Life Travel One weekend in the USA’s biggest party town

One weekend in the USA’s biggest party town

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It’s been almost a decade since Hurricane Katrina, one of the most deadly tropical cyclones of all time, wreaked havoc on the city of New Orleans by triggering floods which wiped out almost everything in sight.

The colossal clean up took years and while the visible impact on the town may have evaporated, the presence of the natural disaster is still etched in locals’ memories.

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Swinging Bourbon Street.
Swinging Bourbon Street.

The resilient people of New Orleans rolled up their sleeves and embraced the rebuilding process, and today the birthplace of jazz has been restored to its vibrant and bustling old self.

What to eat

New Orleans is world famous for its cuisine and it’s hardly surprising when considering a rich and diverse history that has cultural influences of French, Spanish, African, Italian, and American.

A Po’ boy is a good starting point and there’s one on the menu of practically every restaurant around. What is it I hear you ask? A Po’ boy is basically a huge submarine-style sandwich packed with fillings.

The iconic po boy.
The iconic po boy.

One of the most popular varieties is stuffed with fried shrimp and “dressed” with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonaise; while another favourite is roast beef smothered in gravy.

Another New Orleans sandwich staple is the Muffuletta, which is similar to a focaccia and includes layers of mortadella, ham, salami, mozzarella, provalone, and marinated olive salad.

The sandwich dates back to 1906 when it was invented by Italian immigrants at Central Grocery in the heart of the French Quarter.

Central Grocery's muffaletta sandwich.
Central Grocery’s muffaletta sandwich.

If you’re in the mood for something a little fancier take a trip to hip restaurant Cochon, which serves up Cajun Southern dishes like signature wood-fired oysters, smoked pork ribs, and crawfish gumbo.

And all that jazz

Embrace the birthplace of jazz and wander the streets and listen to a busker or take in one of the many nightspots. In bustling Frenchmen Street, there’s a dozen or so bars where in many instances you can score free gigs of amazing quality.

Some popular jazz bars on the strip include Snug Harbor, Spotted Cat, and The Blue Nile Nightclub.

For traditional jazz and a memorable experience, look no further than Preservation Hall, a nightly attraction in the French Quarter that showcases the Preservation Jazz Band.

The buzzing Blue Nile.
The buzzing Blue Nile.

The Preservation Hall gigs, which run three times a night and cost about $15, involve hour-long performances in an intimate hall that has no bar and no air-conditioning but plenty of atmosphere.

The French connection

The French Quarter is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans and where most tourists stay. It’s a charming spot dotted with historic buildings and idyllic streets.

All sights are within easy walking distance so meander along the streets and take in attractions such as public park Jackson Square, the scores of art galleries on Royal Street, or the St Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the US, originally built in 1724.

For something a little quirkier in the French Quarter take a tour of the Pharmacy Museum, the site of America’s first licensed pharmacist which contains old love potions and surgical equipment dating back to the early 1800s.

The most well-known of the French Quarter streets, Bourbon Street, has today morphed into a mix of New Year’s Eve crossed with schoolies week on the Gold Coast. If wild drinking, strip clubs, and cringe-worthy karaoke is you’re thing then hop aboard.

If taking a ride on the string of romantic horse carriages doesn’t take your fancy then another avenue to explore New Orleans is on two wheels and the Confederacy of Cruisers bike tour company is a good starting point.

St Louis Cathedral.
St Louis Cathedral.

Perhaps New Orleans’ annual attraction is Mardi Gras, a colourful celebration which starts on January 6 and is a traditional variation of of preparing for the start of the Catholic season of Lent.

The carnival season includes parades, masquerade balls, and elaborate costumes and floats.

If you’re not lucky enough to be in town when Mardi Gras is on, try the next best thing at visit Mardis Gras World, which offers a behind the scenes look at what it takes to bring the event to life each year.

Mardi Gras in full swing.

Where to stay

On Royal Street, beautiful Victorian hotel The Cornstalk is equally as famous as a tourist attraction as it is a hotel.

Many people stop to take photos of the cornstalk fence which was erected

in 1840 by the owner who legend has it wanted to ease his new bride’s homesickness for her home state of Iowa by putting in a fence that looked like a row of cornstalks.

The Cornstalk features grand rooms with crystal chandeliers and a

The Cornstalk.
The Cornstalk.

shared balcony that overlooks Royal Street.
The hotel boasts attracting many famous clientele, among them the king himself, Elvis, and former president Bill Clinton.

Another famous French Quarter hotel is Hotel Maison de Ville, a historic building where playwright Tenessee Williams stayed frequently in the 20th century.

His most famous play was of course, A Streetcar Named Desire, set in New Orleans.

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet New Orleans. Buy it here.

new-orleansLonely Planet New Orleans is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. March with a brass band through the French Quarter, eat everything from jambalaya to beignets, or take a walking tour past the Garden District's plantation-style mansions; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of New Orleans and begin your journey now!

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