Last Updated on February 10, 2023 by Sammie
2 Days in New Orleans: The Best of the Big Easy
The best “2 days in New Orleans” itinerary, complete with food, drinks, shopping, drinks, music, drinks, and food…and drinks.
My family LOVES to travel! But since that whole COVID thing, it’s been a bit harder to get everyone together and money has been a bit tighter. So, unfortunately, there was no trip to Iceland in 2022 (sorry mom!). However, my smartie pants sisters had the idea to do my mom’s birthday trip to New Orleans. Bing Bang Boom. Tickets were bought and we were on our way to drink some Andygator.
So here we are. The BEST itinerary for 2 days in New Orleans with everything the city has to offer. I’ll give you the rundown of my favorite things we did and a short list of some things I would LOVE to come back to do.
2 Days in New Orleans: If you can swing it:
Try to book an evening flight out so you can hit the ground running the next morning. Also, if you’re someone who is going to want to try the hip restaurants and bars, I wouldn’t suggest coming on a Tuesday. We did find that a lot of the places that were top on our list were closed on Tuesdays. I guess they need a day to clean all the…fun…from the streets.
Accommodation Suggestions for 2 Days in New Orleans:
Eliza Jane- A Hyatt Property
This was our hotel this past trip.
A beautifully designed small-scale hotel that is perfectly located between the Arts District, the French Quarter, and the Central Business District. The hotel is a Hyatt Property but has a very boutique vibe. It’s a place you’ll be excited to come back to after perousing the streets of NOLA. From the gorgeous courtyard perfect for an aperol, to the library themed lounge, you’ll find your spot to relax before your dinner reservations. And if you’ve overstuffed yourself at dinner (because it’s impossible to stop eating all this southern deliciousness), there’s a gym available 24/7.
Oliver House- Boutique Hotel
We stayed here my first time in NOLA and it left a wonderful impression. This is exactly what I imagine as a historic boutique hotel. Built in 1839, the Oliver House is a collection of historic french quarter homes pulled together with hidden courtyards, quirky floor plans and exquisitely unique art. The location is centrally located to the action: only steps away from Bourbon St, on the corner of Dauphine and Toulouse. There is no restaurant onsite but if you step outside you’ll have countless options of food and drink lining the street.
2 Days in New Orleans: Day 1
Breakfast at Bearcat
This was a gem of a find. There are two locations available; one in the Central Business District (CBD) & one in Uptown. If you’re traveling in a group it’s a great way to start your 2 days in New Orleans. There are options for everyone. Feeling crazy? Try their Couyon Daddy. I didn’t even know, you guys. It was like if fried chicken and a crab cake got married and made a baby. It was so delicious. Or maybe you want to start slow. Try their Mushroom Scramble. Also annoyingly good. And don’t forget the mimosas, spicy bloody mary’s, or a good ol’ latte.
I want to go back. I want them to deliver. Everywhere.
The CBD location was an easy 13-minute walk from our hotel (Elisa Jane). We arrived around 9:30 AM on a weekday and had ZERO wait. If you’re lucky enough to come when the weather is favorable, enjoy their patio. A perfect place to pass some time with one or two or 4 mimosas.
Explore the French Quarter
What a shame it would be to visit NOLA without, at the very least, checking out the french quarter. Famous for a reason, this is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. Bustling with street performances, glittered horses, and jazzy bands, it lives up to the hype.
You can spend hours here if you wanted to. Artisans set up shop in front of the stately St. Louis Cathedral. Romanticism mixes with quirk as you pop in and out of the boutique storefronts finding anything from top of the line hatteries to eloquent cocktails. And if shopping doesn’t put a pep in your step, grab a cocktail-to-go (because drinking on the street is LEGAL here) and people watch. Because that’s half the fun of the Big Easy.
Lunch at Napolean House
A big thank you to the waitress who was rude to me at Monty’s on the Square because I found this spot in town instead. And by golly it is good! A favorite amongst locals and tourists, there might be a line out front. But it moves fast and is worth the short wait. Listen to the queue chatter because it’ll let you in on a not so secret secret: order the Muffaletta [muffaletta- a popular New Orleans sandwich made with cheese, olive salad, and a variety of Italian meets]. Half of our group of 4 are not fond of olives and we had a 100% success rate. Wished we ordered more. Now, I’m gonna let you in on another insider’s tip: ORDER THE CANNOLI. Oh my goodness, haven’t had one this delicious since traveling to Florence.
No pictures of the muffaletta or the cannoli. I ate them too quickly…
Drink & Learn Cocktail Tour
What a hoot! If you like to drink and you like a bit of history, this walking tour NEEDS to be on your list. Your host – “drinks historian” Elizabeth – is a lively tour guide who keeps anyone and everyone entertained. She tells the story of New Orleans through cocktails. And yes. You get to drink said cocktails while wandering the streets! Not only is the history fascinating but the cocktails are well made and with the good stuff to boot. Elizabeth knows her stuff and welcomes all questions you have. The tour is a well-run, organized endeavor, so the only things you have to think about are which cocktail is your favorite and the fun facts you’ll attempt to remember for your friends later.
