Way down yonder in New Orleans, you'll find the roots of jazz and a blossoming culture that is unlike anything else on Earth. Here, the laid-back atmosphere of the riverfront South has mixed with French sophistication, Spanish style, and African-American energy to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Though hit hard by Katrina, "Nawlins" remains the largest city in Louisiana and one of the top tourist destinations in the United States.
"Laissez les bons temps rouler" is what they say here in the Big Easy, and you too can "let the good times roll" with a cool stroll down Bourbon Street, a hot Dixieland band, and even hotter Creole cuisine. Mardi Gras may be the city's calling card, but that's just one day out of the hot and muggy year in New Orleans.
Go ahead, take a riverboat down the Mississippi, munch on some beignets, and watch the Saints go marchin' in. But when it's time to leave, you, too, will know what it means to miss New Orleans.
|French Quarter |
The oldest, most famous, and most visited section of the city. Most tourists will want to center their visit here (though those who explore other parts of town as well will find the city offers additional treats). Many old-line restaurants are in the Quarter, along with music clubs, museums, antiques shops, and drinking establishments.
|Central Business District |
What many cities call "Downtown" (though in New Orleans this term is often used to refer to a different part of town downriver). Adjacent to the French Quarter; has many attractions. The "CBD" has the Superdome, high-rise hotels and some excellent restaurants, along with many museums (the National D-Day Museum, the Louisiana Children's Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center) and a gallery district on and around Julia Street. Includes the "Arts District" and the "Old Warehouse District".
|Downriver (Marigny, Bywater, 7th, 8th, and Upper 9th Wards, Lower 9th Ward)|
Old neighborhoods "Downriver" from the French Quarter. The Marigny's Frenchmen Street is the leading authentic music district. Marigny and neighboring Bywater have a hip Bohemian vibe. Some is starting to spread into the "back of town downtown", 7th, 8th and Upper 9th Wards, much of which is still struggling post-Katrina but contains quirky attractions like the St. Roch Cemetery. The Lower 9th, notorious as one of the worst hit in the 2005 Katrina disaster, also has some unexpected historic sites.
|Uptown (Uptown, Audubon & University District, Carrollton)|
19th-century residential neighborhoods upriver from the CBD, famous for beautiful historic architecture including the "Garden District". The St. Charles Avenue streetcar runs through here. The Uptown sections contain some of the city's best local restaurants. Magazine Street hosts some 80 blocks of antique stores, art galleries, interior designer studios, and clothing stores ranging from funky thrift shops to upscale boutiques. Popular Audubon Park and Audubon Zoo, Tulane & Loyola Universities, and the Riverbend & Old Carrollton section at the far end of the streetcar line.
|Middle (Mid-City and Esplanade Ridge, Tremé, Central City)|
Central part of town, with historic attractions and many great restaurants more known to locals than visitors. Mid-City is home to City Park, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Botanical Garden, and beautiful historic cemeteries; New Orleans Fair Grounds (a racetrack that hosts the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival every spring) is in old Espalande Ridge. Tremé is an Historic Franco-African (Creole) neighborhood inland from the French Quarter. Central City is another historic mostly Black neighborhood, at present more troubled.
|Lakeside (Lakeview and Lakeshore, Gentilly, Eastern New Orleans)|
Northern parts of the city around Lake Pontchartrain. Mostly newer parts of town generally unknown to visitors, but includes restaurants (including the popular cluster of eateries along Harrison Avenue in Lakeview), historic forts, impressive Art Deco and other 20th-century architecture, and a smattering of other attractions. A series of pretty parks line the edge of the lake in the neighborhoods west of the Industrial Canal. Eastern New Orleans covers a large area, including the Little Vietnam neighborhood, historic Lakefront Airport and Fort Pike.
The part of New Orleans across the Mississippi River. Includes historic old Algiers Point neighborhood; the Ferry ride across the Mississippi alone is worth the trip.
Nearby communities and suburbs
- Jefferson Parish, includes Kenner, the location of the New Orleans International Airport, and Metairie, the largest suburb; many hotels and conventions are based here.
- Saint Bernard Parish: Down river from New Orleans, includes the town of Chalmette where the "Battle of New Orleans" took place in 1815.
- St. Tammany Parish on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain; includes Slidell, Covington, Mandeville and Abita Springs
- Plaquemines Parish on both sides of the Mississippi south to the Gulf.
- Destrehan: contains Destrehan Plantation, one of the South's best-preserved antebellum homes.
- LaPlace: A fast-growing town upriver from New Orleans
River Region & Plantations: rural area, not part of the city of New Orleans, but closely associated with it. Known mostly for its stunning historic plantations.
New Orleans is known for a host of attributes like its famous Creole food, abundant alcohol, music of many styles, nearby swamps and plantations, 18th- & 19th-century architecture, antiques, gay pride, streetcars, and museums. Nicknamed the Big Easy, New Orleans has long had a reputation as an adult-oriented city. However, the city also offers many attractions for families with children and those interested in culture and the arts. It is a city with a majority Roman Catholic population owing to its European origins.
Famous festivals like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest bring in tourists by the millions, and are the two times of the year when you must book well in advance to be sure of a room. The city also hosts many smaller festivals and gatherings like the French Quarter Festival, Creole Tomato Festival, Satchmo SummerFest, the Essence Festival hosted by the magazine, Halloween parading and costume balls, Saint Patrick's Day and Saint Joseph's Day parading, and Southern Decadence. The city takes almost any occasion for an excuse for a parade, a party, and live music, and in New Orleans most events often have a touch of Mardi Gras year round. Like they say, New Orleanians are either planning a party, enjoying one or recovering from one. Party down!
It is a city of great culture with a clash of French, Cajun and some Spanish designs. You may see some voodoo activity at night. The streetcar rides are fun and many of the stores carry exclusive cultural art such as the blue dog collection.
