Your Comprehensive Guide to New Orleans

An eclectic city home to a vibrant jazz scene, art festivals, inventive cuisine, and more parades per year than you can even imagine, NOLA has something for everyone.

…the essence of New Orleans is distilled down to a feeling: the comfort of a warm hug. New Orleans is one of those places that you never knew you needed, but once you experience it once, you’re hooked for life.

They say that you give the people you love nicknames, so it’s no wonder that New Orleans has, well, a few; she’s known as The Big Easy, The Crescent City (named after the way the Mississippi River curves around the city in the shape of a crescent), The Birthplace of Jazz, the colloquial ‘Nawlins…we could go on. Beyond the labels, though, the essence of New Orleans is distilled down to a feeling: the comfort of a warm hug. New Orleans is one of those places that you never knew you needed, but once you experience it once, you’re hooked for life.

What endears New Orleans to its visitors — beyond its beignets — are the locals. New Orleanians are the type who are sure to give you a big smile when passing you on the street, and thanks to living the laissez-faire lifestyle, quite literally find any excuse to celebrate. If you’ve been down to the Bayou, you know the welcome lilt behind the familiar question, “What can I get for you today, my baby?” after which you’ll naturally order an egregious amount of comfort food. But a visit to The Big Easy is about more than its food.

New Orleans, is a city teeming with art, music, culture, and experience. A day here can be spent sipping cocktails on a carousel, floating away to the sounds of live blues, or exploring your adventurous side with some of the best fishing in the world. But who exactly is New Orleans for, you ask? Well, everyone. Whether you’re headed down for Mardi Gras with friends, or grabbing your partner for a romantic couples trip, there are so many ways to experience this special city. And that’s where we come in — keep reading for our recommendations on where to stay, what to do, where to dine, and so much more.

Where to Stay in New Orleans

Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans is located just a short fifteen-minute stroll from the French Quarter and primely located along the Mississippi River. The property places guests in the heart of the action while maintaining its exclusivity and oasis-like ambiance. Here, you’re invited to indulge in innovative Louisiana cuisine by local James Beard award-winning chefs, unwind by a resort-style pool, and rejuvenate in a state-of-the-art spa. Whether celebrating your best friend’s bachelor(ette) party, visiting schools with your soon-to-be high school grad, or needing a chic spot to crash on your business trip, Four Seasons awaits.

Maison de la Luz is a fully private guest house located just a few blocks from the Vieux Carre. All spaces in the hotel are for hotel guests only, making this eclectic property a quiet respite. All guests are welcome to enjoy the neighborhood perks, including full access to the adjacent Ace Hotel’s amenities, including signing privileges at all of their outlets. Be sure to visit Bar Marilou’s secret guest-only lounge to enjoy the full menu with the privacy included with your Maison de la Luz stay.

The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is traditional to the core, complete with a resident jazz musician. The large and welcoming hotel still retains soul and charm, which is mostly to do with the people. They shine, they care and they always greet you with a genuine smile. The hotel spa is one of the best in the city, a dark and quiet oasis right off Canal Street. You definitely know you’re in New Orleans during the 80-minute full-body voodoo ritual massage, as the treatment room exudes a light fragrance of absinthe and cypress.

The Roosevelt New Orleans has a long and colorful history, stretching back to the early 1900s, from politics to prohibition — and as such, it is widely considered a locals’ favorite. The Sazerac Bar was one of the first to allow women into a historically gentleman-only bar, and this anniversary –Storming the Sazerac– is celebrated annually to this day, as folks from around the city dress in prohibition-era attire and enjoy cocktails.

Where to Eat in New Orleans

Best Bars in New Orleans

New Orleans is rooted in a drinking culture as rich and diverse as the city itself. From historic bars steeped in tales of yesteryear to vibrant street festivals, every sip tells a story. The city’s liberal attitude towards libations is evident in the ubiquitous go-cups, allowing revelers to take their favorite cocktails to-go as they explore the lively streets. Whether you’re sipping a classic Sazerac in a dimly lit jazz club, enjoying a refreshing Hurricane on the go, or partaking in a spirited round of “Cheers!” with locals at a neighborhood dive, New Orleans’ drinking scene is a spirited celebration of life.

Best Jazz Bars in New Orleans

Jazz wasn’t just born in New Orleans – it grew up here. Every night of the week, the streets and clubs of the Big Easy come to life. Inspiring jazz can be heard all over this town, but there are a few standouts to prioritize on your next visit. 

