There are some words that we find define New Orleans very well. Not perfectly, there are no exact adjectives you can use to perfectly define the Crescent City that this year celebrates its 300 birthday.
But we seem to repeat these adjectives when talking about the people and the city they so dearly love: warm, indulgent, joyous, devoted, caring, grateful, imaginative, surprising, relentless, resilient.
If you had no previous knowledge of New Orleans and were dropped into the city, you’d likely think you are on a Caribbean Island. The culture, the food, the architecture, the weather, the flora – they all are something else than many areas of the US. That is maybe a little surprising to many as mainstream culture has swept through the continent within the last century and decades pretty strong. Here, not that much.
As we accidentally ended up visiting Chalmette Battle Field and the Cemetery by the Mississippi River, just about 20 minutes from the French Quarter, we learned a lot about one of last, big Civil War battle. Thinking back of the possible scenario of the English troops winning, them making their way through the French Quarter – this city would definitely be something else.
Until the late 1800’s more people arrived from different parts of the world than from other parts of the US. New Orleans was a city built on a somewhat challenging swampland, a city far away from the big cities of those days. New Orleans was (and still is) an important port city, global goods and people moving upstream and downstream the Big Muddy.
No wonder the less honest individuals, con artists, hustlers, fools, smugglers, scammers, pirates, pimps and swindlers were lured here.
New Orleans has experienced devastation many times during it’s 300 years of history. Although hurricane Katrina and the after math was the worst that the city had seen for years, the banks of Mississippi River are no strangers to pirate attacks, numerous natural disasters, horrible diseases wiping away residents one by one.
The adjectives listed earlier, they tell a lot about the people who’ve despite the hardships been able to gaze into the future, concentrate on the windows opening as doors close rather than get wrapped in bitterness and grief.
Traditions like the jazz funerals, we think, are one of the manifestations of this attitude. Life is never just high C’s or sad tunes. It’s a combo of things.
We’ve been here in the July swelter, the pleasant April warmness and the almost too hot October. Regardless of the weather, there are plenty of things to explore. We still have many yet to explore, but here is our suggestion for four days in New Orleans. And by the way: you don’t necessarily need a car here and the airport is just about 30 minutes from French Quarter.
If you come for the first or even the second time, you may want to hang around with no fuss and book a room in or within a walking distance of the French Quarter. No matter what those who want you to avoid Bourbon say.
You will not find this kind of an entertainment area, that still is also a residential neighborhood, almost anywhere. Check in, check your room and head for a breakfast.
We warmly suggest Curio on Royal Street. Start your day with a Bloody Mary while waiting for the tasty and delicious NOLA Benedict (instead of the ham, you’ll get cajun style, slow roasted and spiced pulled pork). Our drinks were pleasantly spicy, along with the lime and the stuffed green olive you had nice, garlicy green beans making the drink more or less an appetizer.
After finding your way to the official Visitors Bureau, getting great tips for your days in the city, picking up the latest map & a bunch of interesting brochures and a self guided tour map for the Vieux Carré moments, head to the closest stop of the Hop on-Hop off bus.
This may be one of the best ways to map yourself and understand the geography of New Orleans. You may want to opt for a several day pass, because the first day driving around the whole city brings you onto the map and after that, you can understand which attractions to see the following days. Which you need the bus for and which might work with a street car as well?
By the end of your day it’s afternoon and well, it’s time for some lunch and some Vieux Carré fun. If you didn’t know, this part of the city is pretty much alive around the clock. Opt for something very New Orleans: if you feel like getting the most of the bars (not eating too much), you might want to find a Lucky Dogs hotdog wagon. The only fast food kinda option here has several moving sellers around.
Or pop in to any of the restaurants and try their Muffuletta, P’Boy or have a hearty serving of Crawfish Étouffée. If you hop off the bus on Canal Street, head to Creole House for the latter. A perfect place to have your first encounter with the very typical comfort food.
Have fun wandering around, that is what this area is all about. Stop at the bars and if you travel as a couple, you’re likely to love all those Happy Hours with 2 for 1. Listen to the various bands inside the bars and out on the streets, chill out.
If you had a long day, accompanied with all those travel hours, you my feel like getting some well deserved beauty sleep pretty early the first night. Or not. But if you do, have your night snack at the Bourbon Street Pizza Works. Oh Dear God, divine slices.
Start your day at the oldest coffee house in New Orleans, Café du Monde (eat. 1862). If you first walk behind the house you can sneak peek how the super sweet, sugary beignets are made. Order one and a cup of chicory coffee, made of the root of endive.
Don’t hurry, sit here, look at the people and listen to the music – usually there are musicians outside the café at any time of the day. Depending of the time of your Mississippi cruise you’re going to board today, stroll around Jackson Square before or after the cruise. Take photos of St Louis Cathedral and admire the street artists. If you have time, go explore the French Market as well.
You have surely booked your cruise for the cruise on the Big Muddy? If you want a real steam boat experience, opt for the Steamboat Natchez.
If you saw the city with a bus the day before, this trip will take you to the river and let you understand more of the importance of the waterway.
