The gateway to the Mississippi River, New Orleans has always been a crossroads of culture. Originally colonized by the French and Spanish, the city was home to large African and Caribbean populations. These disparate cultural influences forged a distinct identity. Though today the “Big Easy” is known for ‘round-the-clock entertainment, particularly the French Quarter’s raucous Bourbon Street nightlife, NOLA is no mere party town. From the stately mansions and antique shops of the Garden District, to the jazz clubs of Faubourg Marigny, to voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s above-ground tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans is home to an eclectic variety of cultural highlights. And don’t forget football: The city’s beloved Saints draw huge crowds at the Superdome.
Reasons to Visit New Orleans
Live Music: New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and its live-music venues burst with entertainment seven days a week. The French Quarter is home to such stalwart venues as Preservation Hall and the Carousel Bar & Lounge in the historic Hotel Monteleone. A few blocks away, Frenchman Street is the place to go for dancing to reggae and world music at Cafe Negril.
Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest: Celebration is everywhere in New Orleans, from the improvisational second-line brass band processions in neighborhoods like Tremé and Central City to the city’s two famous annual extravaganzas: Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Mardi Gras unfolds in the two weeks preceding Shrove Tuesday—a daily bacchanal of parties and parades that feature colorful and elaborate costumes and floats. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest), a 10-day concert series, draws top performers of every musical genre and more than 400,000 visitors each year.
Architecture: The city’s many architectural styles date from the early 18th century. High balconies with intricate iron railings are a hallmark of French Quarter buildings. To see how New Orleans’ most prestigious families lived in the late 19th century, check out the impressive mansions on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District.
What to Eat
New Orleans boasts a creative cuisine unlike any other—a rich, spicy, multicultural melting pot. Head out of your New Orleans hotel and check out these must-try local items:
Cajun and Creole: Classic dishes include crawfish étouffé, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. Eat with locals at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in Tremé, or splurge at the legendary Commander’s Palace.
Oysters and Crawfish: Gulf of Mexico oysters are plump and plentiful, served raw, deep fried, or baked in Oysters Rockefeller (first invented, and still perfected, at Antoine’s). At crawfish boils, you can buy buckets of “mudbugs” by the pound, served with corn on the cob and potatoes.
Muffulettas, Po’boys and Beignets: Local favorites include muffulettas—jumbo cold-cut sandwiches on round Italian bread—and po’boys, long rolls overflowing with fried seafood. Famously served at Café du Monde, beignets are pillowy doughnut squares covered in a blizzard of powdered sugar.
When to Visit New Orleans
To see New Orleans in full flower, book your New Orleans Country Inns & Suites hotel between February and May when major festivals kick off, including Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. Be sure to book well in advance if your trip coincides with one of these events. Summer is ideal for traveling without the tourist crowds, while fall brings comfortable temperatures but potential hurricanes, so keep an eye on the weather reports.
New Orleans Travel Tip
New Orleans is walkable, but if you want to rest your feet, hop on one of the city’s charming—and cheap—streetcars. Although many streetcar lines were replaced by buses starting in the 1940s, four remain open: St. Charles, Canal Street, Riverfront and Loyola/UPT.