Voodoo, Jazz, Gambling And Gumbo - A Guide To The Strange Streets Of New Orleans
February 19, 2016
New Orleans is known for being a melting pot of culture and the home town of jazz. With its trendy bars, spooky corners and thriving cultural hub its long been a popular spot for travellers keen to see more of America than its famous sky scrapers.
If nothing else, its Mardi Gras festivals are world famous but what should you do if you’ve only a day in New Orleans as a cruise port?
With that thought in mind, here’s how to make the most of the city with voodoo, gambling, and great food in its blood!
See Something Spooky
Only in New Orleans would a cemetery be a tourist attraction! Because the city was built on a swamp, bodies had to be buried above ground in mausoleums instead of under it. This lead to sprawling village like cemeteries across the city which have become widely popular with travellers.
Lafayette Cemetery No 1 and St Louis Cemetery 1 are both popular spots for those wanting to explore the resting place of those from New Orleans past. In fact, St Louis Cemetery holds the body of the legendary voodoo master Marie Laveau whose tomb is still visited to this day. It’s said that she used to perform exorcisms, magical spells and acted as an oracle for the city elders.
Did you know? Her tomb attracts more visitors a day than that of Elvis Presley!
Because of its spooky and interesting atmosphere and buildings, New Orleans has also been a favourite filming destination for a variety of projects. Those of you who are interested in pop culture will enjoy the chance to explore those areas used as a backdrop for films such as an Interview with The Vampire and 21 Jump Street or TV shows such as True Blood. You can book tours to go round these areas with local guides who can give you the areas’ full history and it costs about $40 a person.
New Orleans even holds a Voodoo Music Experience festival over Halloween to honour all these weird and wonderful spooky features that the city holds.
Did you know? Poker was invented in New Orleans. The city has several gambling venues for you to try your hand at the game, including the not-so-scary Crescent City Casino. Try your hand if you dare- it’s only a short taxi ride out of the city centre!
Find The French Quarter
The French Quarter must be the most famous area of New Orleans and is where the original settlement of the city began. It was ironically built because the founders thought this spot of Louisiana was hurricane proof! The eighty five square blocks have long been home to various bars, historic buildings, restaurants, shops and clubs.
Did you know? Since Hurricane Katrina New Orleans has bounced back. With a variety of new development projects, new investors and new facilities, the city continues to thrive despite the tragic natural disaster of 2005.
In the day time explore the shops which include everything from sweet boutiques, French markets full of food or grassroots art galleries. Sit on the grass of Woldenberg Park and have a picnic as you watch the barges and steam boats sail through the Mississippi river. Catch a show at Le Petit Theatre, listen to jazz in the Bombay Music Club or simply soak up the atmosphere as you admire the busy, trendy and unique neighbourhood.
It’s also a place to view local history and visit the Quarter’s buildings that still have original features from the 18th century. Admire the balconies and terraces looking out over the busy streets and cast a glance at the mix of Spanish, French and Creole architecture. Some buildings even have original features which include full floor length mirrors which were used by ladies of the past to ensure that none of their ankle was showing! There are also museums with history about the city’s involvement in the Civil War for the history buffs amongst you.
At night, the area comes to life and is the best spot to grab a drink and people watch. Bourbon Street is famed for its hedonistic bars and clubs, but there are plenty of quieter watering holes if you’d rather enjoy a beer along the river bank.
Did you know? The French Quarter is a popular spot for weddings, so you might see a bride in white walking towards the church in a procession whilst you’re there!
Get To The Great Outdoors
Sometimes when you’re visiting a city you don’t want to visit the local zoo or famous cathedral (although we can confirm that St Louis Cathedral is impressive and the Audubon Zoological Gardens are a fun way to spend the afternoon!) Instead, why not spend the time enjoying the local greenery?
Head to City Park to see the largest municipal park in America. It was once home to famous duels as Creole gentlemen met under the oak trees with pistols to settle scores… Nowadays you won’t find duelling gentlemen but a sculpture garden instead! The Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden is free to explore and houses a bizarre range of surreal pieces dotted over the grounds.
Walking through the Garden District is also a great way to spend an afternoon as you walk past the century old oaks that line the roads of historic mansions. Oh how the other half live hey?
You also shouldn’t limit yourself to just walking through the streets and parks of New Orleans… If the bars and voodoo tours have worn you out then have a relaxing day trying out one of the public golf courses, take a boat out on the water and go fishing, take a bike across the city or even try horseback riding. There is plenty to do in the city to keep yourself entertained.
