What to do in NOLA while on a 4-Day vacation

If you are only in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA = New Orleans, LouisianA) for four days it can be hard to decide what to do. There is so much culture, history, magic, voodoo, food and architecture, to take in that it’s hard to decide what should be done in such a short amount of time.

In February, my mom and I took a mother-daughter trip to NOLA in search of southern fried food Specifically, we were traveling to NOLA for beignets. Yes, my mom and I flew across the US to eat some fried dough. What better way to explore the world than with the goal of a good meal in mind? I mean a girl has got to eat, it’s a matter of survival.

Now, my style of travel includes a seat in a park, restaurant or street with a snack in my hand and a beautiful building or row of buildings in front of me. I do a lot of staring. In New Orleans there are a lot of things to appreciate and stare at. To make sure I hit all of my voodoo-to-dos, and fried food feasts, I laid out a general idea of what was important to me.

Here are 10 things to put on your NOLA bucket list that can be done in 4 Days:

  1. Drink with literature’s finest
  2. Join a wedding parade
  3. Get a sampling of the music scene at Famous Door
  4. Have a beignet and cafe au laite from Cafe Du Monde
  5. Visit a voodoo shop
  6. Feed alligators marshmallows in the bayou
  7. Buy pralines to take home
  8. Hang out with some famous dead people in one of NOLA’s famous above-ground cemeteries
  9. Eat a crawfish (even if you don’t like them – they’re different down here)
  10. Ride the street car to and from the Garden District and French Quarter

1. Have a drink with American literature’s heavy-weights at the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar

Some of American literature’s biggest names have once boozed it up in the streets of New Orleans. America’s expat’s favorite spot in the French Quarter? The Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel bar. Grab a seat at the bar, chomp on some pub mix and enjoy a cocktail and soak up the atmosphere that Fitzgerald and Hemingway both enjoyed as well as other literary heavy-weights like Anne Rice and William Faulkner.

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My mom isn’t a drinker, but between myself and the bartender we convinced her to have a Mojito. The bar was full of swanky dressed men and women deep in conversation.

2. Join a wedding parade down Bourbon Street to celebrate the nuptials of a total stranger

A New Orleans themed wedding is the type of thing I would want to do for my own wedding. Unfortunately, without all the people I love being there it will just remain a dream. But for many happy couples, having a wedding in NOLA is a reality and with it comes a tradition. A second-line wedding parade is a sight to see, especially when you have no idea what it is or why it is happening.

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In the case of my mom and I, we had just stumbled out of the Carousel Bar when a brass band parades by with a large group of people carrying white fuzzy umbrellas. Not wanting to miss out on the festivities, we joined the group. Everyone we asked didn’t seem to know what the parade was for but it was one of the greatest unplanned experiences I have been able to be a part of.

The happiness radiated from the group, from the band and from the couple. It wasn’t until we reached the end of the parade when we saw the happy couple kiss, that we figured out what we had joined. The best part was, no one seemed to mind that two total strangers plus a group of other drunk street friends seemed to have been swept up in their excitement.

3. Listen to all-night music at the Famous Door in the French Quarter

The Famous Door in the French Quarter provides good music later than most clubs in the quarter. Several famous names like Elvis Presley and Ringo Starr has graced this club, and the they don’t let you forget. You can find a list of some of the biggest musicians to visit the club written on the outside of the club.

Famous door rock club french quarter NOLA

4. Grab an order of beignets at Cafe Du Monde and a cafe au lait to-go and eat it on the edge of the Mississippi river

Prior to visiting Cafe Du Monde I researched the hell out of it. Based on Travel Channel specials and info passed on to me from friends who had visited, I was given a few options of what to do to get a good beignet. Regardless if it’s the best or not, in NOLA, you need to get a plate of beignets and a cafe au lait from Cafe Du Monde. I was presented with a few options and tried different approaches the 4 days I was there:

  1. Be a shark and stalk a table for someone to get up
  2. Grab it to-go
  3. Avoid Cafe Du Monde because you can get better beginets elsewhere.

Suggestion number three was a no-go, I was going to eat at Cafe Du Monde, period. I started with advice number one, find a table and eat at the cafe. Well, that first morning it was raining buckets and the wind was howling. When the lyft dropped us off at the cafe there was a long line waiting to grab their beignets to-go. I tried my hand at “sharking” a table. By “sharking” I mean circling my prey and attacking when the time is right. My first two attempts at securing a table was futile as the patrons had already promised their table to an impatient and wet guest waiting not too far away.

