How to Spend 48 Hours in New Orleans 

Travelista’s Deep South Road Trip began in the vibrant Louisiana city, affectionately known as NOLA. Editor Jessica Ruth Gibson guides us through 48 hours in New Orleans.

I visited New Orleans in November as part of a wider Deep South Road Trip which spanned over 12 days and took me across Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. New Orleans was the perfect starting point to our road trip and a great introduction to the French-colonised state of Louisiana. From the unique food, to the soulful music, New Orleans is a wonderful city to visit for a standalone trip, or as part of a wider exploration of the Deep South. Whatever your travel style, I’ve crafted a guide to the perfect 48 hours in New Orleans. 

This guide to New Orleans covers what to do, where to stay, where to eat and unique experiences in New Orleans.

This article has been written in partnership with Explore Louisiana. All words and images are owned by Travelista.

How to spend 48 Hours in New Orleans

Overview

Day 1 in New Orleans

Day 2 in New Orleans

Best Restaurants in New Orleans

Nightlife and Bars in New Orleans 

Best Hotels in New Orleans

Introducing New Orleans

New Orleans is a French colonial city is captivating and unique – like nowhere else I’ve been in the US. Like the wider state, it is has a strong French influence, but French is not the only international aspect of this buzzing Louisiana city. New Orleans is the home of jazz music and a melting pot of African, European and Caribbean cultures. You’ll sense these cultures all over the city, from it’s music and food to it’s French quarter architecture and vibrant festivals. New Orleans is brimming with culture and creativity, where music fills the air and anything feels possible.

Let’s assume you have two whole days in the city of New Orleans. Here’s some ideas of how to spend them.

Day 1 in New Orleans

Morning

Cafe Beignet

Start your day in New Orlean’s vibrant French Quarter, a place that embodies all that the city has to offer. You’ll know when you hit the French Quarter by the colourful buildings and colonial architecture which could just as easily be seen in Europe or Central America. In the very heart you’ll find Cafe Beignet, a French Quarter institution selling New Orlean’s most celebrated sweet treats; the beinget. Pronounced ‘ben-yay’, this humble donut-like snack is deep fried, doused in icing sugar and typically served for breakfast. Cafe Beignet’s coffee is also iconic, so pair the two together for the ultimate New Orleans-style breakfast. There’s a lovely outdoor seating area and a great designer vintage jewellery shop over the road which is full of unique treasures. 

After your sugar and coffee fix, take a stroll to Vue Orleans, a viewing deck and observatory offering 360 open-air views of New Orleans. We visited on a cloudy day when the visibility wasn’t great, but whatever the weather, this place provides you with a great introduction to New Orleans. The experience starts with an interactive exhibition and engaging short film which explains the history of New Orleans and its many cultural influences. From the exhibition you head up to the 34th floor for an indoor and outdoor observatory decks. There’s also a cafe up there so you can enjoy refreshments with a view. 

Afternoon

Spend the afternoon at Mardi Gras world, where you can get a taste of New Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras all through the year. See the colourful floats in person, watch a short film and learn how they are made on one of the fascinating studio tours (included in your ticket). Visitors can take photos but they are asked not to post them on social media until after the next scheduled Mardi Gras so as not leak the float designs before the event itself. These photos are of the 2024 Mardi Gras floats, which has already passed. Admission costs $22 per adult and $14 per child.

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is a Christian festival which takes place in New Orleans on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and marks the start of Lent. Parades with floats and intricate, colourful costumes take to the streets of New Orleans, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. It’s developed to become a week-long festival and if you’re lucky enough to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, you’re in for a unique and very special experience. 

My next recommendation won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a unique experience in New Orleans, pay a visit to High Priestess Catherine at Intuitions. She offers tarot card readings, palm readings and other psychic readings to predict your future. New Orleans has a deep rooted history with witchcraft and spirituality so if you’re going to try this anywhere in the world, make sure it’s in New Orleans. My friend and I did this and it was one of the most surreal and memorable experiences whilst we were in New Orleans. Have any of her predictions come true? Let’s wait and see…

Check out the nightlife section for other suggestions of how to spend your first evening during 48 hours in New Orleans.

Day 2 in New Orleans

Morning

Head to Cafe du Monde which is the legendary home of New Orleans’ beignets and cafe au lait. This place is an institution in New Orleans dating back to 1862 and serving the city’s famous sweet treats. Be aware this place is popular with tourists, but for good reason, so be sure to arrive as early as possible to avoid a lengthy queue (it opens at 07.15am). You can expect great value and no-frills service in this bustling and atmospheric open-air cafe. We ordered the famous cafe au lait which didn’t impress me –  it tasted like very milky watered down coffee. However, the beignets were completely delicious and well worth going for to try them and experience the overall atmosphere. 

After breakfast, choose between an authentic Louisiana experience such as a Swamp Tour or a Mississippi River cruise. I can recommend Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, which is a fantastic experience approximately 45 minutes outside of the city. This guided swamp tour will take you deep into the Louisiana ‘Bayou’ in search of alligators in the wild. The alligators are not disturbed and you’re likely to see lots of other wildlife along the way. 

