New Orleans, NOLA, The Big Easy, The Crescent City, N’awlins, whatever you want to call it, 393,000 people call it home. It’s famous for cajun cooking, the Superdome, jazz and the birthplace of famous trumpeter, Louis Armstrong.
New Orleans has over 20 historic districts, more than any other city in the US. In addition to having famous neighborhoods, it has famous streets – Canal Street, Magazine Street, Bourbon Street, to name a few. Whether you’re planning a trip for Mardi Gras or just looking for the best travel destinations in the Southeast, here’s the best of New Orleans.
Since New Orleans is famous for it’s cajun/creole restaurants and iconic food, I feel like I need to start off by listing the best restaurants in New Orleans.
BEST EATS IN NEW ORLEANS
Galatoire’s – Right on Bourbon Street, Galatoire’s has been serving up classic New Orleans cuisine since 1905.
Cafe Du Monde – Legendary beignets, multiple locations, most famous in French Quarter near French Market.
Antoine’s – A restaurant does not stay open 180 years through 5 generations unless they are doing something right. Antoine’s made Eggs Sardou and Oyster’s Rockefeller famous. They also have a Sunday jazz brunch. Reservations needed.
Brennan’s – Famous New Orleans restaurant. Open since 1946, they have been racking up awards for their creole cuisine for decades.
La Petit Grocery – An award winning restaurant with savory beignets and a creative menu.
Above are just a few recommended restaurants in New Orleans. In addition to the ones above, Robert St. John is a highly respected Southern chef and writer who owns several restaurant and always has his finger on the pulse of New Orleans cuisine. Follow his blog for the most up-to-date new and noteworthy restaurants in New Orleans.
You have to try beignets if you are in New Orleans. They are something between a popover and a donut and they are hot, sweet, sugary deliciousness.
While trying beignets is a must, you don’t have to sweat the unbearable line at Cafe Du Monde in the French quarter. There are plenty of places to get beignets in the big easy. Below are a few options, but I highly recommend The Vintage in the garden district. You can pair your beignets with coffee or champagne, have comfy seats and the same glorious N’awlins people watching on Magazine Street instead of Decatur Street. They have original beignets as well as fancy custom beignets, such as green tea beignets and s’mores beignets. But I’m a beignet purist, so I favor the original beignets with a cup of hot coffee.
Best Beignets in New Orleans: The Vintage, Cafe Du Monde, La Petitie Grocery and New Orleans Coffee and Beignet.
In addition to beignets, these are other New Orleans foods you must try: Shrimp Po Boy, gumbo, Crawfish Etouffet (seasonal), Red Beans and Rice, Chicory coffee, Jambalaya, Eggs Sardou, bananas foster and King Cakes. Watch out, they bake a plastic toy baby in king cakes, but don’t worry, if you get it in your slice it just means you have good luck and prosperity for the coming year, so woo-hoo! And since you’ll be rich an famous, you have to buy next year’s king cake. And the final foods you may want to try in New Orleans is Oysters Rockeller or Muffalats, I’m not a fan of either, but most normal people rave about them.
TIMES OF YEAR TO EAT CRAWFISH – The Louisiana crawfish season is November until June, The ideal time of the year to eat crawfish is Springtime (at a Springtime crawfish boil). If you are eating crawfish out of season, it is frozen. Also, only use the word crawfish in New Orleans. Technically crawfish and crayfish are the same thing, except that nobody except tourists use the word crayfish.
And if you are looking for a tasty and tasteful burlesque brunch, I recommend BoBou (South of Bourbon). Maybe it’s strange to call it a family friendly burlesque brunch, but it is more playful than seductive and if you have to stumble into a burlesque show with mixed-generation family members, I recommend this one. It makes for a lot of awkward giggles and fun memories. SoBou is the sister restaurant to Commander’s Palace and has excellent food.
FUN FOR EVERYONE IN NEW ORLEANS
There are things to do in New Orleans for everyone. The two big events that New Orleans is most famous for is Mardi Gras and also the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or simply put, Jazz Fest. This year the dates for JazzFest will be April 23 to May 3, 2020. And Mardi Gras is in January and February.
When planning travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, it’s important to note that Fat Tuesday, the day everyone associates with Mardi Gras isn’t the day New Orleans starts partying, it’s the day it stops. After Fat Tuesday, the city unanimously decides that it is last call.
So if you want to experience Mardi Gras and be part of the parades, the beads, the necklaces, the music, the king cake, I highly recommend looking at the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras website for the annual calendar of events. Remember the party ends on February 25, 2020 on the stroke of midnight. Seriously, at midnight the cops shut it down and make everyone get off the streets. At midnight it is officially Ash Wednesday and lent begins. There are over 50 Mardi Gras parades put on by Krewes or organizations, so there’s plenty to do before Fat Tuesday.
If you can’t swing Mardi Gras or JazzFest this year, no worries, there are tons of things to see and do in New Orleans year-round.
Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour – Always a great way to see a city when you’re short on time, or just want to get the lay of the land.
