New Orleans is a city I’d longed to go to for years.
I had so many images of what I would find: the madness of Bourbon Street; jazz musicians on every corner; po-boys, gumbo and beignets galore; and, of course, scars from the devastation of Katrina.
I’ve spent a good bit of time in the US, home to most of my immediate family, and while New Orleans certainly lived up to my expectations, it took me by surprise how different the city is to other parts of the country. It lends itself to every travel cliche in the book (vibrant! a city of contrasts! historic! unique! lively! charming! diverse!). In five days, I barely touched the surface, but I’m certain that the Big Easy firmly warrants it’s place on so many travel wishlists.
Below are four tips from my four days in the city.
1. Wander the backstreets of the French Quarter.
The French Quarter is the oldest part of New Orleans, although most of the buildings you see today are Spanish in origin, re-built after fires in the late 1700s. Lying between North Rampart Street and the Mississippi, its dusky-hued homes are adorned with a seductive combination of flower-filled, wrought-iron balconies and wooden shutters.
Walking as the crow flies, “the Quarter” would probably take just half-an-hour to meander across, but spare at least a day to drift around. Start in the more tumble-down eastern end, before wandering towards the part-gloriously restored and part-Disneyfied area towards the CBD. Drinking on the streets is legal here, but you’d do much better to stop off for a cocktail in a quiet, cool bar; my favourite was the unassuming Harry’s Corner, mostly frequented by locals and reviewed by Esquire here.
2. Spend an evening on Frenchmen Street.
Esplanade Avenue provides a natural end to the French Quarter, beyond which lie the quiet, residential streets of Faubourg Marigny. Once a plantation, the land was first sold off at the start of the 1800s. Pastel-coloured Creole cottages from this time still remain, and you’ll barely find a building over two stories high: something local residents are campaigning to preserve.
Frenchmen Street runs north–south just beyond Esplanade and is rather more lively than the rest of the district. The main “strip”, a somewhat tourist-orientated but quirky mix of bars, restaurants, shops and tattoo parlours, takes up the southern quarter mile. Head to the intimate Spotted Cat for drinks and live music then squeeze up the stairs above the titchy Apple Barrel bar to Adolfo’s (no website) for dinner. With its slanting floors, charmingly bolshy waiters and excellent Creole-Italian cooking, Adolfo’s was one of my favourite places.
3. Eat like a tourist.
New Orleans’ food is famous for good reason and there’s a slew of historic restaurants in which to try the specialities. Ease in with a po-boy and some live music at the cheesy Gazebo Cafe before the quintessential New Orleans trip to Cafe du Monde‘s sticky tables for beignets. Be prepared to get powdered (icing) sugar absolutely everywhere.
Come evening, keep it traditional: drop by the 200-year-old Napoleon House for a glass of wine in their sleepy courtyard or sip a cocktail at the dark, friendly bar in Tujague’s. Alternatively, try to get a table outside at Sylvain for modern cooking with a European-cum-Southern twist.
4. Avoid Bourbon Street!
OK, don’t avoid it completely. Go once. Walk the length of it taking in the gaudy lights, raucous bars and scantily-clad, frequently overweight tourists. Picture Magaluf or San Antonio and you’re going in the right direction.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t drink the deathly-sweet green grenade drinks, advertised on banners towed by light planes overhead.
Thanks again to Ed, Emma and especially Sam for all of the advice. On reflection, I wish I’d spent more time outside the French Quarter – all the more reason to return.