New Orleans Highlights
Including a trip to plantation country
Day 1: The French Quarter
Start by getting to know the city's most famous neighborhood. Sure, it's a cliché, but the café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde are a good place to begin, followed by a stroll around Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Cross the seawall and take in the views of the Mississippi River from Woldenberg Riverfront Park. Wander along North Peters Street to the shops and market stalls in the French Market, followed by a stroll around the mostly residential Lower Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. After lunch, explore the antiques stores and art galleries on Royal and Chartres streets, winding it all up with a cocktail in a shady courtyard; try Napoleon House, an atmospheric bar and café that makes a mean Pimm's Cup, or the French Quarter mainstay Pat O'Brien's. Save Bourbon Street for after dinner at one of the Quarter's esteemed restaurants; like anything that's lived hard and been around as long, it's much more attractive in low light.
If you're venturing out in your own vehicle, be aware that street conditions, which weren't great to begin with, are still in disrepair in some places. Others are undergoing massive repaving, so prepare to be patient with construction-zone traffic patterns.
Summers in New Orleans arrive early and stick around longer than most people would like. If visiting in the hot months, stay hydrated, limit your midday outdoor activities, and be prepared for sudden, sometimes torrential downpours.
Bring a sweater or light jacket with you: air-conditioning in restaurants and other destinations can be aggressive.
New Orleanians are friendly, but odd requests from people on the street who offer to tell you where you got your shoes ("You got them on your feet," followed by demanding that you pay for this information) and other overtures from chatty, rather dubious-looking types should be ignored (feel free to pretend you don't speak English). Trust your intuition; if something doesn't feel right, don't worry about coming across as mean, just continue along your way.
Before you book your trip, visit www.neworleansonline.com, click travel tools, and download coupons for lodging, dining, attractions, tour, and shopping discounts—this site is owned by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and is a great source for event information. The site www.neworleanscvb.com also has a selection of downloadable coupons.
Day 2: The Garden District and Uptown
The St. Charles Avenue streetcar rumbles past some of the South's most prized real estate; take a seat in one of the antique wooden seats and admire the scenery on the way to leafy Audubon Park. In the park you can follow the paved footpath to the Audubon Zoo, keeping an eye out for the zoo's white tigers, a pair of albino brothers named Rex and Zulu, after two of the city's most famous carnival krewes. Board an inbound Magazine Street bus near the zoo entrance and take it a couple of blocks past Louisiana Avenue, where a number of restaurants, some with sidewalk tables, are clustered. Continue on Magazine to Washington Avenue and head left through the Garden District. Prytania Street, just past Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (Anne Rice fans, take note), is a good axis from which you can explore the neighborhood's elegant side streets. Catch a downtown-bound streetcar on St. Charles, or wrap up the afternoon shopping and dining on Magazine Street.
Day 3: Art, History, and Culture
Dedicate one day to a deeper exploration of the city's cultural attractions. Art lovers shouldn't miss the Warehouse District, where a pair of fine museums—the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Contemporary Arts Center —anchor a vibrant strip of contemporary art galleries, most of which feature local artists. History buffs will want to check out the National World War II Museum, also in the Warehouse District, and the Historical New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, which hosts changing exhibits in a beautifully restored town home. New Orleans music aficionados can browse the bins at the Louisiana Music Factory, which has a wide selection of CDs—and occasional in-store performances—by Louisiana musicians.
Day 4: Remembering Katrina
It may strike some as macabre, but touring neighborhoods that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and its subsequent floods has become a ritual for many visitors, not unlike the hordes that have made Lower Manhattan's Ground Zero a pilgrimage site. You can opt for a guided bus tour, which takes you to Lakeview and the infamous 17th Street Canal levee breach; some companies also travel to the Ninth Ward and Chalmette. After a somber tour of Katrina's devastation, a good antidote is to look to the many signs of renewal and rebirth. City Park, which sustained extensive wind and flood damage, reopened its stately botanical gardens; nearby stands the venerable New Orleans Museum of Art and the adjacent Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Wrap the day up with dinner and live music downtown at one of the clubs on Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, where the city's inexhaustible party spirit is in evidence.
Day 5: Head Out of Town
Consider a day trip out of town to visit one of the region's elegant plantation homes, explore Cajun Country, or take a guided swamp tour. Some tour companies offer a combination of these destinations, with lunch included. Many of the antebellum mansions between New Orleans and Baton Rouge have been painstakingly restored and filled with period furniture; nature lovers will want to set aside time to explore the grounds and lush flower gardens. Swamp tours may sound hokey, but they're actually a good way to see south Louisiana's cypress-studded wetlands (and get up close and personal with the alligators and other critters that live there). Continue the nautical theme in the evening with a ride to Algiers Point aboard the Canal Street Ferry for lovely sunset views of the New Orleans skyline.