The music, the food, the people, the culture, the architecture, the history. With so much to love, there’s simply no way to come up with a comprehensive list of what makes New Orleans such a unique and wonderful city, but these attractions should definitely be on your list for a first-time visit.
The original settlement of New Orleans, and the oldest neighborhood in the city, is Vieux Carre, more commonly known as the French Quarter. It was established by the French in 1718 and today is a National Historic Landmark and one of the liveliest parts of the city. Home to Bourbon Street, gorgeous architecture, historic Jackson Square, the world-famous Preservation Hall and the French Market, the Quarter is an essential stop for any trip to the city.
Frenchmen Street, within walking distance of Bourbon Street, is where the locals go to listen to live music. From traditional jazz and blues, to reggae and rock, every genre is represented. Probably the most famous venue, The Spotted Cat Music Club is where you go for traditional jazz, but it’s really just best to walk down the street and venture into any place that sounds compelling to you. Numerous bars and restaurants line the popular avenue as well.
The Garden District neighborhood, home to gorgeous antebellum mansions and amazing arrays of blooms, is a delight to explore. Besides just wandering around and taking in the beautiful houses, highlights include a tour of the historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and a meal at the beloved Commander’s Palace restaurant. The best way to arrive in the neighborhood is to take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, an adventure in itself.
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
Mardi Gras is famous for the outstanding floats, and there’s a lot of work that goes into bringing them to life. At Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how the spectacles are designed and created — the Kern family has been making these massive pieces of art since 1947.
The working studio, where you will see artists and architects working on floats almost year-round, is great to explore. Snap some quirky photos during the tour using provided props and savor a piece of king cake at the end.
The Davenport Lounge
Speaking of great live music, Jeremy Davenport has garnered quite the reputation with jazz aficionados over the years for his brilliance with the trumpet. Explore the glorious sounds for yourself by stopping by The Davenport Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star escape sitting right on Canal Street.
Tap your toes to live music from Davenport every Wednesday through Saturday. But even on nights when things are quieter, you can sample a symphony of tastes with the lounge’s great menu of shareable plates, desserts and cocktails.
Southern Food & Beverage Museum
Foodies and culinary history buffs should make time for this excellent museum dedicated to all things Southern. Exhibits detail everything from the culture and intricacies of barbecue to the chefs of New Orleans.
Located inside this delicious archive is another testament to taste: The Museum of the American Cocktail, which covers mixology. There are all sorts of tastings and classes, so make sure to check the calendar to see what’s happening. Inside the museum, you’ll also find the splendid Toups South, a restaurant helmed by Top Chef contestant Isaac Toups.
New Orleans claims that America’s first cocktail, the Sazerac, was created in the Crescent City sometime in the mid-1800s, and true or not, this is a tasty tipple that you don’t want to skip. One of the best places in the city to enjoy the drink (which is composed of Sazerac rye whiskey, Herbsaint anise liqueur, Peychaud’s Bitters, a sugar cube and a lemon peel garnish) is at the Sazerac Bar inside Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel. Built in 1893 and restored to its former glory in 2009, the elegant, dimly lit spot is stunning for a few sips.
At 1,300 acres, there is a lot to explore in City Park, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, an amusement park, golf courses, miles of walking and jogging paths and the underrated Morning Call café, a great place for beignets and freshly brewed coffee.
Adjacent to the museum is the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a beautiful five-acre park filled with more than 60 works of art. You can easily get to the massive green space via streetcar.
NOLA’s famous above-ground cemeteries are a must-see. There are 42 elegant graveyards in the greater New Orleans area, but probably the most well-known one is in the Garden District. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 has been seen in innumerable films, not to mention books and photos.
While you can certainly visit on your own, the rich history and stories of families, hauntings and interesting facts makes it worth hiring a local tour guide.
A cruise down the mighty Mississippi allows you to get a glimpse into the city’s past, when the only way to move great distances was via boat. There are a variety of tours available, but the most popular option is a ride on a steam-driven river paddlewheeler. Several local companies offer themed experiences such as historical tours, casual lunches and, of course, jazz cruises.