48-hours in New Orleans
By Helen Wright
As an out-and-proud lover of all things USA (chilli dogs, Baseball, Victoria’s Secret…), I am often asked my favourite place to go in the States. With so many amazing options it’s impossible to pick just one but there is a certain city that always pops into my head… New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz, Poker and Tabasco feels like one giant party that started and never quite wound down. But oddly enough, from our first day exploring the picturesque French Quarter we were repeatedly asked why three Brits from London had chosen this destination for our ‘vacation’.
With no direct flights from the UK and most connections in Atlanta or Chicago, it’s not a top choice for UK visitors with partygoers mostly opting for Las Vegas or Miami and culture vultures heading to Boston or similar. But for a small city in the deep south, New Orleans gets massive A for effort – in less than 100km2 it has more historic districts than any other US city, as well as being one of the few that really never sleeps.
I think with Brits becoming more adventurous and wanting to explore further than the package holidays allow for, this beautiful and boozy hotspot should be top of the list.
Eat, Drink, Party. Repeat.
Itinerary: 48-hours in New Orleans.
Most first-time visitors start off in the French Quarter, which is a pretty good place to get a feel for the town. Start at 334 Royal Street, the Old Bank of Louisiana, one of the oldest buildings in the area and walk east toward Orleans Avenue. Take in the beautiful Louisiana architecture – a mix of French Colonial, Spanish and creole, most with intricate wrought iron balconies, historical buildings and diverse shops, bars and cafes. This, from the tourist board, proved a handy guide to exploring on foot.
4pm: Mix with the locals
You won’t be in town long before someone thrusts a drink into your hand but before you start on the lethal, bright green’ Hurricane’ cocktails, opt for a short one on Frenchmen Street. With Bourbon Street being the party hub of the French Quarter, the lesser known Frenchman Street is often named the ‘Locals’ Bourbon Street’ with quirky jazz bars, cheap shots and freshly cooked creole grub. Stop off at the Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen Street), a quirky Orleans institution with live music from the early evening playing anything from old school jazz to alternative rock.
6pm: Spooky goings on
Marie Laveau, Louisiana’s most famous Voodoo Queen was said to have brought Voodoo to New Orleans in the 19th Century and it’s still a large source of curiosity for visitors today. But as well as this ancient practice, the city is also synonymous with an array of ghost stories, most linked with the stories of African slaves which were brought in during the 18th century. Our favourite is the story of the LaLaurie mansion (1140 Royal Street) – which was recently bought and promptly sold again by actor Nicholas Cage (hmm…) Don’t Google too much. It’s much better to hear the story whilst standing in the shadow of the imposing building itself. We opted for the Haunted History tour – a kind-of bar crawl with ghost stories that encourage you to get more hysteric at every stop. A good mix of historic area history, artful storytelling (including that of Delphine LaLaurie *shudder*) and other spooky encounters. If you don’t have much time in town, this is a great way to combine a bit of New Orleans’ ghostly folklore with a decent tour of the French Quarter which is easily walkable for those of all ages.
NOLA. (534 St. Louis Street) There is a reason this restaurant always tops the list for the best places to eat in New Orleans. Tourists and locals alike go for the relaxed atmosphere, unique cocktails and fine-crafted foods with an affordable price tag. Owned by funky chef, Emeril Lagasse (he has a more upscale eatery in the Warehouse District), the menu is spiced with tasty creole and southern dishes certain to suit every taste. The Chicken and Sausage Gumbo and ‘Miss Hays’ stuffed chicken wings were enough to win us over. Two courses for two people with wine, approximately £40 ($60)
Bourbon Street. Anywhere. Seriously, every bar (even the strip ones), restaurant and street corner has a band playing. Drinks are plentiful and there are no laws about alcohol on the street so feel free to take your drink from bar to bar. I best describe Bourbon Street as a dive-bar-Vegas with no cameras and no rules. It’s not *exactly* like that but that’s the general feeling and it’s fun! The drink-du-jour, every day, is the potent Hurricane cocktail, a heady mix of rum, fruit juice and grenadine. One is probably enough, although like us you’ll probably end up on your tenth at 4am and wonder what your name is. Good luck!
Broussard’s Jazz Brunch (Sunday 10:30-2pm, standard a-la-carte menu Monday-Saturday).
