New Orleans is on the top three of my all-time favorite American cities. It is filled with so many of my favorite things: great food, great music, art, culture, cool architecture, and plenty of opportunities to dance! This vibrant and fun city is a one of a kind place. , and every time I go back I fall more and more in love with it. In my opinion, it is probably the most unique city in America and is a must for anyone wanting to explore stateside.
So, where to start?
The French Quarter
When most people think of New Orleans their minds probably go straight to Mardi Gras and the chance to dance down the French Quarter to live and loud jazz music trumpeting through the air. And, they would be right! The French Quarter is the first place to go when getting to NOLA. It is the cities oldest neighbourhood and has been deemed as a National Landmark. Mixed with creole cottages, the Spanish and French-style architecture make the Quarter a treat to the senses.
First things first, when you get to the Quarter you just need to take a stroll. Watch, listen, and enjoy! Your senses can quickly get overwhelmed in New Orleans with the multitude of different music playing, the crazy amount of shops, artists, tarot card readers, performers, and more. The smells can be amazing… and awful (This is a party city and some stink comes with it), but it is Worth It! So, slow down, stroll around Jackson Square and take it all in.
And for the love of Pete! If you are getting there early enough, make sure to stop into Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street. There will be a line, but it usually moves quickly and it is totally worth it. The beignets and the cafe au lait are delicious and cheap. Be sure to tip your servers! They are hustlin’ and bustlin’, and they deserve it!
An alternative to Cafe Du Monde is Cafe Beignet which offers up equally delicious beignets and coffee (and more) across several different locations.
After you get your caffeine fix, you have a lot of options for what to do next. You may be tempted to take a gander through the French Market which is just down the street, but I recommend holding off! You won’t want to be carrying around your souvenirs all day, so save it for later.
As I walked around the Quarter, I couldn’t help myself, I had to stop and get my palm read and my tarot cards laid out. It was a little more money than I wanted to spend, but I still think it was a fun experience that you should try at least once.
Do I think it was legit? Ummm. No, but it was still fun.
I stopped and listened to some of the amazing street music, watched dancers and performers and magicians perform, and relaxed into the atmosphere and the unique ambiance of the city. I recommend trying to go in April or May before it gets too hot, or after mid-Septemeber when it cools back down.
The history of New Orleans is enthralling and filled with stories, legends and secrets that are often quite exciting to learn and also a little unnerving. There are walking tours being offered up at almost any corner, and so far for me – you can’t really go wrong. The guides are experts in their city and will dash you all about the place from the cemetery to park to voodoo shop.
So, deciding which tour was difficult for me, because you have to narrow it down to what you really want to see (depending on how much time you have to spend – and how much money) There are food tours, ghost tours, voodoo tours, swamp tours, and plantation tours! Before you go, decide what interests you the most. For me, I knew I wanted to learn more about the mysterious and haunted history that NOLA is so famous for.
My sister’s and I went on a walking tour with Haunted History Tours which included information on ghosts, vampires, witches, voodoo and some of the mind-boggling unsolved mysteries of New Orleans. It took only 2 hours (get ready to walk fast!) and it was a great time. The Big Easy, known as one of the most haunted cities in the world, has a wildly dramatic past filled with tragedy and violence. Starting even before its settlement, there have been fires, massacres, hurricanes, sicknesses, and religious turmoil. While on the tour, our guide tried to cram us full of as much information as she could. I learned so many stories I can’t remember them all now except for the ones involving Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen and the awful Delphine La Laurie.
All in all, the way I see it, you can’t really go wrong. Decide on what interests you the most, and go with it! The next time I go back, I will be trying another one, and I can’t wait! Next time, I will be trying out a plantation tour.
Taking A Riverboat Cruise
The next thing I recommend doing is to take a Riverboat Cruise. After walking around for hours, it feels great to sit back and just enjoy the scenery (and have a drink)! I do recommend the Bloody Marys. They are a one of a kind treat that you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. These particular Blood Marys are filled with spice, lime, olives, pickled okra, celery, grilled shrimp, and even a slice of bacon! Talk about a meal in a cup. I’m all for it.
I have taken both the Natchez Steamboat cruise and the Creole Queen historical cruise. They were both fantastic! They offer food, drinks, live music, and more history lessons! The difference is that the Creole Queen stops at the Chalmette Battlefield which is located on the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. This is highly recommended for any other history buffs out there! It was also a nice way to get away from the noise of the city for a bit and enjoy some of the beautiful southern landscape. The Spanish Moss hanging from the Oak and Cypress trees is something you can only enjoy in the south. It gives the landscape and atmosphere its only special touch.
At the Chalmette Battlefield, we learned that the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 was a historic day for the city of New Orleans and America in general. It was a bloody war that took place after the treaty was signed ending the War of 1812. The battlefield park contains a monument and cemetery that are interesting to learn about and explore. I climbed the 100-foot high monument, a great way to burn some calories!
