At the beginning of our 12 month RV trip of the US, we decided to do something a little different and see what Christmas New Orleans style was like.
While Christmas in New York remains our favorite US Christmas experience ever, we wanted to discover something completely different, and hopefully a little warmer.
It was a lot of fun and felt more like an Australian Christmas to me than any other place I’ve been. I think that is because of the strong catholic influence in New Orleans, which is my upbringing.
I love how they celebrate Christmas more in NOLA though – morning mimosas is a good thing right?!
We loved looking at the Christmas decorations everywhere and attending the Audubon Zoo lights, Miracle on Fulton Street, Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, and Christmas FEST at the Convention Center.
As we were driving in to New Orleans and struggling to find a decent campground for kids, I began regretting our decision to come to New Orleans for Christmas.
The campsite right near the French Quarter was $130 a night!! Cheap compared to hotels but outrageous for a concrete slab.
I get it though, it’s New Orleans and walking distance to the French Quarter.
I started fearing how NOLA would blow our budget. Impatience then kicked in. We could be over in Texas instead, visiting places we haven’t been and moving quicker through the Western part of the country so I can be back in Raleigh within the year.
I still have a way to go before I completely slip into this relaxed, free, RV lifestyle.
Thanks to more tips from our community we ended up finding a campsite on Lake Pontchartrain about 15-minutes drive from the French Quarter for a better price, yet still expensive for a
concrete gravel slab.
We quickly unhitched and raced into Jackson Square.
Carols By Candlelight, Jackson Square
As soon as we lighted our candles and the girls eagerly grabbed the song book to sing along to the lyrics I realized our choice to attend Carols by Candlelight in New Orleans was a good one.
This was a moment with my girls. Only days previously I spoke to them about what Christmas was really about. To them it’s Santa Claus and presents.
Even though we aren’t of any particular religion, I do think if you are going to celebrate a religious tradition, you should understand the real meaning of it.
The carols by candlelight gave them a little connection to this. A space to talk about hope and peace and love.
It reminded me of how much I loved Christmas when I was little. I loved the carols – singing them at school events and watching them on TV. In Australia, carols by candlelight is a big tradition – we have the weather for it.
So it was lovely to be in that environment again with my girls. It was a moment with them we’ll remember for a long time.
Wander the French Quarter (walking tour)
One of the best things to do on any visit to New Orleans is to wander the French Quarter.
It has an extra element of beauty during Christmas time with wreaths hanging off the balconies and galleries.
You can definitely walk around the French Quarter on your own, soaking up the atmosphere and appreciating the unique French and Spanish style architecture, pausing to listen to the jazz buskers on Royal Street as you are meandering. (Perhaps exploring Bourbon Street if you AREN’T visiting New Orleans with kids.)
However, a French Quarter walking tour is a fantastic way to learn more about the history of the first city of New Orleans.
This trip was the first time we dove a little deeper into the culture and history of the area on this tour.
I didn’t know much of it at all from my own wanderings. I wouldn’t have done this tour without the New Orleans sightseeing pass and I really enjoyed it.
We even went to areas I hadn’t been to before and have noted places to go back and explore more.
- Cost of the French Quarter Walking Tours is $20
- Buy your individual tickets here.
- Also check free walking tours
Audubon Zoo Christmas lights
I wasn’t sure if illuminated life-size replicas of zoo animals would be a thrilling New Orleans Christmas exprience but I was worng.
Audubon Zoo did a fantastic job of creating a wild, glowing wonderuland.
You can walk around to view the animals, as well as enjoy the twinkling lights strung up all through the trees and the park, visit arts and craft tents, gift vendors and live entertainment.
You can see more of how great it was in our video.
Christmas decorations Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans
One of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit is to wander through the elaborately decorated lobbies of some of New Orleans’ finest hotels.
The Roosevelt Hotel lobby was the most recommended hotel to see for the Christmas light display. The lobby is dazzling during the holidays with birch branches and Christmas trees with more than 60,000 twinkling lights.
The Ritz Carlton New Orleans Christmas
Probably my favorite of the Christmas decorated hotels in New Orleans was the Ritz Carlton. Santa’s Toy Shop takes center stage at the Ritz-Carlton. I especially loved the gingerbread streetcar with famous New Orleanians depicted as passengers, and twinkling lights across the lobby ceiling. (check video to see more)
Holiday Teas can be experienced at places like The Roosevelt, Sonesta , and the Windsor Court Hotel .
