The absolute highlight of my all-American road trip across the Deep South USA with Trek America, was by far New Orleans. You know when a place just gets you and you feel instantly at home there? Yeah, that’s how I felt about NOLA (short for New Orleans, Louisiana FYI).
This amazing city really has so much going for it, including fantastic people and a super cool vibe. Oh and all these things right here…
12 Reasons To Visit New Orleans
1) Mardi Gras, y’all
Okay, so the number #1 reason people visit NOLA is Mardi Gras. It’s a big pull for the backpacker crowd especially, being a giant party and all. The event lasts two weeks and involves daily parades, throwing beads, masquerade balls and general debauchery. It sounds SO GOOD.
But seeing as I visited in May, a couple of months after Mardi Gras, I instead decided to embrace the party culture at Mardi Gras World. This is a big ol’ warehouse where the giant, colourful parade floats are created and stored for the rest of the year. It’s so interesting to learn more about the festivities and how the floats are made. Plus, it’s just really cool to see these massive sculptures of King Kong, dinosaurs, robots, Disney characters and other cool stuff.
2) Super Cute Spanish Architecture
Oh my gosh, the French Quarter of New Orleans is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been. Although named the French Quarter, the architecture is actually Spanish and the houses are painted in gorgeous colours with lovely porches and cute shutters. It’s total Instaporn.
It’s lovely to just wander the streets taking photos to be honest! Here’s a few of my faves:
3) Awesome Swamp Tours
Does it get more Louisiana than a swamp tour?
Just outside of the city I went on one of the Cajun Pride Swamp Tours to spot some gators! To be honest I thought the gators were quite small but that’s because I’ve witnessed the terrifying crocs and gators of Malcolm Douglas Wildlife Park in Western Australia! So they were weeny in comparison!
But it was pretty awesome anyway as the driver gives a cool commentary about the swamp, pointing out lots of different types of wildlife. And even without all of that, it’s such a nice little boat ride through this gorgeous bit of country.
4) Live Music. Like, everywhere.
I always think that no matter what your music tastes are, it’s just really cool to see live music, y’know? And live music is in abundance in New Orleans. From the buskers playing jazz on the streets, to inside every bar you find yourself in.
I particularly loved Frenchman Street for the music. When I arrived on the street some guys were playing steel drums and blowing whistles and generally just partying in the streets. Then I went into a bar called d.b.a when a full brass band was playing! And I seriously had the best time drinking cocktails, dancing like no-one was watching and having a grand old time.
5) Bourbon Street Nightlife
Okay, seeing as we’re talking about nightlife, I HAVE to mention Bourbon Street! This is the centre of NOLA’s nightlife, in the French Quarter, and has a string of awesome bars and restaurants. It CAN be a little tacky and I definitely preferred going out on Frenchman Street but sometimes tacky can be fun! I went into a bar playing Dirty Dancing, Mambo No. 5 and the Grease Megamix and it was everything.
6) Vintage Shopping
With a penchant for vintage clothes, I definitely enjoyed shopping in New Orleans. In the Garden District in particular, I looked through lots of cute boutiques selling thrifty finds.
There are also some great shops in the French Quarter, including the French Market, but the Garden District definitely felt less touristy so made me feel like they wouldn’t hike the prices up as much.
7) Lafayette Cemetery
I know, it’s weird to say a cemetery is a great place to go, but in New Orleans they’re pretty neat. Because the city is built on swampy land, graves are built above ground rather than 6 feet under. It means that beautiful stone tombs cover the 19th century Lafayette Cemetery and actually look quite pretty believe it or not.
Yeah it’s a bit morbid, but definitely worth a look.
8) Cool People
This isn’t just a comment for New Orleans, but actually the whole of the South – Everyone is so nice! I’ve never been somewhere where everyone is so helpful and I actually felt really safe there. Just saying.
9) Absinthe & Hurricane Cocktails
With Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street and all that, you’re probably guessing that there is a drinking culture in New Orleans. And you’re not wrong, this is for sure a party town. In fact it’s one of the few places in the US where you can drink on the streets and alcohol is served 24/7. It’s great because it means you can bar-hop without having to finish your drink.
Well there are two drinks you HAVE to have in New Orleans – Hurricane cocktails and absinthe.
I loved how delicious Hurricanes were although they were way more lethal than I thought. Even more lethal is absinthe. And absinthe is so popular in NOLA (due to its French influence), which means you see it everywhere. I had a cup of absinthe and champagne (classy I know) from Pirates Alley and was off my face, brah.
10) Tarot Cards & Voodoo
I love the spiritual part of New Orleans and was determined to get my tarot cards read or something. Y’know just for fun.
However some of the girls I was travelling with tried out one of the guys on the street and he wasn’t good apparently. And with little time in town it was too late to book someone, so I didn’t get to do it.
But even so, the mystical vibe in New Orleans was something I totally loved!
11) Fantastic Food
Oh gahhhd the food. From the jazz brunch I had at The Court Of Two Sisters to the lunch at Bayou Beer Garden and dinner at Red Fish Grill, everything I ate in NOLA was damn good. So much so that I’ve written an entire post about the food I ate in the Deep South – check it out over here.
But the moral of the story is – the food is amazing.
12) It’s Full of History
I think what’s so amazing about NOLA is that despite the city’s turbulent history, particularly with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it has bounced back incredibly. The city feels light-hearted and fun and is party-central, even though you can still see water lines dotted around the city, you know?
It’s also has some really cool nuggets of history like Napoleon House, a place offered as refuge to Napoleon in 1921. Or Jackson Square where the state became part of the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Or the St Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the USA. Pretty cool.
Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @HeelsInBackpack!