New Orleans Travel Guide

New Orleans Travel Guide

Fernando Nocedal

The fascinating cross-cultural history and enduring mythologies that have given New Orleans its singular character continue to spur its legacy as a cultural innovator and foster moments of genuine surprise, even for well-seasoned travellers. Wondering what to do in New Orleans? Venture out into the captivating neighbourhoods beyond the famous but touristy French Quarter—such as Bywater, Faubourg Marigny, and Uptown—to experience the mysterious pulse of this indelible city.

Where to eat in New Orleans

Creole traditions have laid much of the foundation for NOLA’s vibrant, rich, and distinctive food scene. Executive Chef Phillip Lopez, whose Rebel restaurant group includes the recently opened Warehouse District delicatessen Part & Parcel, has also made a splash with Root, an inventive take on modern American cuisine in a prime location in the inviting Lower Garden District. Make your way through the charcuterie and small plates, which include black tea-smoked tongue and duck egg raviolo with summer squash ragout, while enjoying the sunset from the balcony. For a deeper plunge into Chef Phillip’s test kitchen, the 16-seat chef’s table at Square Root downstairs offers a bold tasting menu that might feature duck-heart Frito pie or fried chicken cotton candy.

For a memorable, quintessentially New Orleans dining experience in Uptown’s Riverbend area, the festive and unpretentious Jacques-Imo’s offers an eclectic mix of Creole dishes ranging from country-fried venison with wild mushroom pan gravy to shrimp-and-alligator-sausage cheesecake. And for some of the best po’ boy sandwiches in town, check out Chef Jacques Leonardi’s Crabby Jack’s, a five-minute drive north.

Art Garage | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Art Garage | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

You’ll find a decadent down-home brunch menu at Elizabeth’s Restaurant, set in a funky century-old house in Bywater. You may need a short nap after devouring a sweet potato-and-duck hash corn waffle with pepper jelly and a side of praline bacon. It’s also a great pick for dinner. A few blocks away, the unassuming striped yellow shack that is The Joint can satisfy your barbecue fix. There’s no use trying to exercise restraint here. Combo plates with sides are the best way to sample the pared-down menu of baby back ribs, beef brisket, sausage links, mac-and-cheese, and baked beans.

Award-winning chef Donald Link (Butcher, Cochon) takes a modern Creole approach to preparing live-fire rustic seafood dishes at his popular Warehouse District eatery Pêche. Standouts include the jumbo Gulf shrimp with bacon and shell beans and the catfish with pickled greens and a piquant chilli broth. Be sure to order a side of the addictively delicious hushpuppies. Keep your eye out for celebs, who routinely hobnob at this see-and-be-seen restaurant.

New Orleans nightlife

Many bars stay open 24/7, so you have time to visit a few spots in one night. Mimi’s in the Marigny can be a good place to start the evening. The relaxed, dimly lit space has DJs on weekends, a pool table in the main bar, and a quieter, romantic upstairs space that presents impressive tapas, such as crab gazpacho, escargot, and mushroom manchego toast.

Soak up the city’s musical speciality, jazz, at the Spotted Cat Music Club (aka “The Cat”) on Frenchmen Street, in the hip and lively Marigny neighbourhood. The cosy, often packed space hosts up to three live acts nightly, ranging from jazz vocalists to acoustic blues trios. Head to the charmingly shabby back patio at Bacchanal Wine to catch live music, sip wine, and nosh on Mediterranean-inspired small plates, from watermelon salad to confit chicken leg.

Friend | Photo: Thurman Thomas III

Friend | Photo: Thurman Thomas III

You’ve likely heard plenty about Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and its copious bars and reputation for all-night revelry. The first six or seven blocks of Bourbon offer a nonstop nightly parade of drunken misbehaviour, and although it’s interesting to see once, the novelty wears thin quickly. Once you hit St. Ann Street, you’ll find famous gay nightclubs like Oz and Bourbon Pub. For a more refined and memorable experience, continue along the less-crowded section of Bourbon Street to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, where you’ll be magically transported into an 18th-century pirates den with rough-hewn candlelit walls. It’s one of the oldest bars in America.

Long a favourite bear and leather bar, The Phoenix now draws everyone from young queers to leather daddies (and everyone in between). This inclusive (although 99 percent male), cruisy space in the Marigny is known for its wild block parties during Southern Decadence and New Orleans Gay Pride.

Things to do in New Orleans

While New Orleans is an outstanding food city, thankfully it’s also an ideal setting for long walks past bustling shop fronts, through leafy parks, and along eclectic veranda-lined residential streets, especially in the neighbourhoods along the Mississippi River on either side of the Central Business District (CBD) and the French Quarter. If you’re looking to burn off a few calories, consider jogging through the area in the morning and returning at a more relaxed pace in the afternoon.

