New Orleans is a colorful collection of French, Spanish, Caribbean, African, and Native American influences that weave an eclectic tapestry of culture and history. In three days you can explore much of this diverse city—from its streets and cemeteries to nearby swamps and sugar plantations. Here’s how to maximize a 3-day trip to the Big Easy.
Day 1: Tour the City
Start today in the French Quarter, New Orleans’ historic center and oldest district. Walk the narrow streets lined with a fascinating collection of shotgun homes and stately mansions. You might tour the district’s restaurants, sampling the city’s world-famous cuisine, or try your hand at a cooking class. If cocktails are your thing, plan for a bar crawl tour to try some of the city’s original concoctions, like the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz. Visit one of the famous Cities of the Dead—cemeteries with eerie above-ground tombs—or opt for a late-night ghost tour of the French Quarter or nearby Garden District to learn more about the city’s haunted past. Alternatively, book a hop-on hop-off bus tour to get an overview of all New Orleans has to offer, perhaps picking places to revisit on another day.
Day 2: Experience Cajun Country
New Orleans is surrounded by a watery fortress of swamps and wetlands, areas that are important environmental barriers against natural disasters like hurricanes. But they’re also home to a booming seafood industry and fascinating cultural touchstones. Explore the swamp on a guided boat tour, learning about Cajun culture, music, and bayou lifestyle while keeping an eye out for alligators, raccoons, snakes, turtles, and native birds. You might opt for an airboat ride to glide over the shallow water and alternate between high-speed adventure and peaceful meandering. Larger groups can book tours on bigger boats that still get you up close and personal with wildlife and scenery. Most day trips to Cajun Country get you back in the city by evening, in time for dinner.
Day 3: Visit the Plantations
A network of plantations near New Orleans and along the Mississippi River served as the economic driver of the South before the Civil War. Today, many homes are lovingly maintained and open for tours, including the stately Oak Alley and Laura Plantations, where you can learn about this important—and often dark—aspect of Southern history and culture. Consider adding a trip to Whitney Plantation’s Louisiana Museum of Slavery to learn about the lives of slaves who carried Southern agriculture on their backs. Or, at the nearby Creole-style St. Joseph Plantation, tour the working sugar plantation where the movie 12 Years a Slave was filmed. Expect to return to New Orleans for dinner.