New Orleans is the perfect place for a bachelorette party, a getaway with a group of friends or even a good, wholesome family vacation—in fact, my very first trip there was for Thanksgiving with my own family when I was just 15. But above all else, it’s the ultimate romantic retreat for couples, and I’m glad SVV and I were able to experience it together (finally!). Because if there’s anything we love doing, it’s creating a couple’s guide to New Orleans and other such cities that capture our souls.
To make it even more accessible to the masses, New Orleans is both easy and cheap to reach for us Southerners, and with the recent opening of Louis Strong New Orleans International Airport’s shiny new terminal, MSY is more comfortable than ever with expanded dining options. We’re big fans of Southwest Airlines, and there are several inexpensive Southwest flights a day from Nashville to NOLA, though one day it’s my dream to take the Amtrak train from Birmingham to the Big Easy, as many of my Tennessee friends frequently do. Doesn’t that just sound like the dreamiest trip? Bonus: You can start your NOLA drinking escapades earlier if you’re not behind the wheel!
In the interest of making sure you don’t waste a moment while on the ground in the Big Easy, here’s our own play-by-play guide to planning the ultimate couple’s trip to New Orleans; it’s pretty much exactly how our recent long weekend trip went, right down to the cocktail.
Day 1: cocktail crawling around NOLA
You’re going to need a solid four days in New Orleans if you want to even make a dent in the cocktail scene—let alone see the main sites like the French Quarter, the Garden District and Jackson Square—and explore the street art that’s popping up throughout the Ninth Ward, so give yourself a Thursday through Sunday (or longer) if you can swing it.
Before your cocktail adventures in New Orleans begin, drop your bags at the International House Hotel, which will serve as your home base for your couple’s trip to New Orleans. This 117-room boutique hotel at the intersection of the Central Business District and the French Quarter is a central base that’s walkable from many of New Orleans’ top attractions. Billed as “a joyful tribute to New Orleans today,” the hotel is upscale, contemporary and sophisticated, while not the least bit stuffy. Local artists were hired to create and install an eclectic mix of styles and objects throughout the property, representing the cross-pollination of cultures that is New Orleans today.
The hotel opened its doors in 1998 but has gained a lot of attention over the past year thanks to the Banksy exhibit on display in the lobby. Post-Katrina, famed street artist Banksy arrived in town and stenciled 14 murals across the city, many commentaries on the state the hurricane had left the city in. Ten were defaced by taggers, but the 10-by-10 Looters was salvaged from its original home on the side of an Elysian Fields building and, much later, was restored, a project that took years and $50,000.
In 2019, real estate developer Sean Cummings moved Looters to the lobby of his hotel, the IHH, where it’s now on display for everyone to see.
“…like the movie Saving Banksy, we saved one. It’s been four tedious years with experts who have conserved some of the world’s more important frescos. They removed nine layers of the vandals’ paint to reveal a long-hidden Banksy—an internationally consequential architectural artifact rich with local patina and intrigue.”
There’s also a small gallery just beyond Looters with even more art and Banksy quotes. I loved everything about this hotel and highly recommend you stay here—particularly for the art lovers among you—but if you’re already booked elsewhere, I still insist you pop in, see the art and grab a drink at the lobby-level bar, which opens 4pm daily. The hotel now has a brand-new restaurant, Rockrose, too, which opened the day after we checked out.
Once you’ve settled into your hotel and have your bearings, there are several other swanky boutique hotels within walking distance that lay claim to excellent bar programs, as well. For the design lover, a snack and cocktail at the Eliza Jane Hotel’s Couvant is a must—it’s where SVV began his quest for the perfect Sazerac after the bartender kindly gave us copious amounts of information and mixology tips—followed by a round of Pisco drinks at the Piscobar at the Catahoula Hotel. Also in the vicinity, The Roosevelt New Orleans is a cocktail lounge staple, thanks to its famed Art Deco-tinged resident, the Sazerac Bar.
