The French Quarter
Although many areas of the city are equally charming, you simply can't get a true sense of New Orleans without visiting the French Quarter. Also known as Le Vieux Carré, the historic neighborhood is the heart of the original settlement, where French explorers called home in 1718, bringing their culture with them to the new world.
Remnants of that culture, blended with Spanish, Europeans, Native Americans, and the many slave cultures that populated the area have shaped the culture, cuisine, and character of New Orleans. From the world famous beignets at Cafe Du Monde to the vibrant jazz music permeating the air, the French Quarter offers a unique and distinctive experience for every visitor.
Before you even set foot in one of the restaurants or bars the Quarter is famous for, you'll wander down cobblestone streets, between brick buildings decorated with iconic baroque ironwork, bursting with hanging plants. You may be fortunate enough to see one of the paddlewheel steamboats that still cruise the Mississippi River, as they have since the 1800s, and you must, at some point, catch a ride on the Riverfront Streetcar to visit the French Market or the Aquarium of the Americas.
The Garden District
If you want to experience old-world southern gentility, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place than New Orleans' Garden District. Spared by Hurricane Katrina, the lovely historic neighborhood features opulent antebellum mansions and magnificent gardens.
The Garden district is also home to the Lafayette Cemetery. It's the third oldest cemetery still in existence, and a popular location for movies and television shows.
While you're there, be sure and stop by Commander's Palace on Washington Ave for what might be the best meal of your life (call ahead for reservations). Fresh “dirt to plate within 100 miles” ingredients and innovative classic dishes has earned Commander's Palace a laundry list of awards and accolades.
Downtown & The Warehouse District
Not far from the French Quarter, the Downtown and Warehouse District are where many of the city's hotels are located. It's also home to the Convention Center, the Superdome, and Harrah's Casino.
In the Arts District, you'll find museums, art galleries, and shops. In a three-block radius, you can visit the National World War II Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Louisiana Children's Museum, and Louisiana’s Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall.
You'll find some of New Orleans' most famous eateries and bars downtown.
Iconic New Orleans Dishes – And The Best Places to Find Them
It's hard to pin down the cuisine in New Orleans. Between the mix of dozens of cultures and the added influence of local ingredients, New Orleans cuisine is pretty special. Here's a rundown of the best local cuisine and the restaurants that made them famous.
Fried Chicken and Red Beans and Rice: Willie Mae's Scotch House
Located a few blocks from the French Quarter in the Treme neighborhood Willie Mae's serves what the travel channel has deemed “America's Best Fried Chicken.” National accolades aside, locals will tell you that Willie Mae's also serves up some of the best red beans in town
Jambalaya: Coop's Place
Jambalaya is a mixed-meat rice dish with a tomato base. Ingredients might include any combination of sausage, chicken, shrimp, crawfish, duck, rabbit, and/or tasso (fatty ham). The dish begins, as many Cajun and Creole dishes do, with the holy trinity: sauteed onions, celery, and bell peppers. You can't go wrong with any of Coop's amazing regional dishes, including Chicken Tchoupitoulas, and Redfish Meuniere.
Creole Buffet: Dooky Chase's Restaurant
Since 1945, Dooky Chase's has served up hearty lunch buffets featuring a variety of creole specialties. For a real treat, visit on Thursday and try the gumbo! Gumbo is a stew that starts with a roux. Dooky Chase serves up gumbo z’herbes, made with mixed greens and meats. Much like jambalaya, gumbo might contain just about anything, but Dooky Chase's adds that down-home flair with the addition of dark greens so popular throughout the south.
Crawfish Etouffee: Bon Ton Café
It's hard to explain etouffee. It's a bit like savory gravy loaded with shrimp or crawfish, usually with bits of andouille sausage, and it's delicious. It may be served over rice, blackened or fried fish, or a buttery, feather-light popover. The general consensus is that Bon Ton Café makes the most delectable etouffee in New Orleans, and possibly in the world. Bon Ton is more upscale than most of the restaurants on the list, and their prices reflect the chi-chi atmosphere. But with its wide variety of fresh Gulf crab, redfish and oyster specialities on the menu, you'll think you've died and gone to cajun heaven.
Boudin Balls: Boucherie
Boudin (prounouced boo-dan) is a ridiculously delicious spicy pork and rice sausage. Boudin balls are a croquette made with the sausage and deep fried for a crispy crunch on the outside and a tender, meaty center. Boucherie offers upscale boudin balls with garlicky aioli dipping sauce, along with a full menu of iconic dishes such as blackened shrimp and grits cake, or steamed mussels on a bed of collard greens.
With everything there is to see and do, visitors to New Orleans are rarely disappointed. Whether you're going for the food, the festivals, the music, or the history, you'll step into an immersive experience unlike anything else in the world.