After a night on Bourbon Street you need a breakfast with a kick and this heavy-hitter will boot you into next week! Old-school Creole creations like Eggs Sardou – poached eggs, artichoke bottoms, creamed spinach and Hollandaise – as well as the usual Eggs Benedict, steak and eggs and barbecued shrimp-and-grits. We’re still not completely sold on grits… but each to their own. Live music makes it an authentic New Orleans experience but you’ll need to resist the urge to stay all day. Oh and the best bit, $12 bottomless mimosas. I did warn you this city never sleeps!
Walk off the fizz with a browse around Magazine street. A cute area of quaint local cafes and vintage shops. Stock changes daily so no store is better than the next. Best to just pop down and see for yourself. As well as vintage finds, including homewards, records, art and fashion, many stores also celebrate local artists and designers so it’s the spot for unique souvenirs and gifts. A famous stop on route is The Revival Outpost, a favourite for local celebrities and fashion bloggers.
3pm: Celebrity Spotting
New Orleans is occasionally branded the ‘Hollywood’ of the South but the celebrities who own homes here (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Matthew McConaughey to name a few) are much closer to the action than they are behind their gated homes in LA. In fact, once you’ve been there you’ve probably walked past one of their houses as you roam around. We were feeling cheeky so we gave 521 Governor Nicholls Street a quick knock, but sadly, Brad, Ange and the brood weren’t home…
If you want to know where to eat in New Orleans, some could argue that anywhere that serves food, serves good food. I had more great meals in N.O. than anywhere else in the USA and I don’t say this lightly. Maybe we were lucky as most ‘proper food bloggers’ tend to go with the line that you can’t eat well in the French Quarter but as a normal, non-snobby person who likes food I’m going to go against that. Have a walk and follow your instinct, it worked for us. For a special occasion get a reservation at Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon Street) – it’s not cheap but it’s been locally owned since 1905 and what they do, they do well. There are all kinds of oysters on offer, have a mixed-plate or go for our favourites – the cajun-grilled. The restaurant is noisy and vibrant and a good place for fine dining that still manages to encapsulate the addictive Bourbon Street buzz. Two courses for two people with wine, £90 ($130)
9pm: Rock and Bowl
In order to give our proper stamp of approval, we like to go off the beaten track and get a real feel for a place. Nowhere captured the soul of Louisiana more than out-of-town bowling alley Mid City Bowling Lanes (3000 South Carrollton Avenue), the home of the ‘Rock ‘n’ Bowl’. It’s off the beaten track (so far off, the cab driver didn’t know where it was) but curious Brits looking for a glimpse of Americana will be literally bowed over. The old fashioned score-sheet-and-pencil bowling alley plays second place to the shiny wooden dance floor where guests of all ages dance to Cajun two-step, Swing and Rockabilly tunes played by a live band. Its fabulously camp owner, John Blancher, can often be seen dancing joyfully on the bar. As soon as the party veteran spotted me (an obvious out-of-towner) bopping on the sidelines, he dragged me onto the floor for a Jive lesson. Later, hula hoops were rolled out for people to play with and no-one was having a bad time.
For a old-fashioned taste of the south ride the St Charles Line Streetcar. 13-miles of track that runs from the edge of the French Quarter to South Carrollton Avenue, the beautifully vintage tram has been running since 1835. Inside is crafted with original beautiful wood seats and fittings with the old-fashioned press bell to stop. At the end of the line (S. Carrollton end), stop off for a ‘Po Boy’, the number one Louisiana food institution, which is basically a massive sandwich stuffed to the max with delicious meat and fillings. A 10-minute walk from the last stop is Guy’s Po Boys (5259 Magazine Street) – said to be the best. I’m no sandwich expert, but it was enough to fill me up for a week and sure was a tasty feed. Magazine Street is in the trendy Garden District area, so the walk is a lovely way to get a glimpse of the affluent colonial houses and leafy streets and work up an appetite. Keep an eye out for 2707 Coliseum Street – the beautiful house that played home to Benjamin in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Where to stay?
We bunked at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.
621 St Louis Street
The biggest selling point for this hotel is its fantastic location. Two blocks from Bourbon Street, opposite the historic courthouse and close to just about everything of significance in the French Quarter. Large rooms, quality service and extra points for free WIFI and a cool rooftop pool and bar.