This post is in partnership with Hotels.com.
Many cities across the world are fortunate to have a unique character and culture that helps them stand out from their counterparts when it comes to attracting tourists from all corners of the globe. However, the city of New Orleans takes this whole concept to a new level as it epitomizes everything there is to love about a quintessentially diverse destination. Whether you are a Louisiana native or simply love to head to the infamous “Bayou” to experience decadent Cajun and Creole cuisine, there is something quite magical about the city of New Orleans. 48 hours in New Orleans is about the minimum length of time you will want to explore this beautiful city and we would like to take you on a journey with us as we explore a destination that has an eclectic blend of cuisine, culture, music and much more.
NOLA, as it is colloquially known, is a city located on the banks of the Mississippi River along the south coast of the United States. For those of you that have visited New York City and consider that to be a “melting pot” of cultures, New Orleans is an equivalent US city that offers this same diverse background, with a collaboration of French, American, and African ethnic groups creating a one of a kind experience for locals and visitors alike.
Two days in New Orleans is barely enough to touch the surface of what you can enjoy in the “Big Easy” (another nickname for this French-inspired city), but it does give you just enough time to sample some of the iconic experiences…and honestly, that’s what it’s all about in New Orleans, enjoying the infamous local Zydeco street performers, sampling the best Po-Boys and exploring the above-ground cemeteries. Let’s take a look at how we recommend making the most of a fast and furious 48 hours in this beautiful, historic city.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Finding the perfect place to stay in New Orleans is critical if you only have a short time to experience this city. Whether you are looking to stay close to the French Quarter, the iconic Bourbon Street or perhaps further afield near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome or Garden District, New Orleans is certainly home to a collection of unique hotel options that will meet every budget.
Here are a couple of recommendations on the best luxury and budget accommodation options in New Orleans.
- Hotel Monteleone – When it comes to vintage, luxury hotels in New Orleans, this is perhaps the most iconic, not only because of the intricate details of the architecture throughout the interior but also because of the infamous Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge which is a rotating bar for visitors and guests. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, Hotel Monteleone is conveniently situated to experience the very best attractions across the city. Regardless of whether you choose to stay here, head to this rotating bar to enjoy a drink or two for the ultimate NOLA experience.
- Lafayette Hotel – Frequently available for less than $100 per night, this is one of the best options for those that are looking for a budget option yet still conveniently located to enjoy the best experiences in New Orleans. It is renowned as the “perfect getaway for those looking to be near all the downtown and French Quarter attractions.”
48 Hours in New Orleans
If you are visiting New Orleans for only a couple of days, you need to be prepared to enjoy an action-packed itinerary if you truly want to enjoy the ultimate NOLA experience. I would argue that this is really a city that never sleeps (again, usually referenced with NYC but it’s very much similar in New Orleans) because regardless of the time of day or night, there is something unique to experience here.
While we will focus on some of the iconic experiences later in this post, it’s certainly worth noting that having prior knowledge of the best local spots to enjoy Cajun and Creole cuisine and where the best attractions can be found is crucial to maximizing your time in New Orleans. Whether you choose to follow our recommendations or simply allow spontaneity to take over, you can be sure your trip to New Orleans will be memorable…it’s just the nature of this city!
Day 1 – Garden District, Beignets and History
Day 1 may see you venture over to the Garden District to take a guided walking tour of one of New Orleans’ iconic cemeteries while also having the opportunity to see some of the vintage houses that many celebrities have called their homes. Think Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, John Goodman, and Archie Manning…just a few of those that love this area of New Orleans.
Perhaps the iconic Commander’s Palace, a restaurant that has been in business since 1893, will be your chosen spot for lunch or maybe you will prefer to head back to downtown New Orleans to experience a late brunch and sample the best beignets in town at Cafe du Monde.
While most of the best experiences in New Orleans are outdoors, one of the best indoor attractions is the National World War 2 Museum. You can easily spend several hours here learning about the tragic and poignant events of this historic event and it truly offers one of the best reflective experiences of any museum.
Enjoy dinner at Mulate’s New Orleans Cajun Restaurant before taking a stroll along the banks of the Mississippi and heading to one of the liveliest streets in America – Bourbon Street. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted during the evenings but it epitomizes everything there is to love about New Orleans with a myriad of live music options, vibrant bars offering iconic NOLA drinks and street performers that always offer something unique.
Day 2 – French Quarter, Oysters and Zydeco
Wake up early and head over to the French Quarter to experience the local farmers market before exploring this area known as the “Crown Jewel of New Orleans.” One of the magical neighborhoods across the city, the French Quarter is home to breathtaking architecture, epitomized by colorful buildings, cast-iron balconies, and locals that are always willing to interact with visitors to the area.
After spending the morning in the “Vieux-Carré” (Old Square), head to one of the many oyster houses to sample the best local delicacy. Whether you choose to visit Acme Oyster House, Bourbon House, Red Fish Grill or another restaurant, it’s fair to say that if you have never tried oysters, New Orleans is the place to experience them.