On my third try I managed to find a young couple that no one had claimed yet. It took me about 10 minutes and while I was waiting for the couple to finish up and pay, I had to fight off at least 5 other individuals who approached the couple. The whole experience was awkward and uncomfortable.

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I suggest method number 2, grab yours to-go. It takes a bit longer but is much less stressful. Also, I found it really relaxing to eat my beignets by the river which is just behind the cafe. There are often people playing music and running so it’s peaceful.

5. Stock up on love potions and revenge spells at a voodoo shop like Witchcraft and Magick

I’ve never experienced a town that actually took voodoo and witchcraft seriously. But all of the shops in NOLA see it as a part of the culture. Skip the haunted tours and take your time browsing the witchcraft and magic shops. There are some interesting books, and the people who work there are more than happy to educate you and pass on their passion.

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The woman who ran the Witchcraft and Magick store I visited had just started practicing her craft on her own.

6. Feed marshmallows to bayou alligators

Alligators eat marshmallows. Weird, right? Being that The Princess and the Frog is my favorite Disney princess movie, I had to take a trip down the bayou. It was a must. On the day-long trip we managed to see a swamp rat, several adult alligators, including one that wore a marshmallow on its head like a hat (not even kidding, we all thought it was fake until it got in the water), and hold a baby gator.

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7. Buy someone you hate a box of pralines

Pralines are delicious, don’t get me wrong. But to eat more than one is something only a 3 year-old could do. These roasted pecans covered in straight butter and sugar are sweet delicious coins of cavity-inducing goodness. Show your coworkers just how much you love them by bringing back a box for them.

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8. Find the oldest living person to be buried at the one of the NOLA cemeteries

New Orleans has some of the most notable cemeteries in the US. Being that it homes the final resting place for several of the US’s key historic figures like the voodoo queen Marie Lavaeu, and Homer Plessy of Plessy vs. Ferguson, it is a must-see. The crypts are above ground so they look like a little city for the dead. It’s both beautiful and eery.

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My mom and I found it entertaining to find the longest living individuals. We found that the oldest ones were women (girl power!).

9. Have a local teach you the proper way to eat a crawfish

I’m not a fan of crawfish. They always tasted like dirt when I got them at restaurants and seafood boils on the west coast, but not in NOLA. They know how to do a crawfish boil in New Orleans. The secret I guess is boiling the crawfish the whole time in the spices as opposed to putting it on at the end, which is what a lot of unauthentic places do, I guess.

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I was daintily eating my crawfish when the crawfish guy says, “let me show you how it’s done.”

How the locals eat a crawfish:

  1. Rip the head off (it makes a mess, be prepared to have red juice run down your arm)
  2. Suck the juice and “goodies” out of the head
  3. Bite the end of the tale and suck the meat out of the body

crawfish boil nola french market

Once you get past the fact that you are sucking out the brains and essentially also eating crawfish poop, it tastes good. Just don’t think too much about it and enjoy the flavor rather than what you are eating.

10. Ride the streetcar from the French Quarter up to the Garden District

The first night my mom and I were in New Orleans we had taken the street car up to the Garden District. The taxi driver told us visiting the Garden District was a must do. The houses were beautiful greek revival style and would be a beaut to visit during Halloween time. As we rode the streetcar up the street, there was an extremely huffy woman who was mumbling under her breath how she can’t wait for tourist season to be over. After living in a beach town, I could completely understand her pain.

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The streetcar will take you up to the Garden District and down to the French Quarter and you can buy a day pass that is really inexpensive. I think after two rides it pays for itself.

The only issue: it’s never on time. My mom and I waited for a whole hour one day and eventually called an Uber to pick us up and take us to the cemeteries.


Wether you are there for a week or for a just a weekend, there is a ton to do in New Orleans. Starting from the architecture to the cuisine, you can easily forget that you are still in the US. The life and spirit of the city is so different from any other US city I have visited. It is very different from the surrounding areas.

Don’t try and visit the Katrina sites. Almost everyone I asked about it said most had been cleaned up and those that haven’t are not safe due to the chance of being mugged. Certain areas of the downtown section is home to a large community of homeless people. I never felt threatened by them, but at the time I lived in a “traveler” community so I often ran into 5 homeless people while walking my dog. Even they make up the unique spirit that comes with the city. Enjoy the music. Enjoy the food. Enjoy the adventure.

Here’s a quick video of some of the festivities my mom and I experienced in New Orleans:

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