The center of New Orleans is where you will find ‘the French Quarter’ (originally called Storyville) and you will find Dixie, jazz, ragtime, blues and gospel all playing here in the bars, clubs and even on the street, along with great restaurants, and Cajun food like Gumbo, Jambalaya and drinks like Bourbon and Mint Juleps. This area of New Orleans still retains its French Character, with probably the only other city in North America to have a similar French character is Quebec City in Canada.
Shuttle buses will take you to and from the Airport to your hotel in the City, or you can catch a taxi.
Getting around is easy in the French Quarter – mostly walking distance, and there are also the Streetcars that run along rails, a great way to see the City. There are 4 lines and you can buy an individual ticket or a 1, 3 day or 31 day pass.
GARDENS and PLANTATION HOMES –
City Park (see above) is without doubt one of the best Parkland spaces in the United States – and definitely a ‘must see’ when you come to New Orleans. There are also some other beautiful gardens and also gardens that surround some of the grand old mansions in New Orleans and also Plantation homes that are just outside New Orleans.
THE BAYOU and Mississippi –
The Mississippi River is also called the grand old river due to its size and the impact it has made on the lives of people living around and on the River over thousands of years. The river is roughly 2340 miles long, and drains an area of 1.2 to 1.8 million square miles of land, roughly 41% of mainland USA. The river has been written about, sung to, sung about, seen floods and death and destruction but also given life to millions of people, crops, livestock, animals and birds. Yes “Old man River, she just keeps flowing along”.
New Orleans is right on the River and you can walk along beside the River and get a feel for all the activities that occur here. Here you will also be able to catch a Showboat paddle wheeler that can take you on a cruise up-river to Memphis, Nashville, St Louis/St Paul or Cincinnati or take a cruise on one of the big Cruise Liners that call into New Orleans heading to and from the Bahamas and the Caribbean Islands. You can also just catch a Ferry from the Canal Street wharf to Algiers on the west bank, or take a cruise that travels on the Mississippi past the working port before heading into the Bayou swamplands.
These are some of the Tour companies that will take you in the Bayou –
To get the most out of your tour and pick the company and tour that you want to take – decide whether you want to go with a small group, or big group of people, the amount of time and time of day you want to spend in the Bayou and the way you want to travel – by seaplane, airboat or other craft. All of the tour companies have commentaries, and most Tour Guides have a love affair with the River and the Bayou – the birds, the gators, the lifestyle, marshes, cypress trees and even the snakes that live here and of course the food.
The marshes and wetlands also form an important habitat and environmental role too and no doubt your Tour Guide will talk about the plants, animals, fish, crabs, birds, snakes, spiders, butterflies, other insects and crustaceans that all live and breed here, as well as the role that the Bayou has in mitigating floods and hurricanes that hit the coastline and New Orleans.
If you get a chance, also head to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve about 30 minutes downstream from New Orleans. This Park is located at 6588 Barataria Blvd in Marrero and covers 23,000 acres of wetlands with established walking trails and even places where you can hire a canoe to paddle. The park itself is named after the Privateer Captain Jean Lafitte (c. 1780-1823) and the small town of Lafitte is named after him, as well as the Museum and Wetlands Trace that is here in Jean Lafitte.
Lafitte was a buccaneer Privateer (Pirate) who preyed on Spanish and other ships taking possession of their cargos in the Gulf of Mexico, selling whatever he goods he had plundered to people living in the Bayou and around the Mississippi, avoiding any tax duties that might apply. At one point the Governor of Louisiana put a bounty on his head, but then Lafitte doubled the bounty, and put a bounty on the Governor’s head! Stories became legends of his conquests, much like Robin Hood in England, but he redeemed himself in the ‘Battle of New Orleans’ when he and his ships and men came to the aid of the local people when the British tried to attack New Orleans. In 1817 he moved his ships to Campeche on Galveston Island in Texas, but then when he fell out of favour there, he abandoned the settlement and set fire to it. Rumour has it that he buried gold somewhere in the Bayou, but with alligators keeping guard it has never been found.
There is great fishing here as you would expect – both inland on the waterways and also in the Gulf and if you travel to Barataria you will find a number of Fishing Charter boats to take you fishing. These are some of them –
New Orleans is home to the Mercedes Benz Superdome – located on Sugar Bowl Drive in the downtown CBD area. (See www.mbsuperdome.com )
The Superdome Stadium, built in 1975 is massive, covering an area of 13 acres and standing 273 feet above street level. It is home to the New Orleans Saints and hosts games during the year as well as big star music events and other shows. Besides the stadium itself, there are four 19,000 square foot ballrooms, meeting rooms and even a TV Studio. During Hurricane Katrina the Stadium became the refuge for thousands of people when the storm hit, making worldwide news. The force of the winds blew 70% of the roof off at the time, which has since been repaired.
New Orleans is also home to many other sports and sporting events – with golf, tennis, cycling, horse racing and other sports all here.
FOOD, SHOPS, BARS and NIGHTLIFE –
New Orleans is a party town and there are literally hundreds of cafes, street vendors and performers, restaurants, bars and live music places and therefore choices of places to head to – be that on a recommendation, or just by window shopping as you walk around the French Quarter or even venture out to a neighborhood like Faubourg Marigny (head to St Claude Avenue and Frenchmen Street), the Tremé, Uptown, warehouse district or other part of the city. Parts of the city can be dangerous too – so stay where there are people around, and be mindful of your surrounds, particularly late at night. Many bars stay open well past midnight.
The main Visitor Center is located at 501 Basin Street in the French quarter, and they have lots of information to help make your stay memorable. See www.neworleansscvb.com Tel: 504 293 2600.
The most popular shopping destination is Magazine Street, but there are lots of other shops too in and around the French Quarter, including the French Market on Decateur Street which stretches over 6 blocks from Washington Artillery Park to the Flea Market. If you have a day pass for the Riverfront Streetcar, you can hop on and off at stops 1, 2 or 3. Look for Dutch Alley too which is part of the French Market – the market itself started in 1791, making it the oldest market in the USA that is still operating in the same location. Also near Harrah’s Casino check out historic Fulton Street.
New Orleans and Louisiana is the center of Cajun Cuisine, and there are a number of places that offer cooking classes in this cuisine – so check at the Visitor Center to find out more. There’s even a museum called the Southern Food and Beverage Museum that encompasses the Museum of the American Cocktail – located at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. (See www.southernfood.org Tel: 504 569 0405.
There’s a lot to see and do in New Orleans and the city has largely recovered from Hurricane Katrina. The atmosphere, food, music, heritage and cultural mix of people, traditions, language and New Orleans location next to the Mississippi and Bayou have created a unique city to visit. There is always something happening in New Orleans – with festivals, parades and activities year round – and in my view, it is one American city that you should put high on your list of places to see.