The Garden District
While in New Orleans, it is an absolute must to take the streetcar down to the Garden District. The St. Charles Streetcar is an iconic part of the New Orleans experience and just an overall fun way to get around.
You can take a guided tour or a self-guided walking tour of the Garden District which is filled with plantation-style homes with manicured gardens. It is known for being an elite residential neighborhood and is lined with picturesque mansions. It was developed in 1832 for the rich Americans who were settling in the city seeking out these particularly extravagant and huge homes. The district is also home to one of the most famous of New Orlean’s cemeteries, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
Not your typical cemetery, with large tree roots rising from the ground and breaking the concrete, watch your step! This cemetery, like many others worth your visit in the Big Easy, is filled with rows of above-ground tombs and commands an entire city block. It holds around a thousand tombs with an estimated seven thousand people buried there. A little bit creepy, but super cool, I really enjoyed walking under the magnolia trees and reading the different gravestones.
The French Market
Filled with food, crafts, arts, and every kind of souvenir you could want, the French Market is a six-block stretch within the French Quarter. Take your time perusing through and grab yourself a drink to go because it’s going to take you awhile to take it all in. An open-air market, the French Market is filled with massive collections of wares from local artisans. There are painters, chefs, photographers, jewelry-makers, and more. You can grab yourself a bite to eat, listen to live street music, and pick out your favorite items to take home.
What To Eat In New Orleans
What to eat, what to eat… Oh, how the food of Nola calls to me. There are just so many foods that I would recommend, it’s hard to even begin. Let’s just list them out:
- Anything Cajun! With a special blending of spice and a nice kick of heat, mix cajun and creole together and you’ve got pure yumminess!
- A Bowl of Gumbo
- A Crawfish Boil – Mudbugs, corn, potatoes, and andouille sausage. Gimme, Gimme!
- Crawfish Etouffee – A Louisiana dish filled with rich, buttery flavor, the Crawfish Etouffee sauce is filled with fresh crawfish tails, herbs, and spices and then piled on top of a bed of white rice.
- Red Beans and Rice! – The classic!
- A Muffuletta! This Sicilian sandwich is a round sesame seed-encrusted bread filled with antipasti and olive salad… salty and delicious!
- Po-Boy! Shrimp on mine, please!
- Oysters. The first time I ever had an oyster was in New Orleans. I had the coolest experience sitting at the bar with my dad with a super bad-ass bartender who helped me work my way from cooked oysters to raw. From Oysters Rockefeller to slurping it straight from the shell, I have learned to love them all!
- GATOR! Blackened or fried, New Orleans is a great place to enjoy some yummy Alligator.
Where To Eat?
Ummm, well, you could just about fall into any hole in the wall in New Orleans and find some darn good eatin’, but here is a list of some of my favorites:
- Get your Muffaletta at the Central Grocery Co.
- Oysters at Acme Oyster
- Try a Banana Foster at Brennan’s
- I had my first turtle soup at the Commander’s Palace.
- Seafood at Oceana Grill
- Enjoy classic Cajun-Creole dishes along with live jazz at New Orleans Creole Cookery
- Red Fish Grill on Bourbon St
- Grab some pralines at Aunt Sallys
The Night Life
The two most popular streets in New Orleans are Bourbon Street or Frenchman Street. Typically Bourbon street is more packed and chaotic at night, and can be just a wee bit scary, but brave it out because it’s got some great spots you need to hit. The Piano Bar in Pat O’Briens serves up their famous Hurricanes. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar has some awesome Daiquiris. Maison’s, the Bourbon Pub Parade, and Bourbon’s Best Bar are all a ton of fun. Take a walk, enjoy the scenery and drinks, and have some fun!
Bourbon Street is nice, but I have to say I do prefer Frenchman Street. It isn’t as crowded and has the best music! It also has some fantastic bars like the Spotted Cat, Maison, and Cafe Negril. It’s got all the best Nola vibes complete with fun and funky street music and dancing.
One of my favorite parts of New Orleans were all the parades! They are great during the day and even more fantastic at night with all the neon lights, upbeat and funky music, and joyful people dancing. Trumpet, saxophone, and trombone players stride their way up and down the dimly lit streets, groups of people laughing and enjoying themselves, everyone is happy and having fun so it is easy to join in.
Whether you have one day or a whole week, you can easily enjoy New Orleans. If you have more time, be sure to visit the multitude of museums and parks, and try as many tours as you can.
I stayed out of the city to save money, but one day I would love to stay right inside the Quarter at any on of the cool hotels. NOLA also has a lot of great AirBnBs to choose from.
The best way to get around in my opinion is to take a Lyft or an Uber. It is a great way to meet locals and learn about what life is like there. I got taken to some of the best local restaurants by asking my drivers as well.
I can’t wait for my next visit where I hope to have more great experiences to share with you.
After a while, Crocodiles!