The best things to do in New Orleans
It is no secret that we visited New Orleans very recently for a fantastic fortnight. When you visit a city for 2 weeks, you start to get a real good feel for the place. I wouldn't go as far as saying we became locals but we did wake up half way through the second week convinced that we lived there. I strongly believe that to get a real idea of a cities culture, atmosphere and quirks, one visit doesn't quite cut it unless you know what you are doing. Originally, we were visiting for a cocktail festival. Our first week was spent boozing. The second week stuffed us like a sausage full of tourist tips and things to do. We enjoyed the best of both worlds.
People in New Orleans sometimes refer to their city as 'Nola' which means New Orleans Louisiana. Before we visited the Crescent City, we thought that Nola was some infamous local character and we couldn't wait to meet her. Our faces must of been priceless when we found out that Nola wasn't an actual person as we had become quite attached to the idea of her. This resulted in us paying close attention to the local lingo.
We loved our stay in the Big Easy but made lots of typical tourist mistakes. We aren't going to allow the same thing to happen to you so we have created our ultimate guide on getting by. Like we always say, should you have any travel queries regarding New Orleans or any of the other places we have visited, don't be a stranger! I usually pick up messages unless I am drinking gin...
New Orleans Points of Interest
Cajun Encounters City Bus Tour
Tip: Don't ever take a city bus tour on the second last day of a 2 week visit. It may of been really interesting but it was also highly counter-productive. Ideally you want to make a list of things to do of the back of the tour. We were New Orleans virgins so tactical tourism wasn't entirely expected however common sense didn't even register.
Cajun Encounters offer a wide range of tourism activities and tours. In this case, the City Bus Tour does what it says on the tin. It also runs at all different times of the day so it suits both the early risers and the afternoon loungers. We fell in to the afternoon category and sauntered along to the city tour both yawning and slightly hungover but that is another story.
Along with pumping your brain full of super stories about the various points of interest and showcasing sensational views, the Bus Tour stops at both St. Louis Cemetery and the Seven Three Distillery. We thought the City Tour deserved its very own review, check it out.
Tip: If you would like to take a city tour and you are interested in the history of New Orleans, then make sure you download a quality notes app on your phone. I nearly lost a wrist with the amount of type-age my hand seen. You may also want to stick some of the toured areas on your to-do list. You won't regret it.
Seven Three Distilling
FYI: The Cajun Encounters Afternoon City Tour includes a tour of Seven Three Distillery however you can visit out with the tour between Tuesday and Saturday at 3.30pm for $12 . The Cajun Encounters morning tour stops at Morning Call Cafe and their mid-day option provides a tour through the famous 9th Ward.
I like to finish all my tours with a drink and what better place to stop for a beverage than Seven Three Distilling? They take their name from the 73 neighbourhoods in Nola emphasising their brands roots. Although only in their first year of production, Seven Three have huge plans! When we visited, they had already produced their Gentilly Gin, St Roch Vodka and Cucumber St Roch Vodka. Upon grabbing a wee chat with the Bar Manager, I found out that Seven Three are planning a wide portfolio which will include whisky, bourbon and a rum called Black Pearl. Shiver me timbers...
We were a little too Scottish for the heat on the day we visited which resulted in us spending a sizeable amount of time in the bar area with an Earl Grey Gin cocktail. Smashing.
The Carousel Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone
Tip: My only advice is, don't take to the carousel if you struggle with motion sickness. On top of that advice, don't drink a daiquiri whilst motion sick on a carousel. It's pretty obvious advice kids.
This one really is a wonder to behold. The Carousel Lounge ain't no dive bar. I have enjoyed a beverage in many an interesting location. However this lounge is a cut above the rest. Who doesn't love a romantic and slightly eerie carousel? The revolving bar has 25 seats and is brightly decorated in a circus theme.
Should you fancy staying at the Hotel Monteleone, you might feel a chill under your pillow. The hotel is believed to be haunted. In my opinion, everything in the French Quarter of New Orleans is probably haunted. New Orleans has an eerie ambience that I have seen in no other city. One of the little ghosties in the hotel is Maurice Begere, a toddler who died in the hotel. He is often seen near the room he died in. Also, the film Double Jeopardy was partially filmed in the hotel lobby. On that note, lets shake things up with even more jeopardy.
Museum of Death
Tip: It does say on the website that kids are allowed in but unless you want your kids to start climbing backwards up walls, keep them out.