In the late 1600s, French trappers and traders began settling in what is now New Orleans, along a Native American trade route between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain via Bayou St. John. In 1718 the city was founded as "Nouvelle-Orléans" by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, Governor of the French colony of Louisiana, with the intent to build it into a provincial capital city. The early French city grew within the grid of what is now the French Quarter. Louisiana was transferred to Spanish rule in the 1760s, but much of the population retained French language and culture. After briefly returning to French rule, Louisiana was purchased by the United States in 1803. At first the new "American" settlers mostly built their homes and shops upriver from the older French parts of the city, across wide "Canal Street" (named for a planned canal that was never built). Canal Street was the dividing line between the Anglophone and Francophone sections; the street's wide median became a popular meeting place called "the neutral ground"—and "neutral ground" became the common phrase for the median of any street, still in use in the New Orleans dialect today.
A British attempt to seize the city in 1815 was repelled downriver from the city in Chalmette by local forces led by Andrew Jackson, whose equestrian statue can be seen in the square named after him in the center of the old Quarter.
Early New Orleans was already a rich melting pot of peoples and cultures. French Spanish African and Anglos were joined by immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and the Caribbean. While a center of the slave trade before the American Civil War, New Orleans also had the USA's largest population of free people of color. The city grew rapidly as a major trade center on the mighty Mississippi River. In the American Civil War of the 1860s, New Orleans fell to the Union early in the conflict without battle within the city, sparing the city's rich historic architecture from the destruction suffered by much of the American South.
At the start of the 20th century, the then largely neglected old French Quarter started gaining new appreciation among artists and bohemians for its architecture and ambiance. Around the same time, a new musical style developed in the city; the music developed and swept around the world under the name of "jazz".
Although far from the big battlefronts, New Orleans is proud of its contributions to the Allied victory over Fascism in World War II, especially the development and construction of landing craft such as "Higgins Boats" which made rapid landing masses of troops on hostile beaches possible. This legacy is why America's National World War II Museum is located in the city.
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath
In August 2005 New Orleans and the surrounding area was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Much worse than the hurricane was the failure of the federally designed levee system; in what has been called "the worst civil engineering disaster in U.S. history" when some 80% of the city flooded.
New Orleans was not destroyed, but the flood was a severe blow, perhaps the worst disaster to hit a U.S. city since the great San Francisco earthquake 99 years previous. A decade later, many visitors might notice little or no sign that anything bad happened. For locals, however, rebuilding is still an ongoing process. The French Quarter and other oldest parts of town most popular with visitors were built on comparatively high ground, and were less damaged and have been more quickly restored. However, not everything is back to normal in the city; scenes of devastation can be still seen in many neighborhoods. More than two-thirds of the city's pre-Katrina population is back living in the city; most of them have a fierce love of their city and have faced many hardships in their continuing efforts to rebuild it bit by bit.
The city's public services - especially police - have struggled to return to their full strength, and are dealing with a city where decades of neighborhood stability have been disrupted. The city overall has experienced an increase in crime as a result. (See "Stay safe" below.)
While some visitors decide to confine their trip to the more fully intact parts of the city or just visit the worse hit areas as part of a half-day "disaster tour", for others the historic events of Katrina and its aftermath are the focus of their visit.
Volunteer projects such as New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity which builds new houses has attracted volunteers doing good work. Organizations such as Levees.org are vigilant in encouraging further investigation into the flooding and hurricane protection issues surrounding New Orleans, and visitors to the city are encouraged to tour ravaged areas and help keep alive the attention needed to restore New Orleans to its original grandeur.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
A local joke has it that New Orleans really does have four seasons: Summer, Hurricane, Christmas, and Mardi Gras. Summer is certainly the longest; for about half the year, from about late April to the start of October, the days are usually hot, or raining, or hot and raining. Winters are generally short and mild, but subject to occasional cold snaps that may surprise visitors who mistakenly think the city has a year round tropical climate. The high humidity can make the cold snaps feel quite penetrating. Snow is so rare that the occasional light dusting of flakes will make most locals stop what they are doing to stare; they'll excitedly show the phenomenon to local children too young to remember the last time snow visited the city. During a rare freezing event, you'll see that most locals have no idea how to drive on iced or snowy roads.
The Atlantic hurricane season (which includes all of the Gulf of Mexico) is June 1 through November 30. The most active month is September.
Some say the best time to visit New Orleans is between late November and early June. However New Orleans has things going on all year long. A rewarding visit can be made even the hottest part of the summer: start your day early, and do your outdoor sightseeing in the morning. The lush local flora can display a wealth of colorful flowers. Mid-day and afternoon, retreat to air-conditioning; visit a museum, have a leisurely visit to a cafe or restaurant, or take a siesta at your hotel. Come back outside when the sun gets low. After dark the night shift of flora comes on duty; especially in older neighborhoods such as Esplanade Ridge, Carrollton, and the Garden District, with an abundance of night-blooming jasmine, the sweet deliciously scented air can be almost intoxicating.
Creoles, Cajuns, and New Orleanians
Despite what many visitors expect, the population, food, music, and traditions of New Orleans are not predominantly Cajun. The Acadian or Cajun (from 'Cadien, pronounced kay-juhn) people developed their rich culture to the west of the city, in the Acadiana section of Louisiana. While there are some good places for Cajun food and music in the city—some are branches of famous Southwest Louisiana Cajun places that opened up locations here—understand that Cajun food and culture are a recent import that has no roots in New Orleans. Unfortunately a number of businesses in the most tourist heavy parts of town decided to profit by selling visitors what they thought they wanted, slapping the term "Cajun" on dishes and products with little to do with Acadiana.
The oldest aspects of New Orleans culture are Creole—which here designates the people that were already here before the city became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. French, Spanish, and African are the primary ethnic and cultural groups in old Creole culture, with additional input from Native Americans and early German immigrants (who became much more numerous later in the 19th century).
Since the Louisiana Purchase, other major immigrant groups and influences on local cuisine and culture have included Italian (mostly Southern and Sicilian), Irish, German, Caribbean and Central American. Hondurans are traditionally the largest Hispanic group in the metro area, but after Katrina, there is now an influx of Latinos, mostly hailing from Central America and Mexico who have decided to stay after helping in the construction boom in the aftermath of Katrina. Smaller populations of Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans are also sparsely located throughout the area. In the late 20th century a sizable Vietnamese community was added to the New Orleans gumbo. They can be found in greatest concentrations in New Orleans East and portions of the Westbank suburbs (Marrero, Harvey, & Gretna).
Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY IATA) is the city's primary airport, located in the suburb of Kenner. After a severe dip after the disaster in 2005, by late 2006 the airport has rebounded to 3/4 of its pre-Katrina flights with daily flights to/from 37 destinations throughout North America. Additional flights have been added. European vacation packages are available from the UK on several British airlines who offer charter and cruise services nonstop to the Crescent City.
To get into town a taxi ($36 for one or two people, $15 per person for three or more) is quickest; that's the flat fee from the airport to any spot in the French Quarter or Central Business District. Limo service is also available for rates starting at $35, and the airport shuttle is $20. See the airport website for other options.
A cheap way to get to town is the Jefferson Transit Airport Express route E2-Airport, which is only $2. On weekdays, the bus runs straight down Airline Highway (US 61) to Tulane and Loyola Ave. in the New Orleans Central Business District; the trip takes 45 minutes. From this intersection, walk toward the river, deeper into the central business district, and take a left, crossing Canal Street and into the French Quarter. From Canal Street you can also take the streetcar Uptown or into Midcity.
The Airport bus stop is on the second level of the airport, outside door #7 near the Delta counter on the west end of the terminal, in the median (look for the sign and bench); the stop is a fair walk from the east end baggage pickup, and you'll probably have to ask at an information desk to find it.
Many major hotels have shuttle buses from the airport. Even if you're not staying at one of those hotels, the shuttles can often be a value for those getting into town if their destination is near one of the hotels.
The main artery into and out of town is Interstate 10, going to the east and west.
By bus or train
Bus and train stations are next to each other at the Union Passenger Terminal (1001 Loyola Avenue), by the edge of the Central Business District and within walking distance of the Super Dome. Both Greyhound and Amtrak service the terminal. Three Amtrak routes pass through New Orleans: City of New Orleans, Crescent, and Sunset Limited.
Megabus. Service from Atlanta, Montgomery, Mobile, Baton Rouge, Houston, San Antonio, Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Orlando. The bus stop is just outside the Union Passenger Terminal next to the Standard Parking lot.
If you are visiting the French Quarter, casinos, or just the Central Business District, a car may be more of a burden than an asset. Most hotel parking is valet/remote/expensive/difficult at best. New Orleans is ready for visitors, and the rapid transit, trolley cars and buses are plentiful 24/7. Walking is fun and healthy during daylight and early evening. After midnight, you may want to call a taxi, but likely it will be a short trip at reasonable cost. For a great way to see the city, try renting a bike from one of the several bike rental companies in the French Quarter or Marigny. Be very aware when riding a bike; the drivers can be quite aggressive.
With a car
Be alert that the streets of much of the city were laid out before the automobile, especially in the older parts of town of most interest to visitors. There are many one way streets. It is common for cars to park on the side of the street causing some of the streets to be too narrow for 2 way traffic. This means someone needs to pull to the side.
Due to consolidation of the underlying soils and the fact that the people in power do not care, potholes are common and road conditions are often poor for a developed country. Some developing countries even have better roads.
Street signage is sometimes unclear or missing, and some signage lost in Katrina not yet replaced, although the situation has been improving significantly.
Some streets have terrible drainage and will flood nearly every time it rains. Water will drain after but makes for difficult driving .
Parking is often hard to find around many areas of interest to tourists, but there are generally pay lots in the area. Hotel parking can cost over $30/night downtown and in the French Quarter. One garage in the Quarter offers a discount coupon that can be printed out before hand. They only charge $15/night when a customer presents the coupon. You may be able to find free parking on some side streets.
Those who don't know how to parallel park may wish to just leave their car in a pay lot when visiting much of the city.
Without a car
Those staying in or near the French Quarter can easily get around by foot, with optional occasional trips by streetcar, bus, or cab if they wish to visit other parts of town. In the French Quarter, bicycle rentals are available at a bike shop on Dauphine Street near the hotels of Canal St as well as at an antique shop on Decatur Street near the French Market. Other places with bike rentals include a bicycle shop in the Marigny Triangle neighborhood on Frenchmen Street and another Uptown on Magazine Street.
The Riverfront, Canal Street and St. Charles streetcars travel to or near many of the sites listed here. Fares for buses or streetcars are $1.25, 25¢ extra for a transfer (good only on another line but not a return trip on the same line). Express buses are $1.50. Day passes are available for $3. All buses and streetcars provide change cards that can be used towards future rides on buses and streetcars (even the St. Charles streetcar line, which has posted signs claiming that no change is given). On the old cars on the St. Charles line, you need to push the rear doors to open them when the street car stops. Be sure to push hard!
Public transit is by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority ("RTA").
During Mardi Gras in February, transportation of any sort will be a challenge. If you decide to get your own car, parking will be exorbitant (as high as $10 per hour) in the French Quarter and the City Area. Should you try to get a taxi, chances are you will have to call more than one company, and several times each, before you get a booking. After that, you will probably have to wait an average of 45 minutes to one hour. If you wish to travel from across town during Mardi Gras, it is strongly recommended that you do get a car and park close to the streetcars or just outside the city area.
Generally, public transport is very bad and most people use cars.
Knowing which way is up
The older neighborhoods of the city, (which comprise nearly 45% of the city), were laid out along the banks of the Mississippi River. Except for the grid of the French Quarter, streets were laid out either following the river's curves or perpendicular to them, not according to compass directions or a grid.
New Orleans provides the hardest street grid to pronounce in North America. Most place names (and other local names) were appended by Creoles speaking a very distinct form of French, and their singular way of pronouncing them has only diverged further from standard French over the centuries. If you thought the local pronunciations of French words was weird, you won't believe what happened to Greek and Italian names! It's virtually impossible for a visitor to get the pronunciations right... without checking this guide!
This guide will make you understood, but listen carefully to the wild variety of local dialects, and you'll hear plenty of variations on just about any of these!
