If you’re travelling the Southern State route, New Orleans is a must-stop destination. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Deep South, you could travel here along the Southern Route, or squeeze in New Orleans as a stopover on a longer trip in the US, as I did.
For me, this destination was all about the food. Whether you enjoy sweet or savoury flavours, there’s something for all tastes and when you combine that with its reputation as the birthplace of jazz, Creole vibes and the friendly locals – you’ve encountered a unique destination in the USA.
I spent 3 days in New Orleans during October when the weather is usually perfect; hot days and warms nights, with little rain. There are plenty of things to explore in New Orleans so you could easily spend a week here. Most people listen to some jazz, visit the Mississippi River, the beautiful cemeteries, discover the city’s haunted past, and visit the old colonial plantations houses to discover the history of the families, houses and the sad world of slavery which thrived in the USA. You could also check out the nearby swampland and even do a spot of crawfishing!
All these local and guided tours can be booked in advance by us if you’re on a tight schedule, or subject to availability if you want to book locally in the city.
We arrived in the evening and headed straight to the famous Bourbon Street in the heart the old French Quarter. Named for the French, Bourbon Street has a rich Creole history, known for its debauchery including drinking, gambling and prostitution – a lot of this is still visible today.
Although quieter during the day, at night this street is certainly intense; it’s filled with overpriced restaurants and bars and full on craziness - it was busy for all three nights we were stayed. I think the Americans have put their stamp a little too much on the street; there's a somewhat 'tacky' feel to the street these days. It’s certainly a must-visit street, but I definitely think New Orleans has more to offer.
I also wouldn’t recommend booking a hotel on Bourbon Street unless you plan to be awake all through the night and in bed all day. We chose to stay one street back from the action at the Holiday Inn which was quiet, but just a minutes’ walk from the mayhem.
There are some fantastic bars on the side streets off Bourbon Street that are worth a visit and where you’ll find superb jazz playing. ‘Happy Hour’ on these bars includes free bacon with every drink - not to be missed!
We started our first full day with true New Orleans grub. A ‘Po' boy’ followed by a beignet with an iced coffee. A ‘po boy’ (‘poor boy’) is traditional sandwich from Louisiana which usually has beef or fried seafood in it.
A ‘beignet’ is very similar to a donut (don’t even dare suggest it is one!). It’s a delicious treat covered in icing sugar. We queued for over an hour at from Café Du Monde (800 Decatur Street in the French Quarter) to get ours and don’t think this is a gimmick for tourists - we were standing next to a family from New Orleans who had come just for the treat.
Café Du Monde has other cafés in the CBD, but being beside the Mississippi River, surrounded by beautiful buildings makes the waiting more pleasant here.
Mac and Cheese is big here in the south, so where better to do a little sampling? Cochon Deli claims to have the best in the USA so we headed straight there. The mac and cheese was actually only a side order but every single person in the deli was eating it! This was the main dish for me so I had some duck sliders on the side - sliders are like mini portions of a meal so instead of having a big burger I had three mini burgers.
Their claim was indeed worthy; with a hint of Cajun spice the sauce was thick and creamy with a mixture of cheeses blended through. Perfect! My other half had a sandwich with more meat than I have ever seen and it was also a hit!
Cochon Deli is in the regenerated warehouse district which is full of quirky restaurants and bars along with art galleries and there is also a WW2 museum which is worth a wander round. Wandering around the area we discovered a number of bars offered great happy hour deals and were also full of locals, so this area is great for a pitstop if you want to be somewhere authentic which isn’t too kitsch.
As I mentioned, discovering NOLA’s haunted past is a must. We took a free walking tour of the French Quarter which was fascinating – it starts and ends by St Louis Cathedral and takes about 3 hours. The guides on these tours are paid by only by the tip you decide to leave and the lad doing our tour was so passionate about ghosts, you couldn’t possibly walk away and not believe him!
He explained the history of some local restaurants, hotels, converted churches and Nicholas Cage’s former home (whose ghostly past is used for the storyline of American Horror Story). Later on, we took another tour of the St Louis Cemetery No. 1 which again was really interesting. The Creole residents of New Orleans really respect the dead, so the stories connected to different tombs are so fascinating.
For our last night, we had been treated to a cooking class at Langlois in the French Quarter. The class was led by Chef Amy; an extremely successful southern chef who made us all relaxed and ensured we had a fantastic time. This evening was an absolute highlight in New Orleans.
We were shown how to make potato rostis (a shredded potato cake), gumbo (a traditional Louisianan stew) and pecan praline (the ultimate NOLA dessert recipe not to be messed with) - all delicacies of this area. The cooking was done in a big group with everyone pitching in and then eating our results!
We spent an enjoyable night meeting people from all over the US, before heading down to Frenchman Street for a spot of jazz.
My advice is to avoid the sweltering summer and hurricane season in July and August. I recommend staying anywhere in the French Quarter, rather than Downtown or on Bourbon street (which would be too noisy for most people). If you're visiting New Orleans as part of a road trip, we can arrange car or campervan hire so you can make your own way around.
If you’d like to include New Orleans in your trip, or perhaps as part of a larger tailor-made holiday, I can help. I can recommend flights and help book some food tours as well as places to stay and local transport. Just contact Rowena to start planning your USA trip.