Celebration in the Oaks, City Park
Wrap up your Christmas holiday in New Orleans with an evening at Celebration in the Oaks, known to be pone of the most spectacular Christmas holiday light festivals in the country.
Enjoy wandering New Orleans’ City Park to experience the sparkling holiday light display that engulfs dozens of 100-year-old oak trees for Celebration in the Oaks each holiday season.
On one side of the celebration are fun amusement park rides and giant smores by the fire. In the other are stunning light displays in the botanic garden with the city’s famous oaks swathed in twinkling lights.
We really enjoyed this unique Christmas experience in New Orleans that bought so much holiday cheer.
Miracle on Fulton Street
Miracle on Fulton Street is a short 5 min walk through a dazzling lighted boardwalk with a 30 foot Christmas tree and a gingerbread village.
It’s super pretty and one of my favorite (and easiest) things to do in New Orleans with kids at Christmas.
Be sure to stop into the German Biehouse next door first for some local craft brew. Time it for happy hour and you are looking at $4 21 oz. Total bargain!
For some indoor family fun head to the NOLA ChristmasFest, a fun-for-all-ages family festival.
You’ll find New Orleans’ only ice skating rink, the Kringle Carousel, carnival rides and inflatables, Santa and holiday characters, children’s crafts, decorated trees, dazzling lights and more.
One of our favorite family things to do at Christmas is go ice skating. Savannah still shares her memories of ice skating in NYC at Christmas as her favorite thing ever. So it was good to go for a skate at this festival while listening to Christmas music. We also did it the week before in Huntsville.
We also loved the Mardi Gras themed decorated trees and the giant ice slide.
Christmas at Houmas House Plantation, Louisiana
Houmas House in the New Orleans Plantation area was decorated beautifully in Christmas decorations. We’ve done tours of many Southern homes before and this was one of my favorite.
Those oak trees. I could have stayed all day staring at them (and cuddling them).
It was just a shame that it was raining all day. I’d love to see that sun shining through the branches of the giant oaks.
I just want this property and those trees for my own.
The Houmas House tour was part of our New Orleans Sightseeing Pass. We also had Laura Plantation and Oak Alley recommended to us. We plan to return to visit the New Orleans Plantations. You can do a tour of those plantations here.
We also attended a theater production of A Christmas Carol at the Le Petit Theater which was wonderful.
Then we did a few other New Orleans attractions using our sightseeing pass, such as a French Quarter walking tour, a hop on hop off bus tour, Mardi Gras World, and a steamboat jazz dinner cruise. See more of what is included in the pass here.
Eat a Reveillon Dinner – A NOLA Christmas tradition
No one should need much persuading to eat out in New Orleans. It has the best food in the country – each dish has a story to tell.
It’s no different at Christmas time with Reveillon dinners, a New Orleans Christmas tradition that began in the early 19th Century.
Reveillon comes from the word awakening, and was a meal families traditionally served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
Many of the New Orleans restaurants bring out a special Christmas 4 course Revililon menus each year and typically start after Thanksgiving Day. The feelings of togetherness and good cheer, coupled with the memories of all that great New Orleans food, will stick to the palate of your memory forever.
This is a true New Orleans-style Christmas experience.
Some of the best Reveillon prix fixe dinners in New Orleans for Christmas include: Arnaud’s (813 Bienville Street) Bayona (430 Dauphine Street) Broussard’s (819 Conti Street) Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal Street) Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
Dickie Brennan’s Tableau: Reveillon
It’s so good that Kalyra knows the Brennan family and their restaurants (legends of New Orleans food) and when we found out we were going to dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau in the French Quarter she screamed, skipped and leg kicked.
We enjoyed a Reveillion experience at our favorite New Orleans restaurant, Tableau.
Christmas Show at the La Petit Theater
We timed our meal at Tableau with a performance of A Christmas Carol at the LA Petit Theater next door. Watching the story of the Miserly and menacing moneylender Ebeneezer Scrooge learn lessons about love, generosity, and redemption was a wonderful way to get into the Crhistmas Spirit.
You can read our best places to eat in New Orleans for ideas. We’re updating it with some new restaurants we discovered.