Just beyond the French Quarter, walk amid the Marigny’s jazz clubs and indie shops on Frenchmen Street, a good spot to come back to for dinner (where you’ll have trouble deciding among the many excellent restaurants—Marigny Brasserie and Praline Connection are two good ones—and the strong aromas of the grilled street food) and to check out the evening Frenchmen Art Market, which also hosts intriguing installations at the Art Garage nearby on St. Claude Avenue. Continue into Bywater, where you can replenish with a fresh juice at Satsuma Café on Dauphine (they also have a charming Uptown location). Cross over the train tracks on the pedestrian bridge to Crescent Park for a change of scenery along the river and some great views of the city skyline. On your way back, stop for coffee or lunch at Press Street Station, a culinary project of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

The Old No.77

The Old No.77

Uptown covers a large section of New Orleans that’s renowned for its opulent 19th-century mansions and more modest Creole cottages as well as a number of lively districts with great retail and dining, some lovely parks, and the campuses of Tulane and Loyola universities. Start by taking the charmingly historic, open-air St. Charles Streetcar from the Central Business District (CBD) out to Carrollton-Riverbend. Spend the afternoon slowly working your way back (it’s about a 6-mile walk, but you can Uber it or return on the streetcar if you get puckered out). Fuel up at Camellia Grill, which is set in an uncharacteristically grand-looking Greek Revival building that’s been turning out juicy burgers since the 1940s (you may see a branch in the French Quarter, but this is the superior original). Make your way to 350-acre Audubon Park, with its scenic pathways shaded by massive moss-draped live oak trees, before heading down Magazine Street for some of the city’s best boutique shopping and noteworthy dining, from luxury menswear at Billy Reid and a fresh shave at the stylish old-school gentleman’s barbershop Aidan Gill to fresh oysters at venerable Casamento’s and Haute Creole fare at iconic Commander’s Palace. Make a turn into the iconic Garden District to see its over-the-top ornate mansions and visit the eerie and historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.

The best hotels in New Orleans

Opened on the edge of the Warehouse District in spring 2016, the swanky Ace Hotel occupies a beautifully restored Art Deco building whose interiors pay homage to the city’s history—painted furniture and murals evoke Louisiana’s lush landscape. The hotel has fast become a destination for everyone from creative spirits to high-rolling revellers who flock to its poolside rooftop garden café, Alto; the intimate music venue, Three Keys; the Southern-inspired osteria, Josephine Estelle; and the contemporary menswear boutique, Friend.

Another welcome addition to the neighbourhood, the Old No. 77 Hotel occupies a rehabilitated 19th-century coffee warehouse. Exposed-brick walls and hardwood floors showcase the eclectic, tastefully curated vintage interiors and two art gallery extensions: one showcases the latest Where Y’Art exhibition, and the other features the work of NOCCA students. The hotel’s convivial restaurant, Compère Lapin, presents the deftly executed contemporary Creole fare of Big Easy culinary whiz Nina Compton.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation

On the edge of the French Quarter inside the masterfully converted Beaux Arts-style former Maison Blanche department store, a landmark since 1909, the sumptuous Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans features neoclassical interiors, marble bathrooms, live music in the old-world Davenport Lounge, and one of the loveliest hotel courtyards in town. The luxurious day spa offers more than 100 treatments.

For a more intimate experience in an unbeatable location on the edge of the Marigny, the Gothic Melrose Mansion offers spacious luxury suites with subzero refrigerators, washer and dryer, Jacuzzi tubs, and cathedral ceilings.

Touring nearby plantations and mysterious swamplands

Upriver between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the tortuously winding Mississippi River is lined with New Orleans points of interest; an odd mix of modern chemical plants, oil refineries and centuries-old plantations. Several of the latter are open for tours, and visiting the best of these offers a fascinating look into the complex and difficult history of the American South. It’s an hour’s drive west to reach the sweeping grounds of Oak Alley Plantation, whose guides do an excellent job describing the day-to-day lives of the plantation’s former owners and slaves. Behind the striking main mansion (seen in a number of Hollywood movies, including Interview with a Vampire), several bungalows offer overnight accommodations overlooking the tranquil grounds. Also in the vicinity, visit the Creole Laura Plantation for a detailed account of this one-time sugarcane operation, based on the memoirs of plantation owner Laura Locoul Gore. And for an unflinching look at the lives of its enslaved inhabitants, Whitney Plantation offers the unique perspective of hundreds of first-person slave narratives.

Louisiana swamp tours may sound unabashedly touristy and silly, and most of them are, but just northeast of New Orleans, Dr Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours actually presents intelligently narrated, fascinating excursions on quiet, small boats through one of the lushest and most beautiful wetlands in the Mississippi Delta. The focus is squarely on flora and fauna, and the expert-naturalist guides point out migrating bird life, alligators, and other critters. They can also provide transportation from New Orleans, 45 minutes away.

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