See those chills I warned you about in the Hotel Monteleone? They are a light breeze compared to the blizzard that will climb up your spine in the Museum of Death. Containing evidence from actual crime scenes, shrunken heads and even real skeletons, it will have you peering over your shoulder. You aren't allowed to take photos in the museum but to be honest, you would be one strange little human if you did. Everything you see from the moment you go through those deathly curtains will have you craving a cuddle from a puppy and an ice-cream.
We would definitely advise that you take a tour round the Museum of Death if you get a chance. On a serious note, you will see sights in here that you are unlikely to see back home/anywhere so if you can stomach it, dive in!
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Tip: We would advise taking this tour on a quieter evening out of crazy tourist times. We did exactly this and found it a lot less crowded.
Oh darling, you haven't lived until you have stepped aboard the Creole Queen for a dinner jazz cruise. Seriously, there is nothing better than sailing down the Mississippi River listening to a jazz band playing 'what a wonderful world' whilst admiring the sunset over the New Orleans skyline? If that hasn't sold it to you then you are a lost cause, Scott and I were almost romantic, almost... A dinner jazz cruise is a fun thing for couples to do, especially if you're in the mood for dancing, romancing...
The jambalaya at dinner will fill your belly and your heart full of New Orleans culinary culture. The overall tour is very easy-going. After a day at the Museum of Death, you might need easy-going!
Get up, skip breakfast and spend all of your hard earned cash at Deanies Seafood Restaurant. In all honesty, Deanies is actually very reasonably priced. We just spent lots of money because I have a ridiculous appetite and forgot to diet over Summer. Also, this was the first time we were introduced to cheese covered charbroiled oysters. Life isn't worth living if you haven't tried these. Deanies is one of our favourite places to eat in New Orleans.
Deanies has a very relaxed atmosphere and is knee deep in New Orleans culture. The culture, the cuisine and even the customer service has New Orleans written all over it. Also, if you smile nicely, the staff will show you how to peel and eat a whole shrimp. Some of us (all Scottish people) were not brought up peeling shrimp the size of ducks, we needed help. Our only advice for eating in Deanies is make sure you do it. Tell them you read this post advising you to go there as we could probably a bank a few free oysters out of it. Sorry, not sorry.
The National WWII Museum
Tip: Our only advice for visiting the incredible museum is that you need a full day to visit and you should probably plan your trip in advance. You will thank me later!
Go if you are American, go even more if you are British and go if you are anything in between. This is the best museum we have ever been to. It is also multi-award winning and it isn't hard to see why. With a variety of different pavilions, displaying a wide range of WWII artefacts and propaganda, your heart strings will be pulled, pushed and tied in a ribbon. The WWII Museum also has 2 interactive, immersive theatre galleries. The Road to Berlin and The Road to Tokyo displays life on the road to war, including the sights, sounds and emotions.
Alongside all of this is a 1 hour film narrated by Tom Hanks. I ended up seeing one of the best war films I have ever seen in the museum. I walked outside feeling like an American patriot and I also had buckets of tears on my face. The Boeing centre will keep those interested in big tanks and planes very happy. It will also give you weak knees should you take to the highest floor with the 'birds eye' view down on the hanging planes. My knees are still knocking together.
The tour guide was called Nate, the mule was called Sandy. Together they were Nate and Sandy, they were also very loveable. I never knew how much I liked donkeys until I met Sandy. You aren't allowed to take mules back to the UK so don't bother asking or trying, no matter how much cocktails you consume on the New Orleans streets.
Royal Carriages offer a mega chill way to tour New Orleans. There are options for both group tours and private tours. When we visited, we were lucky enough to receive a private tour. I felt like Cinderella, if she had a gold champagne bottle sized cocktail round her neck and a pair of glass flip-flops.. Every tour guide in New Orleans has a different approach and their own little stories. So it is totally okay to take 7 tours in 7 different settings, you will come away with some serious Nola knowledge.
Show boat? It's just like Show Boat. If you don't know what Show Boat is then you've not lived. Me and Ava Gardner aren't all that different really, except for the Hollywood looks and a shiny ring from Frank Sinatra. Show Boat was also the musical guilty of concocting the song, 'Ol Man River.'
When the Natchez was constructed, she pinched her engines from the Steamer Clairton which was built in 1925. I guess you could say that the Natchez has borrowed a lot from her friends over the years. Her whistle came from a boat which sunk in the Monongahela River in West Virginia. Whereas the bell is made of 250 silver melted dollars (who melts dollars) and the copper acorn on top of the bell came from the Belle Louisiana. The Steamboat Natchez weights 1384 tons but only needs 5 feet of water to sail. That blows my mind.
The Steamboat Natchez rolls on the Mississippi River everyday with an option to dine on some of the local food. You can also take a dinner cruise with a live jazz band. And all that jazz.
