Explore: New Orleans

Date Posted: 01/04/2013

New Orleans' indomitable and independent spirit makes ‘The Big Easy’ an irresistible draw for groups looking to experience a unique part of the US, says Mark Henshall.

Essential sights

The French Quarter: The beating, cultural heart of New Orleans is made for walking. Also known as Vieux Carré or the ‘Quarter’, it sits on a crescent in the Mississippi River on some of the highest ground in the city. Look for Cajun food, seafood and Creole dining, and don’t leave without bagging some local hot pepper sauce, Community Coffee, hurricane cocktail mix, Mardi Gras masks and beads, and a blue dog painting to remind you of your visit. There’s the French market for fresh produce and a speciality flea market, the hip Jax Brewery, and Canal Place for designer goods. After dark, take in world famous Bourbon Street to dance the night away until the small hours.

St Louis Cathedral: One of the tallest and most imposing structures in the French Quarter, you’ll recognise St. Louis Cathedral from hundreds of movies and TV shows. As the mother church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, it has an interesting history; the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the US, originally built in 1727 and dedicated to King Louis IX of France, who was later canonized by the Church. The original St. Louis Cathedral burned during the great fire of 1794 and was rebuilt. The present structure was completed in the 1850s.

The Garden District Neighbourhoods: The ‘Garden District’ is a dynamic community with a strong sense of tradition that gets its nickname from its capacious showy gardens and astounding scenery. Elegant houses, some of still known by the names of the families that built them over a century ago, set against a stylish background, offer visitors a relaxing experience. Look out for official flags designating Mardi Gras Royalty here during Carnival season.

Food & Drink

New Orleans provides visitors with a culinary tour-de-force. Cajun Jambalaya is an irresistible, big-bowled Louisiana signature dish with Spanish heritage mixed into three parts of rice, vegetables and meat (or seafood) with stock. For those with a sweet tooth try Bananas Foster, a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. Quench your thirst with established southern cocktails such as ‘The Hurricane’ at Pat O Brien's, the ‘Creole Bloody Mary’ and ‘Mint Julep’.

Each corner you turn in ‘N’awlins’ seems to bring another unique mouth-watering dish. Oysters Rockefeller consists of oysters on the half-shell that have been topped with various other ingredients (often parsley and other green herbs, a rich butter sauce and breadcrumbs) and are then baked or broiled. Gumbo is a stew/soup with a trinity of chopped onion, bell-peppers and celery usually with chicken-and-sausage or seafood. Po-boys are a Louisianan submarine sandwich, known for a crisp crust and fluffy centre.

For burgers that cause queues round the block, try Port of Call, a steakhouse in the French Quarter. Brennan’s, founded in 1946, is an established New Orleans joint known as much for its flowering magnolias and courtyard greenery as for its French and Creole cuisine. The wine cellar also has more than 35,000 bottles. Meanwhile, Café du Monde is famous for its cafe au lait, beignets, and the opportunity to people watch.

Where to Stay
  • Maison Orleans in the French quarter doesn’t come cheap, but has some gorgeous rooms and high-quality amenities throughout. Bag some specials in the hotter months.
  • Le Pavillon was established in 1907 and has a central CBD location. A member of Historic Hotels of America it has an elegant old New Orleans feel, some stunning features and a few welcome quirks such as late-night peanut butter sandwiches (a N’awlins tradition).
  • Bienville House in the French Quarter is a nice, small hotel with friendly staff, a good location and reasonable prices. There’s an excellent restaurant, too, Iris.
Best for Groups

For active groups (with foodie inclinations) a great option is the ‘Confederacy of Cruisers Culinary Bike Tour’. Visitors can eat, pedal, drink, pedal and then repeat. It’s a very New Orleans way to explore; getting past the openly touristy trails to experience something a little more authentic. Wear yourself out while sipping on a raspberry snowball, chowing down on some gumbo or freshly caught crawfish.

Whatever flavour of New Orleans you want to discover, a tour is a great way to dig beneath the surface with the right guide. The Historic New Orleans Tour with author Robert Florence is recommended as he guides visitors through cemeteries, the French Quarter, the Garden District and places of voodoo and hauntings. For film buffs, The New Orleans Movie Tour visits the Garden District, Warehouse District and Central Business District, Treme, St. Louis Cemetery and more. The guides discuss the art of film making and everything that goes into bringing New Orleans to life in movies.

For a leisurely group trip, jump on the Steamboat Natchez. Take a two-hour cruise along the fabled Mississippi River and kick back to some jazz and delicious local dishes while experiencing New Orleans beauty and French Quarter romance.

Live Like a Local

Jump on a streetcar to explore the longest of New Orleans' streetcar lines, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar; the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Streetcars here have been an integral part of the city since the first half of the 19th century. The new Loyola Streetcar Line runs from Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street along Loyola Avenue.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (26th April to 5th May) started as a local gathering and its cultural marketplaces and craft zones reflecting the creole nature of New Orleans alongside signature New Orleans cuisine, still try to retain that spirit. Come to learn and play, speak the local lingo (‘Lagniappe’ pronounced ‘lan-yap’ means ‘A little something extra’), and see some top groups such as Maroon 5 and Fleetwood Mac.

Fact File

Journey Time: 13 hours from London to New Orleans with the simplest connection through Atlanta (Delta/BA). Also, consider a Deep South tour, starting in Atlanta - taking in cities such as Memphis and Nashville - and ending in New Orleans. Amtrak is growing in popularity offering a great way to arrive from Chicago; perfect for small groups.

Currency:  Dollar. £1.00 = $1.51

Best time to go: The average temperature is an inviting 70F (21°C). July and August are best avoided when it’s exceptionally hot and muggy, but winter is mild. Spring and autumn are best. Be warned rooms are hard to get during Mardi Gras.

For further group travel information visit www.neworleanscvb.com.

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