Unexpected New Orleans

If there’s one thing we learned from our long weekend in New Orleans, it’s that you never know what’s going to happen in this sultry and enchanting city. You never know where you’re going to end up – no two days or nights are the same.

Which is strange because New Orleans is one of the most written about, talked about, dreamed about cities in the world. It’s everything you’d imagine it’d be, and nothing like it either. It’s a hub of fun and excess, a cuisine of rich étouffée sauces and world-famous oysters and crawfish, easy days and long, long nights. The out-of-state licence plates and visitors who never left say much about the Crescent City’s infectious spirit.

We arrived in the evening and threw ourselves straight into Bourbon Street madness. Jet-lagged, the neon rowdiness of the street can repel as much as it attracts, but its fun spirit is undeniable. The real charm of the French Quarter – the historic and cultural heart of the city – lies elsewhere, however. So we walked (okay, stumbled after a few of those lethal hurricane cocktails) around Jackson Square, ducked into the impressive St. Louis Cathedral (which is one of the city’s oldest buildings) and then wandered along the art and antique-filled Royal Street.

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Bourbon Street
Waking with a pretty severe hangover the following day, we took it easy by ambling around the crumbling, Gothic-tinged St Louis’ Cemetery at the Quarter’s northern edge – it’s where the grave of voodoo queen Marie Laveau can be found. Taking a street car to the Garden District, we explored the 19th century homes where New Orleans’ rich and mighty families once lived – and still do. It’s all very charming, very grown-up – a far cry from the antics on Bourbon Street.

We also spent time beyond the city’s limits: must-dos include visiting some of the plantations and venturing into the Louisiana Bayou to meet some gators.

plant 2Cajun_Encounters_Swamp_006
But where NOLA really seems to come into its own is in its thriving foodie and music scenes. Start by working your way through the quintessential foodie staples – we loved the turtle soup and Creole bread pudding soufflé at the historic and famous Commander’s Palace, the signature barbecued shrimp at the pioneering Creole eatery Mr. B’s Bistro, and the crunchy blue crab beignets and turtle bolognese at the local favourite La Petite Grocery.

Commanders Palace_Exterior
Commander’s Palace
La Petite Grocery
La Petite Grocery
It also turned out that it’s not all about super-strong cocktails in plastic cups in this boozy city. We stopped by Cure for sophisticated handcrafted cocktails, while the buzzing, gorgeous tree-filled courtyard bar Bacchanal served some seriously great wines with a side of live music. Both are off-the-beaten path and are rare authentic spots in a very touristy town.

Of course, music is everything in New Orleans and jazz is everywhere. In the French Quarter, the tiny and historic Preservation Hall was an authentic, and very rustic, jazz experience. Away from the tourist-laden Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street is beating musical heart of the city, packed with clubs playing everything from dancefloor jazz to drum’n’bass.

preservation hall
Preservation Hall
Baccanal
Bacchanal

Obviously we’re no good at keeping secrets – for more of our favourite spots, check out GuidePal’s New Orleans guide.

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