Where to Stay Your First Time in New Orleans
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
New Orleans has an infectious energy that’s hard to explain. Once one of the most influential cities in North America, it has a rich history and melting pot of cultures that has resulted in an irresistible allure. It’s a wonderful and unique destination in the United States that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime, whether you’re into the people, food, history or music. Let me help you choose your ideal New Orleans home away from home and let le bon temps roulez!
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Where to stay in New Orleans
Maison de la Luz
Refined and romantic, this boutique charmer is Southern hospitality defined.
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Virgin Hotels New Orleans
Chic property nearby Bourbon Street with upmarket rooms.
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Hotel Saint Vincent
A place of refuge in the 1860s, this boutique hotel was resurrected with psychedelic-patterned wallpapers and an Italian modernist interior.
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Neighborhoods in New Orleans
The French Quarter
Let’s get to the biggest and most famous neighborhood first: The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carre, is the oldest section of the city that has a multitude of beautiful, historical buildings and streets. The French Quarter’s historical significance as New Orleans’ commercial hub is reflected in the high density of buildings and businesses. You will find the characteristic ironwork balconies, wooden walkways and cobblestone streets. And, of course there’s the infamous Bourbon Street, lined with a mix of restaurants, bars and clubs (some more reputable than others) known for its livliness and late night revelry.
Despite the reputation for debauchery, the Quarter offers much to a first time traveler. The undeniable buzz and convenient proximity to many of New Orleans’ most famous attractions make this a great choice for those short on time. History buffs will be enchanted with the array of historical sites throughout the Quarter, and bachelor/ette groups and party goers will easily find themselves in the thick of the action.
Don’t fret about not getting sleep if you’re not into the partying scene. There are plenty of hotels in the Quarter that create a magical respite once you step through their doors.
TLDR: Stay in the Quarter if you have a short stay. You want to be in close walking distance to most attractions and don’t mind a party or surprises.
For a luxurious stay, The Ritz Carlton on the edge of the Quarter is a prime location for exploring the city. It’s walking distance into the heart of the French Quarter and right along the streetcar lines of Canal St and St. Charles that can take you to New Orleans City Park or uptown to the Garden District.
For a mid-range option, The Hotel Monteleone is in the heart of the Quarter and boasts one of the most famous bars in the neighborhood along with a rooftop pool. The Carousel Bar slings delicious drinks under a spectacular menagerie and gently rotates as you are seated. If you get motion sickness, don’t worry — opt for a seat in the corner and soak up the atmosphere or retreat to the rooftop pool to cool off from the balmy weather.
For a budget friendly option, Hotel Le Marais has a charming courtyard and cool vibes. Its great location in the Quarter allows you to pop in anytime you need a quick break or need a private restroom. At the end of the day, take a dip in the courtyard pool uplit with characteristic Nola purple, green and yellow.
Central Business District
Also known as the CBD, the Central Business District is uptown from the French Quarter and a great central location for first time travelers who don’t want to stay in the Quarter. Historically, the CBD grew alongside the Quarter and was the maritime commercial hub of the city along the Mississippi. The prosperity of New Orleans supported the construction of many commercial buildings, warehouses and landmarks, but the Great Fire of 1788 and subsequent disasters in the area forced the city to rebuild and modernize the neighborhood. Today, the CBD is where you’ll find New Orleans’ skyscrapers, the National WWII Museum, a slew of top-notch restaurants and the majority of conference centers. This is a great neighborhood for WWII enthusiasts, and those who want to explore the Quarter but want the conveniences of the modern side of the city.
TLDR: Stay in the CBD if you want modern creature comforts, are visiting for business and/or are more interested in seeing the Quarter as a day visit or two, rather than the main focus of your trip.
For a luxurious stay, Maison de la Luz is the standard for Southern hospitality and elegance. The luxury award-winning 5-star hotel flirts between eclectic maximalism and soothing refinement in a stellar location for exploring New Orleans. It’s one of the most beautiful hotels in the city.
For a mid-range option, the new Virgin Hotel New Orleans brings together sexy and modern in the CBD with a stunning rooftop pool club, fabulous drinks, and comfortable accommodations. You can expect the most up to date gadgets and insta-worthy corners throughout. Virgin is also a great pick for business travel as they often offer specials for business travelers.
