Many people who visit New Orleans never really get New Orleans. Sure, they’ll spend a long weekend there reveling in its seamy underbelly, repulsed by and yet attracted to, any number of tacky sex shows or raucous bars dispensing alcohol 24 hours a day; they’ll laugh at the strange mannerisms of the locals or the bawdy behavior of a fellow tourist and wonder how is it that anyone could actually LIVE in such a backward yet fun town; maybe they’ll take a ride on a streetcar and question whether people other than tourists actually ride those things (they do) – they might even go on a plantation tour if they’re feeling especially ambitious and can get up early enough without suffering the after-effects of a bad hangover.
But most of these many will eventually return to their respective hometowns, glad to be back to a familiar place after partying their arses off in a dirty, smelly, tourist-infested city in the Deep South.
I’m not one to argue the above, nor will I wax elegiac about how great New Orleans “used to be”; I won’t talk about all its cutesie nicknames or how awful the streets smell in the French Quarter; I definitely won’t gush about the latest celebrity restaurant, and I won’t carry on about how it can be a dangerous place or how it’s such “The Big Easy”.
That’s because I don’t think there’s anything easy about New Orleans at all. On the contrary – she’s quite secretive, and it takes some real poking and prodding to get past the surface to appreciate her more nuanced charms. The fact is, I find the character of New Orleans to be like that of a retired Madame – the town itself is her brothel, many of the tourists passing through her are like eager johns, in and out for a quick weekend fling with debauchery.
And it’s true – no town serves up the wicked and wild like New Orleans does, offering a smorgasbord of alcohol and iniquity that is unrivaled in the United States. After all, this famous city’s personal axiom is “laissons les bons moments s’écouler” (“let the good times roll”) – and you pretty much can’t escape doing just that when you’re there.
So then, what is it that’s so attractive about this Madame called New Orleans? Ironically, she’s been prostituted from the very beginning – passed back and forth between the Spanish and the French, then sold to the United States in one of Napolean’s biggest negotiating faux paus and geopolitical blunders (aka The Louisiana Purchase). Is it any wonder the Madame winks at the passing tourist like a wearied woman who’s seen it all?
You may speculate: is she still naughty, shamelessly promoting outrageous behavior and tolerating all manner of depravity like we’ve always imagined her to be? You bet she is. She may seem retired, but she’s still a Madame who runs a tight business. A bit more commercialized than we’d like to think of her, but her secrets can be revealed if you cajole her, flatter her, and you’re sincere in your desire to learn more about her lifestyle. It’s different – unique even, flavored with decadence and history and betrayal and intrigue and all of the elements that create a spicy gumbo of mystery and romance in a town where funerals can turn into impromptu street jazz celebrations.
The Madame is not easy to get to know. Many people drift through her in an alcoholic haze, catering to their ids and indulging themselves with hedonistic abandon. (I suppose that’s one way I could describe my college years there). But the Madame is rich, savory – and full of all the delightful surprises and eccentricities one would expect from someone of her historical and arguably off-color stature.
I love the Madame. I was lucky enough to make her intimate acquaintance during the four years I lived there. I made it a personal mission to get to know her, and I always make it a point to stay in touch with her.
Like any savvy Madame, she may take your money – but she’ll show you a good time in return for it.
It’s just up to you to find the real value.
Here are the best things to do in New Orleans:
1. Bourbon Street
Long known for its bawdy, often raw, nightlife, Bourbon Street is chock full of music, jazz clubs, restaurants, shops and that great New Orleans architecture.
We took a short stroll down Bourbon Street while some friendly people we met held our place in the line waiting for the Preservation Hall performance. (Now that’s friendliness for you!) For adults, this is an eye-opener, but it’s not advisable for the little ones.
The Embers “Original” Bourbon House Restaurant is one famous resident of Bourbon Street significant for its architecture, great food and its many famous guests, including Tennessee Williams who dined there often.
During Mardi Gras you can bet this place will be packed and probably gets down right rowdy or even worse. The evening we were there, the street was very crowded and all the jazz clubs seemed to be hopping!
2. Swamp Tours
There are many companies to choose from but we preferred Cajun Pride that was suggested by other travelers. The minivan of the company came to our hotel and we traveled there in about 30 minutes.
We boarded at a weird boat and the tour lasted for 2 hours. It was really fun to be there, the driver/guide was very informative along the way and he answered every question we had about the swamps and the wildlife there. The route was scenic in many parts and there was many different birds and small animals but the highlight was the alligators of course.
