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New Orleans Culture

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New Orleans Culture
People come to the Crescent City for its festivals, food, and endless music, but New Orleans 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 city's Contemporary Arts Center is a hub for experimental and multidisciplinary art. Just across the street, at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, you’ll find Clementine Hunter's plantation paintings and Gina Phillips’s quilted tapestries. The National WWII Museum fills three buildings with stories and artifacts 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 Picasso 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 music, because you can’t. Venues are everywhere and run the gamut from sophisticated lounges—like trumpeter Jeremy Davenport's namesake 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. Stop by the Louisiana Music Factory to sample local sounds on the listening stations (and pick up a CD or three while you're there), and then set off up the street, visiting clubs like D.B.A., Three Muses, and Snug Harbor. You can also hear traditional jazz nightly at Preservation Hall, which opened in 1961. For a chance to to immerse yourself in music for two consecutive weekends, plan a trip around Jazz Fest, officially known as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This annual celebration showcases jazz (naturally), but doesn’t ignore blues, R&B, folk, bluegrass, rap, rock, and country music.
    Photo by Chuck Pefley/age fotostock
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    Partying Beyond Mardi Gras
    When it comes to dancing in the street, Mardi Gras gets all the glory. There's a good reason for that: The celebration—which starts on January 6 and peaks on Mardi Gras day (40 days before Easter) is filled with parades and parties, beads and booze. Tourists cram Canal Street and downtown neighborhoods; head farther afield toward the parade's start for a different, more family-focused vibe. Can't make Mardi Gras? Pretty much every weekend (outside deepest summer) has something going on. The multiday 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 on-screen and to meet the filmmakers. Come hungry to the Boudin, Bourbon & Beer festival to share a bounty of good food and drink with the likes of cochairs Emeril Lagasse and Donald Link, and Mario Batali, all of whom recently cochaired 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’s green spaces are varied and diverse. On one end of the spectrum there’s City Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Trails, gardens, sculptures, and a coffeehouse with great beignets may be found within its 1,300 acres, not to mention the world's largest grove of mature live oaks. Meanwhile, Jackson Square welcomes artists and performers into a city-block-size park in the French Quarter. Crescent Park is the newest addition, bringing life to an old rail line along former warehouse space fronting the Mississippi. Further uptown, locals walk, jog, and cycle through Audubon Park, and visitors and residents alike enjoy trips 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 worth seeking out. Faubourg Marigny, which borders the French Quarter, is most celebrated for its stretch of bars on Frenchmen Street, but its thoroughfares are filled with eclectic Creole architecture from the early and middle 19th century. Further downriver is the city’s coolest neighborhood, Bywater, which has been attracting artists, entrepreneurs, yogis, and hipsters. Uptown is home to the Loyola and Tulane campuses, as well as Audubon Park.
    Photo by Nikhilesh Haval/age fotostock
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    What Are You Drinking?
    New Orleans knows how to drink. It's a city where there's no shame in day drinking, and there are whole classes of breakfast cocktails unfamiliar to those who dwell outside city limits. 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 impresario 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 (and a good selection of whiskeys by the shot), 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's cemeteries are a notable part of the city's cultural landscape. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 the oldest and most famous (and, since 2015, may be visited only on a paid tour). Established in 1789 on the edge of the French Quarter, it’s home to what is widely thought to be 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 nonprofit 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. A sound first stop is the Preservation Resource Center, where you can pick up pamphlets and books that explain what you're seeing. Walk around the French Quarter for an introduction to Creole cottages and pre–Civil War town houses with their wrought- and cast-iron balconies. Hop on a streetcar and admire the mansions that line St. Charles Avenue, then wander along the side streets to peek at the distinctive shotgun houses and double-gallery homes dotted throughout the city. In the Garden District, center-hall cottages—the urban counterparts of French-colonial plantations—line many of the shady sidewalks.
    Photo by Terrance Klassen/age fotostock
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    Shopping the Crescent
    New Orleans is more geared toward experiences than things—don't expect to find a Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive. But stores filled with items you won't find elsewhere are found just about everywhere. In the French Quarter, stop by Fifi Mahony's for amazing wigs; this is the sort of shop that fuels Mardi Gras. And speaking of which, in the Marigny you can stock up on gimcrackery of the sort thrown from floats at yard-sale-like Mardi Gras Zone. For CDs, swing by Louisiana Music Factory, and for great local T-shirts, make a beeline for Dirty Coast. Is the sun wearing you down? Then hurry to Meyer the Hatter, a retailer that somewhere, possibly way in the back, carries the fedora of your dreams.
    Photo by age fotostock