close
no thumb

.

.

If you like to alternate woo-ing at the top of your lungs with gulping alcohol from a plastic cup on the street, you might think that the open container laws on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street were written for your convenience. A more likely scenario stems from the fact that this famous street was once the very pulse of the city itself, and lively celebration a nightly occurrence.

Of course Bourbon Street was on our radar on our big trip to New Orleans, but after our overpriced Hurricanes from Pat O’Briens and a few minutes watching booze-thirsty tourists falling out of tacky ‘dance’ (read: strip) clubs, we kept right on walking…and walking…and cycling…and riding…

bourbon street new orleansWhat we discovered were neighborhoods as distinct and unique as the city itself, brimming over with culture, class and a style which ignited a passion for New Orleans inside us we could never have expected. Read on for our tips on going beyond Bourbon Street for an unforgettable New Orleans experience.

Wander the French Quarter

In New Orleans, the most unique city in the U.S., we were constantly reminded of places we have been around the world. Most predictably, this happened first in the French Quarter – but not exactly why you might think.

Bourbon Street is located in the French Quarter, which means wandering just a few blocks brings you to sleepy side streets lined with with gorgeous colonial architecture. What we didn’t expect was that the Spanish influenced this quarter as much as the French, having been in power here from 1762-1803. The ‘Rues’ (French for streets) were also marked in Spanish with decorative tiles typically seen in Spanish cities like Madrid even today, and because two major fires ravished the quarter in the late 1700s, Spanish design like wrought iron balconies and central courtyards replaced much of the previous French construction. In reality, however, most of the 2,900 buildings in the quarter are either Creole, Greek revival style or, post-Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in the traditional Victorian style of the day. We were actually reminded of another city colonized by the Spanish here. A walk through the French Quarter reminded us of Casco Viejo, in Panama City.

french quarter new orleansEat and shop at the French Market

Popular with tourists and locals alike, the French Market is also located in the French Quarter, just off famous Jackson Square, and stretching down to the Mississippi from there.

A popular trading post since 1791 when the Native Americans traded herbs and spices to French, Spanish, Italian, German and Caribbean immigrants, today the most well-known eatery has got to be Café du Monde. In this French-influenced café, we washed down beignets with chicory coffee served by an entirely Chinese staff. Only in New Orleans.

french market new orleansThe sprawling market is also home to a European-style food market (where we had delicious salads), and a flea market packed with tourist kitsch and musical masterpieces. Digging through albums and CDs reveals music by New Orleans locals – those who made it big, and those who plow through life proudly playing small stages seven nights a week. The lesson we took home is that New Orleans pride goes beyond anything felt in other cities (save for New Yorkers). The people know their history, their roots, they love their local musicians and their place in the music world. Transplants to New Orleans don’t just end up here, they come here on purpose, and at times, have more knowledge and pride than even the locals.

Faubourg Marigny

One late afternoon we cycled through the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, just as the blazing New Orleans sun had admitted defeat and begun its descent.

The golden glow colored the classic Creole cottages, which reminded us of the clap-houses of Belize, each reflecting the love invested by its residents. Some of these colorful one-story houses are falling apart while others keep neatly manicured gardens and watch the world go by from rocking chairs on their front stoops.

faubourg marigny new orleansYears ago, the French Quarter claimed fame with its Dixieland jazz, but today, Marigny’s Frenchman Street is ground zero for live music in New Orleans. The locals don’t want you to know that, though, and are more than content with you staying over on Bourbon Street.

But I’ll never forget what was sadly our only night out on Frenchman Street. It was the experience that signified the culmination and purpose in our 30-day road trip from New York to New Orleans. Live music flowed out of every tiny joint. People poured out onto the sidewalks. A mix of vintage bombshells and bikers covered in leather and tattoos were back-slapping and laughing so genuinely together. The kind of friendliness you see in films from the 40s or 50s and wonder if strangers were ever that friendly to each other. We hopped from bar to bar, each with their own live band spitting jazz, blues and funk, and ended the night watching a dozen or so guys pound out a two-hour, never-ending jam on five trombones, a sizzling electric guitar, three screaming trumpets and two booming tubas. The players were a mix of black and white dressed in hipster skinny jeans and baggy hip hop pants, teens and a couple with salt and pepper in their hair. It may have been the booze, but more likely the beats that made my heart swell at bearing witness to this entirely unique scene happening nowhere else in the world like it does on Frenchman Street.