Madame Delphine LaLaurie's House
Delphine LaLaurie was a madame indeed. We would fully recommend watching season 3 of American Horror Story before your trip to Crescent City. There are a lot of New Orleans influences to the season, including exaggerated but brilliant stories of Marie Laveau, the infamous practitioner of voodoo and Madame Delphine LaLaurie. Although the bright lights of Hollywood have a way of altering fact, there is an element of truth somewhere in there.
Madame Delphine was part of the early 1800's New Orleans elite, a bit of a rich witch and on her third husband. Her parties were as snobbish and grand as her delicate personality. Anyone who was anyone was drinking the finest champagne and eating the fishiest caviare in her company. However, behind the posh personality, was a bit of a wicked wench. She was rumoured to have chased one of her slave girls of a balcony to her death.
One night, during one of her pretentious parties, her house caught fire. A little like New Orleans today, the party won't stop for anything. Her party took to the streets, Moet in hand. It wasn't until the fire fighters arrived at Delphines mansion and found a slave girl strapped to an oven that caused people started to question Delphines morality. The slave girl told the authorities that she would rather burn than go to the attic. In all honesty, not many women are keen on going to the attic but to strap yourself to an oven? It's safe to say what they found in the Madames loft was extremely disturbing. Ever the cliff-hanger, check out this post to find out exactly what she did!
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American Horror Story
New Orleans is rife with film set photo-tunities. When the American Horror Story film crew rocked up at Madame LaLauries door, the current oil tycoon owner refused them entry for filming, even if they were offering thousands every month to accommodate their film set. Who lives in a serial killers house? More importantly, who says no to thousands of pennies for literally nothing. If you are going to deal with an onslaught of tourism every day, then you might as well profit from it. Regardless of whether the film was set at the infamous mansion or not, tourists will be tourists and those tourists know a photo opportunity when they see one. This resulted in the film crew going a few doors up to Hermann-Grima House who gladly accepted their offer.
If it's good enough for Jessica Lange, then it is good enough for me
The elegant house, built in 1831 is recognised as one of the earliest examples of American architecture in the French Quarter. The red bricks and charcoal shutters have an almost 'doll house' effect and fit in quite beautifully with the rest of the showcased mansions. A step into the Southern mansion has the ability to send you back in time to a life lived by a prosperous Creole family in the 19th Century.
With aged New Orleans architecture comes some infamous ghosts. The Hermann-Grima House is no exception, welcoming ghosts of a less than typical nature. In fact, the spirits haunting the halls of Hermann, are extremely friendly. It isn't uncommon for guests to note random notes of lavender and roses in the air. These ghosts have even been known to light the fires in the morning to stop guests from being chilly. These ghosts are more than welcome in my humble abode.
Tip: Bourbon Street needs 2 days to explore, not because you will spend 2 days traipsing up and down the saucy street but because your second day will be spent hiding under a cupboard questioning your decisions and dignity.
After checking out Madame Delphine LaLauries mighty creepy mansion, you may be looking for a beverage. Before visiting New Orleans, I thought that nobody could rival us Scottish on the drinking front. We know our booze and are responsible for creating the world famous dram. A night out in Glasgow can consist of unspeakable events.
Upon having experienced 2 weeks of New Orleans, I can safely say that our Louisianan friends have blown us out of the water. I think there was more order in the Wild West than could ever be found on Bourbon Street. Although when we visited, there were 4 officers on police horses patrolling the frontier. It looked like something out of a music video, I was expecting to walk round a corner and find Rihanna on a 5 legged hippopotamus. Anything can happen on Bourbon Street.
If visiting the Big Easy, take some of our good advice-y. Bourbon Street is picturesque and the delights that enjoy it only add to the artwork. Drinking on the streets in New Orleans isn't just permitted, it is encouraged. Good luck and wear a helmet, speaking from experience.
Morning Call Cafe
You have spent your 2 days discovering Bourbon Street and now you need a year long detox. Who starts a detox without a pre-detox binge? We have just the place for it. New Orleans is famous for its crazy culinary skills. Along with gumbo, jambalaya and some mighty fine oysters, expect to educate yourself on beignets. Don't worry first timers, I hadn't heard of any of these words before visiting either. In fact, I should make a handbook for Big Easy first timers...
Back to the beignets. A beignet is a fluffed-up, deep-fried, downright great example of what all pastries should aspire to be. We don't have beignets in the UK, we have dough-nuts. They are a poor example of a pastry. Although it doesn't stop me eating them. The Morning Call cafe takes its home in the New Orleans City Park which is twice the size of New Yorks Central Park. The locals told us to go to Morning Call and when a local tells you to do something, you do it. Within reason. One last tip, don't be shy on the caster sugar.
