Some places leave much to be desired. Some, on the contrary, truly surprise you. This was what happened to us in New Orleans.
A quick two-hour flight and 30 degrees warmer, we landed in Louis Armstrong International Airport and knew we immediately had to do one thing – change our attire.
Another quick Uber ride, and we were in the French Quarter – perhaps the most notable neighborhood of New Orleans. Unlike a lot of other ethnic neighborhoods, this neighborhood is called “French” for a reason, with 90% of the businesses and even the street names either written or spelled in French.
Home of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, the city has a lot to explore. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you would see a lot of similarities – narrow streets paved with cobblestone, old buildings, and… an absence of Wi-Fi almost everywhere. On the streets of New Orleans it’s actually easier to find a fortuneteller than a good coffee shop with an Internet connection. Eventually, we got to PJ’s, a local coffee-shop chain proudly positioning itself as “Coffee of New Orleans.” A nearby Starbucks, on the other hand, had been temporarily closed.
In search of a good coffee spot the next morning, we stopped by a place named Old Coffee Pot, which apparently didn’t serve anything other than a regular cup of Joe. Despite the historic surroundings, rude service didn’t create the best atmosphere.
One of the best places for breakfast, if you’re in the French Quarter, is The Market Café – which offers a wide variety of menu creations, where you can go either with a regular order or a breakfast buffet. Dining here, you would also have a chance to enjoy the outdoor terrace and overall ambiance of the city.
One of the great dinner go-to options would be Tableau restaurant. Located on the picturesque Jackson Square at Le Petit Theatre, it offers classic French-Creole cooking. If you’re dining here, we would also recommend to sit at the balcony, rather than inside.
For our stay we picked Hotel Royal, located in the heart of the French Quarter. Built in 1827, it breathes history. The atmosphere and the vibe are truly unique. However, there are certain things that might not square up for everyone. Because this is a historic building, rooms start at only 16 sq. ft. Also, they just recently canceled breakfast. However, per the receptionist’s information, it might be back during the summer season.
However, you do not come to New Orleans to stay in a hotel, even if it’s a historical building. You come here to truly experience it, so below is our brief list of things to see, in no particular order.
1. Jackson Square. Historic park in the French Quarter, it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Jackson Square was actually the site where Louisiana became a United States territory, following the Louisiana purchase in 1803. Now the square is considered one of the greatest America’s public spaces. It was designed after the famous 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris, France. Right now it’s also a place for all local artists to gather and perform, and if you happen just to pass by – you would hear live street music almost from every corner, daily.
2. If you go to Jackson Square, you cannot miss St. Louis Cathedral. Being one of the most notable New Orleans landmarks, it’s also considered the oldest cathedral in North America.
3. Frenchmen Street is THE destination for all music lovers, and is home to some of the city’s popular live-music venues, including Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat, and the Maison. The oldest and best-known section of Frenchmen Street is in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, which once was the plantation of Bernard de Marigny, a wealthy Creole and political leader of old New Orleans. In 1806, he had his property subdivided and developed as a neighborhood. Many of the houses in this area are over 100 years old; some are much older. The neighborhood started rapidly developing in the 90s, and while Bourbon street was becoming the main tourist destination, Frenchmen Street was a spot for locals to party.
4. Royal Street is another New Orleans gem, and is also one of the oldest streets in the city, dating back to the early 18th century. Nowadays it’s best known for its antique shops, galleries, and hotels. Each afternoon, three blocks of Royal Street in the Quarter, between St. Louis and St. Ann Streets, are closed to traffic to create a pedestrian zone. During this time numerous street performers set up. Outstanding, up-and-coming New Orleans jazz musicians can be heard in the vicinity, although performers vary widely.
5. When you finish walking, we recommend to stop by the WWII Museum, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and take a ride in one of the streetcars – being both a vintage and affordable way of public transportation, this is the perfect option if you’d like to experience the city.
Overall, New Orleans is probably the most European city in the United States, so if you’d like to feel overseas while being here, this is your go-to destination. From Mardi Gras to Jazz Fest to just strolling down Royal Street, the city allows you to emerge into the rich local culture. This is a destination that’s truly worth your time and money. New Orleans, which can be endlessly explored, can open more and more opportunities. Happy exploring!
By Vera Sauchanka
Photos by Dennis Bindarau, Chicago News