I was surprised by how many of them we saw along the way (in some tours you just see 2 or 3 while we saw more than 20!) and we had the chance to feed them, take pictures of them and even hold one on our hands!! It was a baby one of course! It seems the alligators are used of the company’s boats, they were coming directly to us all the time.
We stopped several times at specific spots where the guide got outside and fed them with chickens. He then left one to walk on the boat!! Of course, by feeding them non stop the alligators weren’t really interesting in us!
You can book online, through your hotels or a tourist kiosk everywhere in French Quarter. You can drive there if you have a car or they pick you up at your hotel.
The tour costs $44 (with transportation) or $22 without. Combo tour including a plantation costs $85 (with transportation).
3. French Quarter
Established in 1718 by the French as a military outpost, the French Quarter passed into Spanish hands about half way through the 18th century. Soon thereafter, the Americans took over (thanks to the Louisiana Purchase, mon dieu, what a bargain for us!!!).
One of the most ironic things about the French Quarter is that it is (architecturally speaking) more Spanish and American than it is French! It is also one of the most widely recognized places simply by seeing a photograph of one of its narrow streets. The architecture is reknown for its colorful and close-knit buildings with wooden doors, shuttered windows and the beautiful iron balconies, many with plants spilling out over the grillwork to add to its charm.
The city gives a respectful nod to this trifecta inheritance by maintaining attractive stone and cast iron signs which you’ll find on the street corners, inlaid into the buildings themselves – some in Spanish, French and English.
In the 20 years I’ve been acquainted with New Orleans, I’ve yet to visit the French Quarter and NOT see some poor hapless idiot gripping one of those streetlamps (just like you see in the cartoon postcards), spilling his guts out onto the street.
The weird thing about drinking in New Orleans is that the alcohol feels different – instead of throwing up and reading that as a sign that the night’s over, you somehow become reborn, able to rededicate yourself to more obnoxious behavior on Round #2 toward Intoxication.
Whether by day or night, you’ll see street performers and mimes on the hustle, watch transsexuals catwalking down Bourbon to reach their area of town (past the 800 block), catch strippers in sleazy bar entrances (long mirrors are situated at the entrances so you can see them do their stuff – sometimes a single dancer is hired just to lie face down on the mirror), or simply observe your fellow visitor laying prone on the street or catching a few zzzzzzzs on a streetside curb, in presumably in between drinking sessions.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to watch the police holding back hecklers as the Jesus Freaks quietly picket outside an establishment, condemning the revelers to an afterlife in Hell without a get-out-of-jail pass.
4. Jackson Square
New Orleans’ colonial roots can be seen in Jackson Square. It’s a lovely slice of the city, bearing respectable old buildings such as St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, Presbytere, the Pontalba apartments and the dramatic statue of Andrew Jackson.
This is where artists display their paintings, where you can book a carriage ride or drift over to nearby French Market where you can sample cafe au lait and beignets or wander through a flea market. I think this is a good starting point to familiarize yourself with New Orleans. It was grey and rainy when we stepped foot here, but this is an attractive part of the city and full of life!
Being old house lovers, my husband and I were eager to explore the interior of the Pontalba buildings located on both sides of Jackson Square, erected by Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, daughter of the benefactor of St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo and the Presbytere, Don Andres Almonester y Roxas.
The 1850 House is a National Historic Landmark overseen by The Louisiana State Museum. Each room has been furnished as though the Baroness herself was reigning over this Antebellum-style home. It was a very prosperous time in the city and this is reflected in the beautiful decor.
An immense carved bed holds sway over the Master bedroom and not too far from the parents room is the children’s bedroom, a dear little space with tiny tea set and small scale furniture while on the lower level, a kitchen staffed by slaves was located.
We missed the guided tour, which I believe is scheduled twice a day. Visitors have access to this historic home during normal business hours for a self-guided tour.
Admission is adults $6; Students, Seniors and Active Military $5; Children 12 and under are free. If combined with other museum tours, a 20% discount is applied.
Hours are Tues.-Sat. 9am-5pm; Sun. 12n-5pm; Closed on Mondays and major holidays.
5. Garden District
Whereas the French Quarter is a bit garish though not without its flavor and charm, the Garden District embodies the aristocratic “gentile” of the Old South. It is one of the two most prestigious New Orleans neighborhoods (the other is the University section near Tulane). Ironically it is noted for its gorgeous antebellum mansions and homes – not for any gardens.
