What to do with one night in New Orleans

New Orleans may have been dubbed the Big Easy somewhere along the line, but it’s anything but placid; even after the last of the shimmering Mardi Gras beads have been swept off the street, it’s still one big party.

That’s both a blessing and a curse if you happen to be passing through for a night.

New Orleans famed Bourbon Street is one big party; Photo by Brandon Scherzberg
New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street is one big party. Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg

While there are plenty of low-key restaurants and quiet bayous to explore, they’re balanced out by long lines, busy streets and, yes, a dropped bra or two. (Depending on what you’re into, we’ll let you decide which is a blessing.)

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Whenever you go, and for however long you stay, it’s an adventure helmed by a rag-tag group of locals you’re sure to make some memories out of.

Here’s the transient’s travel guide to how to pack a punch into one night in New Orleans.

3 p.m.: Bayou Coquille Trail

New Orleans
Bayou Coquille Trail in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve near New Orleans. Photo: Johnie Gall
Drive 40 minutes to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, spray down your legs with some bug juice and park at the trailhead for Bayou Coquille Trail.

Follow the stone paths and boardwalks along heat-soaked swamps, keeping a keen eye out for snakes, alligators and nine-banded armadillos, which is one of the only mammals known to give birth to four identical young (except for this mama).

4 p.m.: Café de Monde and Jackson Square

New Orleans
Jackson Square in New Orleans was designed to look like similar public spaces in Paris. Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
It’s the spot every travel guide points toward, but we have to agree.

If you’re going to the French Quarter, make a pit stop at Café Du Monde, a French market coffee stand founded in 1862 along the banks of the Mississippi.

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Order the coffee au lait (mixed half-and-half with hot milk) and buy a side of beignets, square French-style donuts doused in powdered sugar that come in orders of three. Sip and eat while you walk around Jackson Square, a public park about the size of a city square; if you spot an artist painting, it’s worth the time to watch them create in the heat of the early evening.

5 p.m.: Central Grocery, Faulkner House Books or Voodoo Museum

There’s an hour to burn until dinner, so pick your poison …

Central Grocery is home to the muffaletta (a football-sized sandwich packed with meat, cheese, olives and veggies), while Faulkner House Books plays host to rare first-edition books from the south as well as plenty of contemporary works. If you’re more into folklore and mysticism, try the Voodoo Museum, where you’ll learn about the three different types of zombies, the origins of voodoo and how to make gris-gris (love potions).

6 p.m.: Acme Oyster House vs. Felix’s

New Orleans
The fried oysters at Acme Oyster House are worth the wait in New Orleans. Photo: Johnie Gall
Fresh-shucked Louisiana oysters are the specialty at both institutions, and make no mistake: You’ll wait in line for both.

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Go to Acme for the fried platters with gumbo and hush puppies, or to Felix’s for spicy cocktail sauce and a dozen on a half shell.

7 p.m.: Preservation Hall

If walking into Preservation Hall feels like going to church, that’s probably because this is the house that jazz made. (Also, you’ll be sitting on pew-like benches in a hot wooden box of a room.)

Come here for authentic, foot-stomping New Orleans jazz. These guys absolutely kill it every night, which is why the line for each nightly show snakes around the block and forms early. Get there by 7 p.m. and send someone to pick up more beignets while you wait.

Tradition is the name of the game here, and every night Preservation Hall delivers intimate, acoustic concerts featuring local bands and New Orleans jazz musicians. There’s no audition to play, but many of the musicians are related to the original players who raised noise here by blood.

9 p.m.: Bourbon Street

New Orleans
A jazz bands plays for donations on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Photo: Simply Photos/Shutterstock.com
No trip to the French Quarter is complete without a weird and wild walk down Bourbon Street. Booze on the street, percussion parades, feather boas, Zydeco music and a little nudity …

Be honest: You came here for at least a taste of the party, and now’s no time to be bashful.

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