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This year I finally managed to achieve a long delayed trip to New Orleans.
You may think that one of the main reasons of my interest was the city’s Cajun motto “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” (“Let the good times roll!”).
And you’ll be right…
Luscious French-inspired Creole and Cajun food, live jazz, street music performers, and unique architecture, make NOLA one of the greatest places on Earth to eat, drink, and indulge yourself with the temptations the city proudly shares with visitors.
And most important: you don’t need to be in your twenties or thirties to be able to enjoy NOLA, there’s room and suitable places for everybody here.
While the sequels of Katrina are still visible -mainly in the suburbs, but also in Downtown in the way of empty storehouses and buildings- the omnipresent spirit of “The Big Easy” keeps prevailing.
We’ll follow a 2 day itinerary, but I also added a few more spots just in case you are able to spend more time in NOLA.
Don’t expect originality: wherever you are staying, this day should start heading to the French Quarter, the “Vieux Carre”, or simply The Quarter, the original settlement of New Orleans established by the French in 1718.
We will go looking for the landmarks in our walk towards the center of the old town.
1- The Riverfront/Warehouse District
The area located between the French Quartier and the Garden District, which experienced a significant revitalization during last years, becoming a vibrant district of cobblestoned streets, art galleries and trendy restaurants.
2- St. Louis Cathedral
Its white façade becomes clearly noticeable from a distance.
It might not look like the most gorgeous religious building, but is the center of spiritual life in a surprisingly Catholic city, and the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the U.S.
Worth a visit, to watch its beautiful decorated ceilings..
3- The Cabildo and the Presbytère
Flanking the Cathedral, these two buildings are now part of the Louisiana State Museum.
The Cabildo, an elegant Spanish colonial building, was built under the Spanish rule in 1795-1799, and the place where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803.
Nowadays exhibits many artifacts related to Louisiana’s history and culture.
The Presbytère was designed to match the Cabildo; originally home for the clergy of St. Louis Cathedral, houses today the imposing “Living with Hurricanes- Katrina and beyond” and the “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana” exhibits
4- Jackson Square
The city grew around this park, which is still a center place in New Orleans.
Entering its iron gates, just stroll around to enjoy the peaceful square and take while you can some photos to the equestrian General Andrew Jackson’s statue –there are plans to take it down, together with other Confedarate monuments-.
Around the iron fence of the square we’ll find the tables of fortune-tellers, among an open-air artists’ display.
Leaving the square we’ll cross Decatur Street -and the ever present row of mule-drawn carriages waiting for passengers- toward Woldenberg Park (a pedestrian walkway by the river) and the Moonwalk (the terrace overlooking Jackson Square and the Mississippi River).
It may be still a bit early, but I’m always ready for a few carbs to empower the day.
So let’s go for some beignets, the city’s signature pillow-shaped pastries dusted with powdered sugar.
A fan of massive-tourist spots? Then “the” place for you is the world-famous “Cafe du Monde”. They have numerous places, but their first -and almost mandatory “to-go”- one is that in front of the Moonwalk.
I’m not a “tourist-attraction” guy, so I prefer the less crowded “New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee” just on the other side of the Moonwalk.
Anyway, here or elsewhere, you should try beignets before leaving NOLA.
-Don’t claim later that I didn’t tell you-
5- French Market
After this short/sweet stop, it’s time to walk through the pedestrian Dutch Alley towards the Market, while trying to find some of the art samples placed around.
We can make a stop at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park Visitors Center.
The market is a good place to find some local produce, among a number of tourist-aimed gift and souvenir shops.
After leaving the market, we head to N. Peters Street to find the little-triangular square “New Place de France”, and its shiny golden statue of Joan of Arc.
The heart of the Quarter is just a few blocks away from here.
It may seem that I’m always thinking on food, or drinks.
That made me remember that we can find two well-known local sandwich options for lunchtime.
You might have heard about the Muffuletta, perhaps the quintessential city’s sandwich filled with cured meats, cheese and tangy olive salad; the best choice might be to get one at “Central Grocery”.
