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Welcome to New Orleans

New Orleans

When Jean Baptiste Le Moyne picked out the strategic spot on the Mississippi River for his French colony in 1718, little did he know that he had doomed a future city to tragedy nearly 290 years later. Situated on a swamp, and surrounded by the sea, Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, the subsiding city of New Orleans chose to swim rather than sink with the construction of a system of levees, pumps and canals to protect the city from flooding.

However, on the 30 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst hurricanes ever to hit the United States, slammed into the region, catapulting New Orleans into world headlines that followed the struggle of the community to cope with extensive damage, loss of life and the flooding of more than 75 percent of the city.

Despite the 'I told you so' attitude of much of the world, the proud residents of New Orleans were more determined than ever to rebuild their city, to bring back the jazz, the extravagant celebrations and the 'Big Easy' lifestyle that once made it the party capital of America. Local musicians have returned home, after-dark options are burgeoning and the strains of jazz and blues rhythms are once again echoing through the streets of the atmospheric French Quarter. Legendary Bourbon Street continues to host carnivals and parades, including the annual Mardi Gras, which has a reputation for being the most scandalous and sensational event on the world's festival calendar.

Besides all the partying, New Orleans has plenty of serious sightseeing to offer. The city is full of picturesque historic buildings, lush parks, interesting museums displaying everything from voodoo culture to modern technology, riverboats and historic streetcars, and of course jazz cafes. But for now evidence of the calamity, as well as the city's determination to survive, take first place in any visitor's 'to do' list.

Information & Facts


New Orleans has a subtropical climate with very hot and humid summers and mild winters. In mid-summer temperatures of 90°F (30°C) and more are common, while in winter the temperature hovers around a comfortable 60°F (15°C), with very chilly mornings. New Orleans has a high annual rainfall, most of it falling in late summer, often as a spin-off from tropical storms. Heavy rain during the June to September Gulf Coast hurricane season has caused flooding in the city on occasion. Snow and ice are rarities in New Orleans, but there have been incidences of a 'white Christmas', with light snow.

Eating Out

Known for its use of Cajun pepper, tropical fruits and spices, dining out in New Orleans is an exciting sensory experience not to be missed. The melting pot cuisine known as Creole incorporates French, Spanish, Mediterranean, Caribbean and African flavours as well as the hearty and comforting tastes of the American Deep South.

Travellers will find the world-famous French Quarter gears mostly to tourists and this is where just about any and every kind of Creole restaurant can be found, serving jumbalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo and Cajun Crawfish amongst other local dishes. Those with a serious sweet tooth are in for a treat in New Orleans, where the desserts are as sticky as they come with favourites such as Pecan Pie, Pralines and Bananas Foster staples on most restaurant menus. Don't forget an order of deep-fried beignets (pronounced ben-yays) with your coffee!

New Orleans has its own special take on the sandwich, which comes in two varieties: po'boys, served on a round French loaf and packed to the rafters with beef, oysters, shrimp, gravy and all the trimmings; and muffalettas, huge Italian loaves stuffed with cold meats and olive salad.

Bourbon Street is where the best of New Orleans' eateries can be found and travellers should pay the legendary Galatoire's a visit to sample some of the city's finest fare. Not to be missed are the city's cocktails, the most famous being the notorious 'Hurricane' and visitors won't have trouble finding a bar to sample this New Orleans specialty - escaping the bustling bars might be their only problem!

Getting Around

When in New Orleans, the vintage electric rail vehicles or 'streetcars' are the way to go. With various lines crossing the city, most destinations are accessible by this means of transport. Various VisiTour passes allow unlimited rides on buses and streetcars, and for streetcar fare and route information visit The Canal Street Ferry takes passengers across to the suburb of Algiers and is free for pedestrians, offering fine views of the city skyline. Walking, cycling, taxis and rental cars are some of the other options; many tourist areas, like the French Quarter, are most enjoyable on foot. Driving a car in New Orleans may be difficult as many roads are still inaccessible due to hurricane damage.

Kids Attractions

New Orleans has fantastic attractions for children on holiday including fun parks, aquariums and museums. Kids love to visit the Audubon Aquarium, and are also fascinated by the creatures at the Audubon Insectarium. The Louisiana Children's Museum is also a popular attraction, as are Storyland and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. Children also love to go on boat rides up the Mississippi River, or into the Louisiana swamps.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.


