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New Orleans, Louisiana
Monday 13 December 2021
New Orleans, Louisiana
I haven’t even come close to visiting all the places on my Travel Bucket List but I think I can safely say that so far, New Orleans is my favourite destination. What is it about New Orleans? It’s so difficult to put it into words but here goes…
It’s not just a place, it’s a state of mind, it’s a feeling. It’s walking down a street adorned by 18th century French colonial architecture and suddenly getting butterflies in your tummy when the sweet aroma of Magnolia blooms in the sunshine, and the distant distinct sounds of a brass street band take you back, back to a time where you have never been. Have I been here before? Because it feels like home, and I never want to leave. Sounds crazy eh? Maybe that’s why so many have been drawn to this city over the years and stayed. The city is rich with culture and history, and it’s that, combined with the sights, sounds, scents, and tastes that truly captivate the soul and the senses. Top of my list for recommended places to visit in the U.S.
Now I am the sort of person who truly believes that the world is too big to visit the same place twice, so many countries, such little time… Well, I have to eat my words in this instance because this was my second trip to New Orleans, and I fully intend to go back again. You see, there’s so much to do and see that it is impossible to cram it all into 2 weeks, so no time to sit around by the pool, do your research in advance, book your day trips, make a schedule, and utilise your New Orleans experience to the max, you won’t regret it!
When to go
I have travelled there in both April and May and the weather was perfect, averaging around 28 degrees celsius and the humidity was low. Another great reason to travel there in April or May is The Jazz & Heritage Festival which usually takes place last weekend in April and first weekend in May.
Where to stay
Choosing a hotel in The French Quarter puts you in the centre of the action, and keeps you within walking distance of all amenities.
Maison Dupuy on Toulousse Street is my recommendation if you are looking for a hotel that’s bang smack in the middle of the action yet far enough away from Bourbon Street that you’re not disturbed by the noise.
The Hotel is a quaint oldy worldy style New Orleansian Hotel. Cosy, homely, spotlessly clean, amazing staff, swimming pool & courtyard, and a bar/restaurant that serves an amazing breakfast.
It’s a little pricey compared to some other French Quarter Hotels, but if you’re willing to pay a little extra for comfort and location, this is the place to stay. I stayed here on my first trip to New Orleans, and it was probably my first experience of that good old fashioned southern hospitality. From the moment I stepped into the hotel lobby I felt that warm welcome with friendly staff that went above and beyond to make my stay a memorable one.
Where to eat
I haven’t even come close to eating in as many restaurants and cafes in New Orleans as I would like to but, a girl can dream…
Before my first visit, my knowledge of traditional Cajun and Creole cuisine was extremely limited, other than the little jars of Cajun seasoning you find in the supermarkets in Ireland, which I soon learned are nothing compared to the real thing! If you’re a fan of flavours - paprika, garlic, red pepper, cayenne pepper… then do your taste buds a favour and take them to New Orleans, they will thank you for it.
If I had to choose only one place to eat in for the rest of my life, The Gumbo Shop on St Peter Street (just off Jackson Square) would be it. Seriously, the worst thing about this place is - trying to decide what to choose from the menu! After much deliberation, I chose… wait for it… The Fillet of Fresh Catfish topped with Shrimp Creole, a side of Jambalaya, and a side of Creole Creamed Spinach, then Bread Pudding with Whiskey sauce for dessert - enough food to feed a small village, and every single mouthful was an absolute treat.
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Café du Monde on Decatur Street where coffee and Beignets are the delicacy. “What are Beignets?” I hear you ask… Imagine a square deep fried doughnut served warm with a mound of icing sugar on top. Yes, it is as sinful as it sounds, and exquisitely luscious. I love the simplicity of this place - no orderly queues, you just hover around (it’s all outdoor) and wait to jump in at the first sight of a free table. Or, a trick I found to be successful - make eye contact and wave to a table who look like they’re finished their coffee, chances are as they’re about to leave they’ll beckon you over to grab their table. Worked for me! No need for a menu, they serve coffee, Beignets, and soft drinks. Full stop. A waitress will do table service, and make sure you have cash because I don’t think they take card. Table manners are out the window here, expect to leave covered head to toe in white powder, and twitching from the sugar intake. Worth every mouthful!
