New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the United States. It’s history under French and Spanish control prior to the Louisianna Purchase has left the city with culture unlike any other American city. If you’re visiting New Orleans you will have plenty of options for activities and entertainment. Here is a look at ten popular things to do.
Take a Walking Tour Through the Garden District
New Orleans’ Garden District was originally the city of Lafayette but later became a part of New Orleans. The Garden District features beautiful architecture and is a great place to walk and explore. Frommers offers directions for a self-guided walking tour that points out many of the historic and significant homes and buildings throughout the Garden District. You can follow the tour on your smartphone or print it out and take it with you.
The tour includes the home where Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, died. You’ll also see several celebrity homes on the tour, including Archie Manning, Sandra Bullock, and John Goodman. The tour ends at Lafayette Cemetery Number 1.
The Garden District is a great place to walk around and explore on your own, as the streets are typically much less crowded than the streets of the French Quarter.
Visit a Cemetery
New Orleans is well-known for its cemeteries, which feature above-ground tombs. There are a number of cemeteries throughout the city that are popular with visitors, including the Saint Louis Cemeteries (numbers 1, 2, and 3) and the Lafayette Cemeteries (numbers 1 and 2). Guided cemetery tours are available, and traveling in groups is recommended because some of the cemeteries are not in the best neighborhoods.
If you’re doing the self-guided walking tour or the Garden District, the tour ends at Lafayette Cemetery Number 1. This cemetery was seen in the movies Double Jeopardy, Interview with the Vampire, and Jonah Hex. The photo below is from this cemetery.
Ride the Streetcar
The historic streetcars of New Orleans are a great, and affordable way to get around the city. There are 3 different lines (St. Charles, Canal Street, and Riverfront) that take you to different parts of the city. One way trips currently cost $1.25 with a day pass available for $3. The St. Charles line is the oldest continually operating street railway system in the world (streetcars have been used in New Orleans for around 150 years).
If you’re trying to get from one area of the city to another, such as the garden district to the French quarter, the streetcar is ideal. Stops are close together in most places, but there is no real schedule like there would be with a train or subway in most cities. Be prepared for a tight squeeze if you’re riding the streetcar during peak hours, as it can become very crowded.
Walk Through the French Quarter
The French Quarter is what most people picture when they think of New Orleans. Beautiful, historic buildings with balconies line the streets. There is plenty of shops and places to explore. Louis Armstrong Park at the edge of the French Quarter is also worth visiting.
Visit Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral
Jackson Square is located in the French Quarter right along the Mississippi River. The square includes landmarks like Saint Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo (which was the old city hall and now a museum), and the Presbytère (which originally housed the Roman Catholic priests and authorities). Jackson Square has been a gathering place in the city since the 1800’s. At the end of the square and near the Mississippi is Café du Monde, a local favorite since the 1800’s.
Visit Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street, located in the French Quarter, is well know for it’s night life. Bars and restaurants line the street and parts of the street are blocked off for pedestrians during peak hours. An evening visit to Bourbon street is not recommended for children.
See the Destruction and Rehabilitation
Hurricane Katrina had a devastating effect on New Orleans, and some areas still remain severely damaged years later. Many of the city tours that are available will take you by bus through some of the areas hit the hardest, and they’ll also show you the positive side of the situation, where new homes are being built. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Brad Pitt’s Make it Right foundation are contributing a great deal to the local area.
Attend Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is one of the most well-know New Orleans traditions with parades and parties. The date of Mardi Gras is dependant on the date of Easter, but typically in February or early March.
Tour a Plantation
New Orleans and its surrounding areas are home to many historic plantations that can be visited. A plantation tour is a great way to learn about the history of the area and to see what life was like for the people of New Orleans in earlier generations.
About a 60 – 90 minute minute drive outside the city of New Orleans you’ll find several of the best plantations in the area, including Laura: A Creole Plantation, Destrehan Plantation, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, and my personal favorite, Oak Alley Plantation. The photo below is from Oak Alley.
Visit City Park
At more than 1,300 acres, City Park is the 6th largest urban park in the U.S. It includes a botanical garden, sculpture garden, cafe, golf, tennis, boat and bike rentals, and an amusement park. The park also includes many large, beautiful oak trees, some as old as 600 years.
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