For this reason, locals in these parts of town often don't give directions according to "north, south, east, and west". The four directions, instead, are "up" (or "up river" or "up town"), "down" (or "down river" or "down town"), "river" (or "towards the river" or sometimes "in"), and "lake" (or "towards the lake" or "back" or sometimes "out"). Don't be daunted, this makes sense when you take a moment to understand it.
Look at a map of the city. If, for example, you are taking the streetcar that runs along Saint Charles Avenue from the French Quarter to Carrollton, you see that the route starts off going south, then over some miles gradually turns west, and winds up running northwest. This is because Saint Charles reflects a bend in the river. From the local perspective, the entire route goes one way: up (or on the return trip from Carrollton to the Quarter, down).
Canal Street is the up river boundary of the French Quarter. (Keep going further "up" away from the Quarter and you'll be in "Uptown".)
Some streets are labeled "North" and "South", this reflects which side of Canal Street they are on (despite the fact that Canal Street runs from southeast to northwest). The part of Rampart Street on the French Quarter side is North Rampart Street; the part on the Central Business District side is South Rampart. Also, a good map of the entire city is a must, as people from out of town may have to learn to match letters on signs to letters on the map. You see, most street names are French and Creole in origin and may be hard to pronounce. For instance, try to pronounce these example street names : Urquhart, Rocheblave, Dorgenois, Terpsichore, Tchoupitoulas, Burthe, Freret. (For the record, locals say "Urk-heart, Roach-a-blave, Der-gen-wa, Terp-sic-cor, Chop-a-two-lis, B'youth, Fa-ret.") Now you understand.
Many major New Orleans streets are divided, with a "neutral ground" (median) running down the middle. For this reason, the traffic lights have no dedicated cycle for a protected left turn. On streets with a wide neutral ground, there is a solution. Imagine turning from an avenue to a street; the solution is to turn left on green, queue in the stretch of the street between the two halves of the avenue, then proceed once the traffic light on the street has turned green. On streets with a narrow neutral ground, there is not enough room for cars to queue. In these situations, left turns are often prohibited; the solution is to go straight, take the next U-turn, then take a right turn when you arrive back at the intersection. Streets such as Tulane Avenue have "No Left Turn" signs posted for miles. In these situations, the adage "three rights make a left" comes in handy.
Detailed listings of attractions are mentioned in the Districts sections listed above. Highlights include:
- Historic architecture in neighborhoods
- Ornate colonial French and Spanish in the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Bywater and Tremé
- Victorian mansions Uptown and other historic architecture citywide
- Historic cemeteries are in the Uptown, Tremé, and Mid-City areas
- the Superdome & Smoothie King Center, in the Central Business District
- Museums and Aquarium, Central Business District
- Audubon Zoo in the Audubon & University District
- New Orleans Museum of Art and City Park in Mid-City
- the Mississippi River - great views from the French Quarter, the Algiers ferry, and the Audubon Zoo "Butterfly" park Uptown
- St. Louis Cathedral. Holds regular celebrations of the Catholic Mass
Some top children and family friendly attractions in New Orleans include:
- Audubon Zoo, Audubon & University District
- Aquarium of the Americas, French Quarter
- Louisiana Children's Museum, Central Business District
- Storyland Amusement Park, City Park, Mid-City
- Streetcar rides—many children from cities without trams find riding on an old streetcar an interesting novelty in itself—and parents can enjoy the scenery and historic architecture.
Occult and Voodoo destinations
- Tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau in St. Louis Cemetery #1, Treme
- 1 Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. - located in New Orleans
- Stroll historic neighborhoods look at the architecture and businesses, and people watch in the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Faubourg Tremé, Bywater, Esplanade Ridge, Uptown, Algiers Point and Carrollton
- Streetcar rides St. Charles Avenue (green cars) is the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the U.S.; the Canal Street route also provides a pleasant ride
- Riverboat cruises - short or long cruises, some of which have quite good jazz bands on board. Great way to enjoy 3 attractions-in-one: New Orleans food and music during a cruise down the Mississippi. Aquarium-Zoo Cruise - riverboat cruise package is a great way to see the Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Zoo
- 2 Steamboat Natchez Riverboat Harbor Jazz Sightseeing Cruise, 600 Decatur St., Suite 308 (departs from the Toulouse Street Wharf behind Jax Brewery), ☎ , toll-free: . Daytime cruise daily 11:30AM and 2:30PM, M-Sa evening cruise 7PM. Two-hour cruise on a stream-powered paddlewheel boat. Boarding 30 min before departure (1 hour before dinner cruise). Live narration of historical facts and highlights of the port. Bar and gift shop. Snacks and light meals available for purchase if you're not buying a meal. Adult/child 6-13/child under 6: daytime cruise $34/13.50/free; M-Sa cruise with lunch $46/23/9.50; Sunday brunch with cruise $51/27.50/17.50; evening cruise $48/24/free; cruise with dinner $83/38/18.25.
- Creole Queen Sightseeing Cruise, 365 Canal Street, Suite 2350, ☎ , toll-free: . Daily: daytime cruise 10AM and 2PM, evening cruise with jazz band 7PM. A diesel-powered paddlewheel boat. A one-hour shore excursion at the battlefield features a guided tour and talk by National Park Rangers. Boarding 30 min before departure. Daytime: adult $34, child (6-12) $14, child under 6 free; buffet $19 per person, or available à la carte. Evening with dinner/without: adult $79/48, child (6-12) $36/24, child (3-5) $12/free.
- River ferry - the budget alternative to riverboats, take the free pedestrian ferry from the foot of Canal Street across the Mississippi to Algiers Point and back for a great view of the river, downtown, and the Quarter
- Walking tours including Voodoo, jazz history, French Quarter, or Garden District ones
- Bicycle Tours for history, architecture, or hurricane damage.
- Casino gambling at Harrah's next to the Quarter in the Central Business District. Voted "Best Casino" by the readers of "Casino Player." This "world-class" casino offers over 2000 of the newest slots and over a hundred action-packed table games along with a 24 hour buffet, Besh Steakhouse and many other food options.
- Antique shopping up & down Royal St in the Quarter or Magazine Street Uptown.
- Cooking Classes - learn how to cook meals like a local when you return home. A four-course meal is demonstrated by excellent chefs, who will entertain you as well as teach you the secrets of Creole and Cajun cooking.
