New Orleans is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States – and it’s not hard to understand why. With its unofficial motto “laisser les bon temps rouler,” NOLA is a unique and lively city that boasts everything from quaint cafes and shops and lively bars and restaurants, to historic landmarks and an eclectic mix of cultural influences.
Before heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, or anytime of the year for that matter, check out these top 10 things to see and do in New Orleans to ensure you make the most of your experience.
THE FRENCH QUARTER
St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square
This majestic cathedral located in the heart of the French Quarter in Jackson Square is one of New Orleans’ most notable landmarks. It’s said to be haunted by Pierre Antoine, a priest whose body was buried in the church, and has been known to appear in the nearby alley named after him.
Haunted History Ghost Tours
When it comes to ghosts and hauntings, New Orleans is a city that few others can contend with. There are many local tour operators who specialize in historic walking tours of the French Quarter and The Garden District. Knowledgable guides take you on a walking tour around the paranormal homes and sites of the French Quarter and offer detailed and concise historic accounts of New Orlean’s ghost and voodoo culture.
The French Quarter provides an interesting mix of shops designed for the tourist, the connoisseur, the casual shopper, and everyone in between. Eclectic shops of all kinds line the streets with everything from cooking accessories and ingredients, to articles of clothing and house accessories.
The infamous street in the heart of the French Quarter is the top destination for tourists visiting New Orleans. Bourbon Street is known for its party atmosphere, but also boasts a variety of quaint cafes, local shops, and restaurants in every price range. If partying until the wee hours and collecting beaded necklaces is not your thing, you can still enjoy the eclectic, unique atmosphere that surrounds Bourbon Street.
Le Café du Monde
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a taste of their world-famous French beignets. This historic landmark located just steps away from Jackson Square is famous for its cafe’ au lait and beignets – pillowy, deep fried choux-pastry served warm and smothered with icing sugar. Part of the experience also involves people-watching, as well as perusing the local shop.
An honorable mention goes to Café Beignet, located in the French Quarter. If waiting for hours for a pastry is not your cup of tea then head on over to this busy quaint cafe, which boasts an eclectic menu, including local favourites, like beignets. (On a side note, I’m a fan of Starbuck’s Chai Tea Latte, and their version gave them a run for their money!)
Located in the Lower Garden District, Magazine Street is popular among New Orleanians and tourists alike. This six-mile-long stretch in the Garden District features some of the best antique stores, art galleries, trendy cafes, vintage shops, and restaurants to be found anywhere in the city. Plan to peruse the shops for an entire afternoon (like I did) because there is just so much to see.
Stop by Commander’s Palace for brunch, Arana Taqueria for lunch, or opt for a walking ghost tour, taking in the haunted sights, we well as famous residences like Anne Rice’s and Sandra Bullock’s mansions.
Lafayette Cemetery No.1
Established in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery No.1 is a unique monument to a city which has known a tremendous amount of cultural diversity. One can spend hours in this eerie yet alluring landmark, exploring and delving into the rich history of New Orleans.
MARIGNY FAUBOURG DISTRICT
Frenchmen Street, Bourbon’s trendier counterpart, is the perfect antidote for a busy, sometimes overwhelming French Quarter experience. Many locals head to this four-block stretch of live music, bars, restaurants, night clubs and art galleries. Here, it’s more likely that one will find fewer crowds, as well as cheaper eats, drinks, and better music.
The swamps, marshes and bayous of New Orleans tell just as much about its history and heritage as its museums and famous landmarks. Swamp tours allow visitors to observe wildlife. Most companies offer combined tours of Lafitte and the nearby plantations, and one can opt for a traditional boat tour or (for the more adventurous traveler) an airboat.
Many swamp tour companies allow you to get really up close and personal with local wildlife!
South Louisiana is known for its beautiful architecture, and plantations tours give you the opportunity to admire it, as well learn about it rich, historic folklore.