New Orleans is a fantastic long weekend destination. The city is easy to navigate by foot and using the historic streetcars. The food is phenomenal, there is art, music, nature and a fun, upbeat atmosphere. Whether you are visiting New Orleans with kids or just after a family-friendly itinerary, this 3 day New Orleans itinerary can be customized to your own interests and priorities.
There are so many ways you could spend your New Orleans 3 day itinerary as you could easily spend longer. After my own experience of visiting New Orleans with kids and talking with families that have lived in New Orleans, this three day itinerary allows you to see the best of New Orleans in the time you have.
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA itinerary with kids
If you are lucky enough to visit New Orleans during a holiday you are sure to be in for a treat with many festivals and parades happening throughout the year. New Orleans knows how to celebrate so if there is an event on be sure to leave enough time in your itinerary to check it out.
Where to stay with kids in New Orleans:
I recommend staying in the French Quarter, the atmosphere is great. There are plenty of restaurants and attractions within walking distance such as Bourbon Street, the Audubon Aquarium of the America’s, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, St Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square. You are next to the Mississippi River and can access the historic streetcars to explore more of the city.
We stayed at the Hotel Intercontinental New Orleans, the location was perfect close to the French Quarter but far enough away from the crowds to be a quiet retreat. We enjoyed using the rooftop pool on the days it was hot enough.
Getting around New Orleans with kids:
Historic streetcars and buses provide public transport throughout the city. Check the New Orleans Transport Authority for up to date time tables. You will need correct change to purchase tickets onboard or you can pre-purchase tickets in the NOTA app.
Uber and Lyft both service New Orleans, you will need to provide your own car seats for children that are legally required to be in a child restraint. My favorite restraints for traveling light are the Mifold, Ride safer vest and Bubblebum car seat
New Orleans Itinerary Day 1:
Catch the Saint Charles Street Car to the Garden District.
The Saint Charles Street Car is a historic streetcar that runs along Saint Charles Avenue through the French Quarter and past the Garden District. The route takes you past historic homes and buildings and the National WWII Museum.
To buy tickets onboard you will need exact change or you can prepurchase tickets on the RTA Gomobile app.
Disembark the Streetcar at a stop between 3rd and 1st streets.
Enjoy a delicious brunch at Red Dog Diner or The Ruby Slipper Uptown.
After fuelling up with eggs and bacon (and maybe a bloody mary) you’ll be ready to burn off some energy. For those that like a bit more detail and historical facts join one of the many walking tours around the Lafayette Cemetery or the Garden District.
For a more DIY approach check out this post and download the map and walking tour guide.
The Garden District is lush and green as the name suggests. The area has beautiful tree-lined footpaths and brightly colored houses of varying styles, some huge mansions with manicured gardens, home to famous celebrities and historic figures of the past.
Lafayette Cemetery is a historic cemetery that has been in use since 1833 and is still in use today. The cemetery is home to above-ground tombs, some in disrepair and others beautifully decorated, some with dozens of bodies inside. It might seem a bit morbid visiting a cemetery with kids but it is a beautiful space to open up conversations about death, the celebrations of life and honoring those who have passed on. If they are too small to understand they will still enjoy the maze-like architecture and decorations.
Catch the streetcar back to the French Quarter.
New Orleans Day 1 Itinerary Afternoon:
After lunch head to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. If you are planning on going to the Aquarium of the Americas buy a combined ticket to save money and time (you won’t need to queue for your Aquarium ticket).
The insectarium has many interesting displays about the tiny world of insects, live and preserved insects are on display. You can see ants working, pat a hissing cockroach, watch dung beetles rolling dung and play hide and seek with a well-camouflaged stick insect.
The displays are brightly colored, at the appropriate height and engaging to keep the kids interested.
You can even take the challenge and eat some cricket cookies, these and other insect-based delicacies are served up in the cafeteria. Of course, partaking is completely optional.
There is an immersive cinema experience. A cartoon that introduces different members of the insect world with buzzing seats and spritzes of water to add to the experience.
On the way out you walk through a butterfly enclosure and see many butterfly species up close. An attendant stands as the exit to ensure no butterflies escape on the shoulder of an unknowing visitor.
Late afternoon swamp tour.
Today is a good day to visit the Louisiana Swamp. This could also be done on another day during your New Orleans visit.
There are 2 broad options for visiting the Louisiana Swamp. A swamp boat tour and an airboat tour.
Swamp boat or airboat tour?
Swamp boat tour:
- The boat travels slowly more suitable for small children and those that are pregnant or with mobility issues.
- Covers less ground.
- Longer trips usually around 2 hours.
- Slower pace spends more time seeing each thing and unlikely to get motion sickness.
- Usually see plenty of wildlife but can’t try different spots if it is a slow day like the airboat can.
- More expensive.
- Shorter trips, usually around 1 hour.
- You’ll need to be in good health.
- Minimum age of 5 years old and some boats also have a height restriction.
- Loud (ear protection is provided).
- The boat goes fast, a more exhilarating ride.
- The boat is propelled by a fan, a unique experience.
- The boat can cover more ground and get to shallower areas of the swamp.
- Potential to see more wildlife as if not showing in one area can quickly move to a different spot.
Like with any wildlife experience you are never guaranteed to see anything but the Louisiana swamp is full of wildlife and seeing alligators is almost a given.
Dinner at Deanie’s one night is a must. Deanie’s is a casual seafood restaurant with a great atmosphere, everyone just looked like they were enjoying themselves here. The seafood is piled high and it was good value for money. They don’t take reservations, tables turn over quickly but plan for a wait.
