My first time in New Orleans was a memorable one. This was probably one month after I came to USA and New Orleans was the first city to visit. After that I have visited a lot of cities in USA of 49 states and also, numerous times in New Orleans. All I can say, New Orleans is not like any other city in United States, you expect something and will end up having something else. Some may call it party city, some city of sin, some say it’s the city of jazz; to me New Orleans is a dynamic blend of cultures.
New Orleans is a city of tourists. People from all over the world come here to get a taste of this colorful vibrant city. Many people come here during Mardi Gras, which is one of the most visited month-long festival and one of the most cultural, yet insane event one can experience. The parade, decorations, floats, costumes, beads everything make it most vibrant event and you must experience it in order to understand. Mardi Gras generally observed in February, which is a colder month of the year even in Louisiana. Unless you want to enjoy the hot sultry weather of the summer months (June to August), you should always choose a cooler month preferably April-May or October-November to visit.
Now, where should you start your visit? You can start from the famous French Quarter where you will see colorful French style buildings with cast-iron balconies from 18th century. The walk through those colorful French style homes is quite amazing. There are also a number of hotels and Airbnb if you want to stay like local. One thing I must say about New Orleans is that daytime and night-time are quite different. If you are a party person and want to enjoy the most with your friends and families, you should choose the nighttime in the crowd-pleasing Bourbon street and Frenchman street which feature jazz club, local eateries and bars serving potent cocktails. You will find a ton of people holding a green, translucent plastic yard glass with a grenade shaped container at the base, filled with a special type of drink. This is known as ‘hand grenade’ and very popular in New Orleans. While you have the drink in your hand, you can enjoy live performance of the musicians in some of the bars. Some of them are ticketed though. You can spend an entire night barhopping from one to another. That’s what actually most party people do in New Orleans.
On the contrary, if you want to enjoy some quiet time, enjoy art and culture, local gourmet food, Royal street is your place. Royal street is full of antique shops, art galleries, craft shops and many more things. The fact I love about New Orleans is the street art. There are a huge number of talented street performers entertaining in the Royal street and in front of St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson square. You can simply walk for hours and enjoy the live show. Don’t forget to appreciate the artists and the performers for an energetic performance. When I think about New Orleans, music automatically begins to play in my ear. I have been to the streets of New Orleans numerous times. Still whenever I go, I try to go early to enjoy some street performance. Stop at the French Market to do some local shopping or get a souvenir. You can also go for a Voodoo tour that will take you through different places in French Quarter and its cemeteries. New Orleans has a huge history of dark practices, from stories of ghosts and vampires to Marie Laveau, who was a famous voodoo practitioner. If you want to experience something different, something haunted, you should go for one of those tours. You should start early in the morning to utilize the whole day light as the crowd begins as soon as the morning approaches to noon and after dark, it becomes crazy.
Food plays a huge part in Louisiana culture. There are a number of authentic local eateries that serve local food such as Crawfish, Jambalaya, Gumbo, Po-boys, Cajun food, Snowballs, King Cake (seasonal), etc. You should at least try one just to have the taste of original Louisiana cuisine. I am not listing restaurant names, but I would recommend going to Café du Monde for their famous beignets and café au lait. Unless you arrive early in the morning, they are always crowded. Sometimes people have to go through a long line just to get inside the cafe. It’s more like an experience to me. Here is a tip, keep in mind this place is cash only. So, bring your cash with you if you want to enjoy this local goodness.
In this blogpost, I did not talk much about Mardi Gras. I know it’s one of the main attractions of New Orleans and I don’t think one paragraph will suffice. I will post an entire blog before Mardi Gras, but here I tried to focus mainly on New Orleans city life in general. It took me many visits and countless hours walking around to understand the fact that New Orleans is more than doing party or celebrating Mardi Gras. There are a lot of other festivals such as Jazz Fest, Craw Fest, Oak Street Po Boy Festival, French Quarter Fest, Freret Street Festival, Red dress run, etc. go on throughout the year. Check out the dates and registration beforehand if you want to join one of those.