New Orleans is famous for its Southern Charm, lively music, delicious food, and of course we can't forget Mardi Gras. But, what should you do in a city that has so much to offer without getting overwhelmed? Here I'll tell you how to experience the best of New Orleans in five steps.
The French Quarter; established by the French as the original New Orleans colony in 1718, is the place that concentrates most of the things we associate with New Orleans. This neighborhood might be the main draw of New Orleans, but the heart and soul of the French Quarter is Bourbon Street, the party hub of the city.
Walk through the narrow cobblestone streets in the center to see sights like Faulkner House, Jackson Square, and the Cabildo. Street performers, fortunetellers, and pop-up jazz bands can also be seen on the streets on a daily basis.
Should you be into the party scene, then Bourbon Street is the place to be. Head there at night and hop between bars, where you can sample different musical styles that include Jazz, electronic music, and pop music, among others. But, the party doesn't stay in the bars, it actually spills out onto the street where everyone drinks and interacts with people standing on the balconies throwing beads to the crowd or doing other silly stuff (think, Mardi Gras).
Should you not want to be in this crazy scene, you can still have a good night out at Frenchmen Street, where the environment is authentic, charming, lively, and fun, but not as crazy as Bourbon Street.
Take your time to learn more about the city, from its days as a French colony to today, since it will help you appreciate more of what you're seeing and experiencing. Luckily, New Orleans loves to share its history, so you'll see several bits and pieces of historical information placed throughout the city.
The architecture of the French Quarter is also worth admiring, especially due to the distinctive balconies adorned with elaborate baroque ironwork. Walk all along the French Quarter to see the older architectural styles of the city, many of them built with wooden frames up to three stories high. Then head to the Garden District to see some of the Greek Revival houses that make this area distinctively beautiful and world famous.
If you have some free time, also be sure to visit the National WWII Museum. It's a world-class museum that draws on the city's unique ties to the war. It was here that the design and development of the Higgins Boats used on D-Day and other important missions of the war occurred.
And last but not least, you should head to the Lower Ninth Ward, where you can learn more about the tragic history behind hurricane Katrina and how it affected this area, particularly after the levees were breached by the Mississippi River.
Creole food was distinctively created in New Orleans by blending both European and African culinary roots. The food is rich in delicious sauces, local herbs, red ripe tomatoes, and the prominent use of seafood, often caught in local waters. Famous dishes include the jambalaya and the crawfish etouffee, which is served over steaming rice.
But if you're not into seafood, there's also a big culture of mildly spiced chicken, often complemented with biscuits and a side dish of rice or mashed potatoes.
For excellent creole food, I recommend going to Mulates Cajun Restaurant, where you can eat delicious Cajun and creole food in a local southern environment for a reasonable price.
New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz music and it is proud of it. Every day and night of the week, the streets, bars, and clubs all around the city come to life with vibrant jazz music that ranges from traditional jazz to acid jazz, and everything in between.
I personally recommend two places on Bourbon Street where you can listen to some good jazz. During the day, head to Musical Legends Park to sit outside and listen to some good music in a cozy environment, and during the night to Fritzel's European Jazz Pub where you'll hear the Fritzel's Jazz Band play live some amazingly rhythmic tunes, both classics and originals. But, don't just stick to these two places; truth is any place in New Orleans is good for jazz.
While the French Quarter might get most of the attention, you should still spend some time outside it to see more of what New Orleans really has to offer. Take a steamboat cruise to enjoy the experience of traveling in one of the oldest modes of powered maritime transportation, and also to see the city from a different perspective. Head also to the Garden District, which is a calm and picturesque neighborhood full of fancy and opulent mansions built during the 19th century.
You could also see more of nature by heading to the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, which has more than 10 acres of carefully planted tropical fauna; or if you're into wild nature, take a tour to see the famous swamps close to the city.
What's your favorite activity in New Orleans?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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