If there’s anything that shows off the fun-loving, elope-friendly vibe of New Orleans, it’s the city’s sheer number of nicknames. Local news site NOLA.com identified 11 (Nola, of course, being one of them), among others like the Crescent City, Hollywood South, and perhaps the most popular (and most indicative of its feel), the Big Easy. Even the unofficial motto of New Orleans’s Mardi Gras season, “laissez les bons temps rouler” (“let the good times roll”), speaks to the positive energy that makes it an eloping couple’s paradise. (Did you know it’s home to a whopping 130+ festivals per year?) Simply put, it’s a city of excess, overflowing with two of life’s best joys: incredible food, including the newish Parisian-bistro-inspired Justine and the cocktails-forward tavern, Jewel of the South, and live music, which lends the streets a certain bygone romanticism.
What better setting for a promise of eternal love? After sealing the deal, linger for a few days to soak it in: Explore the burgeoning Central Business District with its posh converted-warehouse galleries, then stay at the new luxury boutique hotel, Maison de la Luz. Or stroll through the hip Marigny-Bywater neighborhood, where you’ll find Frenchmen Street (lined with the city’s buzziest jazz clubs) and the new Hotel Peter & Paul, an artful incarnation of an historic church, school house, rectory, and convent. And of course, don’t leave without spending ample time in the French Quarter—it’s New Orleans at its most classic. Stop by Molly’s at the Market for frozen Irish coffees, then brave the line at Cafe du Monde for beignets to go.
Best Time of Year to Visit
September - December
The verdict here really hinges on one detail: To Mardi Gras or not to Mardi Gras? As the home of America’s first recorded Fat Tuesday celebration—a day of feasting and revelry ahead of Ash Wednesday—New Orleans takes pre-lenten festivities very seriously. They start on January 6 and continue until late February or early March (depending on when Fat Tuesday falls), marking a period called Carnival. During that time, expect an array of events, including fancy balls and, of course, stacks of parades, each containing 15 to 40 jaw-dropping floats designed in clever themes and flanked by costumed krewe members tossing beads and other “throws” (medallions, trinkets, even hand-decorated purses and shoes) to eager crowds. Hotel and flight prices surge astronomically during this window, and popular accomodations require booking up to a year in advance, often with a four-night minimum stay—so unless you’re coming specifically for the revelry, steer clear of January, February, and March.
Late spring brings more big-ticket festivals (namely, the French Quarter Festival and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival), keeping lodging and travel costs high and attractions crowded. And summer delivers brutal heat and humidity—which brings us to fall and the start of winter. These months are prime time to visit New Orleans. You’ll be on the back end of hurricane season and temperatures will ease to bearable levels, dipping to mild wintertime lows (40s and 50s) as the holiday season approaches. Speaking of which, the city springs to life for Christmas, marking the occasion with twinkling yuletide décor at Celebration in the Oaks in City Park and spectacular bonfires lit on levees along the Mississippi River.
The seven one- and two-bedroom suites that make up the Audubon Cottages date back to the late eighteenth century (one of them actually housed John James Audubon when he completed his famous Birds of America series), and they’re equipped with the antique style and old-school hospitality to prove it. Case in point: A dedicated on-site French Quarter butler is available to assist guests with practically anything they need from arrival to departure.
That said, a recent renovation ensures that the cottages haven’t lagged behind as far as modern amenities are concerned; among other perks, each one comes with a Keurig coffee maker, waffle-cotton bathrobes, and yes, free Wi-Fi. Perhaps the best part of the property is the gorgeously landscaped main courtyard (home to a heated saltwater pool that’s said to be the oldest in New Orleans). Not to mention the separate private courtyards accessible only to those staying in the suites that adjoin them. It’s in one of these smaller outdoor spaces that you’d be able to host an intimate ceremony, so long as you and your soon-to-be spouse stay on the property for a minimum of two nights. If you choose to hire outside vendors, the fee for a 10-guest elopement is $500 for 1.5-hour usage of the space, but if you’d rather work through Audubon, there’s the option of an elopement package starting at $1,650 that includes an officiant, bouquet and boutonnière, bottle of Champagne, and two-tiered cake. Get even fancier with a $200 upgrade: You’ll receive en-suite Champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, and breakfast delivered each morning.
For an elopement marked by old-school charm, head north to the tree-lined residential neighborhood of Esplanade Ridge, where you’ll find the ornate Degas House. It’s the only home of the late French impressionist that’s open to the public (anywhere in the world), and New Orleans is quite lucky to have it. The 1853 Creole-style mansion—featuring Victorian parlors, a French Quarter-style courtyard, and even a baby grand piano available for wedding services—is equally a museum, event space, and bed-and-breakfast. Although its style harkens back to an earlier era, modern amenities are far from lost: Luxury robes and bath products, Wi-Fi, and wine at check-in are offered with every stay. The Degas House is such a lovely spot to elope, in fact, that the folks there have arranged the easy-to-book Estelle Elopement Package, which includes an hour in the courtyard, parlor, or one of the suites for a ceremony with seating for up to 12 guests, as well as Champagne, cake, and photo ops in a variety of on-site locales including the grand staircase and front gallery. For pricing and availability, send a note to email@example.com.
