If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent your lockdown dreaming of the places that you’ve visited that really left an impression. Those city streets which burrowed their way into your subconscious and stubbornly refused to budge through the strangest spring a lot of us have ever known. For me, that place is New Orleans. I visited for my birthday last September and there isn’t a day that passes without me checking in with some of the many Instagram accounts I’ve found the document the life of this unique American city. Somehow New Orleans got under my skin, like many visitors before and I know someday, when all this Corona craziness is over, I have to go back.
So why should you visit New Orleans? I can’t tell you that, only share my experience. No top 10 things to visit in New Orleans here. Just a few impressions of the city that truly makes you want to appreciate what you’ve got and live for the moment.
New Orleans means music to me, a heartbeat threading its way through life and death in the city. From second lines to jazz bars on Frenchman Street, open mic nights to brass bands, you can’t come to New Orleans without taking a deep dive into musical history. From the legendary Louis Armstrong to the Hot 8 Brass Band, if music has the power to lift you up and sooth your soul, there’s no better place to experience it than NOLA.
You don’t have to visit at Mardi Gras time to come across a parade or festival in the city. Halloween, jazz festivals, celebrating fried chicken – any excuse for a party in the Crescent City. If you can dress up, even better. There’s a fascinating history behing Mardi Gras and the carnival krewes in New Orleans, which you can read more about here. And yes, more than once this year those Instagram accounts from locals have made me wish I could pack up and spend some time living there.
New Orleans is flat as a pancake, which makes walking in that soupy air a little easier. But charming as the French Quarter is, there’s plenty to see around the city. Take a streetcar out to the Garden District, wander the quirky shops and bars along Magazine Street or spot a whole host of gorgeous shotgun houses in every colour imaginable.
New Orleans also has (what I think) is one of the most interesting histories of any city in the US. French, Spanish and African-American influences blend to give a heritage rich in traditions. February is Black History Month and this piece from GoNola has some excellent suggestions about where to find out more. If you’re going to visit one of the plantation houses on the River Road outside the city, do your research first. We visited Oak Alley and while the trees are beautiful, the tour seemed to whitewash the real experience of being enslaved on a plantation. If I had the chance to go back and change my visit, I would have visited the Whitney Plantation instead, the only plantation which focuses on first-hand experiences of slaves.
I feel like there’s so much more still to experience in New Orleans.. it might not be a city full of big tourist attractions but the atmosphere, food and music are enough to keep me coming back for more.