How to Spend a Day in New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana – the Big Easy. It’s one of America’s most famous cities, steeped in hundreds of years of history, culture, music, and food, all nestled along the Mississippi River. From the rowdy French Quarter to the tables of some of the nation’s most well-regarded restaurants, there’s something for everyone in New Orleans.
If you’re traveling near the Big Easy, we’ve got the perfect one-day itinerary for you. Even though we recommend spending a week in New Orleans, this one jam-packed day will give you a great taste of the local culture.
Join us on a trip down to the Crescent City.
The History of New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana, has had a turbulent history since Europeans arrived in the late 17th century.
The city was founded on French colonial land in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Five years later, it was already the colonial capital.
That same year, however, France ceded the territory of Louisiana to Spain. The area remained under Spanish rule until 1800. The Spanish period of the city’s history saw two major fires, after which the residents rebuilt with brick buildings. Some still stand today and give New Orleans its character.
The Spanish then returned the territory to France in 1800. Just three years later, Napoleon sold it to the recently-formed United States of America. As America grew, so did New Orleans due to its status as a significant commerce center between states upriver on the Mississippi and markets worldwide.
Through the civil war and the years after, the city saw frequent racial tension and violence as two prominent cultures, primarily between freed African American slaves and white landowners. Despite the area’s cultural strife, New Orleans gained fame as the birthplace of jazz thanks to its strong African American roots. You can still hear jazz playing in venues all over the music-friendly city to this day.
Another major part of New Orlean’s cultural color is Mardi Gras. Thousands flock to the city’s French Quarter for annual Mardi Gras celebrations, legendary for drinking and debauchery.
In more recent years, New Orleans was the scene of one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history: Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some parts of the city are still recovering.
These days, New Orleans, Louisiana, is home to just under 400,000 people. You can visit year-round, though summers can be hot. Winters see average high temperatures in the 60s, but summer days are often humid with temperatures in the low 90s.
Spending a Morning in New Orleans
If you want to plan your visit to New Orleans ahead of time, it helps to know the best places to go. Here’s a brief list of what we think are the best morning destinations.
Breakfast at Cafe du Monde
Address: 800 Decatur St, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
The menu is limited, and that’s because it’s good enough that it doesn’t need anything else. Cafe Du Monde serves two types of coffee – black and mixed with half hot milk for a Cafe Au Lait. Order your hot beverage with their iconic beignets, small pieces of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar.
Think of a French donut. Aside from a few cold drinks, that’s it, but it’s famous for its quality.
Reasons to love it: Rise and shine with breakfast at one of New Orleans’ most famous restaurants. Cafe Du Monde has been operating in New Orleans for nearly 150 years.
It’s a city institution and often one of the top spots for foodies visiting the Big Easy. Though it’s expanded to several locations, nothing beats the original cafe’s open-air charm and laid-back atmosphere on Decatur Street at the French Market. Don’t forget to hit the ATM before you go – it’s cash only.
Visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Located on the Mississippi River banks, just a short walk from Cafe Du Monde, this Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is one of New Orleans’ top attractions.
Don’t miss the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico exhibits to understand the surrounding waters. Don’t miss the Caribbean Reef Tunnel, a 30-foot underwater see-through tunnel that gives you an unbeatable view of sea creatures above and all around you.
Plan to spend at least half a day checking out the 600 species who call the Audubon Aquarium home.
Explore Canal Street
You’ll find Canal Street, one of New Orleans, Louisiana’s, most prominent thoroughfares, just outside the Aquarium. Canal Street forms the unofficial boundary between the French Quarter and the city’s Central Business District.
You can find shopping, restaurants, high-end hotels, and much more here.
This line is culturally and historically significant as well because it formed the unofficial border between the city’s original French and Spanish neighborhoods and the newer American ones. Stroll down this historic street, shopping or catching a ride on the streetcar that runs like clockwork here.
Afternoon in New Orleans
Even with a busy morning planned, you’ll still want to see more! Here are some of our favorite places to visit in the afternoon.
