When you think New Orleans, the first things that come to mind are probably Bourbon Street, Cafe du Monde and Mardi Gras, and while those 3 things are definitely each unique in their own special way, there is so much more to “The Big Easy” than meets the eye. For instance, you see that statue of Andrew Jackson behind us? That is the original location of where the gallows once stood back in the day, crazy right?! When it comes to visiting a new city for a limited amount of time, we have truly grown to appreciate the value that a great tour can provide.
With dozens of tour companies trying to make a pretty penny, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth your precious time, SO we have put together a list of 3 of our absolute FAVORITE NOLA TOURS, making sure your minds, bellies and hearts leave feeling full and extravagantly satisfied.
First up we have the fantastic Royal Carriages. This family-run business was started in 1941 with one horse and carriage, now it’s the oldest continually-operating sightseeing carriage company in America!
We recommend doing this tour the first day you’re in town simply because you will leave with a thorough understanding of the rich history that’s hidden around every corner of this awesome city. Did you know that America’s first licensed pharmacist ever was in New Orleans? You can visit La Pharmacie Française for unusually unforgettable exhibits showcasing the questionable medical practices that took place before licensing in this mid-19th Century apothecary shop.
Fun fact: Johnny White’s (below), located on Bourbon Street, NEVER CLOSED during Hurricane Katrina! During the storm you could find various members of the media hanging out here in between the live coverage.
With tours available from 8:30am – midnight, you can make reservations or “hail a carriage” in front of Jackson Square, there really is no wrong time to see the city, though we would imagine prime people watching would happen in the evening hours…
We opted for a morning tour, so with tea in hand, we basked in the sun as Aaron, our guide, and Stanley, the mule, navigated us in and out of the historic streets of the French Quarter.
We were especially happy to hear that all of the Royal Carriages mules receive at least 3 months of vacation per year on their lovely 30-acre farm in the Mississippi countryside! He was one happy dude:
After learning about all of the delicious places to eat in New Orleans, we decided that we HAD TO do a food tour! Next up on our list of NOLA must-do’s is the mouth-watering New Orlean’s Tastebud Tour!:
You see that incredible looking sandwich above? That’s not just any sandwich, that’s Serio’s Muffaletta, and THIS is where the food tour starts. We all gathered at 1pm and before we knew it Dave, our food guide, was dishing out these delicious beasts, filling us in on all the details of this NOLA-style Italian sandwich:
Stacked with layers of mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella and provolone, this large-round loaf, known as muffaletta, is then slathered with a generous portion of the signature marinated olive salad. While the Muffaletta sandwich has its origins at the Central Grocery, Serio’s Muffaletta beat out Bobby Flay’s in an episode of Food Network’s Throwdown! Now you know it’s gotta be good.
Next on our tour they took us to Cafe Beignet where, unlike Cafe du Monde, they hand-make all of their beignets! As the sweet, soft and warm beignets covered every inch of our mouths in bliss, the freshly poured cafe au lait washed everything down with just the right amount of caffeine, leaving us feeling fueled and excited for our next stop!
Another thing about Cafe Beignet that most people don’t know is that live jazz is played in their courtyard everyday of the year (except Christmas)!
Over 100 years old, The Old Coffee Pot serves dishes that embody a fresh and classic take on New Orleans’ French Quarter cuisine. The moment Drew tasted the gumbo his eyes lit up and I knew my serving was in danger. Then it was time for the jambalaya, Chef Will even came out to tell us a bit about the history of this unique, tomato-based version of the dish and how it was recently made famous on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!
A quick spot of tea at The Spice and Tea Exchange, and it was time for the world-famous Roast Beef Po-Boy from Johnny’s Po-Boys! Unfortunately we don’t have a photo of the actual po-boy because we ate it too fast… this was seriously one of our favorites of the day.
Luckily we had just enough room for the grand finale at Laura’s Candies, where we were able to enjoy as many samples of pralines, fudge and Mississippi mud as we wished!
Vegetarian? Have no fear, we had three on our tour and the awesome people at Tastebud Tours were able to arrange special vegetarian dishes when needed 🙂
Now that we’ve covered a lot of history and drooled over all the delicious food that New Orleans has to offer, it’s time to party! Next up on our list is Mardi Gras World!
Everyone knows that Mardi Gras is in February, but if you find yourself in The Big Easy outside of that 2 week period, get excited because at Mardi Gras World it’s Mardi Gras is every day of the year!
Open from 9:30am – 4:30pm, we arrived to the giant float-filled warehouse for our 12:30 tour. Parking was a breeze and moments after arriving we were greeted by Fransisco, our wisdom-filled tour guide.
A vital part of the history of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras tradition, King Cake is made of a ring-shaped, Danish-like dough that is braided with cinnamon, topped with a sweet and sugary glaze and sprinkled with purple, green and gold colored-sugar. And watch where you bite, this cake has a hidden surprise! Somewhere in its soft folds lies a miniature plastic baby! The person who finds this little doll is said to have good luck and is also responsible for providing the King Cake for next year’s celebration. It isn’t Mardi Gras without Gambino’s King Cake!
As we enjoyed our treat, an exclusive movie on the history of Mardi Gras was shown, teaching us about the various ways festivities were celebrated when it all began. Our guide then lead us into the warehouse where we found artists hard at work, redecorating old props to be used for next year’s parades:
From touring the city on a private Royal Carriage and checking off our foodie bucket list on an indulgent Tastebud Tour, to getting up close and personal with the floats and celebrations at Mardi Gras World, with these 3 tours we left New Orleans feeling like we had done the best of the best… and we would do it all over again! Laissez les bon temps roulez… let the good times roll!