- Carriage rides - Take a carriage ride while you're in New Orleans ... and enjoy a tour of the French Quarter (Garden District tours available, too!) Quaint mule-drawn carriages take you past many landmarks of New Orleans, including Bourbon Street, the mighty Mississippi, and Jackson Square.
- Celebrate Mardi Gras - The two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday is a period of celebration in the city, with parades and parties throughout.
- Mardi Gras World - with thousands of sensational sculptured props and giant figures—it's the place where Mardi Gras floats are made. A great place to get the Mardi Gras spirit year-round; at the edge of the Central Business District
- Museums - museum highlights include: National World War II Museum (formerly D-Day Museum), Central Business District. New Orleans Museum of Art, Mid-City; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Central Business District; French Quarter museum highlights include the Cabildo and Presbytere history museums, the Old Mint, and several house museums.
- Cities of the Dead - Historic cemeteries
- Run. there are great road races such as the Mardi Gras Marathon, and the somewhat more whimsical Red Dress Run (everyone wears a red dress and running shoes, men and women).
Day trips outside of town
- Swamp tours - those with a car can make an easy day trip to the Jean Lafitte Nature Preserve, a free park, with as good a view of local swamp flora and fauna as various pay tours. Honey Island Swamp Tours Inc. - nearly 70,000 acres of the Honey Island Swamp is a permanently protected wildlife area. Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours - Cajun-style boat tour takes you out on an 1 hour and 45 minute trip through the heart of Southern Louisiana's swamplands. Some swamp tours also have vans that can pick you up at your hotel and take you to the swamp tour location, though this can be significantly more expensive option than driving yourself.
- Plantation tours - the Great River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge has several fine plantations, "Laura"and "Magnolia Mound" (Creole Plantations) and "San Francisco" are of special interest.
- Battle of New Orleans Site - battlefield history fans will want to visit the site of the famous battle where Andrew Jackson defeated the British at the end of the War of 1812. It didn't happen in New Orleans, but in the nearby community of Chalmette, Louisiana. Drive there or take a riverboat.
In addition to year-round attractions, a series of celebrations and festivals provide additional interest:
- New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Also known as Jazz Fest. Held the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May every year at the New Orleans Fairgrounds, F-Su 11AM-7PM. It is second only to Mardi Gras for importance and size for New Orleans. The festival has been held every year since 1970. The true heart and soul of the Jazz Fest, as with New Orleans, is music. That includes jazz, both traditional and contemporary, Cajun music, blues, R&B, gospel music, folk music, Latin, rock, rap, country music and bluegrass. But it's not just music. This is a cultural feast with food and crafts. There are thousands of musicians, cooks and craftspeople at the festival and 500,000 visitors each year. Visit the two large food areas where you can sample Louisiana cuisine and see demonstrations from top New Orleans chefs. Bring plenty of sunscreen.
- [dead link] French Quarter Festival. Big free music festival at locations all around the French Quarter each Spring, usually the week before the start of JazzFest.
- Essence Festival. Big music festival in the Superdome and Convention Center in early July.
- San Fermin in Nueva Orleans. Started as a bit of silliness by a bunch of friends in 2007: The idea was to replicate the famous "running of the bulls" in Pamplona, but with roller-derby girls with plastic baseball bats serving as the "bulls" chasing the runners. It caught on, and now attracts thousands of participants and even more spectators each July in the French Quarter and CBD.
- [dead link] Satchmo Summer Festival. First held in 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of New Orleans jazz legend Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. Organizers were unsure how many people would come out for a music festival in the August heat, but it was such a success that it's been repeated ever since. On and around the grounds of the Old Mint on Esplanade in the lower French Quarter, first weekend in August.
- Southern Decadence. Each summer, big event for Gays and those who love and respect the Gay community.
- Halloween. While not as large a celebration as Mardi Gras, Halloween is still a big deal in New Orleans. Locals begin costuming two or three days in advance, with most of the action Halloween night being, of course, in the French Quarter, which becomes a veritable parade of costumes ranging from the traditional to the satirical. Families can enjoy Halloween festivities in their own neighborhoods or at various events around the city specifically geared for children.
- Voodoo Experience. The pop, alternative, and contemporary counterpart to the Jazz Fest, hosting stages in City Park over 3 days around Halloween time.
- Neighborhood festivals. Some of the smaller neighborhood based events are listed in the individual neighborhood articles; they often offer great local music and food in a more intimate setting.
Although the city has made great strides in its post-Katrina recovery, many neighborhoods like Gentilly and the Lower Ninth Ward remain in need of help as their residents rebuild their lives. Volunteers and work groups do much of the work for organizations like the St. Bernard Project or Rebuilding Together, working alongside homeowners to restore their lives. Annunciation Mission links volunteers to work projects and provides lodging and meals to individuals, mission trips, and groups of all faiths and sizes.
New Orleans is justly famous for the music it produces. In some other places live music may be thought of as occasional luxury; in New Orleans live music is an essential part of the fabric of life. Parades from the grandest Mardi Gras spectaculars to small neighborhood club events have to have bands to get the locals dancing in the streets. Hey, New Orleans is the birthplace of the "jazz funeral".
There are usually several good performers somewhere in town even on a slow night. Understand that most of the good stuff is not along the tourist strip of Bourbon Street (though a couple of genuine good music venues exist even there). Most sections of the city have at least one (and often several) venue offering great live music.
Budget travellers should know there are usually at least a few free live music events every week in various parks and galleries around town. More often than not, on Sundays there will be a brass band "second line" parade somewhere in town.
The best ways to keep informed about who is playing where and when:
- Gambit's Best of New Orleans, Gambit, the city's free local newsweekly has features on arts and entertainment and whatever else is going on. Gambit also produces the de-facto local restaurant guide and listings.
- Offbeat Magazine is a free monthly local music magazine with extensive listings. Can be picked up at most music venues, coffee shops, and other places around town, or ask your hotel concierge for a copy.
- WWOZ 90.7 F.M. is the community radio station dedicated to local music. At the top of each odd numbered hour they play a listing of the live music happening around town for the day. WWOZ is also good for finding out about special events like "second line" parades and "jazz funeral"s.