Eat Lunch at Commander’s Palace
Address: 1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
Creole cooking shines at another must-do New Orleans restaurant, Commander’s Palace. Start with authentic favorites like Turtle Soup or Gumbo before digging into entrees like shrimp po’boys, seared gulf fish, or a dirty duck confit.
If you still have room for dessert (which may be doubtful), finish off your meal with Creole bread pudding souffle, pecan pie, or Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake.
Reasons to love it: This nearly 130-year-old landmark of New Orleans cooking has changed hands several times but never lost its dedication to high-quality Creole food. It’s known for spectacular ambiance and unbeatable service.
There’s also a long list of famous chefs who got their start at Commander’s, including Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, and Jamie Shannon.
Visit Jackson Square
After a hearty lunch, it’s time to head to Jackson Square. Located in the historic French Quarter, Jackson Square has played host to some of the city’s most meaningful events.
Check out the historic architecture of the surrounding buildings (like the St. Louis Cathedral or the Cabildo), the bronze statue of Andrew Jackson that gives the square its name, and even an open-air artist colony.
Spend The Afternoon Strolling the French Quarter
From Jackson Square, you’re just steps away from the heart of New Orleans’ most famous attraction, the French Quarter. The neighborhood is a unique mix of history and gluttony you won’t find anywhere else.
Partiers should stop in a few of Bourbon Street’s bars, including the iconic Pat O’Brien’s, reputed as the home of the Hurricane cocktail. Enjoy a drink (or three) while listening to the bar’s dueling pianos before heading back out on the street.
Remember – you can bring your drink as you stroll down Pirate’s Alley and check out some of the Quarter’s local shops. You can even check out a voodoo museum.
How to Spend an Evening in New Orleans, Louisiana
Even though you’re probably tired from a long day of food and sightseeing, you don’t want to miss New Orleans at night. Here’s where you need to be:
Dinner at Atchafalaya
Address: 901 Louisiana Ave, New Orleans, LA 70115
Think sophisticated Creole and American food with a twist. Starters include a scallop tostada and free-form blue crab raviolo.
Treat yourself to a Wagyu filet, shrimp and grits, or stuffed quail for your main course. Cap off the meal with a sweet treat like the unusual blue cheese flan, blueberry bread pudding, or even a dessert cocktail like the milk punch.
Other reasons to love it: Atchafalaya bills itself “as an establishment that embraces New Orleans’ culinary traditions while pushing boundaries.”
Revel in the combination of old and new recipes, all executed with the precision of fine-dining. Past guests repeatedly praise the excellent service and ever-changing menu.
Bar and Club Hop Frenchmen Street for The Best Live Music Experience
You can’t come to New Orleans, Louisiana, and not see and hear live music! Head to Frenchmen Street at the edge of the French Quarter. This street is popular with locals looking to see some of the town’s famous jazz, brass, blues, and funk.
Follow your ears, and do some club hopping at spots like Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat, d.b.a., and Blue Nile to check out the fantastic diversity of sound.
Chances are you’ll catch performances on the street too. There are also many family-friendly music spots here where kids are welcome.
Where to stay in New Orleans
After such an incredible but long day in the city, you’ll want to kick your feet up and relax in peace. Here’s where we recommend you stay:
Campground: Three Oaks & A Pine RV Park
Address: 7500 Chef Menteur Hwy, New Orleans, LA 70126
About the Park: Three Oaks & A Pine RV Park includes spacious sites (up to 80 feet in length), 20/30/50 amp electric hookups, and showers and laundry accessible 24/7. The RV park is pet-friendly and also has wifi available in some areas.
Why you’ll love staying here: At this park, you’re a 10 to 15 minutes drive from the heart of downtown New Orleans with easy access to the highway for your arrival and departure. You can get a good night’s sleep knowing the park has a secured gate to enter, along with on-site security.
The 24-hour amenities are also helpful for travelers who set their own schedules.
Pro Tip: Here are our 7 Favorite RV Parks in New Orleans.
A Day in New Orleans, Louisiana
What a day! From history to nature to great food and drinks, New Orleans, Louisiana, offers visitors a fantastic variety. Chances are one day won’t be enough – you’ll be planning your next visit back to the Big Easy before you know it!
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