New Orleans in 48 hours

By Mike Welch

Photography by Grant Faint / Getty

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November 2016

The soulful southern US city is a melting pot of European, Creole and African culture, cuisine and curiosities, where the carnival spirit is alive and kicking all year round (and not just during Mardi Gras). Make the most of British Airways’ new direct flights from London to get to grips with the Big Easy. Here, local writer Mike Welch shares his recommendations for a memorable 48 hours.

Day 1

Make yourself at home

British Airways’ direct flight to the Big Easy will have you touching down at Louis Armstrong International Airport at 19:40 (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) – just in time to join New Orleans’ cocktail-armed locals, who celebrate every night of the week.

There’s no better way to start a day in New Orleans than with a sweet café au lait and beignets – decadent and delightful deep-fried choux pastry bites dusted with powdered sugar

You’ll want to drop off your bags at a hotel in the French Quarter – the W New Orleans French Quarter is conveniently located opposite Jackson Square in the heart of the neighbourhood; while Hilton Garden Inn New Orleans French Quarter is set a little further out, but is a more affordable option – and then head tight back out of the door.

The city’s oldest (and arguably most famous) neighbourhood is teeming with great clubs and bars, from Molly’s at the Market to the Chart Room and Erin Rose – and that’s before you even hit Bourbon Street.

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  • Start your New Orleans day right with beignets at Cafe du Monde Image: © Kelley Miller/Getty Images.

    Sweet treats

    Originating from the French term for ‘fritter’, beignets were the official state doughnut of Louisiana in 1986. The fried choux pastry snacks are best served (and eaten) with a café au lait.

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  • The W New Orleans French Quarter is the perfect base to explore the city.

    Take a dip

    While the hotel’s rooms get rave reviews for their design homage to the city’s jazz heritage, it’s the cabana-lined swimming pool that’s the real star of the show. Set in a traditional NOLA-style courtyard (think wrought iron gates and lots of foliage), it’s the ideal retreat from buzzing Bourbon Street.

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  • Get a taste of the city’s love for music at the Jazz Playhouse at the © Royal Sonesta Hotel.

    Jazz it up

    New Orleans is famous for being the birthplace of jazz, but the origin is still up for debate. Some believe Buddy Bolden kicked it all off with his band in 1895, while others believe it was Nick LaRocca and his band who recorded the first jazz record in 1917.

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22:00 – Ditch the diet

You’ll do a lot of walking on this trip, so you can afford a late – and big – dinner. From the white tablecloths of Kingfish to the many Lucky Dog carts (made famous in the Pulitzer-winning novel - A Confederacy of Dunces), you’ll soon learn that New Orleans is not the place to count calories.

Midnight – All that jazz

New Orleans’ most infamous Grammy-winning trumpet player, Irvin Mayfield, owns an eponymous jazz bar at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. On Friday nights, it hosts the saucy Burlesque Ballroom featuring the city’s brightest modern burlesque star, Trixie Minx.

Day 2

09:00 – A sweet start

There’s no better way to start a day in New Orleans than with a sweet café au lait and beignets – decadent and delightful deep-fried choux pastry bites dusted with powdered sugar. Café Du Monde, with its spectacular French Quarter people-watching opportunities, is one of those experiences that, no matter how overhyped it is, you really do need to try.

10:00 – Walk this way

Head to the more bohemian, low-key Marigny neighbourhood downtown and gawp at classic architecture, then stroll east to the new Crescent Park river walk, and perhaps end up at the Piety Street Market at the Old Iron Works, where neighbourhood artisans share original creations plus extra-special flea market wares.

12:00 – Ready to refuel

Beignets for breakfast leaves lots of room for lunch at either seafood staple Jack Dempsey’s (a platter for two easily feeds six), or beloved Bywater barbecue spot, The Joint. Or just up the street in Marigny is the Lost Love Lounge, which not only serves lip-tingling Vietnamese food, but is also owned by Geoffrey Douville of beloved local brass-rock band, Egg Yolk Jubilee.

14:00 – City of the dead

This is probably a natural time to have a nap. But if you’re still feeling lively, book a New Orleans City and Cemetery Sightseeing Tour to hear tales of ghosts and voodoo, see the elaborate tombstones of the city’s former mayors and jazz musicians, and discover New Orleans’ unique burial traditions at St Louise Cemetery No 1.

17:00 – Happy hour

Some call Frenchmen Street ‘the thinking-man’s Bourbon Street’, with a music scene that still represents New Orleans’ culture, without so much pandering to tourists. Spotted Cat hosts the most authentic, old timey jazz (often with free dance lessons). Or just stand on the corner and talk with friendly Otis Fennel, owner of Faubourg Marigny Art and Books, always the hippest place on Frenchmen.

  • Walking along New Orleans’ riverside is one of the best ways to discover the city © Dwight Nadig/Getty Images.

    Did you know…

    New Orleans is often referred to as the Crescent City because of the distinctive curve of the Mississippi River that runs right through it.

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19:00 – Catch of the day

Adolfo’s offers the most romantic European-style café ambiance in the city, above the endearingly crusty Blues music club The Apple Barrel. Top any of Adolfo’s fish-of-the-day specials with the restaurant’s signature crabmeat and shrimp ‘Ocean Sauce’, and you’ll leave happy.

21:00 – To market

The Frenchmen Art Market comes alive after dark, featuring original artwork by many of the city’s best independent creators, including locals like abstract figure painter Tony Nozero, and (Time) and former (Newsweek) photographer Andy Levine. You won’t find a better place for unique, affordable souvenir shopping.

22:00 – Music, man

Frenchmen Street hosts about a dozen music clubs within three blocks. Modern jazz fans swear by Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro. Or start your after-dinner Frenchmen Street club-hopping at DBA, whose Saturday night dance-card features the best in local R’n’B, Blues and funk.

01:00 – Night owl

It may seem late, but inside Mimi’s in the Marigny, 01:00 looks like happy hour. Mimi’s kitchen, which usually makes exquisite tapas, might be closed at this hour – but then again, it might not. The jukebox here will always clue you in to some of New Orleans’ best rock ’n’ roll bands, and you will definitely meet some friendly people to dance with.

Day 3

10:00 – Brunch bunch

Sunday brunch at Bywater’s The Country Club has excellent post-party southern comfort food and bottomless mimosas. For a few dollars extra, you can rinse away last night’s debauchery in the Country Club’s gorgeous pool and sauna.

15:00 – On tour

Spend the afternoon seeing the best of NOLA’S sights with your feet up – on a City Sightseeing New Orleans Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour through the fancy Garden District – there’s a good chance one of Magazine Street’s many shops will tempt you. If you’re still feeling adventurous, embark on an eerie tour of the lavish Uptown area, where vampire author Anne Rice once lived, is a must.

14:00 – Snappy happy

Widely regarded as the best spot in the city from which to experience the Mississippi, ‘The Fly’ – the waterfront portion of Audubon Park, tucked behind Audubon Zoo – will provide you with a gorgeous snapshot to remind you of the last 48 hours in New Orleans.

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