New Orleans Vacations
There aren't many places in the USA that wear their history as openly on their sleeves as New Orleans. This city's very facade is an architectural study par excellence, but New Orleans offers a visitor much more. It's a cultural gumbo of African, Indian, Cajun and Creole influences. The birthplace of jazz, the city has a rousing music scene that leaves visitors spoiled for choice. As their motto goes, 'Let the good times roll'.
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What To Do
Revelling is the customary New Orleans way to keep fit. Enjoy the lively music scene, take a food tour or cooking class or explore Louisiana's magnificent plantations.
What To See
You'll find the Big Easy eye-opening in countless ways.
New Orleans is grounded in her history - the French Quarter stands testament to that past. The narrative of this great US city is immediate and palpable in the flicker of gas lights on the Quarter's dark alleyways.
There's no denying the Quarter's appeal. It's walkable, picturesque, always busy, and filled with an extraordinary range of great restaurants, bars, nightclubs, courtyard cafes, art galleries, rummage shops and quirky museums. A visitor can walk these blocks time and time again and on each occasion notice something new.
Historic Voodoo Museum
Of the (many) voodoo museums in the French Quarter, this one is probably our favorite. The narrow corridors and dark rooms, stuffed with statues, dolls and paintings, are something approaching spooky, and the information placards, which seem to have been written by an anthropology dissertation student with too much time on their hands, are genuinely informative (if a little dry).
National World War II Museum
The extensive, heart-wrenching museum should satisfy the historical curiosity of anyone with even a passing interest in WWII. The museum presents an admirably nuanced and thorough analysis of the biggest war of the 20th century. Of particular note is the D-Day exhibition, arguably the most in-depth of its type in the country. The 4-D Beyond All Boundaries film, narrated by Tom Hanks and shown on a 120ft-wide immersive screen in the new Solomon Victory Theater, is a loud, proud and awesome extravaganza well worth the extra $5. Chef John Besh's casual American diner, the American Sector has also been added here – make it a day.
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
One of our favorite museums in the city manages to be beautiful, educating and unpretentious all at once. New Orleans entrepreneur Roger Houston Ogden has assembled one of the finest collections of Southern art anywhere – far too large to keep to himself – which includes huge galleries ranging from Impressionist landscapes to outsider folk-art quirkiness, to contemporary installation work. There's live music from 6pm to 8pm Thursday for $10.
Visiting other New Orleans cemeteries doesn't quite prepare you for the architectural splendor and over-the-top extravagance of Metairie Cemetery. Established in 1872 on a former race track (the grounds, you'll notice, still follow the oval layout), this is the most American of New Orleans' cities of the dead and, like the houses of the Garden District, its tombs appear to be attempts at one-upmanship. This is the final resting place for many of New Orleans' most prominent citizens. William Charles Cole Claiborne, Louisiana's first American governor, rests here, as does Confederate General PGT Beauregard. Jefferson Davis was originally interred here, only to be moved to Richmond, VA, two years later. But the real highlight is the architecture. Many of the family tombs and monuments mix stone, bronze and stained glass, and the statuary is, in turns, elegant, touchingly sad and even sensual. Highlights include the Brunswig mausoleum, a pyramid guarded by a sphinx statue; the Moriarty monument, the reputed 'tallest privately owned monument' in the country; and the Estelle Theleman Hyams monument, with a stained glass casting a somber blue light over a slumped, despondent angel. Visitors can drop by the funeral home on the grounds and select either the 'Soldier, Statesmen, Patriots, Rebels' or 'Great Families and Captains of Commerce' self-guided tours. You will be given a map and loaned a recorded cassette and tape player (no charge). Seeing everything on the 150-acre grounds is most easily accomplished by car. Tape tours take about an hour, but stretching this out by getting out of the car for a closer look is highly recommended.
Artist Sally Heller designed this sculpture, built entirely out of found and recycled material, and dedicated it to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. A ruined shack that resembles Dorothy's house blown off-track sits in a tree constructed from pieces of oil drums. Inside, a light shines for those seeking to return home. It's a powerful piece of work that sits in an appropriate setting - across from the Convention Center, where so many refugees were displaced in the aftermath of the Storm.