The Garden District is a welcoming neighborhood just a short ride away from the Quarter. Get off the St. Charles Streetcar at stop 14, which is First Avenue and walk down toward the river. This area is full of historic mansions including the home of the famous author, Anne Rice (First and Chestnut) and the Payne-Strahan House where the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis died in 1889 (First and Camp). Once you get to Magazine Street you can either head back toward St. Charles Street and catch the streetcar or you can hop on a bus on Magazine Street.
The tacit rivalry between the Garden District and the French Quarter began shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, when the Americans moved into this Uptown area to settle – the gentrified Creoles and French living in the French Quarter area looked down their noses at the more recent upstarts, and thus the concept of “Downtown” and “Uptown” was born.
A walk in the Garden District wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lafayette Cemetery #1. Like St. Louis #1 in the French Quarter, it is a walled enclosure of Latin-style, above-ground tombs. It differs in that it’s not as old, not nearly as maze-like, and reflects its own unique chapter of New Orleans history.
The Garden District was mainly settled in the 1830’s by Americans and immigrants looking for opportunity in the prospering city of New Orleans. Unwelcome by the Creole society in the Quarter – largely Catholic and fiercely proud of their status as “originals” – the newcomers built their homes in the new City of Lafeyette, southwest of the Quarter. The cemetery’s monuments and tomb markings illustrate the addition of families from the Northern states, Ireland, Germany, Holland and other countries. It also marks the many lives lost during the yellow fever epidemic and locals who fell during the Civil War.
A peaceful and pleasant place to explore, you can see this cemetery with a tour or on your own. The helpful assistant at the Garden District Visitor’s Center said that it was very safe and although I did glimpse one fellow sleeping soundly behind a row of tombs, there were plenty of other visitors and groundskeepers around for company.
Cemetery hours are 7:00 – 2:30 M-F, 7:00 – 12:00 Sat, closed Sundays and holidays. Free.
7. French Market
The French Market has existed at this site for over 200 years (1791). Native Americans were the first to recognize that this spot, on the banks of the Mississippi River, would make a grand trading post.
Following the years of Spanish and French control, it became of prime importance in the purchase of the Louisiana territory by President Thomas Jefferson.
African-Americans brought calas (a type of fritter), caffeine and pralines to the early market; while the Choctaws, traveling from north of Lake Pontchartrain, offered herbs, spices and handmade beads.
As it evolved, Gascon butchers, Italian and Spanish fruitsellers, German vegetable women and Moors bringing trinkets from the Holy Land helped to create the CULTURAL GUMBO it is today.
I thought it was interesting to note that even in the mid-1800’s coffee drinking was a favorite thing to do here. In fact, Cafe du Monde, where you can grab a cafe-au-lait and sugary beignet, is the oldest tenant in the French Market.
In the mid-1800’s a Bazaar Market was built; grocery goods were sold in Red stores and in 1924, a farmers market with stalls was added. This rich heritage of commerce grew into what is now a ‘cultural, commercial and entertainment treasure’.
8. St. Louis Cathedral
As the oldest continuously active cathedral in the United States, this structure was originally established as a small basilica back in 1720, under French control. After a catastrophic fire left it in ruins, it was rebuilt and re-dedicated in 1851, and remains the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
A generous benefactor, Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, enabled the church to be rebuilt and it reopened its doors in 1794. A sketch shows that it was smaller in scale than the church you see today and had three rounded towers, rather than outright spires.
The present-day church was built and enlarged over the Spanish foundations in 1851. This massive cathedral is crowned with three dramatic spires which point heavenward and bears a clock beneath its tallest spire.
Inside, an atmosphere of sanctity envelopes the visitor. At the front of the sanctuary, a gilded work entitled Sacrifice of the Lamb of God hangs over the altar; throughout the sanctuary statues of the saints peer down from their pedestals.
Flags representing the countries once dominant in New Orleans hang high overhead on the right side; you’ll see the Papal flag, the coat of arms of the Basilica and coat of arms of the dioceses of the Metropolitan Province of New Orleans, creating a dramatic effect!
9. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Located just one block away from the French Quarter, St. Louis Cemetery #1 opened in 1789 and it’s one of the most famous cemeteries in the United States, mostly thanks to its unusual architecture: instead of being buried, the deads are laid to rest in above-ground tombs and mausoleums, something that is not unique to New Orleans but that is more rarely seen in the US. We were advised to visit the cemetery as part of a tour for safety reasons – the cemetery is located next to the Iberville housing projects, and there have been reports of mugging and pickpocketing, but to be honest the area felt pretty safe to me and I saw lots of people walking around the cemetery on their own. However, I’m still glad we decided to go on a tour because we learned a lot about New Orleans along the way: as we were walking in the direction of the cemetery, our guide gave us lots of information about the history of the city, but also about how things stand today. It was easy to see how much she enjoyed living in New Orleans, and she had no problem sharing both the good and the bad with us. That’s how we found out about Storyville, the city’s red-light district from 1897 to 1927, about the evolution of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, and about the city’s thriving artistic community, just to give a few examples.
