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.
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.
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...
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!
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!