The golden orange hue of the rising sun tiptoes through the streets of New Orleans, greeting the final few dancers left from last night’s Mardi Gras as they stumble home to bed. In the distance I can hear the faint chords of jazz music, perhaps they are just finishing for the night, or maybe they are just starting their day. You never can tell in New Orleans.
In August/September 2017 I went on a tour of the States, from New York City, NY to Los Angeles, CA. New Orleans, LA was the halfway point. We arrived on the 6th September and we had to leave early on the 8th, giving us a grand total of 1 day and 2 nights in this magical City; steeped in history, culture and music. Here’s how we managed a true NOLA experience in under 48 hours.
As we pulled in to New Orleans, we passed several iconic landmarks: St. Louis Cathedral, situated just a couple of streets back from the Mississippi River at Jackson Square; St Louis Cemetery, where Nicolas Cage has a 9ft tall pyramid tomb and we passed several of the iconic buildings with elaborate railings and hanging baskets. After our City Tour (you could always check out the hop on hop off busses for a similar experience) we headed for our hotel. We stayed in La Quinta Inn, 301 Camp Street which was just a 5 minute walk from the bustling French Quarter so we didn’t have to catch any public transport in and out of the City.
How could you go to New Orleans and not visit one of the most famous streets in the world? Alight with neon signs, Bourbon Street is an absolute must-see for those of you after some great nightlife. With rooftop bars, dancing, live music and no rules on drinking in the street, Bourbon Street hosts home to some of the best nights out. I would highly recommend heading to Pat O’Brien’s – where the Hurricane Cocktail was invented. It has a funky vibe with an outside bar area decorated with fountains, outdoor seating and gorgeous botanical decorations. Another bar that should be at the top of your list is Tropical Isle, “Home of the Hand Grenade”. With Bourbon Street stretching out for 13 blocks, you won’t be short of unique bars and cocktails!
With the aftermath of last night’s liqueur lingering in the form of a hangover, there’s no better way to cure it than by heading to Café du Monde, the original French Market coffee stand since 1862. With it’s menu options limited to beignets, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, no brain power has to be used on the morning after the night before. Whether you head there as a hangover cure, an afternoon snack or at 3 in the morning (because – yes – it is open 24 hours, 7 days a week) it is imperative that you try a beignet whilst in New Orleans. It is one of the city’s delicacies and not only is it delicious, it turns out to be a lot of fun to eat too. It is essentially a square donut absolutely covered in icing sugar, so be careful not to laugh whilst eating it or everyone will get showered in sugar – trust me, I learnt the hard way!
With our tummy’s full and our hangovers put to bed for the day, we were ready to explore New Orleans. If you want to buy some quirky little gifts or the beignets didn’t quite hit the spot, the French Market is for you. Lined with stalls selling jewellery, voodoo dolls, Mardi Gras masks and other little souvenirs, you’ll be spoilt for choice with gifts. There are also several stands selling more NOLA delicacies – my personal favourite was the alligator sausage (I didn’t try it myself but apparently it was delicious!)
New Orleans is one of those cities where you don’t have to do anything in particular to enjoy your day. The architecture is stunning and with live musicians at every street corner you could stroll in the Louisiana sunshine all day.
However, a few friends and I decided to delve right into the heart of one of New Orleans’ famous cultural activities as we headed to a Voodoo Spiritual Temple – about a 15 minute walk from the French Market. If you’ve ever watched Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, you will know who I mean by Mama Oti. It’s safe to say that the woman who owns the Temple, Priestess Miriam, appears to be a real life Mama Oti. As it turns out, she has a radiant spirit and soul, but I’ll leave my experience there for another blog post.
Although I will never forget my temple visit, I would only recommend going if you have more than 48 hours in this beautiful city or you are really interested in Voodoo. But hey – it was just another piece in my fabulous NOLA experience.
The remainder of the morning can be filled with whatever interests you most. There are plenty of cafes to sit in and watch the world go by, several museums such as the Historic Voodoo Museum, the Museum of Death or the Backstreet Cultural Museum or you could even catch the Steamboat Natchez for a cruise down the Mississippi River.
Your final afternoon in NOLA is the perfect chance to head 30 minutes out of the French Quarter for an unforgettable experience! Ever fancied gliding through the Louisiana Bayous and spotting some wildlife? I went on an airboat swamp tour with a company called Airboat Adventures and it was a highlight of my entire time in the States. Gliding through the glistening waters was so peaceful but getting to see alligators in their natural habitats was just phenomenal. I was a little dubious about how much wildlife we would really get to see given the fact that we have no control over the alligators. However, we saw so many of all ages and sizes. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and knew all the best places to find them. He also knew how to attract their attention so we could see them much closer. The best part, for me, was when the tour guide let all of us hold a baby alligator: his name was Killer.
It was a truly unmissable experience that I suggest you look into doing. The tour lasted about 2 hours so was well worth the money.
As much fun as our night out on Bourbon Street was, we were all eager to experience a more cultural night out. After a delicious dinner at Café Pontalssa, situated in the oldest apartment building in America, we headed to Frenchman Street for a night of live jazz music. It was IN-CREDIBLE! Our first bar was called Vaso which had such an amazing atmosphere. The live band was remarkable and really got the crowd going. By the second or third bar we were all up on the floor, dancing to the talented locals as they made well-known songs their own. As we were heading home we got reeled into a street party. A group of local jazz musicians were playing on a street corner and the entire crossroads were blocked by dancing locals and tourists. It was such a surreal experience. If you only have one night in New Orleans, or perhaps aren’t much of a drinker but want to experience some nightlife I would definitely recommend Frenchman Street over Bourbon Street. The vibe was unparalleled and was so different to a typical night out.
New Orleans – a city that will hold a special place in my heart forever.
If you are thinking of planning a trip to NOLA, you’ve been before or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via social media.
You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you. – Chris Rose