You may spot the Creole Queen paddle wheeler docked while cruising, you can actually visit the very interesting Chalmette Battlefield this way. But Creole Queen is no longer a steam boat. Antways, check the cruise times in advance and choose if you want to have a lunch here or not. Natchez has live jazz and the cruise host tells interesting stories along the way. You have a full bar, snacks available and a shop to purchase those essential souvenirs to take back home.
After the cruise, If you had no lunch, you may want to have some before heading to some of the famed museums or getting into the party mood again. Try the Jax Brewery next to the steamboat dock, the old brewery building (brewed 1891 ’till 1970’s). Jax is a home to a number of restaurants, don’t go to the food court if you can choose. For some awesome sea food and oysters, find your way to the Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, across the corner of the Jackson Square. We sat there during a crazy rain storm and the service was awesome. Or if you didn’t have time to pop into the French Market before the cruise, go enjoy some lunch there – fresh produce, eateries, exotic drinks, shops and a Flea Market will keep you entertained.
New Orleans is all about letting your hair down and following your instincts. From your lunch choose to head to museums, Royal Street or Canal Place shopping. Or what about really doing nothing? Just hanging around, walking the streets, popping in, having drinks, having laughs, learning about the people around you.
Find the Museum of the Dead and visit those Voodoo shops to learn more about the eerie history of the city. You can actually book different late night Haunted New Orleans Tours if you want to have an understanding of the other side of the city. But this might also be the perfect night to dive into Pat O’Brians the first time. The home of the Hurricane drink is also the home of the dueling pianos and a lot of fun. You will return, we believe.
When you walk through the streets to where ever you’re staying at and see gas lights, think of Bevolo. They’re the oldest and the largest of the hand-crafted lights in America. They have shops at the French Quarter.
Today you’ll choose which sights you want to see (based on your bus tour and in addition to those you saw already). You may still have a hop on-hop off ticket, but you also have the street cars to take you to places. But if you can’t decide, follow our suggestions.
First thing in the morning, go wander around the Garden District. Take your photos of those lavish mansions and enjoy a cup of coffee. If you’re fan of filming locations, New Orleans has plenty of them. One of them is from American Horror Stories series, the massive 1856 Buckner Mansion on 1410 Jackson Avenue was used as Miss Robicheuaux’s Academy.
Later the day visit the Mardi Gras World. The guided tour takes about an hour and we warmly recommend it. At the beginning there’s a documentary film on Mardi Gras, accompanied by tasting of the famous King Cake.
As you follow the guide around the vast industrial working spaces, learn about the festival, it’s history and the present. See the artists at work and admire the massive styrofoam and fibre glass figurines and props, floats and start dreaming of your Mardi Gras season visit to the city. Big time.
Take the street car back to Canal Street.
There are over 1,400 restaurants in New Orleans, for lunch you could head to enjoy some local specialities at Deanie’s Seafood on 841 Iberville Street, not far away from Canal Street. How about some hearty gumbo, crawfish bisque or étouffée? A seafood platter, stuffed crabs or a Bayou Seafood salad?
You can visit one of the cemeteries, Lafayette Cemetery no. 1, in the Garden District during your morning stroll, but after lunch you could also head to St. Louis Cemetery no.1. This is the most famous cemetery, located just off the French Quarter in Tremé and the Canal Street street car takes you pretty near if you don’t want to walk after the lunch. These days, you’ll have to pay for touring along with a guide to get in as this particular City of the Dead is very popular among visitors.
Pretty near is the park dedicated to Satchmo, the ”Founding Father of Jazz”. A corner of Louis Armstrong Park is called Congo Square, in 1800’s the slaves spent their Sundays here enjoying time off. Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is said to have used the square for her worship rituals as well.
It’s time for some afternoon drinks. Why not try something very New Orleans once again: a Sazerac or something with Southern Comfort? Hotel Montleone’s carousel bar could be exactly what you need after the time spent among the deceased. At their lobby bar you’re literally in a carousel! Or try some local brews at Ole Saint Kitchen & Tap House, you find both on Royal Street.
And then, take a nap or head for the entertainment venues. How about Harrah’’s Casino? Game a little and when you feel like having some dinner, there are various excellent options inside the casino, next to Harrah’s hotel and nearby. Try the Harrah’s buffet or the world famous Acme at the casino or head to Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant, Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Grand Isle Seafood.
Dedicate one day for a trip beyond city limits. Maybe you don’t have a car, but book an excursion for this day or any of the days and schedule activities accordingly. To understand the history of this area and it’s crucial importance in the history of the United States, plantation tours are an excellent choice. We’ve been to Houmas House & Plantation, which is a bit further away, but there are several tours to plantations nearer to the city. This trip will take more than half of your day.
Another fun destination could be the Global Wildlife Center. This is “the largest totally free-roaming preserve” in the USA with “over 4,000 exotic, endangered, and threatened animals from all over the world.” You can take a private tour or join others on a wagon tour. Remember to buy a full bucket of snacks for the animals, you’ll be so sad if you only buy one small cup as the deer, antelope, llamas, giraffes, zebras and other friends come around in huge herds. The last tour starts at 2 PM, make sure to check the driving times if you plan to visit on your own.
Go to your favourite places when back in New Orleans if this is the last night, safe travels if you head back home.