It’s been thirteen years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States and devastated the city of New Orleans. Given that 80% of the city was flooded, it’s incredible how much of this historic gem on the banks of the Mississippi has rebounded from the tragedy. New Orleans is celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2018, and there’s never been a better time to pay NOLA a visit.
Start with a Tour
The best way to get a sense of where you are (and where you want to be) is to take the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. It makes 18 stops throughout the French Quarter, downtown and the Garden District, giving you a great overview of the best that the city has to offer. Get on at Basin Street Station to browse through the visitor information and cultural center that’s located in the old Southern Railway Building. You’ll be near the entrance to the French Quarter and if you decide to stay on the bus, a full loop will take about 2 hours.
The French Quarter
Jackson Square is your starting point for a walking tour of the famed French Quarter. Begin your day with a coffee and beignets at Café du Monde – it’s kind of a compulsory activity if you’re visiting the Big Easy. From there, check out St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously active Catholic cathedral in the country. The Cabildo and the Presbytere are just two of the Quarter’s many galleries, museums and historical sites. Step into the Treme just north of Rampart Street and you’ll find the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a tribute to Black New Orleans culture and everything you want to know about second line parades and Mardi Gras Indians. The best thing about the French Quarter is that you can spend the entire day just walking the streets and never tire of the iconic ironwork balconies, distinctive architecture and street musicians on every second corner.
The Garden District
The St. Charles streetcar will take you from Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter to this mansion-filled oasis a couple of miles to the west. The Lafayette Cemetery #1 is a great place to start, with a setting you may recognize from numerous movies and television productions. About 7,000 people are buried here in ornate tombs with intricate carvings and fancy marble work. Stroll down Prytania street and you’ll be treated to a host of classic Garden District homes including the Briggs-Staub House, the Women’s Opera Guild House and Toby’s Corner, the District’s oldest standing residence. If you want to see Sandra Bullock’s New Orleans residence, you’ll find it on Coliseum Street. End your walking tour at the haunted Buckner Mansion – and if you’ve got an extra $20,000 or so in your pocket, you can probably even stay for the night.
A Night on the Town
When you’ve had enough voo doo, southern charm and creole culture, it’s time to explore what New Orleans is really all about. Music.
Bourbon Street runs through the heart of the French Quarter, spanning 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue. It’s basically one long smorgasbord of bars and night clubs, with live music everywhere you turn. Some establishments will charge you a cover while others offer everything from traditional jazz to rock ‘n roll for free. The to-go cup was apparently invented on Bourbon Street, and you can hop from one venue to another without ever having to leave your drink behind. If you want to go to Tipitina’s, you’ll have to travel uptown, past the Garden District. You can still find plenty of world-class venues within the French Quarter, however, which may be a little more convenient if you’re staying in the area and trying to find your hotel in the wee hours of the morning. Check out one of the many schedules you’ll find in any hotel lobby and the staff will gladly point you in the right direction.
You can easily spend a week in New Orleans just soaking in the ambiance of the Birthplace of Jazz, but three days is enough to give you more than a taste of its many pleasures. Between the French Quarter and the Garden District, there’s enough history, music and creepy cemeteries to have you planning your next trip before the sun sets on your first.