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A 48 hour tour of the Big Easy

Mardi Gras is the quintessential time for visitors. After spending the past two weekends hosting guests in our fair city, I am ready to become a New Orleans tour guide. Since I am not inclined to leave my day job, I’ve decided to pass along some of my expertise with this two-day NOLA itinerary.

A view of downtown New Orleans from Bourbon Street

A view of downtown New Orleans from Bourbon Street

This weekend program provides the added fun of Mardi Gras festivities, and I encourage you to add a parade or two or ten to your agenda. I won’t pretend to be able to select your favorites, but mine include Orpheus (Monday at 6 p.m.), and Zulu (Mardi Gras Day at 8 a.m.).

Day 1:

Take the streetcar to Dante’s Kitchen on the riverbend, where you can find one of the best brunches in the city. After you are significantly and exquisitely full, enjoy a walk down the levee or around Audubon Park.

If you’re not going to a parade today, visit one of my favorite spots in the city: the arts district, located around Camp Street and below Lee Circle. Experience a tribute to our forefathers and a 4-D Tom Hanks WWII movie at the National WWII Museum; or enjoy a host of excellent contemporary exhibitions, including Don Marshall’s second installation of NOLA Now; at the Contemporary Arts Center. Or, pop over to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art , Louisiana’s Civil War Museum, or experience some of the best free art New Orleans has to offer at the Julia Street galleries. While in the area, stop in at John Besh’s American Sector restaurant in the WWII Museum for a fun and convenient happy hour.

At night, take a trip to Frenchman and the French Quarter. Enjoy delicious contemporary NOLA cuisine accompanied by live jazz music at Three Muses. Then begin a trek down the infamous Bourbon Street, stopping at what can be considered the oldest bar in America (technically the building is the oldest structure used as a bar in America) at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. After wandering down Bourbon, find yourself at Howl at the Moon, my pick for the best dueling piano bar on Bourbon (where I’ve experienced an enlightening rendition of a Weezer mash-up).

Day 2:

After hopefully recovering from your night on the town, begin your day riverside at Café du Monde for some classic beignets and explore the river by visiting the steamboats or the French Market.

Then take some time to get lost meandering around the European-inspired streets of the French Quarter (I promise the Quarter by day is far different from its nighttime facade).

Later, visit parades Uptown and make a stop at St. James Cheese Company on Prytania Street, where the artisan cheese sandwiches and salads will tickle your tastebuds.

After more parading and a potential stop at one of my favorite classy bars in the city, the Columns Hotel, visit Atchafalaya for dinner. This restaurant boasts some of the most delicious Cajun/Creole dishes I’ve had, including the only grits I have ever really enjoyed. Their secret? Cream cheese, which also makes for an incredible red velvet cake frosting (also delectable).

End your journey at Tipitina’s — my hands-down favorite live music spot in the city, where live music and a potential dance party await.

Have fun, be safe, and laissez les bon temps rouler!!!

Brianna Smyk has an M.A. in Art History from San Diego State University. She lives and works in New Orleans and writes about arts and culture for NolaVie. Read more of Brianna’s articles at



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