Set within the quiet, opulent neighborhood of the Garden District—known for its sweeping white-column mansions and streets shaded by magnolias and oaks—is the quaint Grand Victorian Bed & Breakfast. Built in 1893 and recently restored to its former glory by way of turn-of-the-century furnishings, this inn delivers vintage charm alongside contemporary conveniences in each of its six rooms and two suites. Plan your elopement there, and the venue will put you up in the Honeymoon suite (two night-minimum, or up to four during high season) and arrange for a ceremony in the Victorian parlor or porte-cochere balcony overlooking majestic St. Charles Avenue. If you have five or fewer guests staying on-site, there’s no venue usage fee—although if you’re planning on six or more, you’ll need to reserve the entire house (for pricing info, email firstname.lastname@example.org). The inn also suggests booking an elopement package through Romance in New Orleans (starting at $395) to secure an officiant familiar with the space who can also handle the non-resident waiver for the waiting period (more on that below, under Marriage Laws), as well as photography, florals, a cake, and other extras. Post-ceremony, step outside the Grand Victorian’s front gate and board the historic St. Charles streetcar, which is the oldest continuously operating street railway in the world; pop a squat on one of the mahogany seats, and ride uptown past the manicured campuses of Tulane and Loyola Universities. Or walk over to the bustling Magazine Street to revel in a shopper’s paradise of locally-owned design and clothing stores.
This spot feels French-Quarter classic with a little extra je ne sais quoi. Just around the corner from Bourbon and Royal Streets (but also far enough away to escape the nonstop crowds), Hotel Mazarin instantly captivates with its striking wrought-iron décor and crystal chandeliers. But this property’s real crown jewel is the 1000-square-foot Fleur de Lis Suite, which is ideal for an intimate wedding. You’ll say your “I do’s” on its spacious balcony overlooking Iberville Street, then retreat inside to the living room for a celebratory toast. For $3,370, the elopement package includes balcony seating for up to 16 guests, an officiant, bridal bouquet and boutonniere, bottle of Champagne, two-tiered wedding cake, and overnight accommodations in the suite. Keep your big-day festivities going with a visit to either of Hotel Mazarin’s on-site bars—Patrick’s Bar Vin (the only wine bar in the French Quarter!) for a glass of Bordeaux in a plush-leather booth, or 21st Amendment at La Louisiane for craft cocktails infused with homemade syrups.
Any guide to weddings big or small in the Crescent City would be remiss not to include Jackson Square, the veritable heart of the French Quarter just steps away from the Mississippi River. This national historic landmark—named after war hero Andrew Jackson in the wake of the Battle of New Orleans—is one of the most popular spots in the area to tie the knot, and for good reason. The gorgeous paved plaza interspersed with lush foliage and gardens is situated next to the elegant St. Louis Cathedral, flanked on either side by government-buildings-turned-museums, the Cabildo and the Presbytere (both of which stand as stunning examples of former colonial Spanish architecture). Now, it’s also home to a vibrant community of local painters and illustrators who display their works along the square’s iron fences, creating backdrops for your ceremony and portraits.
Since Jackson Square is a public space maintained by the New Orleans City Department of Parks and Parkways, you must submit the online application for a wedding permit in order to elope there. (Thankfully, the city only allows one wedding there at a time, so you won’t be competing for room—although the square will remain open to the public throughout your service.) Upon submitting the form, you’ll pay a $50 nonrefundable processing fee, and if your request is accepted, fees for usage start at $250 for groups of two to 25.
Or is it Pirate Alley? Or Pirates’ Alley? This pedestrian pathway in Jackson Square connecting Rue Royale and Rue Chartres has a fabled past perhaps as mysterious as the spelling of its name. Which, by the way, was changed to (some variation of) Pirate’s Alley—from its original, less controversial identifier, Orleans Alley South—in 1964, merely because its buccaneer moniker had grown so popular. According to (unlikely) legend, it was once used as a meeting place for pirate Jean Lafitte and his band of smuggling accomplices. Years later, it was home to William Faulkner, who rented a space along the alley where he’s known to have written his first novel.