Dinner at La Petite Grocery
A quaint cottage serving creative New Orleans cuisine, La Petite Grocery is a restaurant that pays homage to the history of the building it occupies. The building is more than a century old and has always had a strong connection to the neighborhood since its early days as a coffee & tea depot. Owned by 2016 James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef: Justin Devillier, and wife Mia. As adorable as the small-scale restaurant is, the menu is nothing to shrug off. Though famous for their turtle bolognese, we only had so much room in our stomachs. We opted for their equally famous Blue Crab Beignets. They were ridiculous. So good that I forgot to take a picture so just imagine delightful puffs of golden pastry with luscious creamy crab filling.
Jazz at The Spotted Cat
(Cover charge, accepts cc, $5+ depending on day)
Frenchman Street is known for its jazzy vibes and at its very center you’ll find The Spotted Cat. This small bar doesn’t look like much during the day but comes alive with big voices, brassy quartets, and occasional swing at night. My sisters, brother, and I made it our mission to find a jazz club after dinner and unfortunately quite a few were closed. (That’s what we get for coming between Christmas and New Years and on Tuesday). But we lucked out with one of the most famous jazz clubs opening its door to us. We crammed into the place and grabbed our Abita beers and tapped our feet and swayed to the roaring band for as long as we could.
This being said, The Spotted Cat is pretty darn famous on Frenchman Street. It will be crowded, and the best advice we got was “if there’s a line, keep walking.” There are countless other bars with amazing jazz music playing if you take a wander down the street.
Another jazz option for 2 Days in New Orleans: The Three Muses
Come hungry because they don’t serve your typical bar grub. There are plenty of options on their international menu. Maybe you’re feeling Korean Fried Chicken or maybe it’s a Vietnamese Noodle Salad type of night. Either way, grab a drink and enjoy the beat.
Cocktails at Arnaud’s French 75
(Dress Code: Casual Elegant)
Get classy and stop by French 75. Once upon a time a gentlemen’s club, they continue serving up classy cocktails in an upscale polished setting. The mahogany built-in bar is enough of a conversation starter as the animal print armchairs. We stopped by for a quick drink on our first night before crashing into our beds. All of us ordered the French 75, an obviously popular choice at the bar. The cocktail is a mix of champagne and cognac and goes down real easy. I wouldn’t suggest this bar if you’re feeling rowdy. The barmen are dressed in tuxedos and there is an air of refinement amongst the crowd.
2 Days in New Orleans: Day 2
Breakfast at Cafe Du Monde
(CASH ONLY: Nearest ATM is due southwest, inside the Walgreens on the corner of Decatur and Wilkinson)
Coffee and beignets are the name of the game at cafe du monde, so your server has only two questions: how many orders of beignets, and do you want your coffee hot or cold? We were a group of 4 and with 4 orders of coffee and beignets, it was about $40 with tip included. It’s hard to go to New Orleans without feeling the need to stop here. I’ve now gone every time I’ve visited Nola and personally, it doesn’t disappoint. Is it a lot of hype? Yes. Is the line ridiculous? Yes. Is it worth it? I really do think so! 3 beignets come to an order. If you eat 2 your belly will be full, if you eat all 3, your mind, body, and soul come together in harmonious song. But you will need a walk later.
PRO TIP: if you don’t want to wait in line for a table, there’s a different line on the other (river side) of the building for to-go orders. Plenty of benches in Jackson Square!
Another breakfast option for 2 Days in New Orleans: Brennan’s
If you think waiting 20 minutes in line for essentially doughnuts and coffee seems excessive, try Brennan’s. We wanted to go here so badly! But unfortunately the timing did not work out. But here’s my reconnaissance: this casual dining spot is famous for their creole style dining with an adorable and enjoyable ambiance. People go cuckoo for their Bananas foster and their timeless dishes. Their morning cocktails will get you feeling frisky and overall Brennan’s has been a favorite of the Nola crowd for over 75 years.
Check out the unique shops
Some of the best parts about New Orleans center around its diverse shopping. Each storefront has its own vibe and feel dating back to its unique personal history. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might want to check out specific areas. But if you’re more interested in window shopping, you can’t go wrong with any of the options I’ve listed below.
Royal Street for Antiques and Jewelry Shopping
This was a glorious find after having lunch at Pat O’Brians. We decided to walk back to our hotel and noticed we happened upon a street LINED with antique shops and endless sparkling jewelry. And not your typical stuff either. Each jewelry shop showcases a different feel, from silver necklaces featuring an octopus pendant to golden bracelets with gorgeous stones. There is also a wide range of art galleries along this street.
Magazine Street for Boutique shopping
My sisters and I needed to walk off some etouffée and opted for window shopping along Magazine Street. It was a bit further out from our hotel (Eliza Jane) than we were expecting. But we hitched an Uber to Undergrowth Coffee and walked back from there (about 3 miles). Besides brightly colored boutique storefronts and vintage shops, we passed an amazing-looking beer patio that somebody needs to try. It’s called Bulldog and it had an outside fountain made out of draft beer taps.