Fat Tire Tours – Offers year-round bike and Segway tours. It gets great ratings, is affordable and seems to be popular. If you are traveling with very young children, these tours might be a little too long for young attention spans.
Faulkner House Books – This tiny literary stop opens 10 am.
Jackson Square – Open air market/park, right by Cafe Du Monde, has musicians and local street performers that are fun to watch.
Carriage Ride – You can usually grab a carriage ride right on Decatur street near Jackson Square.
St. Augustine’s Catholic Cathedral – Famous cathedral in the quarter.
City Park – Until 1890, New Orleans City Park was the place to go for a duel. Now you just go to see the “Deuling Oaks” and for bike rentals, Art Museum, Sculpture Park, Carousel, amusement park, Historic Train Garden and Storyland.
And of course, New Orleans is a great city to meander around in the day time and check out the rich history and amazing food.
Noteworthy Streets in New Orleans:
Magazine Street (WWII Museum) (Garden District)
Prytania (Parallel to Magazine)
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN NEW ORLEANS
While New Orleans is just this side of crazy, you can take kids to New Orleans. Obviously on the streets in the French Quarter at night are a more drunken rowdy element, especially on Bourbon Street, but you can still have a good time in NOLA with children. Below are a few things your kids might enjoy.
Aquarium – Downtown at the end of Canal Street
Near the Aquarium you can park and also grab the trolley to experience traditional New Orleans transportation.
Music Box Village – cool space for kids, 10 am to 7pm, Sat and Sunday, not near the French Quarter.
Crescent Park – 5 min from Louis Armstrong Park
French Quarter Kids Tour – If you want to check out a walking kids tour, this tour company does reasonable prices tours that are appropriate length for young tourist.
Woldenberg Riverfront Park
Louis Armstrong Park
New Orleans City Park – Has a small amusement park with rides for kids, including a historic carousel. (Near Garden District, between Canal and Garden District.)
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW ORELANS
There are lots of great stays in New Orleans. The top hotel recommendations are below. *I hope to add more hotels to this list in the future.
Royal Sonesta – In the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Royal Sonesta is on Bourbon Street, just 2 blocks off Canal Street. Royal Sonesta has an event that is a Teddy Bear Tea with Santa, and for my children is was Christmas magic, for the rest of the adults it was good family fun.
Windsor Court Hotel – Located in the Central Business District, just a few blocks from the French Quarter, and 1 long block off the water, things are a pinch quieter here.
New Orleans Trivia
Who Dat? Where Y’at?
Who Dat is an abbreviation for “who dat say gonna beat them Saints? Who Dat? Who dat?” – which is an annoyingly catchy rally cry for the New Orleans Saints football team. You only have to hear this song once to have it stuck in your head for an eternity.
“Where y’at?” is a New Orleans greeting. It’s someone asking where you are at emotionally or personally, as in:
“Hey! Where y’at?”
“I’m good, How’s ya’mama’n’em?”
“They doin’ good.”
At just shy of 24 miles, the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway is the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. It’s so big it even has it’s own website.
Canal Street was once the widest street in the world. As the story goes, it was named for a canal that was planned, but never built, on the street’s ‘neutral ground’ or median that ended up with trolley cars or streetcars instead of boats.
The St. Louis Cathedral’s claim to fame is that is the oldest continually operating cathedral in the US.
Mobile, Alabama was the original birthplace of Mardi Gras in 1703, something Alabamians still whistfully talk about.
A New Orleans dentist (Levi Spear) invented Dental Floss.
Louisiana is the only state in the union that does not have counties, but instead has parishes.
Louisiana is also the only state with napoleonic law. While the 49 other states are based on English common law, which is based on court precedent or previous cases. Louisiana is based on Napoleonic Code, where judges pay more attention to the law as it is written rather than how previous judges interpreted the laws. It’s a subtle difference, but one that makes the state of Louisiana unique from a legal standpoint.
Speaking of laws, Louisiana was the last state in the union to raise the drinking age to 21, and it was only after the federal government threatened to cut off federal highway money. So Louisiana changed the drinking age in 1986, but it was another decade before they started enforcing it.
Drinking in the streets in an open container is completely legal in the French Quarter of New Orleans, however no glass containers, so throw that Hurricane in a paper or plastic cup.
And lastly, how to pronounce New Orleans. While some locals are offended by tourists saying ‘n’awlins’ that spelling closer to their pronunciation than New Orleans. Do not say New Or-leans (as in something that leans sideways). It is more like New Or-lens (like a camera lens). And if this is confusing, do not even attempt to say Tchoupitoulas. (Spoiler alert, the first t is silent, the second t is not, the first u is silent, the second is not, and you should pretend there’s a quick h before the last s. So it’s chop-it-too-lahs.)
Now you’re ready to geaux to New Orleans!
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Let the good times roll!
*Opinions are my own. No third party or affiliate links.
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If you feel like there’s something amazing in New Orleans that travelers need to know about that was missed, please add it the comments below and I will check it out next time I am in Louisiana. Thanks so much for reading!