New Orleans is one of the most interesting cities in the world for its history, music, food, restaurants, architecture, festivals, customs and culture. Because of that there are a multitude of fascinating things to do in New Orleans.
We have a history that although compared with Europe is very short, nearing onto 300 years, it goes very deep. I like to say it’s wide and deep. Wide because there are so many influences that have made New Orleans the way it is. And deep because of what those influences have wrought.
If you were to look at the wrought iron work on the balconies of the French Quarter you can see it as the perfect symbol of New Orleans, intricate, solid, widespread, involved, graceful and beautiful. That wrought iron really speaks volumes about the city itself.
Probably more than any other city in the world New Orleans has such a varied palette of experiences one can have that it would take many visits to be able to experience even 20% of all that is here. Even if you are a native and have lived here all your life you still discover new things that you’ve never seen or heard. That is how rich the culture is.
So here goes with a list of the top things to do in New Orleans.
Explore The French Quarter
The obvious things of course is the old city itself, what’s called the Vieux Carre or better known as the French Quarter. This is the original city that extends 6 blocks by 13 blocks. Here you have world famous Bourbon Street with it’s bars, restaurants and music clubs. There are some excellent restaurants on this street but if you have little ones you might want to cover there eyes as you walk passed some of the clubs.
You also have Royal Street with it’s shops and boutiques and antique stores and some great restaurants as well. Of course, the Quarter assaults you with old world charm from every angle and don’t be surprised if the locals say ‘hi’ to you as they walk by. This is just the way we do things here.
The French Quarter is a true neighborhood. Young and old, rich and famous and private people and families all make their homes here. It’s also the home of many elegant world class hotels. So if it’s your first time in New Orleans really the best place to stay is somewhere in Quarter.
Have Great Meals at Famous New Orleans Restaurants
Many folks come here from all over the world just to eat. And there are very few cities in the world that can boast it’s own unique food. When someone says New Orleans food it conjures up certain dishes and spices and a certain way of cooking as in Creole. Go ahead, can you think of any other city with a cuisine named after it?
The French Quarter has many fabulous restaurants some expensive and some medium priced. But the great thing about this city is that even hole-in-the-wall-places have excellent food, too. And we who live here are lucky because we get to eat New Orleans food every day!
Also, there is a misconception that our food will make you fat and is not healthy for you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Great New Orleans food is made with the freshest ingredients. If you want to keep off the pounds just stay away from the bread, rice, potatoes and desserts. You can chow down as much as you want and you won’t gain a pound if you stay away from these.
Recommended places are Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, Brennans, Dooky Chase, Mother’s, Felix’s Oyster House and Napoleon House.
Explore New Orleans Architecture
Now you might not be a building buff but one of our calling cards are the way our houses are designed and constructed. You also want to consider the history behind the beautiful mansions in the Garden District which is just a few streetcar stops from the Quarter.
You can also check out the style of buildings in the Quarter and the old homes that regular have tours like the Herman Grima house and the Gallier House. These harken back to the days of old New Orleans and you can get a glimpse of how people lived back then. Take a streetcar ride down St. Charles and see the beautiful homes along the avenue. Do you know what a shotgun house is? Know the difference between a creole cottage and a camelback? You’ll discover all that in New Orleans.
Revel in New Orleans History and Heritage
Of course what would New Orleans be without it’s unique history still in the making. It’s said that New Orleans culture bubbles up from the street and it’s history is embedded in its sidewalks and buildings and festivals and customs and food.
We got great museums here if that is what you are into, that tell of the fascinating life and events that have made New Orleans what it is and how it came to be the ‘city that care forgot.’ To really understand New Orleans you gotta understand its history. This helps to give you a full picture of the city and its people. The Cabildo and the Presbytere at Jackson Square is a good start and the National Park Service has a center on Decatur Street that offers exhibits and tours.
Enjoy New Orleans Music and Cultural Arts
Like its food there are few cities in the world that can boast its own music and New Orleans is one of them. This is the birthplace of Jazz and many other musical forms, like Blues and Rock and Roll, that are uniquely American.