Another–overrated in my opinion- classic is the Po’ boy, a massive sandwich filled with fish, shrimps or oysters, tomatoes, arugula and other vegetables –roast beef is a suitable alternative if you don’t like sea produce-. Pick yours either at “Royal House” or at “Killer Po’Boys”.
6- Royal Street
One of the city’s oldest streets and a main place to enjoy the ambiance and the spirit of the Quarter, from the characteristic and well-preserved architecture with ornate and flowery balconies, to the street performers, the antiques and art galleries and the souvenir and clothing shops.
Daily closed to vehicular traffic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so visitors can stroll around freely.
7- Bourbon Street
The French engineer Adrien de Pauger, who designed the layout of the neighborhood in 1721, chose this street to carry the name of the ruling French Royal Family.
Since then, Bourbon has been home to a wide variety of entertaining and gentlemen clubs and jazz halls, which built the party atmosphere that made this street famous.
It becomes a pedestrian walkway during the evening hours -timely to freely wander with your drinks-.
Still with enough time and energy?
Let’s see another historical neighborhood:
One of the United States’ oldest African-American and free people of color neighborhoods, it’s also where the African-American and Creole culture developed at its most.
A few central landmarks:
– The Louis Armstrong Park.
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, Congo Square was the gathering place on Sundays for the enslaved, the free people of color, and white Europeans and Americans, and was the cradle of the first attempts of jazz music and modern American dance.
The park is also home to the Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts.
– St. Augustine Church, at the corner of Governor Nichols and St. Claude Ave.
Founded in 1842 and established by free people of color, it is the oldest African-American Catholic Church in the country.
– The New Orleans African-American Museum, just a few blocks away between the park and Esplanade Ave.
– St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, founded in 1789.
One of New Orleans’ most famous cemeteries, and the final resting place of famous “Voodoo Queen”, Marie Laveau.
Sunset should be around the corner by now, so it’ll be a great moment to see what “Let the Good Times Roll!” means here.
Keep in mind that local “open-container” law allows you to take your drinks while exploring the nighborhood or following your drinking tour. So carry your glass with no fear, nor shame.
A suitable time to visit “Galatoire’s 33” -a recent classic- or “Pat O’Brien’s” to try their legendary “Hurricane”.
“Bayona” should be the choice for a trendy dinner.
For a simpler -and noisier- one, just stay at “Pat O’Brien’s” and enjoy their patio and the excellent food –and drinks, but you already knew that-.
Don’t fail to drop by “Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop Bar”, one of the older surviving structures in New Orleans, considered the oldest structure in the U.S. currently housing a bar. It has also a long haunted history and even its own ghost –take it from me: ghosts are a serious matter in NOLA-.
In the mood for good jazz music? “Preservation Hall” is one of the best and famous places in the Quarter to enjoy traditional jazz. Be advised that they don’t serve alcohol inside, so keep in mind the nearest bars and pubs for the moment you start feeling thirsty.
You are staying near City Park and prefer to end the day closer to your hotel? –a sensible idea-.
Just head to Frenchman Street, famous for its collection of jazz bars.
“The Spotted Cat” is trendy, favorite place here.
It should be definitely -and sadly- time to go back to our hotel, to collapse on our bed.
A new, long day is awaiting us.
Let’s start again at Canal Street, to walk through the Business District, Lafayette Square and Lee Circle.
We are heading towards one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of the city, and my favorite one: the Garden District.
Developed in 1832 for the newly-rich Americans then settling in the city -since French Creoles didn’t want them in the French Quarter-, quiet and far more relaxed than the Quarter, it is a neighborhood of lush greenery, old live-oaks and large and ornate historic mansions, as well as some of the city’s best restaurants and bars.
Some of its main attractives:
9- St. Charles Avenue
Once known as the “Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues”, was the gateway to New Orleans for nearly two centuries.
You can hop on St. Charles street car, the oldest operating streetcar line in the world.
10- Prytania Street
Running parallel to St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street, it blends the exquisite charm and style of the 19th century mansions with an array of boutiques, shops and intimate restaurants.
