Maybe the most underrated city of Southern USA. In past years, New Orleans has been known as being one of the most dangerous cities in America, riddled with street violence and theft. But the tables have been turning recently, with more and more people travelling to the Louisiana town and falling in love with it’s unique characteristics and charm.
It’s an up-and-coming hot spot for anyone travelling to USA, so to help with you’re planning here’s a few of the things that should definitely be on your to-do list.
In this post:
Stay in the French Quarter
For the New Orleans that you’ve seen in movies, pictures and magazine’s you’re probably thinking about the French Quarter. It is the heart and soul of New Orleans, with beautiful historic buildings and a distinctly French vibe.
It is the site of the original New Orleans settlers, established by the French in 1718. Staying in the French Quarter puts you in easy walking distance of many great restaurants and cafes, as well as shops, museums and art galleries.
Visit Café du Monde
The infamous Café du Monde is an open air coffee shop on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, offering coffee and beignets. Pronounced ben-YAY, the square French-style doughnuts covered in sugar are the only food served at the cafe.
Established in 1862 this casual dining place is pretty up there on every list of can’t miss experiences in New Orleans. The cafe is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, closing only on Christmas, so you have plenty of time to get there. Image found here.
Explore the Garden District
The Garden District is about 5km away from the French Quarter and is the place to have a snoop at some of the city’s most beautiful homes. The historical residential neighbourhood is covered in trees, ivy and gardens and is a beautiful place to wander around and experience New Orleans life.
The Garden District reaches from St. Charles Street to Magazine Street (and from Jackson Avenue to Louisiana Avenue) and is super easy to get to with the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar.
Listen to jazz on Frenchmen Street
While most people have heard of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and make a beeline for it on their first night out, the real hot spot is Frenchmen Street. This four-block stretch of live music, bars, restaurants, night clubs and art galleries is a hot spot for locals and a more authentic NOLA experience.
Everything seems better on Frenchmen Street – there are fewer crowds, cheaper food and drinks and better music. What are you waiting for?! Image found here.
Drink take away cocktails in the street
Yep yep, I don’t know if you’ve heard but in New Orleans you can buy take away cocktails and drinks. WHAT?! You can legally drink in the streets and it is widely accepted. I’m not such a big drinker that I would do that on the reg, but the novelty was not lost on me in NOLA.
For some amazing cocktails you could check out a Pimm’s Cup at the Napoleon House, a Vieux Carre at the Carousel Bar, a Grasshopper at Tujague’s or a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Empire Bar.
Try and find a ghost on a cemetery tour
I’m not 100% sure why, but the cemeteries in New Orleans are a really big deal, with people coming from all over America to take a cemetery tour. Most of the tombs in these cemeteries – also know as cities of the dead – are all above the ground, to protect them from rising water levels and many of them are decorated and embellished.
Some of the cemeteries around NOLA are home to some very unique characters, including Marie Laveau the infamous Voodoo Queen. Guided tours generally cost $15 to $20 per person, but are the safest way to experience these cemeteries as many of them are in dangerous neighbourhoods.
Experience a jazz dinner cruise on the Mississippi River.
Kick back, relax, and experience the best that New Orleans has to offer on Steamboat Natchez. Offering both dinner and daytime jazz cruises, why not experience something different with incredible views of the skyline, traditional seafood and beautiful jazz tunes performed by the Grammy-nominated Dukes of Dixieland.
Take a ride on a streetcar
As a Melbournian, we didn’t completely understand why the New Orleans street cars were such a big attraction. To be honest, aren’t they just like the trams that run all over Melbourne’s CBD? It didn’t feel like that big a deal. But never the less, they were super cute and added a little something to the regular city streets of New Orleans. If you’ve never experienced a tram or streetcar before I would suggest a ride, but from my point of view I just enjoyed taking photos of them!
Have dinner at Galatoire’s
Open for over one hundred years, Galatoire’s is the absolute classic quintessential New Orleans restaurant. A favourite restaurant for locals to celebrate special occasions, the wait staff at Galatoire’s have seen everything and feel more like family when you arrive. Make sure you pack an upscale outfit for your visit here (jackets for boys) and make a reservation in advance to avoid disappointment. You can check out their menu here.
Feel the sugar rush that comes from an iconic Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s
It might be a little but cheesy and touristy, but Pat O’Brien’s can’t be missed during your time in NOLA. At the end of the prohibition in 1933, Pat O’Brien converted his speakeasy into a great drinking establishment which has now become an iconic hot spot in the French Quarter. Their signature drink – The Hurricane – was created during World War II and is a bright red fruity rum cocktail that has really become an icon of New Orleans.
Visit Mardi Gras World
Unfortunately, due to slightly rushed planning (and not properly checking dates before booking flights) we arrived in New Orleans two days after Mardi Gras. I was shattered, New Orleans is said to be the best place in USA to experience this iconic festival.
While we enjoyed the aftermath of the parade, including streets lined with trees, fences and houses covered in beads and decorations, if you miss the actual celebrations you can always soak up the atmosphere at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.
Offering a peek at some of the flamboyant floats and costumes used during the parade. It’s actually a workshop, with floats are always being worked on and updated for the next celebration, and you can take a tour right through the mountains of props to soak up all the atmosphere.
Check out Jackson Square
In the middle of the French Quarter is Jackson Square, with a statue of Andrew Jackson in the centre, St Louis Cathedral overlooking him and a boho collection of artists and fortune tellers around it’s gates. It is best viewed from across the street by the Mississippi River (as seen in the picture above) as the higher decks offer you the perfect photo opportunity. Why not take a horse and cart around the historical heart and soul of NOLA while you’re here.