New Orleans is an incredibly vibrant and lively city known for its unique culture, incredible food, and lively nightlife. With so much to see and do, many travelers wonder if 3 days is enough time to properly experience everything this magical city has to offer.
How Much Time Do You Need in New Orleans?
The amount of time you need in New Orleans ultimately depends on your interests, travel style, and what you want to accomplish during your visit. Here are some factors to consider when deciding if 3 days is enough time in New Orleans:
- New Orleans is relatively small geographically speaking, with most major sights located in or around the lively French Quarter. This makes it easy to see a lot in a short time.
- Many of the top things to do like exploring the French Quarter, eating beignets at Cafe du Monde, and drinking hurricanes on Bourbon Street can be accomplished in just 1-2 days.
- Foodies may want to allot more time to really dive into NOLA’s famous Creole and Cajun cuisine by trying some of the city’s top restaurants.
- Music lovers may want to catch live jazz at multiple venues, which requires more time to experience the local music scene.
- Those looking for a more relaxed vacation may want extra time to wander, people watch, and soak up the city’s festive atmosphere.
So while 3 days is enough to visit the main attractions and get a taste of New Orleans, those wanting a more immersive experience may prefer to extend their stay to 4-5 days or more.
Top Things to Do in New Orleans in 3 Days
If you only have 3 days in the Big Easy, here are some of the top sights and activities you can reasonably expect to cover:
- Wander around the lively French Quarter and Jackson Square
- Check out street performers on Royal Street
- Stroll down Bourbon Street and get your first hurricane or hand grenade
- Eat beignets at Cafe du Monde
- Visit St. Louis Cathedral
- Explore the shops at the French Market
- Take a spooky evening ghost tour
- Tour the Garden District mansions via streetcar
- Visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
- Have lunch at Commander’s Palace
- Browse the boutiques on Magazine Street
- Take a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River
- Listen to live jazz on Frenchmen Street at night
- Visit the National WWII Museum
- Tour a historic plantation like Oak Alley or Laura
- Indulge in Creole cuisine at restaurants like Gumbo Shop or Mother’s
- Check out the eclectic art galleries in the Warehouse District
- Do some late night revelry on Bourbon Street
This offers a nice mix of history, culture, food, music, and nightlife to experience the essence of New Orleans in 3 action-packed days. You’ll hit most of the major tourist highlights at a comfortable pace.
Top 7 Things to Do With Extra Time
If you can spare more than 3 days in New Orleans, there are plenty of additional activities you can add to your itinerary. Here are some top picks for extending your stay:
- Take a swamp tour to see wildlife like alligators and egrets
- Attend a cooking class to learn Creole and Cajun cuisine
- Visit Mardi Gras World to see incredible parade floats
- Wander around City Park for gardens, art museums, and lazy afternoons
- Ride the St. Charles streetcar from start to finish
- Explore the Po Boy Festival or another local event/festival
- Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art in bustling City Park
Adding just 1-2 extra days opens up more opportunities to experience lesser visited neighborhoods, indulge in the foodie scene, appreciate local art and culture, and soak up the festive vibes New Orleans is known for.
Best Time of Year to Visit New Orleans
Due to its subtropical climate, New Orleans sees relatively warm and humid weather year-round. Peak seasons, when the city is busiest and most expensive to visit, are:
- Spring (March-May) – popular due to mild temperatures and lower humidity. Major events like Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival, and Jazz Fest occur in spring.
- Fall (September-November) – another peak time due to mild weather. Halloween and Voodoo Fest are big fall events.
Summer sees hot and humid weather, but lower prices and fewer crowds. Hotel rates also drop in winter months, making it a budget-friendly time to visit. No matter when you go, expect warm weather and the likelihood of rain due to New Orleans’ subtropical climate.
Getting Around New Orleans
The compact size of tourist attractions in New Orleans makes it easy to explore on foot. But the city also offers great public transportation options like streetcars and buses:
- Streetcars – Scenic rides along St. Charles Avenue and the Riverfront area.
- Buses – Extensive routes covering the whole city.
- Taxi/Rideshare – Readily available, good late at night.
- Bicycle – Fun way to get around, with rentals and bike share programs available.
- Tour Buses – Hop on, hop off sightseeing option.
Having your own car is less essential in New Orleans compared to other destinations since parking and navigating congested streets can be challenging.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
New Orleans offers diverse accommodations to suit any budget or style of traveler. Here are some of the top neighborhoods to stay in:
|Neighborhood||Ambiance||Why Stay Here|
|French Quarter||Lively, walkable||Convenient location near top attractions|
|Garden District||Leafy, residential||Beautiful architecture, boutique hotels|
|Central Business District||Urban, modern||Contemporary hotels, near French Quarter|
|Faubourg Marigny||Eclectic, artsy||Boutique hotels, music venues, nightlife|
|Uptown/Riverbend||Laid-back, scenic||B&Bs, access to St. Charles streetcar|
For first-timers, the French Quarter is the ideal place to stay to be steps from iconic sights and the lively Bourbon Street scene. But return visitors may want to explore charming neighborhoods like the Garden District or Marigny.
Getting to New Orleans
The main gateway for flights into New Orleans is Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), located about 15 miles from downtown:
- Nonstop flights offered from major hubs across the U.S. and international cities.
- Affordable roundtrip flights from many East Coast cities.
