If you're a first-time visitor to New Orleans, chances are you'll spend the majority of your time in the French Quarter. The compact, pedestrian-friendly zone packs in architecture and antique shops, boutiques and bars, green spaces and hidden museums. A walk down boozy Bourbon Street is a must and, between the seedy clubs, you'll find some of the city's most iconic restaurants, plus Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo, where you can get a palm or tarot reading. On Royal and Chartres Street, ogle crystal chandeliers, period jewelry, and gold-accented tea sets, and watch the street artists outside Jackson Square. Beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde are essential and a good pick-me-up before hitting some of the Quarter's less known charms, like the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which is full of old tincture bottles, surgical instruments, and a container of leeches.
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See Creole Cottages and Greek Revivals
You don't need to work hard to explore New Orleans' diverse architecture. Take a walk around the French Quarter and you'll see Creole cottages and pre-Civil War townhouses with wrought iron balconies. Hop on a street car and take in the antebellum mansions that line St. Charles Avenue, then wander along the side streets to catch examples of shotgun homes that can be found throughout the city. In the Garden District, you can find urban versions of French Colonial plantations (known as Centerhall houses) and double gallery homes (similar to townhouses, but with deeper porches and more space between the house and the sidewalk). Lace up your most comfortable shoes and get walking...
Ben suggests that visitors who want to explore the neighborhood he calls home begin by hopping on a bike. “One of my favorite things to do in New Orleans is ride through the French Quarter. You can take in all the sights, and sounds too, of course, in a way you don’t experience the city when you are inside a car. Chartres is one of my favorite streets. As you pedal through the French Quarter, the music from the bars spills into the streets as does the smell of New Orleans cuisine. You can follow it the whole way through Marigny and Bywater.” Here, there are several bike rental shops ready to set you on your way—laissez les bon temps roulez will take on a whole new meaning as you pedal your way through the neighborhood. —Ben Jaffe
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Find the Ghosts of New Orleans' Past
Stories of ghosts, vampires, and voodoo queens in the French Quarter of New Orleans abound, and many tour operators in the Crescent City offer walking tours of the haunted places. The stories stem from New Orleans' very real horrific past (the slave trade, floods, disease epidemics, the Civil War, barbaric medical practices) and the sometimes creepy buildings that bore witness to this history. You may not see any signs of paranormal activity on your tour, but it's easy to let your imagination run wild while you explore the centuries-old back streets on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Getting lost in the French Quarters of New Orleans, I came across this beautiful building. It was interesting to me because it looks very much like I could have been in France, when in fact I'm in the Big Easy.
New Orleans knows how to put on a party! It is fun any time of the year, but no time is more special than the annual Mardi Gras celebration. At this time of the year, the wonderful wrought iron balconies of the French Quarter are creatively decorated with the colors of Mardi Gras...purple, green and gold. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. There are many terrific parades in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day, and it is truly a party for all ages. You can spend days taking in all of the city's traditions. 2013 promises to be even more festive as New Orleans hosts the SuperBowl during the Mardi Gras celebration.
In the days leading up to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in New Orleans, there are many wonderful parades. The floats are very colorful and elaborate, and the Krewes that stage the parades work hard to create their own unique identity in the celebration of Mardi Gras. The trinkets known as "throws" fly fast and furious from the parade floats. Here two Krewe members get ready to toss their "throws" to the anxious crowd.
One of the great traditions of Mardi Gras is the parade, and with parades come the famous "throws." Here a colorful Krewe members gets ready to toss some traditional beads to the screaming crowd! Catching the beads is a competitive sport!
EAT New Orleans is one of best breakfast places in the French Quarter. The food is fresh and local, the portions are enormous, and the quality is outstanding. They also have a great location on a corner so diners can sit in the window while watching the foot traffic pass them by.
Celebrating in NOLA? The best part is drinking on the street. Come prepared with plastic cups and water bottles to tote drinks around the Quarter for the times when the smoke is too thick or the people are too handsy in a bar. Or when the mood strikes and you need, you really neeed, to be drinking and dancing to a brass band in St. Joseph's Square. No really, though—it's allowed.
Jazz musicians aren't the only ones you'll find playing on the streets of New Orleans. This folk/gypsy/klezmer group serenaded food and wine lovers at the Royal Street Stroll, the opening night event of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.
Though we would argue there is no bad time to visit New Orleans, the city comes to life (or rather death) quite perfectly during the month of October. A trip together some years ago culminated in an Oktoberfest celebration at the beginning of the month when temps were still cozy enough for shorts and a T-shirt. Back in 2012, we returned to experience Halloween week. And what a week it was! While other cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York) offer large costumed street fairs, none of them do it with as much piquancy as New Orleans. Sure, you’re bound to see a bunch of guys walking around sans pants, but you can see that anywhere! What makes Halloween in New Orleans so special are the impromptu big band parades and cumulative drumming circles that erupt at street intersections when you least expect them! (Set of Drifters tip: NOLA residents go all out with their holiday displays. Make sure to spend one evening simply walking the Quarter to photograph the inventive hauntings.) We loved the rowdy dance stomping over in the Marigny after midnight, though still cite the poignant memorial service over at Voodoo Authentica as our favorite memory from the trip. Where else but in New Orleans can you so effortlessly touch down on, and be welcomed into, a world that you never thought you’d cross paths with? In New Orleans, October also plays host to the increasingly-popular Voodoo Music + Arts Experience and the annual New Orleans Witches Ball! Don't forget your broom!
This photo was taken somewhere near Bourbon Street. I learned that in this neighborhood, it is a luxury to find a quiet moment to admire the architecture. If you are lucky enough, you'll feel as if you were in the South of France or Spain once again. But quickly snap out of it because being in New Orleans is the essence of savoir-vivre. You are in the mixed in with the fusion of the world's most fascinating and unique cultures.