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New Orleans is the country's most quixotic city. A stroll through New Orleans will usher you through time, with remnants of the city's French Colonial history still standing today, almost 200 years after the Louisiana Purchase. At the same time, the city doesn't dwell on the past, as the Central Business District is where you'll find modern buildings, upscale hotels and posh restaurants.
St. Charles Avenue is the city's major artery, linking the French Quarter, the Garden District and Uptown. The country's oldest running streetcar runs along St. Charles, sparking thoughts of Tennessee Williams' classic play, A Streetcar Named Desire, which was set in New Orleans.
Of course, at no time does the city loom larger in the world's collective conscience than during Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Beads become more valuable than diamonds, and the city throws itself into a hedonistic frenzy in celebration of the last day before Lent.
The French Quarter sums up New Orleans better than anywhere else. While Bourbon Street is replete with bars, clubs, and a general "anything goes" atmosphere, you'll also some of the city's most striking architecture, such as the solemn and beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. New Orleans laissez-faire attitude among quaint streets and colonial homes makes for the perfect combination of old and new, strict and indulgent. New Orleans is at once approachable and mysterious.
From street corner nook cafés, the sugary aroma of powdery-sweet beignets and bold, chicory-flavored coffee wafts through the streets. The sweet sound of bluesy jazz intoxicates the warm air, seducing those within earshot. Sunday morning strangers strike up conversations in a Southern drawl too musical to come from anywhere but the Bayou. That’s New Orleans, Louisiana. Though the rhythm of the city may have changed a bit since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, the Big Easy is nowhere close to giving up. Still a mighty, seductive festival for the senses, New Orleans is a people’s city kept afloat by the unwavering passion of her longtime residents and guests.
In a city as magical as New Orleans, you're bound to discover a lot on your own just by looking around, but the most obvious place to start is in the French Quarter. At the heart of the quarter is Jackson Square, which bustles with street performers, musicians, and artists. The Louisiana State Museum oversees three important properties in the area. Start at the Presbytere, which has been transformed from an old priest's home into a Mardi Gras museum. From there, saunter over to the Cabildo, where you can examine reams of historic documents and artifacts. Don't miss Napoleon's death mask; there are only two others like it in the world! Finally, check out the the 1850 House which is an antebellum structure has preserved that been preserved to give visitors a sense of what life was like in the mid-19th century.
Amid all of the madness of the French Quarter lies the city's spiritual center. St. Louis Cathedral stands as a reminder to the city that there is more to life than all-night parties. Free tours of this magnificent old church are conducted daily. Another church-related attraction is the Old Ursuline Convent, with guided tours that detail the history of the only remaining building from New Orleans days as a French colony.
The Central Business District, or the CBD, is west of the French Quarter. This is where you'll find the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. The aquarium is home to hundreds of marine animals, including a 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit. Near the Aquarium, the Woldenberg Riverfront Park is an excellent place to enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the Mississippi River. The CBD is also home to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where you can catch the NFL's New Orleans Saints play. If you are in town around New Year's Day, don't miss the Sugar Bowl, one of the best bowl games in college football. North of the CBD is Mid-City. This is where you'll find New Orleans best art museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art. While you're there, take a relaxing afternoon to visit the beautiful Sculpture Garden, home to fifty-three sculptures.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau is an excellent resource for visitors. The bureau handles thousands of tourists every year, but they still manage to make each and every visitor feel important. You can find maps and brochures here, as well as suggested itineraries.
Because there is so much to see and do in New Orleans, you might consider consolidating your precious time by taking an organized tour. There are lots of tour companies to choose from. If you want to be driven around town, try the Gray Line bus tour. If you're not tired of the water, take a riverboat tour of the city on the Mississippi River. New Orleans Paddlewheels offers a cruise aboard the Creole Queen and is just one of many excellent boat tour operators in town. Lastly, you can take a walking tour that covers points of interest in the French Quarter. Historic New Orleans Tours is one of the more popular walking tour organizers.
The French Market is along Decatur Street in the French Quarter. There are a bunch of interesting shops clustered here, along with some excellent restaurants. In the Central Business District, Riverwalk Marketplace is an indoor mall with over two hundred shops. Nearby Canal Place is home to almost fifty upscale boutiques. In the Warehouse District, Julia Street is where most of the local artists peddle their wares. Some of the best antique stores in the country can be found in the French Quarter. The French Antique Shop is housed in a three-story building and contains some excellent pieces that would complement any living room.
There is no such thing as after hours in New Orleans, as the streets are alive 24 hours a day. The French Quarter is where you will want to spend most of your time after dinner, as the famous Bourbon Street more than lives up to its name. Among the more popular Bourbon Street hangouts are the Storyville District and Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. If you want to dance until the sun comes up, try the Howlin' Wolf in the Warehouse District. Take in some cool jazz at hole-in-the-wall Snug Harbor while having a locally brewed Abita beer or head over to the famous House of Blues on Decatur Street for some blues, soul or rock ‘n’ roll done in that distinctive New Orleans style.
From street cars and ferries to riverboats and swamp tours, simply traveling around in New Orleans is an experience that can capture your kids' imagination. Algiers Ferry runs from near the aquarium across the Mississippi River to the Algiers neighborhood and is free for pedestrians. Of course, it wouldn't be a trip to New Orleans without hopping on a streetcar; something teens may particularly enjoy, especially if they've read "A Streetcar Named Desire." The city's three streetcar lines go from Canal Street near the French Quarter up St. Charles and S. Carrollton to S. Claiborne; from Esplanade along the river to the Convention Center; and from Canal near the Ferry landing up to City Park Avenue.