You're stuffed full of beignets and a little bit tender after your run with Bourbon Street and her friend, the hangover. You're loving New Orleans so far but you fancy getting out of the madness for an hour and we have just the tip for that.
Lake Pontchartrain isn't actually a lake, it is an estuary which is connected to the Gulf of Mexico via The Rigolets. Overall, the lake averages at a 12 foot depth and is a bit of a beauty. Doesn't this sound like the perfect place for an evening stroll? We think it is a great place to go to take a break from the busy streets of Nola.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern / Sandwiches with Obama
Tip: Sandwiches in New Orleans are called Po'Boys. It is extremely important that you take note of this if you are visiting from anywhere that isn't America.
It was very tempting for me to exaggerate the Obama sandwich afternoon but I am pretty sure Obama is too busy to have sandwiches with you. Although this is actually a true story. Upon visiting New Orleans, I didn't expect for a minute to walk in the steps of Barack Obama. I mean, I know we are doing pretty well but president? I would like to thank my fans and all those who believed in... Anyway, Obama visited Parkway Bakery and Tavern during a campaign. It was in 2010 and if it was me, I wouldn't allow anyone to stand where he stood and I would of created the 'Obama circle' and charged tourists to be pictured with it. But that's just me. Opportunity missed right there.
New Orleans is packed with weird food. It isn't weird to the locals or to the people who live in Louisiana. Hey, American visitors probably don't even find it that weird. However we are from Scotland and should any New Orleans locals want to take the new British Airways route over to the UK then they would probably feel the same about mince and tatties and stovies.
We waited until our very last day (in two weeks) to attempt to educate ourselves on Po'Boys. This wouldn't have even happened if it wasn't for our New Orleans friends for life. A po'boy is a baguette or long sub roll offering a variety of different fillings. My man eat a roast beef Po'boy filled with gravy which came dressed. Dressed means it comes with mayonnaise and salad. Yes, they mix gravy and mayo. Mind-blown. I had deep-fried shrimp in my po'boy.
Ghost Walk by Legendary Walking Tours
Do you ever feel like somebody's watching you? That's because they probably are. Creepy huh? New Orleans is the loaded nacho of history. The French Quarter alone has ghosty-toasties round every corner and you can bet they are peeking round and sizing you up. One such ghost raised his ugly head and caused a bit of commotion in a local restaurant. In order to stop Mr Ghost Man from kicking off, the restaurant have set up a table which they lay out red wine and fresh bread on every night. It's like the old phrase goes, If you can't beat em, feed them bread and wine. If you are brave enough, you can actually sit and have dinner with a ghost. Rather you than me.
We fully recommend taking a ghost walk while you are visiting. Not only will you get a look at Madame Delphine LaLauries Creepy mansion, which also at one point belonged to an even bigger creep known as Nicholas Cage but along with this, you will hear all about the original vampires. The ones that paved the way for big scary films such as Interview with a Vampire and em... Twilight?
Old Ursuline Convent
It is absolutely okay for vampires to be a point of interest in a travel blog. In this case, the story is too good to miss. Back in the day, when New Orleans was just Orleans, joking, it has always been New Orleans, the founding fathers were trying to get the ball rolling with a population. Have you ever tried to set up a city? It is pretty hard going when it is built in amongst swamps in sometimes painfully tropical heat. Also, there wasn't really much going for New Orleans back in the day.
In order to get women to move to the city, the founding fathers picked up the phone to France. They weren't asking for an order of baguettes. The problem was, they had plenty of men but not enough women to reproduce. Initially France sent across a few lunatics. The first order consisted of psychiatric patients, ladies of the night and even prisoners. This wasn't exactly what the cities chiefs had in mind. The second order of women from France came from French convents. Unfortunately, with the conditions onboard the ship and the lack of nutrition, many of the innocent women contracted skirvy and ended up looking less than desirable. The ship stopped at Haiti on it's way to New Orleans and picked up a couple of dodgy lasses.
All of the skirvy loaded, 'innocent' women along with the 2 Haiti ladies took a home in the Old Ursuline Convent where they were to be looked after and lead by the local nuns. However, with gambling and drinking becoming so popular, many of the men were losing their balance and their consciousness on their way home. It wasn't long before bodies started appearing, some of them drained of their blood.
With the nuns being highly concerned that the Haiti ladies were involved in this, they needed to take action. The 2 'vampires' were locked and bolted in to the attic of the convent. Rumour has it they never left and with vampires boasting immortality, could they still be there today? The Convent is open today as a museum, with incredible architecture and a strong denial of this story. However, you aren't allowed anywhere near the attic. Just saying...
