thing for wraparound porches, white clapboard fences, veranda fans and porch swings, you will have a fit round here. The houses are stunning and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be fantasising about sipping ice cold lemonade on the porches with a pair of golden retrievers at your feet.
- Go on a Swamp Tour. This was my boyfriend’s choice and again I wasn’t sure BUT yet again, New Orleans massively surprised me and I loved every minute of this. About 45 minutes from the French Quarter, the swamp was so much more beautiful than I thought and a Spanish Moss lover’s mecca. We opted for the smaller boat/VIP option with Cajun Encounters which was well worth the extra spend if you can as not only do you have a much smaller group, you also get to go to parts of the swamp the larger boat can’t. We went for the evening slot and it worked perfectly as we were out on the water as the sun set which was magical and back in the city in time for dinner. Seeing crocs is pretty much guaranteed and there’s even a friendly little swimming wild piggy you can go say hi to (from afar obviously) and our guide was incredibly knowledgable about all the flora and fauna of the area.
What to Pack
New Orleans is hot and sticky right through into November and December so be prepared to take on the heat with lots of linen, cotton, light layers and easy, throw-on stuff you can easily spend the whole day it. New Orleans is laidback so you don’t need those brand new Net-A-Porter purchases or directional pieces to impress anyone round here. Simple tees, tanks, denim shorts (I’m super into the bermudas from Agolde and Re/Done), linen and cotton dresses and comfy shoes (I lived in trainers and flip flops all day) for exploring. I wish I’d had a good tote bag with me as my little Loewe bag was a little bit small for carting around two cameras, my phone and every other bit of clutter I wanted with me for the day. Cute tops from the likes of Sir the Label, Realisation Par and Faithfull the Brand, boots and jeans were my go-to for the nights and dinners out. Linen trousers by L.F Markey, short sleeve shirts I could wear open over tank tops and bodies and long, loose slip dresses also proved pretty foolproof. Be mindful that while it’s balmy and warm all night long, they pump out the air con so it can feel freezing at dinner if you’re wearing a little camisole or short dress. I took a leather jacket and denim jacket (my staples) for the evening and ironically wore them more inside than I did outside thanks to aircon. Bucket hats, caps or panamas if you’re wandering round the parks, sculpture garden, swamp or cemetery in the midday sun are useful too.
I hope this guide has given you a little virtual, visual taste of one of the most vibrant, easy-going cities I’ve ever been lucky enough to go to. I can’t recommend New Orleans enough, whether you’re a couple or a just a group or couple of friends, I guarantee you you’ll leave feeling fuller than you did when you arrived, both literally (two words; po-boys) and metaphorically I should add. It’s given me a real taste for the American south, from the food to the people and general spirit of the place. That big American road trip will happen one day but I’m so happy I didn’t wait to tick off this bucket list place.
All jewellery featured is from my Lucy Williams X Missoma jewellery collection.
All photos (apart from the ones of me) taken by me. All rights reserved.