frenchmen street live musicOutdoor Art at the Sculpture Park

Although we had already achieved that happy ending of our road trip, the access to creativity didn’t end. For a combination of art and a cool breeze, we cycled up to the Sydney Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a park with meandering footpaths to view the over 60 sculptures by artists from around the world. We spent over an hour relaxing and admiring world-class art for free. The sculpture garden is open seven days a week, so perfect for whenever a peaceful escape is needed.

new orleans sculpture gardenMagazine Street

Before we visited here, I imagined Magazine Street to be similar to London’s Fleet Street, which was historically home to the newspaper and media industry through the 20th century.  Quite the opposite, in fact, Magazine refers to the French world for shopping ‘magasin’. Mainly window shoppers these days, we managed to walk for miles and miles, peeking into the hundreds of charming, unique shops and restaurants that give this part of New Orleans a local, small town feel.

magazine street new orleansCemeteries and Voodoo

It seems like we are always talking about cemeteries, but the ones in New Orleans are legitimately distinct. Because the city is built on swampland, all white above-ground tombs form “cities of the dead,” more similar to cemeteries in Latin America than anywhere else in the US. The easiest to reach on foot from the French Quarter is the St Louis Cemetery #1 on Basin Street.

This cemetery is the burial place for legendary Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. We easily spotted her tomb. The dozens of X’s scrawled across it gave it away, but the offerings that believers leave are what’s truly interesting: alcohol bottles, cigarette packs, but mostly, and strangely, lip balm. Chap-stick. Why, we don’t know.

st louis cemetery 1 new orleansLaveau was famous as an oracle, performing private rituals behind her cottage in St Ann Street in the French Quarter. A devout catholic, her influence on Louisiana Voodoo affected many aspects of the practice first brought over by West Africans before mixing with French, Spanish and Creole customs and beliefs.

Today, the offerings are made in return for favors believers ask of Marie Laveau even in death and even gamblers shout her name for good luck. It is rumored, though entirely unofficial, that her grave has more visitors than Elvis Presley’s grave at Graceland.

How to Go Beyond

Streetcar: New Orleans runs several streetcar lines, used as a major mode of public transportation for the city. These antique vehicles run for long distances. In fact we would recommend riding at least one from end to end.

new orleans streetcar canal streetBicycle: New Orleans is an easy cycling city (avoid summer midday heat) We rented two groovy bikes from the American Bike Rental Company in the French Quarter. The enthusiastic owner provided helpful maps with areas to visit and others which are better to avoid.

cycling along the mississipi river

Tags : go beyondnew orleansNYC2NOLA

38 Comments

    1. Thanks so much, Michael! Love the vibe of the French Quarter – we are hoping to spend 2 or 3 months in New Orleans at some point. Maybe next year? 🙂

  1. I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans for several years, but I’ve never gone. I’m hoping to take a trip there this year. Thanks for this great information about New Orleans. I plan on checking out Bourbon Street, but to be honest it was never going to be a big part of my trip to New Orleans.
    Alouise recently posted..I Think I Am Going To Colorado

    1. Thanks so much, Sophie! What a great destination for the first trip abroad 🙂 The French Quarter really is a magical place – there’s just no other place like it in the U.S.!

    1. An 8-hour drive?? Aah, guys you HAVE TO go when you get back home! You will fall in love with New Orleans, I am sure of it!! And the city is a photographer’s dream 🙂

  2. Amazing! I got to spend a few nights in new Orleans when I was there for a conference a few years ago and loved just wandernig around in the French quarter. I also really enjoyed the streetcar ride I took past the university. Unfortunately I didn’t have time for one of the cemeteries as people warned us to go by ourselves because of muggings and I didn’t have time to schedule an organized tour. The sculpture park looks amazing. I think I gotta go back for another visit 🙂 And you just reminded be about the delicious beignets at Cafe Du Monde as well. They were so good!
    Sabrina recently posted..What Do People Eat in China? Braised Pork Belly

    1. The beignets really were good, although there is somewhat of a rivalry between Cafe du Monde and another place in the French Quarter. Too bad about the cemeteries – we didn’t do an organized tour, though, and had no problems at all. I would really recommend at least stopping in – and you’re a seasoned traveler, so you know how to watch yourself 🙂 Oh, and we love love love the streetcars too!!

