New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) is a city full of live music, great food, gorgeous architecture and drunkenness. I spent 7 days here in 2013 and loved every minute. I stayed with a local pedicab rider (through Airbnb) so I got a lot of insider knowledge from her and others I met along the way.
One of the first things you should know about New Orleans is how to say it. It's mostly said (and sometimes spelt) "N'awlins", basically an attempt to shorten the name as much as possible. You can definitely get away with saying "New Awlins" but if you say it with all the syllables then you'll get some funny looks. It's a bit like Americans saying Leicester & Worcestershire wrong.
Areas of the city
- The French Quarter (or just "The Quarter") - You'll probably spend most of your time in this area. It has most of the best food places, bars and live music. The buildings are stunning and it's all pretty safe.
- Bourbon Street - This is the main party street in Nola and runs the whole length of the French Quarter. However it is a bit of a nightmare at night. Imagine West Street in Brighton but 10 times worse. During the day it's ok but it's still mainly just full of novelty drinks and strip clubs.
- Frenchmen's Street - I read that over the years all the best music moved away from Bourbon to Frenchmen's. It's a small but fantastic street which I visited every day. During the day you can still get live music, there are some great restaurants and all the bars and clubs are really fun.
- Tremé - This is where I stayed. Lots of interesting buildings and I felt safe, however there's probably not much need to visit.
- Bywater - If you head north along the water from the French Quarter you get to a quiet area, which I was told not to walk or ride through at night. I cycled to The Joint for lunch one day and it seemed nice enough.
- Downtown - I only spent a small amount of time here and that was for food.
- Uptown - Magazine Street has some nice areas of shops, bars and restaurants uptown. There's also a big park with the 'Tree of Life' which I cycled to, but I'd say it's only worth visiting if you have a lot of time in the city.
As part of my Airbnb room I had use of a bike during my stay. This was invaluable, especially as I was on my own. I wasn't staying far from the French Quarter but it was far enough that I probably would have had to get a taxi home late at night, so it saved me money, but mainly it just allowed me freedom to go wherever I wanted. I cycled out to the Bywater for some delicious BBQ food (see below) and also out the other way to Uptown along Magazine Street to see the Tree of Life. Another massive advantage of having a bike is that it was a lot safer - pretty much everyone told me that New Orleans wasn't safe and that there are many areas I shouldn't walk around even during the day. Being on a bike means 2 things: it's very unlikely someone will walk in front of a moving bike to stop you and you'll look like a local. Having said that, I didn't see any crime or even a sign of aggravation. I felt completely safe the whole time I was there, much more so than other cities such as San Francisco.
I highly recommend trying to rent a cheap bike for your entire stay. If you don't then you'll probably have to use taxis (which can be hard to find) or pedicabs (which can be surprisingly expensive - $1 per block per person quickly adds up.)
Food & Drink
I had high expectations for the local Creole & Cajun food but I was still blown away. It was food heaven!
Here's a list of the main local food specialities:
- Gumbo - "It typically consists primarily of a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables"
- Jambalaya - Similar to paella.
- Étouffée - A stew usually made with crawfish or shrimps.
- BBQ Shrimp - Sticky and sweet.
- Turtle Soup - As it sounds.
- Oysters - They are everywhere. They eat them raw but also serve them cooked or chargrilled with toppings.
- Crawfish - This is what they call crayfish and during the season, they're used a lot. "As of 2005, Louisiana supplies 95% of the crayfish harvested in the US."
- Po' boy - Local submarine sandwich.
- Muffuletta - Sandwich with layers of meat and cheese with a olive mixture. Better than it sounds!
- Boudin - Sausage.
- Beignet - Similar to a donut, covered in powdered sugar.
- Praline - Sugar and pecans.
Places to eat which I've either tried or have been told about:
- Three Muses - Cool bustley place at the end of Frenchmen's Street. They serve "small tapas-like" dishes that are actually quite big. I shared 3 dishes and a side with another person. The stand-out dish was the rare steak on a crab cake with bearnaise.
- R'evolution - Fine dining New-Orleans-style! Fantastic experience and worth every penny. Perfect service, delicious food and we even had a tour of the kitchen.
- The Old Coffeepot - This was one of the stops on the food tour I did where we had a sample of the seafood gumbo and jambalaya. I liked the gumbo so much I went back twice! Nice little courtyard but the waitresses are pretty grumpy.
- Muriel's - Fancy restaurant in a fancy building. Famous for its turtle soup (with sherry on top) which was very tasty. They also had a very nice local beer that was the closest I got to Harvey's in the US.
- GW Fins - Posh seafood restaurant. Very tasty and seems to be a favourite of most of the locals I spoke to.
- Johnny's Po' boys - Another stop on the food tour. I had the roast beef Po' boy. Yum!
- Mike Serio's Po-Boys & Deli - The first stop on the food tour for a muffuletta. A half is still probably too much for one person, so I'd suggest a quarter.
- Central Grocery - The birthplace of the muffuletta. I couldn't really say which was better out of the 2 I had. Central only sell half or whole, so you either need to share or be very hungry!
- The Joint - Really great BBQ food out in the Bywater. Get there early so the brisket doesn't sell out (like it did for me!). The pulled pork was really great and so were the baked beans.
- Elizabeth's - Famous for the praline bacon. Also in the Bywater and only a few blocks from The Joint.
- The Praline Connection - Another restaurant on Frenchmen's Street, serving local food. I had the étoufée and shrimps. It was nice but didn't blow me away.
- Café du Monde - Very famous for their beignets. There's usually a long queue but it goes quickly as they have a lot of seats and people only go for 2 things: beignets and coffee. One serving has 3 beignets, so share between 2. Watch out for getting sugar all over your clothes!
- Café Beignet - Another stop on the food tour, we went to this little public square on Bourbon Street with some live jazz. Apparently the beignets are better because they're always cooked to order rather than cooked in bulk and left to get cold at Café du Monde (because of all the queues)
- Felix's - Oysters! It's across the street from Acme which is much more famous (apparently due to marketing). All the locals said to avoid Acme as it's over-priced and the queues are always long. Felix's is just as good, cheaper and has much shorter queues (if at all).
- The Royal House - Another oyster place but it has a lovely balcony on Royal Street perfect for people-watching whilst eating tasty oysters.
- Cochon Restaurant - A popular downtown restaurant which you may have to queue for. I had the boudin and alligator. Very nice place.
- Cochon Butcher - Next door is the butcher for a much cheaper street-style experience.
- Laura's Candies - The last stop on the food tour for some local praline and sweets. Nothing really special but I guess you should try the praline at least once!
- Adolfo's - Italian restaurant on Frenchmen's which seems very popular with the locals. I didn't go there as I wanted to stick to local food as much as possible. Cash only.
- August - Recommended to me but I didn't get time to try it.
- Root - Same as above, it was recommended to me but I didn't go.
- Bourbon Street - I've mentioned it already but it's worth mentioning again as it's usually the main place people go at night. I couldn't stand the main part of Bourbon street at night. It had all the worst people all drinking the many novelty drinks. There are a few exceptions as you head out of the main area though.
- Frenchmen's Street - Pretty much every bar on this road is great. All the idiots are on Bourbon leaving Frenchmen's at the place where the locals go to have fun. I spent at least a few hours here every single night and met some great people.
Events & Activities
- Food tour - You should definitely do the food tour on one of the first days as it will help you decide where to eat for the rest of your stay.
- Swamp tour - I did a high-speed airboat swamp tour which was half sightseeing (and crocodile spotting - we saw quite a few), half thrill ride. I definitely recommend it.
Visits: once (for 7 days)
Last visit: 2013