things to do in new orleans

New Orleans (map) is one of my favourite cities in the United States. This vibrant city in Louisiana is famous the world over for its parties (especially the Mardi Gras), music and cuisine. Here are ten things to do in New Orleans, especially if this is your first visit to this amazing city!

New Orleans French Quarter

1. Get Jazzed

Few places on Earth possess the year-round party atmosphere as does New Orleans. And it all starts on Bourbon Street.

This is New Orleans’ most famous street, a place dominated by drinks and drinkers where the cocktail is king and bars stand side-by-side block after block. Weekdays are hardly distinguishable from weekends. In most cities, the weekend starts on a Thursday. In New Orleans, it has no beginning or end!

New Orleans has a vibrant and diverse music scene.

A great way to get to know the city is to stroll along Bourbon Street, Frenchman and Fulton, where jazz pours out onto the streets.. right up into the wee hours of the morning.

2. Get Eating

New Orleans is famous for so many great dishes , it’s hard to keep track. Louisiana Creole cuisine is a style of cooking originating in Louisiana which is a melting pot cuisine that blends French, Portuguese, Spanish, Canarian, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Deep Southern American, Indian, and African influences. For some good old classics, check out:

(a) Café du Monde

Café du Monde is a coffee shop on Decatur Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is best known for its café au lait and its French-style beignets. In the New Orleans style, the coffee is blended with chicory. The Original Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. The Cafe is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde.

(b) Mandina

In a city renowned for its small, funky neighborhood joints, Mandina is the ultimate for great Nawlins food. Tommy Mandina’s family has owned and operated this restaurant and bar since the late 1800’s, and the menu hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years or so. This is a good thing!

You need to come here for the best Homemade Gumbo and Turtle Soup au Sherry ($4.50 for a cup; $7.00 for a bowl) and Po Boy in town. The gumbo was thick and starchy and super yummy. I learned to enjoy this favourite New Orleans dish, by the end of my stay!

(c) Crawfish at Dennis’s seafood in Metairie

Forget about having your crawfish at a regular sit down restaurant. How about getting it weighed straight at the wholesalers, having them cook it fresh, then taking it away and eating it out of the back of your car?

This place has the best boiled crabs, crawfish and shrimp in town and is situated on Lorino street, Metairie. It is family owned and has been in operation for over 30 years. A great seafood market where the locals go. It’s pretty hard to spot tourists here unless you are taken to Dennis’s by a discerning NOLA friend!

3. Drink a Hurricane at Pat O’briens

Pat O’brien’s is famous for the dueling pianists. For a small tip, they will play just about anything! They take turns playing – a rely of sorts on the grand piano, and each tries to out do the other. You can see the huge mirror that spans the room, reflecting the two pianists and the keyboard.

4. See the Longest Bridge in the USA

This is the longest bridge in New Orleans as well as the USA. It can be viewed from many points around the city. A magnificent bridge that actually escaped unscathed by the recent hurricane. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway consists of two parallel bridges crossing Lake Pontchartrain in southern Louisiana. The longer of the two bridges is either the longest or third-longest in the world depending on definitions, measuring at 23.87 miles (38.42 km) long.

5. Enjoy the Gorgeous Parks

Walk or go for a jog among the centuries-old oaks of City Park, picnic in picturesque Audubon Park or enjoy views of the Mississippi River at Woldenberg Park.

City Park in New Orleans.

There is also the famous New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park near the French Quarter. It was created in 1994 to celebrate the origins and evolution of jazz, America’s most widely-recognized indigenous music. Hang out here and learn about the origins of Jazz for free.

6. View the Architecture of the French Quarter

French Quarter architecture is a mix of Spanish, French, Creole and American styles. Plastered walls and single chimneys reflect laws enacted after fire virtually destroyed the city in 1788 and 1794.

Gorgeous architecture in the French Quarter.

Walled courtyards, perfect for French Quarter parties, are a gift of the Spanish influence. Cast iron balconies, lacy galleries, along with plentiful stoops and porches on younger buildings, make the Quarter a great place for people-watching – and every kind of person imaginable can be spotted on the sidewalks of the Quarter!

The whimsical architecture and the gorgeous play on colors will make you want to just take a long stroll along the French Quarter in the waning light of evening .. enjoying the romantic atmosphere. One word of advice, try to be there with a “special someone” or a loved one!

7. Browse Art throughout the City

There are dozens of art galleries in several different art districts throughout the city. Many galleries are locally-owned and even better, artist-owned.

Art lovers will enjoy the Warehouse District turned Arts District along the river next to the Central Business District, just on the other side of Canal away from the French Quarter. There are many nationally acclaimed museums, such as the World War II and Children’s Museums. Some galleries even stay open late with wine and finger foods for a cultural street party with music! It seems like you can find art in every corner of New Orleans – the galleries on Julia and Royal, the Mid-city and Baywater art markets, Jackson Square vendors, etc. This place just pulses with creativity and colour.

8. Ride the River

You’ll witness some of the best views of the original city of New Orleans via a Canal Street Ferry ride across the Mississippi River, and learn why New Orleans is called the Crescent City as the ferry traverses the river’s natural crescent to historic Algiers Point on the West Bank. This ride is free.

9. Be moved by Breathtaking Churches

The large Catholic population of New Orleans means many beautiful churches you can visit e.g. St Louis Cathedral, St. Augustine and Our Lady of Guadalupe.


10. Be a “Voluntourist”

Whole communities were reduced to a baseline when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Millions were affected, approximately $81.2 billion losses were incurred and the death toll was over 1,836. The hurricane caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees and also in navigational canal levees and precipitated the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States. 80% of New Orleans was flooded, with some parts under 15 feet of water.

Though New Orleans is currently thriving, there are parts of the city that could still use some help following Hurricane Katrina. Just a few hours of Volunteering can make a lasting impact on this place and also on YOU.

About this week’s guest writer
Mei is an avid traveller, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who enjoys writing about her travel and gastronomic experiences.

Read other articles in the Velvet Escape “Ten” series:

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