For a budget-friendly option, the Higgins Hotel at the WWII Museum is an excellent choice especially for those who plan to spend a lot of time at the National Museum. This hotel often packages museum tickets with a night’s stay, so you can skip the line. You can expect big bathrooms and a rooftop restaurant named after Rosie the Riveter.
The Garden District
Delve into the epitome of elegance and refinery as you explore my personal favorite, the Garden District. If you’re the kind of traveler who enjoys strolling through affluent neighborhoods to wonder at the beautiful homes, the Garden District will no doubt captivate you.
Historically rooted in wealth and privilege, the location was carefully chosen by its mostly white inhabitants due to its elevation, which offers a reduced risk of flooding. Victorian, Italianate and Greek Revival mansions are Garden District staples along majestic Oaks lined streets. Saint Charles St is the main thoroughfare of the Garden District, known for its timeless charm and the iconic streetcars that take you uptown to Audubon Park or downtown to the Business District and the edge of the Quarter.
The Garden District is great for first timers who appreciate the finer things in life, and prefer travel that leans authentically local. While it’s not easy walking distance to most of the New Orleans attractions, the convenience and charm of the St. Charles streetcars makes this a great neighborhood to rest your head and admire the graceful side of New Orleans. The Garden District is also home to one of the most respected establishments in town, The Commander’s Palace. Don’t miss their weekend Jazz Brunch, which features a live brass band. Just make sure you dress the part, no jeans, shorts or flip flops allowed.
TLDR: Stay in the Garden District if you have more than three days in your trip, you admire architecture, gardens, a more local experience and you prefer a tranquil place to unwind at the end of your day.
Enjoy a luxurious stay in the Garden District at the Hotel Saint Vincent. The new addition to the Lower Garden District captures the essence of the neighborhood with wrought iron balconies, a cool wraparound porch and turquoise umbrellas next to a bricked-in pool shaded by palms. Their boutique shop and in-house restaurants are a worthy stop if exploring the Garden District, even if you decide not to stay as an overnight guest.
For mid-range, I recommend the Hotel Pontchartrain. This boutique property is decorated with a cool blend of modern amenities and antiques, has two restaurants on site and a rooftop bar with an amazing view of downtown New Orleans. Its location along the streetcar line makes for convenient exploration.
For budget-friendly options, a vacation villa rental is your best option. I recommend using HVN with a FORA advisor. HVN has a safety guarantee that promises every property actually exists, is clean and if for any reason your host needs to cancel, they guarantee to find you a new property or give you 110% of your money back.
Heading back downtown across the French Quarter, the Marigny is a neighborhood just downtown from the Quarter where you will find the colorful Creole Cottages and shotgun houses New Orleans is so famous for. This vibrant district is home to the renowned Frenchmen St, lined with tasty restaurants, jazz clubs and music venues. Historically, the Marigny was home to immigrants and the freed, formerly enslaved, blending African, French and Caribbean cultures into the unique and vibrant atmosphere that is still prevalent today. In the 1970’s it became a bohemian haven for artists and musicians, paving the way for the thriving jazz clubs and venues that define Frenchmen Street today. It is walking distance to the heart of the French Quarter and although unfortunately no street cars access this neighborhood, it is serviced by buses. The Marigny is the least “touristy” of all the neighborhoods listed here, so don’t expect any flattery from locals. A Nola motto especially rings true if you’re going to stay in the Marigny: Be nice, or leave!
TLDR: Stay in the Marigny if what you crave is live music, funky vibes, more budget-friendly options and some get-down outside the French Quarter.
A luxurious stay in the Marigny is Hotel Peter and Paul, a former Catholic church and school reimagined into a hip hotel and bar. It infuses the dramatic interior of its past with modern amenities to create a unique design just two blocks off Frenchmen. The Elysian Bar is a destination all unto itself— pop in even if you decide not to stay as a guest.
A mid-range hotel is the Frenchmen on Frenchmen St (go figure). This historical hotel was just remodeled in 2021 and features updated design, a courtyard pool, and an ideal location for the clubs along Frenchmen St. This is the place to stay if you want to be up all night along Frenchmen St.
For budget-friendly options, similar to the Garden District I recommend renting a vacation home using HVN through a travel advisor. There are great options in the area for very reasonable prices, and you can rest assured that you have the 100% safety HVN guarantee.
