Known as The City of the Dead, New Orleans is the most alive city I’ve ever been to. Whether it’s the beauty and history of the French Quarter, the rambunctious and sensory-overloading Bourbon Street, the mysterious swamps, or the mixture of (very) colorful locals and overly carefree tourists, NOLA pumps energy into the world.
Ever since American Horror Story: Coven debuted, I’ve wanted to visit NOLA. The history is unparalleled, and being such a huge fan of the supernatural, it’s my kind of place. NOLA fulfilled every expectation I had, apart from not seeing a real-life alligator in the wild.
I was hooked by the French Quarter (FQ) the second I laid eyes on it. I’ve seen pictures of this whimsical place, as well as been to Disneyland’s version (kudos to Disney for the realistic rendering), but I had yet to visit the real deal for myself. While the history of this place is less than whimsical, it’s easy to forget the dark history because it’s just so gosh darn charming. I loved the FQ so much that I went not once, not twice, but three times in four days.
Parking deep inside the FQ is basically like going into battle, so I don’t recommend it. All the streets going through the FQ are one-way, with parking along the side, but most is private and/or already taken for eternity. There are numerous pay-to-park lots just outside the FQ which unbelievably are not too expensive. We ended up paying around $11 for like, 7 hours. Like I said, unbelievable.
Our first stop was the Museum of Death, located in the FQ on Dauphine Street. We had to walk a bit from the parking lot, but seriously, the walk is well worth it considering the price, AND you don’t have to worry about some jerk clipping your car or some drunk messing with it. However, we had only walked a total of about 50 feet before being completely trapped in an otherworldly heavy rain storm. This is not an exaggeration; it rains in Louisiana every single day, at least once a day. It rained every day I was there, for at least an hour. We were trapped underneath an awning for a good 25 minutes before realizing we’d have to call an Uber or do SOMETHING, otherwise who knows how long we’d be stuck in this rain purgatory and we had sh!t to do that day.
Words of caution: apparently if you put the address to the Museum of Death into a GPS, it’ll take you about 60 feet ahead of the actual museum. Our Uber driver put it into his phone and we ended up in front of some café, but he insisted this was the address for the museum (he even showed us his phone). Due to the heavy rain and our complete ignorance of the FQ, we had no way of knowing the museum was behind us, a mere few feet away. We were very confused and wondering if they had recently closed it. We ended up having him drop us off under a nearby hotel and went inside to search for umbrellas. No dice, but we did find plastic rain parkas for $3 apiece (more words of advice: if there’s even a hint of rain, carry a small umbrella or plastic parka if you’re going to be out and about). The parkas weren’t perfect, but they worked well enough. After building up the courage to run through the 3 feet of water (not an exaggeration; the rain was coming down so fast and so hard, the drainage system couldn’t keep up), we started making our way back to my friend’s car for safety. By the time we arrived we were drenched from the bottom of our shorts down, but we survived.
Since the storms in Louisiana usually pass through quickly, we waited in the car for about 15 minutes and sure enough, the sky became clear again. It was time for Take Two, and off we went to find the Museum of Death. While trapped in the car, I googled it; the most current reviews were from a week before, so it MUST exist. We headed back towards where it said it was located and sure enough, there it was. I don’t know how we missed it, other than it’s set a bit back from the street and the rain probably played a role… or it’s like Platform 9¾ and you can only see it when you’re worthy.
Located at 227 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA 70112, it’s open 7 days a week from 10am to 7pm – and no pictures are allowed inside the museum. This is due to items and photographs that aren’t public or readily available online. We met the actual owner (who was working the front desk, of all places) and that’s what he explained to us. They monitor the museum very closely – through cameras and workers walking around – and if they catch you taking pictures, you will be immediately kicked out and probably banned.
The Museum of Death was unlike any place I’ve ever been. I’m not näive, nor dainty or weak, and I’ve seen some pretty messed up things on the internet, but my stomach was legitimately queasy by the end of the visit. There are a lot of photographs depicting both famous and non-famous people dead from various methods: stabbings, shootings, car accidents, lynchings, beatings, etc. There were photographs of the Manson Family murders that I’ve never seen before and aren’t easily found online. There were various pieces of clothing, furniture, paintings and drawings, and other effects from numerous famous serial killers (Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, and more). A theater in the back played a movie on a loop of just various gruesome (and real) deaths from around the world. We didn’t stay and watch it. There were items from 9/11 and a video of the attacks playing on a loop. There was so much more than this, and none of it is for the weak-of-heart.