Alternatively, stay in the city and hop aboard a traditional paddleboat steamer for a Mississippi River cruise. This experience is steeped in history and it’s a great way to see the city of New Orleans, and beyond, from an entirely different perspective. Many cruises include live jazz music and a southern-inspired buffet lunch.

Afternoon

For the second afternoon in New Orleans, I recommend visiting the unique attraction that is the USA’s National WWII Museum. As a Brit, I found it fascinating to see the history and stories told from an American perspective and the exhibitions are incredibly, immersive, engaging and interactive. There are plenty of multi-media experiences and a mind-boggling collection of artefacts from WWII.  

Best Restaurants for 48 Hours in New Orleans

I visited the following places during my time in New Orleans, which had all been recommended by the Explore Louisiana tourist board.

Peche Seafood Restaurant

Peche is an elegant, rustic and buzzy seafood restaurant inspired by the cooking of South America, Spain and the Gulf Coast. There are plenty of New Orlean’s dishes to try and the wine list is excellent. Serves veggie dishes and high chairs are available. Go for lunch or dinner. 

Saint John Restaurant

Saint John is a buzzing restaurant which has a select amount of covers which allow diners to sit opposite the chef’s whilst the work, cooking up delicious and indulgent Southern dishes. This is their ‘Chef’s Table’. The best bit is that you get to preview the dishes as and when they come out, so order a cocktail and take your time placing your order so you can see what takes your fancy. The dishes are rich, fresh and flavoursome and the service is very attentive. Even if you can’t get a booking on the Chef’s Table, I’d still recommend making a regular booking in the main restaurant.

Cafe Beignet

Cafe Beignet – as mentioned in the itinerary here.

Cafe du Monde

Cafe du Monde – as mentioned in the itinerary here.

Nightlife and Bars for 48 hours in New Orleans

Nightlife in New Orleans is all about live music and there’s a recommendation here for everyone, from loud nights out on Bourbon Street to a refined cocktail in one of New Orlean’s most historic hotels.

Bourbon Street

Before visiting New Orleans, most people have already heard of the infamous Bourbon Street. To be totally transparent, you’re either going to love it or hate it. The street itself reminded me of Bangkok’s Khao San Road in terms of volume, intensity and over-stimulation. There are wall-to-wall bars blasting out music and pedestrians filling the full width of the road. In amongst the predominantly touristy bars, there are a few authentic gems including Fritzel’s Jazz Pub and The Jazz Playhouse. Pickpockets operate on Bourbon Street so please be vigilant in this area. 

Bourbon Street is definitely a must-see, but if you prefer somewhere a little quieter and low key, I’d recommend Frenchmen Street as a great alternative. 

Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street was more of what I had in mind when I imagined Bourbon Street. Each bar within Frenchman Street feels unique with it’s own personality and vibe, where sounds of jazz, reggae and blues fill the street like a cocktail of music. If you want to find authentic live music in New Orleans, this is the place to come. The best part is that most of the music is free, you just need to buy a drink at the bar and enjoy. Go quick, before it becomes another version of Bourbon Street.

The Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone

If Frenchman Street even sounds too much and you are after something a little more refined, check out the unique rotating Carousel Bar at Hotel Monetleone. This historic bar, with live music every night, dates back to 1949 and is located within the most celebrated hotel in the French Quarter. You don’t need to be a guest of the hotel to visit the bar, although we also high recommend staying there if you’re looking for a luxury 4 star hotel in New Orleans. 

Best Hotels in New Orleans

We’ve included four recommendations for hotels in New Orleans to suit a range of budgets and ranging from 5 to 3 star. During my time in New Orleans I was lucky though to stay at Hotel Monteleone which is one of our recommendations.

The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans – 5 Star Luxury

Address: 921 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70112

The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is known for its luxury accommodations, top-notch service, and a prime location on Canal Street. It’s close to the French Quarter, offering a high-end experience with amenities like a spa, fine dining, and lavish rooms.

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans – 4 Star French Quarter Elegance

Address: 214 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

Hotel Monteleone is a historic and luxurious 4 star hotel with an amazing location in the heart of the French Quarter. The hotel was built in 1886 and has a timeless, belle époque feel to it. However, a new section of the hotel has been built with beautifully styled, modern bedrooms.  Valet parking is available for fellow road-trippers. Known for its elegance, it offers upscale surroundings, a rooftop pool, and the famous Carousel Bar. It’s a classic choice for those seeking a high-end experience.

The Old No.77 Hotel & Chandlery, New Orleans – 4 Star Style in the Warehouse District

Address: 535 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery is a stylish 4-star option in the Warehouse District. It provides a blend of historic charm and modern amenities, including an art gallery and a restaurant serving local cuisine.

The Quisby, New Orleans – 3 Star Affordable Rooms with a Vibrant Atmosphere

Address: 1225 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130

The Quisby is a budget-friendly 3-star option on St. Charles Avenue. It offers a vibrant atmosphere with dormitory-style and private rooms, providing a comfortable stay at an affordable rate.

Hotel Monteleone - 48 Hours in New Orleans

New Orleans is a city unlike any other in the USA and if you ever get the opportunity to visit, grab it with both hands. We hope this guide to 48 hour in New Orleans comes in handy for anyone visiting the one and only NOLA.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

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