Out of every place I have ever traveled, New Orleans has remained my absolute favorite. Stepping into the French Quarter is like traveling to a completely different country altogether. The food, the music, the people ….the voodoo. There is no place like it in all of the USA. If you could only choose one place to visit while in the states, New Orleans would be the place to go!
The first time I went to New Orleans was on an alternative spring break trip while in college. By day we cleared wreckage and helped rebuild houses from the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. By night we explored all of New Orleans and everything that this magical town has to offer. I’ve only been back once so far and miss it everyday.
While you could take a family vacation to NOLA, I would recommend making sure your children are older because some pretty interesting people tend to come out at night. The best time to head to NOLA would be when you are with friends who are all of age.
Before you go off and running to NOLA be sure to check for events going on. There are always concerts you can attend, but one event you should not miss out on is a parade! Yes, I said a parade. New Orleans Parades are not always like your common 4th of July parades. They are in the way that they will throw out candy, play music and have amazing floats. What makes them different is they also throw out those prized Marti Grass beads and sometimes even food! Yes, real food. But not the kind you may be hoping for. They toss raw carrots, whole cabbages, tomato, lettuce and lots of other veggies.
Why you ask? Well, the specific parade I am talking about is one of the Irish celebration parades they have down in NOLA. There are many different ones like it such as the Irish Italian Islenos or the Saint Patrick’s day parade. Unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure which parade I attended. Our group was brought there as a surprise from the camp we were staying with. Imagine being brought to a parade and all of the sudden a eggplant is tossed at your head? Yeah…its pretty awesome!
After the parade was over the church group we were staying with made us jambalaya with all of the vegetables we caught. It was delicious and most defiantly a dish you need to try when in Louisiana!
New Orleans is a town in which you can travel around by foot. If you are taking or renting a car, it is good to know that the closer you get to the French Quarter, the more expensive it is to park. If you head to the off streets you can find some cheaper places, but most parking garages are very tight, so a smaller car works best.
If you do not have your own mode of transportation and are not up for walking, hop on a trolley! They are inexpensive to ride and will take you to other parts of the city outside the Quarter. Even if you do have your own transportation, take a ride for the experience!
The French Quarter By Day:
If you look up things to do down in NOLA the first thing that will come up is to explore the french quarter. And that is what you should do!
The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. It is a maze of old streets filled with Creole Cottage style buildings. It’s chalk full of shops that are packed with masks, spicy foods, strange souvenirs and trinkets you could only find in the south. Stop in one of the coffee shops and grab a danish or pastry to go as you stroll along the streets.
Head straight to the French Market while the sun is still high in the sky! The Market is toward the back of the quarter and open from 10:00am till 6:00pm. It’s an open market lined with vendors selling jewelry, food and even alligator heads. Take a look around and see what you find!
If you are looking for a sweet treat that will fill you up, Cafe Du Monde is a must! Cafe Du Monde is an open cafe filled with tiny tables waited on by French waitstaff. If you ask any local they will tell you that Cafe Du Monde is a big tourist trap- but they will also tell you it is a trap worth falling for! They sell amazing beignets that are a must try while you are in the area! Beignets are a fluffy fried dough covered in powdered sugar and they go great with the hot chocolate that they serve at the cafe. So walk on in and grab yourself a seat, but remember that it is cash only.
If you are in the mood take a ride on a horse draw carriage and be driven around the Quarter like they did years ago. You can get a carriage in lots of places, but you will find most of them lined up and ready along the street in front of Jackson Square.Or, if your not up to spend the dough, just ask to pet some of the horses while they are on their break.
Jackson Square is a small park in the Quarter that is actually a United States landmark. In the park is St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in North America. You can’t exactly go inside to explore, but you can take a guided tour for a price.
There are tons of different shops to see in the Quarter. Pop into every shop you can. Check out the southern merchandise, costume pieces and many different food and drink concoctions. Try on some Mardi Gras masks! Just don’t get caught taking photos because in most places they are not aloud. And don’t forget to check out the art for sale from vendors and artists lined up along the streets.
You can also try the world hottest hot sauce for free! It’s made with ghost pepper and they sell it in small bottles. It’s extremely hot- hence the name “the worlds hottest hot sauce” – so be prepared to involuntarily shed some tears. Don’t worry though, the workers will give you a freeze pop if you cant handle it.
