48 Hours in New Orleans: What We Did
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. ~ Ecclesiastes 8:15
We were planning our 3rd trip to our favorite Spring Break beach vacation spot, Dauphin Island, Al, and we decided it would be fun to go a few days early and take the kids to New Orleans. While Curt and I have been to New Orleans at least ½ dozen times, our daughter hadn’t been since she was 3 and our son had never been. Since they were both fans of the TV show The Originals, we thought they would enjoy getting to see some of the sites from the show. We had planned a nice, 2-day stroll through The Quarter and The Garden District to take in the sites and some delicious New Orleans cuisine. Our plans got a little hijacked when we found out a few weeks before we left that French Quarter Fest would be going on while we were there, if you haven’t already, check out my blog about that part of the trip. So, we changed our plans up a little but were still able to do and see most of the things we had planned. If our original plans had worked, I would have presented you with a 2 day itinerary but since things didn’t go as originally planned, I’m just going to tell you about the places we visited. This blog will focus on what we did but don't miss out on 48 Hours in New Orleans: Where we Ate and 48 Hours in New Orleans: Where we Stayed and How we got Around.
What did we do?
· Historic Jackson Square faces the Mississippi River and is what I would call the heart of The French Quarter on Decatur St; the rest of The Quarter fans out from this spot. It was originally known in the 18th century as “Place d’Armes” and later renamed in honor of the Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson. For well over a half-century, there has been an open-air artist colony at Jackson Square. You can watch the artists create their pieces and they display their artwork on the iron fence that surrounds the square. Unfortunately, the Square was so packed because of the festival we couldn’t get the iconic picture of Jackson with the Cathedral in the background.
· St. Louis Cathedral - Just behind Jackson Square stands the beautiful Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France. This site has been the center of worship for Catholics since the founding of New Orleans and is the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral in continuous use in the US. This iconic Cathedral has been used in many TV and movie scenes and the kids recognized it from The Originals. You can go in and look around the Cathedral, just make sure it is not during Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. On the way in, grab a pamphlet for a $1 donation which gives you a brief history and tells about the beautiful stained glass and artwork. You can look inside the sanctuary and they have candles you can light for a $2 donation. It really only takes about 10 minutes to look around but you could certainly spend more time if you wanted to. This was a stop the kids wanted to take because it is featured in The Originals.
· Bourbon Street - No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walk down Bourbon Street but if you are with your family and not planning to do much drinking, then I wouldn’t spend much time on this street. It is mostly bars and usually reeks of vomit and urine (sorry, I know that’s gross but I feel it’s important that you are warned going into it). We stopped at Marie Laveau’s Voodoo shop because voodoo plays a part in The Originals and the kids wanted a picture. We walked a few blocks down Bourbon then cut back down to Royal Street.
· Royal Street - Everything I read beforehand said to spend more time on Royal St than Bourbon and I’m glad we listened. Royal Street was much nicer to stroll down; it is filled with more shops than bars and smells much better. When we made it to Royal Street, we were met by a wonderful band set up in the street that was by far, the BEST music we heard in New Orleans, Frog & Henry. I’m kicking myself for not buying one of their CDs. There were also other “Street Performers” along Royal Street and some artists set up, sketching and painting. Royal Street was definitely the feel we were looking for when we planned our trip.
· Café du Monde - This should technically be under Places to Eat but for me, Café du Monde is really more of a “must-do” experience. Nothing feels more like an authentic French Quarter experience than sitting at a little table in the open-air coffee shop, sipping café au lait and noshing on some decadent beignets. We arrived on a Friday morning just before 8:30 and were able to walk right in and grab a table but by the time we left around 9:30 there was a line down the block, waiting for a seat. There was a brass band playing on the sidewalk right outside the entrance which was the perfect accompaniment to our amazing breakfast experience. Just a few tips for Café du Monde:
1) It is seat yourself, if there are people lined up and waiting to be seated and you see open tables, it is perfectly acceptable to go on in and sit down like the locals do.
2) The Café is a busy place, as soon as you sit down, look at the menu on the napkin holder and know what you want when they come by your table or you might be stuck waiting a while. I loved the Café au lait, Curt had a black coffee and chicory and the kids both had an iced café au lait. We got 3 orders of beignets which was plenty for the four of us.
3) Don’t talk while you’re eating the beignets, while I can think of worse ways to die, you really don’t want to choke to death on all that powdered sugar.
4) If you need to use the bathroom, wait until you’re done and head down the sidewalk toward the French Market. The bathrooms at Café du Monde are tight, there’s always a line and they are not much better than an outhouse.