If you are looking for a relaxing afternoon, head over to Jackson Square to admire the impressive sight of St. Louis Cathedral that towers above this location. Enjoy mingling with locals while listening to Zydeco street performers, a genre of music that evolved in Southern Louisiana by French Creole natives.
Best Places to Eat in New Orleans
New Orleans is a haven for foodie connoisseurs because of the vast array of diverse cuisine options available across the city. A trip to the Big Easy wouldn’t be the same without sampling a variety of local Cajun and Creole cuisine, including the following:
- Crawfish Etouffee
- Red Beans and Rice
The list is endless but if you experience all of the above, you will have a pretty good idea of why New Orleans is such an attractive destination for those that love this type of cuisine. Here are a couple of our favorite spots across the city that are well worth experiencing:
- Cafe du Monde – Located on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, this legendary open-air coffee shop is the place to go at any time of the day to enjoy the classic New Orleans delicacy known as a “beignet” (deep-fried dough covered with powdered sugar) along with delicious cafe au lait (made with equal parts of coffee and chicory – the secret ingredient that makes Cafe Du Monde‘s coffee so popular). Be prepared to queue outside but don’t worry, it’s well worth the wait!
- Mothers Restaurant – To sample one of the best po-boys in New Orleans (obviously a debate that many other restaurants will claim to possess), head to Mothers Restaurant on Poydras Street which has been serving this lunchtime favorite since opening its doors in 1938. Be sure to sample Mothers’ iconic po-boy, the Famous Ferdi Special, incorporating ham and roast beef topped with debris.
- Red Fish Grill – Bourbon Street may be the home of New Orleans’ nightlife and entertainment scene but it is also home to a collection of great restaurants, none more so than Red Fish Grill which is the perfect spot to enjoy the best local seafood. The Alligator Sausage and Seafood Gumbo are a favorite while the infamous BBQ oysters are a great way to start your visit.
- Commander’s Palace – Located in the heart of the Garden District of New Orleans, this is one of the city’s proudest restaurants dating back to 1893. The Victorian-style mansion where Commander’s Palace is found is one of the most spectacular landmarks throughout the city and the moment you enter and start sampling the cuisine, you will quickly realize how this is a six-time James Beard award-winning restaurant.
- The Court of Two Sisters – Is there anything better than enjoying a late morning brunch sampling the finest New Orleans dishes while listening to live jazz music? Head to the wonderfully named “Court of Two Sisters” and enjoy an amazing experience on the courtyard terrace, indulging in delicious food while listening to local artists perform.
Best Attractions in New Orleans
You could be forgiven for thinking that a trip to New Orleans is all about indulging in local cuisine, listening to jazz music and enjoying live entertainment on Bourbon Street. While this is partly true, there is a myriad of attractions that are worth experiencing while in NOLA. Here are a couple of our favorite spots that you should consider adding to your 48-hour itinerary.
- Garden District – A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the Garden District to experience Lafayette Cemetery #1 and explore the plethora of Classic Revival inspired mansions that houses famous celebrities. A New Orleans Garden District tour courtesy of a local tour company (or even a self-guided walking tour) offers a historic look at some of the infamous celebrities that live in these gorgeous homes. Walking around this neighborhood is all about trying to spot the celebrity, from Sandra Bullock to Nicolas Cage and many more!
- National World War II Museum – Learn all about the American Experience in the Second World War in terms of how it started, how it was won and the tragic losses that were suffered throughout. This military history museum is located in the business area of New Orleans but provides a one of a kind experience, unlike any other comparable museum.
- Jackson Square – Explore St. Louis Cathedral that towers above this iconic square and listen to local Zydeco musicians while admiring artists creating works of art for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
- Steamboat Natchez Cruise – Enjoy a Natchez dinner cruise or daytime trip along the Mississippi River to enjoy epic skyline views of New Orleans and also listen to traditional jazz music performed while sampling local cuisine offered onboard this steamboat.
- City Park – Take a stroll around an urban green space by visiting one of New Orleans’ oldest parks, dating back to 1850. The gorgeous botanical gardens within the park are a real sight to behold while the famous antique carousel is a sure favorite for children heading to New Orleans.
New Orleans is a city that epitomizes a rich culture, delicious cuisine, and quirky architecture. Spending 48 hours in the Big Easy will give you an idea of why this city is such a popular spot for return visitors, with a plethora of things to do and amazing places to eat. Whether you are a first-time visitor or frequent this city along the Mississippi River, you can be sure there is something new that awaits.
From the Garden District neighborhood to the historic French Quarter, New Orleans is a vibrant collection of unique cultures combined into a melting pot of diversity. Have you visited New Orleans? What would you recommend for someone visiting NOLA for the first time and only has 48 hours to explore?