- WTUL 91.5 FM is the Tulane college radio station, playing mostly progressive music, but also jazz, classical, and numerous other specialties. At the top of each hour they announce concerts and other events going on around town.
- Individual listings can be found in New Orleans's district articles
OK, so you're hungry. You've come to the right place. New Orleans is a culinary delight, but don't look too hard for healthy food; some would say don't look at all (although those demanding vegetarian, vegan, or kosher food can, with effort, find some). You're on vacation, so take advantage of what they prepare best here. New Orleans has good food for people on any type of budget.
While most places take major credit cards, "cash only" restaurants are perhaps a bit more common here than other places, so plan in advance.
The main culinary tradition in New Orleans is Creole - which means the culture and its cuisine already flourishing when Louisiana was purchased by the U.S. in 1803. The Creoles were the peoples living in New Orleans from its founding. Creole has a mixture of influences, including French and Spanish, with a strong West-African foundation. Creoles cook with roux (a blend of butter and flour) and the "trinity," a popular term for green pepper, onion and celery. These are the base for many savory dishes. 19th-century southern Italian immigrants added increased appreciation for garlic — an old local joke calls garlic the "Pope" to the culinary "Trinity" — along with tomato based sauces and other dishes. (The influences went both ways; some New Orleans "Italian" restaurants have their own take on the Italian tradition, sometimes called "Creole Italian".) Eastern European, Latin American, Vietnamese, and other immigrants have added to the New Orleans mix. Thus New Orleans cuisine is rich in tradition while open to new ideas, and culturally inclusive while still uniquely distinctive.
The seafood is fresh and relatively cheap compared to many places. Some think it is often best fried, but you can try seafood of a wide variety cooked many different ways here. Repeated studies have shown that the 2010 oil spill has not at all affected the quality of Gulf seafood.
Oysters are a popular specialty, gulped down raw, battered and fried, in a po' boy sandwich, or elegant Rockefeller style.
There may on occasion be some exotic items on the menu. Yes, you can have alligator if you’d like - it mostly tastes like chicken (but chewier). The softshell crab can be excellent. If it's on the menu of a good restaurant, it's probably pretty good—when in doubt, ask.
Crawfish (don't say "cray" fish) is a popular dish here, usually boiled in a huge pot of very spicy water and served in a pile with corn and potatoes. If cracking open the shells and sucking the heads isn't your thing, try them with pasta or in sushi or any other way they’re prepared.
Po-boys (don't say "poor boys") are the distinctive New Orleans variation of the sandwich. Unless you request your sandwich put on something else like sliced white bread (while you're in New Orleans, don't bother), it will be served on a po-boy loaf, similar to French bread; bread pundits debate whether the New Orleans po-boy bread is the same thing as the baguette of France or qualifies as a unique type of bread (some say it actually is French bread but because of the humidity, the bread ferments very quickly and gets its distinctive taste and texture). Either way, it's good, but only part of what makes the sandwich tasty. The rest is what is put on it, of course. Roast beef with "debris" gravy, fried shrimp, oysters, etc. You'll probably be asked if you want it "dressed". In New Orleans, "dressed" means with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and sometimes pickles, depending on the restaurant. Every neighborhood in New Orleans has its favorite po-boy places; the better ones butcher, slow cook, and season their own meats. The po-boy is a great and filling taste of New Orleans at a reasonable price.
The Muffaletta is a sandwich served on a big round airy Italian loaf (also called a muffaletta) which is similar to focaccia, it consists of a variety of sliced meats such as capicola, salami, and mortadella as well as cheeses topped with olive salad. Unless you have a very big appetite, half a muffaletta will probably be plenty for a filling meal. It was created in New Orleans around 1906 at Central Grocery on Decatur where you can still purchase them.
Gumbo is a tasty Louisiana traditional stew, originating in West Africa and comes in numerous varieties. The vegetable base is traditionally okra (in West Africa, the Wolof language word "gombo" means okra) with filé (sassafras leaves) used as a thickener. Seafood is the most common meat; but one will just as often find chicken, duck, smoked sausage or "andouille" sausage, the ages-old "gombo d'zherbes" (vegetarian) and other types of gumbo on many a menu. Gumbo is universally served with rice.
Red beans and rice sounds bland, but is a tasty, comforting treat prepared in the New Orleans way. The beans are slowly cooked until they reach a creamy texture, with a mix of onions, bell pepper, celery, and spices. Especially traditional on Mondays. It can be vegetarian but may not be; ask. It is often served with spicy, smoked or "andouille" sausage.
Local fresh produce: Have you heard of Louisiana strawberries, satsumas and creole tomatoes? If not, it's probably because they're so good that locals eat most of them right here! The strawberries come in around Jazz Fest time, satsumas in December and the creole tomatoes in early summer. You may spot "mirliton"; on the menu, a vegetable not common in most of the United States. In Mexico and the Southwest, it is called "chayote", though travelers to Guatemala may recognize it as the same thing that's called "hisquil" down there. Of course, when the first crops come in, there are parties, festivals, and parades commemorating the strawberries, creole tomatoes, or mirlitons.
Bananas Foster might be the most well known Orleanian delicacy served at the end of a fine meal. Consisting of warmed bananas mixed with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and rum poured over vanilla ice cream; it is usually made flambe style in front of the customer just before serving. There are a number of restaurants in the French Quarter that specialize in combining the show of making it and serving it as well.
Snow balls or sno-balls are the New Orleans take on the northern "snow cone" or flavored ice done with more finesse. Ice is not crushed but shaved into microscopically fine snow in special machines, and flavored with syrups, fresh made at the better places. New Orleans sno-balls are often topped or layered with sweetened condensed milk, but this is optional. The flavors need not be overly sweet, and can come in a wide variety ranging from striking to subtle, including such treats as wild cherry, lemonade, chocolate cream, coffee, orchid vanilla, and dozens of others. Locals almost worship the better neighborhood sno-ball stands during the city's long hot summer; try the refreshing treat as a snack or dessert and find out why. Many snow ball shops will close in the winter, as New Orleans is surprisingly chilly between November and February and the demand dies down.