New Orleans is a city of music and rhythm, most famous for jazz, Cajun and zydeco, and its nightlife portrays this with enthusiasm. Gambit, Offbeat and WhereY'at, as well as local radio stations, publicise upcoming New Orleans events and venues.

There are countless bars along Bourbon Street, and the party invariably pours out onto the sidewalks; while most places have a cover-charge, it is not always necessary to actually go inside! Some of the best clubs and bars can be found in the Quarter and the Frenchmen section of the Faubourg Marigny.

Preservation Hall is a must for jazz fans, and Maple Leaf Bar is another popular spot for live music. Molly's is said to be the best bar in the French Quarter and Napoleon House offers a fantastic Pimm's Cup cocktail. Ray's Boom Boom Room is fast becoming the trendiest club of the Frenchmen district, and the Blue Nile is the long-standing social hub of the area. The Polo Lounge at Windsor Court is very stylish, favouring Sazeracs cocktails and fancy cigars.


Shopping in New Orleans ensures a great selection of antiques, arts, vintage clothing and unique jewellery. There are various malls, markets, boutiques and specialist shops that satisfy most purchase desires.

The French Quarter is unsurpassed as a sightseeing/boutique shopping experience. It's also home to legendary New Orleans voodoo shops and some fantastic costume and mask shops, great for Mardi Gras or Halloween and popular New Orleans souvenirs. Magazine Street also has costume and mask shops, as well as stores offering elegant furnishings, hand-smocked garments and local arts. There are various jewellers in town offering unique, custom-made adornments.

New Orleans candymakers have a special touch, and sweets like pralines make popular gifts. Some of the best can be sampled at Southern Candymakers, Leah's Candy Kitchen, and Aunt Sally's Praline Shop. Don't forget to sample the best in local music; you'll find great cds of Dixieland jazz at the Louisiana Music Factory and Beckham's Bookshop.

Items such as Louis XIV chairs and African masks are available from numerous antique stores, and the art galleries of Royal Street also hold infinite treasure. And then there's Crescent City Farmer's Market, which sells exotic vegetables, beautiful flowers and fresh seafood. There are various tax refund and tax free options available to visitors.


Home of one of the world's largest street parties, New Orleans is not short on attractions and the place to start is without a doubt the world-renowned French Quarter.

Take a stroll along the legendary Bourbon Street to lap up the ambience, sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans, or for a more historical view of the city, visit the D-Day National World War II Museum. See a bit of the city's underbelly in the New Orleans Voodoo Museum, and marvel at Mardi Gras floats at Blaine Kern's workshop.

The Hurricane Katrina Tour takes visitors through the worst affected areas of the city, including Lakeview and Gentill, and is a tragic, yet fantastic way to see parts of the city and people that would otherwise be seen only by locals.

Visitors will do well to purchase the New Orleans Power Pass. The pass is available in 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive day options and starts at $31 per day. It includes admission to 30 of New Orleans' top attractions, saving the bearer up to $300 while also offering discounts and the opportunity to skip the queue at many locations, ensuring you experience all there is to see and do in New Orleans.

New Orleans' state-of-the-art Audubon Aquarium, situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, is regarded as the best in America with highly entertaining exhibits. Underwater tunnels allow visitors to marvel at a Caribbean Reef and a re-creation of the Gulf of Mexico, complete with sharks. There is also a walk-through Amazon rainforest and an exhibit displaying the inside story of swamp life. The Aquarium features every type of aquatic creature from jellyfish and sea horses to sea otters and penguins. The Aquarium's 'sister' attraction, also run by the Audubon Institute, is the excellent New Orleans city zoo, situated in Audubon Park further uptown.

If it walks, crawls or flies, find it at the Audubon Insectarium. Set in Custom House, the historic, white marble columned structure in Canal Street, this is the largest freestanding insectarium in the United States, devoted to over 900,000 species of insects. View thousands of live bugs and mounted specimens. The Cooking Show and Cultural Café offer culinary adventures; witness the art of cooking with these creepy criters and sample the treats, or opt for more traditional fare in the insect-themed café.

View the priceless sculptures that make up the superb Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. The Sculpture Garden provides a unique opportunity for visitors who treasure the arts, with a world-class collection of modern and contemporary sculptures presented in an exquisite natural setting. Next to the Sculpture Garden is the New Orleans Museum of Art and City Park, with centuries old oak trees, lagoons, a small amusement park and Storyland, a charming fairytale playground.

