There are lots of things to see and do in New Orleans, LA – commonly known as the Big Easy – and planning a trip can get overwhelming. Once you’ve hit the French Quarter and gotten a good survey of the best bars and dining options, it’s time to start sightseeing. Throughout the city, you’ll find many attractions that have their own historical significance and quirky feel. If you’re looking to spend a day at some of the most iconic sites NOLA has to offer, check out New Canal Lighthouse, St. Louis Cathedral, or Basin Street Station. For a bit of history and socializing, visit bars like Old Absinthe House or Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, and finish the evening with a walk through the beautiful Garden District. The list below breaks down NOLA’s best, so don’t forget to give it a look before you head out on the town.
There’s so much to see in New Orleans, but what happens if you have only one day to experience it all? We’ll admit it—24 hours in this city is tough feat, but we’ve got you covered. It’s easy to dine like a local with breakfast at Toast, lunch at Johnny’s, and a drink at French 75. (Or swing by Brennan’s for one of the best dinners in town, or Café Du Monde any time of day for beignets and people-watching.) And to hit Audubon Park, WWII Museum, and Crescent Mask City Co to live like one, too.
Use this list to plan your itinerary, and you’ll be on your way to making the most of your time in New Orleans.
Start your day the right way with breakfast at Toast. This breakfast joint starts serving as early as 7am, so there’s plenty of time to stop in the morning before starting your day. For a unique spin on a classic breakfast staple, try their aebleskivers. These delicious Danish pancake puffs come in flavors like lemon curd, caramel, and chocolate. Or, if you can’t decide between sweet and savory, try the venue’s toast with honey, prosciutto, and ricotta—one of their signature dishes.
There are plenty of parks in New Orleans, but Audubon is special: the park offers the perfect balance of fun activities and relaxation. On a stroll through Audubon, visitors will enjoy the company of Louisiana wildlife at the central lagoon, butterfly garden, and zoo. Audubon also features a golf course, a pool, tennis courts, riding stables, and soccer fields to keep you entertained.
Among the first places you should hit in New Orleans is Johnny’s. The Shrimp Po’ Boy and Surf & Turf from this classic joint are must-haves (though there are many options to choose from their vast menu). Luckily, this place is pretty popular, so you’ll have plenty of time to decide on your order while you wait in line. Afterwards, check out the upstairs bakery for some dessert. The pecan pie will already have you planning your next trip back.
The WWII Museum is a main tourist attraction for good reason. Also known as the D-Day museum, history buffs and novices alike can immerse themselves in WWII history while also viewing artifacts that are unique to the city. One of the most popular exhibits is the Higgins boat display, which explores the specific role New Orleans played in the Allied victory. The museum also hosts various events, like lectures, commemorations, and even spoof shows. Check out their calendar before you head there, so you can plan to attend favorite events.
As your afternoon is winding down, do as the locals do and grab a refreshing snowball. There are plenty of great spots to get one around the city, but Hansen’s is a local favorite and has a variety of flavors to choose from. Try the root beer, pineapple, or the sno-bliz if you’re craving something classic, or add some pizzazz with toppings like condensed milk, sherbert, or whipped cream. It’s the ideal pick-me-up to get you ready for an evening of fun.
Souvenirs should help you remember all the fun you had on your trip—but do you really need another t-shirt with the city’s name across the front? Switch it up and stop by Crescent Mask City. It’s a fun, quirky shop that specializes in ornate and bejeweled Mardi Gras masks that come in different shapes and sizes. The store also sells other knick-knacks like magnets and ornaments. Browse around for a while and you’re bound to emerge with a unique souvenir (or an outfit for next Mardi Gras).
For dinner, there’s nothing more in the NOLA spirit than a jazz cruise. Steamboat Natchez is among the most well-known boat tour agencies in the city, and a good place to start if you’ve never been on a cruise before. On the boat, you’ll be sailing smoothly with a great view of the Mississippi while jazz by Dukes of Dixieland will have you ready to put on your dancing shoes. It’s a casual buffet-style meal (since you get to choose from two distinct dinner settings), and also a great way to get some pictures.
The St. Charles streetcar is a streetcar line that spans uptown from the Garden district, through Central Business on Canal and down South Carrollton Avenue, all the way towards the edge of the French Quarter. It’s a great, lazy-proof way to see all the spectacular architecture of the city while also taking part in a little bit of New Orleans history. Hop on anywhere along the route for a little over $1, and get dropped off right by the French Quarter for a night out on Bourbon street.
French 75 is a classic example of the cocktail scene in New Orleans. It’s adjacent to Arnaud’s restaurant, so definitely a convenient place to grab a drink if you’re already eating dinner next door. If nothing else, come by just to try the French 75, the signature cocktail that put this place on the map. Or, try the St. Martin, made with gin, amaro, and aperol. If you get hungry, their souffle potatoes make the perfect bar snack.
There’s no other way to end a jam-packed day hitting the best spots in New Orleans than with some dancing and partying. Republic is one of the most popular clubs in the city, and for a good reason, too: the music is always hopping—whether its rap, R&B, or top-40. It’s also located in an old warehouse, making it all the more hip and industrial. Come to Republic to dance off all the calories consumed from touring one of the food and drink capitals of the U.S. When you’re done, you can check off briefly living like a local in New Orleans.
Assistant editor Christina Elia is currently pursuing her BA in Art History Communications at Fordham University, and writes about various topics ranging from arts and culture to practical tips and how-to advice. She has been published on online platforms such as The Odyssey. You can follow her on Twitter via @stinaelia