** Long Post Alert**
After Austin (~ Around Houston: Austin!!), San Antonio (~ Around Houston: San Antonio!!), Fredericksburg (~ Around Houston: Fredericksburg!!) and South Padre Island (~ South Padre Island…) it’s time to step out of Texas, but still stay around Houston, and head to Louisiana.
New Orleans (NOLA) is on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico. It’s nicknamed the “Big Easy” and is popular for its amazing nightlife, vibrant live-music scene, yummy cuisine and ofcourse its festive spirit especially during the Mardi Gras season. Mardi-Gras is a the late winter carnival famed for raucous costumed parades and public partying and if you plan to visit NOLA during this time of the year, please be prepared for the craziness you will experience not only in terms of a spike in prices of hotels etc. but also all those R rated things which go on very openly around the city, especially on Bourbon street.
From our place in Houston, NOLA is about 6 hours away and hence we often visit when we want to go someplace far but not too-too far! Lake Charles is another city in Louisiana which makes for a good mid-way stop (more on Lake Charles in another post) especially if you like to gamble since there are many casinos in Lake Charles.
We have been to NOLA 5 times and a couple of years back, we have even taken my parents to visit this crazy city when they were visiting us. I also did a 6 month-long project with Shell in NOLA along with some other work related trips. Also, a very dear friend of mine stays in the city, so whenever I visit I get to see her lovely face, which makes me super happy 🙂 Love you Chica!
So getting back to my post today, having visited multiple times and even stayed in the city for long periods of time (while on projects), I would say I know enough about the city, so needless to say, listen up… Haha!
So let’s start discussing more about this city:
Where to stay:
In my opinion, the best part of the city in terms of safety and closeness to things to do is along the Canal Street and here is a list of good/comfy/not too expensive hotels along the same:
– JW Marriott (614 Canal St)
– Sheraton (500 Canal St)
– New Orleans Marriott (555 Canal St)
– Double Tree by Hilton (300 Canal St)
– Country Inn and Suites (315 Magazine St)
Things to do (in no particular order):
– French Quarter: This is the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. This area is full of history and the beautiful architecture presents many photo-ops. No visit to NOLA is complete without a visit to the French Quarter. Exploring French Quarter by foot is a special experience coz there are so many nooks and crannies. The Friends of Cabildo offer a great walking tour. Horse and carriage tours are provided as well and are not too expensive, you can book via Royal Carriages, so this is a great way to view the beauty and know more about the rich history of the French Quarter, if you don’t prefer walking. You could also rent a bike and tour the city that way! The options are endless…
– Jackson Square: This is a public, gated park, the size of a city block, located in the heart of the French Quarter.
– St. Louis Cathedral: The landmark of Jackson Square, this church is beautiful.
– Louisiana State Museum: If you are interested in history of Louisiana, then this would be of interest to you!
– Cafe Du Monde: Yummy in my tummy!! Their beignets are to die for! The to-go line is usually very long so here’s a tip, walk in as though you are gonna eat-in but then when the waiter comes to take your order, place the order and then tell them you changed your mind and want it to go 😉 Hehehehee… I learned this little trick from the locals, so no shame there!!
– Bourbon Street: This street is a party street anytime of the day and the year. BUT do not take your kids!! If you like drinking, definitely try the Hand Grenade and Hurricane drinks that NOLA is notorious for.
– Shops along Decatur Street: There is an assortment of shops here from the usual stores like H&M to cutesy little boutiques, from CVS and Walgreens to tons of shops selling souvenirs. Everyone is guaranteed to find something of interest here!!
– Stroll along Royal Street for some Antique Shopping: NOLA is known for its antiques and whether or not you are into antiques, definitely stop by these shops to just view the artifacts, they are spectacular.
– The National WWII Museum: If you are a history buff like my hubby is, you will love this place! And even if you are not a history buff, then too surely stop by here coz you will get to learn a lot, just like I did.