Beignets (pronounced "ben-yays") are a deep fried square pastry covered with powdered sugar. Most famously found at Morning Call & Café du Monde, Beignets are a traditional New Orleans treat enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. Beignets are traditionally served in orders of three with café au lait.
But what about Cajun food?
As mentioned, New Orleans isn't a Cajun city. Cajun people, culture, and food are centered in Acadiana, a different part of Louisiana. Cajun food was almost totally unknown in the city until about 1979, just slightly before it was discovered by the rest of the USA. Some locals are still puzzled why so many visitors come to the city looking for "Cajun" food — you're in New Orleans, why not try some local New Orleans food? That said, yes, you can find good Cajun food here. Mulate's and Michaud's in the Central Business District are the most popular places for a real taste of Cajun Country right in New Orleans. A few others are in the local listings. For every place in New Orleans where you can find real Cajun food, there are a dozen places with the word "Cajun" slapped on them to take advantage of what some visitors think they should find here; often just serving the same Creole dishes as always under a new name, or offering interpretations of Acadian cuisine that many Cajuns would consider as unauthentic as ersatz "Cajun" dishes sometimes seen on menus in the US East or West Coast.
Café au lait is a coffee served half brewed coffee and half hot milk. Coffee in New Orleans differs from any other coffee in the world. During the Civil War, coffee beans were very scarce. The local French extended their coffee supply by adding ground roasted chicory (the root of endive lettuce) to the brew. New Orleanians became very accustomed to the new beverage, noting that the chicory softened the bitter edge of the coffee while enhancing the robust flavor. Many taste a slight chocolate flavor while drinking café au lait, due to the addition of chicory.
Many restaurants will have hot sauce as a condiment on the table (even Chinese and fast-food restaurants). Louisiana is the creator of Tabasco sauce after all. Although always flavorful, not all New Orleans food will be very spicy hot. Many locals do like to add hot sauce to many dishes. If you can take it, give it a try.
In many of the fine restaurants around town, people take their clothes as seriously as their food. Despite the obnoxious heat and humidity in the summertime, don’t go to these restaurants dressed in shorts or jeans; they won’t let you in. This applies only to the nicest (and some say best) restaurants in town but there are plenty of places that you can wear shorts to (many of which are great too). This is what you've been saving your pennies for.
- Individual listings can be found in New Orleans's district articles
The legal drinking age is 21 in Louisiana, as it is across the US. At bars in New Orleans this is strictly enforced, but not as much in restaurants. However, notably unlike the vast majority of US cities, drinking in public is legal everywhere in the city, provided it is within a plastic container (note that outside the French Quarter, there are no container restrictions). New Orleans also has no "blue laws" or mandatory closing times for liquor establishments, which means that any hour of day or night, every day of the year, there is always somewhere to get alcohol.
You can head out the door with an open container of alcohol—but not in a bottle or can; to try to keep broken glass and jagged metal from filling the street, local laws mandate you use a plastic cup while on city streets and sidewalks. These are known locally as "go cups", and every local bar provides them, usually has a stack of them by the door and the bouncer will take your drink from you and pour it into the cup because bars can be held liable if they don't. Use them, because New Orleans Police are watching for it, especially on Bourbon Street.
Some drinks are noted for their potency, such as the tourist favorite "Hurricane" (a fruit punch and rum drink), which originated at Pat O'Brien's bar but now common in the Quarter. However, drinking does not have to be about quantity. Popular refined local cocktails include the "sazerac" and the "Ramos gin fizz". New Orleanians also love wine.
|Name||Who invented||Where invented||When invented||Good Example Today|
|Sazerac||Antoine Amadie Peychaud||The Merchants Exchange Coffee House||1850||Bombay Club Restaurant and Martini Lounge on Conti Street|
Sazerac Bar at the Fairmont Hotel
|Ramos Gin Fizz||Henry Ramos||Imperial Cabinet Saloon||1888||Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge in the Monteleone Hotel|
|Hurricane||Pat O'Brien||Pat O'Brien's Bar||1940s||Pat O'Brien's, 718 St. Peter St.|
|Hand Grenade||Pam Fortner and Earl Bernhardt||Tropical Isle Bar||1984||Tropical Isle bars|
Beer lovers should try local brews like "Abita" on tap, from light Wheat to dark "Turbodog" to the quirky "Purple Haze", a raspberry beer loved by some. "NOLA" (New Orleans Lager & Ale) Brewery opened Uptown in 2008 and has become a favorite of local beer lovers as well.
Listings of some top choices of the city's bars, from friendly neighborhood dives to elegant cocktail palaces, can be found in the neighborhood articles.
- Tales of the Cocktail. An annual event each July in the Quarter and CBD with seminars, tastings, and other events, drawing in people from master bartenders to casual cocktail lovers. There's even a "jazz funeral" procession for the cocktail which top bartenders would most like to see buried (past "funerals" have included "sex on the beach" and the "appletini").
Especially if you're drinking alcohol (but even if you aren't), be sure to drink a lot of water or other non-alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration in the southern heat and humidity.
New Orleans is a great coffee city. A good portion of the Eastern US's coffee beans are imported through the Port of New Orleans and roasted in local factories. Locals tend to take a good cup of coffee seriously, and in New Orleans coffee tends to be a bit stronger and more flavorful than in most of the USA. Café du Monde in the French Quarter is probably the city's most historic coffee destination, serving café au lait with chicory since 1862. Popular locally based coffee house chains PJ's and CC's have locations around the city serving good hot and cold coffee drinks. New Orleans also has a wealth of local neighborhood coffee shops; the best are listed in the individual sections articles.
- Individual listings can be found in New Orleans's district articles
The numerous hotels in the French Quarter and Central Business District are most centrally located for most tourists, but there are good accommodations in many other parts of town as well. Hotels on or near the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line in Uptown are popular with many visitors, and the smaller hotels and guest houses in neighborhoods like Marigny and Mid-City can provide an immersion in New Orleans away from the larger masses of tourists. Individual hotels are listed in the parts of town sub-articles.
