New Orleans is known for its European-style architecture, mouth-watering Creole cuisine and all-around mysticism. And as its backbone is music: Jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Zydeco tunes ooze from every city crevice. But for many, the main reason to visit is Mardi Gras, an over-the-top party with Carnaval traits, such as masks, music and an all-around wild time. Even if you don’t make it to Mardi Gras, you’ll still find a party year-round, with revelers pouring out of Bourbon Street clubs until the wee hours of the morning.
Despite past environmental disasters — namely the BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac — New Orleans continues to thrive. Over the past several years, major efforts have been made to restore the distinct districts. Today, the Crescent City looks almost as good as new. So start your visit in the French Quarter, where colonial heritage still survives. From here, you can explore the major architectural sites before enjoying a hearty plate of jambalaya and a rowdy evening out.
How To Save Money in New Orleans
- Don’t stay in the French QuarterAs charming as they may be, these hotels are expensive. If you don’t want to sacrifice location for price, stay in one of the many bed-and-breakfasts in Faubourg Marigny.
- Check the calendarHotel rates tend to skyrocket during major events. If you want to save money, reserve a room several months early to ensure the best price, or visit during a break in the festivities.
- Get ready to sweatYou will find excellent deals on rooms and airfare if you plan a summer trip. Just be prepared for soaring temperatures.
New Orleans Culture & Customs
Like those who live in other Southern cities, New Orleanians are very friendly. You most likely won’t leave this city without having been called “baby” at least once in the slow, melodic accent only found here. Likewise, don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
However, many people from New Orleans do not associate themselves with the South, but rather with an identity unlike any other found in the United States. Influenced by numerous cultures — including French, African and Cuban — New Orleans displays a wide variety of tastes and habits. From spicy jambalaya to feisty beats, Voodoo traditions to one of the most renowned Carnivals in the world, New Orleans has a very strong and unique sense of self.
This city especially exudes the essence of both Cajun and Creole customs. And although they are often referred to interchangeably, the two cultures shouldn’t be confused with one another. Today’s Cajuns are descendants of the people from the French settlement of Acadia, which was established in the 17th century in Nova Scotia, Canada. Almost 100 years after Acadia was established, it became a British territory and many of its citizens were forced to either renounce Catholicism and swear loyalty to the British Crown or leave. Some inhabitants returned to France, but others headed south to the Caribbean before settling in the French colony of New Orleans. They brought with them traditions from Acadia and the Caribbean, as well as spices, music and their own language known as Cajun French. Cajun French is not a dialect of the French language, but rather a verbal organism of its own.
The term “Creole,” however, refers to people who were born within a Caribbean New World colony, not in Spain or France. Like Cajuns, many Creoles were not originally from New Orleans, but rather from French territories, the West Indies, Central and South America, and the Gulf States region. Creole culture is also heavily influenced by Caribbean traditions, often making it difficult for outsiders to distinguish between Cajun and Creole customs. Creoles also speak their own version of French that is a combination of French and African dialects, known as Creole French.
Music is a major part of life in New Orleans, just as it is in the Caribbean. Jazz — which originated in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century — was the first Creole music style to become nationally renowned. Its far-reaching history is celebrated every year during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Satchmo Summerfest. Zydeco music also originated in the area within the Cajun communities and is now performed widely today in English, Cajun and Creole French (catch a wide range of performances during the annualLouisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival). Music has infiltrated many different parts of life in this city, including funerals. A New Orleans jazz funeral represents the fact that music is as much a part of death as it is of life.
Live music can be heard all over the city, but if you’re looking to escape the tourist crowds and enjoy a more authentic experience, stray from Bourbon Street and head to one of the many cafes or bars in the Faubourg Marigny district.
Speaking of bars, many in New Orleans have no set closing time, and open container laws are lax at best — staying true to the city motto“Laissez les bon temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll.” But just because this is a city that promotes celebration does not mean that you should be disrespectful.
New Orleans Dining
New Orleans is the place to forget about your diet and enjoy the rich trifecta of butter, cream and oil. While traditional southern flavors abound here, New Orleans is most famous for its unique Creole and Cajun cuisines, which feature a combination of French, Spanish, Italian and African cooking elements. Restaurants featuring traditional New Orleans dishes, such as red beans and rice and po’boys — a sub usually filled with meat or fried seafood — can be found throughout the city. Both Cajun and Creole jambalaya (a rice dish made with meat, vegetables and Creole spices) and gumbo (a hearty stew consisting of meat or seafood and vegetables) are also staple entrees on many New Orleans menus. When you’re craving something sweet, you’ll find that the Big Easy has you covered there, too. Beignets — square pieces of fried dough smothered in powdered sugar — can be found at the one of the city’s most famous coffee shops (and a tourist attraction in its own right), Cafe Du Monde.
Many famous chefs — including Emeril Lagasse, John Besh and Susan Spicer — own and operate restaurants in the city. The French Quarter is home to numerous Creole restaurants, as well as several authentic (but somewhat pricey) French restaurants. According to recent travelers, Commander’s Palace, Bayona and August are all eateries worth splurging on. Other popular eateries are clustered in theCentral Business and Warehouse districts. If you want to mingle with New Orleans residents, dine at the budget-friendly restaurants in Mid-city or Uptown. For a comprehensive sampling of all of the city’s mouth-watering cuisine, consider visiting during one of the Big Easy’s food festivals, like the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, the Louisiana Seafood Festival or COOLinary New Orleans. Just keep in mind that the rich flavors can be a shock to your digestive system, so pace yourself.