Did you know? You can even explore New Orleans by gondola! Sit back in the six man vessel for an hour as you sail under bridges, past beautiful houses and through peaceful districts. Sounds like bliss to us!
Art has a huge presence in New Orleans, whether you’re interested in contemporary art, classical art or even digital art (such as light shows), there will be something for you to enjoy here!
The French Quarter is full of art galleries and there are art museums all over the city. Some of the best of these include the Ogden Museum of Southern Art with work from all of the 15 southern states as well as the New Orleans Museum of Art which houses 40,000 objects.
After visiting these, you should visit Julia Street in the French quarter to gallery hop your way down the road.
Top Tip – If you visit Julia Street on the first Saturday of each month it will be free entrance to all of the galleries!
Alternatively you can check out travelling exhibitions that pop up in New Orleans City Park. For example recent exhibits have included “China Lights” which was an extraordinary series of thirty light structures that are showcased here all the way from Zigong, China. (You can read more about the light shows of Zigong here…)
Feel Festival Fever
Mardi-Gras may not have originated in New Orleans but they sure know how to celebrate it here! If you get your timing right and visit at the right time (generally between 5-9th of February) you’ll be able to experience the wonder of Mardi Gras.
Did you know? Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French! In New Orleans it is required for all float riders to wear masks and the crowds are encouraged to join in.
Head down to the parade to watch the floats, bands and processions pass in elaborate costume. Get dressed up yourself or simply go to the parade to catch as many strings of beads as you can!
Did you know? Bars in New Orleans all open till very late to cater to the many festivals that the city hosts. In fact, most bars will be happy to serve you your preferred tipple in a to-go cup so you can enjoy it at the parade.
However, don’t panic if you can’t be there for the big day! There a plenty of other festivals that happen throughout the year that you can take part in. Visit during Saint Patrick’s Day and have a pint of beer, a dish of Irish stew and an enormous outdoor party.
There’s also a series of music festivals throughout the year as well as film and literary festivals, theatre festivals and multicultural festivals. You could be boogying to jazz, dancing at the rhythm festival or be munching on squid at a seafood festival. The city is alive with possibilities!
Top Tip: If you miss the Mardi Gras and really wanted to see some of the colourful floats and artistic creations then head to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World. Its really near the port and shows you around a warehouse full of the brightly coloured vehicles and props which you can try on yourself. You’ll get a rundown of the history of Mardi Gras and have plenty of technicolour photo opportunities.
Journey Down The Bayou
If you’ve been to New Orleans before and want an interesting day trip with a difference, why not venture to the Bayou? The nearby swamp land is home to Cajun life and a plethora of wildlife such as alligators, turtles and snakes. You can see these for yourself if you take a boat trip through the mysterious waters of the Bayou lowlands. It’ll give you the chance to learn about the locals who have made these swamps their home for over 250 years and learn about the secrets and myths of these waters.
The adventurous amongst you (who aren’t afraid of alligators!) can even try exploring by canoe. It’s a great way to get about through the swamps and reeds at your own pace (as long as you have strong arms!)
Alternatively, you could even spend the night sleeping in the swamp in a local hut. The Wildlife Garden Cabins are a great place to stay so that you can get to know the locals and hang out right in the middle of the wilderness for an authentic, Southern evening!
Did you know? New Orleans is pronounced “New Or-luns” not “New Or-leans!” remember that if you don’t want to sound like a total tourist.
Enjoy The Local Food
Finally, you can’t leave New Orleans without sampling the delights of the local cuisine. Whether you want to try traditional gumbo (which is a kind of stew) or one of the famous Reveillon Dinners (Creole feasts), there’s a restaurant for you here! The city has a great reputation for Cajun cuisine but you’ll also be able to try Creole dishes which fuse French and African styles of cooking. Typical dishes include Jambalaya (meat and vegetables mixed with rice and spices) or Trout Meuniere (a rustic dish with parsley, butter and flour!).
The foodies amongst you should head to trendy Magazine Street where the road is full of quaint restaurants as well as craft shops and unique boutiques. In amongst it all you’ll find everything from Vietnamese to Columbian as well as classic New Orleans cuisine. We’d recommend Shaya restaurant for an American twist on modern Israeli Cuisine.
If you’re after something sweet, the local delicacy of Beignets are deep fried dough pieces lavished in sugar. Not every city has their own signature doughnut! These tasty morsels are a Louisiana favourite and worth every calorific bite.
Do you like the sound of New Orleans? If you’re interesting in travelling there then have a look at some of our deals here!
If you’ve been to New Orleans before, are there any recommendations that you would add? If you haven’t would you like to go?
Let us know in the comments below!
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