I had been wanting to visit New Orleans for at least 7 years but when the time arose for booking a holiday I chose to plan a trip to Peru instead (another long time dream – and we all know what happened after that…), so it took me a long time to finally get there.
I have to say it was everything I thought it would be, full of food, drink, music and colourful culture. There is music playing on every corner in the French Quarter, especially jazz and blues, and there are fabulous places to eat, people having fun and the city is just alive and full of fun! Sadly, we were a little unlucky with the rainy weather so we didn’t get to experience everything we had planned, however we did pack a lot in to our New Year’s Eve trip.
The following experiences in New Orleans are by no means exhaustive (there is so much more to see and explore), but it’s a selection of things and places that I loved doing and would definitely recommend to do if you were planning a trip yourselves.
This is definitely the way to get around central New Orleans. The streetcar system runs 24/7 and it only costs $1.25 per journey (or get a daily passes starting from $3). Plus, they are just gorgeous and don’t get stuck in traffic!
SoBou is located in the W Hotel French Quarter (it has it’s own entrance though), and is a gorgeous restaurant and bar. They are one of a handful of bars that serve the traditional absinthe drip that we wanted to try. Cold water is dripped slowly onto a sugar cube, balanced over a glass of absinthe, and when the sugar cube is dissolved you can stir the glass and sip the absinthe. It was entertainment and libation in one and was a lot of fun to experience! The bar and wait staff were wonderful and the menu looked fabulous. I would love to come back here again and try some other items like the yellowfin tuna cones!
310 Rue Chartres, New Orleans, LA 70130
So you want to try alligator? Look no further than this fun hot dog chain serving up a selection of 12 sausages (including vegan options), from Slovenian pork to spicy pork, and from alligator to crawfish, they’ve got them all. Just pick one and then choose from the vast list of toppings to dress your dog with. Their hot dogs are super tasty and the WTF loaded fries go perfectly alongside!
We visited – 601 Frenchmen St., NOLA 70116 (2 other locations here on the website)
The cathedral was all dressed up for Christmas and looking fancy when we were in New Orleans, but even without the window dressing, Jackson Square is a fun place to be. Live music, carriage rides, artwork and performance artists all have their place around this famous part of the French Quarter. We sat on the steps overlooking the square watching acrobats tell jokes and perform tricks in the sunshine. Either side of the cathedral are the museums of The Presbytere and The Cabildo (both of which looked interesting but we missed out on seeing due to the bank holiday and Monday closures).
I love barbecue food and I love the sides that usually come served with it. Pulled pork, barbecue sauce, potato salad and coleslaw is a veritable feast of greatness and especially when it’s all finished off with a peanut butter pie. The Joint is a rustic looking locale in a residential neighbourhood and it is ridiculously popular (some view it as one of the best BBQ joints in the USA). And for good reason. The pork was juicy (although we missed out on the sell out ribs) and flavourful, and the potato salad was creamy and well seasoned. Plus, their delicious desserts were a welcome sweetness after all that meat!
701 Mazant St, New Orleans
HOT 8 BRASS BAND
AT THE HOWLIN’ WOLF
The Howlin’ Wolf is a bit of a New Orleans institution and has been running since 1988 hosting many a famous name. The main room is a great concert space as it’s big enough for a good size crowd but small enough to make it feel like an intimate gig. Alongside Rebirth Brass Band (see their section later), we were lucky enough to see Hot 8 on New Years Eve (they even played Auld Lang Syne at midnight!). Just like Rebirth, they know how to throw a party and they mix their brass band sound with other genres like hip-hop, jazz, funk and soul. One of their most famous (or most popular) tracks is their remix of the classic hit Sexual Healing, but they have so many of their own great tracks that it’s hard to pick a favourite!
The Howlin’ Wolf – 907 South Peters New Orleans, LA 70130
TREE OF LIFE – AUDUBON PARK
We saw many a grand oak tree while visiting Louisiana (just take a look at Oak Alley Plantation), but this one in Audubon Park was one of the most incredible. The trunk has an incredible texture at the bottom and some of the branches arch right over to touch the ground. It’s an amazing place to sit underneath, relax and gather your thoughts, and I imagine many children have climbed it over the years. The notice says it was planted around 1740 so it has taken a long time to grow to the magnificent size that it has done. I would say it’s well worth a visit after exploring Magazine Street and it’s right by the zoo if you happen to be visiting.
Oh. My. Gosh. These. Sandwiches.
These are Po’Boys with a twist and they are certainly killer. I would definitely have the pork belly at least once a week if I lived there, as it has a rum & ginger glaze which is something special. I wanted to try their Jameson grilled cheese, but unfortunately never managed to get back. They have two branches to choose from; inside the Erin Rose (an Irish pub with the sandwiches served in the back) and in their own larger location on Dauphine (this one has a far larger menu, including a BBQ chicken confit that sounds exceptional).
811 Conti St, New Orleans – Back of the Erin Rose Bar / 219 Dauphine St, New Orleans
This bar gets its name from, you guessed it, Napoleon Bonaparte. The Mayor of New Orleans, who lived in this building during the 1800s, planned to offer him refuge when he was exiled (although this never happened) and has therefore had his name linked to this location ever since! It was an Italian grocery at one point and they still serve a popular mufaletta (an Italian sandwich filled with olives and ham among other things). The bar itself is time worn, with tarnished walls covered in prints and paintings and a wooden bar that makes it feel like it hasn’t changed since the 1920s. They also have a lovely little open courtyard at the back which is the perfect place to sip on a Pimm’s Cup (another speciality).
