First explored by the French, La Nouvelle Orléans was secretly ceded to the Spanish in 1762, but its citizens didn’t find out until 1766. Spain returned the city to France just in time for the US to grab it in 1803. Centuries of cultural cross pollination have resulted in a vast melange of Spanish courtyards, Victorian verandas, Cajun jambalaya, Creole gumbo, and French beignets, to name but a few unique hallmarks of New Orleans. Life hasn’t been easy since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but the city has rebuilt impressively, making the Big Easy well worth an extended stay.
Most sights in New Orleans are located within a central area. The city’s main streets follow the curve of the Mississippi River—hence its nickname, “the Crescent City.” Directions from locals are usually relative to bodies of water—“lakeside” means north, and “riverside” means south. Uptown lies west and downtown is towards the east, although “The East” usually refers to areas further east than downtown.
Tourists flock to the small French Quarter, bounded by the Mississippi River, Canal Street, Rampart Street, and Esplanade Avenue. Streets in the Quarter follow a grid pattern, making navigation easy. Just northeast of the Quarter, across Esplanade Ave., Faubourg Marigny is a residential neighborhood that has trendy nightclubs, bars, and cafes, with its nightlife centered around Frenchmen St.. Northwest of the Quarter, across from Rampart St., the African-American neighborhood of Tremé has a storied history. Its appearance has been marred by the encroaching highway overpass and the housing projects lining its Canal St. border. Be careful in Tremé and in Central City (the area southwest of the Superdome) at night. It is generally inadvisable to walk anywhere in New Orleans alone at night; play it safe and take a cab. Uptown, the residential Garden District, bordered by Saint Charles Avenue to the north and Magazine Street to the south, is distinguished by its elegant homes.
Centuries of cultural cross-pollination have resulted in a vast melange of Spanish courtyards, Victorian verandas, Cajun jambalaya, Creole gumbo, and French beignets, to name but a few unique hallmarks of New Orleans. Life hasn’t been easy since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but the city has rebuilt impressively, making the Big Easy well worth an extended stay.
Ensure that your visit to New Orleans is as amazing as possible by seeing the best attractions. Here is our list of favorites. Click the links to learn more about the tours and activities.
Cajun or Creole cooking is arguably the country’s best. Recently, chefs have been heading to New Orleans as fast as FEMA heads to a flood. (Oh wait…) Jambalaya (rice cooked with ham, sausage, shrimp, and herbs), gumbo (a stew made from a roux with okra, meat, and vegetables), crawfish étouffée and fried catfish are delicacies. Be warned, however: this is not the region for the faint of heart. Spicy Cajun and Creole dishes can set off fireworks.
If the eats in the Quarter prove too trendy, touristy, or tough on the wallet, there are plenty of options on Magazine Street and in the Tulane area. Residents of New Orleans take a special pride in their food, so be sure to hit up as many local restaurants as you can.
Uptown houses authentic Cajun dance halls and university hangouts, while the Marigny is home to New Orleans’s alternative and local music scenes. There are good bars along Frenchmen Street that often have live music and are less touristy than the French Quarter equivalents.The Warehouse Arts District is also a source for constant performance options.
Life in New Orleans is and always will be a party. On any night of the week, at any time of the year, the masses converge on Bourbon St. to drift in and out of bars and strip joints. Ask any local what to do on a weekend, and he’ll probably tell you to avoid Bourbon at all costs; the street has become increasingly touristy of late. Decatur Street, near the French market, is a quieter, though still touristy, nightlife area. To experience what the Quarter was like before the tourist traps took over, head southeast to Frenchmen Street, which offers eclectic bars and clubs. Another good place to find nightlife is around Tulane University on Oak Street. While the French Quarter has no open container law, this law does not technically extend to the rest of the city (which includes Frenchmen St.), so be careful.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.