Have you ever found yourself wondering what to make out of a few days off? Not enough days to do anything too big or too far, but just enough to make you want to leave Manhattan…
Have you? Good, then you know that googling “short gateways from New York” always leads you to the same answers: Hamptons, upstate NY, Maine, Vermont, Boston etc… And if you are anything like me, the same old answers don’t satisfy you anymore.
Last time that happened to us was last January. Right after New Year Eve and before going back to work. We decided to kick off 2017 by being a bit audacious: let’s leave the City, let’s even leave the state of NY! After hours of debate, it came down to Quebec City v. New Orleans. Monsieur Chéri pointed out that we would probably freeze to death in Quebec at that time of year. Fair enough, he had a very valid point.
New Orleans, it was! (Or to sound fancier “NOLA”, it was!)
A last-minute planning panic attack …
The cool thing about being spontaneous is that it puts a lot of excitement in your life. It gives you something very real and amazing to look forward to. However a last-minute getaway also equals last-minute planning. Which, for me, means a mini freak-out. I usually take a lot of time to “put myself in the mood”, read, visit fellow travel blogs, explore reviews, make lists etc… That’s a time I enjoy very much (although it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming).
Needless to say that since I was deprived of this quality prep time, I needed help. I went for the obvious and headed out to McNally Jackson (a bookstore I love on Prince at Lafayette) to buy the Lonely Planet New Orleans Pocket guide. I must say that this pocket format is great. Fits easily in a purse and has a map included that you can unfold easily. For a short getaway, it’s more than enough.
Day 1: The French Quarter, the Waterfront and Faubourg Marigny
Day 2: Garden district, Tulane and Audubon Park
Day 3: The Cabildo, the Presbytère and some jazz!
Day 4: Short walk in Tremé
Below, you’ll find our detailed itinerary as well as some pictures to give you an idea. The reviews of the restaurantS we went to can be found at the end of this article.
Day 1: The French Quarter, the Waterfront and Faubourg Marigny
From our hotel on Bourbon St, we walked to Exchange Place, a nice pedestrian alley. Then we passed by the Louisiana supreme court and headed towards Jackson Square. It’s a beautiful and relatively short walk. Look around: buildings are very photogenic, galleries and fun shops are everywhere.
Can you find Waldo? (Trump)
Corner of Royal and Bienville
The Louisiana Supreme Court between Royal and Chartres
After a few minutes, we hit Jackson Square, with its infamous Jackson statue.
St Louis Cathedral
From there, we decided to try a New Orleans tradition at Café du Monde: beignet and café à la chicoré. It was January but the place was packed so we took it to go and ate/drank the combo in the park. I admit that the beignet was very good (although certainly not better than the kind my grandma makes for mardi gras every year).
Nearby, we took a few steps towards the river and saw this… Pretty cool, hum?
From there, we walked through the French Market. To be honest, it’s now a tourist trap more than anything else. However the old structure remains and that’s a pleasant thing to see on the way to Faubourg Marigny. Faubourg is basically just a street and there isn’t much to do. I assume that it gets crazy at night time though.
For dinner, we walked to August, a fancy “French” restaurant (French inspired is more like it).
Day 2: The CBD, the Garden District, Audubon Park and Tulane University
We started our day by walking across the Central Business District or CBD (take Magazine St.) A good 35 minutes walk. The beginning was ok but then it gets pretty dull and not really worth it.
We finally reached Surrey’s Juice Bar, where we stopped for brunch, and loved it!
Then, we pulled our Lonely planet pocket guide and did the self-guided tour of the Garden District. It was a nice way to see the most interesting houses and to learn a bit about the history of the place, to spot Anne Rice’s house etc…
From there, we hopped into the Charles St. streetcar. It is a great and cheap way to see more of New Orleans, while enjoying an historic landmark. We rode it all the way to Tulane University.
We crossed the street and took a loooonnnng walk in the Audubon Park, hoping to reach the zoo. However, when we finally did, we were told that the animals are pulled away in the middle of the afternoon because of the heat (yes, even in January apparently). Too bad for us! But don’t feel sorry because just a few minutes away was the Tree of Life…
Needless to say that after all this going around, we were pretty tired at the end of Day 2. Yet, we managed to go out for dinner (after strongly considering room service) at SoBou.
Day 3 (Rain day): Museums and Jazz!
