Bourbon Street is one of the most famous streets in the entire world. Known for its bright lights and wild parties, many people have a visit to Bourbon Street written on their bucket lists.
Bourbon Street is one of those places you have to see to believe. It truly is that unique, but as with most tourist locations, it can be crowded, dirty, and overwhelming. I knew my trip to NOLA wouldn’t be complete without getting the Bourbon Street experience, but I was also unsure of what to expect. This is everything you need to know for a successful and safe Bourbon Street experience.
History of Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is often referred to as the heart and soul of the oldest neighborhood in all of New Orleans, The French Quarter. It extends 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue.
Related: Exploring the French Quarter
Bourbon was a premier residential area prior to 1900. This quickly changed when the Storyville red-light district was constructed just next to the French Quarter. The area soon became known for many “red light-esque activities” such as prostitution, exotic dancers, and gambling. By the 1950’s nightclubs, bars, exotic dancers, and burlesque shows lined Bourbon Street.
By the 1960’s Bourbon Street had gotten a little out of hand and newly-elected District Attorney, Jim Garrison, made it his mission to lead the charge in cleaning up the culture of the street. Dozens of nightclubs were closed and a slightly more tame Bourbon Street emerged.
In 1970, New Orleans Mayor, Moon Landrieu decided to use Bourbon Street as an asset to the city, and focused on stimulating tourism. Today, Bourbon Street is one of the most well-known streets in the entire US.
Things to do on Bourbon Street
Sample some authentic creole cuisine — I didn’t really know what soul food was until I came to New Orleans. Bourbon has some good options, but head one block over to Royal Street for even more options. You can read all about my favorite NOLA food here.
Listen to some live music — The jazz music in New Orleans is out of this world. Do not leave the city without experiencing it.
Learn the cultural and spiritual history of Voodoo — Kind of creepy, but at the same time weirdly interesting.
Browse the many shops and get yourself a typical New Orleans souvenir — My personal favorite is the t-shirts that say, “I got bourbon faced on shit street”. Classy.
Bar Hop — Bourbon Street is the closest thing to Thailand’s Khao San Road that I’ve ever experienced. Make your way down the street experience all the quirky and famous places Bourbon has to offer.
People watch — Bourbon street is people watching heaven. Even if you just have 5 minutes, stay still, and just watch the people around you. I promise you, it is very entertaining.
Bourbon Street Famous Cocktails
The Hurricane – A very sweet and strong (in my opinion), juice-filled rum drink that is the most famous drink on Bourbon Street. If you only try one NOLA cocktail make it this one! For the original head to Pat O’Briens.
Vieux Carre – A strong mixture of whiskey, cognac and bitters, served on the rocks. Pronounced “VOO ka-RAY,” it translates from French to “Old Square” which was an old name for the French Quarter. This cocktail is not for the faint of heart. As my dad used to say about really manly things, “that’ll put hair on your chest!” Head to The Carousel Bar for the this one.
Hand Grenade – The ingredients of this neon drink are not made known, but it is famously called “Bourbon street’s most powerful drink”. It comes served in a green plastic yard glass shaped like a grenade at the bottom. Tropical Isle is the best place for this one.
Absinthe Frappe – Absinthe, rich simple syrup, chilled soda water. A simple drink that packs a punch. The Old Absinthe House is the best place for this one.
Huge Ass Beer – The name says it all. Get any beer on tap in the “huge ass beer” size. This beauty can be found at Steak Pit.
Bourbon Street Tips
Explore the street during the day and night
Bourbon Street is very different from day to night. During the day, Bourbon is a fully functioning street open to cars and all traffic. By night, Bourbon is closed-off to all motorized traffic and is one large walk-way for pedestrians and party-goers. As you can guess, by day the clubs are quiet, but by night the music blares and the party starts right back up again.
Be alert to what’s going on around you
There is 24,848,938 things happening at once at all times on Bourbon. It can be overwhelming and distracting at times, but always remain aware of your location and your surroundings. Whether you’re roaming through the street or dancing and drinking at a bar.
Travel with a buddy or a group
As I said, Bourbon is usually pretty tame during the day, but if you plan to explore when the sun goes down travel in a group or with a friend. Solo people are always, always, always more vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Don’t put a target on your back. Which brings me to my next point…
Beware of scams
Bourbon street is well-lit and hard crime is not common, but petty crime most certainly is! Pickpocketing and purse stealing are something to beware of. Girls, your clutch may “go perfectly with your outfit” but your better off with a purse that can go around your body and zip fully. Guys, if someone “accidentally” bumps into you, or a stranger seems to start a weird sudden conversation, be cautious. They may be trying to creating a diversion while someone else gets their hands on your wallet.
Oh, and if someone says “bet I know where you got your shoes”, don’t respond, just keep walking.
Embrace the art of the “to-go” cup
That’s right folks, in Bourbon Street is home of the “to-go” cup. In New Orleans you are legally allowed to consume alcohol on the street. Bars and restaurants will happily give you a disposal cup for your drink. In fact, there are many stops along Bourbon that are really just small holes in a building serving “to-go” beverages like a drive through window.
One of the things that bothered me the most is the amount of homeless people I saw begging in the streets with dogs. We all know I’m overly emotional when it comes to animals, so of course, it tore me apart to see it every time. The truth is the presence of a cute dog next to them helps their chances of getting money from people. I want to vomit all over my keyboard just writing that, but it’s true and I saw it first hand all up and down Bourbon Street.
Don’t get stupid drunk and make a fool of yourself
I probably sound like your mom with this one, but it needs to be said. You can have an awesome night out on Bourbon without getting black-out drunk, doing dumb, or even illegal things. You may not see them all in plain view, but Bourbon is heavily policed and there are cameras literally on every square inch of the street.