New Orleans is undeniably appealing, quirky and colorful, and it’s a city everyone should visit at some point in their lives. The culture is unique, and the people are passionate. New Orleans is a treat for the senses — the bold flavors of Creole and Cajun dishes, the dazzling design and decor that lines the streets, the sweet smell of beignets (and the not-so-sweet smells of Bourbon Street). The multitude of sights, smells and tastes can be overwhelming, especially for a first-time visitor. So if you’re heading to NOLA for the first time, we’ve pulled together a little guide to the must-dos. Enjoy!

New Orleans visitor's guide — iStock image

Here’s your first-timer’s guide to New Orleans.

A First-Timer’s Guide to New Orleans

WHERE TO STAY

There are hundreds of hotel options in New Orleans. Whether you’re looking for something in the center of it all, something historic and tucked away, a luxurious experience or some combination of them all, you’re bound to find it. If you’re in town and plan to spend most of your time exploring the French Quarter, consider a stay at Hotel Mazarin. The 102-guestroom hotel sits in the heart of New Orleans, but you’ll be shocked at how quiet it is! Just a few blocks from Bourbon Street, this hotel manages to stay within arm’s reach of the action, without picking up the sounds of the late-night parties. Its quiet elegance and celebrated charm are a delightful taste of historic New Orleans.

For something authentically New Orleans, stay at Hotel Peter & Paul, a restored Catholic church and school with understated elegance and inspired decoration. Each week, they host donation-based Pilates and yoga classes for guests, and the lovely parlors, bar, and courtyard certainly beckon for at least one cocktail or coffee.

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First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — where to stay

The main courtyard at the Hotel Mazarin is a beautiful setting for morning coffee and breakfast. Image: Hotel Mazarin

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — where to stay

The rooms at Hotel Mazarin are cozy and historic. Image: Hotel Mazarin

If you’re looking for an experience outside of the French Quarter, try the newly renovated Jung Hotel. “The renaissance of a New Orleans icon,” the Jung Hotel is located in front of the Canal Street Streetcar stop, making it convenient for those looking to visit other attractions such as Magazine Street, the Mississippi Riverfront or Audubon Park. The 1920s hotel has been continually updated and renovated over the years, and from 1971 to 2012 it changed hands four times and closed twice. Today, you’ll find that it has just the right amount of Southern charm mixed with modern accommodations including a lively rooftop bar and pool deck exclusive to its guests. While you’re there, take the Friday champagne and art tour to learn more about the hotel and the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls.

WHERE TO EXPLORE

Where not to explore? There are so many sights to see in New Orleans, so start with a loose schedule and explore the different neighborhoods. Wander around the French Quarter and stroll down Bourbon Street for the experience. The neon lights and the nonstop party are worth the sight, but certainly not where a New Orleanian would recommend you spend all of your time. Continue down to the water and see Jackson Square. There are fortunetellers, street vendors and musicians lining the streets and filling the park. The Cabildo, the historic building that anchors the park, is managed by the State Museum of Louisiana. Inside, learn about the different ethnic groups who have inhabited the state, as well as the interesting history of the state of Louisiana. Don’t miss a show at Preservation Hall. The historic music venue hosts jazz musicians each and every night, and the experience is unmatched.

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — what to do

A stroll down Bourbon Street is a must.

Another area to explore is Frenchmen Street. The buzzing, authentic New Orleans street is one of the most music-filled thoroughfares in the city, and locals say it’s more authentically NOLA than Bourbon — or, it is what Bourbon Street once was. For another taste of New Orleans and the history of what is perhaps its largest claim to fame, visit Mardi Gras World. Albeit a bit cheesy, the fascinating museum will show you what it takes to bring Mardi Gras to life each year. See the floats as they’re being built, and leave with a true understanding of the huge holiday.

If you haven’t yet had your history fix, visit the World War 2 Museum for one of the most unique and impactful museum experiences you can have. Locals and visitors agree that this is an activity you shouldn’t miss — setting aside ample time to take it all in. Take on the perspective of the men and women who lived through World War 2 in a moving exhibit, and leave enlightened and grateful.

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

The food and drink culture in New Orleans is rich and varied. There are a few classics that you’ll want to experience — native dishes like gumbo, crawfish étouffée, jambalaya and po’ boys for example. You’ll spot them on the menus of many restaurants, so you’re sure to get an authentic taste at many dining options. Try Felix’s for lunch and get your po’ boy fix … and don’t miss their famous chargrilled oysters. The bloody marys are some of the best in town, too. For authentic and exquisite New Orleans cuisine, visit Arnaud’s in the French Quarter. The fine-dining establishment serves classic Creole dishes like Oysters Rockefeller, turtle soup, shrimp creole and so much more, and the bananas foster is a must! If you’re looking for something a little newer and edgier, visit Justine for a fun atmosphere and delicious food. Order oysters and moules frites and duck confit for a delicious French brasserie experience.

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First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — what to do

Felix’s is a NOLA institution!

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — where to eat

Felix’s has some of the best oysters in town.

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — where to eat

Expect a few surprise entertainers after your meal at Justine.

Bourbon Street certainly isn’t the only place to find something to sip in New Orleans. The city is the birthplace of the Sazerac, so you’ll want to have at least one during your visit. One of the newest attractions is centered around the cocktail itself. The Sazerac House is the place to see how the Sazerac is part of the customs, traditions and culture of New Orleans, as well as a place to learn the methods used in distilling Sazerac rye, how they handcraft world-famous Peychaud’s Bitters and, of course, to try it all. If you find yourself staying at Hotel Mazarin, or even if you don’t, check out both of their cool bars. Patrick’s Bar Vin is a cozy spot for a pre- or post-dinner glass of wine, and guests enjoy chatting with Patrick himself at the bar. The 21st Amendment is a hot spot for catching live music without the huge tourist crowd and enjoying handcrafted cocktails that transport you back in time. One of the newest spots in town, Belle Epoque is an absinthe bar with a cool vibe and excellent cocktails if you’re looking for something different.

Finally, even the locals agree that as expected as it may be, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a trip to Café du Monde. The 24-hour eatery serves coffee and beignets, and the patio offers a space to sit and take in the easygoing New Orleans lifestyle, sipping coffee and savoring every last bite.

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — what to do

Find delicious drinks and live entertainment at 21st Amendment. Image: 21st Amendment

First-timer's Guide to New Orleans — eat at Cafe Du Monde

You can fit in your Café du Monde trip any hour of the day as they’re open 24/7!

Enjoy your first (or 21st!) visit to New Orleans!

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