Once we got to the cemetery, our guide showed us the most interesting sights, such as some sunken tombs, the tiny Protestant section of the cemetery, the spot people have come to refer to as the “Nicolas Cage Plaza” (the actor bought a section of the cemetery and erected an ugly pyramid in which he will eventually be buried) and, of course, the purported tomb of Marie Laveau, New Orleans’s famous Voodoo Queen. Our guide told us that Marie Laveau’s tomb is believed to be the third most visited burial site in the US after those of Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy. People still bring offerings and leave “XXX” marks on the tomb in the hopes that the priestess will grant them their wish. It was very interesting to find out more about the practice of voodoo in New Orleans, and to conclude the tour our guide brought us to an active voodoo temple in the French Quarter. The tour lasted over 2 hours, so I’d say it was well worth the $20 they charge, especially considering that some of the money goes towards restoring the cemetery’s historic monuments.
10. Audubon Aquarium
In December, it was so cold that we had to go indoors to the Aquarium. There was a large metal sculpture at the entrance with water running down it – I’m sure it was meant to represent fish scales, but it looked more like breasts to me because there was a kind of round bolt type thing at the bottom of each one. We went through the Caribbean sea kind of tunnel to get to the elevator rather than walk up the stairs.
On the upper level in the penguin exhibit, I saw a penguin repeatedly try to swim out the side of the tank. He just kept butting his head into the glass. The penguins were one of the few animals which survived the hurricane.
There was a place you could touch a shark skin (live nurse shark), sea otters, and a pacific coast area. There was also a Mississippi delta area with their famous white alligator (not an albino – cream colored with blue eyes). He survived Katrina as did the tarpon.
The Amazon Rainforest area was hot here and they had a lot of steam/mist machines making it very humid and I don’t know why because the only birds I saw were a seagull, a great horned owl, and a couple of macaws – two scarlet macaws and some blue ones.
11. National WWII Museum
If you’re interested in American history, specifically World War II history, the WWII Museum should be one of your first stops in New Orleans. This popular museum showcases a vast array of exhibits, documents, artifacts, photographs, and movies. Perhaps the most moving parts of the state-of-the-art exhibits are the oral histories from veterans worldwide.
The National WWII Museum Foundation was founded in 1991 by noted historian and author, Dr. Stephen Ambrose from the University of New Orleans. Ambrose wrote the book, “D-Day” and many others as well as consulted on TV documentaries and films. The Museum opened it’s doors on June 6, 2000 with the enormously talented director Steven Spielberg and Oscar-winning actor and star of “Saving Private Ryan” attending. This museum address all the amphibious invasions or D-Days of WWII and is a tribute to the more than 1 million Americans who took part.
It’s New Orleans location is due not only to Dr. Ambrose’s presence here but also because it was in New Orleans where the Higgins Boat, the landing craft used during the D-Day invasion, was manufactured. President Eisenhower credited the Higgins Boat with being responsible for the great success of the Allies.
Additions to the museum have taken place since its opening, but unfortunately during the hurricane disaster of August, 2005, the museum was vandalized and damaged. Fortunaltely, this fantastic museum is back on its feet again.
The WWII Museum lets the visitor experience the history of the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy as well as D-Day invasions in the Pacific. (The “Pacific” wing is the newest addition to this fabulous museum.) Exhibits and galleries, movies, and “Personal Account Stations” all combine to enhance the visitor’s ability to “relive” this moment in history. Allow several hours to visit this great museum!
The WWII Museum is wheelchair accessible. Brochures are available in Braille, French, Spanish and German. The museum is open 7 days per week except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas and Mardi Gras. 9:00 am to 5:00pm.
The museum also offers PJ’s Cafe, the Museum Shop which has a wonderful selection of things to buy including appropriate souvenirs for little people. Wheelchairs are available for use.
12. Cafe Du Monde
If you haven’t been to Cafe Du Monde, you haven’t been to New Orleans!! Cafe Du Monde has been serving the best cafe au lait in the country since 1862!! A trip to New Orleans without stopping in Cafe Du Monde would be unthinkable. The cafe is perfect place to stop off for great cafe au lait at any time and a plate of powdered-sugar topped beignets or puffy French doughnuts for dessert. This combo isn’t bad for a quick breakfast either, and judging by the lines of people there in the morning, a lot of people from New Orleans think the same!
