Located near the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, in the Southeastern United States, New Orleans is a true melting pot, or a gumbo, if you like: a former French colony that later became home to a huge Creole population originally from various Caribbean islands.
“N’awlins,” the “Crescent City,” “The Big Easy,” “NOLA”. . . whatever you call it, the city is justly famed as a party town par excellence. It’s the cradle of jazz and blues, of course, with its bars and restaurants swinging to the sounds of brass and stringed instruments. And that’s on any regular night: imagine during Mardi Gras, the nearly month-long festival that attracts revellers by the thousands in February and March every year.
In 2005, New Orleans made headlines when it was dealt a catastrophic blow by Hurricane Katrina, which led to an unprecedented crisis and damage on a massive scale. Since then, the city and its inhabitants have bounced back, and continue to welcome visitors from all over the world with characteristic Southern warmth and kindness.
Five great ways to explore New Orleans
Now, let’s explore! If you’re planning a stay in New Orleans, here is a selection of must-do’s to give you a taste of the many charms of this great city.
Stroll the streets of the old French
The French Quarter is the historic and tourist centre of New Orleans. A great place to start your journey is Jackson Square, which is easy to locate, next to St. Louis Cathedral, which looks just like a miniature version of the Disney castle.
Not far away is the French Market, where you can start tasting the many regional specialties. Royal Street, the most beautiful in the French Quarter, is well worth the visit. Be sure to admire the Spanish and Creole architecture of the buildings, with their quintessential cast-iron balconies. This charming thoroughfare is lined with pretty shops, and you’ll to see plenty of street performers.
And of course, there’s Bourbon Street, with block after block of bars. Day or night, the atmosphere is always right for a party. If you’re in the mood, try a Hand Grenade, the famous fluorescent-green cocktail served at the Tropical Isle. Over the years, it’s become a must on Bourbon Street.
One of the great joys of the French Quarter is getting lost in its maze of streets. And you might even make some “frightening” discoveries here: New Orleans is said to be the most haunted city in the United States! Perhaps you’ve heard tell of Marie Laveau, the city’s legendary voodoo priestess. . . If you’re so inclined, there are plenty of guided tours of New Orleans’s spooky side.
Soak up the musical vibes
It’s the birthplace of jazz and blues, so no visit to New Orleans would be complete without at least one live music performance. The best place to experience them is on Frenchmen Street, just east of the French Quarter. The doors to the music venues are open, so you can hear and see the groups right from the street—a very effective technique for drawing in the crowds. We checked out four great spots: The Maison, 30°/90° and Blue Nile. Prepare to be transported by the sounds of trumpets, saxophones, trombones and double basses shaking the walls. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, it’s hard not to appreciate this music when you know you’re in the very spot where it was born.
Take in a Saints game at the Superdome
If you’re a sports fan and lucky enough to be in town when the team is at home, try to get your hands on a ticket to a New Orleans Saints football game at the Louisiana Superdome. Even if you can’t, the stadium and its surroundings are a spectacular sight! We weren’t able to attend a game, but just visiting the Superdome was fascinating. Inaugurated in 1975, the venue famously hosted some 30,000 Katrina refugees in 2005. On their first game back in the Superdome after the disaster, the Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, a fitting symbol for the city’s renaissance.
Tour the city by streetcar
This mode of transportation is part of the history and soul of New Orleans. In fact, the city is home to the oldest continuously operated electric railway line in the world. Taking a streetcar is a fun and original thing to do, whether as practical transportation or just for the sheer pleasure of the ride. We tried out the short red line on Canal Street and the green line on St. Charles Avenue, from which you can admire some of the city’s beautiful colonial mansions. The third, the Riverfront Line, runs along the Mississippi to the French Market.
Taste the legendary cuisine
With its restaurants teeming with various Cajun and Creole specialties, New Orleans is the destination par excellence for any foodie in search of new flavours. You’ll even find alligator meat served up at several eateries in the city. We loved the sandwiches at the popular Cochon Butcher, located in the Arts District near the Convention Center, which offers a relaxed vibe in a warehouse-y décor—not to mention super-fast service. Fulton Street also has great restaurants.
We hope you’ve learned a little more about this charming Southeastern U.S. city thanks to this blog entry, and that it will help you plan a future visit.
Now all you need to do is book a flight to New Orleans with Air Transat to explore the charms of this iconic destination.
Cover photo credit: Rachel Latour