Last December I was lucky enough to head back to the United States with my family as part of our annual holiday. With myself away at university for the majority of the year travelling and exploring new places with my family is something I always look forward too.
New Orleans is a city that has always been on our bucket list and as it’s less than a two hour flight from Orlando - where we spent the majority of our holiday - it made perfect sense that we incorporated it into our itinerary.
We travelled from Orlando International Airport to Louis Armstrong International Airport with Southwest Airlines - if you’re from the UK they’re very similar to Ryanair and EasyJet. The only quirky aspect of this flight was not being assigned a seat and lining up before boarding - you can pay to get further up the queue, but honestly we didn’t bother with this at all as our flight wasn’t that busy. Once you board you just choose an empty seat anywhere on the plane - much like getting on a bus or a train. It was all-in-all a pretty seamless process, but if time allowed I would definitely have preferred to drive up the coastline. That journey takes around 9hrs so another day either side of our trip would’ve been sufficient.
We didn’t hire a car whilst in New Orleans and relied solely on walking on foot and using the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. Uber is commonly used in New Orleans and we used this once or twice - it was really fairly priced and it was useful to speak to a local too, who are incredibly friendly and approachable people in our experience.
Where To Stay:
Like numerous other cities across the globe there are an awful lot of places to choose from in New Orleans - from stunning Airbnb rentals to luxurious five star hotels and everything in-between.
We stayed at the Bourbon Hotel located within the bustling French Quarter, which has recently been nominated for a Conde Nast Travel Award.
Staying in the French Quarter is something that most travel guides highly recommend as it’s right in the middle of the action. From our experience there I would completely agree and noise wasn’t an issue at all. It’s fair to say I was worried it would be, especially considering we were staying close to Bourbon Street where the partying is infamous for going on well into the early hours. Although this is fabulous if you’re there for that, we definitely weren’t and there is nothing worse than feeling cranky whilst trying traverse a brand new city.
What To Do:
During our stay in New Orleans the weather was pretty miserable - but this was to be expected given that it was December. It is highly worth buying the New Orleans Sightseeing Pass, which includes many of the attractions we visited, or at least discounts to their entry and provided us with HUGE savings as many of these attractions cost in excess of $100 for a family of four adults.
Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus - A must for orientating yourself around the city. This was the first thing we did upon arrival in New Orleans and was also the only time we managed to view the Garden District. The bus provides an excellent way of viewing the famous New Orleans architecture that is synonymous with the South whilst also providing your transportation around the city!
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas - Entrance to this was included in the New Orleans City Tour mentioned above, which was a fantastic saving of around $100 for four adults. Run by the Audubon Nature Institute the aquarium provides an insight into the marine life found across the North and South American continents, such as the Gulf of Mexico and even the Mississippi River - on the banks of which the aquarium is based. We spent a couple of hours here to escape the rain and honestly it was worth the visit - I have pretty high standards with regards to aquariums as for me the animal welfare is priority. From what I saw and researched online, this aquarium excels in that field.
St. Louis Cathedral - The oldest catholic cathedral in North America, St. Louis Cathedral sits proudly on Jackson Square and is dedicated to Louis IX, sainted King of France. Although we didn't make it inside due to services taking place each time we went to visit, this cathedral is an exterior marvel and a lovely place to take a stroll on your way to Café du Monde in the morning.
Mississippi River Cruise - We went aboard the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen on their Historical River Cruise. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable on the local history, particularly focusing on the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, with the tour taking a stop at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. Despite the miserable weather it was a pleasant experience and taking a trip on one of the world’s greatest rivers is definitely something to check off the bucket list.
The National WWII Museum - Another saving of $100 for the four of us thanks to the New Orleans City Pass! There’s a reason that this museum was voted the #1 attraction in New Orleans by TripAdvisor. Whether you’re infatuated with history or just vaguely interested this museum was one of our highlights and has engaging exhibits with information catering to all levels. We also got an interactive dog tag when we first arrived which linked to different exhibits and guided each of us through someone who was involved in WWII and their story throughout the war.
The Presbytere - Who can forget the devastating impact that Hurricane Katrina & Rita had on New Orleans? The Living with Hurricanes: Katrina & Beyond brings to light a collection of first accounts of that heart-breaking event alongside artefacts from the devastation. Although it’s almost tear-inducing in parts, I believe that if you truly want to get under the skin of New Orleans then you can’t miss this exhibition. It showcases an integral part of this magnificent city’s history and demonstrates the resilience of its people beautifully.
In contrast, the Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana! is an uplifting exhibition allowing visitors to become encapsulated by the glamorous costumes of the Mardi Gras festival and learn more about the history of the tradition. It’s just upstairs from the Katrina exhibition and is worth popping your head round the corner, even if it is just to look at costumes!
Where To Eat:
The food scene in New Orleans is a fusion pot and there is LOTS to eat, so make sure you come hungry.
You MUST visit Café Du Monde and eat beignets with hot chocolate. They are piping hot and smothered in more icing sugar than is good for you, but this delectable treat gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside - perfect when it’s bucketing down with rain outside!
Here’s the restaurants we ate in:
Market Café - a quaint café in the French Quarter and a lovely spot for some breakfast.
Gumbo Shop - our choice for sampling some local creole cuisine. Try the gumbo, it’s delicious!
Willie’s Chicken Shack - the perfect place for some New Orleans soul food after a night out on Bourbon Street.
Guy'‘s Poboys - essentially sandwiches, but you’ve gotta try a po’boy whilst in NOLA.
What Did I Miss?
St. Louis #1 Cemetery Tour constantly crops up on New Orleans to-do lists. We didn’t make it due to the weather, but the idea of learning more about these world-famous cemeteries is very compelling to me - let me know if you visit!
The weather was too bad for us to really enjoy our time outside. Although we took a walk along the Mississippi, it would’ve been awesome if we could’ve had an extensive period in Louis Armstrong Park.
The jazz at the bar in the Bourbon Hotel was excellent and an all-round great evening, but we regret not getting to Preservation Hall to see the world-famous jazz performed there.
New Orleans was a great place to incorporate into our U.S. trip and was my first experience of an industrialised city in the States. I will definitely visit the Big Easy again in the future, but next time I’ll be going with some friends to properly enjoy Bourbon Street and the nightlife New Orleans has to offer.
Disclaimer: I have not received payment to feature any of the businesses and organisations mentioned. I paid for all of these experiences myself and all of the views expressed here are my own.