New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the United State’s most unique cities where you can easily spend 48 hours exploring. In many ways, NOLA doesn’t really feel like being in the United States — the food is different, the architecture looks more European than American, the people are a quirky mix — making it a fun place to discover over a long weekend!
If you’re trying to make the most of a long weekend, you are probably going to arrive into Louis Armstrong Airport (code MSY) on Friday sometime so that you can have a full day on Saturday & Sunday out exploring the city.
Here is how I would recommend spending 48 Hours in New Orleans, Louisiana!
Night: Relax at Bacchanal
I would recommend taking it easy on your first night, since you are likely to spend the whole day on Saturday out and about (probably imbibing). A hip yet low-key place to enjoy the best of New Orleans without going crazy is Bacchanal Wine and Spirits in the Bywater neighborhood.
With live music every night on the weekend and a delightful outdoor patio, this unique New Orleans venue is a must-visit. In fact, I went to Bacchanal three different times on my long weekend in NOLA! When you walk into the bar, you’ll enter a wine shop where the knowledgable staff can give you wine or beer recommendations based on your preferences. You can buy the wine to-go or the staff will uncork the bottles for you to drink out on their patio. You can also design your own cheese & charcuterie plate to pair with your drinks.
Find a spot on Bacchanal’s gorgeous tree-covered patio. If it’s chilly, they’ve got heaters too! In addition to drinks, you can order a meal at the outdoor window that they’ll bring out to your table. I personally loved the rigatoni with smoked cauliflower and confit chicken leg, but I also really enjoyed the simple bread & butter and olives! With the music changing every few hours, Bacchanal is a relaxing place to watch the night go by while taking in a special New Orleans experience!
Morning: Brunch & French Quarter
In a city full of amazing brunch options, it can be hard to choose where the best place to eat brunch in New Orleans is. Creole brunches often feature local ingredients like crawfish, biscuits or andouille sausage which are hard to find at home, so I definitely got my fill while in the Big Easy. Brennan’s, Elizabeth’s, Horn’s or Cafe Du Monde are all excellent options for breakfast in NOLA. As you may have read in my food guide post from New Orleans, Brennan’s would be my first choice and top recommendation. It’s expensive and over-the-top, but it is incredibly memorable!
With a full belly and well-rested feet, it’s time to explore New Orleans most iconic neighborhood — the French Quarter. Start your walking tour of the French Quarter near Jackson Square Park, home to weekend art fairs, live jazz music and the famous Cafe Du Monde, this is a lively community space. The line at Cafe Du Monde is especially long if you are just getting take out, but it is typically shorter if you opt to eat in the restaurant. The service is fast and the beignets are definitely delicious — I wasn’t a big fan of the chicory coffee but it is a quintessentially NOLA thing.
If you’re really into learning about the history, architecture, and stories of NOLA’s colorful background, I would recommend doing a walking tour of the French Quarter. There is a lot to see and there are plenty of tour options out there. If you’re more of a wanderer, the French Quarter is easily appreciated on your own, but you might not learn quite as much.
The whole quarter is only .5 square miles and can easily be done in a few hours. I personally avoided the rowdiness of Bourbon street, much preferring Royal Street and Chartres Street. As you wander, you can explore little shops, the beautiful wrought iron patios and colorful hanging plants. Plus, New Orleans has an open contained law, so if you want to take a cocktail to go as you explore, you can!
Afternoon: Cocktail Crawl in French Quarter and Financial District
In the city that claims to have invented the cocktail, you should plan on doing lots of drinking. There are plenty of amazing places to get a good cocktail, and this city specializes in a few different kinds such as hurricanes and Sazaracs. I wrote a whole separate blog post about creating your own bar crawl so that you can maximize your cocktail consumption!
Basically, your morning in the French Quarter can easily flow into your afternoon and night activities for your long weekend in New Orleans. This is a city where you can wander between various drinking establishments punctuated with occasional eating establishments too 🙂
Morning: Brunch + Bike on Magazine Street
Ready to wash, rinse, repeat on the eating, drinking and exploring of your previous day? It’s New Orleans after all — that’s what you do! Start your second day in NOLA at another lovely brunch spot (preferably one with good cocktails for your hangover). Need some recommendations on where to eat iN New Orleans? Check out my NOLA food guide for 13 great restaurant suggestions!
Once you’ve thoroughly worn off the day before, make your way over to Magazine Street. Located southwest of the French Quarter, Magazine Street spans about 6 miles and is peppered with all sorts of cool establishments worth exploring. Personally, I think the best way to see New Orleans is on a bike! NOLA is quite flat so even inexperienced bikers can bike along these streets and bikes make it really easy to take frequent stops without worrying about parking. There are plenty of places that offer daily bike rentals, but we used the adorable female owned Dashing Bicycles.
All along Magazine Street, there are boutiques, restaurants, bars, galleries and shops so if you see something interesting, just pull over! Your final destination of Audubon Park will be all the way at the end, but take your time, there’s lots to explore!
Afternoon: Relaxing in Audubon Park
Named after artist and naturalist John James Audubon who lived in New Orleans starting in 1821, Audubon Park is a sprawling park — it stretches nearly 350 acres. The park has a nice paved loop so you can just keep riding your bike around! It is home to a zoo, golf course, aquarium, insectarium, and just open green space. Photographers love the massive oak trees especially the insanely ‘grammable Tree of Life. If you back a small picnic (with help from one of NOLA’s many takeaway restaurants and bars), relaxing in the natural ambiance is a nice way to spend an afternoon!
Night: Live Music on Frenchmen Street
Skip the belligerent drunken night crowds on Bourbon Street, opting instead for the local favorite — Frenchmen Street. There is a 6 block stretch of Frenchman that offers multiple live music venues where you can catch some of the city’s best jazz and blues. Plus on certain nights, you might even find some locals swing dancing!
Most bars only have a small cover charge ($5 or less) so it’s easy to bop around between a few different spots. I liked the Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, but I doubt you can wrong with any choice on Frenchman.
This post was originally published in September 2017 and updated in December 2019.