- Convenient rideshare, shuttle, public transit, and taxi options to get downtown.
The Amtrak train station in the city center offers rail connections from destinations like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Interstate highway access makes New Orleans accessible by car as well.
Must Try Food and Drink in New Orleans
New Orleans’ cuisine blends French, Spanish, Italian, African, Caribbean and indigenous influences into memorable culinary creations. Be sure to sample:
- Beignets – Fluffy fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, often served with café au lait.
- Po’ boys – Overstuffed sandwiches on French bread, with favorites like fried shrimp, oyster, and roast beef.
- Jambalaya – Spicy rice dish loaded with Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables.
- Gumbo – Thick, hearty stew with seafood, chicken, or sausage over rice.
- Etouffee – Seafood or crawfish smothered in a buttery sauce served over rice.
- Muffuletta – Round sandwich filled with Italian cold cuts and olive salad.
- Hurricanes – Fruity rum cocktail that packs a punch, often served in a plastic novelty glass.
Indulging in iconic Creole and Cajun dishes at old school diners, hip new restaurants, and no fuss neighborhood joints allows you to taste the rich food culture of New Orleans.
Off the Beaten Path Experiences
In addition to its well-known sights, New Orleans offers many under the radar experiences to help you get a feel for its vibrant local scene. Here are some ideas:
- Catch a brass band playing on the street.
- See an indie music show at Gasa Gasa or Saturn Bar.
- Stroll through the Sculpture Garden in City Park.
- See drag queen shows at nightclubs like Oz and The Golden Lantern.
- Take a socially distanced dance class focusing on Louisiana styles like zydeco.
- Shop for local art, vintage clothes, records, and more at Magazine Street boutiques.
- Eat oysters straight from the shell at casual neighborhood raw bars.
Wandering off the main tourist drags introduces you to laid-back local hangouts, underground music venues, indie shops, and more to discover the real New Orleans.
Money Saving Tips
New Orleans offers many free things to do and budget-friendly options alongside its indulgent dining and drinking scene. Here are some ways to visit on a budget:
- Walk or take public transit – Avoid pricey taxis and rideshares
- Eat at unfussy diners, takeout joints, and hole in the wall restaurants
- Stay at a quirky hostel or budget hotel outside the French Quarter
- Look for free museum days and complimentary walking tours
- Visit during the value season of late summer
- Buy alcohol at stores instead of bars and restaurants
- Split savory dishes like jambalaya and muffulettas family-style
Enjoying free music and entertainment outdoors, splitting dishes at restaurants, and staying just outside the expensive French Quarter all help you experience NOLA without breaking the bank.
While New Orleans is generally safe for tourists who use common sense, petty theft and minor crimes do occur, especially late at night on isolated streets. Follow these tips for staying safe:
- Stay alert and aware of your surroundings, especially when alone at night
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash – use ATMs in busy, well-lit areas
- Only walk on well-populated streets after dark
- Avoid overt public intoxication
- Research neighborhoods before wandering too far off the beaten path
- Don’t leave valuables visible in parked cars
- Keep wallets and purses close to your body to deter grab and run theft
Being alert and not letting your guard down too much will allow you to stay safe and avoid being targeted by petty criminals looking to prey on unsuspecting tourists.
What to Pack
When deciding what to bring on your 3 day New Orleans getaway, remember these tips:
- Light, breathable clothing – Think shorts, flowy dresses, tees due to warm weather
- Comfortable walking shoes – You’ll do a lot of walking on cobblestone streets
- Umbrella or rain jacket – Useful for sudden storms and humidity
- Sun hat and sunglasses – For walking tours on sunny days
- Light sweater or jacket – For chilly nights or heavily air conditioned bars/restaurants
- Portable phone charger – To keep your device powered while navigating the city
- Small crossbody bag – To keep valuables close while sightseeing
Packing smart layers for the weather, comfy walking shoes, and a lightweight bag will allow you to make the most of strolling this vibrant city.
When to Book Flights and Hotels
Aim to book your New Orleans trip 1-3 months in advance for the best prices and availability. Good times to book include:
- Early fall for a September/October trip before holiday crowds
- December/January for late winter deals between holidays
- March/April for a spring break or pre-Mardi Gras visit
Avoid booking last minute during peak spring and fall seasons when demand is high. For hotels, consider boutique options over large chain hotels for more unique local flavor.
Useful New Orleans Resources
Here are some helpful sites and apps for planning your perfect long weekend in New Orleans:
- NewOrleans.com – Official tourism site with sample itineraries and deals
- New Orleans Transit App – Real time streetcar/bus schedules and trip planning
- Offbeat New Orleans – Alternate perspectives on attractions, tours, and events
- WWOZ Livewire – Daily music and culture event calendar
- Gambit – Local news, restaurants, and arts coverage
- Eater New Orleans – Food and restaurant guides for different neighborhoods
Resources like these will help you make the most of a quick 3 day trip by cluing you into events, deals, and local favorites.
While spending just 3 days in New Orleans means you’ll have to be selective and likely won’t be able to see everything, it does allow you to experience many highlights at an enjoyable pace. Focus on the classic French Quarter sights, try iconic Creole food, browse eclectic neighborhoods, and soak up some famous NOLA nightlife. Add an extra day or two if you can, but a long weekend is sufficient to get a tantalizing taste of the best “The Big Easy” has to offer.