New Orleans is known for many things—jazz music, beautiful architecture, its signature cuisine, and a flamboyant style that is unlike any other place you will ever visit. My favorite section of the city is the French Quarter (Vieux Carré), which is also the oldest area and—in my opinion—the loveliest. There are many “must see” sights and attractions, as well as several “must taste” eating experiences, so prepare to get up close and personal with the Big Easy.
Things to see and do…
- Jackson Square: Named for one of three statues of President Andrew Jackson located in the square, this large area in front of the St. Louis Cathedral is the perfect spot to begin your tour of New Orleans. In addition to the cathedral, the Square is home to museums, shops, restaurants, artists and their artwork, street performers, carriage rides, and much more.
- St. Louis Cathedral: This beautiful white church with its impressive triple spires provides an amazing focal point whether viewed from land or from the nearby Mississippi River. It is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States and is open for tours at specified times.
- Walking Tour: You may choose to join a guided walking tour, or—as I prefer to do—begin in Jackson Square and take a self-guided tour, winding your way through the French Quarter on foot. Take time to admire the wrought-iron balconies and wide Southern porches that adorn many of the historic homes and buildings and soak in the “feel” of the city. Pop in and out of the many shops, galleries, and eateries at your leisure.
- Carriage Tour: Locate an available carriage and driver on the street in front of Jackson Square and prepare to be informed and entertained as you take in the sights.
- Riverboat Cruise: Steam up and down the Mississippi River aboard the Natchez and view the New Orleans skyline and sights beyond. We took the lunch cruise and the buffet meal was actually very good.
- French Market: Primarily aimed at enticing the tourist crowd, this open-air market covers a five-to-six-block area near Jackson Square and is said to be the oldest such market in the country. Browse the specialty shops, pick up some fresh produce, sample freshly-made pralines, and pause to appreciate local musical talent—all while strolling through the market.
- National World War II Museum: Designated by Congress as America’s official World War II Museum, this huge complex is every history buff’s dream come true! In my opinion, the introductory movie alone is worth the cost of admission. Touring the museum was truly a moving experience.
- Civil War Museum: Small, but worth a visit. This museum contains a wealth of historical treasures dating back to the American Civil War. Flags, weaponry, personal items, correspondence, and other carefully preserved artifacts are on display. (Be sure to see the monument topped by Confederate General Robert E. Lee in nearby Lee Circle.)
- Streetcar Ride: Three separate lines originate in downtown and go to different parts of the city. You can buy a day pass or pay with exact change when you climb aboard.
- Preservation Hall: No visit to the Birthplace of Jazz would be complete without hearing some authentic New Orleans jazz—and Preservation Hall offers the best! With three shows a night, no climate control, and no bar, you will be surprised to find that the line forms early and gets long quickly. Plan accordingly…if you want a seat!
Where to eat…
- Mr. B’s Bistro: New Orleans’ original Creole bistro, Mr. B’s boasts an extensive menu with a wide selection of mouth-watering regional favorites. I have never had anything there that was less than excellent. Really…you’re going to love it!
- Cafe du Monde: Never, ever visit New Orleans without dropping by Cafe du Monde (the original French market coffee stand) for beignets and coffee! It is typically crowded with a long line, but that is because it is worth it! If you just can’t bring yourself to wait for an available table, at least order a few beignets to go. You won’t regret it!
- The Court of Two Sisters: This charming restaurant serves a fabulous jazz brunch (buffet) served in an outdoor courtyard complete with linen-draped wrought iron tables, white-coated wait staff, and a brightly colored wishing well. I would go back for the grits and chilled shrimp, if for no other reason.
- Café Maspero: Housed in the Old Slave Exchange building, Maspero’s is where you go for traditional New Orleans muffulettas, seafood, and Cajun and Creole classics—as well as the best pecan pie you have ever put in your mouth!
- Luke: This spiffy little restaurant is located inside the Hilton Hotel on St. Charles. You may be wondering why I am recommending hotel fare, but Luke has received rave reviews from the likes of Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Times-Picayune. The hearty Southern breakfast—bacon, eggs, grits, and the works—is delicious. Give it a whirl!
- Jeri Nims Soda Shop (inside the National WWII Museum): Eating here is a fun throwback to the “good ole days.” Though located inside the museum (but with a street entrance as well), this is an ideal place to grab a quick bite for lunch.
Where to stay…
- Hilton New Orleans St. Charles: This self-described “Newly Renovated but Historically Unique” hotel is the perfect place to stay. Close enough to the action (within walking distance of all attractions named above) yet far enough from the craziness to be safe and quiet. We arranged for transportation to and from the airport through the hotel concierge, ate breakfast daily in the hotel restaurant, and found our room to be clean, comfortable, and satisfactory in every way. (This is the only hotel I have ever stayed at in New Orleans, so will not comment on any others.)