If you’ve never visited New Orleans, or you’ve only been there for an event or convention, a weekend getaway to the French Quarter is a great way to discover why the Big Easy captures so many hearts and never lets go. There’s so much to see and do that we won’t even mention hurricanes, beignets, voodoo or music. You will encounter all of those without the help of a tour guide.
After breakfast is a great time for a leisurely stroll to Decatur Street where you can spend several hours browsing through the shops and galleries on your way to the French Market. Across Decatur, and atop the levy is the Moon Walk, a promenade along the banks of the Mississippi River. From here you’ll get a great view of downtown and the French Quarter, and you’ll see why New Orleans is often referred to as The Crescent City.
Lunch could be a grab-and-go muffuletta from Central Grocery or a sandwich from Johnny’s Po-Boys. If you’d rather have a drink with your meal, try a Pimm’s Cup at historic Napoleon House or settle into a booth at Yo-Mama’s Bar & Grill for one of the best burgers ever.
The rest of the afternoon could be spent shopping the galleries and antique stores on Royal Street. But take some time to explore the side streets, particularly on the blocks between Royal and Bourbon. You are guaranteed to find a store, bar or café that is perfect for you.
For dinner, treat yourself to one of the Quarter’s elite dining establishments. A partial list of qualifying options would include eclectic fare at Bayona, Mr. B’s Bistro, Irene’s Café and NOLA. Then there are old-school New Orleans haunts like Brennan’s, Antoine’s and Galatoire’s. But if you can’t decide, go to Arnaud’s. The adjacent French 75 bar puts it over the top.
The French Quarter is packed with great hotels in historic buildings. For upscale opulence, consider the Royal Sonesta New Orleans or Hotel Monteleone. For something quiet, slightly funky, yet steps away from the action, it’s hard to beat Hotel St. Marie. It has a small, tropical courtyard with a swimming pool and one of the best bars in the Quarter.
If you’re flying, one of the great things about a weekend trip to New Orleans is that it’s possible to leave your home in Brentwood at 6:30 a.m. and post beverage-sipping selfies from Rue Bourbon well before noon. Southwest offers daily nonstop flights from BNA. (If you’re driving, it will take approximately 7 1/2 hours to cover the 522 miles. Take I-65 South to Birmingham and merge onto I-20 West/I-59 South toward Tuscaloosa. Near Meridian, Miss., take I-59 South toward Laurel/New Orleans. In Louisiana, follow the signs for I-10 toward New Orleans.)
Make no mistake, Bourbon Street is a tourist trap. But it’s one worth seeing. During daylight hours and through the early evening, it’s actually quite tame. It isn’t until about 10 p.m. or so that the frat-party crowd takes over. By then you will have completed a long day of discovering the Quarter’s true charm, enjoyed some unforgettable meals and be ready to retire to your cozy hotel room. Won’t you?