Beyond Mardi Gras
New Orleans offers a heap of culture outside of its annual carnival festivities.
People have celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans since the mid-1800s, and every year revelers line the streets of the city to watch the elaborately decorated floats while donning masks, costumes and, of course, beads. But the holiday reflects only a fraction of those who come to the Crescent City the rest of the year. Why? Because New Orleans has so much more to offer.
In 2016, the Big Easy welcomed 10.45 million visitors, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, which projected to see 13.7 million people come to the city in 2018 to help celebrate New Orleans’ 300th anniversary.
Many people think New Orleans is just about the French Quarter’s famous party thoroughfare Bourbon Street, where you can hit any number of bars while drinking Hurricanes in plastic cups and party in the street. But leave Rue Bourbon and you’ll discover a wealth of culture across the city the rest of the year.
First, head to the Marigny neighborhood just east of the French Quarter and check out Frenchmen Street. Here, you’ll find true New Orleans flavors: live brass bands, Creole cooking and street artists vying for your attention. From there, your options abound. Here are eight things to do in and around New Orleans where you can truly get a taste and feel for the culture of this regal Southern city.
Go to Jazz Fest
If you enjoy a variety of music from rock to hip-hop to jazz to Zydeco and more, you must hit Jazz Fest—and 2019 marks its 50th anniversary.
Ride a Streetcar
The city has three lines—St. Charles, Canal Street and the Riverfront—allowing you to see the city in a whole new light from historic seats.
Do a Swamp Tour
If you’ve always wanted to get up close and personal to some alligators, there’s no better way. And yes, you may get to feed one a marshmallow.
Do a Cemetery Tour or Visit with Ghosts
As all cemeteries are built above ground, you’ll see centuries-old tombs from old New Orleans families in literal Cities of the Dead. Or, as New Orleans is reported to be the most-haunted U.S. city, you can make contact with some ghosts on a tour of the French Quarter. Don’t be surprised if you’re visited by ghosts in some hotels, like Hotel Monteleone and the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.
Drink $0.25 Martinis at Commander’s Palace
Visit the elegant Creole restaurant in the heart of the Garden District for lunch weekdays, order an entre and enjoy $0.25 martinis (limit three). That may be the best deal in town. Afterward, pop into Lafayette Cemetery across the street, then stroll the charming neighborhood and soak in its culture on Magazine Street.
New Orleans is known for its cuisine so make reservations at places like Peche, Cochon, Brigsten’s, Acme Oyster House, Compere Lapin, Galatoire’s, Clancy’s, Brennan’s, Willa Jean’s, Arnaud’s and more. Want a real treat? Head to Tremé and stop by Dooky Chase’s (for lunch Tuesday through Friday) or Willie Mae’s Scotch House for a true taste of New Orleans fare.
Join a Second Line Parade in Treme
One minute you’re walking down the street, the next you turn a corner and happen upon a lively second line with brass musicians, ladies twirling parasols and revelers dancing in the street. Definitely join in the fun.
Eat Beignets at Café Du Monde
Yes, it may be super touristy, but if you don’t inhale powdered sugar while eating these light, fluffy fried delicacies and sipping a chicory coffee, have you really visited New Orleans?