New Orleans Itinerary Day 2:
Head to Ruby Slipper or Commerce for breakfast.
Commerce is a traditional style diner serving eggs and freshly made biscuits that you’ll see coming straight from the over, puffed and steaming with a golden top with a buttery, soft inside. The food is fast and cheap, the waiters toothless and hardworking.
Ruby Slipper is a more upmarket breakfast spot with cinnamon swirl pancakes and a selection of eggs benedicts including succulent pulled pork and southern fried chicken. Served with shakes and café style coffees.
Ask a local or check online to find out what events are on in the French Quarter, famous for the Mardi Gras parades and parties in February the celebrations and colorful processions continue throughout the year and have all the holidays covered.
Walking through the French quarter spend time looking up at the filigree balconies decorated with planter boxes of brightly colored flowers.
Allow time to stop and listen to buskers playing southern tunes with passion and gusto. Duck into quirky stores and pick up some unique souvenirs or art.
Head next to Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the USA, the iconic building looks over Jackson Square next to the Mississippi River. A nice place to wander around, there is often a market on with local artists selling their paintings and street performers attracting crowds. Head down toward the river for a view looking back to the Cathedral and watch the riverboats steam past.
Day 2 New Orleans: afternoon
In the afternoon there are a variety of options those wanting to stay close to the French Quarter can check out The World War 2 Museum, Madigras Museum or Louisiana Children’s Museum.
If you want to head out of the city, head to City Park or the Audubon Zoo.
We chose to head out to City Park, we took an uber (15-minute drive from the French Quarter). To take the streetcar take the 48-City Park/Museum streetcar on the Canal Street streetcar line. Depart the streetcar at the end of the City Park Line at Lelong/Esplanade and Carrollton Avenues and walk into City Park (please check an up to date time table for route changes).
There is a lot to do in City Park. You will find the New Orleans Botanical Garden, Storyland, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, City Putt, Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art and The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden and a Train Garden.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
We love Sculpture Gardens and enjoyed walking around the Sculpture Garden outside the New Orleans Museum of Art, admission is free and the location in a grove of mature trees provides shade on a hot day. The kids loved running around the space and we could wander and enjoy the artwork.
Next, we headed to Storyland, a storybook themed play area with some slides and sculptures that can be played on and in. This would be a nice place for younger kids however my 5 and 8-year-old were quickly bored. Children under 36 inches are free, admission is $5 but this also includes admission to Carousel Gardens Amusement Park.
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park has a selection of traditional rides, small roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, rocking boat, and bumper cars. The unlimited ride pass is the best value for those wanting to do more than 4 rides. The amusement park is seasonal and closes for part of the winter.
Alternative activities for a day in New Orleans with kids
Louisiana Children’s Museum
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is a popular spot to visit with kids, there are many interactive displays as well as a large outdoor area for when the weather is nice. Take a change of clothes if your kids are enthusiastic when it comes to water play.
National WWII Museum
For those wanting to stay downtown, the National WWII Museum has been ranked as one of the top museums not only in the USA but also on world standards. I don’t have personal experience with this museum as we just ran out of time to go there but it comes highly recommended, they do run family events and I understand there are plenty of exhibits (planes and other vehicles) that children will enjoy. Let me know if you have visited in the comments below.
Mardi Gras World
The Mardi Gras World is another unique place to visit. Here you can get a close up of the floats that make up the parades during Mardi Gras, after watching a short film about the history of Mardi Gras you get to try a piece of King’s Cake before being taken on a tour of the warehouse where you can see artists at work creating the floats for the upcoming year.
Audubon Zoo is another popular attraction for families. Known for its award-winning Louisiana swamp exhibit. Located in the Audubon Park South-West of the French Quarter, check the zoo website for public transport and current events schedule.
New Orleans Itinerary with kids: Day 3
For the last day of your 3 day or long weekend New Orleans Itinerary we head down to the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River is an iconic landmark and the riverfront area has been developed into a vibrant river walk with great views, art installations, and attractions.
Visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. This large aquarium has many interesting exhibits, a 400,000-gallon tank holds sharks, rays and a huge rescued sea turtle. The Gulf of Mexico exhibits showcase brightly colored tropical fish. The rain forest enclosure is home to Macaw and Piranhas, young stingrays swim up for a pat in the touch pool. The aquarium also has penguins, sea horses, and otters.
Head next door to the Entergy Giant Screen Theatre, tickets are included in your aquarium admission fee. The larger than life high-resolution display shows short 3D films throughout the day.
Have you had a chance to try Beignets yet? These are deep-fried dough treats covered (make that layered) in powdered sugar.
The best Beignet establishments have queues down the street. With Café Du Monde (established 1862) in the French Quarter the most popular.
Further along the river, about a 5-10-minute walk from the aquarium, you will find Café Du Monde Riverwalk. This small sister store on the riverside of the “The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk” Mall hardly ever has a queue and have the same Beignets you will queue an hour for a mile down the road.
If you want to spend more time on the river then consider a riverboat cruise. We ran out of time to do this ourselves.
Seeing New Orleans from the Mississippi River on a paddle steamer is a unique experience. Watching the paddlewheel and listening to live Jazz music makes the Steamboat Natchez Harbour Cruise our readers’ top pick.
There is so much to do in New Orleans so I hope this post gives you some ideas on how to spend your time in this fun and vibrant city. Please come back and let me know in the comments how you enjoyed your family holiday in New Orleans and if you find any other great restaurants or attractions that you and your kids enjoyed.