I think the secret to the superb cafe au lait is the restaurant’s own blend of coffee and chicory, mixed half and half with hot milk. Chichory is made from the root of the endive plant which is then roasted and ground. Coffee with chicory seems to be mostly a Southern tradition and I remember my mother brewing coffee with it.
You can’t miss the green, stripped awning stretching over the large, outdoor table area. It’s a great vantage point for some people watching too! A smaller, but quaint indoor seating area is where we always sit because we like to watch all the hub-bub inside and throng of people outside from the little bistro tables next to French doors! Cafe Du Monde seems to have an ambience all its own. We always leave with at least a little or alot of powdered sugar on us, a definite clue as to where we’ve just been.
A plate of 3 beignets is $1.59 and cafe au lait in round, ceramic cups is a little less. This is quite an inexpensive way to sample a uniquely New Orleans treat!!
There is also a Cafe du Monde with counter service in the Riverwalk Mall. You can purchase a nice selection of their coffee or beignet mix, mugs, T-shirts, caps, etc. at the Jackson Square location, or you can order online or by phone.
13. Audubon Zoo
An excellent day, or three, for a family or anyone who loves wildlife and nature.
Enjoy Audobon Park, a key feature of uptown New Orleans. Find it along St. Charles Ave, across from Tulane, or on Magazine where Uptown hits the Riverbend. Great place to picnic, play with the kids, take a romantic walk, run a few miles, golf (what I’m told is a decent public course) or play frisbee. Hit the fly if someone will tell you what that is. Bonus if they can tell you why. Great place to watch the Mississippi go by; very different from the downtown riverfront. Fun to watch the boats go by or bring your dog.
The Zoo is not cheap, nor exceptional, but it is nice. They often host fun events for kids of all ages, espically around holidays or as fundraisers.
After seeing the park and/or the Zoo take the ferry along the Mississippi to the Aquarium / IMAX.
Or park near The River in the lots lining the French Quarter between Canal St and the market.
The Aquarium is fantastic.
Find the Park along St Charles, across from Tulane University, where Uptown meets the Riverbend.
The Park and Golf Course (public) are across Magazine St. from the Zoo, the Tea Room, the Fly, the Tree, and practice fields between Children’s Hospital and where Broadway meets The River, River Road turns into Leake Ave near Cooter Brown’s (po’boys, beer & sports).
The Aquarium and IMAX are on The River where Canal begins, seperating the French Quarter from the CBD. Park in the lots along N Peter St. near Canal Place (upscale shopping, Starbucks), and Jax Brewery (kitchy shops, cheap eats and beer).
This is also a good place to park if you’re spending the day in the Quarter and don’t want to worry about having your car towed or broken into or if you have strollers, walkers, or just lots of bags with you. Under $10 a day.
14. Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras was a French holiday introduced to New Orleans some time around the turn of the 17th century (around 1699). Otherwise known as Carnival, Mardi Gras actually translates as “Fat Tuesday” in French, which is more or less a metaphor for the hedonistic excesses that are carried out during this festive time.
Mardi Gras can fall any time between February 3 and March 9, depending on the Lunar calendar used by the Catholic Church to determine the date of Easter. (Mardi Gras is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.)
Mardi Gras officially begins on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, and basically continues non-stop until midnight on Fat Tuesday, when – if you’re partying in the Quarter and happen to be stumbling around the streets – you’ll be spotted like Cinderella at midnight with her carriage turning into a pumpkin…you’ll want to get yourself inside an establishment QUICKLY, as the police and clean-up crew line up on each street and a whistle blows, signaling them to move forward and brush all pedestrians aside off the street – “Mardi Gras is OVER. Move OFF the street NOW!”.
It’s almost a shock to the system to experience this eerie, sober interlude after you’ve been partying for hours (days, even). It’s a true Gotham City moment – one you try to include in your Mardi Gras repertoire of experiences, if possible.
The Mardi Gras season begins on January 6 and continues until Fat Tuesday, which of course is the day before Ash Wednesday. During this time, parade schedules are posted everywhere and there’s usually one taking place every few evenings (Iris is an exception – an all female crewe with the parade taking place during the day). The excitement and crackling energy – a complete “joie de vivre” is palpable during these weeks leading up to the main event – it used to be my favorite time of the year.
