New Orleans also known as ‘Big Easy’ or NOLA is a fun, vibrant and historic city in Louisiana. It was founded by French and later ruled by Spanish, the architecture and traditions show a glimpse of both these cultures.
Famous for its nightlife and live music, the city is also home to the annual Mardi Gras celebrations each year around February and March.
But there is a whole lot more to this city than just parades and parties.
Rich in culture and vintage architecture, full of warm and welcoming people and one of the food capitals of the country, NOLA is just the place to be!
The first and foremost tip if you are visiting NOLA is to be prepared to walk, walk and walk. The lanes are narrow and parking is ridiculously expensive (we paid over $40 for an overnight parking spot near our hotel :o). There are other means too- it is a bike friendly city and there are lanes and parking spots for bikes as well. But for those who are too lazy to walk or bike (like me ;)), there are great city bus tours. I actually did one of them. It is an open double-decker bus with live commentary by the tour guide about the places you are passing by. And the best part is you can hop on and hop off at any stop if you take a full day pass. That really gets convenient because you can visit all places and get down only at the ones you want to walk around in. Also, streetcars which are like local trains offer great movement at affordable rates.
So now that we are all set for the transit, let’s move ahead to my top 10 fav things to do in New Orleans (apart from Bourbon St.)
1) French Quarter
Often called as the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, the French Quarter is an enchanting mix of culture, architecture, art, music, and restaurants. Cute little boutique shops, antique collection stores, farmers and flea market – there is something for everyone. One can live true old-world charm with people playing live jazz at street corners(NOLA is popular as the birthplace of jazz!)
Ah, what a mesmerizing experience!
2) French Market
This is a historically popular shopping area which has a flea market, farmers market, commercial shops, and restaurants. The flea market is definitely one of my favorite places to shop in Nola. Set in a large open expanse, the flea market is open on all days. One can find traditional clothing, hats, paintings, magnets, jewelry and much more. Salespeople from all over the world gather here displaying their cultural diversity. There are food stalls as well serving juices and snacks (if you get tired while shopping, haha! ;)). Also, the French market has the Original Daiquiri shop which makes the most amazing drinks – I think you should make a pit stop there for sure.
3) Jackson Square
Located near the French market and in front of St. Louis Cathedral, is Jackson square, which earns its name from the bronze statue of Andrew Jackson located at the center of the square.
You can stroll around or take a carriage ride to explore and admire the artworks of various artists.
4) Frenchmen Street
If you want to go to a less touristy area, unlike Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street is the place for you. Mostly filled with locals, it houses the beautiful Frenchmen art market and art galleries displaying handmade works, jewelry shops, and boutiques.
Rather than the neon-lit, hip, and loud Bourbon street, the nightlife here is quite laidback and relaxing, which I really liked. Live jazz music, great bars and restaurants, and a classic New Orleans vibe, does make a beautiful evening indeed.
5) Walking tours of Garden District
As the name suggests, this area has lovely gardens made in front of beautiful houses. If you are a fan of artistically built houses with cast iron balcony details and railings painted in lovely colors, you should definitely take a tour here. It’s one of the most historically popular areas of New Orleans. This is where Americans moved to because they wanted big houses with lush gardens and they thought the French Quarter was too busy and crowded.
- Cemetery Tours
One of the most visited tourist spots in the city, located at the heart of Garden District is Lafayette Cemetery # I. It’s quite unusual, but all the tombs in cemeteries in New Orleans are well above the ground, tall, and have families buried in one tomb. The history related to each tomb is fascinating and one can take a self-guided walking tour of the same. There are around 1100 families and more than 7000 people buried in the Lafayette Cemetery # I.
7) Magazine Street
The 6 miles of the street follows the length of the Crescent through Uptown. With dozens of specialty boutiques, colorful residential homes, clothing, vintage and antique shops, all owned by locals, there’s a very distinct and unique character to this street. There are fine dining restaurants and bars with cozy patios which can help de-stress after a hectic day.
8) Cafe Du Monde
Okay, so if you are a coffee lover – this is a MUST visit place. Since 1862, this has been the original French market coffee stand serving Cafe au laits and beignets 24×7 and 365 days (except Christmas). Isn’t that amazing?! And, to add to one’s amazement, there always is a long queue to get a table(as this café attracts a lot of tourists), so be prepared to stand and wait for a while (but believe me, it will be worth the wait). Beautiful aesthetics combined with vintage French architecture and lovely people to serve you around, this place is a joy indeed. And yes, I had beignets for the first time- they are these amazing soft freshly made donuts dusted with powdered sugar. And cafe au lait is half hot milk and half hot coffee( just the way I like my coffee)
9) Ghost Tour and Swamp Tour
Honestly, I did not do any of these because I am a bit too scared of ghost stories and alligators. 🙄 But I am including them here for the fearless ones out there.
Ghost tours are group tours with a guide who takes you to the most haunted places and describe the history of voodoo, magic, ghosts, vampires etc. Oh yes, if you are still brave enough to go for them, just FYI, these are late night tours. o_O
Coming on to the Swamp tours, many different companies offer these. These can be done by kayaks or boats. One can witness alligators, snakes, exotic birds, Spanish moss and a variety of flora and fauna while cruising around in the Honey Island Swamp which is about a 45 min drive from the French Quarter.
10) Mississippi river walk, cruises, and Marketplace
To finish off a tiring day seeing all the streets and districts of New Orleans, visit the Mississippi river walk. The cool breeze from the river will help you unwind and you’ll forget your fatigue in no time. You can even sign up for a cruise tour which offers food and live jazz while taking in the breathtaking views of the French Quarter.
Walking a couple of blocks, you end up at the Riverwalk Marketplace, a mall with all leading stores and food chains. I especially loved the popcorn and candy store there (they served flavors I had only imagined until then!)
Hope you liked this travel guide to New Orleans.
Do comment and let me know your favorite things to do in New Orleans. And don’t forget to share this!