French Market for Souvenir Shopping
A bit more hectic than the other two options but still worth popping your head into. Filled with cajun spice vendors, eccentric purses (see picture below), and oyster bars, you’ll want to come with enough time to walk the full 6-block length of it. I bought enough spices to inspire me to make gumbo for my entire apartment complex as well as an adorable cow purse because #midwest. The French Market is a great stop to buy all your loved ones some little trinkets and souvenirs to bring back.
Eat at Pat O’ Briens
This place is huge. Once you walk in, it just keeps going and going. With one section bar and one section restaurant and one section bar/restaurant, don’t worry about waiting too long in line. Famous for inventing the Hurricane cocktail, you can’t leave without trying this slightly too red concoction. Pat O’Brians, once a speakeasy, has become famous for its innovative rum-based cocktail (in a very whiskey-centric era) and its dueling pianos that take any and all song requests (but to our disappointment, not at 1 pm on a Wednesday). Besides the drinks and good music, the food isn’t anything to skimp on either. However, expect a covid-slimmed menu featuring NOLA-ified bar food like fried popcorn gator and red beans and rice. Our recommendation: Grab a plate of Jambalaya, it won the best dish at the table.
Need a more romantic vibe for 2 Days in New Orleans?
This little spot is open air with a magnificent tree growing right through the middle of the dining room (if anyone knows the type of tree, I am curious). It has the feel that you are eating in an exclusive treehouse but closer to the ground. The cocktails are strong and tasty and the food is more french cuisine with a touch of creole. This place is a great option if you’re wanting to rest your stomach from fried alligator. They also offer brunch!
Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s
Lunch at Cafe Degas
Schedule a Tour through a swamp or in a graveyard
There are so many tours available in Nola, it can be hard to choose. My two favorites that I’ve done were a swamp tour and a cemetery tour. If you’re an ounce into wildlife, I’d highly suggest getting yourself on the swampy waters of New Orleans. Just a short drive out of the city, you take a boat onto the water where you’ll be able to spot alligators and other wildlife. And if you’re lucky, (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) you get to hold a gator yourself! I loved it. But I’m a sucker for any time I get to see wildlife.
Another option would be taking a cemetery tour. Now I will be honest. I didn’t personally LOVE our tour guide but I still would recommend doing the tour because New Orleans has some crazy history tied to the graveyard, their cemeteries are one of the most famous things about the city. And they are beautiful.
Fun fact: though many believe they built the above-ground tombs because of Nola’s high water table, this is technically not ENTIRELY true. It’s because they believed the dead cursed people with disease (yellow fever, in particular), and they figured by walling the dead into tombs and cremating them into ash they wouldn’t be able to infect the living (hey, it worked in Rome for the plague…). They believed treating the bodies this way would stop the massive amount of death going on (spoiler: it did not). This leaves you walking between rows and rows of mausoleums and columbariums (above-ground tombs). However, If you don’t want to schedule a tour, there are some cemeteries that are open to the public but not all. Saint Louis Cemetery requires you to be in a tour in order to visit.
Cocktails at Balcony Music Club
I wandered into BMC with my boyfriend the first time we were in Nola and it was a highlight of that trip. On the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, it had its doors open in the early afternoon, inviting you in to listen to the smooth jazz coming from the stage. Because of its size, the place is usually not as cramped as other jazz clubs and offers a relaxed vibe to escape the crazy on the streets. It also opens earlier than most other venues. When we sat, the place was ½ full which left us with great seats to enjoy the music while sipping on a couple of cocktails before dinner.
Eat at Gabrielle Restaurant
An adorable place, perfect for your last meal in New Orleans. It serves cajun cuisine in a warm setting that allows you to dress up but not feel too stuffy while you’re enjoying your meal. Think fine dining in a familiar place. The service was very good, I’m always impressed in a time where 95% of restaurants and bars are short-staffed. The highlights on the menu were definitely the Seafood Cassoulet, a bowl of stewed beans with all the seafood goodness and a seared scallop to top it off. This place also makes a mean Crème Brùlée.
Grab a drink at the oldest Bar in New Orleans: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
This old brick cottage has a swashbuckling history. Named after once pirate turned New Orleans hero Jean Lafitte, this old Blacksmith shop was said to be a place of business negotiations but was always a place to grab a drink or a bite to eat. I visited at the request of my brother who said I had to try the Purple Drank. I didn’t know what I was in for. I felt like I stepped into another century with dimly lit lanterns and old small wooden tables. It was so odd, I loved it. I got my purple drank also called the VoodDoo Daiquiri which is a grape slushie filled with Bourbon and Everclear…let’s say two of these and I would truly BELIEVE I was stumbling through another century in this bar.
More Suggestions for 2 Days in New Orleans??
1. World War II Museum
2. Tour an old Plantation
If you have any MUST-DO/ MUST-SEE activites, bars, restaurants, or what have you, drop me a message below!