How to Spend One Perfect Day in New Orleans (Itinerary + Tips)

Only have one day in New Orleans to make the most of introducing yourself to the Big Easy?

Don’t worry: in a city more about food and good times than traditional sightseeing, you’ll have no problem letting the good times roll (or “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” as they say in NOLA) for one memorable day in the city.

Whether you’re visiting NOLA in order to board a cruise, attend a sporting event, take a day trip to New Orleans from another destination, or even if you’re just passing through briefly on a southern road trip, you won’t be sorry that you took a day to appreciate this iconic American city.

New Orleans is one of our favorite cities to visit in the world, and we will never be tired of spending days eating unique local foods followed by evenings spent listening to jazz–and after spending even 24 hours in New Orleans, we hope you’ll also say goodbye to the city already eager to plan your next trip back.

Here’s how to make the most of one day in New Orleans, LA!

kate storm and ranger storm walking through the french quarter new orleans in a day
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The Ultimate One Day in New Orleans Itinerary

Kick off your one day in NOLA at Jackson Square.

If you’ve seen photos of New Orleans, you’ve likely seen Jackson Square: a small park that sits in front of St. Louis Cathedral, the view of New Orleans’ beautiful white cathedral is one of the most classic shots of New Orleans (which is why we chose a photo of it for the top of this blog post!).

It doesn’t take long to walk around, but the real treat is what’s between Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral.

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In this small walking area, you’ll often find energetic street performers, from jazz musicians to jugglers, as well as plenty of people willing to exchange a bit of touristy New Orleans voodoo for a fee.

The area is lively, exciting, and is a great first stop when visiting New Orleans.

If you have an extra moment–or are just in the mood for a bit of air conditioning–the St. Louis Cathedral has a beautiful interior, as well, that’s worth a quick look inside.

ranger storm sitting in front of the st louis cathedral during one day in new orleans la

Eat your heart out on a New Orleans food tour.

Jeremy and I are big fans of food tours around the world, and there’s no doubt that New Orleans is one of the best cities on the planet to enjoy one!

Home to a complex, delicious, and legendary local cuisine that blends influences from its roots in France, the Caribbean, Africa, and more, NOLA’s food scene is one of the best reasons to visit the city.

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If this is your first trip to New Orleans, you’ll no doubt find dishes you’ve never tasted (and possibly never heard of) pop up on menus throughout your visit!

And, with only 24 hours in New Orleans, a food tour where you sample a dozen dishes or more in one fell swoop is an excellent way to try more local foods than you may have a chance to otherwise.

Unfortunately, the exact food tour Jeremy and I stuffed ourselves on during our last trip to New Orleans has been discontinued, but several friends of ours have taken and raved about this one (and we’ll be trying it ourselves the next time we’re in town).

Book your New Orleans food tour today!

fried oysters on a new orleans food tour, one of the best things to do in new orleans this weekend

Meander through the French Quarter.

New Orleans is all about meandering.

The French Quarter in particular is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods I’ve ever seen in the USA, full of beautiful architecture, bustling street life, and plenty of bars, candy shops, restaurants, and more urging you to indulge in them.

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We spend hours walking the streets of the French Quarter when visiting NOLA, taking photos, people-watching, ducking into bookstores, and picking up tasty treats.

Some landmarks to keep an eye out for include the photogenic Miltenberger Houses, the French Market, Cafe Beignet (in case you need a sugar fix throughout the day–though picking up a praline from a shop is also an excellent option), and the infamous Lalaurie Mansion.

close up of metal balconies in the french quarter in new orleans

Optional: take an afternoon stroll through the Garden District.

Depending on how early of a start you get and how speedy of a sightseer you are, visiting the Garden District as part of your one day itinerary for New Orleans may or may not be realistic–but if you wrap up in the French Quarter by early afternoon, it’s certainly worth hopping over to the Garden District for a quick stroll!

Home to New Orleans’ moneyed elite (and more than a handful of celebrities), the Garden District has a very different atmosphere than the French Quarter and is an excellent place to walk around and gape at gorgeous homes.

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Whether you’re in search of Hollywood filming locations (the coven house from American Horror Story is here), familiar facades (the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland calls this neighborhood home), or celebrity homes (Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, and Anne Rice all lived here, among others), or you simply want to enjoy the architecture, there’s plenty to love about exploring the Garden District.