In Algiers Point, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, stands a unique studio museum showcasing the famous New Orleans' Mardi Gras. The museum is actually the working studio of foremost carnival float designer, Blaine Kern, for whom producing floats and props for the city's annual Mardi Gras is a full-time job. Visitors can watch Kern and his team design and construct the giant sculptures of everything from cartoon characters to mythological figures and animals that will eventually parade through the streets.

The unique D-Day National World War II Museum was founded in 2000 by historian and author Dr Stephen Ambrose and has become regarded as a highlight of any New Orleans sightseeing tour. Situated in New Orleans' Warehouse District it depicts the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy, the Home Front during World War II, and the D-Day Invasions in the Pacific. Exhibit galleries include text panels, artefacts, and personal account stations where visitors can listen to the stories of war veterans. A panorama exhibit recreates a Normandy beach landing; there are also regular film shows.

Regarded as the heart and soul of New Orleans, the French Quarter is the historic part of town covering about 90 square blocks radiating out from Chartres Street and Jackson Square. The Quarter, or Vieux Carre, was established in 1718 as a French military outpost, which was later taken over by the Spanish, merging into a freewheeling culture incorporating slaves, pirates, mercenaries, call-girls and various freemen of every colour and creed. Today the area looks and feels much as it did before Hurricane Katrina, with its wrought-iron railings and tall doorways, and clubs, bars, Cajun-seafood restaurants and shops all a-buzz. By day it is one of the best people-watching spots in the world, and the focus for visitors to New Orleans. By night the area becomes a giant street party throbbing with jazz music and a world-class dining district. The most famous street is Bourbon Street, where prostitutes literally mingle with priests, and bars stay open all night.

In the wake of one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the United States, Gray Line Tours offers a three-hour bus ride around some of the hardest hit areas in New Orleans, including Lakeview and Gentilly, and is aimed at gathering support to rebuild the city. To respect the privacy of the locals, buses will not allow tourists off the bus to take pictures, but will pass around pictures of the storm and its destruction, and guides will describe the events before and after the storm hit the city, as well as explaining the significance of the levee system.

Louis Armstrong Park is a 32-acre sanctuary of green trees and jazz melodies in the heart of the historic old quarter. Inside you'll find Congo Square, the meeting place of slaves in the 19th century. The Visitors' Facility also has exhibits and an indoor performance venue. Occasional free Sunday afternoon concerts are a highlight in the park.

The Louisiana Children's Museum is a fantastic attraction for kids with a vast selection of exhibits, art activities and educational programs to enjoy. The kid-sized Winn-Dixie grocery store is a favourite, as are the climbing wall and the giant bubble that kids can play in. Eye to Eye has fun showing the workings of the human eye, and Art Trek features drawing, painting and sculpture lessons.

Set on the banks of the Mississippi River, New Orleans is a great place to take kids for a boat ride. The Natchez steamboat traverses this great river and passes many of the city's historical sites, while the John James Audubon ferries passengers between the Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Zoo. There are also a number of Louisiana swamp tours which kids would love.

Voodoo came to Louisiana through African slaves, and has been practised since the early days of the city. New Orleans is known worldwide for its shady association with the darker arts, and the small but fascinating New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum has artefacts and exhibits depicting the history of its practice in the region. There is usually a voodoo priestess on hand to do palm readings and even make personalised gris-gris bags. The museum may also arrange excursions to voodoo rituals upon request.

Historic Preservation Hall is New Orleans' most popular jazz venue, where the famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band serves up first-rate Dixieland Jazz six nights a week in the French Quarter building (originally built as a residence in 1750). On Sundays the Olympia Brass Band performs instead. No seating, food or drinks are available, but crowds flock here simply for the music between 8pm and midnight.

Kids in New Orleans love Storyland and the Carousel Gardens amusement park. Storyland is a fairytale playground featuring life-size storybook attractions such as Captain Hook's pirate ship, and an imitation whale from Pinocchio. The traditional wooden carousel at the theme park always draws a crowd, as do the bumper cars, lady-bug roller coaster and miniature trains.

The entertaining and informative Cabildo on Jackson Square in New Orleans' French Quarter explores the history of Louisiana from the first European explorations to the post-Civil War Reconstruction era from a multi-cultural perspective. The museum is the flagship of the Louisiana State Museum facilities and is housed in an historic building, dating to 1799, originally serving as the Spanish city council offices. Two major historic events took place in the Cabildo building: the Louisiana Purchase Transfer ceremonies in 1803 and later a landmark Supreme Court decision was handed down here that legalised racial segregation. The Cabildo takes pride that five American presidents have visited it.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selection of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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