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Beignets + Bayous: New Orleans for first-timers

Prepare to revel in this Deep South daydream and partier's paradise.

Alligators, Spanish moss, voodoo, beignets, and fireflies – is this a scene out of The Princess and the Frog? Basically.

Visiting New Orleans feels a bit like walking into one giant party, complete with stunning French architecture, a storied history, and plenty of opportunities for indulgence – not to mention, that famed southern hospitality.

Never been? No fear; I’ve got you covered with a beginner’s guide of 8 things to see and do. Upon leaving town, you just may find your ears ringing with jazz music for days to come. Read on to join the fun.

New Orleans for first-timers

8 Things to See + Do

1. Explore the French Quarter

IMG_7128The French Quarter is the oldest district in New Orleans, dating back to the city’s founding in the 1700s. Home to exquisite architecture, charming cobblestone streets, and a storied past, you could meander for hours through this fascinating and undeniably beautiful part of town.

Explore the historic lawns of Jackson Square, helmed most notably by the extraordinary St. Louis Cathedral. Learn more about voodoo at Esoterica, and relive your childhood at the Dr. Seuss-themed gallery, The Striped Hat. The French Quarter’s seemingly endless array of boutiques, art galleries, tea rooms, and magic shops will have your mind at a whirlwind.

And while you’re at it…

2. Fill up on beignets at Cafe du Monde

Don’t let the line to get inside scare you away. Cafe du Monde’s beignets are world-famous for good reason – they’re incredible. Kick start your day with a plate (or three) of the doughy delights, and don’t forget to try their coffee while you’re at it. Keep in mind, the cafe is cash-only.

3. Befriend some alligators on a swamp tour

New Orleans for first-timersThe bayou is one of the most mesmerizing parts of southern Louisiana. Book a tour through Cajun Pride (I mean, Will and Jada Smith have), and prepare for alligator sightings aplenty.

You’ll cruise through the exquisite and calm waters of the Manchac Swamp, getting up close and personal with more than a dozen alligators beneath a canopy of Spanish moss – all the while learning about the voodoo, hurricanes, and Cajun inhabitants that make up the swamp’s history.

4. Drink your way through Bourbon Street

New Orleans for first-timersBourbon Street may be as kitschy as it comes, but it’s certainly a New Orleans must. Whether it’s the lethal hand grenades at Tropical Isle, the infamous hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, or the sinful slushes at Fat Tuesdays, this French Quarter party block has no shortage of sugary concoctions to get you truly buzzed – and then some.

Check out the piano bar vibes at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (allegedly the oldest bar in the USA!), or the two-story dance floor over at The Swamp. Better yet, spend some time simply meandering down the street, wandering into whichever flashy bar catches your interest. You’ve got (literally) all night.

5. Peek into the past at Oak Alley Plantation

New Orleans for first-timersVenture outside city limits to explore the sprawling estate of Oak Alley PlantationThis historic sugarcane plantation features a sobering slavery exhibit, guided tours of the Big House, a blacksmith shop, and an exhibition on the Civil War – not to mention, jaw-dropping grounds (think entire walkways shaded by towering, symmetrical oak canopies.) It’s truly fascinating.

6. Barhop on Frenchmen Street 

Burnt out on Bourbon? Head over to Frenchmen Street for a totally different vibe. The music district’s slew of bars are packed with people on any given night, all gathered to enjoy cheap drinks, interesting company, and incredible live music. Hop between bars to find one that fits your fancy, and don’t forget to peruse the local arts and crafts being sold at the nearby Frenchmen Art Market!

7. Eat your heart out – basically everywhere

New Orleans for first-timers
The sweet treats are next-level at Sucré

If there’s one thing New Orleans is in no short supply of, it’s great cuisine. From jambalaya to crawfish étouffée, if you’re looking for comfort – be prepared to feast.

Nosh on fried catfish and savory gumbo at Mulate’s, pairing the meal with a mint julep or Louisiana Lemonade. Sample the oyster bar and po-boy selection at Felix’s, or set your taste buds alight with the intriguing Caribbean cuisine at The Rum House. Looking for something a little less conventional? The rosé-gria and savory pasta dishes at The Roosevelt’s Domenica will kick-start any Saturday night. And if you’re looking for a sweet treat without the Cafe du Monde wait time, the macarons, gelato, and gourmet truffles at Sucré will have your taste buds singing.

8. Get spooked on a haunted walking tour 

Voodoo, ghosts, witchcraft, vampires…New Orleans is practically crawling with history of the haunted variety. It’s no surprise, then, that ghost-hunters and tourists alike flock to the city for some supernatural sightseeing.

To get you in the spirit, sign up for a haunted walking tour. The nighttime tours will have you wandering amongst the French Quarter’s cemeteries, and indulging in tales of the city’s spiritual past. It’ll be a chilling way to end your first adventure in the Crescent City.

New Orleans for first-timers

Big Easy-bound? Looking for more travel inspo? Find tips, photos, and other treats on Jetsetter-in-Training’s Instagram.



  1. I want you to do a piece on Haight Asbury. You know, it’s still the Summer of Love’s 50th Anniversary!

    On Sep 16, 2017 12:58 PM, “Jetsetter-in-Training” wrote:

    > jetsetterintraining posted: “Bayous, voodoo, alligators, beignets, Spanish > moss, and fireflies – is this a scene out of The Princess and the Frog? > Basically. With all of the above and more, New Orleans feels like a Deep > South daydream. Never been? No fear; I’ve got you covered with ” >


    1. I’ve actually only been to San Francisco once, and that was very very briefly. (I know, shame on me, it’s so close and I’ve only been one time in the 5 years I’ve been in California!) But I’ll keep this in mind and see what I can do 😉


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