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New Orleans Cemetries
The city of the dead.
Tip: St Louis Cemetery was first constructed in 1789 and has had ongoing enhancements (lol) ever since... Due to its' age and architecture, there is a cost of $20 to visit. However, this is a minimal price to pay to take in the unbelievable sights. Just make sure you keep your wits about you as this place is definitely haunted.
There seems to be a lot of spooky stuff shaking up New Orleans. Everywhere you look is yet another example of distinctive architecture, with ghosties peeking through the windows. The city is truly a photographers paradise. Each of the buildings look different from the next and each comes with a wealth of history.
Most standard cemeteries conceal death underground with a pretty memorial stone, New Orleans is a haven of above ground tombs which is a constant reminder of life and death. Those who have lived in such a grand home in life can also live decadently in death. Who says you can't bring your money with you? It also hosts one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, St. Louis Cemetery.
Marie LaVeau's tomb
St. Louis Cemetery is home (I guess you could call it home) to the tomb of Marie LaVeau. She's the voodoo queen I mentioned earlier. Large numbers of believers and tourists flock to her tomb every year to draw the obligatory X on the Mausoleum. This is believed to bestow blessings on the sharpie holder. We didn't draw a cross on our most recent trip because we have all the luck in the world... So we will probably draw one the next time we visit.
Once you have gotten the obligatory Bourbon Street bash up out of your system, Frenchmen Street is where you want to be. I will tell you that, the locals will tell you that ten times more. Frenchmen Street is the real N'awlins home of all that jazz. Besides, the benefit of going down to Frenchmen is that you will most likely hear pure jazz music as opposed R Kelly tunes from the early noughties. We would recommend the Spotted Cat bar because it is small and intimate and just plain cool.
Some of the bars on Frenchmen Street charge an entry fee purely down to popularity and to make sure that even those that are a bit shy of the bar do pay their share to enjoy the local music. There is also an app you can download to check who's playing where and the rest.
Tip: Cash is the only means of payment at the market and the ATM's aren't the most reliable (or clean) so make sure you have a pocket full of cash before you head down.
The French flea market is located on Decatur Street just a stones throw away from the Mississippi River. The market consists of hundreds of stalls and sells everything from locally made New Orleans scarves and jewellery to smoothie slush drinks and oysters.
We visited the market in the height of Summer and it was extremely hot so we didn't last nearly as long as I would of liked. This resulted in a huge icy pina colada and too much time next to the air con in a tourist shop. However if you are visiting in the cooler times of the year, you could probably spend hours wandering round all of the talent and tack. Not too mention that the French Market is also within walking distance to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Riverwalk Shopping Centre. In fact, the flea market is also near Cafe Du Monde and the base for Legendary Walking Tours. We took to the market before we enjoyed our dinner jazz cruise on the Creole Queen.
The Audubon Aquarium is part of the Audubon Nature Institute which also includes the Audubon Zoo and the Butterfly and Insectarium. In amongst the vibrant and educating walk-through tunnels are the opportunities to touch a sting ray and feed a parakeet. The most marvelling addition to the aquarium is the 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico tank which boasts tarpon, gigantic sharks and large sting rays.
Along with the opportunity to educate the kids, you can also immerse yourself in the underwater paradise which only touches on the mystery in the gulf depths. We never got the opportunity to visit during our trip because we weren't as clued up on the area as we would liked to have been however we are banking all of this for our next trip. They also have penguins. PENGUINS!
The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk
So I am not the type of person that usually bothers with shopping when I'm visiting a new place but I am all over this shopping centre. Pretty much everything is designer and pretty much everything has the price slashed majorly. I nearly left with the whole GUESS shop but Scott reminded me that I am not yet a billionaire, emphasis on the YET.
There are a wealth of restaurants, fast food and smoothie options within the centre and there is also an incredibly good massage chair. We had been walking around New Orleans for nearly 10 days before we discovered it and it well and truly revived us. It's only $3 for 20 minutes and it is the best $3 you can spend.
Cafe Du Monde
This is without doubt the most famous cafe in New Orleans. It also doesn't really matter what time of year you visit, there will absolutely be a queue. The famous cafe, established in 1862, has become more of a tourist attraction than a local eatery over recent years due to its growth in popularity.
