New Orleans, a.k.a. the Big Easy, is a vibrant and colorful city legendary for its indulgence, especially during its annual Mardi Gras celebrations. It has a laid-back atmosphere with a unique culture and history born of a melting pot of immigrants. New Orleans is renowned for its live music of the highest quality; famous musicians like Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, and Al Hirt got their start there. It’s a city for fun but has a thriving central business district and one of the world’s largest ports, making it one of the best places to do business in the southern U.S.
On August 29, 2005, this famously easy-going city was devastated by hurricane Katrina. 80% of New Orleans, mostly residential areas, sustained catastrophic wind and flood damage, although the main historic districts and tourist areas were mostly spared. Rebuilding still continues. New Orleans took a second hit in the spring of 2010 with the BP Gulf oil spill which affected the city’s famous seafood. Today, the beaches are clean and seafood is rigorously tested, so most restaurants and attractions are back in full swing after the two disasters. Travel Maestro tip: Take a day off of vacation or business to join one of the many groups working to rebuild New Orleans.
New Orleans French Quarter
Whether you are in New Orleans for pleasure or business, making time to enjoy the distinctive sites and culture is a must. The city is nestled on a bend of the Mississippi River, giving New Orleans another nickname – the Crescent City. The oldest part of the city, the French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carré, is the pulsating heart of the area’s tourism, with an intriguing mix of mouth-watering restaurants, voodoo and souvenir shops, music venues and elegant hotels. Royal Street is known for a concentration of antique shops and art galleries and some of the area’s prettiest intricate cast iron balconies. Decatur Street runs along the river and Jackson Square, a former military parade ground, is a main hub of activity. There, St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the U.S., and the Cabildo, originally a town hall where the Louisiana Purchase was sealed, have great historical interest.
The Moonwalk is the levee that runs along the Mississippi River the entire length of the Quarter with access to shops, restaurants and the riverboats – the perfect place for a river view stroll. Be sure to visit the French Market, America’s oldest public market (since 1791) for a funky mélange of stores, restaurants, farmers and flea markets. For even more shops and restaurants, go to Riverwalk Marketplace, Canal Place, and JAX Brewery.
New Orleans Nightlife and Restaurants
The nightlife scene of New Orleans is nothing short of famous. There are a few jazz, zydeco and blues clubs on Bourbon Street, but mainly it is lined with bars and clubs where revelry reigns. There’s no mandatory closing time, so the party can continue until dawn. Locals go to Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny for the best live jazz music. Popular clubs and nightlife are also concentrated in the Warehouse District, adjacent to the Central Business District, but do take a cab or a streetcar there from the French Quarter at night because the area between the two is not a good place to walk alone after dark. Travel Maestro tip: It’s customary for performers to pass the hat, so be sure to keep a number of small bills on hand to tip street and bar musicians.
New Orleans also takes pride and pleasure in its food. The style is a mixture of Creole, Cajun, French, soul food. Seafood is abundant: oysters, crawfish, crab, shrimp, blackened redfish, stuffed flounder, fried catfish and more. Gumbo and jambalaya are local specialties made with seafood and chicken, but each chef has his or her own recipe. Red beans and rice is a Monday tradition, as is the jazz brunch on Sundays. Seafood po’boys and olive laden muffalettas are New Orleans sandwich favorites. Beignets, café au lait, and pecan pralines are local treats. The list goes on and on, although vegetarians may have to look a little harder to find meatless options. Travel Maestro tip: Some old guard restaurants require jackets for men, so check dress codes before arriving.
New Orleans Walking Tours
The Garden District is a lush 12-block area of magnificent Greek Revival, Italianate and Victorian mansions with ornate wrought-iron gates, tall columns and ancient magnolia trees. Take the historic olive green Perley Thomas streetcar on the St. Charles line (the oldest operating streetcar line in the U.S.) to the district and meander the neighborhood as you make your way back toward the French Quarter. Travel Maestro tip: Walking tour maps of the Garden District are available at the tourist office in Jackson Square.
New Orleans claims to be the most haunted city in America. Accommodations range from charming B&Bs to elegant hotels with many claiming supernatural inhabitants. You might also have a brush with the supernatural on one of the dozens of haunted tours. Cemetery tours are another unique tourist offering in New Orleans. The above ground crypts are decorated with ornate ironwork and stone sculptures and look like little towns full of houses. Take a tour of historic St. Louis No. 1 or Metairie Cemetery to hear all the ghoulish tales of the famous “residents.”
New Orleans Weather and Transportation
New Orleans is hot and muggy in the spring and summer, so dress to stay cool, but air conditioning is often arctic, so a light jacket might be welcome inside establishments. Hurricane season brings frequent and heavy but short storms, so a raincoat is advisable.
In the downtown area, walking or taking the streetcars is easiest and fastest. Parking is very limited and you can count on a ticket as soon as the meter runs out. A cab from the airport takes 25-60 minutes or the Airport Shuttle runs every 30 minutes to downtown hotels. It costs less but takes longer.
New Orleans is a vivacious city where les bons temps rouler (the good times roll). People there work hard and play hard and love to share their unique flavor of fun, food, and frivolity. If you’d like to experience the high spirits of the Big Easy, contact Covington Travel to make your travel arrangements.
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