We tend to enjoy self-led walking tours here, simply exploring with a list of remarkable locations in hand, but if you’d prefer to have a guide pointing out the best spots, guided walking tours of the Garden District are also popular!

Kate Storm in a blue coat walking in front of a mansion and below a large oak tree in the Garden District during 3 days in NOLA new orleans

Take your pick for classic NOLA nightlife: Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, or beyond.

New Orleans is famous for its nightlife, and no New Orleans itinerary would be complete without including it.

This isn’t a place to call it quits and head back to the hotel after dinner!

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The area offers tons of nightlife, but by far the two best-known streets are Bourbon Street (known for raucous partying and debauchery) and Frenchmen Street (known for live jazz playing in all of the clubs every night of the week).

We find Frenchmen Street to be more our style, but if you’re unsure, there’s no harm in checking out both.

view of nola at night from above the french quarter

Looking for a guaranteed, classic NOLA jazz experience in the French Quarter?

We enjoyed a performance at the famous Preservation Hall on our last trip and found it to be an incredibly memorable way to kick off the night–you can’t get much closer to the performers than this!

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Interested in experiencing a classic New Orleans bar that has a very different vibe than, say, the average spot on Bourbon Street?

The iconic, rotating Carousel Bar inside Hotel Monteleone is just as memorable as you might expect a bar formerly patronized by the likes of Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and the ever-traveling Ernest Hemingway to be!

kate storm and jeremy storm at the carousel bar in new orleans on the weekend

… or hit the Mississippi River and/or chase down some spooky ghost stories.

Looking for some alternative ideas for enjoying your evening out in NOLA?

Two other possibilities include the ever-popular evening jazz cruise along the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez, or signing up for a ghost tour throughout the French Quarter–this is our favorite ghost tour that we’ve ever taken!

Neither of these fun things to do in NOLA takes all night, so you can even combine one with a visit to Bourbon Street or Frenchmen Street later on if you like.

Book your New Orleans steamboat cruise or ghost tour today!

hurricane cocktail being held up in the french quarter nola on a ghost tour at night
Ghost tours in New Orleans are often enjoyed with a side of Hurricanes!

Wrap up your one day in New Orleans with a late-night plate of beignets at Cafe du Monde.

To say goodbye to your one day in NOLA, head back to where you began to indulge in a New Orleans classic: beignets and chicory coffee (yes, they have decaf!) at the 24-hour Cafe du Monde location across the street from Jackson Square.

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The menu is very small–beignets are the only food that they serve, though there are a few other drinks on the menu–but there’s really no need for any other options when fried dough coated in an inch of powdered sugar is the classic choice.

Note that Cafe du Monde is cash only!

There’s an ATM hidden in a tourism office across the street, but if you end your NOLA itinerary here, it’ll almost certainly be closed by the time you make it to Cafe du Monde.

close up of beignets and chicory coffee at cafe du monde new orleans

Where to Stay in NOLA

If your day in New Orleans also includes spending a night in the city, we recommend opting to stay within or very close to the French Quarter.

With this one day New Orleans itinerary, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time around the French Quarter–including at night, when you’ll no doubt want easy access to your hotel after making the most of the city!

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We loved the Best Western property where we stayed on the edge of the quarter on our first trip, and were also impressed with the One 11 Hotel (also on the edge of the quarter, but by the river) on a later trip.

We’ve also included a couple of other suggestions below based on price point, reviews, and–importantly–location.

vibrant building in the new orleans french quarter with turquoise shutters, as seen during a day in nola

Budget

IHSP French Quarter House — There’s no getting around it: New Orleans is a fairly expensive city to visit.

However, IHSP French Quarter House provides an excellent location near the French Quarter, as well as both private room and dorm options–making it an excellent choice for budget travelers.

Located just a 5-minute walk from Bourbon Street (and therefore an easy walk to many other highlights in the French Quarter) and boasting solid reviews, budget travelers can’t go wrong with a stay at the IHSP French Quarter House.

Check rates & book your stay at the ISHP French Quarter House!

colorful street in new orleans with a blue flag on the left of the photo

Mid-range

Best Western Plus French Quarter Landmark Hotel — We LOVED this property!

The hotel itself is beautiful in that classic New Orleans way, and the (included) breakfast is varied and tasty.

Best of all, this hotel is situated right on the edge of the French Quarter, meaning that all of the French Quarter and some areas beyond are within easy walking distance.

For the price, it’s hard to imagine a better deal in New Orleans, and we’d be more than happy to check in again.