– Frenchmen Street: Very popular for live music!
– Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus: In my opinion this is one of the best ways to see any city, and NOLA is no different. It is also a good way to see highlights of what the city has to offer since these buses tour all the major attraction and coz it’s hop-on, hop-off, you can use it as a cab!!
– Harrah’s Casino: The 24/7 casino offers slots and table games promising fun for all casino lovers.
– French Market: Farmer’s market and Flea market, quite popular and busy especially on the weekends.
– Audubon Zoo, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium and Audubon Park, The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas: Fun stop, especially with the kiddos.
– Shops At Canal Place: Great stop for some upscale shopping and also has a movie theater playing the latest Hollywood flicks.
– Riverwalk: Good to stroll by the river in the evening, but nothing too great in my humble opinion, except it is also the home to the The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk – an outlet mall!
– Carousel Bar & Lounge – Hotel Monteleone: Cool stop! This one is a circular bar that revolves like a carousel.
– The Roosevelt Hotel & Sazerac Bar: The Roosevelt hotel is a hotel with ample historic importance, definitely stop by to see where many of the presidents have stayed when they visited New Orleans. The Sazerac Bar is another one with a rich history, read more about it, right here: http://12bottlebar.com/2010/05/the-sazerac-bar/
– New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden: This is a good stop for art lovers. Has some really cool, maybe I can even call some of them weird, art installations so do check them out.
– Cemetery Tour: New Orleans and surrounding areas are also known for spectacularly beautiful cemeteries – you’ll understand what I mean when you get to see one. I know it’s strange to go “tour” a cemetery but with graves so pretty, you have to! It is also very calming all while being serene. The tradition of above-ground burial for New Orleanians comes from the fact that it lies below sea level and hence whenever the city is flooded (which it does often) there would be a lot of issues with under-ground burials, sometimes skeletons found floating around! Yeah! Exactly… You can explore the above-ground cemeteries, known as the “Cities of the Dead”. Since there are many companies giving these tour, just google to find the best one that suits you.
– Ghost Tour: New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in the US!! Whether you believe in ghosts or not, New Orleans is full of mystery and legends. Try a nightime Haunted History Tour for a ghost friendly evening 😉 If you are up for it, go ahead and spook yourself out!
– Mardi-Gras World: This one is a one of a kind experience, just like most of the things in New Orleans is anyways! Here we get to tour the working warehouse where floats are made for Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, which is a big part of the tradition and culture of NOLA.
– Swamp Tours: New Orleans and the surrounding area is very swampy with many opportunities to spot alligators, turtles and snakes. I would definitely recommend you do a swamp tour like this as it’s quite a unique experience. You can book your tour via either Honey Island Swamp Tours or Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours. If you want to go over the edge, try a Lost Lands Environmental tour where you can explore the Shell Bank Bayou on kayaks, with an educational component.
– Plantation Tours: We haven’t done one of these yet, but I have heard a lot about these. South Louisiana is known for its beautiful antebellum architecture and there are plenty of plantation homes that are within an hours drive from New Orleans. The architecture and beauty of these homes alone is impressive – the stories that go with them are supposed to be even better, from what I hear.
Where to Eat:
You have some of the regular fast food restaurants like Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut and Dominos to choose from, if trying new cuisines does not tickle your taste buds, but below are some of my favorites from NOLA:
– Domenica (Italian)
– Cafe Du Monde (Best Beignets ever!!)
– Shaya (Middle Eastern)
– The Velvet Cactus (Mexican)
– Cafe Giovanni (Italian)
– La Thai Uptown (Thai)
– Brennan’s (amazing for brunch)
– The Court of Two Sisters (good spot for brunch)
– Nirvana (Indian)
Hope this post has been helpful and informational all while exciting you enough to want to visit this wonderful city offering not only richness in history but also enough opportunities to party it up! Enjoy and have fun in New Orleans!! Cheers!!