My husband and I just returned from a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana for my birthday and, I must say, I fell madly in love with the city. Everything from the architecture to the food to the people exceeded my expectations in a way no other city in the United States ever has. It is the first city in the US that I have come home from and immediately started planning my return to. After checking out my upcoming guides, I’m guessing most of you will find yourselves with the same urge to book a flight to New Orleans as soon as possible.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my favorite parts of the Crescent City, including a very fun travel vlog, to help convince you that NOLA absolutely needs to be on your bucket list, regardless of what time of year you visit. When we first planned our winter trip, I was unsure of what activities we should focus our time on so I decided to put together a handy guide full of suggestions for things to do in New Orleans during winter (these suggestions are also good any time of year, though they’re particularly geared towards staying warm and cozy). As it so happened, we visited the city during record cold temperatures, so I became a bit more acquainted with these cold weather specific activities than planned. My goal over the course of the next few weeks is to provide you with comprehensive guides that make your trip planning a bit easier and ensure that, should you visit New Orleans, you have as incredible of an experience as I did.
No tour guide of New Orleans would be complete without the inclusion of Jackson Square. The iconic area of the city was designed after Place des Vosges in Paris, which just so happens to be my favorite place to escape to in the City of Lights. Though square originally overlooked the Mississippi River but, over the course of the last several hundred years, additional levees were built and the view was obstructed. While the river view be nice, the other three sides of the square are surrounded by truly incredible architecture, with beautiful St. Louis Cathedral sitting proudly on the north side.
The square has played an integral part in the development of the city under first French, then Spanish, French again, and finally American hands. Over the centuries, Jackson Square has been the location of public executions, an arsenal, and even a battle. Today it’s a much more peaceful, though lively, location to visit full of artists, musicians, tarot card and palm readers.
Jackson square is surrounded by must-see attractions ranging from museums, to art galleries, to toy stores, to lingerie shops, to iconic NOLA restaurants. You could spend an entire morning exploring the various attractions and still not take in all Jackson Square has to offer. If you have limited time in New Orleans, I highly recommend starting at this central historic location and working your way out into the French Quarter from there.
Specific points of interest: St. Louis Cathedral (615 Pere Antoine Alley), The Cabdilo (houses rare historical artifacts; 701 Chartres Street), The Presbytère (contains permanent Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina exhibits; 751 Chartres Street), Café Du Monde (iconic beignets; 800 Decatur Street), Tableau (refined Creole options; 616 St. Peter Street).
Carriage Ride Tour of the French Quarter
On the south side of Jackson Square, you’ll find, at all hours of the day, lines of horse drawn carriages waiting to whisk you away on a tour of the French Quarter. Now, these tours aren’t exactly budget friendly, but they’re a great way to take in the area if you don’t want to explore on foot. The guides leading your way through the Quarter are all incredibly knowledgeable and friendly and it is the most authentic way to get a glimpse into what life would have been like 200 years ago. During the cold winter days when we visited, the carriages each offered blankets for passengers, guaranteeing a warm and cozy experience.
A French Quarter Ghost Tour
New Orleans is considered one of, if not THE, most haunted locations in the United States. While you may not personally believe in ghosts, spirits, or ghouls, a large portion of the city’s population does. Personally, when I visit a city for the first time, I want to experience as much of the culture as I can and there is no question that ghost lore has just as much of a place in New Orleans as the actual documented historical facts governing the city’s 300-year span.
Whether you are a paranormal fanatic or sceptic, I do recommend taking a tour known for being rooted in historic fact. Prior to visiting New Orleans I did extensive reading about the various myths surrounding the French Quarter, planning to whisper the actual true stories the legends are based on to my husband throughout the tour. It turns out, our tour company got all their facts pretty much spot on with very minor embellishments. For this reason, I suggest the same tour company, New Orleans Haunted History Ghost Tour (I’m not receiving any commission for this, I just want everyone to have as accurate of a ghost tour as possible.). Our guide was an animated NOLA native and our group itself was a blast. In fact, a bunch of us went out together after the tour ended because we were having so much fun!
