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While New Orleans is known for throwing a good party, it’s also a cultural mecca that offers something special for every type of traveler. If you’re interested in putting down that Hurricane and venturing away from Bourbon Street — which I highly recommend, by the way! — follow these 10 tips you probably won’t find in a guidebook to help you make the most of your next trip to the Big Easy.
Bring the Kids to Mardi Gras
While most people think of Mardi Gras as a lewd, adult party, the reality is Carnival is a very family-friendly event. While most of the debauchery takes place on Bourbon Street and involves tourists, locals will bring their entire families to the parade route to witness the beautiful floats and catch an assortment of “throws” from the masked parade riders, including beads, plush toys, doubloons and other unique keepsakes. In fact, flashing for beads is actually a very uncommon practice among locals and is highly frowned upon along the traditional parade routes. As long as you avoid Bourbon Street with the kids — which is a good idea for all times of the year — Mardi Gras can be an amazing and fun experience for both locals and visitors of all ages.
Sip a Sazerac Instead of a Hurricane
It’s no secret that we love a good cocktail here in New Orleans. In fact, we invented the first cocktail, the Sazerac, which features Rye Whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters and a lemon peel. Try this iconic beverage at the Sazerac Bar inside The Roosevelt New Orleans hotel just outside the French Quarter.
Learn the Lingo
Getting around town is a lot easier when you understand the local lingo. Directions here, for example, are based on the locations of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, so instead of saying north, south, east and west, you’ll likely hear people referring to lakeside (north), riverside (south), downriver (east), and upriver (west). Also, a median in New Orleans is called “the neutral ground,” which has its origins from Canal Street literally being the neutral ground between the French Quarter and the American Sector of town.
Even the process of ordering food and drinks here is special. If you want to leave a bar or restaurant with your drink, this is perfectly acceptable as long as you ask for a “go-cup.” If you order a Po-Boy in town, you’ll probably be asked whether or not you want it “dressed,” which is simply a way of asking if you want lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on your sandwich.
Shop Til You Drop on Magazine Street
While the French Quarter has its charm, you should definitely spend an afternoon strolling along Magazine Street. This thoroughfare through New Orleans’ Uptown neighborhood is filled with local bars, restaurants and boutique shops that’ll satisfy any style. If you have time, schedule a haircut or a shave at Aidan Gill For Men, where you’ll feel like a Southern gentlemen as you get your ears lowered while sipping on a fine whiskey or beer.
Where to Eat Like a Carnival King or Queen
In New Orleans, we don’t eat to live — we live to eat! While you can’t go wrong with traditional favorites like Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, and Antoine’s, I believe Chef Susan Spicer’s flagship restaurant, Bayona, is perfect for a truly memorable fine dining experience in an idyllic French Quarter setting. If you’re looking for something a little less fancy but still want to sample some truly local creole and cajun cuisine in a funky, laid-back atmosphere, head over to Jacques-Imo’s in the Carrollton neighborhood for a meal you won’t soon forget — the alligator cheesecake alone is to die for.
Head to a Music Club Off Bourbon Street
While Bourbon Street gets all the hype, the best music in town can be found outside this famous party spot. Spend a night on Frenchmen Street, where you can wander in and out of countless music clubs, including iconic the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro or the Spotted Cat Music Club. Many great New Orleans artists have standing gigs on various nights throughout the city, including John Boutté at D.B.A. on Saturdays and the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar on Tuesdays.
Explore the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater Neighborhoods
If you want to venture outside the traditional stomping grounds of the French Quarter, head to the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. These funky and hip neighborhoods offer many alternative and edgy music clubs and bars, such as the quirky AllWays Lounge & Theatre and the Hi-Ho Lounge. For a truly special night, check out Bacchanal, which features a wine shop with a corking service as well as a courtyard where you can sip wine, enjoy small plates and listen to local music under the stars.
Head to a Crawfish Boil if You’re Visiting During the Spring
Here in New Orleans, we don’t have spring — we have crawfish season. From late-February through May, bars and restaurants around the city will honor this delectable crustacean with traditional (and spicy) boils featuring all the vegetables, sausage and crawfish you can eat. For a truly traditional and tasty boil, try Salvo’s Seafood on the West Bank, where you can get an all-you-can-eat deal for just $20. Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never had crawfish before — there are always friendly locals around who are happy to show you the art of eating these tasty critters.
Take a Stroll in Our Parks
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle, take some time to explore the city’s beautiful urban parks. Audubon Park in Uptown offers a picturesque two-mile walking and biking loop, as well as the world-famous Audubon Zoo. Visit the Tree of Life, a stunning live oak tree next to the Zoo, a favorite relaxation spot for locals. City Park offers numerous activities from paddle boat rides and golf and is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Take time to stroll through City Park’s Old Grove, which features the oldest live oak trees in the city, many of which are more than 800 years old.
The Best Way to Get Around Town
See the city by taking the St. Charles Streetcar Line. For just $1.25 per ride, you can ride down stunning, oak-lined St. Charles Avenue and see many of the beautiful southern mansions of NOLA’s Uptown neighborhood. The streetcar line is also conveniently located within walking distance of the Garden District, and brings you close to shopping and dining hotspots near Magazine Street. For a real treat, especially when it gets a little too hot, take a ride from Canal Street to Audubon Park.
While the streetcar is one of the most scenic ways to get around town, it’s not the most reliable form of transportation. As the oldest continuously operated electric railway in the world, the streetcars serve limited routes and come at variable and unpredictable times — if you’re in a hurry, you might be better off using Uber or Lyft to get around town instead.
Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your favorite things to do there?
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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