Part 2: Top 10 things to do in New Orleans
To be honest, we were a bit surprised by the rich cultural history of New Orleans. But we shouldn’t have been – and neither should you. Unfortunately, it’s often a forgotten part of American history. But the truth is, New Orleans has a rich and varied history that spans more than three centuries . . .
Founded by French colonizers in 1718, New Orleans quickly became a cultural melting pot of various ethnic groups, languages, and religions due to its prime trading location at the outflow of the great Mississippi River that splits the North American continent in half. As a key center of commerce and trade, not only between the eastern and western parts of the continent, but also with European and South American nations, it naturally developed a lively music scene, delicious cuisine, and unique architecture that continues to the present.c
Top 10 things to do in New Orleans
Our stay of 3 nights allowed us to experience everything on our top 10 list with ease. Plus, more! By adopting our approach, you’ll be able to:
- Explore the French Quarter: Full of colorful buildings, historic architecture, and a party atmosphere. Great restaurants abound and live music literally marches right down Bourbon Street on a regular basis (thanks to private bands for hire for weddings and such). We strolled down Bourbon Street a few times to experience the famous nightlife and also relaxed at Jackson Square, home to the iconic St. Louis Cathedral and street performers.
- Sample the Top 10 of Local Cuisine: New Orleans is famous for its unique blend of Creole, Cajun, and French-inspired cuisine. Be sure to try classic dishes such as jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, and po’boys. Some popular restaurants include Commander’s Palace, Cafe Du Monde, and Galatoire’s. Oh, and be sure to sample some Beignets at Café du Monde.
- Enjoy the Music: New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz, and music is a fundamental part of the city’s culture. Check out live performances at venues such as Preservation Hall, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, and the Jazz and Heritage Festival.
- Interact at the National World War II Museum: This world-renowned museum is dedicated to the history and legacy of the Second World War. It includes exhibits, artifacts (including fighter planes), and interactive displays that offer an immersive experience of the war. We really enjoyed it and deepened our respect for those who served our nation. Even if you’re not interested in history, you’ll enjoy this.
- Learn how to cook an authentic Cajun/Creole meal from scratch: We spent a half day at the New Orleans School of Cooking for a hands-on cooking class where we learned the basics of Louisiana Cooking in a fun and fast paced atmosphere that we’ll never forget. Their Cajun/Creole experts teach New Orleans specialties such as Gumbo, Jambalaya and Pralines, seasoning them with history, trivia and tall tales. And we made it all ourselves, from scratch – then ate it all, including desert (so, naturally this was my favorite part of the trip). They even gave us each a beautiful cooking apron to take home to continue our adventure.
- Tour the Garden District: This historic neighborhood is known for its beautiful antebellum mansions, lush gardens, and tree-lined streets. We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour as well as a classic “Big Red Bus” tour that also took in the entire downtown. In addition to learning about the architecture, history, and famous residents of New Orleans, we got relax our feet a spell. We also set on the upper level and were able to grab a few Mardi Gras beads thrown into the trees from previous parades.
- Get close up and personal with Mardi Gras floats: The Mardi Gras Museum is actually the large warehouse where all the floats are constructed and stored throughout the year. You’re allowed to walk most of the facility and witness volunteers in action as they refurbish, add to, or build from scratch the floats that will be featured in the many parades during the festival in February. As a creative, I really enjoyed seeing the detail involved in building these massive floats. This was one of my favorite things to do in New Orleans.
- Visit the New Orleans Jazz Museum: Located in the historic Old U.S. Mint, this museum showcases the history and evolution of jazz in New Orleans. The museum includes interactive exhibits, live performances, and educational programs.
- Get spooked on the Haunted History Tour: There’s no doubt about it, New Orleans can feel a bit spooky at night, especially if the fog rolls in. It’s definitely a place alive with ghost stories and haunted sites. The city’s most haunted locations include the Lalaurie Mansion, the Voodoo Museum, and the St. Louis Cemetery. If you’re a bit skittish and don’t feel comfortable rubbing elbows with ghosts, I’d strongly suggest you still check out the cemetery. It is full of some very cool stone engravings and architecture that is worth the trolley ride. Just be sure to go before twilight.
- Linger at the French Market: Here you’ll find an ambiance familiar to European markets. As a couple, my wife and I great enjoyed a chance to slow down a bit and experience the happy little accidents that abound in this market. Shopping, dining, music, and local traditions come alive here. The French Market stretches five blocks, from Cafe du Monde near Jackson Square to the flea market at the end of Esplanade Avenue. Take our advice and take a break here on your last day of wandering. It is the perfect wind-down from your Top 10.
Next up in Part 3, we’ll reveal the Top 10 places to eat in New Orleans. And, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part 1: Mardi Gras – is it really the best time to visit New Orleans?
And lastly . . .
“Always remember, you’re not a tourist on this planet. You’re a wanderer – one seeking the truth. And that’s what life and every little thing in it is all about. Truth.” -Kenneth R. Dodson, Wanderer