Street car to Garden District
Should you find yourself in New Orleans for more than 24 hours, you absolutely must explore areas outside the French Quarter to get a more complete picture of the city. The Garden District is perhaps the most iconic neighborhood you can choose, originally developed between 1832 and 1900. The district is considered the best-preserved example of historic mansions in the United States and really gives you a taste of what life in NOLA was like 150-odd years ago.
The district was once home to plantations but sold in parcels over the years to wealthy Americans who didn’t want to live in the French Quarter. It was originally part of the city of Lafayette, but was annexed by New Orleans in 1852, expanding the city significantly. The easiest way to access the Garden District remains the St. Charles street car which you can catch at many locations surrounding the French Quarter. The ride is an experience in and of itself, as the line has been operational since 1835, allowing you to get a feel for what transportation would have been like many decades ago. Fare is $1.25 each way or $3.00 for a 24-hour day pass.
Specific points of interest: Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (1420 Washington Avenue), Commander’s Palace (one of the city’s most famous restaurants; 1403 Washington Avenue), Alfred Grima House (2701 Street Charles Avenue), Buckner Mansion (the house featured in American Horror Story Coven; 1410 Jackson Avenue), The George Washington Cable House (1313 8th Street).
The Steamboat Natchez’s Jazz Brunch
If your trip to New Orleans falls on a Sunday and you find yourself wondering where exactly the best place to spend a Sunday brunch in NOLA is, look no further than the Steamboat Natchez’s weekly jazz brunches. The Natchez is the Crescent City’s one and only operational steamboat, offering two Sunday Jazz Brunch Cruises, as well as nightly dinner and harbor jazz cruises. A trip down the Mississippi on the Natchez offers a unique peak into transportation of yesteryear, set to traditional live jazz music, an enviable spread of classic New Orleans delights, and delectable cocktails. A ride on the Natchez is the perfect way to cozy up on a chilly winter’s day while enjoying incredible live music traditional NOLA cuisine. What better way could there be to take in some history?
Take in Live Jazz on Frenchmen Street
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without taking in some live jazz. New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz, a fact that is impossible to escape even 100-plus years after it first began to take root in the city. Jazz is alive and kicking in NOLA on every street corner, down every dark alley, it can even be found when you take a ride on the Steamboat Natchez! Jazz is, quite simply, New Orleans.
You don’t have to go out of your way to take in live music in NOLA, as it is positively everywhere. If, however, you find yourself wanting to experience a bit more of an authentic taste of the city’s rich history of jazz, venture away from the French Quarter and the tourist traps that are Pat O’Brien’s and Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub. A mere mile and a quarter away from famous names in French Quarter jazz lies Frenchmen Street, a quirky street lined by hole in the wall jazz clubs frequented more often by NOLA locals than by the bachelor parties of the French Quarter.
Specific points of interest: The clubs of Frenchmen Street are the kinds of places you may wait over an hour to get standing room in but that will be oh so worth it when the owner of the establishment comes out with a sax in hand at 2:00 AM to shut the place down. If you are in search of an authentic New Orleans jazz experience, you absolutely must check out: d.b.a. (618 Frenchmen Street), Three Muses (536 Frenchmen Street), and The Spotted Cat Music Club (623 Frenchmen Street). All three were recommended time and time again by locals and I will happily vouch to having incredible experiences at all three of them.
I hope this guide, at the very least, opened your eyes to all of the unique experiences New Orleans has to offer. If, it turns out, you’re more like me than not and can see yourself falling head over heels in love with NOLA as well, my wish is that this guide has convinced you that the Crescent City absolutely needs to be on your bucket list. And what better time to visit the beautiful city than during the crisp, cold, tourist-free days of winter when New Orleans really shines?