New Orleans. NOLA. The Big Easy – a city known by many names and unlike any other we’ve visited. The various influences from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin American, Africa and the indigenous people have turned this magical ‘Europe meets Las Vegas’ city into the ultimate concoction of spectacular goodness with its "let the good times roll" attitude. From the flavorful Creole and Cajun food to the colorful façades and live music on every street corner, this proved to be the best escape from the harsh Minnesota winter.
It was my first vacation since starting a new job and we were craving for something outside of the ordinary in addition to this being the City’s 300th birthday. From the moment we stepped off the airplane and into Ahmad’s uber, we were embraced by a warm culture and the most welcoming people, a true embodiment of the Southern charm. It is no wonder the New York Times listed New Orleans as the top place in the world to visit for 2018.
Thanks to Instagram, we were able to get tips from locals on what to do and see for the most part while also leaving time for spontaneous moments and discoveries. Below are our top recommendations for New Orleans.
Walk and Dance your way through the French Quarter
We spent the first 2 nights in an Airbnb near Magazine Street and saved the best for last by spending the remaining 2 nights in the French Quarter. We stayed in a small boutique hotel, once a brothel that had a charming little balcony overlooking the action taking place down below on the narrow streets. Since we are both past our 20's, we did not spend much time on Bourbon Street and there is so much more to do and see in the French Quarter beyond Bourbon Street. We visited Royal Street for some antique shopping, Frenchman Street for live music and jazz in the evenings, Jackson Square for Cafe du Monde and the iconic St. Louis Cathedral and not to mention stopping to admire the mesmerizing 18th century Spanish and French homes in every color possible with wrought-iron balconies adorned with flowers. It was every city planners' wildest dream!
Top French Quarter recommendations: take a stroll to work off those beignets with cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde and gawk at the beautiful architecture, eat oysters at one of the many seafood places and grab a champagne drink at the Carousel Bar & Lounge located in Hotel Monteleone. The outdoor French Market for freshly made crepes and fresh seafood is also a must! For an indoor food market, the St. Roch Market is just a quick 20 minute walk from the French Quarter where you can choose from a variety of stalls with food, cocktails, oysters and dessert.
Bike or stroll through one of the many City Parks
New Orleans is more than just the French Quarter and a pretty cityscape. The City is also home to two of the most stunning parks. You can find some of the biggest and intricate trees here including the Tree of Life in Audubon Park. This picturesque park was laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted himself and has no shortage of perfect reading nooks to spend a lazy afternoon with a good book.
There is no better way to view the many parks and New Orleans itself than on two wheels. We rented bikes and rode down the beautiful tree-lined Esplanade Avenue to City Park where we enjoyed a bowl of rice and red beans, which we learned is a Monday evening New Orleans specialty.
Top park recommendations: Picture op in front of the intricate Tree of Life in Audubon Park and a bike ride down Esplanade Avenue to City Park for dinner or lunch.
Ride the St. Charles Streetcar & take in the Homes in the Garden District
After a delicious brunch of crawfish eggs Benedict and Nutella filled danish pancake balls, we took the streetcar to the Garden District where we spent most of our Saturday afternoon walking around and taking in the large and ornate historic mansions that resembled something out of the movies. A much quieter and posh district than the well-known French Quarter, this neighborhood was developed in 1832 for the newly-rich Americans who settled in the city. Many visitors also make it a point to walk through the Lafayette Cemetery or visit one of the old plantations, but that wasn't quite our cup of tea.
Unbeknownst to us, we were in New Orleans during St. Patrick’s Day and since New Orleaneans pride themselves in being able to throw one heck of a party, there were parades and parties all over the City. We stumbled across one parade as we walked to Turkey and the Wolf, so we stopped to enjoy the party and make some friends along the way. Since we were missing Mardi Gras, we made up for it by getting our fix and taste of the "let the good times roll" 'tude. Needless to say, we walked away with many of the infamous bead necklaces, all of which now reside in our travel memory suitcase.
We ended our day with cocktails at the vintage-inspired rooftop bar of the historic Pontchartain Hotel where we took in the views of city life below.
Top Garden District recommendations: Hot Tin bar with the best views of the city skyline. Grab a vegetarian rueben at Turkey and the Wolf and walk it off or ride it off on the St. Charles streetcar.
If you're looking for that one City where you can do it all - walk, bike, take the streetcar all while eating, sightseeing and dancing your way through an entire City then New Orleans is the place to visit. Despite the difficult history, the people of New Orleans were the embodiment of Southern Charm and resilience. As we walked through the Chicago O'Hare on our layover, I was brought back to reality as people rushed by bumping into me with the rude awakening that we were no longer in the Big Easy.