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New Orleans Tavel: Ten Plus Things To Do in the City

Updated on August 18, 2009
Mardi Gras by bcostin
Mardi Gras by bcostin

Visit the Neighborhoods

Start with the French Quarter, of course. You could spend your entire visit to the city and never leave the Vieux Carré. There is more to do there than in half the states in America. Travel the residential streets during the day and take in the wide variety of architecture from a few mid 18th century examples to the almost ubiquitous bracket shotgun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eat at one or more of the fine restaurants in the Quarter. Dawdle for a while in front of St. Louis Cathedral to watch the street acts. Have a beignet or two and some café au lait. The list goes on and on but do move on to some of the interesting neighborhoods outside of the Quarter, like the Garden District and Bywater.

Eat a Great Meal Three Times a Day for a Week

Maybe that is tough challenge, not because you could not do it but because your waist line might rebel. Frankly, the list of fine to great restaurants is almost endless. Get yourself a good restaurant guide. You can do so online before you arrive. And plan your gastronomic excursions. Try everything from po-boys and gumbo to haute nouveau Creole. Visit restaurants all over the city so you can also get the flavor of the food and of the people and the neighborhoods. Be careful, especially at night. Take taxis. Ask a cop for advice. Ask your hotel concierge and be specific, like would you walk there alone after a meal, etc. Stick to the variations of time honored Creole cooking but the variations are too almost endless.

Music

Plan your musical adventure ahead of time too, because you can spend hour after hour finding just about any type of live music that you want. From traditional New Orleans Jazz to our favorite Southwest Louisiana import, Zydeco. It is all there for you. Find the clubs off of Bourbon Street. They will be in the French Quarter, Uptown, Frenchman Street, and Mid City. From sophisticated piano soloists to nitty gritty roots music. Go to the city for its greatest music festival, Jazzfest, in late April and early May, and you can get it all in one place at one time. Again, go online and find what you want when you want it.

Festivals

About the only festival you cannot find in New Orleans is Festivus, and you can probably find that too. The city is the festival capital of America. Jazzfest gets national publicity but almost every holiday offers something and there are festivals that have nothing to do with holidays. The Satchmo Fest, the Creole Tomato Fest, Essence, French Quarter Fest, Voodoo Fest, and Swamp Fest are just a few. If you are not forced to be in city at a certain time, plan your trip around one of these fests or others. They are always a great time with loads of fun loving people flying, driving, and training into the city. Once again, the Internet is your friend and will serve up the dates for all of these events.

Attractions

Of course, there are attractions everywhere. A city with as much history as New Orleans has a lot to see. From the 1850 House to the American Italian Renaissance Foundation Museum to Aquarium of the Americas to the Insectarium to Audubon Park, there are things to see and do for every member of the family at all ages. Don't miss the WWII Museum. Starting as the D-Day Museum, this tribute to the greatest generations has morphed into the top WWII museum in America.

Tours

There are tours galore. If you enjoy being guided, take a tour. Some of the best would be a French Quarter tour. You can take it in a mule drawn carriage and get in a little romance at the same time. Don't miss a Culinary Tour or a Swam Tour. Both are unique adventures in an adventurous city. At one time there were over 500 plantations from New Orleans to Baton Rouge along the Mississippi. You can still take a tour of some of the most interesting and famous.

Architecture

Architecture stands as one of the three pillars of New Orleans' tourist attractions along with food and music. In some ways, New Orleans is a city stood still in the 19th century when it comes to architecture. The buildings are just great representing all types of 19th century vernacular America construction. There are, of course, building predating the American period. Those just add to the ambiance. New Orleans grew so slowly over such a long period that you can see just about any period building that you would like. Many of the nicer 20th century buildings took on six to nine feet of flood water in Katrina but many are rebuilt and in some Katrina neighborhoods, you will now see modern examples going up to fit a New Orleans sized lot.

French Quarter

Believe it or not, at one time city leaders were talking about tearing down most of the French Quarter and replacing it with modern buildings. By the early 20th century, the French Quarter had become an ethnic slum in the eyes of some and at best a working man's neighborhood that was fairly run down. Then, in the 1930s, early preservationists began moving into the area, buying homes that today would fetch well over a million dollars for less than a drayman's yearly wage. During WWII, the French Quarter caught on with the soldiers and sailors stationed in and around the city as a place for entertainment and sometimes naughty entertainment. Thus, the Quarter became one of the important legs in the development of the hospitality industry in the city.

Today, the French Quarter is everything to all people. Parts are family friendly and parts are avoided by all but the most adventurous. It is the home of great food, great buildings, great music, as well as shopping, religion, and fine public places. Within a block you can go to Mass at St. Louis Cathedral or have your fortune told by palm readers. The French Quarter is the one do-not-miss experience in your trip to the city.

Carnival

There are some people who call the entire Carnival season in New Orleans “Mardi Gras”. To purists Mardi Gras is only Fat Tuesday, the last day of the season before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. No matter what you call the Carnival season, it is the other leg that tourism in New Orleans stands on. Starting in January on Epiphany, the season is long or short depending on church calendar. Mardi Gras is always 40 days before Easter not counting Sundays. Whether you visit just for Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras and the weekend before or throughout the Carnival season, it is a must see and do event for tourists. It will likely be the most festive experience of your life. Don't miss it. It should be on your bucket list.

Holidays

As festive as the Carnival season is, it is not all that New Orleans has to offer around holidays. From Christmas, New Orleans Style, once called a Creole Christmas, to Thanksgiving, Orleanians know how to celebrate, and they are inviting you to the party. Check out Reveillon dinners, that special tasting menu during the holiday season that takes its roots in old Creole New Orleans. Or go caroling in Jackson Square or take a Holiday Home Tour. Whether it is St. Joseph's Day or Halloween, you'll find some body celebrating something in the city in ways that you'll never find anywhere else.


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