New Orleans, LA, is known for its colorful Mardi Gras spirit, but this city offers much more than just parades. Its charm attracts visitors year-round for its historic homes, Southern, Cajun, and Creole dining, picturesque parks, and so much more. When traveling from Chicago to New Orleans, you can easily transition from chilly weather to humid heat. Pick up a comfortable full-size sedan from Enterprise to make your road trip comfortable and convenient as you make your way south to this soulful city. Be prepared for the open road by visiting our checklist of road trip essentials.
Drive Time from Chicago to New Orleans: approximately 15 hours
Distance from Chicago to New Orleans: approximately 1,000 miles
Recommended car for this road trip: Full-size sedan
If you're not a native of the Windy City, you'll want to visit some of the city's top highlights before you start your road trip from Chicago to New Orleans. Take a stroll along Navy Pier or explore the art at Millennium Park.
Residents and visitors alike can appreciate an architecture cruise up and down the Chicago River. Sometimes it’s hard to gain an appreciation for the unique and stunning skyline of Chicago without having a guide to tell you how this city became what it is today. No one does it better than the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Day 1: Before you leave town, grab a quick breakfast at Xoco. From acclaimed chef Rick Bayless, Xoco offers authentic, Mexican-inspired dishes in a fast-casual setting. Everything is delicious, but don’t pass up the opportunity to order the wood-oven chilaquiles.
The first leg is the longest of the trip at just over 300 miles and close to five hours. In St. Louis, ride to the top of the iconic Gateway Arch to see the city from a breathtaking spot 630 feet in the air. You'll find a wealth of free attractions at Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. The Saint Louis Zoo (consistently rated one top 10 zoos in the country), Saint Louis Science Center, Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Missouri History Museum are all free of charge, and all found on park grounds.
Nimble adults and kids alike will enjoy City Museum – a 10-story tall building filled inside and outside with all imaginable things to climb on, crawl through, hang from, slide down, run around and more. It's not really a museum; it's more of a massive playground for all ages.
Adults may want to take an Anheuser-Busch brewery tour while in town, or you may want to visit one of the dozens of breweries throughout the city. After all, St. Louis was just awarded the Best Beer Scene 2018 award.
Wind down for the night and grab some dinner at Pastaria, a casual Italian restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft. The menu boasts a blend of traditional dishes like cacio e pepe and Bolognese with unique items like Italian Ramen.
Day 2: Before you leave the Gateway to the West, swing by Vincent Van Donut for some big-as-your-head breakfast treats.
Memphis, TN, is 4 hours south of St. Louis. You'll cover 284 miles on this stretch of the trip. For a quick bite, or lunch, stop at Lambert’s Café, ‘the only home of the throwed rolls’ as you make your way south to the home of Elvis Presley - Graceland. The former home of Elvis is an incredibly popular attraction and for a good reason. The site offers tours of the mansion along with a career museum, automobile museum, and a restaurant. Lines here can get long so give yourself at least a few hours to spend here.
This city has a rich music history with highlights that include the Blues Hall of Fame, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and Memphis Rock ‘n' Soul Museum. You can also visit Sun Studio where many famous musicians launched their careers. Music lovers of nearly all genres can find something to enjoy in this city with almost every attraction grooving to a great beat.
Memphis also houses the National Civil Rights Museum, paying homage to the figures that spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement. This moving museum with give clarity and enlightenment to one of the most important periods in American history. Lastly, The Children's Museum of Memphis caters to kids with highlights such as the Memphis Grand Carousel, earthquake table, Engine House 18, and play-size grocery store.
While you’re in town, plan on getting a drink at the Peabody Hotel and experience the duck parade through the lounge. Is it Kitchy? Yes. Is it memorable? Absolutely.
Any visit to Memphis without grabbing BBQ is not really a visit at all. Try the dry-rubbed ribs at the BBQ Shop for big, bold flavors. Other meal highlights should include dinner at The Beauty Shop, a converted 50s-esque beauty shop where the food shines.
The drive from Memphis to Jackson, MS, takes about three hours and covers more than 200 miles. In Jackson, you'll find plenty to explore, from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science to the Mississippi Museum of Art. Sports fans can check out a collection of Super Bowl MVP trophies, Olympic gold medals, and World Series championship titles at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
Before you hit the road again, grab lunch at one of the city's favorite hot spots such as Mama Hamil’s Southern Cookin’ & BBQ. The restaurant has everything from fried chicken and BBQ ribs to chicken and dumplings.
After another three hours on the road, you'll complete your road trip from Chicago to New Orleans. You can cover the final 200 miles on Interstate 55 South or U.S. Route 49 South and Interstate 59 South. Once you've reached your destination, enjoy highlights such as the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, with a 400,000-gallon tank filled with colorful marine life. The Audubon Zoo houses an award-winning Louisiana Swamp where you can experience local wildlife up close.
Of course, you'll want to spend some time in the French Quarter and get some authentic Creole and Cajun cooking. Make sure you save some room for a stop at Café Du Monde for Beignets and chicory coffee. Sure, it's a tourist spot, but there's a reason everyone goes there; it's delicious. Insider tip: there are multiple locations throughout the city, with the French Quarter spot being by far the busiest. Other iconic dining spots include Commander's Palace, Galatoire's, Brennan's and Dooky Chase Restaurant.
Driving in New Orleans: We advise to limit driving within the French Quarter as parking can be hard to find and streets are narrow and busy with cars, shuttles, and pedestrians. Otherwise though, the city has a good network of highways and major roads laid out as a grid.
If your visit doesn't coincide with Mardi Gras, you can still experience the holiday spirit at Mardi Gras World, a place where the floats are crafted and stored. While in New Orleans, consider taking a swamp boat tour, a ghost tour, or a walk around the National WWII museum. There’s more than enough things to do in New Orleans than you can probably fin in a single visit.