We started the day with a croissant and coffee at Croissant d’Or. We knew it was going to be pouring so we had saved two museums for Day 3. The Hurricane Katrina exhibit at the Presbystère (if you look at the Cathedral on Jackson Square, it’s the building to your right). Very informative and well done. The second floor is the museum of the carnival. The transition between the hurricane and the carnival is a bit odd but why not?
Then we crossed the square to the Louisiana State Museum also known as the Cabildo (when you look at the Cathedral, the building to your left). It follows a chronological order and presents the story of Louisiana. Being French, I specifically enjoyed the part about the French heritage.
Since the weather got a bit better, we finally managed to walk around a bit and we ended up having drinks at the House of Blues, which was a very nice moment. Plus there is an old book store nearby if you like that type of things. I found an old Dumas written in French and bought it for practically nothing.
Back at the hotel to change before dinner, we found this going on. An impromptu jazz concert which we crashed for a few minutes.
For our last dinner, we went to Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro and had a great time (see below for our review).
Day 4: Just a taste of Tremé and more (of) Bourbon (street) !
The sun came back on Day 4 but sadly it was already time to go. We woke up early and tried to make the most of the few hours we had before our cab ride to the airport. We walked towards the Louis Armstrong Park, stopped at Mister Gregory’s for a quick breakfast. Then, we took a few steps around Tremé and came back via Bourbon St.
Highlights of our trip
Walking around the French Quarter and the Garden District
Riding the Streetcar
Having drinks at the House of Blues
Seeing the Tree of Life
Having dinner at Arnaud’s Jazz Cafe
What is January weather like in NOLA ?
Remember that we are coming from New York in January. So it should come as no surprise that New Orleans felt warm. Our friends just came back from a NOLA in June trip and had a very different experience because of the heat. January is great because the temperature is ideal: not too cold, not too hot. I was wearing a coat because I am always cold but that’s just me.
Tip: Check the day by day weather. If you know that rain is expected one day of your trip, save the museums and the jazz concerts for that day. That’s what we did and that way we maximized our time.
SoBou was so bouhhhh !!! (sorry, it’s lame but couldn’t resist this very obvious wordplay). Very disappointing and the staff was utterly unpleasant (and yes, that’s sugar coating it).
For breakfast. Monsieur Chéri liked it. I was more skeptical (I never take viennoiseries lightly). Although the coffee and food didn’t blow my mind, the place itself is a vestige from the early 20th century. Certainly worth a stop.
617 Ursulines Ave.
We went for lunch. I would recommend staying away from this place if you don’t want to smell like fried food for days. The place is small, smoked, uncomfortable and the food (at least the one I had) was a joke! We were fooled by the dithyrambic Lonely Planet review. Not cool, Lonely Planet, not cool…
307 Exchange Place
Totally worth it. Across the street from our hotel. We had a nice dinner and enjoyed the jazz trio very much. They sing in a corner and then go from table to table, playing the songs the customers request. Very cool. We had a truly special night there.
Tips: Be prepared to ask for a song that is NOT “What a wonderful world”. Everybody else does and it gets old. Try the Soufflé Potatoes, invented by mistake by king Louis Philippe’s chef who screwed up his recipe.
813 Rue Bienville, New Orleans
Central Business District
For a romantic dinner. Walking distance from our hotel. Fine dining but we were not really impressed by the food. Just good, nothing exceptional. Rather expensive compared to other food options.
301 Tchoupitoulas St.
We loved stopping at Surrey’s Juice Bar for brunch. Decadent brunch menu (yummmm!). Friendly staff and very cool atmosphere. Need another reason to go? It’s the perfect starting point if you plan to do the Lonely Planet Garden district suggested walk.
1418 Magazine St.
Where to get a drink
LOVED IT ! You’ll find this great place at the back of an alley. Make sure to go to the bar at the back, not the concert hall in the front. Live music, very relaxing and the decor is a real plus.
225 Decatur St.
Chéri almost forced me inside and I didn’t regret it. Nice drink by the chimney. We loved it. Looks old and délabré but great atmosphere and just across the street from our hotel.
240 Bourbon St.
The rooms are clean and nice. The real plus is the VERY good location. You are right in the middle of the excitement. Basically the two main streets of interest are Royal St. and Bourbon St. The hotel is on Bourbon. They have jazz concerts inside the hotel if you feel lazy.
Tip: Make sure to ask for a room that is NOT on the street if you want to sleep. Excitement and inebriation equals loud nights.
300 Bourbon St.
Part of the hotel from outside
Yes, they have Uber in Nola (you may now resume breathing). However, you can walk everywhere or take the streetcar.