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New Orleans is always a good time and never fails with a good meal. Yvonne, of Hello Wander World, who previously wrote about the Amafli Coast, Barcelona, Rome, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, Iceland, Costa Rica and Bangkok, recently went to NOLA and here are her practical travel tips.
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New Orleans is a colorful, spice-filled city with lots of history. Known as a hot destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties, the energy-filled nightlife is, without a question, fun. NOLA has much more to offer than strong hand grenade drinks and nightly shenanigans on Bourbon Street. You can see the strong French and Spanish influences in the architecture and street names (some streets are even named in Catalan!). The strong Caribbean influences are reflected in the food and flair. There is so much history – a lot of it spooky – and really friendly locals with a great sense of humor. This is a city you’ll find yourself wanting to come back to again and again (and possibly wanting to buy some charming, historical real estate). You can see the city in a weekend, but I recommend spending about a week exploring the nooks and crannies of this eccentric city – it’s very easy to feel like a local in this charming city.
How to Get In
MSY International airport is about 20 minutes from the city. Finding an Uber or taxi from the airport is easy and will cost about $35. There’s a separate parking area, where you meet your Uber or Lyft driver.
Where to Stay/Nightlife
A lot of action and history sits in the French Quarter. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area, ranging from swanky to budget to unique. You can even stay in a haunted hotel or b&b, if you want that experience. I’d recommend staying in a hotel or b&b to support local businesses. Keep in mind that Bourbon St. is a lively street until very late in the night – convenient for all-night partiers, but maybe not for early sleepers. For jazz fans that want to be close to the action, stay near Frenchmen St., where you’ll find some of the coziest jazz bars, featuring live music every night.
If you’re looking to save money, but still be near the action, the surrounding areas of the Business District and Marigny/Bywater are great choices as well. The Garden District is very picturesque and, like some places in NOLA, a little eerie.
How to Get Around
Ride shares, like Uber and Lyft, are cheap and abundant. You can hitch a ride on a traditional streetcar, rolling down the rails across the whole city. A popular route goes from the French Quarter to the Garden District. A ride costs $1.25/ride or $3/day (exact change is required if you buy the ticket from the operator). If you like planning ahead, there’s an app you can download, GoMobile.
Touring by foot will give you an intimate view of the architecture and historic details of the city. The French Quarter and Garden District are places you must walk around to explore. Walking tours are a great way to see the city and you never know what will be, or what history has been lying, around the corner.
Things to Do
There are an endless amount of things to do and stories to hear. You’ll hear live music pouring out of every corner at every hour of the day. Wandering the French Quarter is a must and taking some sort of tour can enrich your understanding of what makes this city so magical. Tours range from ghost themed, to history focused, to drinking centered; and can cost any where from $25 upwards. If you’re looking for a peek into the spooky side of the city, make sure to learn about the voodoo history and haunted stories. You can visit the St. Louis Cemetery, where the tombs are above ground and the famous Voodoo Queen is buried. This cemetery is only accessible through a tour group. They run multiple times a day, but if you’re looking for a specific time, make sure to reserve it in advance.
The important American history of New Orleans shouldn’t be overshadowed. Jackson Square, which is now lined with local artists’ exhibits and performers, is where the final Louisiana Purchase was signed. With so much to do in the city, you shouldn’t forget about the unique ecosystem of the Bayou located a little outside the main city. You can hop on an airboat and make your way through swamps, where you’ll encounter crocodiles and other swamp animals. Some tours even let you hold baby crocs!
Food & Drinks
Louisiana cooking has made a name for itself across the whole country. Many local restaurants serve delicious creole, jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, and gumbo. All are soul warming, zesty dishes. You’ll find delicious red beans and rice almost everywhere along with these Cajun dishes.
If you’re a lover of fresh markets, you need to visit the French Market, situated along the Mississippi River. You’ll find fresh shucked oysters, hot sauce tastings, and more delicious seafood in this open air market.
For dessert, try some famous beignets at one of the most popular joints, Café du Monde. You can get 3 of these fluffy rectangles of fried dough doused in powdered sugar for less than $3. Pair it with a cup of coffee and you have a delicious duo.
It’s always happy hour in NOLA. There are a handful of well-known drinks and drinking holes offered in the city. Sazerac is a local take on whiskey and usually served with a citrus twist. Hand grenade drinks can be found on Bourbon St and offer a strong punch. You can find 25 cent martinis during lunchtime at Commander’s Palace. Or you can enjoy your drinks while riding a carousel (moving slowly, of course) at the Carousel Bar & Lounge in Hotel Monteleone.
Some Helpful Tips for Making the Best of Your NOLA trip:
- Bring cash as there are many cash-only establishments (Café du Monde being one of them) and talented street performers that deserve tips!
- There is no open container law in the French Quarter, so feel free to explore the streets with a drink in hand – just make sure you stay within this part of the city with your open drink.
New Orleans is a destination for festivals and parades. There are festivals every month ranging from food gatherings to culture celebrations. Chances are any weekend you plan a trip, there will be something going on. Even if it’s not a city-wide festival, weddings and other personal celebrations also take to the streets for parading.
A list of popular festivals (times of festivals change yearly):
- Mardi Gras – Early/Mid February
- French quarter Fest – Beginning of April
- Jazz Festival – End of April or Beginning of May
- Southern Decadence – Labor Day Weekend
- Voodoo Music and Arts – End of October
Before traveling to NOLA, it’s important to know that the city has a high crime rate. Because of this statistic, there are often lots of police around, especially during big festivals, like Mardi Gras. This should not deter you from visiting, but it should alert you to practice certain safety precautions, like walking around with as few valuables and money as possible, not flashing valuables in public, and avoiding wandering dark, unknown streets at night. Avoid wandering the cemeteries at night – sounds like something most people would avoid, but you never know. If someone approaches you and harasses you, walk away towards a store or group of people. Look out for pickpockets, especially in large crowds. Carry your valuables in pockets that close and/or are situated in the front of your body. With the copious amounts of alcohol available, it would also be wise to stay vigilant and clear-headed enough not to be an easy target.
NOLA is a beautiful, colorful city and shouldn’t be overshadowed by the crime. Give the city a chance, have your wits about you, and you’ll be sure to enjoy the real Southern hospitality.
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