If it is Voodoo that you are into, head over to the voodoo museum- it’s $7.00 to get in but only $5.50 with a student ID. Many shops have voodoo supplies, information and gifts for sale as well. You can also find card readers, tea leaf readers and fortune tellers along the streets.
See the Mississippi! Right behind the Quarter is none other than the Mississippi River! Take a stroll along the river, or ride across it! You can take a steam boat ride across the Mississippi. Or, you can take you and your car across the river by ferry, for free. Check out the Algiers Ferry and its departing times. Once on, you can get out and enjoy the short ride. Just be sure to put your seat belt back on, even in the back seat. Unless you want to end up getting a ticket like I did.
New Orleans Eats:
There are lots and lots of places to eat in the Quarter. More important, there are tons of foods to try that wont taste the same anywhere else. I have already mentioned jumbalia and beigents, but there are other many different Creole and Cajun eats that are all worth trying out, and you can order them from any restaurant.
Stop into Evan’s Creole Candy Factory to try some creole chocolate. You can watch them make chocolate creations and ask for a sample.
Order yourself a plate of gator! Thats right, alligator. You can get it cooked to your liking. While there I tried it fried. To be honest, it was salty and chewy and not my favorite. But hey…when in NOLA.
Next, for a filling lunch, order a Po-Boy! A Po-Boy is a traditional sandwich you can order from anywhere in Louisiana that comes with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and whatever else that the restaurant puts on it. You can get either a roast beef or a fried seafood (mostly shrimp) Po-Boy. Be warned, if you order it roast beef style, you are going to need a lot of napkins.
If spicy is your thing, you need to order yourself some gumbo! (You can find some non-spicy gumbo too, but its better with a kick). Gumbo is a stew that was originally created in Louisiana. No bowl of gumbo is exactly the same. Some are thick, some are thin, and they all have different flavors and ingredients. No matter what type you order it, it is a must try while in the Big Easy.
Another food to try is craw fish. Order a crawfish boil while down south. You can get crawfish in lots of places in the south, but Lousiana does it best. A plate comes with a mix of corn, sausage, potatoes and, of course, steaming crawfish. Depending on where you order it there may be different meats or veggies mixed in as well. When eating, think of it is a tiny lobster. Twist the tail off from the head, suck the juice from the head and eat the meat out of the tail.
The French Quarter at Night
While stores are still open when the sun sets, if you are heading the French Quarter at night, you are mostly likely be heading to dinner or, of course, Bourbon Street!
Bourbon Street at night is not a place to take the kids. It’s also not as fun if you are under age. At night, Bourbon Street comes to life with lights and excitement. It is clogged with music and noise flowing in and out of bars packed with people who are dancing and drinking.
You do not need me to tell you how to live it up on Bourbon, but here are a few quick tips. First, people will throw beads at you from the windows above to get your attention. Once you look up, they will dangle larger beads to give you in exchange for you to flash them. It works best if you just ignore them and keep walking.
Second, workers stand outside bars with trays of shots that they will hand you. Don’t take them unless you are willing to hand over cash after you do.
Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and be careful. Bourbon street can be a lot of fun but it can be dangerous and lots of tourists get their belongings taken- especially during spring break and Mardi Gras.
If you are done exploring Bourbon Street, or it is not for you there are other options at night.
You can take a ghost tour! But read the reviews first. I’ve taken some poorly done ghost tours and you wont be ale to get your money back.
There are lots of venues off Bourbon street that have Jazz shows going on, so stop on in and hear some soul music! One pretty neat place to see is the Musical Legends Park.
You can also take a nighttime steamboat ride or catch a open art gallery! Many shops are still open at night, but they don’t stay open too late so get your browsing in before close.
If you are heading outside the Quarter there is plenty to do. There are lots of malls and shops that make you feel like you are back in the right decade. There are plenty of venues that have all the foods you are looking for plus the jazz music you want to hear. However, if you haven’t been, you should see the French Quarter!
New Orleans is a place unlike any other and it is a must see! If you are going on a family trip, traveling with friends or riding solo, you can find lots to do. If anything is for sure, it is a place you will never forget.