Note about the locals: Many long-time New Orleans residents actually get out of the city during Mardi Gras, fed up with the tourists and the debauchery that takes place in unprecedented levels during this time. They come back only on Ash Wednesday, when the city seems introspective and quiet – an always tolerant witness to the crazy activities leading up to the Holy Day.
What was also fun, is that businesses and the Universities officially close during Monday and Tuesday, considering these two days as “holidays”. I used to love that!
15. Ghost Tours
In a city where cemeteries count as some of the most popular attractions, it only makes sense that ghost tours would be popular too! There are several companies offering guided haunted walks through the French Quarter and after reading some reviews, we decided to go with the French Quarter Phantoms. It’s the only ghost tour we went on so I can’t compare it with the others, but we had a fantastic time on the tour! Our guide was one of the most entertaining I’ve ever had – she really knew how to tell a story and she made us laugh all night long! The stories were well researched and included a lot of historical information about New Orleans, which is exactly what I like in a ghost tour. Among other things, we heard about the history and ghosts of the Cornstalk Hotel and Andrew Jackson Hotel, and made the obligatory stop in front of the LaLaurie Mansion, which is often described as the city’s most haunted location. And to make things even spookier, I and another lady on the tour might have seen a ghost walk by as we were getting ready to cross the street. It was one of the weirdest sensations ever!
The French Quarter Phantoms ghost tour runs every evening at 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. Tours start at Flanagan’s Pub and tickets cost $20, and you get a 2 for 1 special on Hurricanes at the pub. As our guide said, the more people drink, the funnier she gets!
16. Plantation Tours
There are different Plantation tours:
San Francisco (built in 1837, a steamboat gothic style, the only one authentically restored home on Old River Road).
Laura (built in 1805, it was first on our list but the main house was burnt some years before).
Oak Alley (built in 1837 with beautiful setting).
We preferred the Oak Alley Plantation. It was a nice tour through the history of the plantation, we saw the beautiful (and famous) oak alley of course, where the 28 gigantic oaks stand alive, believed to be at least 100 years older than the house itself! The tour inside the house lasted about 30’, I think It was short but it was informative with the lady that was our guide dressed in traditional costume but they don’t allow you to take pictures. Of course, you can take as many as you wish on the balcony with gorgeous views. It was really impressive when we were on upper floor, it was kind of dark and suddenly she opened the balcony door and all the light came in.
The plantation was a sugar plantation that era with the owners Jackques Telesphore and his wife Celina that were using the house to impress her guests with dances and expensive dinners. The house itself is impressive with high ceilings and large windows, there used to be marble floors but we saw wooden ones! They had many slaves, all of them were living in wooden structures out of the house of course, unfortunately you don’t hear much about their story during the tour.
The mansion has been used in many films so it may look familiar to some of you.
Then we spent some time on the gardens and the general area, don’t go there only for the house tour, it’s a pity to loose the majestic grounds with all these live oaks. At the end we visited the café to relax for a while before we drove back to New Orleans with the tour van.
17. River Cruises
The Mississippi is such a huge piece of the NOLA story that climbing aboard some kind of river-going vessel is a must. The Canal Street Ferry leaves every 15 minutes from the foot of Canal Street and carries bikers, cars and pedestrians to Algiers Point on the other side. From there you can disembark to explore the neighborhood’s wealth of historic homes or just ride it back. From Algiers Point, you get an interesting panorama of the city from new (downtown) to old (French Quarter) so it’s a great spot for pictures. It’s also a good activity to do with kids.
The entire round trip only takes a 1/2 hour and it’s free for walk-ons (cars are $1.00). The upper cabin is closed and air conditioned but it’s much more fun to go below with the cars, lean over a railing and catch the breeze. One little warning – the departure horn is deafening so be ready to cover your ears! Ferry schedules could change so check at the dock for updates, and “to go” cups (regretfully) have to stay on shore – no food or beverages allowed.
18. Mardi Gras World
Visit the creation workshops of the city’s largest carnival float manufacturing company. Almost all Mardi Gras floats have been built by this company since 1947. The visit allows you to discover the warehouses where some of the oldest parts are sheltered, to follow the history and manufacture of the floats. The dozens and dozens of multicoloured figurines on display will give you an idea of what the madness of Mardi Gras is for the locals.
Open every day from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm (last tour at 4:30 pm). Closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mardi Gras. Adult 22 US$, senior 17 US$, child (2-11 years old) 14 US$.