Cafe Du Monde is renowned for its production of beignets and cafe au lait. As I explained earlier, beignets are deep fried pastry squares which you cover with caster sugar and eat hot. I would hate to be the cleaner in a place like this as eating them is difficult enough. Cafe au lait is an old tradition continued on to this day. When coffee was few and far between during the American Civil War, chicory was used to bulk out the coffee. I only found out recently that this gives the coffee more of a chocolate-y taste. I don't like coffee so I never tried one at the time. This could of been the answer to all of my prayers. Don't make the same mistake that I did, as you could be pleasantly surprised.
Decatur Street really is the place to be, you could probably spend the vast majority of your trip on this one street. Historic Jackson Square is a public park roughly the size of a city block and sits next to the Mississippi River. In the 17th Century, when New Orleans was a French colony, it was known as 'Place d'armes,' or 'weapons square.' In order to pay war debt, France gave Spain control of Louisiana. The name changed to 'Plaza de Armas.' The Spanish didn't do a very good job of keeping hold of the city, lasting around 40 years. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase saw New Orleans come under the control of the United States
Following on from the Battle of New Orleans, a very famous statue was erected in the park of Major General Andrew Jackson who had fought off the British and defended New Orleans from yet another takeover. The park became known as Jackson Square in honour of the war hero.
St Louis Cathedral
St Louis Cathedral isn't actually named after King Louis from the Jungle Book, incase anyone else made the same mistake... The Cathedral takes its name from St Louis, King of France. St Louis Cathedral is the oldest Cathedral in North America. It was founded in 1720 as a Catholic parish and has had a variety of additions over the years. The captivating cathedral sits between The Cabildo and The Presbytere in the French Quarter. It overlooks Jackson Square and faces outwards towards the Mississippi River. As if you needed another reason to visit Jackson Square!
St Louis Cathedral is said to be haunted by Antonio de Sedella, known more commonly as as Pere Antoine. He was a priest in the cathedral and when he died he was buried inside the church. Not sure I would want to be buried by my laptop but I guess he was committed. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are into that kind of thing) he is now known to haunt the cathedral. Accounts of ghostly sightings include a special appearance by Pere the Priest at midnight on Christmas, where he stands beside the altar with candle in hand. Pere has often been sighted wandering the alley named after him, next to the cathedral in the early mornings. Even ghosts like to pop out for a morning newspaper.
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
In Scotland, we don't really attract any big bug life as the beasties would need wool jumpers to deal with the climate. The first time I seen a cockroach was in New Orleans on my way to a whisky party. Lets just say I needed the whisky. However New Orleans ain't just packing roaches, the insectarium has thousands of different insects in a range of epic sounding exhibits. The attraction also includes a movie, termite gallery and a 'Bug Appetit' exhibit where you can actually sample baked beasties. On that note...
I hate creepy crawlies, therefore I walked at the other side of the street from this place during our visit. It didn't matter how many times Scott made me aware that they weren't going to spill out on to the street, I freak out if a fly lands in my aura. Was I really going to stand next to thousands of critters with just a wall for protection? Yeah right! Maybe next time I visit Nola, I will visit the insectarium but only if I can pre-drink 12 dairquiris and wear a fly-tight protective onesie.
Near my hometown in Scotland, is an adventure park with the recent addition of a butterfly dome. In that butterfly dome are beautiful, colourful and absolutely massive butterflies. I went because I assumed they would all sing and dance along with me like some sort of Disney fairytale. Within 10 minutes I was flapping around like a bull in a china shop and screeching like a banshee, less like a fairytale and more like scenes from a horror film. I wasn't about to be the cause of butterfly deaths in New Orleans.
Audubon Zoo is part of the Audubon Nature Institute which also manages the Aquarium of the Americas and the Insectarium and Butterfly garden. It is 58 acres in size and (thankfully) has a little train which takes you round the park, especially if exercise is a foreign word to you (hey, you're on holiday).
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The zoo is home to over 2000 different species and many of these are worth comparing your partner to. 'That looks like you honey, no offence.' During the Great Depression, there was an addition to the zoo called Monkey Hill. New Orleans is very flat so it was originally 'constructed' to show locals what a hill looks like. Locals joke about it being the highest point in New Orleans. Many of the cages in the zoo are open (but completely safe) which means no peaking through barbed wire, which is nice as it feels a little less prohibiting.
We planned our trip to Audubon Zoo on the hottest day that our Scottish skin has ever been subjected to which resulted in 30 minutes wandering and 45 minutes eating some really good fried chicken in one of the many AIR CON restaurants. However in that 30 minutes, I did see a gorilla catch a banana in record speed which I'm amazed Scott even caught on video seeing as he was encapsulated by a lizard on the wall next to the primate enclosure...