· The Historic French Market - The Market has existed on the same site since 1791 and began as a Native American trading post. Today, America’s oldest public market boasts dining, shopping, farmers markets, flea markets and hosts events such as fitness classes and concerts. We strolled along the entire length of the market and left with the cutest little succulent, 2 handmade bracelets and 2 pairs of handmade, clay earrings. We all agreed that the few hours spent at Café du Monde and the French Market were the best ones spent in New Orleans.
· Exploring the Garden District - After leaving the French Market, we hopped on a Trolley to Bourbon Street and transferred to the St Charles St Trolley which took us to the beautiful Garden District. This area was once a number of plantations that was sold off to wealthy Americans who didn’t want to live in the French Quarter with the Creoles. It was originally developed with only a couple of houses per block, each surrounded by a large garden, hence the name. In the late 19th century, the lots were subdivided further and it became more urban. Now the Garden District is known for its architecture rather than its gardens. The bulk of the afternoon was spent walking around the district looking at the beautiful houses and spending time in Lafayette Cemetery #1. I loosely followed the itinerary at Free Tours by Foot. Exit the Trolley at the Washington St stop, turn left and walk a block to the corner of Washington Ave and Prytania St.
o The Rink – This building was originally an ice rink built in 1884, the year New Orleans hosted the World Cotton Centennial Exposition. This is a great place to start your tour of The Garden District. There is a coffee shop, Still Perkin’ Café, if you need to grab a drink and use the restrooms before you start walking. Also, if you are an Anne Rice fan, there is the Garden District Book Shop which hosts book signings and has a rack that is devoted to all things Anne Rice. When you leave The Rink, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is located diagonally across the street.
o Lafayette Cemetery #1 – This was a big stop for the kids as it is featured in the Originals. Much to their dismay, other than the shot with the Cemetery entrance, the rest of the show wasn’t actually filmed in the cemetery. Even though they knew this going in, they were still disappointed that there weren’t more recognizable landmarks. The cemetery was very interesting and beautiful in its own way. Lafayette Cemetery #1 was established in 1833 and is the 3rd oldest cemetery in New Orleans today. Free Tours by Foot has a good tour you can use to navigate the cemetery and read some interesting history as well. They warned in their blog and we saw for ourselves that there are “unofficial” tour guides at the gate so be careful. Some tombs that were most notable to us were: the Jefferson Fire Co. #22’s society tomb, a metal tomb that served as inspiration for Anne Rice’s novel Interview with a Vampire, and the Society for the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys. Worth noting, the Free Tours by Foot points out the M. Koenig tomb which was open and allowed you to see inside but it has since been bricked up.
o The Garden District Mansions – The Garden District is filled with block after block of beautiful preserved mansions from the 1800s. Originally, each block had only 2 houses on it but in the late 1800’s it was further subdivided creating a pattern of 19th century mansions surrounded by late Victorian “gingerbread” style homes. There continue to be celebrities that live in the Garden District such as Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Anne Rice and Archie Manning. These are some of the houses we liked the best:
Colonel Short’s Villa at 1448 Fourth St. This home was built for Kentucky-born Colonel Robert Short in 1859. It is surrounded by a cornstalk fence that local lore says was bought for his Iowa-born wife who was missing the cornfields of home. Other explanations say she just wanted it because it was the most expensive one in the catalog. I tend to believe the latter because being from the Midwest, I can’t imagine missing cornfields! Colonel Short’s Villa was commandeered by Major General Benjamin Butler during the Civil War.
Morris Isreal House at 1331 First St. This Italianate style home is narrow but extends far back on the lot. It is said to be the basis of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but I saw other accounts that disputed that fact. Either way, we thought it was pretty cool looking.
Payne Strachan House at 1134 First St. Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederate States of America, became ill on a trip to lecture in New Orleans and spent his last hours in this home on December 6, 1889. We thought this was neat because when visiting Fort Monroe in Virginia, we saw the cell where Jefferson Davis was held prisoner at the end of the Civil War.
The Archie Manning House at 1420 First St. This home belongs to former New Orleans Saints quarterback, Archie Manning and is where his sons, Peyton, Eli and Cooper grew up. Footage from their show The Book of Manning was shot at this home. It was a really pretty house and even those of us that don’t watch football have heard of the Mannings.
This rounds out our list of things we did during our 48 hours in New Orleans. It's been a great 2 days so far! Make sure you read my next two blogs to find out about the rest of our trip: 48 Hours in New Orleans: Where We Ate & 48 Hours in New Orleans: Where we Stayed and How we got Around.
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