The Big Easy, The Crescent City, N’awlins. These are all names used for one of America’s liveliest and most unique cities: New Orleans, Louisiana. Straddling the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, there’s no other place quite like it. After being devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city has proudly rebounded and caters to tourists from around the world.
Famous for its wild Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans will host the Super Bowl in 2013 as well as many other festivals throughout the year. During these peak times, you’ll need to book ahead in order to find the best deals on hotels in New Orleans.
The most visited area is the French Quarter. Offering historical sites, shopping, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, the French Quarter is characterized by narrow alleyways, French colonial architecture, and balconies decorated with filigreed ironwork. Plus, at only thirteen by seven blocks, it’s very pedestrian friendly. The heart of the French Quarter is Jackson Square, named for the 7th president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. The landmark St. Louis Cathedral, with its three steeples poking high above the city skyline, faces the square and Mississippi River. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Cabildo, the old city hall where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. And be sure not to miss Café du Monde, located across the street on Decatur Avenue. They’ve been serving up their signature beignets (deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar) and café au lait blended with chicory root since 1862. There’s always a long line out front, but you can’t leave New Orleans without trying them.
New Orleans’ infamously raucous nightlife is centered along Bourbon Street (Rue Bourbon), where most of the bars are concentrated. Favorites like Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, The Cat’s Meow, and The Old Absinthe House are interspersed with voodoo and occult shops, souvenir stores selling Mardi Gras beads, and strip clubs. Of course, you must stop for a famous Hurricane cocktail on the patio at Pat O’Brien’s, located at St. Peter Street right around the corner from Bourbon Street. The cocktail is named for the hurricane lamp-shaped glasses they’re served in and are made of rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice and grenadine and are garnished with a maraschino cherry and orange slice. They’ll knock your socks off for sure!
One of the best ways to see New Orleans only costs $1.25—the fare on the city’s three antique streetcar lines. Take the Canal Street or Riverfront streetcars around the French Quarter or the St. Charles line to the picturesque Garden District for a local’s eye view of this magnificent city. The Garden District features they city’s most gorgeous mansions, many of which are built in Greek revival, Gothic, or plantation styles.
It’s also definitely worth the time to visit Lafayette Cemetery #1, one of the most hauntingly beautiful cemeteries anywhere. Known as “Cities of the Dead,” New Orleans’ cemeteries are built above ground due to the marshy soil and rising floodwaters. The lavish crypts reminded me of Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Just a short drive out of town, visitors to New Orleans can see historic plantations or take a swamp tour too. In fact, visiting the bayou is one of the most popular activities bringing you face to face with local wildlife—including alligators—and providing a look at the culture of the Cajun people who still call the wetlands home.
Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your impressions? Feel free to comment in the section below!