After leaving the Museum of Make You Super Grateful for Life, we were starving and made our way to the Hard Rock Café simply because it was very close by. I’ve eaten at the Hard Rock in Los Angeles and Copenhagen, Denmark, and this was BY FAR the worst experience I ever had. I won’t get that into it, but the Cliff-Notes version is that our waitress was terrible at her job and nowhere to be found for 90% of our meal. She overcharged my friend and undercharged me. We ended up getting it worked out with management, but wowzers, it was a terrible experience, to say the least. The only good thing that came out of it was I ended up paying $11.10 for a meal that should have cost around $30+. I strongly suggest trying a more local, “down-home” restaurant in the FQ, and there are plenty (my suggestion is Pat O’Brien’s, but more on that later).
Once we were done with that, we made our way over to the infamous Bourbon Street, known for its debauchery, bars, and bare chested ladies. I was warned prior to visiting Bourbon that I should not wear flip-flops or “any shoes you don’t want ruined”. Apparently, this was due to the amount of vomit and urine that lines the streets of Bourbon 🥴. I like to live life on the edge, and wore my sandals anyway, not really noticing an ungodly amount of human waste. It honestly just seemed like any large city street: dirty.
Another place we ate at was Pat O’Brien’s, which is tucked away off Bourbon street into a little secret garden-like place where I half expected fairies to come out at any second. Located at 718 St Peter, New Orleans, LA 70116, it’s only open Thursday through Sunday, from 12pm to 7pm (Sunday & Monday) and 12pm to 11pm (Friday & Saturday). Once inside you forget that you are on the craziest street NOLA has to offer. The food is good, they give you a lot, and most importantly – it’s reasonably priced. On my last night here, I stayed at a hotel near the airport and instead of spending money on overpriced hotel food, I Ubered to the FQ specifically to eat here again. 10/10, would recommend.
Our last stop of the first day was the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. It’s open Monday through Friday, from 10am to 6pm, and is located in the FQ, right off Bourbon, at 724 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA 70116. I was super excited about this because the religion of voodoo has always fascinated me, but alas, I must say that this “museum” was a major disappointment. It wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. I expected historical artifacts, information, and just crap that you’d find in a museum. This place was a giant, multi-room voodoo shrine. It’s an extremely small, 2-room building with one way in and one way out, down a narrow hallway, so be prepared to shmush yourself into the wall while passing people.
Both rooms held nothing more than various voodoo shrines and voodoo artifacts on the wall, with zero information or context. There were shrines in the narrow hallway as well, all appearing to be active shrines. They were littered with everything, including: photographs, money (cash and coins), cigarettes, playing cards, beer, candles, I.D.s, beads, small bottles of alcohol, bones, clothing, hair-ties, buttons, bottles of medicine like antacid and Tylenol, jewelry, Chapstick and other makeup, flowers, lotions, baskets, hand sanitizer, perfume, skulls, various forms of Jesus, voodoo dolls, crosses, the virgin Mary, keys, and much.. much…more…We spent only roughly 15 minutes in the museum, and that was more than enough time.
We came back to the FQ two days later, this time to visit the famous St. Louis Cathedral, Saint Louis Cemetery #1, the Coven House, and to do our ghost walking tour. The very first place we headed was Saint Louis Cemetery #1, because it closes super early (9 am – 3 pm), and we had arrived in NOLA around 2 pm. Ugh… the cemetery was the single biggest disappointment of my entire trip to NOLA – because I didn’t get to visit the thing. Nobody informed me that a few years ago, the city of New Orleans closed the cemetery to the public due to vandalism and grave robbing; therefore, you can only visit with a pre-approved, guided tour (like the company we booked for our ghost walking tour).
As we walked up, I noticed a long line to get in and people at the gate filtering in tourists. I asked a random guide if you needed to be in a tour to get in, he said “yes”, and it was at that moment that disappointment washed over me like a black wave. Since the cemetery closed in less than an hour, it was far too late to book a tour, and this was our last day of visiting the FQ. I had no choice but to cut my losses, learn my lesson (google EVERYTHING!!! Or read travel blogs 🤪), and make sure I return in this lifetime to visit it.
After pouting for a few minutes over the cemetery, we moved on to the heart of the FQ, and to Saint Louis Cathedral.
Located at 615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116, it’s open Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 4pm, Saturday 5pm to 6pm, and Sunday 9am to 12pm. Officially named The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, the current church has been standing in New Orleans since 1789. It is the oldest cathedral in the United States. The church is completely open to the public; however, when you go inside the chapel, be advised that people are actively praying. You’re allowed to walk around and observe, but they have multiple “please keep quiet” signs displayed.
Next, we headed to the Garden District to do what every good American Horror Story fan does in New Orleans: visit the Coven House. For non-AHS lovers, the third season of the show was filmed entirely in NOLA and included a handful of real-life famous historical figures from there, like Marie Laveau and Delphine Lalaurie. I’m a super fan of AHS, so there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to see this famous house. The Coven House, or as it’s officially known, the Buckner Mansion, is located at 1410 Jackson Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130.
