New Orleans is an beautiful city, with a lot of places to discover. Its unique cuisine, cultural life and natural landscapes make it a great place to visit, either alone or with someone else. I went to NOLA last year, with my mom because she had to be there for work and she invited me to go with her. I was only in town for 4 days and, as you can imagine, that’s barely enough time to know a city like NOLA. So, I read about the things I could do there online and I decided what places I wanted to visit according to my interests. I think guided tours are a good option for visiting a lot of places in a short time, so I took some tours with Cajun Encounters company (and my experience was great). Also, I took walks on my own downtown so my experience would be more direct. When it was time to take the plane back home, I felt I’d had a brief but deep and lovely look into New Orleans.
So if you’re visiting New Orleans for a short time, here’s a local travel guide with some places to go and some fun things to do, inside the city and its sourranding area. If you’re staying there for longer than I did, you may still find this interesting.
Things to do
The Mississippi’s delta: Exploring the swamps (5 hours )
An amazing ecosystem awaits you only half an hour from NOLA. You can get there on your own if you have a car or if you’re up for adventures, but I highly recommend taking a guided tour by a local company, that will pick you up at your hotel and take you back there -or downtown.
In the swamps, you will get on a boat with 9 other passengers, since the boats have usually room for 10 passengers, and a nice guide will take you through the swamps. You must pay attention and keep your eyes wide open for you may run into alligators, racoons, wild pigs and a lot of birds. The guide will tell you stories about the swamp and he will through marshmallows to the water to feed alligators but don’t be afraid, they won’t hurt you!
Sailing down the swamps, with high green trees surrounding me and wild animals just living their life is one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life.
City Park (as long as you wish)
If you are looking for somewhereto relax after a busy day or if you want to spend the day in a nice and quiet place, you can visit NOLA’s City Park, where there are a lot of things to do. From taking a walk, visiting New Orleans Museum of Art, eating beignets at Morning Call, reading a book beneath a tree to riding games at the Carousel Gardens Amusement park, you will find something to enjoy there no matter your age.
Louisiana plantations (half a day)
Plantations and slavery represent a both important and dark stage in the history of Louisiana. Plantations owners were members of New Orleans elite, being responsible of the arquitecture of the city and slaves played a main role in the development of jazz culture and NOLA’s gastronomy, among other things . Visiting a plantation museum is an entertaining way of learning about this important stage of New Orleans past. You can take a guided tour, like the swamp one, that’ll take you to a couple of plantations where you will time travel to learn how slavers and slaves used to live. I recommend that you visit Laura: A creole plantation and Oak Alley plantation, they are both beautiful and interesting museums. During the tour, you will be able to go inside the main houses, know the story of their owners and also, visit the slaves’ houses. In the latter, there is a famous oak tree entrance you might have seen in a movie or two.
A jazz night out (as long as you wish)
You can’t say you visited New Orleans if you didn’t go to a live jazz performance. Luckily for you, a day doesn’t go by in which some jazz singer or group does not present. All you have to do is walk through Frenchmen Street or Bourbon Street and you will hear someone playing awesome music in every bar and on the street. So, you can enjoy a fine dinner and a good talk while listening to jazz musicians, who are really passionate and fun. Personally, I preferred Frenchmen Street, because that’s where locals usually go dinning and drinking (by the way, don’t miss the Abita beer, a craft beer from Luisiana). Bourbon street is nice too, but there’s way more people, I guess it depends on your mood!
Downtown wandering (a couple of hours)
New Orleans is a very dynamic city. Downtown, you will find colorful houses, musicians playing and actors performing on the streets and drawers who will try to make you by your own cartoon. Start walking down French Quarter and let yourself go to wherever the city takes you, I can assure you, you won’t regret it. Get to the Plaza de Armas and visit the cathedral, or take a horse carriage. Drink some coffee and enjoy a beignet in Cafe du Monde, or take a walking tour and visit horror houses at night. Don’t be shy and approach local people for advice on good places to dine, they are kind and will know better than online suggestions (that’s what I did and it turned out great).
The city and the river (half a day or more)
When I travel to a new place, I always try to visit it all, not only the touristic places, because even if these are beautiful and welcoming, they are not always that similar to the rest of the city. By walking through the neighborhoods and going where the locals live, my perspective on places has changed, because I’ve got to see the city they live and construct, not the city the tourists expect to find. Unfortunately, doing this is not always easy, specially if you are only in town for a few days. I’ve discovered that taking a tour bus through the city can give you a brief sight into it, that’ll allow you to know the place a little better. So, if you’re in the mood of opening your mind, go ahead and get on a tour bus through NOLA. It will take you to both the richest and the poorest neighborhoods, so you can see the urban contrasts with your own eyes. It’ll also drive you through neighborhoods that are still recovering from Katrina and tell you stories about the hurricane. Definitely, when you get down from the bus, you will be more in love with New Orleans than you already were. Afterwards, you can take a walk by the great Mississippi river and watch the boats sailing away. There, you can take a night riverboat tour where you can have a delicious diner while listening to live jazz (I wasn’t able to do this myself, but I heard it’s an awesome experience).
Cemeteries (1 hour)
Imagine your town is settled in a river delta and that, every once in a while, the river floods it all, even the cemetery, causing all the decomposing corpses to float away from their graves. What would you do? Find out how they dealt with this awful situation in New Orleans, by visiting one of the many cemeteries in town. There are some bus tours that include a visit to a cemetery, but you can walk there on your own if you’re done with tours.
Some advice on food and transportation
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is tasting local cuisine. In New Orleans, there are two great food styles: Cajun food, which has deep cultural roots in Louisiana’s plantations and slavery, and seafood. They’re both delicious and unique. For tasting Cajun food, I recommed Mother’s Restaurant, down Poydras Street. There you must try gumbo and po’boys. If you like seafood, you should try some oysters, they’re delicious, everywhere!
For desert, you can visit The Creole Creamery, in the Garden District and have one of the best ice creams you can imagine, they have many flavours!
The best advice I can give you regarding to food is to ask a local, they always know the best places!
You may be wondering how will you get to all the places I’ve told you about. You can either choose an RTA bus, a streetcar or a cab, depends on where you’re going. They all have some disadvantages: buses are never on time, streetcars are not always working and cabs can be really expensive.
If you visit the places I’ve written about, I think you have a great trip. I really hope you find this local guide useful and that you enjoy New Orleans as much as I did.