New Orleans is the largest city in Louisiana. It is well known as a cosmopolitan city of great culture, history, character, and for the splendors of its vibrant Mardi Gras celebrations. The city is famous for its Creole and Cajun cuisine, its diversity, many historic monuments, world class jazz music, and an indefinable atmosphere that is distinctly ‘New Orleans’.
Many people visit the city for its excellent nightlife, popular restaurants and bars, museums and landmarks, music festivals, and the centuries’ old tradition of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. During New Orleans Mardi Gras elaborately costumed ‘krewes’ parade through the streets on foot or on huge floats, throwing trinkets and beads to throngs of people gathered for the event. Mardi Gras is celebrated in many places across the world and New Orleans is one of the best places to experience it.
There are sights and scenes that should not be missed when visiting New Orleans. These include the French Quarter with its long established restaurants, bars, shops, and interesting architecture. The French Quarter or Vieux Carré is a memorable starting point for any visit to this sophisticated city. It is New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood and is characterized by cast iron balconies, enclosed patios and elegant courtyards, a laid-back atmosphere, the tunes of talented street musicians, and the long established French Market.
The French Market today is home to a farmer’s market, a craft market, many shops and vendors, and is a popular attraction for tourists. This marketplace, founded over two hundred years ago, was once a lively bazaar with vendors from all corners of the globe resounding with a multitude of languages. Today the market remains central to the rich New Orleans’s food culture and continues to reflect the diversity of the city. A plethora of vendors and dining establishments can be found there and many food, music, and heritage festivals are hosted at the French Market throughout the year.
- When to Go
- Top 5 Sites
- Top 5 Things to Do
It is difficult to define the people of New Orleans. They represent a diverse mix of cultures from nearly everywhere in the world. There are Creole (pertaining to the time of French and Spanish colonization) and Cajun influences (pertaining to the Acadian people who emigrated from Canada settling in mostly rural Louisiana), as well as African, European, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures represented.
New Orleans has been a place of converging cultures since its very beginning, and the unique modern culture of the city reflects this. Native Americans originally inhabited the area where the city was first founded, Africans were brought to the port city as slaves in the 18th century, and the city was under Spanish or French control until the beginning of the 19th century. Spanish and French people migrated to the city as well as people from elsewhere in Europe including Irish, Italian, and German settlers. Many other groups such as Greeks, Croatians, and Filipinos are also represented. Cubans also settled in the city, and later Haitians, Hondurans and other people from the Caribbean and Latin America.
There is a strong African American presence in New Orleans today. In its early days there was a significant Native American population, and the city’s importance as a port has resulted in people arriving and settling here from all over the world for the past two and a half centuries.
The Tremé neighborhood is of significant historical importance to New Orleans. It is the nation’s oldest African-American neighborhood, and many people attribute the origins of modern jazz music to the Tremé neighborhood and the early exchange of music and traditions that occurred there. Today the neighborhood has many cultural museums, shops and restaurants, and an important park named after the legendary jazz musician Luis Armstrong.
Celebrations such as Mardi Gras and the Jazz and Heritage Festival present good opportunities for experiencing the unique essence of the people of New Orleans.
New Orleans is bursting with flavorful dishes from inexpensive po-boy sandwiches served up ‘dressed’ with all the fixings, to spicy jambalaya, to fresh crayfish and fine dining at upscale restaurants run by celebrity chefs.
A true foodie will begin with a list of all the places they want to try during their trip, while those who simply want a good sampling of what the city has to offer will have no trouble finding a few of the city’s famous dishes.
A good place to get oriented is the French Market. This market was established in 1791 and has played an important role in the city throughout its history. There you will find great Creole and Cajun food, as well as fresh seafood, sweet shops, and German, Caribbean, Italian, French and Spanish influenced eateries, delis and specialty shops.
Specialties of the revered New Orleans cuisine include crawfish étouffée, gumbo, jambalaya, muffaletta sandwiches, po-boy sandwiches, and red beans with rice (a Monday tradition).
Popular desserts include bananas foster (invented at a New Orleans restaurant), praline candy, bread pudding, and beignets.
Gumbo is a rich and flavorful stew that traditionally features Native American and West African ingredients, perhaps acquiring its modern name from the West African word for okra (a traditional ingredient in the stew) which is kimgombo. Today the dish is made in a variety of ways with chicken, seafood, sausage or other meats and a medley of vegetables and seasonings.
Rice, seafood, andouille sausage and various spices and vegetables such as okra, tomatoes, and peppers are common ingredients in New Orleans cuisine.
Some culinary landmarks of the city include the Central Grocery (birthplace of the Muffaletta sandwich) and Café du Monde, where visitors should try the chicory infused coffee or a café au lait and a trio of sugary beignets.
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When to Go
From May through September temperatures are generally hot, reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and above, and humidity is high. Most rain falls from mid-summer into the fall. Summer is still a nice time to visit if you can bear the humidity, and New Orleans has a lively atmosphere year round.
Spring is generally a pleasant time to visit, just be aware that thousands of visitors visit the city during the Mardi Gras festivities.
July and August are the hottest months with the most humidity. Early spring and fall are pleasant times to visit. Thunderstorms can occur suddenly and the weather can be unpredictable throughout the year. Hurricane season is June through November.
Winter temperatures in New Orleans generally warrant a jacket or coat and long pants, though it is usually not terribly cold compared to elsewhere in the US. From late spring through late summer temperatures can be very hot and the humidity high. During this time shorts and a t-shirt or tank top are acceptable, with a sweater and some light layers for the evening. It can rain any time of year, so be prepared. Downpours tend to be sudden and short lasting though this is not always the case.
Visitors can arrive by air at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, about a 30-45 minute drive from the city center. There are shuttles, buses, and taxis available for transfers from the airport to the city.
It is easy to get around the city by walking or via taxi or public transportation (bus or streetcar) once you have arrived in New Orleans. There is usually no need to rent a car unless you plan to travel outside of the city. Some neighborhoods may not be safe to walk around in, particularly at night, and travelers should always take only marked taxis.
Health facilities are good in New Orleans, though emergency medical procedures can be costly in the US for non-residents. Traveler’s insurance is not a bad idea. The food and water is generally plenty safe for consumption. The city has a relatively high crime rate though this should not dissuade you from visiting. New Orleans is one of the country’s most attractive and interesting cities, and many people travel there safely each year. Be an aware traveler and acquire advice from locals regarding what to watch out for or which areas may be best to avoid. Take only licensed marked taxis, and avoid walking alone on dark streets late at night.
Learn the layout of the city including which areas or neighborhoods may be wise to avoid, and keep your valuables close to you or hidden from sight. Avoid drunkenness as this will make you more susceptible to crime.
Most citizens of the UK, Canada, Australia, and many European countries can visit the US without a visa if staying for no more than 90 days and if visiting as a tourist. Entry regulations can change without notice, so it is best to check up to date policies before your trip. All visitors are required to present a valid passport upon entry into the country.
Top 5 Sites
1. National World War II Museum
2. French Quarter (or ‘Old Quarter’)
3. Legendary Bourbon Street
4. French Market
5. Luis Armstrong Park (Tremé neighborhood)
Top 5 Things to Do
1. Embrace the celebratory chaos of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras; join the public parade or attend a masquerade ball
2. Take the St. Charles streetcar from the French Quarter through the Garden Districts
3. Attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
4. Take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi, experiencing the old way of arriving in this historic port city
5. Savor a café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde (French Market, French Quarter)
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