New Orleans music is still evolving and we celebrate it with festivals and concerts and clubs throughout the city. Bourbon Street has a few fine clubs but right now the happening place is in the Faubourg Marigny on Frenchman Street just outside the Quarter. You’ll also see excellent musicians playing for free right there daily of the streets of the French Quarter. Our music is real and authentic nurtured in the streets and neighborhoods of the city. Famous musicians from all over the world come to New Orleans to record so they can get that unique New Orleans vibe that exists nowhere else.
Have Fun at New Orleans Festivals
New Orleans has festivals throughout the year and we seem to be adding more and more as each year passes. Some of the best festivals happen in the Quarter during the summer months. Because of the heat summer is consider an off-season here. So you can actually get some pretty good room rates.
We got food festivals, wine and spirits festivals, cajun-zydeco festivals, art and literary festivals. And of course the three biggest festivals we have now are Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the French Quarter Fest. All big, all grand, all put on display the varied cultural, food and musical milieu that makes New Orleans unique in all the world. And don’t worry, you can bring your little ones too for they are all kid-friendly.
Take a New Orleans Tour
Is it really necessary to take an official New Orleans tour with an official company? Well, it all depends on what you want. Sometimes being able to explore on your own is the best way to see the New Orleans. But being able to hop on a bus and have a tour guide show you the city and give you a brief overview of what the city is all about can be a good way to go too.
You can get a romantic tour of the French Quarter by taking a horse and buggy. Historic New Orleans Tours is more authentic and less sensational. Tours by Isabelle is for small groups in passenger vans and takes you all over the city including post-Katrina damaged sites. Gray Line runs city tours, swamp and plantation homes tours as well as a cruise on the steamboat Natchez. They also have walking tours in the Quarter where they talk about some of the city’s famous ghost stories, gardens and the heritage of famous New Orleans cocktails.
Culinary or food tours is another type of tour that’s becoming popular. Here you’ll learn about the city’s history and it’s connection to it’s unique food heritage along with cooking classes where guests can learn what it means to cook Cajun or Creole.
For the more adventurous you can grab a van to the country and get in a boat in a swamp and go hunt for alligators with your camera. There are excellent swamp tours within 60 minutes of the French Quarter as well as plantation tours to places like Oak Alley and Laura Plantation which is considered to be the best historical tour in all of the United States.
And if you really want to get away you can go to the Cajun Country and experience a completely different culture, music, food and language from New Orleans. That would make it a really great Louisiana experience
Go Shopping in New Orleans
Royal Street in the French Quarter has some of the world’s best antique shops. You’ll also find vintage clothing shops, fabulous art, one of kind jewelry, Mardi Gras masks and distinctive boutique stores all within the confines of the Quarter.
Further uptown nearer the Garden District is Magazine Street another popular shopping area that has been up and coming over the past few years. As in the Quarter you’ll find clothing stores, one-of-a-kind boutique shops, art, jewelry, furniture establishments. In fact one of the stars of television’s Mad Men has a elegant boutique shop, Hazelnut, on Magazine.
The newly renovated French Market in the French Quarter has an everyday flea market along with produce and food stands. Our souvenir stores have wonderful New Orleans type gifts like pralines and hot sauces, shirts, hats, place mats, vintage gifts and quirky art and other items unique to this city. They not only make great mementos but equally cool gifts.
Explore the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium and WWII Museum
Some folks think that New Orleans isn’t kid-friendly. Nothing could be further from the truth. With our fascinating history, museums, festivals and tours the Crescent City is the perfect place to bring your kids.
We have one of the best zoos in the country in the beautiful Audubon Park and downtown by the riverfront and near the French Quarter is the excellent Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Insectarium, the newest feature of the Audubon Nature Institute. But heck, they’re not just for kids, adults are welcome too.
The World War II Museum is an ever-expanding complex of buildings and fascinating exhibits about the war to end all wars. The famous chef John Besh has an excellent eatery there and the Tom Hanks produced Beyond all Boundaries, a revolutionary 4D film experience, is a must-see.
Well there you go. A brief overview of some of the things to do in New Orleans. If you only had the time to do half of the things on this list you would have a pretty great time here in the Crescent City and it would whet your appetite to want to come back for more!
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