Check rates & book your stay at the Best Western Plus French Quarter Landmark Hotel!

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Luxury

Omni Royal Orleans Hotel — Located in the heart of the French Quarter, this beautiful hotel is known for its gorgeous building, attentive service, and lovely ambiance–plus its ghosts.

Yeah, that attentive service?

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It just may come in the form of the ghost maid who likes to tuck guests in at night!

If your idea of the perfect one day New Orleans trip includes luxurious accommodations with a side of spookiness, the popular and stunning Omni Royal is the place for you. 

Check rates & book your stay at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel!

front facade of cafe beignet location in the french quarter, a fun stop on a one day new orleans itinerary

More than 24 Hours in New Orleans?

No matter how well planning your day is, there’s simply no way to enjoy all the best things to do in New Orleans in 24 hours or less–so if you’re lucky enough to have longer, staying busy will be simple!

If you have extra time in New Orleans, consider paying a visit to museums like the National WWII Museum and Mardi Gras World (perfect for checking out floats outside of Mardi Gras season!), paying a visit to City Park, diving deeper into the Garden District, and touring the memorable St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

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Our favorite ghost tour we’ve ever taken is also in New Orleans, and if you didn’t have a chance to include it on your first day in NOLA, we recommend adding it with any extra time!

And, of course, one of the best reasons to spend more than a day in NOLA is to keep eating your way through it!

We have more restaurant recommendations–plus additional suggestions on things to do in the city–in our longer 3 day weekend NOLA itinerary.

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Getting Around During One Day in NOLA

Since this one day NOLA itinerary is concentrated primarily around the French Quarter, you can easily walk the bulk of it without issue (and since New Orleans is famously flat, you won’t have to worry about hills, either).

The one exception to this rule is if you decide to explore the Garden District in the afternoon.

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If you do, Uber or the streetcar system will be the easiest way to get there and back.

Unless you’re road-tripping into New Orleans, we don’t recommend renting a car to explore the city: having one will be more hassle and expense than it is worth.

red new orleans street car traveling between the mississippi river and french quarter

Quick Tips for Seeing New Orleans in a Day

Don’t overstuff your itinerary: New Orleans is about food and atmosphere more than anything.

While you could easily pack your New Orleans itinerary with tours, shows, restaurant reservations, and museum visits from dawn all the way until… the next dawn, you don’t need that much structure to enjoy the city!

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It’s well worth choosing a few attractions and tours that appeal to you in order to make the most of only having one day in New Orleans, but be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to wander around on foot, duck into shops and galleries, and relax over a snack or drink, too.

NOLA is all about the atmosphere, and taking time to savor it is a big part of enjoying a trip to the Big Easy.

interior of a new orleans  restaurant preparing for the evening service

Explore on foot as much as you can.

The French Quarter and the Garden District, where you’ll be exploring throughout this itinerary, are extremely walkable, and staying on foot is by far the best way to get around.

The only downside to walking in NOLA?

The heat!

If you’re visiting when it’s hot outside (which is most of the time in New Orleans), be sure to seek out shade, air conditioning, and cold drinks regularly throughout the day.

front facade of a new orleans garden district home decorated for mardi gras

Keep an eye on the weather as you plan your 24 hours in NOLA.

While New Orleans is famously hot and humid, the weather can vary dramatically, so be sure to keep an eye on the expected temperatures and rainfall as you plan.

I’ve explored NOLA in January both bundled up in a peacoat and boots and wearing a sundress: you never know exactly what you’re going to get!

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Make restaurant reservations in advance if you have your heart set on an iconic dinner out.

Famous New Orleans restaurants like Antoine’s, the Commander’s Palace, Cafe Amelie, etc., often book up well in advance, so if you have your heart set on a particular dinner spot, be sure to plan as far ahead as possible!

Some higher-end NOLA restaurants also have a dress code, including jackets for men, so check the website before committing to a meal, and pack accordingly.

front facade of teal commanders palace in the garden district nola

Read More About Visiting New Orleans (and the South)

Planning a trip to the Big Easy soon and want to keep reading?

You can browse all of our 100+ USA blog posts here, or check out these guides:

Your One Day New Orleans Itinerary Map

Take This Map With You! Click each highlight to pull up the name of the destination. To save this map to “Your Places” on Google Maps, click the star to the right of the title. You’ll then be able to find it under the Maps tab of your Google Maps account! To open the map in a new window, click the button on the top right of the map.

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About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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