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TPG Contributor Kelsy Chauvin returns to her spicy home state to share glimpses of the French Quarter, one of the most visited and historic districts in North America. (All photos were taken by the author — follow more of Kelsy’s travels on Instagram and Twitter.)
Without mincing words or showing bias for my favorite city, New Orleans is the ultimate destination. Yes, Paris is famous for romance, New York for culture and Rome for history, but the Crescent City has all of the above — plus legendary music, food, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and the friendliest people on earth. The city was vital to the invention of jazz, and is home to unforgettable Creole cuisine and more than its fair share of cocktails — the sazerac, hurricane, hand grenade and Ramos gin fizz just to name a few.
Alas, I could spend all day jazzily singing NOLA’s praises. Instead, I’ll share a snapshot (or 10!) of the city’s epicenter: The French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, which translates from French to “Old Square.”
Located in a crescent-shaped bend in the Mississippi River, the French Quarter came to be upon the city’s founding in 1718. Today, the entire district is a National Historic Landmark and its pockets of unique, trapped-in-time buildings and businesses remain a huge draw for US and international tourists.
Being a huge tourist town, hotels are abundant. The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is a luxurious choice located at the edge of the French Quarter along Canal Street. Rates at the Ritz start around $219 per night during the low-season (summer) while prices during peak season hover around $399 per night — opt to spend 50,000 reward points per night year-round for the best bargain.
Another excellent option is the Royal Sonesta New Orleans, a recently revamped, spacious hotel with a rooftop-courtyard pool. It’s surprisingly quiet and affordable considering it’s right on Bourbon Street, with off-peak rates starting at $189 per night in August and peak-season prices from $359 per night — use 2,750 Sonesta Travel Pass points per night to book this Tier 5 hotel instead.
The sights, sounds and yes, smells, of Bourbon Street make this main drag memorable and mesmerizing. You can drift in an out of bars drink in hand, belly up to one if you like the band or just sip a libation while parked on a balcony for a spell.
One of the city’s most famous bars is Pat O’Brien’s, birthplace of the famous bright red hurricanes (and other tasty cocktails). There are many imitations, but none will outdo the original, especially when sipped from the shady courtyard among other tourists and quite a few thirsty Cajuns.
If a classic Pimm’s Cup is more your thing, head to Napoleon House on Chartres Street, pouring drinks since 1914 (though the building is much older), a go-to spot for a signature muffuletta cured-meat sandwich. Pay with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to earn twice the points on restaurant dining and other travel expenses.
Between Po’ Boys, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice and the countless other ways to fill up on Gulf seafood and Cajun delicacies, the hard part about dining in the French Quarter is settling on an eatery. Pass the time thinking about it over delicious, world-famous beignets and café au laits at Café du Monde.
Work off a couple of calories browsing the historic French Market down Decatur Street to stock up on arts, crafts and all the souvenir t-shirts, jewelry, Mardi Gras beads and voodoo supplies you want.
It’s easy to spend an entirely satisfying New Orleans visit in the French Quarter. Of course, there’s much more to this vivacious city outside its most popular district. Just north is the Marigny (“mari-nee”), home to happening Frenchmen Street, great music clubs, corner bars and neighborhood restaurants.
On the French Quarter’s southern end — you’ll find a nice, easy ride there on the Riverfront Streetcar — is the Warehouse Arts District, where the Ernest Morial Convention Center sits riverside. (FYI it’s named for the city’s first African American mayor.) This area’s restaurant scene has boomed in recent years thanks to restaurants like Cochon, which some consider to be the best restaurant in New Orleans with its outstanding pork-focused menu and novel takes on down-home dishes (alligator, anyone?).
Nearby, Grand Isle takes Cajun fare to the next level with seafood direct from local fishermen including crazy-fresh oysters served on the half shell or baked with tasso. Inside the sexy Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, Compère Lapin is taking New Orleans’ cuisine to the next level by incorporating classic Creole and Caribbean flavors along with perfectly paired cocktails.
Getting to New Orleans
With countless direct flights into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, MSY is an easy shot from many US cities as well as Toronto and a few Caribbean cities (seasonally). It’s easy to get direct round-trip flights to New Orleans from New York via Delta (from 25,000 Delta SkyMiles in economy, 50,000 in first class), United (from 25,000 United MileagePlus miles in economy or 50,000 first class) and JetBlue (from 13,200 JetBlue TrueBlue points). You can also book one-stop flights using American AAdvantage miles for 25,000 miles round-trip in economy or 50,000 in first class.
Check out MSY’s handy flights page to see all 49 cities with nonstop flights to and from MSY, an airport served by 14 different airlines.
Whether you’ve never visited or go there every year, the Big Easy is like a home away from home. The city welcomes us and reminds us that no matter where we’re from or what we do, in New Orleans it’s always time to laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll).
What are your favorite things to do in New Orleans? Let us know in the comments below.
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