Aside from travel, other family-friendly options include the Louisiana Children's Museum; Audubon Zoo, which has a carousel and a free playground; and the Audubon Insectarium, a creepy-crawly haven for kids. The Presbytere on Jackson Square also houses a Carnival and Mardi Gras exhibit.
New Orleans is an absolute culinary phenomenon. Creole and Cajun staples converge with Southern cuisine, with touches of French, Spanish, Italian, Afro-centric, and Native American influences, in a way that makes a gourmet meal out of a lunch counter po’ boy or a muffuletta sandwich, or a steaming plate of crawfish étouffée.
In the French Market, Café du Monde is famous for their beignets, an artery-clogging New Orleans conglomeration made of fried dough dipped in powdered sugar. Try not to fill up on beignets, otherwise you'll miss some fantastic dinner opportunities.
The French Quarter is full of excellent restaurants, serving the best in French and Creole cuisine. Arnaud's always fills up fast, so make sure to reserve a table. For great Creole food, Bayona is hard to beat. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen is a wonderful restaurant, featuring great food in a delightful atmosphere. Especially memorable dishes include the Pan-Fried Veal Lafourche and the Bronzed Swordfish. Brennan’s is a famed fine-dining restaurant where visitors can enjoy a French-inspired breakfast, lunch or dinner among the magnolia trees in the courtyard.
Oyster lovers will revel in the menu at the Acme Oyster House. Not only do their master shuckers serve up a perfect oyster on the half shell (or prepared any other way imaginable), they also tend to keep guests coming back for their jokes. For some of the tastiest (and moderately priced) Creole cuisine in town, check out the Gumbo Shop. On this menu, gumbo is king, and can be made with Andouille sausage, chicken or seafood.
Famed chef Emeril Lagasse has several restaurants in New Orleans. Among them are Nola, home to a variety of delicious Creole entrees, and Emeril's Restaurant, which features tremendous seafood and meat dishes in an engaging, modern atmosphere.
The Historic Voodoo Museum is a fascinating place where tourists can learn about this form of spiritual expression that was brought to the area by slaves. Or, take an eerie adventure with a Vampire Walking Tour that dives into the dark and mysterious world of the undead history of New Orleans.
New Orleans has a sub-tropical climate with hot, humid summers and mild winters. The average low for winter stays around 43° F, but can reach highs of 65° F. Not only are the summer months the hottest (with average highs of 91° F), but are also the wettest, with hurricane season lasting until well into September. You'll find the best weather in the fall, with daytime temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s, and humidity is low. Hotel prices during Mardi Gras in mid-late February and Jazz Fest in late March/early May will spike, as the city enjoys a large influx of visitors.
Cruise ships dock at the Port of New Orleans, the second-largest port in America. There is access to the rest of the city by bus or taxi from the port.
Since many tourist destinations are centralized, it is entirely possible to do most of your transportation in New Orleans on foot. A ferry travels between Algiers and the Canal Street Wharf. Buses and taxis will take you to any major tourist attraction in town. If you can't hail a cab on the street, call United Cabs And for you Blanche DuBois fans, you can still take a streetcar to see everything you desire.
Store hours: Stores are typically open Monday through Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm. Restaurants and bars are open late, with some watering holes in the French Quarter open 24 hours.
Tipping: All service professionals (waiters, taxi drivers, etc.) expect a 15% to 20% tip for good service.
Safety: New Orleans has a reputation for violent crime and petty theft, though most of the problems are manifested away from the regular tourist spots. Use common sense when wandering around the French Quarter, especially after dark, and use caution when traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood on foot. See Cruiseable's safety tips for cruise passengers.
Have you been to New Orleans? Please share a story, tip or discovery. What was the highlight? Have you had your first beignet yet?
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“With a large Vietnamese population, New Orleans has never lacked for high-quality Southeast Asian food. But the year-old Mint Modern Bistro & Bar (5100 Freret St.) presents Vietnamese food with a stylish twist in a space with chandeliers and a generous drink selection.”
“Congo Square: In the early days, Africans, both slave and free, danced and made music here on Sundays, helping to maintain a cultural continuity between Africa, the Caribbean, and New Orleans. Today, important festival and rallies take place in and around Congo Square.”
“The Big Easy was voted number one for live music, cocktail lounges, singles scene and wild weekends. Here, a few new and classic spots for when you hit the town. Make your base the historic Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, steps from the French Quarter. Move east to the Bywater for steamed mussels with chorizo at Bacchanal before swinging over to Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse, which is bringing an upscale vibe back to Bourbon Street.”
“Head to the frescoed Grill Room at the recently revamped Windsor Court Hotel, for andouille-and-crayfish omelettes and some of the city's best beignets.”
“Shaya is at the top of the list food writers offer to friends visiting the city, and locals remain starry-eyed over Alon Shaya’s freshly baked pita and foie gras scented with rose and carob molasses.”
“New Orleans is not about to forget the nightmare that was Katrina — not that it could. Ten years out, along with the swamp tours, cemetery tours, plantation tours, French Quarter tours, food tours, riverboat tours and haunted tours(attend a voodoo ritual!), tourists can view, for a fee, what remains of the devastation.”
“Willie Mae's Scotch House: Willie Mae Seaton opened this local institution in the 1960s, and now it's run by her great-granddaughter. The fried chicken is made with a wet batter, which gives it a unique crust. At lunchtime, expect a line down the street.”