Places to eat & drink in New Orleans
In general, you should eat as you wander at cheap and fast joints. Beignets are a must (Cafe du Monde and Cafe Beignet are the local staples), along with po-boys (I think dressed fried shrimp is the best) and muffulettas (I recommend Central Grocery & Deli in the Quarter). For dinner or weekend brunch, I recommend making a reservation for your party ahead of time, as tables fill up fast and you could otherwise wait a while. Lastly, there are no open container laws in NOLA, so you can take your cocktails/drinks to go. A lot of people decorate and bring their own cups, which is considered more than OK!
Jewel of the South (French Quarter) - Exquisite cocktail bar and restaurant with top notch service and a romantic patio in the Quarter. They have all the favorites, and will make any drink your heart desires. I recommend asking them for their spin on a French Martini. Their caviar service is indulgent and OH so worth it.
Central Grocer (French Quarter) - Home of the muffuletta Italian sandwich. A whole sandwich is the size of your head, so order according to your hunger level. If you have a fridge in your room, it makes for excellent leftovers.
Napoleon House (French Quarter) - The birthplace of the Pimm’s Cup. Wonderful spot in the Quarter for lunch. Sit outside in their courtyard if you can.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (French Quarter) – The oldest running bar in the USA, open since the 18th Century. A fun piano bar and a touristy place that is a genuine do not miss on Bourbon St.
Pat O’Briens (French Quarter) – Another touristy place you shouldn't miss on Bourbon St, and a staple that’s equally enjoyed by locals. The dueling-pianos are a riot, and the courtyard is lovely when the weather is nice and it's not terribly crowded. This is the home of the infamous New Orleans Hurricane. DO NOT (I repeat: do not) get more than two.
Gianna Restaurant (CBD) - Rustic wood-fired Italian with a Southern twist. Really excellent meatballs!
Cochon Restaurant/Cochon Butcher (CBD) - Famous for their house made charcuterie. The restaurant is white cloth sit down whereas the Butcher is a counter service. Butcher is great for lunch, and they have a delicious warm muffuletta. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant, but you can walk into Butcher.
Two Chicks Cafe (CBD) - Great Southern diner style breakfast with warm and friendly service. Their waffles are amazing topped with fresh fruit and their lemonade will cure your hangover.
Molly’s Rise and Shine (Garden District) - Delicious and hearty breakfast biscuit sandwiches in a 90’s nostalgia setting. Where's Waldo?
Shaya (Garden District) - James Beard award winning modern Israeli Food in the Garden District. Fried chicken hummus. Need I say more?
Saffron Nola (Garden District) - Delicious, modern Indian cuisine with really fantastic martinis.
Hivolt Coffee (Garden District) - Cool, hipster coffee shop with made to order sandwiches, burritos, hot plates and great pastries.
Lilette (Garden District) - Contemporary French bistro and another local favorite. Reservations recommended for dinner.
Commander’s Palace (Garden District) - A New Orleans institution. It's very romantic to take the St. Charles streetcar to the restaurant. I love their prix fixe weekend Jazz Brunch (Turtle Soup and Bread Pudding Souffle). Be aware there is an enforced dress code. Business attire, jackets are preferred for gentlemen. Collared shirts and closed toe shoes are required for gentlemen and no shorts, flip flops, t-shirts, sweats and/or jeans. Seersucker is highly encouraged.
Jacques Imo’s (Carrolton) - Another New Orleans mainstay serving up authentic cajun fare. The wait can be long, so I recommend getting there before you’re famished. Head next door to the Maple Leaf Bar for live music after dinner.
Elizabeth’s (Bywater) - Authentic southern brunch in the Bywater district with amazing waffles, praline bacon and bloody marys. Be nice or leave!
Toups Meatery (Mid City) - If you can get up to Mid City, this is THE place for Po Boys in Nola. Reservations recommended for dinner (walk-ins ok for lunch).
Need to Know
New Orleans has my heart, and I will happily return any chance I get. I've done solo trips, girls trips, group trips, bachelorettes, you name it! If you're interested or need help booking a trip to NOLA, reach out to me and I'm here to assist. Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Two Week Itinerary for Your First Time in Costa Rica.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to New Orleans.