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St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral

Essential New Orleans Three-Day Itinerary

The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans

Planning a quick getaway to New Orleans, but not sure where to start? Worry not – we’ve got your back. There are a million things to do in New Orleans, but when you’ve only got three days, you’ve gotta make the most of your time. We’ve broken out three parts of town – the French Quarter, Uptown and the Garden District, and Tremé/Marigny/Bywater – and given them each a day to explore.

And if it’s your first time in New Orleans, don’t forget to also check out our Guide to New Orleans for First-Timers– an excellent companion piece if you want to explore the hits a little bit deeper!

Essential New Orleans Itinerary: Day One

Start in the French Quarter

If you have limited time in New Orleans, we suggest you stick to exploring the French Quarter! Naturally, this iconic neighborhood occupies our top spot. Start bright and early with breakfast at Café du Monde. Enjoy pillowy soft, powdered sugar-covered beignets and a hot (or iced) café au lait. Craving a more traditional breakfast? Enjoy eggs galore at Brennan’s, a traditional New Orleans restaurant open most days at 9 a.m.

Next, venture over to St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. Among the most recognized spots in New Orleans, the Cathedral is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for self-guided tours. Flanking the Cathedral on either side, the Cabildo and Presbytère are two Louisiana State Museums. Permanent Mardi Gras and New Orleans history exhibits offer a glimpse into our unique culture.

For lunch, we suggest getting a muffuletta at Napoleon House. Take it to go and eat it from a bench on the banks of the Mississippi River where you can watch ships pass by.

Literary tours, ghost tours, cemetery tours, Segway tours, LGBTQ history tours, carriage tours, bike tours … find the one that piques your curiosity and spend the afternoon discovering the city with a knowledgeable guide. See a full list of tours here.

Catching a show at Preservation Hall is always a great idea. Performances start in the early evening, perfect for a pre-dinner rest stop.

Before you head for dinner, stop for cocktail hour at Pat O’Brien’s . Order a Hurricane and enjoy it as many have for so many years. For dinner, we suggest eating at one of our centuries-old restaurants like Antoine’s Galatoire’s  or Arnaud’s . You’ll get more than a great Creole meal – you’ll get a history lesson.

Zack Smith
d.b.a. - Frenchmen Street

After dinner, catch a breeze off the Mississippi at Woldenberg Park . Watch the steamboats pass by as you end your quintessential New Orleans day. Or, head to the bustling Frenchmen Street corridor for live music all night long.


Essential New Orleans Itinerary: Day Two 

Dive deeper into New Orleans neighborhoods 

If you’re sticking around in NOLA for day two, venture outside of the French Quarter and into the Garden District and Uptown for delicious food, incredible architecture, and vivid nightlife. 

Grab breakfast at Surrey’s Café & Juice Bar or Bearcat Café,  or if you’re in the mood for brunch, try Atchafalaya. You can see even more of our picks for boozy brunch here.

Justen Williams

Next, catch the streetcar and gawk with envy at the tree-covered mansions and extravagant buildings that line St. Charles Avenue. In New Orleans, no two houses are the same, making for an interesting architectural experience. You can also book a tour of the Garden District via foot, bike, scooter, or bus.

Lunch on Magazine Street will set you up for an afternoon of shopping. Enjoy banh mi sandwiches at Banh Mi Boys, salads and grain bowls at The Daily Beet, crawfish and cheese empanadas from Empanola, red beans and rice from Joey K’s, and more! Grab a coffee from French Truck and sno-balls from Imperial Woodpecker during the warmer months. Fuel yourself to shop ‘til you drop.

Paul Broussard
Red beans – Joey K’s

For dinner, enjoy Indian cuisine at Saffron, Italian cuisine at San Lorenzo, Cajun-Creole cuisine at Brigtsen’s or Commander’s Palace, or Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding cuisine at Boucherie.

Catch a show at Tipitina’s or Maple Leaf Bar to round out your evening, New Orleans-style.

Essential New Orleans Itinerary: Day Three

Discover off-the-beaten-path experiences

Paul Broussard
Treme Mural - Carver Theater

We could write a full seven-day itinerary for experiencing New Orleans, but with only three days, we recommend venturing off the beaten path. Start your day in Tremé, New Orleans’ oldest historically Black neighborhood. Enjoy breakfast at Backatown Coffee Parlour followed by a visit to Backstreet Cultural Museum, filled with vibrant Mardi Gras Indian suits.

For lunch, enjoy authentic Creole dining at Lil’ Dizzy’s or Dooky Chase’s. Fried chicken, baked fish, greens, gumbo, and bread pudding are available at both restaurants.

Take a stroll (or drive) down tree-lined Esplanade Avenue and head east into the Marigny Bywater. JAMNOLA is a permanent pop-up museum with exhibits celebrating the joy, art, and music of New Orleans. It’s very interactive and fun for the whole family.

Justen Williams
Studio BE

Studio BE is the brainchild of local artist Brandan “B-mike” Odums, a contemporary warehouse turned gallery featuring the works of Black artists. Large-scale paintings, murals, and mixed media are highlights of the space. Stop by and experience one of the coolest spots in New Orleans.

Catch the Mississippi River from a different vantage point at Crescent Park . The 20-acre urban linear park is perfect for an afternoon stroll or bike ride at sunset. 

Justen Williams

The Bywater has so many great restaurants—there’s The Elysian Bar, N7, Saint-Germain, and Paladar 511, just to name a few! Enjoy delicious cuisine at the restaurant of your choice for dinner.

Essential New Orleans Itinerary: Lagniappe

A little something extra

We couldn’t write this itinerary without mentioning New Orleans City Park. You could spend a whole day in that park, from browsing art at NOMA to taking the kiddos to play at Storyland to renting a swan boat at Big Lake and strolling through the Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown in this urban oasis.

Another option for enjoying New Orleans is traveling to the Lakefront. Enjoy seafood dinners and sailboat watching at this picturesque location that often flies under the radar.

Lastly, consider going beyond the city limits. Louisiana’s first and only swamp zipline is located 45 minutes out in LaPlace at Zip NOLA. Located across the river on the Westbank is Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a sportsman’s paradise. If craving a beach moment while in New Orleans, look no further than Fontainebleau State Park going north into Mandeville.