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
New Orleans, like few American cities of its size, lives and dies off its arts scene. This is a city unapologetically in love with (and largely built on) the work of its musicians, painters and writers, and many of the next generation of such artists are educated at Nocca. Admission to this prestigious center, one of the best arts schools in the USA, is by audition only. If accepted, students (who are concurrently enrolled in their normal schools) specialize in fields ranging from the visual arts and creative writing to dance and cooking, instructed by artists at the top of their craft. As it is indeed a school, Nocca understandably isn't open to visitors 24/7, but check the website for details on upcoming public performances, gallery shows, and the like.
Boutique du Vampyre
Dark candles and Gothic gargoyles look down on you, promising a curse of blood and terror and the undead on those who only browse but do not buy its vampire and voodoo themed gifts! Mwahaha! Or ...not.
The Green Project sells salvaged building material at extremely cut-rate costs to New Orleanians, providing cheap housing supplies that also preserve the unique architectural facade of the city. It also runs a recycling center, donates paints and art supplies to schools and artists, plants community gardens and runs garden workshops, and does outreach work in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Sweet Pea and Tulip
Deck yourself out in the frock-y, fun contemporary and retro-inspired outfits that stack the shelves at this boutique.
A veritable museum of traditional and Dixieland jazz, Preservation Hall is a pilgrimage. But like many religious obligations, it ain't necessarily easy, with no air-conditioning, limited seating and no refreshments (you can bring your own water, that's it).
Le Bon Temps Roulé
This is an excellent neighborhood bar. Come on Thursday nights to see Soul Rebels brass band tear the joint up.
A throwback retro cool permeates through this excellent Frenchman staple you might recognize from numerous episodes of Tremé. Hipster jazz is on nightly and there's never a cover unless a special event is on.
Off the Beaten Path
Voodoo Spiritual Temple
Priestess Miriam Williams keeps her Voodoo Spiritual Temple stocked with religious paraphernalia from- damn, is that a Mexican crucifix next to a Nigerian Eshu statue? Under a Tibetan mandala? Above a Balinese Garuda? You get the idea. Miriam's temple feels as New Age as it does voodoo, or maybe that's just her interpretation of voodoo, or- whatever. The temple is big on the tour-group circuit and it's often entertaining as hell to watch Miriam give her lectures on life, the universe and everything. In a back room, a snake relaxes in its vivarium and on the odd occasion, with a transfixed countenance, Miriam will take it out and lift it up, the snake appearing to move its body according to her will. There is, of course, an adjacent gift shop doing a brisk trade in candles, cards and gris-gris (amulets or spell bags).
New Orleanians are like kids when it comes to holidays: they'll take any excuse for a drink, a dance or a parade. The city has many holidays and festivals of its own, as well as all the federal holidays, and often does 'em better than anywhere else.
French for 'Fat Tuesday', Mardi Gras is a Roman Catholic celebration ushering in the 40-day Lenten season before Easter. It takes place the day before Ash Wednesday, which can be any Tuesday from early February to early March, depending on the date of Easter. New Orleans expands on the Fat Tuesday concept with a 10-day festival during which the fun steadily intensifies until the entire city is certifiably insane. That's Carnival, or Mardi Gras, for you. Then the city does it again for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (commonly just 'Jazz Fest'), which also falls over a 10-day period (late April to early May). Both festivals flout the old showbiz adage of leaving 'em wanting more. These festivals deliver course after course until no one is left standing; you simply can't take any more. But many people will come back again next year, and year after year after that.