The French Quarter gets a bit busy for me on weekends, so I like to do any of my nights out there mid-week. Wednesday or Thursday is an ideal time to test out Bar R’evolution, which feels like a step back in time—and have dinner at the adjoining Restaurant R’evolution if you’re feeling fancy—or move onto Palm & Pine, a fusion of Caribbean, Mexican and Southern fare with Miami flair, if you’re seeking something a bit more low-key. We shared the Corner Stone Crudo and goat curry and regret nothing. The bar offerings are heavier on rum, tequila and mezcal, as opposed to the bourbon- and rye-fueled drink menus elsewhere in NOLA, and I had one of the more interesting cocktails of our trip at Palm & Pine: Like Water for Chocolate, peanut butter-washed El Buho Espadin with Xocolatl mole bitters. Don’t overthink it, just try it.
If you’re looking for an after-drinks stop, the Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone is one of those spots you simply can’t skip. A rotating bar, hence the name, sitting in the middle of the room means your view changes every minute as the bartender keeps your glass filled with Sazeracs and Old Fashioneds. It’s a fun environment and one of those iconic New Orleans experiences that’s been going strong since 1949.
If you want to read more about drinking your way around the Big Easy, I have a full bar guide to New Orleans right here.
After your belly is full, work off those calories with a little grooving to the sweet sounds of New Orleans jazz down on Frenchmen Street, a three-block stretch of live music venues in the Seventh Ward running from the Decatur-Esplanade intersection to St. Claude Avenue.
Day 2: exploring City Park
On every trip to New Orleans I like to check out a new part of town to me, and while I had previously been up to Bayou St. John to go kayaking, I’d only seen City Park, a shockingly sprawling oasis of greenery right in the heart of town, from the window of a Lyft.
This 1300-acre swath of land is home to, among other things, the annual Voodoo Arts + Music Experience every October and the stunning New Orleans Museum of Art. More than a century old, NOMA is one of the largest fine arts museum in the South, playing host more than 40,000 works, an amalgamation of French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works.
Save a couple hours for thoroughly exploring the expansive sculpture garden, an incredibly well-curated and beautifully manicured outdoor art walk just beyond the museum that doubled in size last year. Many of the 90+ sculptures were created by famed visual artists whose names you’ll recognize such as Frank Gehry, Robert Indiana and Jaume Plensa.
There are plenty of interactive pieces, too, like a laminated, translucent walkway that traverses a pond and a complex mirrored labyrinth constructed of glass and steel. You could while away the afternoon in the sculpture garden on a sunny day—we easily spent 90 minutes there, and we were in a bit of a rush—and be sure to walk along the Canal Link Bridge as it twists around the lake and drops below the water line on a lowered section before joining the sculpture garden on the other side of the museum, where you’ll continue to see more moving and impactful public art displays.
While it costs $15 to visit the NOMA—which is free on Wednesdays to Louisiana residents—the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is free to the public seven days a week year-round.
Before you depart City Park, however, you have just a bit more exploring to do. After all, the Spanish moss-draped live oaks that frame the pedestrian bridges are upward of 200 years old, and there are dozens of other tree species throughout the park, including pines, magnolias and camellias that create a magical, verdant canopy to shade you from the Louisiana heat.
Lunch at Ralph’s on the Park is a rite of passage for long-time New Orleans visitors, and it’s a fun couple’s thing to do in NOLA. It’s also right across the way from City Park, so you can walk over when you’re done with the museum and sculpture garden. You can request a table in the elegant dining room or nab a spot in the adjoining bar instead if you’re feeling schleppy. Just take a page out of our book and order the BBQ shrimp and grits; it’s some of the best we’ve had in Louisiana, hands down.
In keeping with the artsy architecture theme of your day, Auction House Market is a great spot for a midday drink if you intend to continue your cocktailing efforts—and you’re in New Orleans, so why not? This food hall in the warehouse district boasts roughly a dozen vendors, including one central bar and plenty of cozy tables and quiet nooks, primed for getting a drink with your significant other.
After you take a rest at your hotel—because in New Orleans, you’ll want to schedule a time for naps between cocktails—you’re heading out in the Lower Garden District where you’ll start your journey at La Petite Grocery. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to nab a table at Shaya for dinner—pro tip: put your name on the list before you settle in for a cocktail across the street—but if not, the James Beard award-winning La Petite Grocery is also a classy choice for dinner in addition to a round of drinks at the bar.
