New Orleans is known for...
It should come as no surprise that the host city of Mardi Gras is famous for its festivals. The Carnival season, which begins on January 6 and culminates on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras day), is easily the biggest draw for visitors where festivals are concerned, but the Big Easy has a host of other events throughout the year. In April, the Jazz and Heritage Festival (more commonly known as Jazz Fest) offers a great mix of big headliners and local musicians, while March's Road Food Festival features beignet-eating contests and the world's longest Po'boys.
The indigenous cuisine of New Orleans, made up mostly of Louisiana Creole, is comprised of some of the most diverse, unique, and easily recognizable flavors in the world. Whether you're sipping a chicory cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde while indulging in a few beignets or ordering up the original muffuletta sandwich at the world-famous Central Grocery, you're sure to understand this city's love affair with food and embark on one of your own. Other must-try dishes for a visit to New Orleans include jambalaya, red beans and rice, Creole bread pudding, Po'boy sandwiches, and anything with crawfish. It's worth noting that although New Orleans is widely associated with Cajun food, that style of cuisine didn't see much exposure in the Big Easy until the late 1970's. Acadiana, a separate region of Louisiana, is the true source of Cajun cuisine.
New Orleans is universally regarded as the birthplace of jazz music, a fact that pervades every facet of the city's existence today. The music of New Orleans, not unlike it's cuisine and broader culture, has a long and richly varied history. The infancy of jazz is usually traced back to 1835, when slaves would congregate in Congo Square to sing and dance. Over time, jazz and brass bands (distinct entities for a time) began to form in their own right, and the two deeply forms deeply influenced one another even as they in turn were influenced by Creole contributions, ragtime, Dixieland, and later, blues and rock. Marching bands are an integral part of the Big Easy's musical heritage, and one of the most notable staples of its culture today. It's a rare public event in New Orleans where you don't see a marching band performing.
New Orleans is one of a very few cities in the States that has a high watermark example of almost every major architectural style in history, owing largely to its own multicultural heritage. Quaint Creole cottages are strewn throughout the city. These one-story wood or stucco structures have a design that dates back to the 18th century. Elsewhere, on Canal Street and in the French Quarter, a majority of the buildings were refurbished in the Victorian Style following the Louisiana purchase, but a handful maintain Colonial French or Spanish design. Spanish influence is most prominent in these historic districts, but the buildings also have touches of African, French, and Caribbean styles.
Whether you're in the market for Old World antiques or cutting edge fashions, each of New Orleans' distinct neighborhoods has something to offer. Foodies should head to the Crescent City Farmer's Market for the proverbial "died and went to heaven" experience, while art connoisseurs can have a field day at the Bywater Art Market. Magazine Street is virtually blanketed in boutique shops that mostly traffic in upscale women's wear, while Canal Street offers an array of high-end cigar shops and music stores that male travelers are sure to find appealing. Bourbon and Canal Streets feature mostly touristy shops, but it's worth tramping around in either of those areas to explore a few Voodoo shops.