For your purposes, though, it’s a quaint, cobblestone pathway adorned with cast-iron lampposts and occupied by artisans peddling their portraits along the fence of St. Anthony’s Garden. Its relative seclusion, lack of cars, and historic charm make it a quintessential New Orleans spot to exchange vows, though it’s best to do so before dusk falls: It’s said to be one of the most haunted spots in the city. Afterward, toast your newlywed status with beers inside Lafitte’s Blacksmiths Shop Bar, which is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the country (its construction dates back to the 1700s).
An urban farm situated within the Marigny-Bywater district—a neighborhood known for its colorful arts scene and hipster vibe—Press Street Gardens is a project of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), a pre-pro training program for high school students. (And if you rent the gardens, it’s even possible to hire talented NOCCA students to perform or cook for your big day.) Herbs, veggies, and florals grown for use in culinary arts courses flourish in this half-acre green space filled with lush photoscapes. A lawn and a large courtyard dotted with picnic tables supply ideal spots for a small reception, too (chairs and tables are available for an additional fee). The rental fee varies largely depending on space needs and set-up required; fill out the form at the NOCCA site for a rate.
You know about Bourbon Street, the veritable pulse of this festive city’s bustling center with its live jazz and cup-in-hand revelers. But do you know about Royal Street? It’s an equally historic boulevard incorporated into the original design plans for New Orleans way back in the 1700s just a block away from Bourbon, and with a shred less notoriety—perhaps because this street’s vibe is more refined than rowdy. Like Pirate’s Alley, it embodies the colorful streetscape of the city you’ve seen on postcards, making it a totally romantic place to steal away for vows and a kiss. If the main activity on Bourbon is drinking or partying, on Royal, it’s shopping (or window-shopping). Several blocks are cordoned off from traffic during the day to allow for easy strolling and access to family-owned antique stores, art galleries, and courtyard cafés; the Court of Two Sisters’s daily jazz brunch buffet is replete with divine Creole delicacies. And if you’re looking for a livelier scene—or are simply in search of a stellar cocktail—pop into R Bar at the Royal Street Inn, and order a frozen pineapple mojito. On Mondays, this joint offers a $10 shot-and-a-haircut deal that locals rave about.
You can soak in great views of the Mississippi River from many of New Orleans’s big attractions—and particularly nice ones from linear waterfront parks, including Crescent and the recently renovated Moonwalk, but for the true river enthusiasts, there’s nothing quite like taking to the water itself. And the Steamboat Natchez, however touristy its dinner and jazz cruises may be, offers a lovely option for exchanging vows while adrift. The only steamboat in the New Orleans area (and one of just two that ply the Mississippi River today), the Natchez, while built in 1975, features a 25-ton white-oak wheel, copper bell smelted from 250 silver dollars, and 32-note custom steam calliope for a boating experience that’s far more historical than hoaky. You can host your ceremony on the deck at sunset against the city skyline then then celebrate into the wee hours by choosing from a variety of food-and-drink packages.
Adjacent to the museum and spanning 11 acres of City Park (thanks to the May 2019 expansion that doubled its size), this manicured space makes for a unique green-yet-glam elopement venue. It pairs the best of the park—a towering collection of mature pines and magnolias, two peaceful lagoons, and scenic pedestrian bridges—with more than 90 sculptures by contemporary artists, several commissioned exclusively for the site. Just take the 60-foot mosaic mural by Teresita Fernandez at the entrance to the garden’s new indoor galley, or, inside this steel structure, Maya Lin’s striking depiction of the Mississippi River in green glass beads. While the garden is free and open to the public seven days a week, a $50 photography permit is required for portraits (and should be purchased online in advance); note that this is separate from the regular City Park photo permit, which is necessary for commercial photos anywhere else on the park’s premises.
You can obtain a marriage license at either the Orleans Parish Marriage License Office at Benson Tower downtown, or the Second City Court of New Orleans in the Historic Algiers Courthouse. In both cases, the two of you will need to be present, or if one must be absent, his or her signature on the application must be separately notarized. That application form can be found online and completed ahead of time. In order for it to be accepted, you’ll both need to present a current driver’s license, state identification card, or passport, along with a certified birth certificate (with a translation attached if it’s not in English). Both of you will be required to provide your social security numbers as well; for those born outside the US, a passport or visa with an I-94 form will work just fine. And if either of you has been previously married, you’ll also need to supply a certified copy of the divorce decree or death certificate of your former spouse.
The fee for the license is $27.50, and it’s valid for 30 days for marriages performed anywhere in the state. After you receive it, you’re required to wait 24 hours to have your ceremony, with a few exceptions: If you are both Louisiana residents, a Judge of the First or Second City Court may waive the waiting period (only during their Monday through Friday hours of operation), and if you’re both non-residents planning to have your ceremony in Orleans parish using a registered Orleans officiant, that person can also waive this restriction. For more information on marriage laws in New Orleans, visit the Louisiana Department of Health website.