500 Chartres St., New Orleans, Louisiana
Visiting Preservation Hall was the thing I was most excited about. Having listened to their albums for the past few years I couldn’t wait to see the eponymous jazz band perform live in their intimate home venue. We queued to get a seat and it was absolutely worth it, but you can pay extra to reserve. Preservation Hall has a fascinating history, which you can read about here, preserving the traditional sounds of New Orleans jazz back in the 1950s/60s. The band has the same core members, but I believe others also perform too, so you certainly won’t get the same night twice! I don’t think I stopped smiling and dancing in my seat throughout their entire set.
726 St. Peters St., New Orleans, LA 70116
NOMA SCULPTURE GARDEN
This was an unexpected surprise on an early morning stop for beignets at Morning Call on our drive back to Florida. We decided to take a little walk through part of City Park and stumbled across the garden of the Museum of Art. The sculptures are randomly placed throughout the park and are of different styles and themes from a variety of artists, so there is so much to see around the pond, along the tree lined pathways and open grassy areas.
One Collins C. Diboll Circle, City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124
I didn’t have much time to shop on this holiday so sadly it is the only shop that makes this list, however it’s a good one! Pepper Palace is a chain of shops that sell a huge variety of small batch hot sauces, rubs, jellies, and marinades. There are so many to choose from and a wide range to taste too. If you want to taste the extra spicy sauces, be prepared to sign a waiver saying that you accept responsibility for anything that happens to you! So head on in, grab a corn chip and get dipping…
30 locations in the US and Canada – I visited 224 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130
THE NATIONAL WWII MUSEUM
This museum was a stop I wasn’t originally planning to make, but I’m glad I did as I really enjoyed my time there. They have exhibits about the war in Europe, which I’ve seen plenty of throughout the UK, however it was the section on the war with Japan that intrigued me. I realised I knew almost nothing about this part of the war and I found it extremely interesting. The way that all of the museum’s exhibits are laid out is excellent and engaging. Plus, there is also a fabulous 4D film experience produced by Tom Hanks called Beyond All Boundaries which is absolutely worth watching.
945 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Dooky Chase’s restaurant is an institution of great Creole cooking, in the neighbourhood of Treme, and has been going since 1941 in some form. It was a locale for people to come to discuss the issues of civil rights in the barroom and sandwich shop and later an African American fine dining establishment (one of the first in the country) run by chef Leah Chase. It was also the first gallery of African American artists and the walls of the many rooms are filled with paintings and artwork. The lunch buffet is fabulous and filled with staples like scrumptious fried chicken, red beans and rice, and spicy sausage. Plus there’s gumbo to start and delicious peach cobbler to finish.
2301 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70119
REBIRTH BRASS BAND
You should absolutely see this Grammy award winning band live if you have the opportunity. For us, it was at The Howlin’ Wolf on New Years Eve and they were so much fun and possibly the best way to have rung in 2017. They have a regular gig at The Maple Leaf, which might be the easiest way to find them, and watch as they mix brass band with funk and hip hop. They throw a great party! (If you watched the TV series Treme you might remember them from the opener of the first season.)
Check out one of their songs here.
Ever since I saw the musical Showboat, I’ve been dying to see one of these steamboats in real life. A ride would have been perfect, but the rainy days cut down our time options a lot, so I had to make do with watching them from the boardwalk. They even have options for dinner on board and jazz music too. The Natchez is beautiful and very impressive up close, and there’s a man who plays music through the steam pipes at the top while it is docked. Even if you don’t have your sea (river) legs, I would definitely recommend watching it sail out onto the water.
NOLA BREWING COMPANY
NOLA (the abbreviation for New Orleans Lager & Ale) was started after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans making it a city with no brewery. The founder wouldn’t stand for it and started up NOLA. Now they serve a number of year round ales and also some seasonal specials. Rebirth, which I found to be very drinkable, is named after not only the renewal of the city but after the award winning brass band mentioned above. But, whatever your taste, NOLA has something for you, and I recommend trying it on tap. Blonde, brown, stout, wheat, IPA…you can’t go wrong!
Taproom – 3001 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, LA 70115
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ MUSEUM
The Jazz Museum is housed in the Old U.S. Mint (you can also see an exhibit on that too), where the French Quarter and Frenchmen St meet. It houses some famous pieces of musical history including Louis Armstrong’s first cornet in an exhibit dedicated to his history. It’s not a huge museum but it is engaging and shows us all about New Orleans’ musical past.
401 Barracks St., New Orleans, LA 70116
DISTRICT: DONUTS, SLIDERS, BREW
I’m a sucker for a doughnut.
Every time I go to a doughnut shop it’s impossible to decide on the flavour. Do I go with one I know I love, or do I try something super different and original? The great problem with District is that they have a heavy mix of both. Old familiar flavours (hello cinnamon sugar) alongside fancy flavour combos (hello pomegranate cranberry), and so many options for my breakfast of one! I plumped for the Lemon Meringue as I’m also a sucker for the marshmallow-y top and I’m glad I did. But, honestly I don’t think the flavour combo would matter as the doughnut itself was an absolute winner.
2209 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70130 (They have 5 locations but this is the one I visited)
You can find live music throughout New Orleans, but Frenchmen Street is a live music corridor with tunes floating out of every doorway and bands jamming on the street corners. Some gigs are free and others charge a fee, but even if you’re watching outside on the street, give these guys a bit of support by tipping. We watched an amazing band on the corner opposite Dat Dog (see above) and were there dancing in the street for a good 20 minutes with a huge crowd. If you want something indoors, then the Blue Nile on Frenchmen St. is a good spot and came recommended to us.
You don’t need to look far for great music in New Orleans, it’s all around you.