Magazine Street has no shortage of fine and inventive dining, but as we hadn’t made advanced reservations and wait times were long, we decided to head even further west down this long road to Picnic Provisions & Whiskey, where we dined al fresco on po’boys and sipped our way through the casual restaurants extensive collection of spirits. If you find yourself at Picnic, the s’mores dessert is an absolute must. If you’re tired, as we were, you can head back to your hotel to turn in or catch a brass band, piano session or other jazz act at Maple Leaf Bar.
Day 3: diving further into New Orleans’ art scene
Today’s theme is art, and it’s only fitting that it kicks off with breakfast at Molly’s Rise and Shine where every dish is a masterpiece. This year-old quirky breakfast spot on Magazine Street is the sister restaurant to the wildly-popular Turkey and the Wolf and is completely kitted out in vintage memorabilia (think: ET, Star Wars, Mr. Potato Head). The setting alone was dreamy for this 80’s baby and her 70’s-born husband, but the food just pushed it over the edge. A friend told me not to pass on the roasted carrot yogurt, which sounded weird in theory, but was one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had in a hot minute. There’s also a deviled egg tostada, hash browns and caviar, chilaquiles and more. If you only have a single breakfast in New Orleans, make it Molly’s Rise and Shine.
Seeing as SVV had only ever been to New Orleans once, and nearly two decades ago at that, I figured we should do a little bit of virtual home shopping—you know, for when we’re those kind of millionaire entrepreneurs who can have a house in each of their favorite cities across the United States. Magazine Street runs perpendicular to Jackson Avenue, home to some of the most impressive, drool-worthy and expansive houses in New Orleans, so we took a leisurely walk down it as we each picked out our future home.
While we ogled, we even spied a Fox feature film being shot while we were creeping the mansions with our long lens (no word on who was in it as security was on lockdown). From here, if you’ve never been, you can walk to Lafayette Cemetery, down to Commander’s Palace for a three-martini lunch or straight up Jackson to St. Charles Avenue to hop on the streetcar. But we had art on the mind, so after a self-guided architecture tour through the Garden District, we called a car and had it take us to the Bywater.
If it’s a Saturday or Sunday between 10am to 7pm, you’ll want to make your way over to Music Box Village, an interactive installation created by art-driven, nonprofit New Orleans Lift. Born out of the Katrina aftermath, this one-acre piece of musical architecture in the Upper Ninth Ward is a playground for adults, a place where you can let your imagination go wild. Sadly, we were there only on weekdays and missed out on experiencing it in person, though ever art-loving New Orleanian told us all about it. But I’ve seen enough on the ‘Gram to know that it’s something I would very much enjoy!
Another big attraction we missed due to its odd hours was checking out the inside of Studio Be., open from 2 to 8pm, Wednesday through Saturday—but we did still get to poke around the outside murals in the streets surrounding Brandon Odums’ massive 36,000-square-foot studio, though I really want to prioritize seeing his solo exhibit “Ephemeral. Eternal.” on our next visit. Odums is a New Orleans trailblazer and major player in the local art world, and once you take note of his BMike signature, you’ll start to see it on murals all over town that he’s created, many of which are commentary on New Orleans’ sociopolitical landscape.
While you’re out and about admiring the colorful shacks woven throughout the Bywater and Marigny, also check out all the murals popping up along St. Claude Avenue. There are so many, including a couple by our friend and DMA muralist Ivan Roque. I found the mural locations on this New Orleans art blog and its corresponding maps incredibly handy, and I also purchased art educator Kady Yellow’s New Orleans: Murals, Street Art & Graffiti Vol.1 as a souvenir that now proudly sits on our coffee table in Tennessee.
If your stomach is starting to growl by now, you have two alluring choices for lunch in the Bywater: Bywater Bakery, which specializes in Chantilly and King cakes, but also has an array of soups, sandwiches and other savory snacks available for order, or Bacchanal, where you can put together your own cheese and charcuterie board, buy a bottle of wine and settle into the back patio for the live music that goes all day, every day.
Heading back toward the center of town, there are several notable pieces to track down, such as a brand new Kobra mural of Louis Armstrong at the corner of Gravier and O’Keefe streets, right near Pythian Market. While there, you might as well go inside the market for a snack or a beer; after all, it’s housed in a historic 1908, mixed-use building that was once a thriving hub for entertainment and socialization in the African-American community and one of the few places blacks could congregate in a post-Reconstruction Jim Crow Era.