Do not let the internet fool you into thinking it’s open to the public. If you google the Buckner Mansion, Google will tell you it’s open 24 hours a day. LIIIIIEEEESSSSS (for all you AHS fans out there). Do more than a simple google search and you will find countless reviews and articles that all say the same thing; no, it is NOT open to the public and you will NOT be getting inside. You will be insisting to the police officer arresting you for B&E that “Google says it’s open, Officer!”. It’s a privately-owned residence and is only available for rent a few weeks out of the year (for the economically sound and reasonable price of $20,000). The gate was securely locked and there were numerous signs in the yard stating that trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. So yeah, make your own judgments here.
Our final thing in the FQ was our long-anticipated ghost walking tour. We signed up just a day or so in advance, with a company called Ghost City Tours. They offer numerous walking tours; Ghost of New Orleans Tour (the one we took), Haunted New Orleans Tour (not quite sure how it differs from the first tour, but whatevs), Haunted pub crawl, Killers and Thrillers west and east (two separate tours), and a cemetery tour (St. Louis Cemetery #1). Our tour was $19.95 per adult, and $9.95 per child. They run this tour twice per night, once at 6pm and again at 8pm, and it’s 90 minutes long. The walking is not strenuous, so if you are wearing sandals or flip-flops it shouldn’t be an issue (my friend and I were wearing sandals). The tour never leaves the FQ, and most of the locations are located near one another.
We visited a handful of supposedly very haunted locations; however, tours are not allowed inside any of these buildings, so you learn about their history and what makes them so haunted from the sidewalk on the outside. It is still very educational and fascinating, but just a heads-up.
Some of the places we visited were St. Louis Cathedral (Touchdown Jesus), Muriel’s restaurant, the Andrew Jackson hotel, Pirates Alley (along with its 18th century drainage system still visible), the old city jail, the house with a bricked-up window because it is said that’s where New Orleans vampire Jacques Saint Germain lived (and he’d supposedly use that window to lurk into the night and do whatever it is vampires do), and finally the famed Lalaurie Mansion. There were a few other stops but frankly, I can’t remember them.
Our guide was an extremely animated and energetic woman who told us about the history of all these places and how they came to be so haunted. Apparently, quite a bit of murder and supernatural shenanigans went down in New Orleans back in the day. Of all the places we went, the only one that is completely off limits to any visitors in any capacity is the Lalaurie Mansion. There are fraudulent companies out there that will claim to be able to take you inside the mansion, but that’s a lie. It is privately owned, and the owners don’t even live there for like 95% of the year. Absolutely no tours are offered, and you cannot rent it like the Buckner Mansion. All you get to see is the outside and a peek though a small, barred gap over the door. In fact, American Horror Story couldn’t even film here while shooting Kathy Bates’ Lalauire scenes and had to shoot “inside the house” at a different location.
*Important note: my friend and I didn’t even think about bringing cash to tip the tour guide and felt like giant assholes as a result. So bring some cash with you.*
We headed to Frenchmen Street the same night of our ghost tour because we had some time to kill beforehand. Plus, my friend’s bf is familiar with the the area and told her that all the looocals go to Frenchman Street and avoid Bourbon like the plague. The biggest difference between the two is that Frenchmen is more artistically leaning and quiet, while Bourbon is all about drinking yourself into a coma and being way too overstimulating. To be honest, I was bored with Frenchmen; however, I did score two really cool hand-painted NOLA inspired paintings.👇🏼👇🏼
Café Du Monde is located about half a mile from Frenchmen Street and a stones throw from Saint Louis Cathedral, and is quite the experience. The official address is 800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116, and its open daily from 8am to 8pm. I went the first day we visited the FQ, but the line was too long, and it was too hot. I thought I was going to leave NOLA without getting to try their world-famous beignets; however, on the last night I was there, I headed over after dinner. Both times I went – once during the day and once at night – the place was PACKED. Every table was taken and the lines for sit-down and to-go will have you waiting a good 15 to 20 minutes. Another important note (that I almost learned the hard way) is that they only accept cash. I stood in line for about 20 minutes only to make it near the front and see the ominous “cash only” sign looming ahead of me. It ended up being $3 even for 3 beignets, and I had EXACTLY three, $1-dollar bills. Divine intervention, perhaps?
Overall, my visit to New Orleans did not disappoint and I was able to mark off several items from my bucket list (seeing a real-life alligator in the wild not being one of them). There are very few places I have visited that I absolutely know I will be returning to, and NOLA is one of them. Next time I plan on staying near the FQ, or at least near the airport depending on prices, to make the trip easier since Baton Rouge is a good hour away.
City of the Dead, I will be back for you!