For much of its 300-year history, New Orleans has held a special position as a destination that’s both fascinating and fun. Southern manners, a rich history, a relaxed and sociable pace of life and, perhaps most importantly, music enliven every occasion and adventure. Though the city’s French Quarter has a well-earned reputation as America’s favourite place to party, NOLA has far more to offer than delightfully kitschy drink glasses on Bourbon Street.
We’ve gathered our picks for what to do in New Orleans, covering the classics, the off-beat, and everything in between, so you’re covered when you get there. Laissez les bons temps rouler, indeed.
1. Musical Magic
Although you can hear jazz in many bars along Bourbon Street, Preservation Hall, just off the main drag, offers the most authentic and heartfelt jazz experience. Established in 1961 to celebrate the quintessential American art form, the venue is a magnet for the best performers in the country. The experience is intimate and intense: patrons sit shoulder-to-shoulder on narrow benches in a small unfancy room for concerts that last about an hour. Shows start on time, so get in line early. For a more party-like atmosphere, and a more freewheeling selection of musical styles, check out the House of Blues—they also serve a mean Voodoo Shrimp.
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2. Artistic Intentions
NOLA’s Warehouse District, more recently dubbed the Arts District, has been an essential cultural destination since Louisiana hosted the 1984 World’s Fair. Independent galleries and trendy bistros are scattered among larger institutions like the National WWII Museum, the Louisiana Children’s Museum and the multidisciplinary Contemporary Arts Centre. The First Saturday of each month galleries along and around Julia Street stay open late. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art stands out as a must-see, with its well-curated and well-rounded collection of more traditional paintings and edgier contemporary installations.
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3. Heritage & History
No, the French Quarter does not have a lock on impressive architecture. The “American” section of town, known as the Garden District, is known for its Greek Revival and Italianate homes, situated on lush lots that give visitors room to breathe. Actor Sandra Bullock and vampire-loving author Anne Rice have homes here, while many illustrious New Orleans residents have their final resting place in Lafayette Cemetery. After a walking tour, take a lunch break at Commander’s Palace, famous for its creative menu and 25-cent martinis long before the 2016 documentary Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table, about the matriarch behind the foodiest family in Louisiana.
4. Refined Romance
The French Quarter is full of great dining places, and spots where you get some gumbo, jambalaya or a po’ boy or two between cocktails. Founded in 1918 by French-born Leon Bertrand Arnaud Cazenav, Arnaud’s is a slice of European gentility in the New World. The menu overflows with seafood choices from Oysters Rockefeller to Crab Claws Provençale. You’d think the Café Brûlot, where the server ladles flaming brandy-spiked coffee down a spiral of orange zest, would be the showstopper. But the Mardi Gras Museum upstairs, featuring costumes worn at Mardi Gras balls from the 1930s to the ’60s, is equally delightful.
5. Family fun
Kids will love hopping aboard the St. Charles streetcar line for a ride to the Audubon Zoological Gardens, one of the best ranked and most loved zoos in the United States. With more than 1,300 animals living in more than 58 acres, the monkeys, snakes and elks have plenty of room to spread out. Head north of Magazine Street for a picnic in the sprawling Audubon Park, which was once a sugarcane plantation. In need of even more green space? At 1,300 acres, City Park is huge and contains the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, whose famous carousel has been in operation for more than 100 years.