Beads, beignets and Bourbon Street. The things synonymous with New Orleans are what make this city so great, but there’s more to the Crescent City than meets the eye. New Orleans birthed some of the nation’s greatest music legends, and continues to create some of the most talked about culinary delights in the nation. There’s so much to do in this Southern city, it’s hard to know where to begin, but with this two-day guide, you’ll get a taste of all the highlights.
Check into The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. This Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel sits adjacent to Bourbon Street and within walking distance of some of the best shopping and restaurants the city has to offer. (If you’re in town for Mardi Gras, you’ll also love its prime position for the Krewe of Zulu parade and other Fat Tuesday festivities.) Start your first day with a walk around Jackson Square. The historic park in the French Quarter was named a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and today boasts some of the best local art and food you’ll find in NOLA. From the easternmost tip of the square near the water, follow the lines to Cafe du Monde, home of the world-famous beignets. The queues are always crazy, but your patience pays off in bite-sized, doughy goodness.
If you’re interested in a quick history lesson about New Orleans, hop on one of the horse-and-carriage tours, and let the guides entertain you with tales of bayou folklore dating back centuries. As you leave the square, find your way to Chartres Street and head south toward Laura’s Candies. The oldest candy shop in the city is known for its pralines — a New Orleans staple sweet. Enjoy a sample or buy enough to bring home for the family.
After you’ve taken a midday break back at your room (the seasonal Mardi Gras coconut massage at the Four-Star spa would work wonderfully here), prepare for dinner. Four-Star Bayona is a must while you’re in town. The Mediterranean-flavored restaurant is tucked into a 200-year-old cottage and sits just four blocks from the hotel. Chef Susan Spicer is known for her take on the slow-food movement, so do yourself a favor and bask in every bite of the veal sweetbreads or grilled duck breast with pepper jelly glaze, both signature dishes of the restaurant.
When it’s time for some evening fun, leave Bourbon Street to the amateurs and follow the sweet sounds over on Frenchmen Street instead. Here you’ll be among some of the best local entertainment. The Spotted Cat is one of the top nightspots, frequently hosting local jazz and blues bands. Wherever you end up for the night, know this: The space will be small and the cover charge (if any) will be minimal. One other thing: Frenchmen Street is all about the music, so when you hear something you like just shimmy in and have a listen. When the hat goes around for tips, though, don’t forget to leave a little something.
Should you require an even lighter mood after eating, have a nightcap back at the Ritz-Carlton’s Davenport Lounge, where Woodford Reserve bourbon is poured and local jazz musician Jeremy Davenport plays his horn every Wednesday through Saturday. Keep your eyes open while you’re here; Davenport Lounge has been known to attract some pretty famous musicians. We hear hometown favorite Harry Connick Jr. has joined Davenport on stage more than once.
Start your day at the hotel’s weekend farmer’s market, where you can sample local seafood, berries, beer and more. (If you’re saving your visit for May, make sure you check in with the hotel’s crawfish concierge and learn how to cook, peel and eat the tasty crustacean.) Don’t fill up at the stalls, however, because you’re on your way to brunch about 10 minutes away at Apolline on Magazine Street. Home of the shrimp Bloody Mary, the chef Matt Farmer-led establishment presents a modern, seasonal menu that’s spotlighted by traditional New Orleans fare like Gulf shrimp and grits, and crawfish omelets.
After your midday feasting, stay on Magazine Street for some of the best shopping in NOLA. Every first Saturday, there’s an open gallery market, where you’ll get to experience brilliant sculptures, paintings, fine handmade fashion, home décor and more. Most of the shops here are locally owned, so you know you’re getting something that’s true to Louisiana. The Magazine Street Merchants Association also hosts events such as trunk shows (Venetian Bead Trunk Show, March 26-28) and champagne strolls throughout the year.
Before heading home, make one more stop at the 32-story Canal Place, one of the best spots for sweeping views of the city. Beyond the breathtaking selfie opportunities it presents, the commercial building offers shops, restaurants and a premier movie theater experience (high-backed leather chairs, in-seat food service, reserved spots). Take the elevator to the top for a birds-eye view of the Mississippi River and any other part of New Orleans you’ve yet to explore.