It is more than possible to have a wonderful time visiting New Orleans, get a real local peek, leave with tons of trinkets, and not spend every dime in your pocket. All you need is a little direction, and a few tips from a resident.
The best thing to do is plan your trip when it is not Mardi Gras. You can find outstanding hotel prices (even ON Bourbon Street). Keep in mind that New Orleans is a year ‘round celebration. You will not miss out on any festivities by coming ‘off-season’, for there really is no off-season. Whenever one celebration ends, another begins.
So what are your plans? I would recommend: food, history, culture, and music for your experiences. You can do all of this at extremely cheap prices, and be getting the true heart of the city that most people spending hundreds and thousands of dollars never encounter.
Some of my favorite places to eat in New Orleans are very affordable, at least, in comparison to Commander’s Palace and Brennan's. At the top of my list of affordable, prime local food is Elizabeth’s. It’s a serious favorite for those who work in and around the French Quarter, and for those that are just in the area. It’s not the most appealing part of town visually. Most people don’t bother driving the simple one mile from the Quarter to find it. That is why it is a prize to those who live here. You just can’t miss their Praline Bacon. There are plenty of other places to find good affordable food, but this one is my personal favorite.
You want to check out some true history, eh? Well, you can always hop on a horse and buggy ride through the Quarter. Your driver will spotlight several buildings and give you wonderful historical verbosity. You’ll know more about New Orleans than many locals by the time your ride is over. To cut on the cost of the ride, you can wait for other couples to board the buggy with you.
Don’t forget the easy enough idea of WALKING through the Quarter. There are plenty of shops to visit, as well as the oldest functioning Catholic Church in the nation, St. Louis Cathedral. You can go inside and take photos of this amazing historical landmark. And if it is your cup of tea, you can find several other amazing old churches and cathedrals throughout the city, and go home with photos your friends and family could mistake for a European tour.
Although this ties in with food, one thing you must do when coming to New Orleans is to get yourself some crawfish! This is your culture! Just along Decatur Street in New Orleans you can find restaurants that serve them, order a plate, and be able to answer one of the most popular questions received after visiting Cajun Country with a YES (Did you eat crawfish?).
Everyone needs a fill of New Orleans jazz. It’s easy enough to find it by relaxing for a few minutes in Café Du Monde for beignets and coffee. There is usually a street performer playing brass right before you, and tap dancers not far away click their heels for change. Just down the street a bit, you can shop the French Market for very affordable souvenirs, hear professional musicians performing outside, and don’t forget to grab a praline from Loretta’s while you’re there! For a more focused appreciation of jazz, feel free to bring your family of all ages to enjoy a performance at Preservation Hall.
Now that you’ve touched on food, history, culture, and music… what else can you do? So, so much more y’all. You don’t need to pay a tour guide to take you through a simple walking tour of the amazing cemeteries. It’s easy enough to do a little research online before your visit, read about some of the more famous cemetaries and take a stroll with a preconceived notion. Don’t miss the voodoo queen Marie Lavaeu’s mausoleum in Saint Louis Cemetery #1 (you have to go in with a tour guide now, as cemeteries are off limits to the general public now due to graffiti, theft, and littering).
If you have a rental car, you should absolutely cruise the Garden District homes of St. Charles Avenue. You will also pass prestigious universities and the Audubon Park/Zoo. You can even do this on the trolley. And speaking of trolley’s, The Trolley Stop has to be one of the best places for breakfast in the city. It is cheap, it is filling, and you will leave much happier than you came. Drive by the home Anne Rice grew up in on St Charles as well as her Greek Revival mansion on 1239 First Street, where she wrote many of her novels.
It is worth shelling out a few bucks to take a Haunted Tour in New Orleans. It seems to be one of the biggest appeals to this neck of the woods, so don't leave without the insider scoop!
Anyone can have an amazing time in New Orleans no matter their budget. Don’t let money keep you from knowing what is means to miss New Orleans.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop- oldest standing building in the French Quarter (aka Vampire Bar).
Jazz Funerals- you could possibly see one of these on a visit.
Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo- Full service Voodoo shop.
Bayou Country- the best souvenirs and groceries as well as a restaurant on the Northshore!