I fell in love with New Orleans 27 years ago, as a young marketing intern in Paris, France, doing research on potential destinations for a Sweepstakes Grand Prize. Being a super type A overachiever, I prepared a dream itinerary for the lucky winners, complete with VIP police escort from the airport, day-trip to a Louisiana bayou and a famed historic Plantation, and of course the mandatory Jazz cruise on a steam boat on the Mississippi River. Since then, NOLA was at the top of my bucket list.
Once I moved to the US, my plans to visit NOLA were thwarted by Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it wrought on the city. But finally, in 2019 I was able to spend a few days in the city that I felt I already knew and loved so much from afar. My visit was everything I had hoped for and more.
So, here are the recommendations of an obsessed tourist.
A walking tour of Garden District & Lafayette Cemetery: Currently, public access is not allowed in Lafayette Cemetery #1 (I was lucky enough that at the time of my trip, a visit inside was still possible) but your tour guide should still be able to tell you about the unique burial customs of New Orleans. Walking around the Garden District is the best way to take in the magnificent and opulent houses (Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne Victorians…), celebrity homes (Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Anne Rice, the Manning family...), and movie/TV hotspots (American Horror Story: Coven; NCIS: New Orleans; etc.)
The St Charles Streetcar Line: From the Garden district, hop on an iconic green streetcar back to the French Quarter. The St Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, in operation since 1835. Each streetcar on this line is designated a national historic landmark. The 40-minute journey will take you past the stately mansions and grand oaks lining St Charles Avenue.
French Quarter: In the French Quarter, the beating heart and touristic center, it’s hard not to get tempted by food options galore, original shopping opportunities & curiosities. Some of my favorite spots include Magnolia Sugar & Spice Praline Kitchen & Hot Sauce bar, featuring dozens (hundreds?) of different hot sauces; Shoe Bedo, a delightful shoe shop featuring the craziest shoe designs you will ever see; or the Pharmacy Museum, a 1823 apothecary turned museum with exhibits of early medicines, superstitious cures & more. You may choose to brave the line for oysters at Felix’s, or settle across the street in the posh Bourbon House to satisfy your seafood or Po’ Boy cravings - if you do, do try the Frozen Bourbon Milk Punch, dubbed as “the best adult milkshake you’ll ever have”. And for dessert, nothing beats the Bananas Foster at Brennan’s or at the Royal House. As you make your way towards the Riverfront, you will surely encounter a 2nd Line - a traditional and upbeat funeral procession. Do stop at Cafe du Monde - yes, it’s a tourist magnet, but the beignets and chicory coffee are legit (and this is a French woman talking). While you’re at it, pick up a box of Beignet Mix and a can of chicory coffee at their retail window, you’ll thank me later. Finally, for the most authentic Jambalaya, head to Coop’s Place, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and local favorite. Of course, you will have to try a Sazerac with that!
Voodoo: If you want to know more about the unique history of New Orleans, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the small but excellent Voodoo Museum on Dumaine, and stop at the Voodoo Authentica shop a few doors down to pick up gris-gris and voodoo dolls and learn about the African deities (Orishas) from whom the New Orleans/French Creole voodoo practice stem from. You can also sign up for a Voodoo, Ghosts & Vampire night tour of the French Quarter. It’s campy fun, but you’ll learn all about Marie Laveau.
Treme: Venture off the beaten path to the historic black neighborhood of Treme. Here, the houses are much more modest, but incredibly colorful. Visit the St Augustine Church & Tomb of the Unknown Slave. Established by free people of color, who also bought pews for slaves, it is the oldest African-American Catholic parish in the US. Nearby, don’t miss the breath-taking Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square, where the Houmas indians celebrated the harvest before the arrival of the French, and where enslaved Africans gathered, drummed, danced and sang on Sundays in the 1800s - cultural traditions that morphed into the Mardi Gras, 2nd Line and Jazz traditions.
Faubourg Marigny: We’ll conclude our virtual tour of NOLA in the diverse, vibrant and artsy Marigny neighborhood, an off-beat area with a bohemian vibe, plenty of cajun bistros and Jazz Clubs (Frenchmen Street), street art everywhere, and one of the best brunches in town at the Ruby Slipper Cafe.
- Marie-Cecile J.
MC is a travel aficionada and a French woman who’s been calling NYC home for 20 years but would pick up and move to NOLA tomorrow if she could. We hope not, though, because she's the head of Sales & Licensing for SNAPS.