There are 196 countries in the world and hundreds of thousands of places to visit.
How do you choose where to go to next? The ‘Why You Should Visit’ series will reveal the key things a city is known for, so you can quickly decide if it’s a place that appeals to you.
The series kicks of with with the Southeastern Louisiana city beside the mighty Mississippi river: New Orleans. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the locals have made it their mission to rebuild and restore the city to its former glory. It’s a place that I instantly fell in love with and would go back to in a heartbeat.
To paint the picture…
Your nostrils will flare as you inhale the Cajun spices rising through air and your fingers will click in sync with the street jazz band’s hypnotic beat. Without even realising it, your body will be dancing to the tune of the Big Easy. Welcome to New Orleans – a city that will dazzle you with its vibrant culture and colourful idiosyncrasies. Whatever you want – you can find it here. From art galleries to street markets, to antiques shops, bars, music venues and quirky architecture.
In a nutshell
- Nicknames: NOLA, The Big Easy, The Crescent City
- 3 words to sum it up: Jazz, Creole, Voodoo
- 3 famous people from here: Ellen DeGeneres, Harry Connick, Jr, Louis Armstrong
- 3 famous foods: Beignets, Jambalaya, Gumbo
- 3 must-see places: Bourbon Street, Cafe Du Monde, Jackson Square
- Notable Festivals: Mardi Gras (February-March), New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (April – May), Voodoo Music Festival (October)
- Perfect for: Foodies, music lovers, culture vultures, history buffs, lovers of all things esoteric…an all rounder!
- Famous Sports Teams: New Orleans Saints (NFL), New Orleans Pelicans (NBA)
- Often described as: ‘The most unique city in USA/the birthplace of Jazz’
- Weather in brief: February to May has the best weather, June-August is very humid, August-September is the height of hurricane season, September-January varies, with more mild spells.
- Famous quote to sum it up: ‘If I could put my finger on it, I’d bottle it and sell it. I came down here originally in 1972 with some drunken fraternity guys and had never seen anything like it — the climate, the smells. It’s the cradle of music; it just flipped me. Someone suggested that there’s an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.’ - John Goodman, Actor
Whether it’s a jovial saxophonist playing on the street or a soulful singer leaning over her wrought iron balcony, there’s never a dull moment and music is everywhere. Whether you’re a fan of jazz, blues, cajun, rock or even folk music, you will always be able to find your favourite genre here. If you’re wondering where to find the best music, Frenchman Street and Bourban Street are the places to discover jazz bars, street performers, and live music venues. The Preservation Hall Jazz Club is one of the most well-known historic jazz clubs. For Dixieland jazz in a German beer hall themed setting, check out Fritzel’s and for jazz and blues in a luxurious setting, check out Sweet Lorraine’s. When you’re out on the town, be sure to try one of the legendary Hurricane cocktails at Pat O’Briens on Bourbon Street. If you can, try and plan your trip at the same time as one of the big festivals such as Mardi Gras, Jazzfest or Voodoo Festival to get the full hit of the Big Easy experience.
Photo of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
This is a city known for it’s cuisine – two words can sum it up; cajun and creole. New Orleans has a strong culinary legacy and New Orleanians are proud of their gastronomical prowess. Café du Monde (established in 1862) is New Orleans’ most famous café which offers the signature dish of beignets (french doughnuts). These are delicious crispy dough pillows covered with mountains of powdered sugar.
Photo of Beignets at Café du Monde
Some of the other traditional New Orleans dishes you must try are:
- Gumbo – a mix of okra, stock, onions and celery served over rice, with either meat or seafood (check out Dooky Chase’s restaurant for legendary gumbo that has been served up since the 1950s).
- Jambalaya – a classic New Orleans stew with sausage, vegetables, spices, seafood and long grain rice. (Head to Coop’s Place).
- Po-boy – a huge sandwich piled high with a deli meat and topped with a special gravy. (Try Johnny’s Po-Boys).
- Shrimp Creole – shrimp mixed with peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery and spices. (Head to Pascal’s Manale restaurant).
- Pralines – sugar coated, nutty goodness. (Succumb to your sweet cravings at Southern Candymakers).
To sample what many claim to be the most delicious fried chicken in America, head to Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and for fine dining, check out Brennan’s.
Photo of an authentic New Orleans Po-boy shrimp sandwich
The French Quarter is a lovely place to shop – if you’re a bookworm, you’ll find dozens of great bookshops, including Crescent City Books and Kitchen Witch for all your culinary reading material. Royal Street and Chartres Street are the places to find great antiques and furniture shops. Magazine Street has an eclectic mix of unique shops selling antiques, artwork and vintage gear too. The French Market is an open air mall with 5 blocks of speciality shops and a flea market.
Photo of antiques shop on Royal Street
Magic and mysticism are a strong part of New Orleans’ culture and it’s commonly referred to as the most haunted city in America. The French Quarter is thriving with psychics, tarot readers, tea readers, palm readers, voodoo temples and shrines. There’s an intense energy and buzz everywhere you go. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a ghost hunter, you’ll love that paranormal element of New Orleans. The city is notorious for its hauntings and there are several ghost tours you can go on. If you like the idea of staying in a haunted hotel, ‘Le Pavillon’ is the place to look out for. It was built in 1907 and if you stay there, you’ll get a paranormal investigation report when you check-in. Another building famous for being haunted is LaLaurie Mansion. If you fancy a tarot reading, be sure to check out ‘Bottom of the Cup Tea Room’ and if you want to learn more about the world of Voodoo, go to Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo or The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple.
Photo of Le Pavillon Hotel
You can’t help but admire the diverse architecture that New Orleans has to offer. The styles vary from colourful creole cottages in the French Quarter to shotgun townhouses in the Upper Audubon neighbourhood and elegant mansions in the Garden District. The plethora of different architectural styles reflects the city’s multi-cultural heritage and it’s a delight to walk around areas such as Jackson Square, where you can see the famous St. Louis Cathedral.
Photo of St. Louis Cathedral
- Go on a late night Vampire/Cemetery/Voodoo or Ghost Tour. The maze-like above ground cemeteries are called the ‘cities of the dead’.
– Go for a Steamboat Cruise
- Plantation Tour
– Carriage tour of the French Quarter
Photo of Steamboat Cruise
The Warehouse/Arts District is a great place to museum-hop and gallery-hop. Must-see museums include the World War II Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Louisiana State Museum.
Photo of World War II Museum
Without doubt, the thing that makes New Orleans special is the people – they are so warm and welcoming. There’s definitely a reason why the phrase ‘Southern hospitality’ exists. Everyone I met had such a good sense of humour and one of the highlights of my trip was watching soul singer Bobby Rush perform at Jazzfest. I dare you to watch his performance and not smile, Kim Kardashian eat your heart out…
So, if you are looking for somewhere to relax, let your hair down, listen to music, eat wonderful food and admire the architecture – New Orleans is the place to be. I had a tarot reading while I was there and these three lines of advice stuck with me:
“The sins of this world are not the things you do, it’s the things you don’t do.”
“Don’t doubt yourself…ever. At least give it your best try, and your best try might be magnificent.”
“All you have to have is the idea and the desire – and when you know you can do something, you can’t fail.”
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