  3. Wow you covered everything I love about New Orleans. I studied in the US for a year in AR and crossed over to Texas at least two times but I never got to New Orleans even though I really, really, really, really wanted to!

    Only means I have to go back. And now I have a great guide to use. Yehey!

    1. Aw, thanks Abby. New Orleans speaks for itself though, hard not to showcase such an incredible creative place. Definitely visit if/when you can. Every dollar helps down there still!

    1. Hi Lauren, thanks for stopping by! We were there in equally muggy hot weather, but could have cared less. There was so much exploring to do, we never stopped. But I think maybe May or early June would be perfect in town, not sure. Now, it’s okay if we discuss Frenchman St, since we’ve both been, but let’s not go giving away this information to too many people so it stays the way it is…oh, but I published word of it already. Damn travel-writing conundrum! 🙂 Love your site, by the way!

    1. Ah, you should. For shots of smiles, New Orleans is the place. And for pictures of an endless stream of unique characters, New Orleans is the place. As Dani said, it is a photographer’s dream!

  4. Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

    Nice write-up. I absolutely love NOLA’s houses – I could wander forever looking at all the storm-shuttered creole cottages, shotgun houses and bungalows, not to mention the Greek revival and Italianate homes. As you have already seen, there are countless blocks of these… and very colorful too! If you get a chance, check out the book New Orleans Streets, A Walker’s Guide to Neighborhood Architecture – they go through every notable neighborhood in entire blocks, and photograph the face of each house and describe the architecture. I found it captivating. It’s on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Orleans-Streets-Neighborhood-Architecture/dp/1589808746/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328590108&sr=1-1
    Don Faust recently posted..California Dreaming: Carmel by the Sea

    1. Thanks for that Don, that’s great! There is something about history in New Orleans that you don’t feel elsewhere. The history is palpable, the feeling of roots leading to the present is so strong here, whereas in other cities (which we have also really enjoyed) history seems so disconnected from the here and now. We have definitely considered spending a few months in New Orleans so that we can do just what you suggest, and wander through as many of the neighborhoods as we can, more often! Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  5. We thought Bourbon Street was so bizarre! All the beads and hurricanes larger than my head and the obnoxious frat douchebros… we only lasted a few hours, lol. We were expecting to find some great dance clubs there, but the sad part is that Bourbon Street isn’t really a great place to boogie (ohmygod, did I just write “boogie”?).

    ANYWAY, aside from that little tidbit, we loved New Orleans!
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..16 Things You Didn’t Know About Thailand

    1. We only lasted a few hours there, too, but we’d still recommend at least a stroll along Bourbon Street to experience it. We absolutely loved New Orleans though and we can’t wait to go back 🙂

    1. OH you really need to go then if you like fried pastries. Because then it would be your duty to test the Beignets at various locations, a taste test of sorts. :-)Plus, New Orleans really is such a great place to visit, there is nowhere in the United States (or the world!) like it!

    1. Thanks Dayna, Dani could not stop taking pictures in New Orleans, it’s such a visual city! If you do go, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us – we’ve got loads more ideas – things we didn’t get a chance to do that we can’t wait to do next time around…whenever that may be…

    1. Yes, you should definitely go! I know I am repeating myself, but there’s just no place like this in the U.S. – Already looking forward to going back to NOLA.

    1. Looking forward to reading your posts, John – you’re so lucky that your parents live in Fauborg Marigny! The perfect excuse for frequent visits to New Orleans 🙂

  6. This article is fantastic. I’m moving to New Orleans in June because I went “beyond bourbon street” on my first and only trip a few months ago and fell madly in love with the city and the incredibly friendly people. It’s a truly magical place unlike anywhere I’ve been in the world.

    On a side note: I’ve been planning a trip to Central America (volunteering in BZE for a month then Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua…I think) April to June and stumbling upon this blog has been absolutely priceless. Thank you for all the work you’ve put into making such an excellent resource for travelers like myself!

    1. Thanks so much, Zina! We loved New Orleans and wanted to stay so much longer – I hope we’ll be back one day for a longer stint – a couple of months or so 🙂 You are so lucky to be moving there!!

Leave a Response

CommentLuv badge

css.php