When planning a trip to New Orleans, everybody has a different bucket list. A stroll along Bourbon Street and a signature Hurricane from Pat O'Brien's will please some, while a walk through the sprawling live oaks of Audubon Park and a neighborhood walking tour can do the trick for others. The city offers such a range of activities that nearly everybody can be amused and there is so much to do that even a full week's trip isn't enough time.
Music is at the heart of New Orleans' beating soul and you'll soon see that it's everywhere, from street buskers on Royal Street to the full array of entertainment that happens every night of the week along Frenchmen Street.
The most under-recognized aspect of the city is its nature. The city has two amazing parks in Audubon Park and City Park, with golf courses, kayaking, paddle boats, miniature golf and other activities for the whole family to enjoy. There really is nothing more soothing than a picnic lunch at Audubon Park, sharing your grassy area with a flock of exotic birds from Bird Island.
Shopping, eating, exploring the outdoors and down right enjoying yourself is what The Big Easy is all about. Leave your stress at the airport, and check out the list below for a start on what to see during your visit.
The New Orleans Streetcar is the preeminent mode of transportation in the Crescent City. Traveling through the middle of major streets such as St. Charles, St. Claude, Canal and Carrollton, the streetcar is an affordable method of transportation that allows you to soak in the sights as you move closer to your end destination. $1.25 gets you aboard, and if lucky, you'll have a street car operator that will act as an informal tour guide, pointing out important landmarks. The streetcar itself is of historical significance to the city. It is the oldest continually operating street railway system in the entire world, moving city-goers around since the 19th century.
Magazine Street, which runs from Canal Street to Audubon Park, is a six mile long shopper's paradise. With dozens of funky boutiques, galleries, and restaurants to choose from, Magazine Street is a terrific place to connect with local owner/operators and sample some famous New Orleans hospitality. Say hello to Mark and Candace Latter, owners of the popular Tujague's Restaurant as well as Bin 428 (2801), a boutique wine store inspired by a passionate love of the grape. And the energetic guy you're likely to see greeting customers at Salu Bistro (3226) is co-owner Tarek Tay, the creative force behind this sunny Mediterranean restaurant, which features local ingredients in specialties like paella, best enjoyed to live Spanish guitar.
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the French Quarter, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers visitors a chance to pet sting rays, feed exotic birds, and ogle sharks in their 40,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which simulates ocean life under an oil rig. The colors of a Caribbean reef are featured in a walk-through tunnel, while penguins and Southern sea otters always entertain. Home to more than 10,000 aquatic animals from all over the Americas, the aquarium also offers an in-house IMAX theater. If you have the time, pay $44.95 for adults, $37.95 for seniors and $34.95 for kids 2-12 and bundle visits to the zoo, aquarium IMAX® Theatre and Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. .
Unless you are specifically coming to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there is no place other than Mardi Gras World to give you a first hand experience of the famous Big Easy holiday. Blain Kern's attraction affords you a behind the scenes look at the warehouses where the parade floats are conceived and constructed. Procure a tour guide, and gain valuable insight into the technology and artistry behind floats like the King Kong and Bacchasaurus. Mardi Gras World hosts conventions, birthday parties, concerts and occasionally weddings. If your group is large enough, you can enroll in their Mardi Gras mask making classes.
Audubon Zoo, located in Uptown New Orleans is a great place for a family visit. Home to more than 2,000 animals, the zoo is open year round, from Tuesday through Sunday (seven days a week during the summer). Learning the eating habits of a Komodo Dragon under the Louisiana sun can get hot, so the Zoo features "Cool Zoo", a small scale water park complete with an alligator water slide. The zoo is located across the street from Audubon Park, and adjacent to "The Fly", a great place to lay out in full view of the Mississippi River. Ask about Monkey Hill, a mound for climbing popular with local tykes.
The Mercedez-Benz Superdome is the highlight of the New Orleans skyline, with its intriguing design leaving you wondering if an alien spaceship landed downtown. The venue is the home of the Tulane Green Wave and the city's pride and joy, football team New Orleans Saints. With seating for more than 70,000 and no bad seat in the house, the Superdome has hosted everything from the Super Bowl to Bowl games. The city's largest music concerts, expositions and festivals are hosted here, and tickets tend to sell out quickly. Located in the heart of the Central Business District, the Superdome is easily accessible by foot, taxi and streetcar from all the major hotels.
Are your batteries in need of a recharge after an action packed New Orleans night? Head over to City Park, accessible by street car, a green space that is 50 percent larger than New York's Central Park. Walk, run or bike through the endless paths covered by the shade of ancient live oak trees. Let your children play tag on the play scape while you enjoy a picnic lunch by the lagoon. Golf, tennis, horseback riding and bike/kayak rentals appeal to the outdoor enthusiast. For the kids, Storyland (a fairy tale theme park) and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park (featuring a miniature train that carries children through the park) will keep them entertained for hours. Pay a visit to the New Orleans Museum of Art, situated at the park's entrance, or stroll the outdoor sculpture garden behind the museum, a hidden gem that is free to the public.
The French Quarter is the beating heart of New Orleans. From its Old World spirit to its infinitely varied architecture and faded elegance, the Quarter is truly a place like no other. In a world of Disney-esque attractions, the French Quarter is unfailingly authentic; it's not an interpreted historic attraction, it is 120 blocks of the real deal. In New Orleans, there are more than 35,000 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, more than any other city in America. From the sounds of jazz wafting on the sultry air down Bourbon Street to the fleeting pleasure of lush courtyards glimpsed through wrought iron gates; from the magnolia and jasmine scented air to the bold flavors of some of the world's finest restaurants - the French Quarter offers unforgettable and endless experiences to the traveler with an open heart and a healthy appetite for the fantastic.
Frenchmen Street in the Marigny is hands down one of the best places to hear live music in town. On any night of the week, within a three-block stretch, you can second line down the street with a brass band, catch a reggae groove at Cafe Negril and swing dance at the Spotted Cat. Next door, there's a late night art market spotlighting local talent. Grunge out at Check Point Charlie's, a rock and roll dive that attracts all types. A few doors up, hear some excellent funk at Blue Nile with Big Sam's Funky Nation, and support local talent like Washboard Chaz at the Apple Barrel Inn. Cover charges are generally in the $5-$10 range, but if your wallet is thin, just hang with the crowds in the street, where music pours out of doorways shaking with that New Orleans beat.
While offering similar types of shops, the Royal Street experience differs significantly from Magazine Street. First, located a block away from Bourbon street, the area is more reminiscent of a European 19th century city, with horse drawn carriages and cobblestone providing the ambiance. Higher end jewelry, art and antique shops are the specialty on this strip, which also has a handful of very nice hotels. And there are constant reminders that the French Quarter is a living neighborhood, as you pass an elementary school, a vet's office and a supermarket. The heart of the street is closed to car traffic during the day, making it an easy pedestrian destination.