In a place famous for its cuisine, living music aka the birthplace of jazz, plus annual celebrations and festivals, you will find New Orleans rich with history, culture and religion. Our first trip to New Orleans happened on our honeymoon as we were looking for more than a tropical beach destination. We wanted a warm climate, history, culture and somewhere we had never been before. NOLA fit all the criteria. We traveled in July and while it was busy, it really was the best time to be there.
With so many adventures to go on while in NOLA, it’s hard to decide which ones to do. It can be crowded, loud and busy, but it certainly isn’t boring. We’ve assembled 6 of our favourite things to do while in New Orleans.
Walk down the world-famous Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is a people watchers paradise which some might say is similar to walking the strip in Las Vegas. Even though it wasn’t Mardis Gras we still had people tossing beads at us from balconies. Drinking on the street, jazz clubs and bands are everywhere and for those looking for a bite to eat you’ll find everything from burger joints to high end dining.
Be a cool cat and listen to the sounds of the jazz band at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. There is absolutely nothing quite like experiencing true New Orleans Jazz in this historical establishment that dates back to the 1950s. We managed to get late night tickets and really had no idea what to expect. What we experienced was worth it’s weight in gold. Small, intimate and an incredible energy coming from the band and the walls. We didn’t have kids at the time but kids are allowed and we’d definitely bring them along the next time. Make sure you get your tickets in advance as this place is busy.
Cruise the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez. This authentic steamboat features four engines and steering gear taken from the steamer Clairton in 1974. When you board the boat and are ready to leave, the captain barks his orders through an old-time hand-held megaphone. The calliope trills a melody into the air while the great wheel, 25 tons of white oak, churns the heavy waters of the Mississippi. It’s a magical experience as you sail past the French Quarter and very active port, but also a glimpse into history and a sense of what it used to be like back in the day.
We sailed the Mississippi on the dinner jazz cruise and our evening included a buffet style dinner plus entertainment by the on board jazz band. The Steamboat Natchez is both kid and animal friendly.
Explore the Grim and Ghastly Deeds of the Old French Quarter
Curious about things that go bump in the night? A good tour and/or tour guide can make history come alive and they certainly did when we took the Voodoo-Cemetery Tour with Haunted History Tours. We embarked on a daytime tour visiting cemeteries including the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau to learn about voodoo and the misperceptions about this secretive religion. It was a fascinating tour that left us with a better appreciation and understanding of voodoo.
Our tour continued on through the French Quarter and unique hot spots were pointed out as haunted complete with explanations and stories. One of the more interesting locations we visited was Lafittes Black Smith Shop located on the corner of St. Phillip Street and Bourbon Street. This place oozes history and paranormal activity according to the locals. The shop was built between 1722 and 1732 and legend says it may have been used by the French pirate Lafitte and his brother as a smuggling operation. An enjoyable tour learning about the rich culture and history of NOLA.
NOLA Restaurant | Wanda Baker PhotoCafe du Monde is a legendary tourist destination and rightly so, they make darn good beignets. Literally 5-10 minutes down the street you will find Cafe Beignet which makes equally delicious beignets and while also busy, is a good alternative if you do not want to wait to get into Cafe du Monde. We tried them both and can say we enjoyed both locations.
We couldn’t leave New Orleans without trying The House of Blues Restaurant & Bar for a little soul food + music, and Pat O’Briens for their world famous Hurricanes. I’ve had hurricanes many times at a former piano bar in Gastown, Vancouver called O Ryan’s and I have the glasses still to prove it. But this was New Orleans and these were authentic NOLA Hurricanes. So when in
Tour a plantation
Learn first hand about the people who lived on plantations and what their lives were like. We took in two tours while in New Orleans with the first being Laura Plantation, a traditional Creole plantation built in 1805 and run by four generations of Creole women. The “Tales of Br’er Rabbit” a famous folktale were based on folklore told by the West African freedmen working on the Plantation in the 1870’s.
Oak Alley Plantation, originally named Bon Sejour, was built in 1837-39. After passing through many owners it was finally purchased and renovated by the Stewart’s in the 1920’s. Mrs. Stewart died on October 3, 1972 at the age of 93. Out of respect for her all mansion clocks are set to the time of her death. The name Oak Alley comes from a double row of giant live oak trees about 800 feet long, form the oak alley in front of the mansion.
Experience The Bayou
Glide through gator country and gnarled cypress tress full of moss on a small boat with a local resident & guide. Only 45 minutes outside of the French Quarter sits the Honey Island Swamp, a swamp consisting of nearly 70,000 acres of permanently-protected wildlife area and the Nature Conservancy’s First Louisiana Nature Preserve. Hear tales about pirates and sightings of Big Foot and if you are lucky you will catch a glimpse of the many critters living in the swamp. With about 1,000,000 alligators in Louisiana it was only a matter of time until they make an appearance. Sometimes coached out by sounds the guide makes to attract them. That and well marshmallows! Guess these guys have a sweet tooth to! Check out the tours available and find one that works for you.
OK so I’m throwing in a 7th must do in New Orleans because you can’t go to a new City and not try the local food! So be sure to eat local cuisine while in New Orleans!
Eat Local Cuisine
Oh my gosh you are in New Orleans! Try the gumbo, po’ boys, crawfish etouffee, shrimp creole, jambalaya, muffuletta, and all the seafood you can handle, because NOLA!
We may have been most excited about the food in New Orleans and even before we arrived we had booked a reservation into NOLA, one of Emeril’s many restaurants. Did you know Emeril was one of the very first chefs on Food Network?! While filming Emeril felt the need to keep the cameramen awake so he started yelling things like “Bam!” as he added ingredients to dishes. And “Bam!” as we know it was born.
7 things we will do the next time we visit New Orleans
- Ride a Streetcar. Because Streetcar! We do not have those in Western Canada.
- Visit Frenchmen Street. Some say it’s better than Bourbon Street.
- Find some food trucks.
- New Orleans Food Walking Tour to eat all the things we didn’t the first time.
- Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
- Visit more Museums cause we like museums.
- Try the pizza! Do you know me or what?
- Explore everywhere to find the legendary treasure of infamous privateer Jean Lafitte and his brother since it’s never been found.