A First-Timers Guide to Bourbon Street

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.

First-timers Guide to Bourbon StreetBourbon 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.bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

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.

Bourbon Street

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

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.

Daiquiri – Sugar, lime juice, rum, ice, and any flavor you could possibility want. Big Easy Daiquiris and Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiris will have you in sugary alcoholic heaven.

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, New Orleans, Louisiana

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.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

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.

Brace yourself 

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.

Bourbon Street is one of the most famous streets in the entire world! But New Orleans' number 1 party street can be a bit intimating to a first time visitor! this is the perfect guide for first-timer on Bourbon Street

Have you experienced Bourbon Street? Any stories or tips you’d like to share?

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  • I’d love to visit Bourbon Street by day but I’m not a fan of drunk crowds at all and combine that with noise and harrassment and I completely freak out. I would however like to try creole cuisine and learn all about voodoo 😉

    • I have simliar feelings about drunk crowds. it’s just too much 95% of the time. I’m glad I got to experience Bourbon Street (it really is like no other place in the US) but I can’t say I’ll be making a point to head there on a regular basis. New Orleans has so many other (waaaay cooler) things to offer in my opinion.

  • These are all such great tips for visiting Bourbon! It’s really fun to see it both at night and during the day, and you can’t visit Bourbon without walking around with a drink in hand! It is New Orleans! It’s 100% true that you do have to watch your back when you’re on Bourbon though because of the crazy people that are there.

    • My friend I was traveling with sampled some of the famous NOLA drinks as we walked down the street. I tried some of hers, but man oh man do they make them strong!! I could not handle more than a sip or two. LOL.

  • This sounds like an absolutely mad place to go – I tend to stay away from the hugely busy, drunken party streets (eg Khao San Rd, Pub St in Siem Reap) because it’s just not my scene, but Bourbon street sounds a bit more intriguing to me. I’d definitely like to people watch!

    • Definitely! Go during the day time! it’s much more tame then, and you can really poke around some of the other shops and places of bourbon street that get overlooked by all the boozing at night.

  • i loved bourbon street. i have (had, i think i got rid of it) a shirt that say i got bourbon faced on sh*t street haha and it pretty much sums up my experience. it was my first trip to america and i think iw as 22? 23? i don’t actually remember. i do remember the hand grenades and being able to walk in and out of bars with it, and the bartenders would fill up my empty cup thing with whatever i wanted, without measuring anything, which blew my mind. i also remember a horse in a bar, which also blew my mind. i don’t remember anything else though haha. i’d love to go back and have a more calm experience 🙂

    • holy Cow!!! I’m kind of jealous you saw a horse in a bar! LOL! we saw mounted police officers riding horses through the street, but definitely not in the actual bar. that’s one of those “only on bourbon street” moments. haha

      • lol well it was my first trip to america so i was like.. america is weird! little did i know it was just bourbon street and probably only on that night. haha.

  • Bourbon Street was my least favorite street in the city. The smell…in February…I can’t imagine it in the summer.

    • I’ve heard soooo many other people say how bad the smell was! I was actually there early in the spring and it was overcast and not warm at all the entire weekend so I didn’t have any problems with smell. Everyone told us the summer time is brutal though!

  • Wow! The name of those cocktails are intriguing. And, of course, the ingredients on some are kept secret! What a good marketing technique. I would like to see what Bourbon Street is all about. It may end up not being my favorite place in the city but I will be able to decide based on the experience.

    • Exactly how I felt Ruth! I knew it wouldn’t be completely my scene (all the drinking and what not) but I’m so glad I got to experience it for myself and see what it was like. 🙂

  • Abby Castro

    Just by looking at these photos, it looks so chaotic! Much has been said or written about Bourbon Street, and it’s undeniable that it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the US, but I love your honest take on this popular attraction. It’s not all romantic! These are important info would-be tourists MUST know!

    Abby of GlobalGirlTravels.com

    • Chaotic is the best word for it! my head was on a swivel at all times just trying to keep up with everything. I’m glad to hear you appreciate my honest opinion on it, Abby! 🙂

  • Lauren @ atipsygypsylife.com

    Have to say I used to live here and your list is so legit! And it really is sad about people who are homeless having dogs in street, but they’re also used for protection. Sort of like a guard dog! Hope you loved it.

    • that’s the ultimate compliment! to get the seal of approval from a local! thank you so much, Lauren! 🙂

  • Looks like you had quite an adventure in our town. Like the way you list the positives and negatives. Thanks for coming, come again. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!