Big Easy Culture

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Big Easy Culture
People come to the Big Easy for its festivals, food, and fun-loving attitude, but the city has much more to offer: from world-class museums to one of the largest urban parks in the United States.
By Geraldine Campbell, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    Art, Sculpture, and Mardi Gras Museums
    The Contemporary Arts Center is a hub for experimental, multi-disciplinary art. At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art you’ll find Clementine Hunter's plantation paintings and Gina Phillips’ quilted tapestries. The National WWII Museum fills three buildings with stories of the war. You can ogle Mardi Gras floats at Mardi Gras World, or browse the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, housed within a former apothecary. The sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art—with its towering oaks, pine groves, and magnolias—is as much a masterpiece as the works of Degas, Magritte, and Monet displayed inside.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    Where to Get Jazzed in New Orleans
    You won’t leave New Orleans without hearing jazz, because you can’t. Jazz venues are everywhere and run the gamut from sophisticated lounges—like trumpeter Jeremy Davenport's eponymous salon at the Ritz-Carlton—to dives like the Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchmen Street, where swing-dancing locals defy the bar’s small size. You’ll hear jazz nightly at Preservation Hall, which opened in 1961, and for two consecutive weekends during Jazz Fest, which is officially known as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This annual celebration showcases jazz (naturally), but doesn’t forget blues, R&B, folk, bluegrass, rap, rock, and country music. Most shows occur at the Fair Grounds racetrack, but special performances are held throughout the city.
    Photo by Chuck Pefley/age fotostock
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    Partying Beyond Mardi Gras
    When it comes to festivals, Mardi Gras gets all the glory. There's a reason for that: The weeklong celebration is non-stop action, with parades, parties, beads, and booze. But smaller celebrations may be even more fun. The multi-day Voodoo Music + Arts Experience has featured such acts as Rebirth Brass Band and Pearl Jam. The Satchmo Summerfest is a memorable tribute to native son Louis Armstrong. Arrive during the New Orleans Film Festival to catch scenes of the city onscreen and meet the filmmakers. Come hungry to the Boudin and Beer Fest to share good food and drink with the likes of Emeril Lagasse, Donald Link, and Mario Batali, all of whom recently co-chaired the third annual event and added bourbon to the bounty celebrated here.
    Photo by Michel Uyttebrioeck/age fotostock
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    The Green Easy
    New Orleans’ green spaces are varied and diverse. On one end of the spectrum there’s City Park, among the largest urban parks in the United States. Trails, gardens, sculptures, and recreation facilities (including an 18-hole golf course and a mini-golf course) live within its 1,300 acres, but most come to see the world's oldest grove of mature live oaks. Meanwhile, Jackson Square welcomes artists and performers into one city-block-sized park in the French Quarter. In Uptown, locals walk, jog, and cycle through Audubon Park, and visitors and residents alike enjoy visits to the Audubon Zoo.
    Photo by Dorling Kindersley/age fotostock
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    A New New Orleans
    The French Quarter, the Central Business District, the Garden District—these New Orleans neighborhoods are well-known, and they boast the largest concentration of hotels, restaurants, and bars. But the city’s other neighborhoods are also delights, especially for repeat visitors. Faubourg Marigny, which borders the French Quarter, is best known for the stretch of bars on Frenchmen Street, an alternative to Bourbon Street. Just beyond is the city’s hippest neighborhood, the Bywater, where you'll meet artists, entrepreneurs, and yogis. Uptown is home to the Loyola and Tulane campuses, as well as Audubon Park. And Mid-City is worth a trip just for two iconic New Orleans restaurants: Dooky Chase’s and Willie Mae's Scotch House.
    Photo by Nikhilesh Haval/age fotostock
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    What Are You Drinking?
    New Orleans knows how to drink. No matter the occasion, you’ll find a place that serves your beverage of choice. Rum connoisseurs should try Cane & Table, a proto-tiki bar from cocktail guru Neal Bodenheimer. On Rampart Street, Bar Tonique is part dive, part craft cocktail joint, mixing classic Sazeracs and Vieux Carrés along with sours, slings, possets, and punches. Loa, the bar at the International House Hotel, serves seasonal concoctions by mixologist Alan Walter to a glamorous clientele. And for draft beers with a side of live music, check out what’s on tap at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Not a Tour for the Fainthearted
    New Orleans' cemeteries are part of the city's cultural as well as geographical landscape. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest and most famous. Established in 1789 on the edge of the French Quarter, it’s home to the tomb of Marie Laveau, a free woman of color who earned a reputation as the city's most powerful voodoo queen in the 19th century. Her tomb is littered with tributes— money, alcohol, candy—from visitors hoping the queen will grant their wishes from beyond the grave. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, located in the Garden District, has appeared in movies such as Interview with a Vampire and Double Jeopardy. Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit dedicated to cemetery restoration and preservation, runs tours of both.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Creole Cottages and Greek Revivals
    You don't need to wander far to examine diverse architecture in New Orleans. Walk around the French Quarter for an introduction to Creole cottages and pre-Civil War townhouses with their wrought iron balconies. Hop on a streetcar and admire the antebellum mansions that line St. Charles Avenue, then wander along the side streets to peek at the tiny “shotgun houses” that are tucked throughout the city. In the Garden District, center-hall and double-gallery homes—the urban counterparts of French Colonial plantations—spread sumptuously out along the sidewalks.
    Photo by Terrance Klassen/age fotostock
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    Amusements in the French Quarter
    If it’s your first time in New Orleans, you’ll stay occupied for days in the French Quarter. The compact neighborhood packs in architecture and antiques, boutiques and bars, parks and museums. Walk down boozy Bourbon Street and look beyond the seedy clubs to find the city's most iconic restaurants. Get your palm read or consult the tarot cards at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, then watch street artists perform in Jackson Square. Beignets and a café au lait from Café du Monde are essential treats before visiting some of the Quarter's more obscure corners, like the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which is stocked with old tincture bottles, surgical instruments, and a container of leeches.
    Photo by age fotostock