11- Lafayette Cemetery #1
In the core of the district, is one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans, and a favorite scenery for many movies.
Sadly, like many of other cemeteries in the city it shows a great need of maintenance, especially after Katrina. We keep strolling through the neighbor in our way to Magazine St.
12- Magazine Street
Named after an ammunition magazine built on the street in the late 18th century, it’s mainly a shopping destination and home to quaint coffee shops, cozy pubs and bakeries.
“St. Casamento’s”, at 4330 Magazine, serves some of the best oysters –it’s advisable to check in advance for opening hours-.
On an easier –and cheaper- side, you can drop by “Another Broken Egg Cafe”, at 2917 Magazine St., and try their Lobster and Shrimp Roll Sliders or the Southern Shrimp Salad. Simple, unpretentious, yet fine place to refill a few carbs to your body.
To end the day, take any -or both- of the city’s haunted tours:
– Voodoo Tour
Carrying you through the French Quarter and its cemeteries, this tours show the voodoo past of the city, the underground religious practices that came out of the African traditions brought by the slaves.
One of the best is “The Voodoo Bone Lady Haunted Tours”.
– Ghost Tour
In a city plenty of ghost stories, most of them dating back to its very founding, the available ghost tours will drive you into a creepy side of NOLA.
My choice: “Haunted History Tours”.
If you don´t fear to open your wallet or use your credit card, you can reward yourself with a Creole dinner at “Commander’s Palace”.
Operating since 1880, its kitchen was home to a number of great chefs, like the local celebrity Emeril Lagasse.
– be advised: jeans, flip-flops, t-shirts, and so on are a giant NO here-
You’re able to spend more time in NOLA?
My list of “bonus” places to discover:
– Audubon Park
The labyrinth, golf courses, bike trails, the Audubon Aquarium and the Audubon Zoo are its main attractions, in the middle of the large, green landscapes.
– City Park
Take one of the light-green line streetcars -saying City Park- to drop down just a few blocks away from the park.
Giant live oaks, a lake with pedal boats, the kids’ amusement Storybook Land, lush Botanical Gardens and the Train Gardens are some of its main attractives.
– Metairie Cemetery
This time you should take one of the red line streetcars, those saying “Cemeteries”, all the way to the end.
One of New Orleans’ largest and most historic cemeteries, established in 1872 on the grounds of the old Metairie Race Course – the oval shape of the track can still be seen today-, in an area once known as Metairie Ridge.
– National WWII Museum
The largest dedicated to WWII in the States, covering a three-building space which hosts interactive displays, and more than 100,000 artifacts from that period -including “My Gal Sal”, a fully-restored B-17 bomber hung from the ceiling-.
– The Confederate Memorial Hall Museum
Contains over 5,000 historical artifacts, offering -as many other museums in the South- a distinct view of a dark and critical period in America’s history, showing the way in which Southern states still keep a strong idea of a “Northern aggression”.
– Esplanade Avenue
Running from the French Market to the City Park, is like the Creole equivalent of the elegant St. Charles Avenue in “American” New Orleans, and one of the most scenic, quiet and historic streets in New Orleans.
– 1850 House
Owned by the State Museum, and located next to Jackson Square, the house was restored to its original condition and furnished in time period, to keep the style and décor of pre-Civil war houses, built by the -thanks to slavery- very wealthy white plantation owners to flaunt their fortune.
– LaLaurie House
A three-story mansion at 1140 Royal Street, built in 1832 by commission of Madame Delphine LaLaurie, is known as the “most haunted” house in the city,
Mme. Delphine was involved in a lot of rumors about her sadistic treatment to her slaves, truth revealed on April 10 1834 after a fire broke out at the mansion, when the slaves were discovered bound in the attic showing undeniable signs of prolonged torture
– New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
In 724 Dumaine St, besides its collection devoted to the history of this dark magic, you can pick up here some talisman gri-gri bags and enchantments to bring home.
Don’t wait until a “better” moment, start planning your next trip right now, and keep in mind:
“Life is about the journey, and not the destination…”