Another Creole tradition that’s stuck around through the years is the annual Levee Bonfires of St. James Parish, which is about an hour’s drive from New Orleans. The bonfire lighting is traditionally done on Christmas Eve.
Cafe du ‘Monde Beignets
There is no worthy visit to New Orleans that does not include beignets.
Café Du ‘Monde in New Orleans is famous for the beignets. We enjoyed several over our week long stay. And they are super cheap – only $2.95 for three.
They pair nicely with their equally cheap black chicory coffee. The cooler Christmas vibe suits this NOLA tradition.
Breakfast at Cake Cafe and Bakery
We were due to leave New Orleans on the 21st but found out friends were coming into town the next day.
Can you stay an extra day so we can see you for breakfast?
Sure. That would be awesome! We ended up having breakfast at Cake Cafe & Bakery – don’t miss their crab omelettes and specialty cup cakes – great local spot!!
The rush to get moving that I felt only hours ago disappeared as I realized the value of this lifestyle we have now chosen.
I have no constraints, no demands, no schedules. I can move at a whim. I can decide to stay an extra day if it means connecting with people I care about and having those richer experiences.
Perhaps this RV lifestyle is rubbing off on me more quickly than I realized. Perhaps it will go longer than 1 year after all.
Where we stayed in New Orleans, LA
Finding a campground in New Orleans was not easy. Most are not family-friendly and are in unsafe neighborhoods (as the reviews say).
There are a lot of unsafe neighborhoods in New Orleans. Don’t panic, you’ll be fine here, just stick to the main tourist areas.
The campgrounds are also expensive.
There are some state parks across the river recommended to us by several of our community, They sounded great, but there was no internet connection and we’re behind in work and need it.
We ended up choosing Pontchartrain Landing as seeming like the best of the rest for what we needed.
It’s on the lake and marina. The gravel sites are clean and level.
Apart from that, it’s waaaaaayyy overpriced. $62 a night and $67 on a weekend.
The internet is non-existent and there is only one shower stall in the one bathroom, which has been so dirty each time we’ve visited.
We get it. It’s camping lifestyle. We know campground bathrooms well after 18-months around Australia.
But at $62 a night I want something as great as what we just got at the State Park in Huntsville for only $35 a night.
It’s all comparative and relative, but I just want you to know. Camping in New Orleans – you’ll pay for it!
It’s about 15-minute drive to the French Quarter which is pretty good. You do drive in on a bit of a goat track and through a dodgy looking area to get to the campground. Full of abandoned warehouses on the water – looks like the setting of a CSI New Orleans episode.
How we’ve saved money in NOLA
- Park at The Basin Welcome Center. $5 for 10 hours, $10 for 24. Absolute bargain. Before we knew this we parked near the French Quarter (as we were running late) $22 for three hours! Be sure to download the parking app. Soooo handy. You can easily top up from wherever you are instead of racing back. I also loved how you could come and go out of this parking lot. It helped us maximize our time and reduce our costs. However, when we went to park there on a Friday night the price had doubled. I couldn’t find at what time the prices change. See if you can and use your app to book your parking time before that change over!
- Happy Hours. We’ve randomly stumbled upon them. $4 21 oz drafts at the German Biehouse – that’s local craft brew. $3 gourmet tacos at The Rum House on Taco Tuesday in the Garden District. They were some of the best tacos I’ve had. And wait for this one, $1.50 pints of craft brew at Theo’s Pizza place on Magazine Street on a Tuesday. Yes. That’s local IPA. Pair it with a delicious pizza on a Tuesday and you’ve got a happy traveler.
- The Sightseeing Pass – we work with the Sightseeing Pass often as they are so great for saving money. They gave us passes to use in NOLA. If you intend on visiting a lot of attractions here, like Mardi Gras World, WWII Museum, and A French Quarter walking tour, it will save you money. Read all the tips on how we saved money in New Orleans with our Sightseeing Pass.
- Entry to the Science Museum in Birmingham was free thanks to our reciprocal museum annual membership we purchased through Marbles – our local Raleigh Kids Museum. (The ASTC Travel Passport Program)
Where to Next
We’ve just pulled out of New Orleans and are headed for Texas Hill Country.
We’ll be staying there for at least a week to give us time to enjoy Christmas in Goldie, catch up on work, explore a little and rest.
After that will be Big Bend National Park.