I have to tell you; I had a marvellous time in New Orleans! Have you ever been? I hadn’t, and it’s really like nowhere else I’ve ever been. In certain spots, it’s like you’re wandering around the streets of Paris, only everything has been magically bathed in tropical colours, and the people are suddenly entirely relaxed. You feel like you’re in the South with a capital’ S’ in other neighbourhoods. Still, other parts seemed not terribly unlike places we’re used to in DC and Maryland. And it’s all washed over with this incredible attitude of savoir-faire and charm—absolutely unique flavour. I was wild about it. If you’d like to have a glimpse of what to do in New Orleans keep on reading what I experienced in my trip, organised by my boyfriend.
What to do in New Orleans: Day 1
Cafe, parades and delicious dinner
At arrival, we dropped our bags at our lovely little hotel and went straight for beignets at Cafe Beignet, which were ridiculously fabulous. Beignets beat the pants of doughnuts because of their crunchiness, in my opinion. It’s like the best funnel cake ever for breakfast.
We ate them outside in Music Legends Park (where they have live music, even at 10 am…), and having just left 12°, New York, we could not get over how warm it was! I mean, we were sweating, but it felt so great. For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered around the French Quarter listening to street musicians, having gumbo at Coop’s Place, wandering through the French Market, eating deep-fried peanuts, walking along the Mississippi, and having Sazeracs at Napoleon House.
We woke up very early, so at check-in time, 4 pm, we took a nap courtesy of air travel and several Sazeracs. I was crazy about our hotel, the Place d’Armes, which was in an incredible location in the French Quarter and had a courtyard that knocked my socks off every time we came and went. Straight out of Tennessee Williams!
Now, I’m sure this will not surprise most, but I (with my mid-Atlantic-centric knowledge base) was not aware that Mardi Gras is a season. I thought it was just a day. Not so! On our first day, there were three parades, so we went to Canal Street and caught the last one. The whole shebang was with marching bands and floats and bead throwing and drinking in the streets. (Curiously, there was no flashing.) An incredible and unique experience.
After the parade we wandered into a cool little joint, The Three Muses, to hear some music and have dinner (mussels and feta fries and Abita’s), all of which were wonderful. Why have I never thought of FETA on FRIES? Delicious. During the band’s set, an incredible washboard player, Washboard Chaz, quite literally wandered in off the street and began playing with them. Very impressive.
What to do in New Orleans: Day 2
Steamboat, po’boys and Degas House
The following day we took a ride on the Steamboat Natchez. I love boats – I find them exhilarating – cruising along and having some truly exceptional, award-winning Bloody Marys. All of the Bloody Marys I had in New Orleans were amazing (and believe me, it was no small number). The pickled okra and green beans instead of celery. Genius!
After the boat, it was officially Po’ Boy Time, so we went to Parkway, where we shared a truly incredible fried shrimp po’boy and more Abitas. Out-of-control delicious. Highly recommended – sit at the bar to avoid the massive line. Be still my heart; that was amazing.
We explored the Mid-City neighbourhood the whole afternoon, looking at the gorgeous houses on Esplanade and eventually popping in to look around the Degas House. There’s a print of his there, and as you’re looking at you, you realise it’s a painting of the room you’re standing in!
What to do in New Orleans: Day 3
Lunch, shopping and Frenchman Street
Monday was very special. We took the streetcar to lunch at Commander’s Palace, which was marvellous from top to bottom. The level of service and the warmth and sweetness of the staff was something. And the place is beautiful. Turtle soup, shrimp and sherry bisque, shrimp and grits, strawberry shortcake, and bread pudding soufflé with WHISKEY CREAM SAUCE were all consumed; each course was more delicious than the last. And get this: for lunch, they do $.25 martinis! It was a meal, and an afternoon I shall never forget.
We strolled around the Garden District after lunch. It was pretty different from expected – on a very human scale like all of New Orleans. How sweet are these painted-on window boxes? Charm for days.
We stopped into a beautiful little furniture store, Nadeau, and I bought a jewellery chest for myself as a souvenir. I was wild for their stuff – lovely mirrors and chests and tables in brilliant colours and super affordable. It turns out they also have a location in New York! I plan to look them up in the Village at my first opportunity.
That evening we went to Liuzza’s By The Tracks for gumbo and oyster po’boys and then hung out again on Frenchman Street and heard more New Orleans jazz at The Spotted Cat and the very marvellous Maison. You honestly can’t go wrong on Frenchman Street. Ended the evening with a nightcap at Perestroika at Pravda.
What to do in New Orleans: Final day
Bike ride and music
On our last morning, we finally hit up Cafe Du Monde. The coffee was fantastic, but, for my money, the beignets at Cafe Beignet have a slight edge – it’s the crunchiness! We decided to check out Audubon Park. From the French Quarter, it was about an hour bike ride through the CBD and Garden District, all flat as a pancake and lovely, and we even passed Terpsichore Street; thank you so much. We rode around the park and then took a different route back that was just as nice. Given that we had just biked for three hours, we thought it only fair that we should check out the Court of Two Sisters for their Jazz Brunch. Great food, really exceptional setting, and service from another time. Loved it.
The rest of the day was all about music, and all of it was fantastic. The quality and quantity of music in New Orleans are just unbelievable! We caught the show at Preservation Hall, then saw the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar, which was super crowded with students and tourists, ESPN people and pro football players and us. It was crazy, but like nothing I’ve heard before—a night must-see.
And then, alas, bright and early the following day (well, not so bright – it was still decidedly dark when we left), it was time to catch our flight home.
It was a spectacular trip – one I will never, ever forget. The food, the music, the attitude, and, most importantly, the company were all superb. I feel so grateful to my wonderful boyfriend for planning such a trip (and to the universe for giving me said, wonderful boyfriend). If you are wondering what to do in New Orleans, I’d say a January trip might make a perfect annual winter getaway…