I recently had a friend ask me for recommendations on what to do in New Orleans. Before I moved to Colorado I lived in Louisiana for almost five years, so New Orleans was a place I visited often. While I was writing down restaurants, museums and places she couldn't miss, I felt myself missing this city and wanting to go on a vacation myself. Since I don't have immediate plans to go back, I thought I'd kick start this travel section with one of the most famous (infamous?) cities in the country.
When you think of New Orleans, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Mardi Gras. Even thought it might be internationally known for that, this 300 year old city has a lot more to offer. From grand historic mansions in the beautiful Garden District to cool shops and boutiques on Magazine Street, delicious restaurants and the best live music you'll ever listen to in the French Quarter, this old french colony has a lot to offer its visitors. So if New Orleans is on your bucket list, here are a few places I recommend you don't miss out on!
Cafe Du Monde
I couldn't have a list of things to do in New Orleans without including the famous Cafe Du Monde! Established in 1982 in the French Market, this traditional cafe is open 24/7 and according to their website, only closed for Christmas Day and when the occasional hurricane hits too close to shore. The menu is simple, coffee and beignets (square French-style doughnuts), yet extremely successful. After a night of partying on Bourbon Street, nothing will taste better than a fresh cup of coffee and hot, sugary dough, that is, if you have the patience to wait in line for a table. Depending on the time of day/season of the year, the line to get in can extend around the block, so if you visit during high season, be prepared to wait!
If you are looking for a place a little less crowded than the French Quarter, Magazine Street extends for six miles and is filled with amazing restaurants and cute boutiques. Located in the beautiful Garden District, this is a popular destination for shopping, browsing arts galleries, treating yourself to a spa day or participating in its many festivals. Some highlights include Dat Dog (a twist on the traditional hot dog), The Ruby Slipper (amazing brunch place), The Rum House (for great Caribbean food) and District Donuts (unexpected flavors always in rotation).
NoMa | New Orleans Museum of Art
The museum is the city's oldest fine art institution. Inaugurated in 1911 it now hosts a permanent collection of more than 40,000 objects with strong French, American, African and Japanese works, making it one of the top museums in the South. My favorite thing about this museum is its twelve-acre Sculpture Garden in the back. With over 90 sculptures, the area is surrounded by beautiful landscape, live oaks and pedestrian bridges. It is a great spot to spend your afternoon and have the opportunity to see beautiful artwork for free. Make sure to check their website before your visit as their hours change with the seasons.
Aunt Sally's Praline Shop
While strolling through the French Quarter, you'll notice several candy shops offering a variety of sweets that will make you want to skip lunch and go straight for dessert. Most of them also make their confections in house, so not only can you see the process but also experience the smell of fresh candy making. Make sure to sample all the different types of traditional Louisiana candy, but if you want to try the best of the best, you have to visit Aunt Sally's Praline Shop. Created in the 1900's by the French Creole community, these handmade pralines are now a century old tradition. Made from sugar, nuts and cream, this confection is available in original, chewy and creamy as well as an assortment of flavors. Get the variety pack so you can experience it all!
Located in the heart of the Garden District, this restaurant has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893. This famous spot, known for its Haute Creole cuisine and whimsical Louisiana charm, has been awarded no less than seven James Beard Foundation Awards. If you are visiting New Orleans for the food, you need to include this culinary legend on your list, the price tag might be a bit steep, but it will be one of the best meals you'll ever indulge in. Make sure to reserve your spot ahead of time and dress the part, as they do have a dress code.
Voodoo Music Festival
If you have the chance to visit New Orleans in October, you'll be in for a treat. Not only will the weather be better, but you'll also get to experience the other reason the city is famous for, Voodoo, ghosts, ghouls and everything in between. As mid September approaches, the city starts to change to a darker and mysterious atmosphere in preparation for Halloween. From above ground cemetery tours to haunted houses, you'll also have the chance to attend one of the best music festivals in the region, Voodoo Music Festival. During Halloween weekend you'll get to experience three days of music, art and food in the center of City Park. If you plan ahead of time you can buy tickets for as low as $99 for all three days. Other great music festivals in the city include BUKU Music & Art (March), New Orleans Jazz Fest (April-May), French Quarter Fest (April) and Essence Festival (July).
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar
Another big thing about this city that I couldn't leave out is the live music. Walking around the French Quarter during the day you will encounter several street musicians performing their craft. People gather around to listen to some of the best blue grass and jazz performances you can find. After sunset, walk along Frenchmen Street and take in the vibrant nightlife, with several venues hosting live R&B, blues and soul music. If you are looking for a party like atmosphere, look no further than Pat O'Briens piano bar. Known for its famous Hurricane drink, this spot offers live piano performances nightly and you can have your choice of song as long as you contribute some money to the performers. If you are looking to go off the beaten path, give Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop bar a try, smaller venue, less tourists, cheaper drinks and the same great live performances. Built between 1722 and 1732, is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States and said to be haunted by pirates, so not only will you have a great time, you might also encounter some ghosts.
Bonus: Festivals Galore
One of the things I miss the most about living close to New Orleans is having the opportunity to attend the various festivals throughout the year. Music, food, art, wine, beer... you name it, New Orleans has a festival for that, and a lot of them are free of charge. Make sure to check the city's calendar before you plan your trip so you don't miss out on any cool events!
Ready to laissez le bon temps rouler?