Five Things to do In New Orleans Besides Bourbon Street
Let me start by saying that New Orleans is one of my favorite places to visit in the United States. There is just no other city that throws off the same vibe and sense of excitement. From the architecture to the history there are few places that compare. If my travel bucket list wasn't so long I would visit the city each and every year.
In writing this piece I didn't want to regurgitate the exact same things you would see in every other article about this unique American city. I will not tell you to visit Bourbon Street as everyone is familiar with it either through experience or reputation. I will not push you towards a zoo, aquarium, or a theme park either. What I will do is go through five things I believe are must do's when visiting the city.
St. Louis Cathedral / Jackson Square
When walking down the debaucherous Bourbon Street if you look at the right time upon crossing Orleans Street you will see a statue of Jesus watching over you from the back of the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral. This pillar of the Roman Catholic Church is definitely worth a trip. The intricacy of the sanctuary is nothing short of breathtaking, with stained glass windows and paintings worthy of a fine art museum. The church is known to be haunted by Father Père Antoine, who was buried within the church. Numerous sightings of him have been reported by parishioners and tourists alike, with a Christmas Eve appearance a given every year.
Outside the church is Jackson Square which holds a large statue in honor of the seventh President of the United States. Andrew Jackson led the rag tag team of locals against the British in the war of 1812. Despite being heavily outmanned and outmatched in armaments, Jackson went on to wage the precursor to guerrilla warfare throughout the swamp, driving the British to finally surrender. The combination of the church and statue is a must take picture.
If you go to the church you are asked to make a contribution of a dollar or two per person. Once in you will be able to explore the sanctuary freely. Jackson Square then leads to the Mississippi River on the other side of a large wall. You will actually be below the river when standing in the square. Take a trip up to see the river and the barges floating down it.
OK, I realize there are those of you who think hauntings and ghost stories are ridiculous fallacy. Even if you are one of these people you NEED to go on a ghost tour for the simple reason as it will give you a history lesson on one of the cities with the richest background in the United States. If you have never heard the story of Madame Lalauire I urge you to hear it for the first time on a dark night standing outside of the mansion in which her gruesome deeds took place. There are seemingly endless stories of events that have unfolded of the paranormal in a city which claims to be one of the most haunted in the United States.
If you go, make sure to do the tour at night. You need to also bring a camera. The picture above was taken outside of a building that has a haunted reputation and none of the figures in the picture were visible to the naked eye. I have done many ghost tours across the country and have always come up with an image or two that I cannot explain. There are many companies that offer tours, I would recommend using Trip Advisor and checking out ones with the best reputation.
Other Trips to Consider
- Adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains
So you want to take your family on a vacation that gets the kids off the couch, involves nature, and gets their heart and adrenaline pounding? How about a week in the Great Smoky Mountains?
- The Mighty Multnomah -America's Greatest Waterfall
America can boast some of the most beautiful and majestic waterfalls in the world. Among them all there is one that stands out in this authors mind...
- The "Other" Portland
When asked to describe Portland most people will instantly think of that city located in the Pacific Northwest, especially when it comes to travel. I ask that you not forget the "other" Portland.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
Rarely would I ever recommend visiting a cemetery for any reason other than paying respects to a loved one, but St. Louis Cemetery #1 is a must see simply for the history and novelty. Because New Orleans is below sea level, most tombs are kept above ground. If you have never been to this type of cemetery it is hard to not have a morbid curiosity for the fact that bodies are kept right there behind a thin wall of rock or plaster.
Many famous New Orleanians are buried here, the most notable being Marie Laveau, the renowned Voodoo priestess. Upon visiting her tomb (see above), you will find many items placed at her grave, along with many X's graffitied on it. Tourists do this out of a legend which states if you wanted Laveau to grant you a wish you would draw an "X" on her tomb, perform a ritual of turning around three times and then knocking her her tomb and yelling out the wish. If the wish was granted the person was required to come back and circle their X and leave a gift. If the pile of cigarettes, jewelry and trinkets at her grave is any indication, there may be something to the ritual.
If you do plan a trip there are tours available. I personally walked to it twice from the French Quarter but made sure to do so during the day and on the more heavily traveled streets. If you choose to walk make sure you are in a group or go on the street with a police station. The cemetery closes at night so be sure to make clear of it by dusk. Note that the tombs have been known to be inhabited by the homeless or those looking to commit theft. Just be careful and go in a group and you should be OK.
The Garden District
In contrast to the music and mayhem of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter lies the Garden District. At one time this area consisted of many large plantations, later to be sold to wealthy residents who did not want to associate with the Creole population in the French Quarter. Today it is home to many lavish mansions, many of which are on the national register of historic places. In addition to the homes there are also two historic colleges located within the district- Loyola University NO and Tulane University.
The city offers a unique way to see this area. The St. Charles Streetcar will take willing passengers through a slow self guided tour of the area for a minimal fee. You will feel like you entered a time warp to a century ago with large magnolia and oak trees lining the street next to horse drawn carriages being pulled beside you. This is a major parade route during Mardi Gras so if you go in the weeks after you will see the trees still lined with beads as in the picture above.
New Orleans Swamp Tour
What mammal is the size of a small dog and has a population of over 5 million in Louisiana? Chances are you have never even heard of it. Ever hear of a swamp rat, water rabbit, river rat, or as it is properly known, the Nutria or Coypu? These highly destructive animals are not native to the area but were brought from South America for their fur. From an accidental release of a few of these creatures in the early 20th century came a plague of over 20 million of them by the 1950s. They are highly destructive and eat the root systems that hold swamps together, thereby causing erosion into the ocean which causes Louisiana to shrink in size by 25-35 square miles every year.
To take a swamp tour you will have to travel outside of the city. A trip to get there will take you past the old Six Flags theme park which now looks like a ghost town. The park was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina and now sits among overgrown weeds and rusted roller coaster rails. Once past this creepy sight you will begin your travels over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge. As you get onto the roadway you will see nothing but water in all directions for a matter of miles. To your left you will see the old bridge that was destroyed in parts by the same hurricane. One can only imagine the sights from that bridge during one of the greatest natural disasters in American history.
What comes to your mind first when thinking of New Orleans?
The swamp is nature at it's finest, and most deadly. Thousands of alligators troll the waters, in addition to snakes and the smallest of parasites- mosquitoes. Tons and tons of them. Of course, once you lather up in bug spray and get out on the water it is strikingly beautiful and peaceful. The variety of wildlife presented is more than enough to keep your attention.
If you take a tour, again, use Trip Advisor to find one that suits you best. Make sure you bring insect repellent and wear long sleeves if the weather permits it. If you go try not to go before the alligators come out of hibernation, which is generally before April. Going on a swamp tour without seeing alligators will leave you feeling lacking. And lastly, bring that bug spray!