The other 15 minutes was spent ogling smiling frogs, admiring pretty in pink flamingos and drenching underneath a hose in the kids water park. Wet and wonderful. Therefore I can't wait to re-attend the zoo in October or March, when I am less likely to melt in to nothing.
Alligator Swamp Tour
Gators and gators and swamps, oh my. Alligators are too cool. We don't see any of them packing teeth round my way regardless of how much my dad told me they were going to get me every time I took to water. Pffft, alligators can't fit in bathtubs... There a variety of companies in New Orleans offering you the chance to get up close and personal with 10ft alligators. Don't worry, they aren't selling gator hugs (imagine that). Instead, you can choose to float through the swamps by moss covered bayous on an airboat where the tour guide will lure alligators over to see you.
It would be in your best interests to behave yourself on the boat or the tour guide might feed you to the alligators. Also stay away from daiquiris because alligators really like daiquiris and if they get a whiff of you then you might become a gator cocktail or worse, gatorade.
Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour
Cajun Encounters offers a 2 hour round trip through Honey Island Swamp where you can check out an even wilder version of Bourbon Street packed with 4 legged, sharp toothed, big scary... raccoons, amongst wild boar, poisonous snakes and owls. Your tour guide will be sure to pack you full of Flora and Fauna facts. Could this be where the two fairies from Disneys Sleeping Beauty took their names from? Should you choose a gator tour with Cajun Encounters, they actually offer a hotel pick up and drop off, which with the heat of New Orleans can be greatly appreciated. Be sure to bite their hand off...
Laissez les bon temps rouler – let the good times roll
There ain't no party like a New Orleans party. The combination of culture, cocktails and cuisine make for the perfect pre-party, party and post-party. We saw a 70 year old woman in a gold bikini riding a tricycle with a sound system attached to it through Bourbon Street singing to her hearts content. AKA, everything I will ever aspire to be in life. This is on an average Tuesday in the Louisiana haven therefore Mardi Gras must be an outer body experience.
Mardi Gras is French for 'fat Tuesday' and is known as shrove Tuesday in the UK, where people eat pancakes instead of partying. Although I guess pancakes are a party in a pan... Cringe. Mardi Gras celebrations aren't a common occurrence in most North American cities however those that are of French colonial heritage celebrate good times. Mardi Gras parades in the Nola have been increasing in size and visitation for many years and this has induced a wealth of extravagant floats and bright coloured beads. In other words, everything you need in life. Some women get very excited at the prospect of free beads and are known to expose their bosoms whilst exclaiming 'Throw me something, Mister.' Each to their own.
Mardi Gras World
Shaking on down in New Orleans can be costly during the Mardi Gras celebrations and one particular establishment has noted this. The architects within the museum have been creating floats since 1947 for over 40 different parades. Whatever floats your, um, float? Mardi Gras World is open 7 days a week because the party don't sleep. The exhibit is perfect for the whole family, with photo opportunities for days.
It looks pretty, oh so pretty. Nola spoils us repeatedly with it's eloquent and picturesque architecture and the Garden District is no different. After the Louisiana purchase was signed, new Americans moved in to New Orleans and because they didn't want to mingle with the European locals, the Garden District was created. Due to the mega-money these lot were pulling in, they hired in the best of the best architects to create dream homes.
Easily accessible via the St Chartres Streetcar, the Garden District has utilised its Southern charm to lure in both film crews and celebrities. Sandra Bullock stuck around but unfortunately Nicholas Cage went a little bit bankrupt and had to move on. Cage has a lot of love for New Orleans and once lived in Madame Delphine LaLauries old residence which makes perfect sense. Why not buy a multimillion dollar mansion in a previous murderers house in the middle of a tourist filled city? His final resting tomb also lies in St Louis Cemetery which you can go and visit.
Located directly next to the historic French Quarter, Canal St has more of a metropolitan approach. We spent 2 evenings at the Ritz Carlton on Canal therefore we made great use of the bars, restaurants and shopping only a stones throw away. The Canal St Streetcar runs regular routes up and down the street which allows for cheap transport (driving in Nola looks like patience-requiring stuff and we have NONE of that).
Interestingly enough, Canal Street isn't actually next to a canal but was originally supposed to be a canal. It was constructed due to the tensions arising from the divisions in culture between the Creoles and the newer Americans moving in to the city in the 18th and 19th century. Each group stuck with their own until Canal St became known as neutral ground, this lingo is often still used. Canal Street is said to be the widest road in America to be called a street as opposed to the more commonly named boulevard.