Price wise, New Orleans is very reasonable when it comes to dining out. Expect to pay at the very most $14 (€12) for a Shrimp Creole or a Crawfish Etouffee main course, $11 (€9.70) for a large Jambalaya, and as little as $4 (€3.50) for an appetizer. Much cheaper than any other U.S. city I have visited, and with the added bonus of that ‘home cooked’ feeling.
Probably the best, and easiest way to see the sights of the city is to book yourself in for one of the many organised tours that are offered. Plan ahead, and maybe book your tours in advance to secure your place just in case the popular tours are fully booked when you arrive.
My personal favourites (and I shall only list a few below), are the Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours, the Haunted New Orleans Tours, and the Plantation Tours and day trips.
Honey Island Swamps, Louisiana:
So you might think that a trip to New Orleans is all about Bourbon Street and Jazz music, wrong! Swamps, swamps, and more swamps! No trip is complete without a trip to Honey Island which is about an hour’s drive from the city. Take a tour. I’ve been twice with Cajun Encounter Tours and I highly recommend them. The tour includes pick up and return to and from your hotel in the French Quarter, and then they will pop you into a speed boat right there in the Bayou, deadly critters an’ all.
You will see raccoons, snakes, turtles, maybe bald eagles if you’re lucky, and wild boars like in the photo, can you see them? They blend into their surroundings quite well. Oh and we got to feed them hotdogs - not something you get to do everyday. The highlight of any tour is getting to see the aligators in their natural habitat up close and personal, and learn about these mysterious beasts from your expert guide.
Haunted History Bus Tour:
Whether ghost stories and horrible histories are your thing or not, the Haunted History Bus Tours are undeniably a fun and interesting way to spend any evening away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street. This is one of those tours that you can just decide on last minute, book online and then just show up at the meeting point near St Louis Cathedral. You will get to visit some of the most haunted locations outside the French Quarter, and hear the stories of murder, mysteries, and some freaky urban legends from your guide, and who can resist a wander around a haunted cemetery in the pitch dark, not me! As it is the most haunted city in America, a haunted city tour is a must in my opinion.
Oak Alley Antebellum Plantation, Whitney Museum Plantation, or Laura Creole Plantation. Whatever you do, please go to at least one, if not all 3 Plantations during your time in Louisiana. Whether you have an interest in learning more about this dark and tragic period of history or not, a short visit to pay respect is something everyone should make time for.
I have been to all three, and it would be difficult for me to decide which I should advise anyone to visit, as the tours all depict a different side of what life was like in Louisiana for enslaved people who worked the sugar, rice and indigo fields right up to 1864. If I had to choose one, it would be Whitney Plantation and the Field of Angel’s Memorial. It is a difficult history to hear, but nonetheless one that you should not miss.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival:
What can I say about Jazz Fest? I can say that it has ruined every other festival for me because it is the festival of all festivals! Don’t let the name put you off, it’s not all about the jazz.
During my time at the festival in 2019, headline acts included Tom Jones, Diana Ross, Dave Matthews Band, Pitbull, Ziggy Marley, Alanis Morrisette, Katy Perry, and Santana. Aside from all the fantastic music acts across the 14 tents and stages on the 145 acre site, there is so much more going on than you could ever imagine. From the vast array of Cajun & Creole food vendors, kids entertainment, art, dance, heritage and cultural displays, the list could go on..
Really I can’t say enough about Jazz Fest, and none of my descriptions can do it justice, you just have to go, and not just for a day, make it a three day weekend, I know I will. So see you there in April 2022!
My Top 20 Things to do in New Orleans:
In no particular order
1. Go on a swamp tour
2. Visit a Plantation or three
3. Take a Steamboat Cruise down the Mississippi
4. Visit a cemetery
5. Take a ride on a Streetcar
6. Go on a Haunted History tour
7. Hang out at Jackson Square
8. Have dinner in The Gumbo Shop
9. Coffee & Beignet at Café du Monde
10. Sample some hot sauces at a Sauce Bar
11. The Museum of Death
12. Experience the music on Frenchmen Street
13. Visit the French Market
14. Have a Muffuletta at The Central Grocery
15. Try a Hurricane at Pat O’Briens
16. Visit St Louis Cathedral
17. Visit the Katrina National Memorial Museum
18. Sample the local delicacies - Gumbo, Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, and Crawfish
19. Catch some music at Preservation Hall
20. Go to Jazz Fest