Katrina alerted the world to the danger of hurricanes in this part of the world. However if one visits a place vulnerable to natural disaster, at least hurricanes give warning. During the height of the hurricane season, from July through October, be sure to check with the weather service before going to New Orleans, and if a large storm is threatening the Gulf Coast, consider a change of plans. If one threatens the city while you're there, play it safe and leave early; don't wait for an evacuation order to head away from the coast. If you cannot get out of the area you should at least be sure to get to a hotel on high ground.
Worries about health risks in New Orleans remaining after the post-Katrina cleanup were fortunately unfounded. The main health concerns are the same for the rest of the U.S. South: If you're not accustomed to the sub-tropical heat, drink plenty of liquids and pace yourself in the sunshine.
The majority of the city's notorious crime problem is manifested away from the parts of town of interest to most visitors, but always be aware of your surroundings. The Central City neighborhood is having the worst problem, and at present should be avoided by casual visitors. The "Back of town" sections of the 7th, 8th and 9th Wards have also been having serious problems. Visitors are advised to check on current local conditions before visiting these neighborhoods and take extra care if they go.
Stay out of St. Louis cemetery unless you are with a tour group. Ditto Armstrong Park, unless you're there for an event like Jazz in the Park. Avoid the Iberville project on the other side of N Rampart St, west of Armstrong Park.
While the French Quarter and attractions most visited by tourists are some of the safest areas for violent crimes, beware opportunistic thieves looking for a chance to snatch something from visitors who are not keeping an eye on their valuables. A famous 19th-century sign from the Quarter reads: "Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women." Not much has changed. Tourists can be so drunk and distracted that they are separated from their common sense and, all too often, other things. Keep things in your front pockets, and be careful with your digital on Bourbon. Locals have an expression, "Nothing good happens in the Quarter after midnight". Don't tangle with bar bouncers.
Around parts of the French Quarter and nearby areas with many tourists, visitors can encounter hustlers who will try to get a few dollars from tourists offering anything from a flower to a hat, a foot massage, or even to clean your shoes. Another popular tourist scam is to bet a tourist $20 that the scammer knows where the tourist got their shoes. If the tourist takes the bet, the scammer responds, "You got them on your feet" and demands the $20. Remember that you are under no obligation to talk to people and it's just best to ignore them. This is especially true of the hordes of gutter punks in the lower Quarter, near the old U.S. Mint and where Frenchman intersects with Esplanade, near the fire station.
All in all, though, the government and police are aware of the problem and are there to help you but often don't seem to care. use your common sense (as one would do in any other sizeable city). Being alone and utterly drunk is not the best state to be in when walking through a deserted alley in downtown New Orleans on a regular busy Saturday night, and during massive crowd-drawers like Mardi Gras or Southern Decadence, one should be more careful than on an average Wednesday afternoon.
Last but not least: looking for drugs or illegal activities will not only expose you to danger; if someone you just met is trying to lure you into a strange part of town for something decadent, assume you're probably being set up for a robbery or worse. Also Louisiana has the harshest sentencing laws in the country as most felonies carry a mandatory prison sentence, so conduct yourself accordingly.
The telephone area code for New Orleans and the nearer suburbs is 504.
There are cyber-cafes throughout the city, with the greatest number in the French Quarter and CBD. Many coffee houses and some bars offer wireless internet connection.
The New Orleans Public Library has branches around the city. Out-of-towners can get 1 hour of free internet access on library computers upon presenting photo ID; try to go at a time when school is in session to minimize risk of long waits. Libraries also provide unlimited free wireless internet access. Check out the library website for current special events held at various branches, which can range from children's storytime to lectures authors, presentations and exhibits on local history, and more. Branch libraries are open in almost every section of the city.
- Denmark (Honorary), 1100 Poydras St., Suite 2900, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. M–F 9AM–5PM.
- Italy (Honorary), 3501 N Causeway Blvd Ste 300, Metairie, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Portugal (Honorary), 617 N Broad St.
There used to be a Japanese consulate in New Orleans but it was moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
- The New Orleans Advocate. Daily newspaper since 2012.
- The Times-Picayune. Three times weekly since Fall 2012.
- Gambit. Free weekly. Dated Tuesdays, listing events of the week; often available the weekend before.
- AntiGravity Free monthly. New Orleans alternative culture. Found at coffee houses, alternative music venues, comix shops.
- Tulane Hullabaloo. Weekly student newspaper of Tulane University, published Fridays.
- The Maroon. Weekly student newspaper of Loyola University, published Fridays.
If you have a car and want a short adventure, drive north on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway bridge for a thrill. As soon as you get to the other side, start looking for the plentiful seafood offerings: fresh crab and shrimp out of the lake at very reasonable prices. You're now in St. Tammany Parish, which has various small cities, towns, and attractions.
I-10 runs east west through the city, I-55 dumps into I-10 West of the city and Pontchartrain; I-59 outflows into I-10 on the East side.
Travel west on I-10 out of Greater New Orleans to Acadiana or "Cajun Country". While there are a few places to get good Cajun in New Orleans, for authenticity go to the source.
River Road is home to a stretch of Plantations. The plantations are scattered along the River Road on both sides of the Mississippi between Greater New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Sugar plantations brought in a nice bit of income in the 18th and 19th centuries, and there are some lovely homes with the archetypal oak colonnades at the entrance. There are also plantations in the French Creole style. The most popular plantations include Oak Alley, Laura, and San Francisco.
You can also arrange for a swamp tour. Spring at Jean Lafitte swamp is a lovely time to see the swamp iris. Also, the first and longest running prison rodeo is just up the way at Angola. Before and after the rodeo, the inmates sell crafts, such as belt buckles, wallets, original paintings, earning money for their families in the process.
|Routes through New Orleans|
|Jackson ← McComb ←||N S||→ END|
|END ←||W E||→ Slidell → Atlanta|
|Houston ← Schriever ←||W E||→ Service east of New Orleans suspended indefinitely → Orlando (nominally)|
|Baton Rouge ← Metairie ←||W E||→ Slidell → Mobile|
|Baton Rouge ← Metairie ←||N S||→ END|
|Lafayette ← Jefferson ←||W E||→ Slidell → Mobile|