Cilian will be doing a post about getting to New Orleans, getting around, where to stay and general tips for your time there. This post is to cover the classic tourist things to do. There will be another separate post on where and what to eat. Finally, there will be a post on New Orleans at Halloween, which I could probably talk about forever!
This was honestly the trip of a lifetime. New Orleans (pronounced Orlans, no-one there draws it out to sound like Or-leens. Top tip right there! For the purpose of this post , I’ll be using the abbreviation NOLA though, it’s just easier. New Orleans, Louisiana) is such a fun city but one that is also steeped in history, so there’s something for everyone.
Here’s a list, in no particular order about what you should put on your NOLA to-do list:
1. Do a self-guided tour of the Garden District
This is considered one of the more uptown areas in NOLA. It’s a good idea to set aside an afternoon or morning and take your time to stroll through this area, checking out all the beautiful old houses, including the Anne Rice house.
There’s lots to see here and given how historical it is, you’ll feel mightily cultured! It’s probably easiest to get here via a streetcar (more on them later) but it kind of depends where you’re coming from. THIS website has a free PDF you can download to your phone to use as your guide and they list all the houses of note you should be looking out for.
2. Walk through the French Quarter, Royal St and Jackson Square.
These are kind of the obvious places people think of when they think New Orleans. The French quarter is the oldest section in the city and there’s lots of beautiful old buildings, balcony’s, shops, art gallery’s and restaurants in these areas.
Royal St in particular has an abundance of antique and jewellery shops, if that’s your thing, while Jackson Square is where you’ll find Café de Monde, which is no.3…
3. Go for Beignets and Coffee in Café du Monde
This is a famous spot for producing the best beignets in the city! If that’s new to you, you’re not alone. Beignets are like doughnuts with the hole or filling, warm and fresh, covered in powdered sugar and served with a milky coffee. Very satisfying!
It can be hard to get a seat here cause of how busy it is but things usually move along quickly enough, Try and get a seat near the railings so you can people watch.
After that we strolled down to the French market where you can drink openly (with I.D), while you stroll around and look at all the stalls; food, knick-knacks, clothes, souvenirs etc. This isn’t a must-do but it’s right there so no harm in having a look.
4. Take in some Jazz
We got tickets for a jazz show in Preservation Hall– a no frills, no chairs venue where people literally queue up all the way down the street to get in and stand for an hour to listen to a group of incredible musicians play together.
This is the real deal, if you love jazz and want to hear, see and feel it, live, in all its glory then this is the place for you. Check out the gift shop on the way out, we have a Preservation Hall Jazz Band cd in the car now! While we were there, we also went to a Jazz in the Park event (various musical acs, food and drink. It was class!), but that’s only on at certain times of the year.
5. Go for a drink on Bourbon Street
Bourbon St is actually in the French Quarter, so you’ll be there anyway but it’s really worth going here at night, when it’s party time. Obviously, we were there at Halloween so literally every night we were out was party time and it seemed like everyone was in costume, constantly. Bourbon St. was definitely the place to be.
A lot of people will say it’s messy and tacky and full of drunks. People say that about Temple Bar too, but visitors to Dublin still enjoy going there and the same can definitely be said for Bourbon Street. Honestly, you may just want to walk through it instead of hanging around for too long (and to avoid being hit by falling strings of beads- yeah, that actually happens) but either way, it’s a bit of craic!
6. Take a Streetcar
You can’t go to NOLA and not get a streetcar. More than likely, you’ll be getting one to get around anyway but let’s just say you’re situated in the centre and have no intention of going anywhere, hop on a streetcar anyway.
They’re famous for a reason, apart from the Tennessee Williams connotations, they’re the city’s original tram cars so there’s a serious vintage feel to them and many people feel they’re the heart of New Orleans. If you do need them to get around, get yourself a Jazzy Pass, It’s a 1-5 day pass you buy and display on your phone. Super handy, no need for jangling around change in your pocket.
7. Head out of the city and do a Swamp Tour
We booked into the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour. We rented a car and drove out to the pick up point but there’s also coach buses that do trips from the city centre out. We took a swamp tour, rather than an airboat tour, lasting an hour and 45 mins.
There was enough room for everyone on board and it was very safe! We were brought right out into the bayou, where we saw lots of alligators, plantation and other wildlife. This is really worthwhile to do as it’s such a unique experience.
Oh, and you get to hold a baby alligator! Fun! There’s lots of other companies you can go with , including ones that do joint swamp and plantation tours, but we did them separately. Speaking of which..
8. Do a Plantation Tour.
Again, this is outside of the city but it’s not too far of a drive from where the swamp tours are so its worth doing both in the same day. We went to the Laura Plantation Tour, which was so interesting (and obviously very grim) but there’s also the Oak Alley Plantation, which is the one you always see used in films.
Either way, there’s huge historical significance to these settings, just be prepared to be horrified by slavery, if you weren’t already, I guess..
9. Do a tour of the St. Louis No.1 Cemetery
This is one of the most visited cemeteries in the US. We spent a full morning sweltering away in the St. Louis cemetery, our tour Guide was excellent and it was such an interesting thing to do. She showed us all of the famous vaults and talked through so much of the history of NOLA.
You have to book ahead for these tours as they have a strict limit for how many people can enter the cemetery. Bring water, wear a hat and sunscreen cause you will need it!
10. Visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art
This isn’t a major must-see, but we always try and get to an art gallery wherever we go and this one was fantastic.
The Ogden Museum has a wide and varied collection of mostly modern Southern art. There’s exhibitions and different events on there throughout the year so it’s worth checking out the website HERE for more info.
We also checked out the PoBoy Festival, the Sculpture Garden and the WW2 Museum, all well worth checking out if you’re going, and more on those in future posts!
Chloe & Cilian.