New Orleans: city guide. Classic architecture, live jazz shows, the best jambalya and Mardi Gras fun

Why go

For music, Mardi Gras and a taste of the deep south, there’s nowhere quite like New Orleans. A melting pot of French, Spanish-Creole, Caribbean and the American South dining is a real experience and the live music scene is world famous.

New Orleans visit new orleans 620

Nicknamed the ‘Crescent City’ for its position on Louisiana’s Mississippi bend, and having slowly recovered from 2005’s deadly hurricane Katrina, The Big Easy is as popular as ever, boasting classic architecture, live jazz shows, and delicious food. Its fun-loving people are warm and eager to show off their city to the 9 million plus tourists who visit each year. As the locals say: ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler!’ – or ‘Let the good times roll!’

What to do
French Quarter. Photo Visit New Orleans
Beautifully painted and decorated house in the French Quarter

The compact French Quarter is the main tourist hub and you can enjoy away several evenings soaking up its electric atmosphere. For some of the city’s best restaurants and cocktail bars, head to the neighbouring Central Business District, while culture vultures should check out the excellent National World War II Museum. The Garden District’s preserved antebellum mansions and oak lined avenues provide the perfect setting for a stroll followed by a trip to the boutique shops on Magazine Street.

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Where to stay
Hotel Monteleone Carousel Lounge
Cocktails at the Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Lounge

For French quarter luxury, The Omni Royal offers a beautifully historic ambience, while the Hotel Monteleone and its revolving bar is another good upscale option. For a cosy haven check out Terrell House with its lush courtyard, antique furniture and one of the best breakfasts in town. Those wanting value for money could try the Place d’Armes at Jackson Square but the more budget minded should head to the Central Business District for lower hotel rates.

Where to eat
Plantain. New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
Fried plantain

Choosing where to eat from the city’s vast array of restaurants could be the trickiest decision of the day! Try classics like Crawfish Etouffee (seafood stew over rice) at acclaimed restaurant Jacques-Imos, while Cochon Butcher with its homemade sausages and pork belly sandwiches is a great lunch stop if you’re museum hopping in the Warehouse District. On Sundays, a jazz brunch is a must-do, with Arnaud’s, Antoine’s and Commanders Palace offering several delectable courses accompanied by a live band. If you’re watching the pennies, Central Grocery claims to have invented the Muffuletta sandwich complete with olive salad, salami, mozzarella, ham and provolone cheese.

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Getting around

The historic French Quarter is small enough to stroll on foot and with the neighbouring districts just a streetcar ride away, it’s best to leave the car at home.

When to go

Book well in advance for the key festivals. Mardi Gras usually falls in February and The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in May. Summer can be pretty sweltering, though it also coincides with rainy season, providing some respite from the humidity. From September to January temperatures are balmy and room rates still low.

Three things we like
The French Quarter. New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
Intricate ironwork on the balconies in the French Quarter
  1. The creole, cajun and southern influenced food. Standouts include gumbo – a soupy stew over rice with chicken and Andouille sausage; jambalaya – a creole-style risotto; and po boys – overstuffed sandwiches on French bread. Seafood lovers will be in their element with fried catfish and spicy shrimp casseroles.
  2. The architecture is old and ornate, with shuttered houses in bright colours, wrought iron balconies and grand pillars. Many buildings date from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bring your camera!
  3. The biggest festivals – Mardi Gras and The Jazz & Heritage Festival -completely take over the city. Celebrations for Mardi Gras are most elaborate in the two weeks before the start of Lent with floats, parades, costumes and parties.
Something we don’t

Bourbon Street. The popularity of New Orleans’s main tourist drag has meant a few strip joints and sex clubs have popped up, with a plethora of hen and stag parties getting in on the action too. Pick a hotel room away from this party street if you’re a light sleeper!

Don’t miss
St. Louis Cathedral. New Orleans. Flickr
St. Louis Cathedral

Beignets and chicory-blended coffee at Café Du Monde on the corner of Jackson Square. There’s nothing quite like tucking into these hot fluffy deep fried French donuts drowning in icing sugar while street musicians play jazz.

A night out at Preservation Hall. This tiny historic music venue is a New Orleans institution, providing acoustic, intimate jazz seven nights a week. Get in line early for the best spots.

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High50 insider tips
Jazz. New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
Listen to live jazz
  • Get off the tourist track and mix with the locals on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny District for some of the best live music around.
  • View the famous Garden District by rattling streetcar. The St Charles Line is the oldest continuously operated railway line in the world, with trams still looking much as they did in the 1920s.
  • It’s a fun and vibrant city but just ensure you stick to the main beats. As with any US there are some more unfavourable neighbourhoods, which tourists should probably miss out especially at night.
Travelling with family?

Children can see how floats are built and try on an outlandish costume at Mardi Gras World for an out-of-season taste of carnival. Outdoor pursuits include the 1,300 acre city park which boasts a zoo, theme park, mini golf and an antique carousel. For a more traditional outing, try a cruise on the Mississippi aboard the Steamboat Natchez. Brunch and dinner optional.

Need to know
  • Louis Armstrong International Airport is approximately 15 miles from downtown New Orleans. Taxis are relatively cheap and the best way to reach the city centre
  • Be aware that this Louisiana city is at threat from hurricanes from June to November
  • Currently there are no direct flights from the UK to New Orleans so it’ll take more than 12 hours from the UK.
  • Time zone is six hours behind. (GMT – 6)
  • Expect to find two or three pin plug sockets so take an adaptor.
  • Currency is the US dollar