19. Lafayette Cemetery
Offered by Historic New Orleans Walking Tours – no reservations are required for this tour, and the times are 11:00 am and 1:45 pm daily – but it’s important to remember that the Lafayette Cemetery is closed on Sundays so if you plan on doing this tour on Sunday, you’ll only be able to stand outside the gates of the cemetery while your guide shares all the juicy gossip surrounding some of the more colorful inhabitants.
I much prefer things up close and personal (er, not too close and personal if you know what I mean! But I am a real cemetery fan and this one is full of interesting info).
In addition to learning about the peculiar burial rights and traditions that characterize New Orleans (i.e. entire families share a burial mausoleum or sometimes a drawer in a wall if there’s not enough money to pay for a plot; the bones are simply shifted over and the new body introduced into the confines -creepy!) and of course the headstones and actual burial crypts themselves are all above ground because New Orleans itself is below sea-level and one too many a time bodies were unearthed and found floating through the city years ago…shiver!), this tour is especially edifying for those who are interested in the antebellum society that formed this area – the background behind the architectural styles and the history behind the design of some of the more famous homes.
The tour lasts about 2 hours and carries on whether it’s sunny or rainy. It’s always a good idea to bring a raincoat or umbrella when you go out in New Orleans.
20. Steamboat Natchez
Touring the Mississippi river on steam boat! Some may consider it as a tourist trap but we enjoyed and yes we thought it was romantic. Natchez is the last one with a real steam engine so we tried to cruise with it. It’s 265ft (80m) long and has a capacity of 1600 people.
We did the evening cruise of course but you can choose the tour during the day. Before boarding it was a nice surprise listening to the distinctive whistle of a steam calliope! Some other tourist think it’s annoying!
After boarding we went to the lower deck where we had the good but not special buffet food, at least worth the price we payed.
The 3 hour dinner/jazz cruise cost $35 + $25 if you choose the option to have dinner too. The Harbor cruises during the day (at 11:30am and 14:30) lasts 2 hours and costs $24.50(cruise only) and $34.50(cruise and lunch).
There is a small gift shop with a very friendly lady working there. If you don’t pay for the dinner you will be on board but you have to wait on the deck for the first hours as the people are taking their dinner. Then the boat departs.
We enjoyed the jazz band (Dukes of Dixieland) and we went down to the engine room (it was really hot downthere) where you can see how the steam boat works.
There’s not really much to see on the river, big boats move slowly here and there, there is a small narration from the speakers pointing at some parts of the (industrial) area (no one really cares, don’t forget New Orleans isn’t very attractive right by the river).
But it’s all about the feeling, we just grabbed two chairs on the upper deck and enjoyed the full moon as the boat was leaving New Orleans for the next two hours.
And the skyline of the city was amazing too!
21. Places To See
New Orleans hosts a variety of museums, mainly concentrated in the French Quarter, but with many others spread about the city. You will find unique elements of American History–such as The Old U.S. Mint, National D-Day Museum, and The Museum of the Confederacy–alongside natural preserves like the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans Botanical Garden.
Offering something for everyone, the city has the Louisiana Children’s Museum for the kids and numerous art museums, primarily American Italian Renaissance Museum, The New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art are more for adults.
Though not really a museum, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is what New Orleans is all about. It’s home is in Louis Armstrong Park at the edge of the French Quarter.
22. Walking Tours
The walking tour of the Garden District and the Lafayette Cemetery was one of the highlights of my trip to New Orleans. We chose this tour because our hotel recommended it. Incredible! We took the St. Charles streetcar and got off at Washington, walked two blocks to Prytania. The tour organizes at The Garden District Book Shop inside The Rink, a building that was actually a skating rink when it was built 100 years ago. Now it is a small shopping center.
The cost of the tour was well worth the $15 per person. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a bottle of water. This incredibly informative walking tour lasts about 2 hours.
We knew it was popular when, on a weekday, the tour group had to be split between two guides.
Because I am a huge Anne Rice fan, I especially enjoyed seeing the tombs used by Lestat in her books and then on the Garden District segment walking by her house. (Unfortunately sold a couple months ago after her husband died).
The guide talked about architecture, history, plant life and told funny stories as we all followed behind her.
23. Audubon Park
This park is privately owned – it is not a national, state or city park. The entrance on St. Charles Avenue designed by John Charles Olmsted was built by the Audubon Commission over three quarters of a century ago. In 1884 this park was the site of the World’s Fair including a building covering 30 acres. That building dominated the park until it was destroyed by a hurricane.
