First-timers' guide to New Orleans: 10 do's and don'ts to keep in mind

First-timers' guide to New Orleans: 10 do's and don'ts to keep in mind
Live music on Frenchmen St. is where it's at. Listen in anywhere to find what music is right for you, but it's worth popping into the Blue Nile.

When you think of New Orleans, you probably think of a few things: Mardi Gras, people partying down Bourbon Street and echoes of locals screaming "N'awlins."

But there's a lot more to the city that first-time visitors should keep in mind before journeying to the Big Easy. Remember there's no way you can do it all, but there are steamboat tours, swamp excursions and countless museums and restaurants to check out to fill your time.

If you're just getting started: Here are five things you should do when you visit the city for the first time ― and five things you can do without.

What you should DO in New Orleans

1. DO try all the food you can get your hands on. From po'boys to muffalettas to beignets, the city is known for a wide array of rich, spicy and tasty foods. Book a food tour to get the best of Creole and Cajun cuisine, not to mention everything in between. And if you don't eat a beignet at the original Cafe du Monde, the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week historic coffee stand, did you even visit the city at all?

2. DO schedule spooky time. From voodoo dolls to vampire lore, New Orleans isn't for the faint of heart. Those brave enough to go on a ghost tour, visit a voodoo shop or browse a vampire boutique will get their scary Southern Gothic fix in no time. Be sure to watch the Kate Hudson-starring "The Skeleton Key" for some inspiration, or the first few seasons of "True Blood."

3. DO walk down Frenchmen Street. A night on Frenchmen Street means popping (and bopping!) in and out of live music venues. Let the jazz, blues and rock sounds guide your night from bar to bar and take in the musical culture.

4. DO gallivant in the Garden District. The architecture all over the city is stunning and unlike anything else in the United States (looking at you, French Quarter), but don't sleep on the Garden District. As surprise travel agency Pack Up + Go put it: "As you stroll in the shade, you'll pass sprawling mansions, manicured gardens and quaint residential streets."

5. DO find a good spot to view the Mississippi River. There's a lot to look at and explore within the city itself. But there's nothing quite like gazing out at the vast body of water. Across from Jackson Square, you can get one gorgeous view of the river on one side and a look at St. Louis Cathedral on the other.

What you DON'T need to do in New Orleans

1. DON'T plan an entire night out on Bourbon Street. Revelers abound along the bustling, infamous party street in the French Quarter ― but that hardly means it's worth partaking in for too long. Check it out earlier in the evening before it gets too rowdy, especially if you're not the partying type. And if you are: Be safe and aware of your surroundings.

2. DON'T spend your whole day out in the heat. Keep in mind that scorching temperatures and severe rainfall are New Orleans mainstays in the summer. But if you wind up there sweating, schedule some cool-off time at a pool or anywhere that has air conditioning.

3. DON'T get your palm read by the first person you see advertising it. If you want to get your palm read, we won't tell you how to live your life. But there will be many opportunities to do so, so do your due diligence before picking a random street vendor.

4. DON'T go to Cafe du Monde first thing in the morning. While it's worth the wait, it's better to go during nighttime off hours to eat your powdered sugar-covered beignets in peace.

5. DON'T eat spicy food if you're already not a fan. Hot sauce and spicy dishes abound in the city. At Pepper Palace in the French Quarter, for example, you need to sign a waiver before trying one of their hot sauces. If this doesn't sound like something you'd enjoy, don't take the risk just to take the risk.