New Orleans Overview
New Orleans is a Louisiana city on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico. Nicknamed the “Big Easy,” it’s known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant live-music scene and spicy, singular cuisine reflecting its history as a melting pot of French, African and American cultures. Embodying its festive spirit is Mardi Gras, the late-winter carnival famed for raucous costumed parades and street parties.
New Orleans is one of America’s most unique cities, with a vibe you simply can’t find anywhere else. Known the world over for jazz music, Cajun cuisine, and outrageous Mardi Gras celebrations, the city is a melting pot of cultures with a diversity that is reflected in everything from the music and food to the language and architecture.
Most of the action for tourists is centered around the French Quarter, with the infamous Bourbon Street at the heart of the district. Along the Mississippi River, which borders the French Quarter to the south, are horse-drawn carriages waiting to take visitors on a tour, the Steamboat Natchez docked along the shore, and tourists lined up to buy beignets. Beyond the French Quarter, the city has many quaint areas worth exploring, from the trendy Warehouse District to the posh Garden District, which is known for well-preserved antebellum mansions in styles like Italianate and Victorian.
New Orleans Highlights
The French Quarter of New Orleans is what most tourists come to see when they visit the city. Set along a bend on the Mississippi River, the main attraction here is the architecture, but it is also a great area for dining and entertainment. The old buildings, some of which date back 300 years, show French influences, with arcades, wrought iron balconies, red-tiled roofs, and picturesque courtyards. Many of these buildings now contain hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, galleries, and a profusion of jazz spots with entertainment of varying quality.
Mardi Gras is New Orleans’ signature event, with celebrations that span a two-week period, ending with the finale on shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Celebrations include almost daily parades and all kinds of entertainment and festivities that increase in intensity as the event draws closer to the end. Onlookers crowd the balconies and sidewalks to watch the parades and catch strings of beaded necklaces tossed from the outrageously decorated floats. Bourbon Street is one of the main areas where people congregate, but the whole French Quarter is generally packed.
The Garden District
The Garden District is a prosperous residential area with lovely mansions, mature trees, and lush gardens, and is probably, in some respects, the stereotypical image many foreigners have of the Deep South. The area can be easily explored on foot.
A cruise on the paddle steamer Steamboat Natchez is a wonderful way to experience the Mississippi River and a unique way to see and learn about the city. The harbor cruises take about two hours and provide narration on the sites, with an optional lunch of creole cuisine. The dinner cruise features a live jazz band, buffet-style dinner, and of course, wonderful views of New Orleans.