The Audubon Park Golf Course opened in 1898 and the renovated Audubon Park Golf Course opened in Fall, 2002. It earned the accolades of Golf Digest Magazine as the highest rated golf course over a hundred years old in the country.
There is also a lagoon (which in those days was used for swimming and then for paddle boats), a roadway which is now a jogging track, and trees including over 1000 live oak trees. A carousel, two playgrounds near St. Charles Ave, the Audubon Tea Room, the Newman Bandstand have all been aspects of the front of Audubon Park. Another playground is in the Master Plan and there are picnic areas and places for informal recreation.
In addition to tennis courts and ballfields, the City of New Orleans built the Whitney Young Pool in 1998 in the area where the original Audubon Natatorium existed. The Audubon Commission completed the demolition of the old stable structures and the area is now cleared and graded, ready for the new stables to be constructed by Friends of the Stables in Audubon Park.
I was introduced to Priestess Miriam and her temple through a cemetary/voodoo tour that I took on the recomendation of my Bed and Breakfast hosts. They said that she was the real deal, and was she ever. I had a wonderful experience with her and even if it is a buch of crap, I don’t care, because for the time I spent there I was buying into it and having a good time.
The voodoo spiritual temple contains a shop in the front, and an area in the back where Priestess Miriam will perform many types of rituals which are detailed on her website if you are interested.
I was lucky enough to relax in her courtyard and hear her tells stories (she does ramble randomly, so pay attention) and make merry with her visitors. She then invited us back into her special room where she conducts rituals. We met her snake, and then she did a general ‘reading’ for our group, speaking to everyone on different matters.
Crazy as this sounds, I felt as if the things that she was saying were just for me. Maybe I was just caught up in the moment, who knows. What I do know is that it was quite the experience, and I quite enjoyed her company and the glimpse into her life of practicing Voodoo.
You need not be on a tour to visit her or have her conduct rituals for you. Just stop by or call.
25. Preservation Hall
Admission to Preservation Hall is first come-first seated. No advance tickets, no reserved seating. There are six wooden benches, and a series of pillows on the floor. If you are not one of the lucky first through the door, you are sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall, or standing for the entire time. The building is about 150 years old – there is no air conditioning. Giant fans do their best to swirl around the hot, sticky July air. The room is dark, the walls decorated with dark paintings of musicians and New Orleans – there is a sign behind the bandstand that reads “Requests: Traditional – $2; All Others – $5; Saints – $10”.
Sometime after 8pm (New Orleans time, if you will), six men of slightly advanced age take the stage. From the very first song, you know that you are in the presence of genuine Jazz masters. From “What a Wonderful World”, to “Tiger Rag”, to “St. James Infirmary” – each piece was a hit with audience, which was comprised of young and old, resident and tourist, black and white. The crowd this night was appreciative and enthusiastic – several requests were made, and the band got standing ovations after each set. There are three sets per night, each about 45 minutes, with a 15 minute break in-between. It was so much fun- we “chair danced”, and moved, and shimmied, and clapped, and had a wonderful time! At the end of the night, as the bandleader himself stated, “Now you can say you’ve been to New Orleans”. It’s taken me 13 years, but I can finally make that statement myself.
If you go: Admission $10, line starts around 7:15 pm, doors open at 7:45 pm, show starts at 8:00 pm (all times are “ish”). Bathrooms are next door at Pat O’Brien’s. Bottled water and souvenirs for sale in the carriageway.
- Featured image: Karen Apricot [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Bourbon Street: Mark Souther [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Swamp Tours: Charles Skip Martin [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. French Quarter: Patrick Mueller [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Jackson Square: Creator:Clark MillsDaniel Schwen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Garden District: Sharon Mollerus [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Cemeteries: Mark Souther [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. French Market: Infrogmation of New Orleans [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. St. Louis Cathedral: Brendan J. O’Reilly [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1: Vrlobo888 at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. Audubon Aquarium: Steven Fine [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. National WW2 Museum: ironypoisoning [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Cafe Du Monde: MusikAnimal [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Audubon Zoo: The Erica Chang [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Mardi Gras: David & Karyn [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Ghost Tours: Reading Tom [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Plantation Tours: Francisco Anzola [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. River Cruises: MusikAnimal [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Mardi Gras World: Paul Mannix [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Lafayette Cemetery: MusikAnimal [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Steamboat Natchez: Coastal Elite from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Places To See: Jmturner [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Walking Tours: Infrogmation of New Orleans [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Audubon Park: Infrogmation of New Orleans [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Voodoo: Flickr photographer JSF306 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Preservation Hall: Infrogmation of New Orleans [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons