Many of my conversations with New Orleanians centered around one of two topics: food and Hurricanes. City residents couldn’t wait to recommend all of their favorite eateries (both touristy and off-the-beaten path), from cab drivers to bartenders. But they also liked to talk about Hurricanes–of both the alcoholic and natural varieties.
These three things–food, Hurricanes, and Hurricane Katrina–are some of the defining elements of New Orleans. The city has a long history and many cultural influences that all combine to create a delicious cooking style. New Orleans is known for Bourbon Street and for being “the Big Easy,” so people can’t wait to challenge you to handle yourself after downing a Hurricane or, perhaps even more dangerous, a Hand Grenade. And finally, the massive storm that all but destroyed the city in 2005 has become party of the city’s identity. Residents are proud of their resiliency, and the huge progress they have made in rebuilding the city, while preserving its history. New Orleans is truly unlike any other city we’ve visited. Here are some of our must-sees to help you take advantage of all that it has to offer.
Amidst the historical houses and fancy restaurants of the French Quarter, you’ll find Bourbon Street, 13 blocks of bars and clubs (and we’re not talking of the country club variety) where patrons can drink, dance or karaoke until the early morning hours. With local open container laws, partygoers spill into the streets and Bourbon takes on the feel of one large block party. Enter at your own risk (it’s hot, it’s packed and it’s oftentimes smelly), but Bourbon Street at night is an experience you won’t forget. Try a famous hurricane at Pat O’Briens, or a hand grenade at Tropical Isle. Both are quite deadly.
If you find yourself a bit overwhelmed by the Bourbon St. party strip, take a quick breather in the Voodoo Museum on Bourbon and Dumaine St. The museum, which opened in the 1970’s, is small (just two and a half rooms) and takes about 20-30 minutes if you’re one of those people who likes to read every single sign in an exhibit. But the museum is cool and eclectic and takes you through the long and oft-misunderstood history of voodoo and hoodoo in New Orleans, from Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau to the present-day practitioners and proceedings.
If you’re out late on Bourbon, recover the next day with a live Jazz brunch at The Court of Two Sisters. Located on Royal Street, this historical property has been a restaurant owned by the Fein family for over 50 years. Try a sampling of southern fare, while sitting in the beautiful courtyard and enjoying some local jazz musicians. Brunch is served until 3pm.
Cafe du Monde
One of NOLA’s cultural landmarks and the most famous producer of beignets. Also called French donuts, beignets are little pillows of fried dough covered in mountains of powdered sugar. So, heaven, basically. Cafe du Monde, established in 1862, is an open-air, always-crowded restaurant on the banks of the Mississippi. Get an order of beignets and a CdM coffee while you soak up the experience.
When in NOLA, you have to try beignets at least one time (I tried them four times…in four days). Cafe du Monde is “the place” to go, but don’t bypass Cafe Beignet. In my opinion, the beignets are superior, and you can’t beat the location. Order three beignets and a strawberry daiquiri from the open-air cafe and bar, then settle at a table in Musical Legends Park to hear live jazz at any time of day.
If you’ve got some free time (it’s about an hour outside the city) drive on over to this working alligator ranch and hatchery. Take a tour and experience the history of the New Orleans alligator, watch your guide climb into a pool of these scary creatures and even play with baby gators yourself! The ranch is dedicated to conserving the American Alligator while preserving Louisiana’s wetlands.
A restaurant of hot dogs, bratwursts and sausages may not sound appealing to all (in fact it sounded quite gross to me), but if you’re in the area (there are three locations in New Orleans) stop on in for a quick lunch or afternoon snack. Along with the traditional varieties, you’ll find menu items that feature local wildlife–crawfish, duck or alligator sausage, anyone? Try the alligator. It’s delicious.
Haunted History Tour
When you think of New Orleans you probably conjure images of jazz, fancy mansions and spicy foods, but in addition to it’s southern charms and traditions, New Orleans has long been thought of as one of the most haunted cities in America. If you are into ghosts or history, or both, check out the Haunted History Tours. Led by native New Orleanians, these 2 hour tours weave tales of New Orleans history that include the living and the undead. We recommend the French Quarter Ghost and Legends Tour. Take a nighttime excursion, if you’re up for the challenge, and hold on to your drink as you’re regaled with tales that will have you looking over your shoulder and around every dark corner.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
If you take the Haunted History Tour, you’ll probably stop in this bar, which is the oldest drinking establishment in NOLA. Housed in a small stone cottage on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip Streets, Lafitte’s is home to some wicked ghost stories and even wickeder Hurricanes. The ambience is, well, cavelike—pitch dark and stone everything—but it only adds to the haunted fun. Take your Hurricanes and make your way to the back room for some live jazz piano.
Don’t forget that New Orleans is more than just the French Quarter! Head down to the Garden district, just a short streetcar ride from Canal Street (which is a must-do NOLA experience in it’s own right), to walk around amongst the oldest and grandest homes in the city. All those beautiful balconied homes you see in pictures of the city? Yup, those are in the Garden district. It’s a beautiful amble for a Sunday morning, which you can begin or end with brunch at Commander’s Palace, an iconic restaurant that has been home to famous chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.
What are your must-see sights in New Orleans?
Emily MacDonald Working as a NICU nurse in Washington, DC Emily takes care of our country's smallest citizens. In her free time, she enjoys reading, movie nights with her husband and black lab and is an avid traveler with a lifetime goal of visiting all fifty states!