New Orleans Travel Guide
Sometime during your visit to New Orleans, find a wrought-iron balcony, an oak-shaded courtyard, or a columned front porch and sit quietly, favorite beverage in hand, at 6 AM. At this hour, when the moist air sits heavy on the streets, New Orleans is a city of mesmerizing tranquility. Treasure those rare minutes of calm in a city where there is so much to see, hear, eat, drink, and do.
The spiritual and cultural heart of New Orleans is the French Quarter, where the city was settled by the French in 1718. You can easily spend several days visiting museums, shops, and eateries in this area. Yet the rest of the city’s neighborhoods, radiating out from this focal point, also make for rewarding rambling. The mansion-lined streets of the Garden District and Uptown, the aboveground cemeteries that dot the city, and the open air along Lake Pontchartrain provide a nice balance to the commercialization of the Quarter. Despite its sprawling size, New Orleans has a small-town vibe, perhaps due to locals’ shared cultural habits and history. Families have lived in the same neighborhoods for generations; red beans and rice appears on almost every table on Monday; people visit cemeteries and whitewash the tombs of their departed on All Saints’ Day; and from the smartest office to the most down-home local bar, New Orleanians are ready to celebrate anything at the drop of a hat.
To experience this fun-filled city, you can begin with the usual tourist attractions, but you must go beyond them to linger in a corner grocery store, sip a cold drink in a local joint, or chat with a stoop-sitter. New Orleanians, for all their gripes and grumbling, love their city. They treasure custom and tradition, take in stride the heat and humidity of a semitropical climate, and face life with a laid-back attitude and an undying sense of hope and faith that sometimes seems fatalistic to outsiders.
New Orleans Restaurant Reviews
New Orleans is known as much for its sensory expression as it is for its joie de vivre, and nowhere is this more evident than in the stellar cuisine offered at local restaurants. Traditional Louisiana dishes, such as jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, and étouffée are readily available, but the delectable surprise of dining in New Orleans is the diversity of dishes and cuisines that are available, not to mention the culinary ingenuity on display.
Old or new, the menus at New Orleans’s restaurants reflect three centuries of multiple cultures constantly contributing to the always-simmering culinary gumbo pot. What influences can you expect to taste? The list is long, but it’s easy to find dashes of Spanish, French, Italian, German, African, Caribbean, and Croatian flavor—and increasingly, Asian and Latin influences.
Menus are often works in progress, constantly evolving. At ONE, Chef Scott Snodgrass’s Uptown restaurant, the menu changes seasonally. Come in on a cold winter night, and you’re likely to find ale-braised rabbit with stone-ground grits. Downtown at 7 on Fulton, you might opt for seared scallops with smoked tomatoes and almonds with hollandaise sauce. Or go traditional at the world-renowned Commander’s Palace with chef Tory McPhail’s crispy soft-shell crab with pinched herbs and shaved sweet onions. Still, if you have any lingering doubts about the imaginative spirit of New Orleans’s culinary wizards, take a bite of the sweetbreads with capers and souffléed potatoes at Arnaud’s. Case closed.
New Orleans Hotel Reviews
Deciding where to stay in New Orleans has everything to do with what you want from your visit. To be in the center of the action and to experience the city’s rich culture, a French Quarter accommodation is your best choice. For a quieter, more serene experience in close proximity to major attractions, head to comfortable properties Uptown, in the Garden District, and in surrounding areas like the Faubourg Marigny. Business travelers will find the elegant, well-appointed Central Business District (CBD) hotels convenient and comfortable. And if you appreciate the contemporary-chic ambience of historic warehouses and commercial buildings that have been refashioned into elegant hotels, head to the Warehouse District, where massive spaces with exposed-brick walls add distinctive atmosphere to both moderately priced and upscale hotels.
New Orleans, much like New York, is a walking city. If you are visiting for the first time, book a hotel that is centrally located downtown and within walking distance of major attractions. Many hotels are located near the city’s streetcar lines, which run the entire length of the city. If you plan to visit the city more than once, try to create a different lodging experience each time. For your next visit, perhaps a romantic getaway in an outlying guesthouse, where old-world charm and atmosphere are so proudly preserved.
New Orleans Nightlife
People come here to eat, listen to live music, and party; and the city still delivers on all three counts. No American town places such a premium on pleasure as New Orleans. From swank hotel lounges to sweaty dance clubs, refined jazz clubs and raucous Bourbon Street bars, this city is serious about frivolity—and famous for it. Partying is more than an occasional indulgence in this city—it’s a lifestyle.
New Orleans’s fabled nightlife was one of the first things to rebound from Hurricane Katrina; indeed, one French Quarter bar, Johnny White’s, never closed its doors throughout the entire disaster, serving warm beer by candlelight and keeping a 24-7 vigil until the rest of the city returned to join them. Sure enough, Bourbon Street is once again awash in neon and noise.
Many New Orleans artists, who found themselves in a limelight of national and international attention, have used the depth of their experiences to produce some of the most vibrant music, theater, literature, and creative work to come out of New Orleans in decades. From the colorful performances of the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians to the Pulitzer-nominated plays of John Biguenet, New Orleans music and culture has been infused with new inspirations, both uplifting and tragic, and is reaching wider audiences than ever. More than just jazz and blues, the city features rock, hip-hop, avant-garde fusion, Cajun and zydeco, folk, electronica, and homegrown New Orleans R&B.
Wherever you go you’re sure to find a venue that suits your tastes. Quiet and charming or wild and raucous. New and chic or 1800s elegant. Whether you’re looking for the simple pleasures of a local brew, or something entirely more decadent, this is a city that lives to accommodate. And while Bourbon Street, with its bright lights and beers-to-go, is usually one of the first stops for visitors, it’s not truly representative of the city. The real soul of New Orleans nightlife lies in the out-of-the-way clubs, the impromptu street parties, and the music that wafts from rustic dives.
If you don’t care for the club scene, or have kids in tow, you can always take to the streets. Throughout the French Quarter, and especially along Royal Street and Jackson Square, brass bands, gypsy bands, and blues performers play for tips and applause. Outdoor cafés along Decatur Street have live jazz bands most days of the week, and the National Park Service sponsors free live music shows at a couple of locations in the French Quarter: the patio of its headquarters at 419 Decatur Street, and on a stage at the French Market visitor center for the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (919 North Peters Street)—which also has a good selection of books and CDs. Call504/589-4841 or visit www.nps.gov/jazz for a schedule. The Louisiana Music Factory (210 Decatur Street), which is the city’s greatest record store for local music, hosts in-store appearances by artists. Call ahead for a schedule and information at504/586-1094 or visit www.louisianamusicfactory.com.