Even when the excitement of Mardi Gras begins to fade, visitors can still savor the rich cultural experience of New Orleans. In fact, it may even be easier to do so without having to battle the more than one million people that come to attend the festivities. Whether you want to take a musical journey in a destination renowned for its music scene, embark on a culinary adventure of fine Cajun and Creole cuisine, or explore the historic French Quarter with over 100 square blocks of art, entertainment, dining, shopping, and architectural treasures, a memorable vacation is sure to be had any time of the year in this fabulous Southern city.
One of the best ways to kick off a vacation in New Orleans is by touring the city on the famed St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line. Riding uptown will take you on a magnificent architectural tour of some of the city’s grandest streets. The Brown Mansion at 4717 St. Charles Avenue is a classic example of Romanesque Revival and a standout among the many ultra-elegant homes you’ll see. Just after passing Lee Circle, a traffic circle with a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, hop off to visit the World War II Museum and Civil War Museum.
The Civil War Museum is one of the largest repositories of Confederate artifacts and memorabilia in the nation as well as the oldest continuously operating museum in Louisiana. Just down the street, the World War II Museum brings the war that changed the world to life through powerful personal stories from the battlefront, as well as an interactive submarine experience and rare artifacts. And you thought museums were boring!
Just a few steps away, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is considered a “must” when it comes to things to do in New Orleans. Not only does it include an extensive collection of paintings and photography, but the museum’s Ogden After Hours event is considered to be the best regularly scheduled cocktail party around, with local musicians that play while visitors dance, drink, or mingle in the galleries.
Kids of all ages will enjoy visiting the Aquarium of the Americas, set along the Mississippi Riverfront in the French Quarter. It features 10,000 animals and more than 500 species, including an exhibit with a famous white alligator, an Amazon exhibit with colorful macaws and piranhas, and a Caribbean reef with an underwater tunnel teeming with marine life like moray eels, angel fish and other exotic sea creatures.
Just a few blocks up the street, a lesser-known gem is the Insectarium and Butterfly garden. This is the largest museum on the continent devoted to insects and their relatives. Kids love the snack bar, Bug Appétit, where bugs are the main ingredient in dishes like chocolate “chirp” cookies and Cajun spiced crickets. Visitors can even watch as chefs incorporate the insects into their dishes. The daring can even sample some of these exotic creations. Either way, it’s sure to give everyone something to talk about for many years to come. After all, where else can you say that you ate fried worms dipped in cinnamon sugar?
Of course, now that you’re in the French Quarter, you won’t want to miss its heart and soul, Jackson Square. At the center is a statue of Andrew Jackson, often surrounded by an eclectic collection of artists and fortune-tellers. Local artists paint, draw, and create portraits and caricatures, displaying their works on the square’s iron fence.
Taking a carriage ride offers the quintessential New Orleans experience with rides on romantic mule-drawn carriages that carry visitors past many of the city’s most popular landmarks like Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, and the mighty Mississippi.
Of course, New Orleans really lights up after dark as a city that definitely knows how to party. Live music is an essential part of life here, with at least a few good performers playing somewhere on any given night. The best tunes are not found along Bourbon Street, however. The city’s music scene has shifted to Frenchmen Street in the historic neighborhood of Faubourg Marigny, within walking distance of the French Quarter.
Many people come to New Orleans just for the food, but don’t look for many healthy offerings. This is a place where diets go out the window, so be prepared to dig in without guilt. Po-Boys are a specialty here, a crusty hero sandwich made from fresh French bread, slathered in mayo and packed full of fried Gulf oysters or shrimp. Some of the other favorites here include Gumbo (seafood, sausage, chicken, okra, it’s all good!), Jambalaya, red beans and rice, beignets, and Crawfish Etouffee – a savory Cajun specialty known as one of New Orleans’ most delectable dishes.
Because there are no “blue laws” or mandatory closing times here, there is always somewhere open to get a drink any hour of day or night on every day of the year in New Orleans. Watch out for the especially potent “Hurricane,” a fruit punch and rum drink that’s popular with tourists. For a more authentic experience, go where the locals go, such as the French 75 bar where bartender Chris Hannah is a famed mixologist.
If you’re looking for something different to do after dark, join one of the haunted history tours, which are often more interesting and educational than terrifying. Gripping tales from the city’s fascinating past, from public executions in town squares to a ghost that continues to haunt a restaurant and the establishment setting a dinner table for it every night.
New Orleans is a city unlike any other in the world. A true mix of cultures, flavors, and sounds that need to be explored. No matter what kind of fun you’re looking for, you can find it here in New Orleans.
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