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Welcome back to New Orleans
This isn't a New Orleans story about disaster. It's a story about rebirth. Despite all that has happened to New Orleans in the last five years - the damage, the loss of life, the oil spills - the fact remains: New Orleans is still one of the most musically rich, culturally vibrant and historically important cities in the world. This is not a city that gives up easily. In fact, we're here to tell you that despite all you hear on the news, New Orleans is as good as ever, and it's about time you came down to pay it a visit.
New Orleans is also much more than just throwing beads at Mardi Gras - there's plenty to discover and celebrate about this amazing city year-round. From the genteel colonnade-lined mansions of the Garden District, the wide avenues shielded by shady canopies of old-growth trees, to the raucous nocturnal playground of Frenchmen Street, where funky brass bands and "go cups" of Abita Amber flow freely, to sinful culinary delights like Beignets and Muffuletta sandwiches, New Orleans is jam-packed with enough one-of-a-kind pleasures to please even the most jaded of travelers.
New Orleans is back, baby. Are you ready to take a whirlwind tour? Keep reading below to discover all this great city has to offer...
Most New Orleans visitors arrive at Louis Armstrong International Airport, located about 15 minutes from downtown. The most convenient way into town is by taxi, which costs $33 for 1 or 2 passengers and $14/person for 3 or more. Many hotels in the French Quarter also offer their guests free shuttle service. If you're doing New Orleans on the super cheap, the Jefferson Transit Airport Express is only $2.
Once you arrive in New Orleans, getting around by foot or public transport is relatively easy. Unless you need to get out of town, don't bother with renting a car. Many of New Orleans' attractions are either in the French Quarter or within walking distance. The city's vintage street cars also offer connections to visitors hoping to get away from the French Quarter madness, all for just $1.25 per ride.
The cultural heart of New Orleans lies along a series of bends in the Mississippi River, earning the town the nickname of "Crescent City." The beating tourist heart of New Orleans is clearly the French Quarter, which has lots to do even if you don't want to be drinking hand grenades all day on Bourbon Street. To the Northeast of the French Quarter is Faubourg Marigny, an up-and-coming neighborhood with a killer nightlife and live music scene. To the South and West of the French Quarter is the skyscraper-filled Central Business District (also home to a growing arts scene) and the southern-mansion-lined streets of the Garden District.
What to Do
You'll never run out of activities in New Orleans. Simply walking the atmospheric streets, stumbling upon street musicians and the city's beautiful architecture, is a joy in and of itself. Make sure to leave plenty of time to simply wander and take it all in. Here's a few of our favorite highlights:
- The food - if you haven't eaten proper New Orleans cuisine, you simply haven't visited New Orleans. Wondering where to start your Big Easy culinary tour? Try Central Grocery for a spicy Italian Muffuletta, Johnny's or Mother's for a Po' Boy sandwich and Jacques-imo's for Creole and Cajun specialties. And don't forget a beignet and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde (preferably late at night when it's less crowded).
- Garden District tour - spend an afternoon getting a dose of old-school Southern charm by hopping on a street car to this historic New Orleans district of stately mansions and intriguing shopping. Grab a green line street car from the French Quarter and sit back as you're transported back in time, past enormous Antebellum-style mansions fringed by gardens of lush greenery. Take a break on Magazine Street to find top-notch shopping.
- French Quarter Wandering - most New Orleans visitors are already familiar with this quintessential neighborhood. But there's much more to the French Quarter than Bourbon Street. Start your French Quarter wander with brunch at Stanley, where you can dig into Bananas Foster French Toast. Just across the street is the picturesque Jackson Square - make sure to check out the statue of U.S. President and commander of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson and take a peek at St. Louis Cathedral. From there it's time to get lost, admiring the intricate wrought iron balconies, numerous thrift stores, record shops and art galleries that dot this historic neighborhood.
- The music - New Orleans music is unrivaled in its influence, diversity and quality. For a burst of musical energy head to Frenchmen Street, where you'll find concert venues like Snug Harbor and d.b.a. as well as streets packed with revelers bouncing along to street corner brass bands, banjo players and cellists. The music is just as good outside as it is inside. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for Second Lines, brass band street parades that unexpectedly fill the air with music and joyous dancing.
- Volunteering - though "tourist New Orleans" is in great shape, many parts of the city outside the tourist areas are still in recovery mode. Looking to do your part to help rebuild? Check out the "voluntourism" page on the Official Tourism site of New Orleans
Staying in New Orleans can get downright expensive. Before you spring for a hotel, consider one of the city's numerous private apartment options on sites like VRBO. You'll not only save money, you'll also get a more authentic neighborhood feel during your visit. If you simply must stay in a hotel, consider spots like the Iberville Suites, the Queen & Crescent or The Chines Bed & Breakfast as starting points.
[Photos courtesy Mike Lee and Jonathan Rodrigues]