Frenchman Street will lead you to some of the best live blues and jazz dive bars in the city. All of these clubs are closely concentrated in a short, three-block stretch, so part of the fun is hopping from club to club to find the vibe that best suits your mood. If you’re looking for more of a local scene, you’ll find it here. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro & d.b.a. are hip and authentic. Nearby, you have The Maison, The Spotted Cat, Marigny Brasserie, and Bamboulas, all with a unique flair that will quench your thirst for that quintessential New Orleans Jazz experience.

Going off of Bourbon but equally as important (if not more), to sinking into treue Jazz culture in New Orleans. A visit to Preservation Hall immerses you into living history with legends like George Lewis, Punch Miller, Sweet Emma Barrett, Billie and De De Pierce, The Humphrey Brothers, and Louis Armstrong having played here. It is open nightly with concerts at eight, nine, and ten o’clock from Mondays through Wednesdays with additional five and six o’clock performances from Thursdays through Sundays. Limited online reservations are available and can be booked through your SmartFlyer travel advisor.

Best Shopping in New Orleans

Two favorite spots for shopping in New Orleans are along Magazine Street in the Garden District- Uptown, and along Royal Street in the French Quarter. Along Magazine Street, you’ll find plenty of clothing boutiques and home décor shops. Plan to spend the good part of the day down in this area. We usually recommend starting up in the Garden District at Sunday Shop (unique global finds for the home) then hitting spots like Monomin (perfect for the minimalist adult and baby), Marion Cage (simple mod jewelry), Pilot & Powell (highly curated stylish collection of clothing), Julie Neill Designs (chic handcrafted chandeliers and fixtures ), Villa Vici (modern design-forward home furnishing and décor), and on and on, just pop in and out as something catches your eye, making your way into Uptown.

Along Royal Street, it’s all about the antique shops – furnishings and jewelry – blocks and blocks of them. M.S. Rau Antiques & Keil’s Antiques are sure bets and are more like museums with the quality of inventory. Once you’ve perused Royal Street if you’re still looking for that perfect item, the owners of one of  The Soniat House also have an in-house shop of hand-picked 18th, 19th, and 20th century French, English, and Italian pieces aptly called Soniat House Antiques. Everything about it is exceptionally good, particularly since it is lesser known you really feel as though you’re being allowed a glimpse into a successful hotelier’s collection.

What to Do in New Orleans

When it comes to seeing the city’s most sought-after sights, clients often opt to be guided by a local historian and expert to dig into its eclectic city’s music, culture, dialect, cuisine, and history. Arguably one of our favorite ways to see the city is taking an “out-of-service” street car down St. Charles Ave, bookable through your SmartFlyer advisor. You’ll be surrounded by the charm of historic architecture and the rhythmic click-clack of the streetcar. As you traverse the city’s enchanting streets, a private jazz band serenades your journey. Pop open a bottle of champagne, the effervescence mirroring the lively spirit of New Orleans, as you revel in the unparalleled views from your exclusive streetcar haven.

For something a bit out of town, Swamp Tours offer a great way to see the Bayou in all its natural splendor! You’ll learn about Louisiana wildlife, and possibly see a few alligators and lots of beautiful scenery for Instagram-worthy pictures. Finally, Louisiana is a sportsman’s/woman’s paradise, and a two-hour drive south out of New Orleans where the marsh meets the Gulf, you’ll find some of the best fishing in the world. Springtime is best for trout – the fall is best for redfish. If you’ve never been fishing for redfish, it doesn’t get more fun or local, true Louisiana. Ask your SmartFlyer travel advisor for recommendations in arranging a fishing charter during your next visit. Alternatively, we’ve rounded up some points of interest that don’t require a guide or a car out of town.

When to Visit New Orleans

Before diving into the vibrant tapestry of New Orleans events, here’s a crucial nugget of wisdom: acquaint yourself with the parade and festival calendar. Whether you’re eager to join the revelry or perhaps prefer a more serene escape (though we can’t fathom why), being in the know about the where and when of parades and events is paramount. It not only influences your ability to navigate the city but will also guide where you want to base yourself. 

These are just a few of the events that take place in the city throughout the year, and there is truly something jazzy happening every month–make that weekend. Others include various food festivals, smaller parades, and themed parties that take over the quarter. If you’re curious about what is happening in the city and when we recommend taking a look at the event schedule before planning. And if you need a little clarification on the best time to go for you and your “krewe”, you can always ask your SmartFlyer advisor. 

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