Other somewhat less boisterous celebrations include the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in March, the Louisiana Crawfish Festival in late March/early April, and the French Quarter Festival on the second or third weekend in April. Independence Day (Fourth of July) features food stalls, entertainment and fireworks along the riverfront, plus star-studded musical performances at the Superdome as part of the Essence Music Festival. Louis Armstrong's birthday is celebrated with four days of music and food in the French Quarter for Satchmo Summerfest (around August 4). Southern Decadence is a huge gay, lesbian and transgender festival held on Labor Day weekend (first weekend in September), while Halloween is a holiday not taken lightly in New Orleans. Most of the fun is to be found in the giant costume party throughout the French Quarter.
New Year's Day - 1 Jan
Martin Luther King Jnr Day - 3rd Mon in Jan
Presidents' Day - 3rd Mon in Feb
Mardi Gras Day - Feb/Mar
Easter Sunday - Mar/Apr
Memorial Day - last Mon in May
Independence Day - 4 Jul
Labor Day - 1st Mon in Sep
Columbus Day - 2nd Mon in Oct
Veterans Day - 11 Nov
Christmas Day - 25 Dec
Mardi Gras - Feb/Mar
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival - Apr/May
Tennessee Williams Literary Festival - Mar
French Quarter Festival - Apr
Essence Music Festival - 4 Jul
Thanksgiving - 4th Thu in Nov
Satchmo Summerfest - around 4 Aug
Halloween - 31 Oct
Louisiana Crawfish Festival - Mar/Apr
Southern Decadence - 1st weekend in Sep
Food and Drink
It's no small coincidence that some of the most famous Nola chefs – check that, US chefs – got their start in this kitchen (Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse); this New Orleans grand dame is outstanding across the board. Chef Tory McPhail's (remember that name!) shrimp-and-tasso appetizer swimming in Louisiana hot sauce and the hickory-grilled pork are two of the most explosively satisfying dishes you will ever encounter. It's an impeccable mainstay of Creole cooking and knowledgeable, friendly service, in the heart of the gorgeous Garden District. Pop in for the lunchtime 25¢ martinis and a cup of the signature turtle soup ($8), or a prix fixe extravaganza. No shorts allowed.
An excellent choice for contemporary Creole food in romantic surroundings. Owner JoAnn Clevenger loves her city - it's art, its architecture, its cuisine - and Upperline reflects these passions. She plays the charming hostess, making sure each guest feels welcome in her beautiful old house, its walls covered with vibrant paintings. Diners are then treated to exquisite Creole dishes.
Monkey Hill Bar
Toward the quiet end of Magazine St, Monkey Hill looks and feels like a neighborhood bar, which it basically is. But it’s one of the best happy-hour (3pm to 8pm week nights) spots in this part of town and hosts some good live music on a monthly basis. If you’re getting off work and near Audubon Park, there’s no reason not to stop on in.
Down a quiet alley off the Quarter, the Green Goddess is not only part of Nola's current mixologist craze (blueberry, basil, black pepper and jalapeño martini, anyone?) but is a global fusion godsend when you just can't bear another plate of red beans and rice. Not that an Irish porter cheddar grilled cheese melted with pear butter is any healthier, but it sure does send your taste buds on a welcomed journey elsewhere.
Around the corner from Cochon, Chef Donald Link makes his in-house cured meat philosophy accessible to all budgets at this don't-miss butcher shop–deli and bar. Sandwich highlights here include milk-fed pork Cubans, Carolina-style pulled pork, the Cochon muffaletta and the Buckboard bacon melt. Pair it with pancetta mac 'n' cheese and bacon pralines. This is an empire in the making.
This hipster farm-to-table hangout in a former gas station dishes out simple, sustainable comfort food free of horrible stuff like hormones, pesticides and other crap that makes food taste like cardboard – so says the owner. The natural, grass-fed burger is indeed great and the limited menu features Gulf fish tacos, adult-style grilled cheese and organic lime chicken, which is gobbled down by Riverbend's cooler-than-thou set in an aluminum-sided, silo-chic gourmet shack.
This newcomer was an instant hit with both musicians and foodies – they've managed to happily marry an excellent soundtrack with gourmet cuisine in a more intimate room than most on Frenchman. There's loads of great local art to peruse between acts and courses. Start here.