Davenport Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton
And all that jazz. If you are going to be on Canal Street, then it would be rude not to visit the Davenport Lounge in The Ritz. The snazzy, jazzy and altogether classy lounge takes its name from the man, the legend, Jeremy Davenport. Jeremy has decked the Ritz halls with bows of jolly ever since he first picked up a trumpet and entertained the crowds in the 5 star hotel.
Along with perfect cocktails, the Ritz offers the obligatory afternoon tea. You can even book a lesson with Jeremy for a 90 minute trumpet lesson. I never did this as frankly, there isn't enough air in my lungs.
This six mile long street, just like New Orleans in general, is a mixing bowl for all flavours of cultures, food-spots and boutiques. We took a cab ride down Magazine Street just to admire the sights and I think you could spent a full week on the stretch. Along with being home to worldly culinary flavours, the street is an absolute haven for photographers.
Like many of the homes in Louisiana, bright colours, painted shutters and frosted linings are common. Prepare to have a wow face on for most of your visit. I would be all over a Louisiana House Purchase but I don't know if I could deal with the exterior home painting bills.
Southern Louisiana is rife with historic plantations which are open to tourists all year round. The architecture alone on some of these Antebellum style mansions is enough to make your eyes water before you even look out over the rows of old oaks and beautiful gardens. With these grand historic houses, comes a wealth of interesting stories, passed down through the generations. The Whitney Plantation tell stories of the slaves that were once held in the house on a first-hand narrative which provides both a humbling and sentimental experience.
It is actually possible to go out to Oak Valley Plantation and stay there for a couple of nights which sounds pretty romantic should you be that way inclined. We never got a chance for much romance during our trip due to deadlines, time schedules and a lack of weeks left. Next time, I am all set for a trip down to Antebellum land!
New Orleans City Park is twice the size of New Yorks Central Park and is in fact the biggest city park in the United States. Should you be the active, outdoorsy type that I am not, then City Park offers horse riding, golf, biking and tennis. There is a sizeable lake where you can go boating (as one does) before you fill up with 24 beignets at Morning Call Cafe. The Park also has an amusement park and Storyland. Storyland features lifesize and larger statues of all of your favourite fairytale characters which means PLENTY of photo-tunities.
We attended a networking event (they aren't that bad) at Popp Fountain which on its own, is a complete wonder to behold. However this doesn't even touch on the wealth of activities available for the whole family. In fact, on our next visit, we want to spend a good few days exploring everything it has to offer.
It isn't uncommon to find photos of balconies, laced with iron taken by those who have visited the Crescent City. There is one specific balcony that we see photos off, almost daily. Royal Street is the place to be with your camera it seems. It is one of the more elegant streets in the French Quarter boasting classy and eloquent little boutiques and eye-catching art galleries.
Royal Street is also loaded with antiques shops which provide fairly epic window shopping material. Along with the wealth of neat little shops, the street is affluent in stunning restaurants with hidden little courtyards showcasing some of the best statues and fountains.
Court of Two Sisters
The Court of Two Sisters is located on Royal Street and is the place to be for brunch, booze and blissful jazz. It would be worth popping along to the Court of Two Sisters in your first few days in New Orleans to allow you to get a feel for the local cuisine. We really should of done this, instead of finding out we were sizeable fans of gumbo and po'boys on the day before we left. There is a wishing well in the courtyard of the restaurant which is believed to be originally named the Devils Wishing Well as Marie Laveau, the voodoo Queen is said to have practiced her voodoo here.
Mercedes Benz Superdome
Oh when the Saints... The massive, eye-catching dome is located in the Central Business District and is home to the New Orleans Saints as well as the Sugar Bowl and due to its size, the Super Bowl. It has a capacity of just over 76,000. If you are visiting during season play, be sure to head down for a game!
The dome grew international attention due to its protector status during Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of people were temporarily housed in the incredible structure in order to keep them out of danger. The dome suffered extensive damage during Katrina which resulted in months of closure. After repairs totalling over $185 million, it eventually returned to pristine condition in time for the Saints home opener in 2006. Following a warm up from Green Day and U2 and a coin toss by George H.W. Bush, the Saints won that game, which would have been ace for the many eyes on the team.
You can live in any city in America but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you.
Atmospheric New Orleans is a wonder to behold, loaded with history, architecture, history and phenomenal cuisine. The city is definitely worth a visit, although one visit can make you want to buy a holiday home in the garden district and sip daiquiris every year fo' the rest of yo' life!
We hope you enjoyed our guide on things to do in the Crescent City! Amusingly, we have covered so much and yet, haven't covered nearly enough. Watch this space for the next addition to our New Orleans guide.
In the meantime, laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the good times roll).
Nola Attractions Map