One of my guilty pleasures was the television show The Originals, which takes place in New Orleans. I’ve been wanting visit for a while. Many people told me it was their favorite place in the US. I knew I wanted to visit it, and it seemed like a good place to stick around for a while.
After the cold of upstate New York, I was very excited to spend some time in the warm south. So when I found a Workaway gig in Auberge NOLA, it all worked out perfectly. During the month I spent here, I got to know and fall in love with the crescent city.
Between the beautiful architecture, the amazing food and friendly locals, New Orleans instantly became my favorite city in the US (so far). It has a European vibe, which made me feel right at home. And even after a month, I never got bored here. There is just so much to do and see in this city. Here are some of the best things to do in New Orleans:
Walk through the French Quarter
The French Quarter is the oldest part of New Orleans. This is where the French colonists first settled and claimed Louisiana for King Louis XIV. To my surprise, the architecture in the French Quarter is actually not French, it’s Spanish. The French architecture was mainly wood, and all of it burned down in two big fires. During that time, the Spanish briefly owned New Orleans, and they rebuilt the city in Spanish style. Either way, the result is stunning and elegant. The whole quarter is filled with beautiful stone buildings with wrought-iron balconies.
The French Quarter is the most touristic part of the city and is filled with restaurants, bars and shops. But it is also my favorite part of the city. I spent many days simply strolling through the quarter. If you want to walk with a bit more purpose and learn more about the history, join the Free Walking Tour.
Ride the streetcar
It might seem kind of mundane, but my favorite thing to do in New Orleans was riding the streetcar. Unlike pretty much every other big city in the US, New Orleans actually has a good public transportation system. The streetcars are both a historic landmark and a way to get around the city. The cars themselves are really cute and very well maintained. They will get you to all the main tourist destinations for as little as 1.25 a ride or 3 dollars for a 24-hour pass. Either pay by cash on the car itself or buy a pass at Walgreens. Although the schedules are not the most reliable, they run 24 hours a day. I loved taking the St. Charles line from Bourbon to Uptown and watch all the beautiful buildings of the Garden District roll by.
Love good public transport? San Francisco also has a street car system!
Explore the Tremé
The Tremé is credited as the first African-American neighborhood in the US, but it was actually pretty diverse. This is one of the poorest parts of New Orleans and one that got hit the hardest by hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, the destruction opened the door for gentrification. Housing prices are rising drastically due to the amount of purpose built Airbnb’s. Even though the Tremé has a gritty reputation, it is actually quite a nice neighborhood. I highly recommend taking a tour of the Tremé to learn more about its fascinating history, especially concerning music and civil rights.
Visit a museum
There are lots of great museums in New Orleans. If you want to learn about the history of Louisiana, visit the Cabildo. Be sure to also pop in to the Cathedral next door. On the other side of the St. Louis Cathedral lies the Presbytère museum, which has an amazing exhibition on Katrina and one on Mardi Gras. If you visit only one museum in New Orleans, make it this one. If you want to see Mardi Gras floats in person, hop on the free shuttle bus to Mardi Gras World.
History buffs will also appreciate the enormous World War II museum. I didn’t visit it, because being Dutch and German, I’ve had my fill of WWII history. But from what I heard from others it is very interesting, and you can easily spend 4-5 hours there.
Go on a Swamp Tour
One of the funnest things I did in New Orleans was go on a tour of the Bayou. During our boat tour through the Bayou outside of New Orleans we saw wild pigs, alligators, birds and other wildlife. It was so cool seeing all these animals out in the wild. The guide was very knowledgeable and told us about the plants and animals we encountered. A perfect day out on the water with Cajun Encounters.
Party on Bourbon street
New Orleans has a lot of culture and beautiful sights, but it is also a popular party destination. There is a festival basically every weekend, of which Mardi Gras is the biggest and craziest. If you feel like going out all night, head over to Bourbon street where the bars are open almost 24-7. New Orleans in one of the few places where you can drink on the street. Bourbon street is lined with bars, fast food places and strip clubs. It’s neon lit and a little trashy, but o so fun. Shake your ass on stage at Razzoo, dance to 90s beats at Beach on Bourbon and listen to live music at Bourbon Bandstand. Don’t forget to try the hand grenades from Tropical Isle or a frozen daiquiri from Big Easy to drink in between bars. You might even catch some beads 😉
Chill out in Audubon Park
The St. Charles line will also get you to my favorite park in New Orleans: Audubon Park. Named after the famous naturalist John James Audubon who moved to New Orleans in 1821. Like a lot of places in NOLA, Audubon park was originally a plantation. It was purchases by the city in 1870 with the intention of creating an urban park. They definitely succeeded! The park spans 350 acres and houses beautiful old Oak trees, a golf course, a zoo and lots of water features. The perfect place to escape the humid city heat and lounge in the grass.
Listen to some live Jazz music
You can’t visit New Orleans and not listen to some great music. This is where Jazz music was born and raised to the art form it is today. Jazz runs through the veins of the city and there are plenty of spots to hear it. Walking through the French Quarter you’ll hear it played in the streets and the bars. Check out the Rebirth Brass Band every Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf in Uptown for some Grammy winning brass music. My personal favorite place to hear live music, Jazz or otherwise, is at Frenchmen street. All the bars here have band playing every night, but Sundays are the best i.m.o. I never made it to the end of Frenchmen Street, but be sure to check out Vaso, Maison, 30/90, Blue Nile and Apple Barrel for a great night out.
Shop at Magazine street
Tired of the crowds in the French Quarter? Check out the cool Magazine Street area instead. This is where the locals go to shop in cute boutiques and thrift stores and eat at hip bars and restaurants. Most of Magazine Street is pretty hipster and gentrified, but there are still a couple of dive bars left as well. Start your day with brunch at The Ruby Slipper and end it with beers at the Bulldog.
Eat all the Louisiana food
After spending a month in New Orleans, I definitely gained a few pounds. The locals like to joke that a trip to the Big Easy means a pound a day in weight gain. And it’s no wonder with all that delicious Louisiana food! From deep-fried southern chicken to creole red beans and rice. From fluffy beignets to cajun crawfish boil. New Orleans knows how to celebrate good food!
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. It’s full of beautiful architecture, delicious food, great music, and good vibes. The people are friendly, and the party never stops in New Orleans. Whether you’re going for the history and culture, the cuisine, or just a good time, this is one of those places that everyone should experience once in their lives.
Have you ever been to New Orleans? What was your favorite thing? Let me know in the comments.
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