From here, you can easily head over to the Warehouse District and hit up both the National WWII Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art if you have the time. We’re saving both of those for our next trip, because we’ve learned the hard way that you can’t do every last thing in New Orleans that you want to tackle in a single long-weekend trip. There’s simply far too much to do and see and eat and drink, particularly for a couple like us whose love for cocktails and art steer our travels.
If you needn’t go back to your hotel to freshen up, you can continue your journey right into the evening with a round of cocktails at Pêche in the Warehouse District before you hop in a Lyft out to Jack Rose. We found this restaurant in the Pontchartrain Hotel simply by crowdsourcing our meals, and it was one of the most fun environments for dinner in a city that thrives on creating whimsical, unexpected spaces. As if our meals of crispy pork belly and short rib weren’t enough to “wow” us, the server brought out a champagne bong with the check as a sort of chaser post-dinner. We also ordered the Mile High Pie, which I still dream about, so even if you’ve already eaten, you still must give me your word you’ll head to Jack Rose for cocktails and dessert. It’s the least you can do.
After we got back to the International House Hotel for the evening, we had a nightcap in the lobby bar, LOA, before calling it a very long, but productive day.
Day 4: sipping a brew, riding a bike through the French Quarter
Your final day in town when all you want is a mindless meander is the perfect time to aimlessly stroll through the French Quarter, then book a Confederacy of Cruisers tour. But first, breakfast. How have we been here three days and not had a single beignet? We change that with a plate, a side of bacon and some coffee from Cafe Beignet.
People are usually either Team Cafe du Monde or Team Cafe Beignet and staunchly in one corner or the other, but I’m in the middle of the ring: A beignet is a beignet is a beignet and I’ve never had one in New Orleans that I didn’t like! I’m beignet non-partisan is what I’m saying. You can’t go wrong with either.
And what better to chase a plate of sugary beignets down with than a flight of beer? You know we love our craft brews, and even on my last visit a few years ago, I didn’t stumble upon many breweries in this booze-loving town. I found out on this trip that’s because Katrina wiped most of them away, and what valuables remained, looters completely cleaned out from mainstays like the century-old Dixie Brewing Company.
But that’s changed over the past decade thanks to Abita being at the forefront of the local beer movement, and there are now more than a dozen breweries in the area like NOLA Brewing, Urban South, and Broad Street Cider and Ale. We were so cocktail-focused on this trip that we managed but a single brewery stop at Brieux Carré right off Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny, which only means one thing: A return trip to fully explore New Orleans’ brewing scene is in order.
On our Confederacy of Cruisers cocktail tour, we tried it all: beer, Pimm’s Cups, frozen Irish coffees, Sazeracs. Thanks to the French Quarter’s liberal open-cup policy—you can tote around a to-go of booze with you through parks, public streets and sidewalks so long as it isn’t glass—we were even able to take a daiquiri with us for the road, made all the more convenient by the cup holders affixed to our bikes.
There’s something completely liberating about flying through the streets of New Orleans’ most touristy district, the wind flapping through your hair, on a morning cocktail crawl.
Our tour went longer than its usual three-hour length, so it was well after lunchtime when we finished. Luckily, Domenica at the Roosevelt was still serving lunch, so we filled up on Neapolitan-style pizzas before retrieving our luggage at our hotel and beginning the journey home.
If you still have time remaining, make one last stop at the new Sazerac House—not to be confused with the Sazerac Bar—before you go, then call a cab, Lyft or Uber and head to the airport. As always, four days was only about half the time we needed to make a dent in our New Orleans to-eat, to-drink and to-see list, but it just gives us even more reason to come back the next time we need a weekend away! This would also be a really fun trip to take with a group of couples.
NOLA fans, what are some other things to do that you’d add to my couple’s trip to New Orleans?
For more tips to traveling in the Big Easy, start here:
- How to visit New Orleans right now
- The best bars in New Orleans: a comprehensive cocktail guide
- 5 ways to get out and about in New Orleans
- Planning the ultimate girls’ trip to New Orleans
- Swap this for that: Where to eat in New Orleans
- A recap of my own NOLA bachelorette weekend