9 reasons to visit New Orleans
High on many trendy travel destination lists is New Orleans. Here are nine reasons why travellers flock to the Big Easy. High on many trendy travel destination lists is New Orleans. Here are nine reasons why travellers flock to the Big Easy.
1. Mardi Gras
The first Mardi Gras parade in North America was held in 1837 in New Orleans. And no other city since has succeeded in dethroning the Big Easy as the North American capital of Mardi Gras.
Festivities get underway weeks in advance of the quintessential Fat Tuesday celebration featuring endless parades and balls throughout the city.
Carnival themes abound, including Star Wars, but whatever costume you decide to wear, you’ll want to make sure to string as many of the colourful Mardi Gras beads around your neck as possible.
2. The French Quarter
There are plenty of things to do and see in the charming French Quarter, often called the Crown Jewel of New Orleans.
Even after 300 years it’s still the heart of the city, where most of the tourist attractions are located:
- St-Louis Cathedral
- Corner of Bourbon and Royal
- The Cabildo
- The LaBranche House (the most photographed in New Orleans)
Take the time for a leisurely wander about and enjoy the charm of the Spanish, French and Creole architecture – a feast for the eyes.
End your walk at the Café du Monde for a beignet and café au lait. A longstanding favourite with tourists.
3. French that is still spoken
With its French colonial past, there are constant reminders of New Orleans’ heritage like the French Quarter and its French street names.
Back in 1850 New Orleans was the second largest French city in North America, but it was also a place where for a time in 1921 French was forbidden.
The most recent data indicates that French is the mother tongue of approximately 1.12% of the population of Louisiana. Listen for it when you’re there… you might catch a word or two spoken in the language of Molière.
Exploring the Louisiana bayous in an airboat or kayak is a must-do on a visit to New Orleans.
The star of this swampy environment is without a doubt the alligator, who prefers to keep to itself, particularly during cooler weather.
It’s worth doing your research when selecting an excursion outfitter as some are known to muzzle them or use marshmallows to attract them.
Visitors to New Orleans eat like royalty with the exotic blend of French, African, Spanish and Creole influences on local fare.
Taking centre stage is seafood, featuring such classics as Gumbo with shrimp and crawfish.
Or try the Jambalaya, a paella of sorts with a heady mix of flavours that is easy to succumb to.
End with a beignet and café au lait at the Café du Monde.
If you think of yourself as a foodie then try your hand at local cuisine at the New Orleans School of Cooking offering interactive hands-on classes and entertaining demonstrations.
6. Festive ambiance
In New Orleans, any excuse is a good excuse to celebrate… in moderation of course! Just observe the passersby as they indulge, sure to convince you that life’s pleasures are well tolerated and even celebrated.
New Orleans can also boast about being the birthplace of several cocktails: Sazerac, Vieux carré, Hurricane, Hand Grenade.
Burying their dead is no small feat in New Orleans… the city is below sea level and surrounded by swampland, and so witnessed the macabre event of bodies and coffins rising to the surface of the flood waters.
To resolve the problem, the deceased were placed in mausoleums as impressive as those at the Pierre-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
The oldest cemetery, the Saint-Louis No. 1, dates back to 1789. You can read about history on the epitaphs, like the queen of voodoo Marie Lavau, and be amused by others, like the one for Nicolas Cage, who still very much alive thought it a good idea to reserve his final resting place.
If you’re tempted to visit one of the 42 graveyards, a guided tour is essential. Venturing out on your own is not recommended.
8. Old plantations
Revisit a long-ago time when fields of cotton and sugar cane edged the Mississippi.
Take a guided tour for the day or stay over night and enjoy a meal at one of the plantation houses. You might be tempted into donning a ball gown and imagining yourself as Scarlett O’Hara.
Among the most famous of the plantations, whose glory days predate the Civil War, are Oak Alley with its oaks as far as the eye can see, Nottoway in its immaculate whiteness, and San Francisco and its unique architecture.
Music is everywhere in New Orleans, particularly jazz.
From Louis Armstrong park to improvised groups in the streets, music permeates the city for an atmosphere like no other.
New Orleans is not only a paradise of jazz, but zydeco, that distinctive blend of Cajun and R&B influences. Watch for the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival dedicated to this kind of music.